The Squashed Snail That Lost It’s Shell

Anxiety tells us a different story about the world around us and it makes everything feel scary and unsafe. A bird is as loud as a truck and the traffic lights are as bright as the sun. It’s daunting and exhausting and it feels like there is no space to escape. 

Anxiety can hit you anywhere. Anxiety is cool like that. It creeps up on you like a jerk in a dark alleyway, jumping on your back and taking control of your life. It’s violating and unpleasant and very hard to kick in the balls. It follows you everywhere and you feel paranoid that you’re the only one that’s worried about it.

You hide in a waiting room full of tiny trees and old magazines and perfectly aligned Ikea chairs and it makes you feel trapped. You want to throw one of those stupid chairs out the window and then lie down in a puddle of tears. And then flee. And run and run and run and hide. Anxiety can be a bit melodramatic like that.

And then there’s social anxiety, an upgrade of sorts, if one was inclined to be so positive. It is completely incompatible with normal human existence. The thought of leaving your apartment has you so tormented that you basically give in to the idea you will be a hermit for the rest of your life. IT’S OK, you reassure yourself, WE HAVE DELIVEROO NOW. But then you get scared of random people turning up to your house and everything turns into a giant, circular, maddening mess and you retreat as far as possible into your shell until you can see nothing but darkness.

Soothing, quiet darkness.

Lonely, terrifying darkness.

Nobody there but you and your thoughts.

Just where you wanted to be…

Until you realise you are entirely alone with your asshole inner critic.

You want to stare that bastard down but you are so tired of fighting him that you just don’t have the energy. And you are so god damned scared that if you look right at him, he will look right back. He’ll stare straight into your soul and use his laser vision to drop your facade and show the world how much of a shit person you really are.

He leaves you feeling too open, too exposed. You panic. You feel so vulnerable that even if if you walked around in a sleeping bag with a paper bag over your head you would still feel more naked than Kim K.

While you fret about your bared soul, the voice of your inner critic becomes overpowering. Like too much coriander or pineapple on a pizza, he spoils everything. You’re too scared to run back out into the open so you shrink like a snail back into it’s shell after a nasty child has been poking at your eyes. Blinded and afraid, anxiety crushes you carelessly into the pavement with the loud, incomprehensible words of a passer by asking you if you are OK.

When you open your little eyes, you realise you’re squashed flat as a flounder and you’ve lost you’re shell. The brightness strikes you as if you’ve been living in that shell for 20 years and the world feels different, unfamiliar. You feel insecure and out of place, like a mushroom in an ocean of gummy bears. Normal life is an island that you have drifted away from and you have no freaking clue how to get back there.

The sound of laughing and playing and being normal drift through the wind and taunt you mercilessly. You’re a squashed snail that lost it’s shell and you’re tapping your figurative feet together furiously chanting…

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Until a purple pelican appears, scoops you up and delivers you right back into the eye of that tornado. The one you just escaped while wishing desperately to be a part of it again. And you try to do the normal things and do A+ humaning, but you’re just a squashed snail that lost it’s shell and been rescued from a gummy bear ocean by a purple pelican.

Surely, you think, there is only so much one can take. AM I LOSING MY FREAKING MIND??

Suddenly, like a fog lifting, you start to notice that there are other squashed snails that lost their shells, whirling around in the storm with you. You reach out your hand to catch one and notice that when other squashed snails that lost their shells look at you, they don’t quite see right into your soul. They see you with your shell on because you were wearing it the whole damn time. And instead of speaking pounding words that crush you into the pavement, the other squashed snails that lost their shells just hold your hand and ride out the storm.

After the storm settles, the purple pelican stops circling to land on the pavement beside you. As the pelican disappears, you suddenly feel whole again, because the purple pelican was the nice thoughts. The ones that you lost on your way to the dark side, when you were too busy following your inner critic to hear the words of your greatest friend.

And when you hear the words of your greatest friend, they sound comforting and familiar and a lot like your own.

 

Unladylaura

 

This Is My Story, I Need You To Hear It

This is not a pretty story with tidy ends and new beginnings. It is not a comforting story and it might not make your feel very good. But it is my story, and I need to tell my story to let my story go.

Hannah Gadsby said, “There is nothing stronger than a broken women who has put herself back together again”. I don’t want to put myself back together with the shame and guilt I’ve been carrying. Help me tell my story so I can put myself back together with the pieces of my story that are actually mine.

I don’t know yet if this is the beginning, the middle or the end of my story, but I guess we’ll find out together.

*****

I used to hear those stories on the news, the “another girl raped and killed” stories, that would make me feel desperately sad. Sometimes they paralysed me with grief as they threw me back into my own trauma, a place I had boxed up neatly and tried my best not to visit. They made me feel absolutely terrified of the outside world and chilled by the presence of my ghosts mixed with others.

The truth is that I have been afraid of men my entire life and I had every right to be.

I was afraid of boys when one got off at my bus stop, which was not his normal stop, and cornered me behind some apartments across the road from my house. I was wearing a pink v-neck top as it was mufti day at school. He put his hand down the front of my shirt, feeling my tiny but evident breasts, and told me if I tried to go anywhere he would tell my Dad that I was a dirty slut and that I asked for it. I could almost see the driveway to my house from where I was standing. In the end I had to run home because he kept threatening to come inside and tell my Dad.

I was eleven.

I was afraid of boys when I went to the movies with my friend at the weekend and a couple of boys we met in the Timeout zone came into the same theatre as us. One sat next to me and put his arm around me. He pushed his face into mine and starting kissing me with his dirty cigarette breath. I was so mortally afraid of making a fuss in the middle of a movie theatre that I didn’t do anything about it. Someone from my school must have been there because they told my boyfriend and he broke up with me at school for ‘cheating’ on him.

I was twelve.

I was afraid of boys when a later boyfriend took me into the forest next to my school and had sex with me on a bench next to a broken concrete wall called the ‘Bombing Wall’ that kids did graffiti on when they were skipping class. I thought everyone was having sex and that we were supposed to lose our virginity. Virgin or whore; apparently I chose wrong. It was over in a few minutes, it hurt me a lot and it stung when I peed for the next two days. He never asked me if I wanted to do it and I guessed our relationship was over when he avoided me at school and refused to speak to me ever again.

I was thirteen.

I was afraid of men when a 30 year old picked me up one night when my friend and I had snuck out of the house, gave us alcohol and parked up outside a park in a suburb I didn’t know. All I remembered was how cold and foggy it was and that my bum was almost frozen when I woke up at 5am in the front seat of a stranger’s car with my pants and undies around my ankles. I had to ask nicely if he could drive us home as I was so scared of having no idea where we were and getting in trouble with my parents. We got back inside without anyone knowing.

I was fourteen.

I was afraid of men when that man got my cell phone number and texted me while I was at school telling me how sexy and beautiful I was. I was scared when he picked me up from outside my house in the middle of the night, several nights a week, for three weeks, and took me back to the house he lived in with his mother and a number of small children. He had sex with me in a room he shared with his brother whilst telling me the most disgusting words I had ever heard. I remember not being in my body but watching from the ceiling as it happened to a girl I didn’t know anymore. I thought her skin looked nice in the moonlight.

I was still fourteen.

I was afraid of men when I got into a car with two strangers who offered me a ride to the mall I was walking to one weekend. When I got in there was a scary looking dog in the backseat with me and I remember feeling frozen in panic that it would attack me at any moment. Instead of driving me to a mall, they drove me to a car park where they stole my cell phone before one raped me in the car and the other raped me by a tree nearby. When they dropped me home (to an address I made up), I hid in a driveway until I was sure they were gone and then ran to my house and told my mum I had been raped. As everything unfolded, I ended up wishing I’d never said anything. Especially when a strange forensic doctor took swabs from my vagina, seized my undies and cut pieces out of my new jeans.

I was still fourteen.

I was afraid of men when the police interrogated me and I lied about some situational details and my story fell apart. I had felt stupid for getting into the car in the first place and was trying to protect both myself and the man who had been grooming me into an illegal night-time relationship over the previous few weeks. The (male) detective became evidently frustrated with me and although he did find the “boys” (aged 18) in the end, I was told the case would “never stand up in a trial” because I had lied about getting into the car. I knew that if I had told them I had gotten into the car off my own free will, they would never believe I had been raped. That was exactly what happened. Despite the forensic evidence, the “boys” they arrested said that I had consented to sex with both of them and that they thought I was sixteen. The age for consent, how convenient. The police believed them, released the “boys” and no one ever spoke to me about the incident again.

I was still fourteen and I would spend the next twelve years suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm and one very close call with death after a suicide attempt.

Every single scenario had by-standers. All of them. And I assumed that because those by-standers said and did nothing, and that for some reason (trauma) I said and did nothing, I must have misinterpreted the abuse for something normal, something to be expected in my life as a woman.

I internalised that deep fear and searing pain and it poisoned me. I need to tell my story because I need a cure.

Since the age of fourteen, I have been more than a little afraid of men and more than a little berated for this fear. I have been told to change the way I dress so as to not invite “unwanted attention”, not to walk on my own, to harden up, grow thicker skin and to “deal with it”.

I have been told that it’s simply not possible that one in five women have reported being raped and that the statistics must have been falsified.

I have been told to be quiet and to keep my story to myself.

I have also consistently been told through the media and public response that being raped and sexually assaulted was my fault. The social cost of which I have been forced to bear because when men rape and kill women, it has always been a woman’s duty to restrict her life and freedom, to learn some “situational awareness” (cheers Victoria Police), and to bear the burden on her own back. Women have been soaked in shame while their perpetrators have stayed cosy and dry under the patriarchal raincoat they were given at birth.

When men rape and kill women, it has always been the charge of women to take responsibility for these actions, to clean up the mess like we have been doing our whole damned lives. This is the history of what it is to be a woman. It is invalidating, dismissive and oppressive. It is unequivocally unhuman and I will not stand for it any longer.

We will not let this happen anymore.

It seems only now that we are even becoming fully aware ourselves of how afraid we actually are and the measures we take to protect ourselves in our everyday lives. These actions have become automated and normalised in our existence. And as we watch our sisters suffer, our grief turns to fury. We are sick and tired of losing ourselves, our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our friends. We are sick of standing up to fight and we are tired of feeling terrified of being killed.

But no matter the army, grief and rage won’t prevent the next death. As a society, we must absolutely demand respect for all humans. Enough is enough. We need men’s violence to become a men’s issue. We can help you, but we can’t fix this on our own.

We need men to stop running in circles, chasing their tails, deflecting blame and proclaiming innocence. We were innocent too but it didn’t stop the rape and murder. We need men to stop acting so defensive and threatened. Yes! It is traumatising to hear about women you know and love being raped and killed – IMAGINE WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO ACTUALLY LIVE THAT!

Have you ever thought about how exhausting that must be?

Men are fed up with being lumped in with the rapists and murderers but we are fed up with being on guard 24/7 and watching our sisters getting struck down like flies. The time for #metoo has stood still, now we need #mentoo to push forwards.

This is not a persecution, this is a call to arms. This is an education. This is me, standing alone at the top of the highest metaphorical mountain, screaming for someone to bloody hear me.

Women and children must have the same rights and access to safety that men do and we need men to help us change this. We need to connect with one another, to see and hear one another, to change this god damned world together. Because if we are not changing together, then we are drifting apart. And in that divide, the tension of our trauma will find a home and feed off of our indifference, driving us further and further apart until we are more different than we are the same.

This is not just my story, this is our story. I need you to listen. I need you to act. I need you to walk up that mountain with me, take my hand and tell me that we can fix this together.

My story is sadly not unique and I’m not lucky that I’m not dead. I’m just a favourable statistic, the one in whatever that was repeatedly raped but not killed. There are plenty more voices up on this mountain with me, if you choose to see and hear them.

Please tell our story with me.

Unladylaura

A terminal trip around the sun

The last six months of my life, like always, has been pockmarked by many things. But it seems most significantly that the last six months of my life has been powerfully defined by the death of three people. Three pins pulled out of the map of my life, leaving behind little black holes, swirling precariously like an obstacle course on the road to my future. The edges of which nip at my heels as I pass by and I have to avoid getting caught and pulled into the darkness with them.

These are the kinds of phenomena that make me feel like my life has come to a sudden stop and give me vertigo at the halt. They make me feel motion sickness as the world spins too quickly and I desperately try to pull the pace of everyone else’s existence back to my own. I want everyone to put their lives on hold and wait for me to catch up. I’m not ready to move on. I’m not ready for past tense.

They made me think a lot about the fragility of everything around me. Not in the way that anxiety usually has me fretting with the ever persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen at any given moment. But in a way that has me feeling curious about how much more my life has yet to evolve.

One day sooner than I want to think about, my grandparents won’t be around anymore, and the childhood memories I cherish of them will be just that, memories. There will come a time in my life that I won’t be able to turn to my parents and ask them for advice, and will have to relish every piece that they have given to me already.

I might lose a partner or child, a sibling or friend, and I will have to make space to deal with that loss. I will have to face these tragedies with unwilling compassion and understanding. I will have to acknowledge that I can’t control everything.

I will be reminded that there are only certain things I can control, like the way we behave in the here and now. It seems that we never say the things we need to while people are alive. We forget to tell people how much we love and admire and appreciate them, that we value them and they are important to us. We get too busy to make a phone call. Sometimes we’re embarrassed to say so, ashamed of our true feelings.

I think we are also so afraid of death that we can’t accept we need to say these things now, lest they force us to accept that one day we might not have the chance.

Last year I saw my Dad cry for the first time I remember and struggle to tell my brothers and I how proud he was of us. I watched him hurt for the loss of a child and the pain he tried to hold for his wife. I watched my family bottom out and I learned more about my step-sister at her funeral than I ever got to learn in the 21 years that I knew her.

I learned true pain in that experience, but I also watched my family come together and show their love and support, sharing their raw and honest emotions about their loss. I have never felt more connected to them and I am grateful for this but I don’t want to leaves things so unsaid anymore. I want to make time, I want to prioritise love over work and ambitions and moments that aren’t now.

Retrospect is always a bittersweet slice of pie but we can use it to shape the rest of our lives, to make more of an effort to voice our feelings and strengthen our connections while we are still present in this piece of time and space. Sometimes we are not afforded the opportunity to say goodbye, and in that place we have to remember to tell people what they mean to us while we can.

Anxiety and depression tell me that bad things are going to happen and thus there is no point in doing anything good. That I am an intrinsically bad person. That I am worthless and pointless and so buried in the enormity of the universe that nothing I do will matter anyway. But through the raw and painful feelings of grief, I have come to understand that no matter how short or fragile or seemingly pointless life seems sometimes, it is still worthy to appreciate the things that matter to us, no matter who or what they are.

All we have is the here and now, and we have to live in this space because we have no surety in anything else.

Every day, every week, every month, every year, pushes us down different a path. Time forces our hand and makes us face decisions we never thought we would. We can never trick ourselves into thinking, this is it, this is my life now, because we will never know the course that our life will end up taking.

Some people will call this fate but it is just the result of millions of people existing together, with every person in every second causing a butterfly effect on one another.

There isn’t much to be done when people we love leave life as we know it, except try to wear their lives like badges of experience. We can take on the lessons they would have wanted us to learn and give them a little place in our own lives, to foster the values they held the closest and live our lives a little better than before.

Life is complex and dark and beautifully tragic. Every second is a loss of one thing, but it is also the birth of something else. We are all on a terminal trail around the sun and we can do nothing more than grasp every moment we have and make the most of it.

Laura