What Thordis Elva is doing isn’t dangerous, but thinking we have a claim to her pain is.

Yesterday, Cosmopolitan published the remarkable story of Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger. To summarise briefly, the pair were in a relationship 20 years ago. One night, when Thordis was drunk, Tom forced himself on her. She was 16.

Years later, she reached out to him, and the pair embarked on a journey down the long road to forgiveness. Now they give talks about what happened all those years ago, and have co-authored a book, South of Forgiveness.

The article stirred up a lot of outrage on Twitter, and while I can understand where it’s coming from, I think we need look a bit deeper.

I appreciate that the issue here is that Tom has been given a platform. He doesn’t deserve to have a voice – he’s a rapist after all, right?

No. I simply don’t agree. While I don’t sympathise with him or condone what he did, he has a right to share his story. A story that I believe carries an important message. His account details how over the years he faced up to what he did, and shifted the blame of the attack onto himself. He learned that being in a relationship with someone doesn’t entitle you to their body, a lesson I fear many others have yet to learn. If his story stops just one other person from committing the same awful crime he did, then surely his openness is a positive thing.

As Thordis herself puts it,

“I understand those who are inclined to criticize me as someone who enabled a perpetrator to have a voice in this discussion. But I believe that a lot can be learned by listening to those who have been a part of the problem — if they’re willing to become part of the solution — about what ideas and attitudes drove their violent actions, so we can work on uprooting them effectively.”

I couldn’t agree more. I may not feel comfortable reading the words of a rapist, but I truly feel that the positive impact of his candour will far outweigh my uneasiness. It’s clear that Thordis understands the seriousness of what she’s doing, and I think we should trust that they will use their platform responsibly.

Thordis wants to share her story, and for reasons we don’t need to understand, she wants Tom to be a part of that. By suggesting Tom shouldn’t have a voice, are we not saying Thordis shouldn’t either?

Many people have sadly gone through what Thordis did, and quite understandably wouldn’t be able to forgive their attacker. But we can still support what she is doing without invalidating our own feelings. There is no ‘right’ way to recover from sexual assault and while we might not understand how Thordis is able to have the relationship she does with Tom, we have to respect her right to do what she needs to heal.

You have every right to be outraged.

No-one would blame you if you didn’t want to read their book or listen to what they have to say. But for every person that disagrees with what they’re doing is another person that could draw strength from their story of forgiveness. So please don’t be so quick to brand what they’re doing as ‘dangerous’.

Tom has a voice here because Thordis has given it to him. If we silence him, we are effectively silencing her. And that’s dangerous.

You can watch their Ted Talk here.

You are not weak, you are not worthless, and you are in no way deserving of what happened to you.

You are not broken, damaged, or selfish.

You haven’t been tarnished or tainted. You are not dirty.

Please trust me when I say you are none of the things you believe about yourself in your darkest hours.

I need you to read these words and believe them:

You are not alone.

There is no right or wrong way to process what happened to you.

Maybe you feel numb and empty; maybe you feel searing pain, sorrow, or rage. Maybe you don’t know what you feel.

None of these make you half a person, lost, or unworthy of love.

Maybe you remember nothing, maybe you can never forget.

Maybe it rushes back when you least expect it, and like a crashing wave, knocks the wind right out of you.

It won’t always be this way.

You are strong.

You are courageous.

You are worthy of love.

And you will be OK.

If you’re struggling and need help, please reach out.

The Samaritans are free to call on ‎116 123 and can be reached 24/7. ‎

Alternatively, you can speak confidentially to your GP, who may prescribe medication or refer you to a local counselling service.

If you feel able and ready to speak to the police about what happened you can find advice about reporting sexual assault here.

 

 

 

 

The wonderful Lauren from Lauren Evie recently organised #MHMailSwap (more info here!), and I was paired with Alice from Invocati. If you haven’t checked out Alice’s blog you really should. She’s the loveliest, most supportive person and her incredibly thoughtful letter and care package brought tears to my eyes.

You’ll be able to read the letter she sent me on her blog, but for now I will leave you with my words of advice to her. They are mostly tips and tricks for self care, and I hope you will find them useful too.

x

Dear Alice,

I hope you’re doing well. But I want you to know that if you’re struggling at the moment, that’s alright too. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, and it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of. I must admit, I’ve found it hard to write this letter. After a lot of thought I realised that finding the perfect words of my own was going to be impossible, so I decided to share the words of others instead. These are the words that have picked me up off the ground and kept me going. I only hope they can help you as much as they’ve helped me.

You will get better”

Those four simple words gave me hope at a time when I felt utterly broken. Even though I doubt myself sometimes, those words in the back of my head give me the strength to keep going.

On the other side of your pain is something good”

The other day, when I felt lower than I have done in a long time, I watched Dwayne Johnson talk about his struggle with depression. He said a lot of great things, but it was those words that stayed with me.

You are not selfish”

It’s OK to lean on other people. It’s OK to reach out and admit you’re struggling. There are so many people who care about you and want to help. You’re not a burden, I promise.

You are strong”

You’ve overcome everything life has thrown at you so far. The fact that you’ve made it through each day is a testament to your strength, resilience and determination. You’ve got this.

I understand that it might be hard to believe these words. I sure as hell know I’m struggling to right now. But things will get better, because quite simply, they have to. I wholeheartedly believe that.

For the days when kind words aren’t quite enough, here are a few small, practical things I do to look after myself

Have the ultimate duvet day

Nothing quite beats bringing your duvet to the sofa, curling up and watching loads of Netflix . My go to favourites are Gilmore Girls, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Big Bang Theory.

In your care package you’ll find some treats – sweets (obviously), a magazine (a nice distraction if you get bored of watching TV), and Percy Pigs (an absolute must!). You’ll also find some Chai tea (the ultimate hug in a mug), as well as a few bags of my absolute favourite tea (I wanted to buy you a whole packet but I didn’t get the chance, sorry!).

Oh, and a cup of tea wouldn’t be complete without biscuits – you’ll find some of those in there too!

Keep easy meals in the house

On days when just getting out of bed is a struggle, it’s better to eat a crappy microwave meal than not eat at all. M&S do loads of lovely ones that are a little bit more indulgent than most boring ready meals.

Take a lovely hot shower

If I feel completely flat and lacking in motivation nothing helps kick me into gear more than a nice long shower. There’s also something incredibly soothing about crying and feeling the hot water wash away your tears. Pamper yourself (I’ve included a few of my favourite shower-time treats and an amazing face pack for you to enjoy), sing at the top of your lungs and let yourself get completely lost, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

x

I hope this letter has made you smile, and that you enjoy the treats I’ve sent you. I promise you, things are going to get better.

You’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. And if you’re ever having trouble believing that, you’ve got me and no doubt loads of other people who will be more than happy to remind you.

All my love,

Mel xxx

Letter and pampering treats

Alice’s lovely care package to me.

 

Discussing your mental health with a doctor for the first time might seem daunting but you really needn’t worry. Here are a few of my personal tips for getting the most out of your appointment and looking after yourself at the same time.

  1. Book a double appointment if you think you’ll need more than ten minutes. I actually didn’t know you could do this, but luckily my doctor spent a good half an hour with me anyway!
  2. Don’t be ashamed to cry. The doctor won’t think you’re being silly, they won’t judge you and they most definitely will have seen it all before! Remember that by nature doctors are caring people and will only want to help you.
  3. Be honest. You don’t need to sugar coat how you’re feeling when you speak to a doctor. It will help them make a better decision about your treatment if you give them all the facts.
  4. Take notes in with you. It’s very easy to get muddled or forget to mention things, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or upset. Making the notes with someone close to you (only if you feel comfortable) could be a good idea too, as they’ll be able to help you organise your thoughts and offer an outside perspective. Aim to be as clear as possible about how you feel, how long you’ve been feeling it for, and the impact it’s having on your day-to-day life. For example, is it stopping you leaving the house, or affecting how well you take care of yourself?
  5. Make sure you leave the appointment understanding your treatment plan. If you’re prescribed medication, ask the doctor when they’ll want to see you again to check in. They’ll likely want to see you fairly regularly, at least at first, to make sure the medication and dosage is right for you. Have an idea of time frames and maybe even book your next appointment there and then (if possible).
  6. Ask all the questions you need. Don’t feel bad for doing this. You’re not being a pain, that’s what the doctor is there for and ultimately they will want to reassure you. It’s useful to have an idea of how long they expect you’ll be on the medication for, and any potential side-effects. Ask if there’s anything you should avoid – alcohol, other medications, natural supplements, etc.
  7. Your usual doctor may not be the right one for you in this particular situation, but that’s OK. If you don’t feel listened to, supported or understood, don’t be deterred. Your feelings are valid, so please don’t start to doubt that. Instead seek out the care you deserve by making an appointment with a different doctor. It’s important to have a GP you trust and feel comfortable with, as you’ll likely see them quite regularly, at least at first.
  8. You may well be asked some very direct and possibly uncomfortable questions. They’ll likely ask if you’ve ever felt suicidal, or if you think you could be at risk of harming yourself. It might not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s important to remember that these are routine questions and the doctor is asking them with your best interests at heart, not to judge you. Take your time answering, and please remember that when it comes to how you’re feeling there’s never a wrong answer. Whatever you say will simply help the doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
  9. Remember, your doctor can do more than just prescribe you medication. They will be able to refer you to local mental health services for counselling, and can even give advice on diet and lifestyle changes that may help. They may well ask you more general questions about your life (family, work, friends, etc.) to get a clearer picture of any other challenges you may be facing, as well as what kind of support system you have.
  10. Be kind to yourself. Keep some time free after your appointment to do something that will make you happy. Maybe treat yourself to a hot chocolate, watch your favourite TV show or have a nice long bath.
  11. Lastly, and most importantly, never feel ashamed for seeking help. I can’t stress this enough. In no way does needing help make you weak, worthless or a burden.

It takes a great deal of strength and courage to open up to another person, so be proud of yourself.

You are amazing and you will get through this. <3

 Image of a flower

Photo of medication

I’m writing this late on a Friday night. I don’t know if I’ll actually post it, but sometimes it just feels good to get everything down on paper.

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing any more.

I’m filled with doubt. So much doubt. Doubt in myself, my decisions, and my own strength. I fear that deep down I’m a terrible person. Selfish, cold and unfeeling. I’m terrified I’m not becoming who I want to be.

I never feel at ease. There’s always something niggling at the back of my mind, an itch I can’t quite scratch. I’m scared. Really scared.

I went back to my GP the other day. I’m seeing a different doctor now, but I like him. One thing he said to me though has stayed with me, and I can’t quite shake it off.

Far from demonstrating the reassuring confidence of my last doctor, he looked at me with concern in his eyes and asked, ‘Do you actually think you’ll be OK? Are you going to get through this?’

He asked it kindly, and it was a clever question because it got me to open up, but I just can’t stop hearing those words in my head. In that moment I desperately wanted some sort of reassurance that I was going to be alright. Instead he looked at me with the worry of someone who wasn’t convinced that was true.

I told him there are days when I wish I didn’t exist. He asked me if I’d ever act on those thoughts. It’s funny; the first time I was asked if I felt suicidal I flinched. I was shocked by the question, taken aback by the bluntness of its delivery.

Now, I’ve been asked so many times that it almost feels casual, like everyday small-talk.

I said no; I’ve never felt suicidal. I just feel scared of how overwhelmingly low I feel sometimes.

I can’t help but wonder how I got to this point. When did sitting in a doctor’s office chatting about suicide become an average Wednesday morning?

He upped my dose of Sertraline and prescribed beta blockers for anxiety. I haven’t taken any yet, but having them in my back pocket is a nice safety net. “I can’t change your world, but I can help in small ways,” the doctor said to me.

Beta blockers help to tackle the physical symptoms of anxiety, and I find it incredibly comforting to know that even though there is no magic cure for the larger issues, there are small things I can do to get me through the harder days.

My new counsellor is great, but I feel like I’m hitting a wall. She wants me to step outside of my comfort zone, by taking away some of my safety behaviours. I don’t know if I can handle that right now. I want to get better, but I feel like I’m sinking. I probably have about nine sessions left, which doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough.

More importantly, I don’t think I’m in the right place for her to be able to help me.

I need to want to help myself, but all I want to do is give up.

I wish, so badly, that there was a magic word, or a switch that could be flipped that would fix me. I wish that I could learn to listen to the rational part of my brain when fear and compulsions take over.

I feel angry. Angry at the events in my life that have made me like this. Angry at myself for not recognising sooner that I had a problem. Angry as I watch myself slip away, while I long to be ‘normal.’ I’ve gotten better in so many ways, but worse in so many others. It’s like a game of tug of war in my mind.

And I’m losing.

I’ve felt glimmers of happiness this year, as parts of the old me started to come back. There have been moments when I’ve started to believe things will get better again. I just need to hold onto those and have faith.