SURVIVING CHRISTMAS.

So… it’s that time of the year again. Even the most advanced survivor dissociation powers fail at denying it, as the world around us has officially transformed into Christmas wonderland. There seems to be a common understanding that ‘the holidays’ can be a stressful time for many people, for many reasons, and I guess most of us don’t genuinely believe that anyone’s Christmas experience really matches up with the TV adverts. But for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Christmas can be much more than just stressful: it can be a massive trigger.

Personally, I have all the normal and nice Christmas memories, all the things that I liked about it when I was a child: The cosy atmosphere, the candles, the scents, the food, the excitement, the presents, the exceptionalness about these holidays where you put on your favourite dress and are allowed to stay up longer and eat as many sweets as you like. As children do, I liked the rituals and the traditions – this unique blend of the culture around you and your own take on it that make up each family’s individual Christmas routine. Except that in my case, sexual abuse was a part of this very Christmas routine, just like decorating the tree, lighting the candles, and opening the presents.

Now, it’s not like Christmas was the only time of the year I experienced sexual abuse, but it somehow stands out. It is the most salient and widely celebrated family event of the year, and as my abuser was a relative, ‘the whole family getting together’ for me was synonymous with ‘I will be sexually abused’. And this is what I still remember when the Christmas experience is being recreated in a big collective ritual every year, with the same songs, the same images, the same smells, and the same food. The month-long run-up to Christmas takes me back into a childhood where this was a time of contemplating strategies to avoid my abuser on Christmas day (even though none of them ever worked).

Around two thirds of all child sexual abuse happens within the family, which means that for a lot of us survivors, sexual abuse used to be part of our Christmas experience. It means that we might be estranged from family as a result of the abuse. And it means that we might be facing our abusers when we ‘go home for Christmas’. It means that ‘this time of the year’ can feel like walking through constant fireworks of trauma triggers for a month. And for most of us it also means that we do this while pretending that everything’s fine – which in itself is a mirror of our childhood experience when we did our best to hide the abuse from everyone around us.

We might engage in the Christmas conversations, smiling and politely declining invitations to Christmas parties, trying our best to answer the well-meaning questions when people ask about our plans and if we are looking forward to going home. Because, what can we say?

Here I am, looking back at a year filled with survivor activism and speaking-out, and yet in this time where I am struggling most with the complicated mess of being a survivor, even I feel out of words. Yet again, I realise how ‘out of normal’ my experience feels, how alienating, how uncommunicable to the people around me. Yet again, I wish I had more ‘normal problems’, you know, those you can share because they’re part of a commonly accepted human experience. Where you can say “hey I’m struggling and could need some support”. But how do I explain the complexity of struggling with something that happened so long ago?

I feel like I am tired of pretending, tired of hiding how I feel, tired of smiling when I actually wanna cry, and tired of cutting myself off from the very possibility that the people around me could give me some support during a difficult time – something so human and natural that I see all the time around me and do it so readily for others. And I know that there are so many of us survivors out there, who feel similar, and are similarly invisible while similarly in need of support.

It is scary for me to say these things out loud, to openly admit that I’m struggling with Christmas. It somehow carries all the fear and all the stigma, and all the sense of ‘not belonging into this world’ that I have ever felt. But hey, we gotta start somewhere and if I learned one thing this year, it is that speaking is the start of change.

Luckily the range of things we can openly talk about – and the general ability and acceptedness of sharing our struggles and feelings – seems to have expanded quite a lot in recent years. Thanks to a lot of campaigning the stigma around mental health is slowly decreasing, and we do talk more openly about issues like bereavement, illness, and even depression.

So, can it be my wish for Christmas this year, that we include childhood sexual abuse into the things that are commonly accepted as human experience and that can be openly talked about? Can we all be aware that there are a lot of survivors out there (= in your friends group, family, team,… ) who might be struggling and in need of support?

It doesn’t take much. It is the little things – awareness, listening, understanding, a hug, a text, the occasional “how are you doing”, the same stuff that helps everyone though a rough time – that can make a world of a difference.

SUMMER TIME – SHOW OFF YOUR SCARS!

OK – it’s officially summer. Blue skies and over 30 degrees in London. #Heatwave. Perfect timing for something I have been wanting to write about for a while now…

Since the first sunny days, my facebook and twitter feeds are filling up with body-positivity messages and I really enjoy reading them on the morning train, as a nice way to start my day. When you go out into the daily flurry of norms, oppression, and shaming, it seems like a good idea to apply some shield of protection. Kinda like mental sunscreen. While all the positive messages in the world can’t make me un-see and un-hear all the poisonous ones I’ve been exposed to over the years, they do provide a powerful reminder that there is another way, another voice, another possibility. And sometimes that is all we need to know to start changing how we feel about our body.

One morning, as I was on the train to work, taking-in the encouragements to wear whatever you want no matter what size or shape you are, I suddenly noticed that I was wearing a T-shirt. And I realised that I had put it on without thinking. It was the simple pre-coffee-brain ‘it looks warm outside -> grab t-shirt -> go out’ logic. And for me, after a life-time of hiding the self-harm scars on my arms, it also was something like a moment of revolution.

A few years ago the idea of wearing a T-shirt to work without thinking about it had seemed utterly beyond reach. This is why I’m writing this today for everyone who has self-harm scars, no matter if the scars are from yesterday or from 20+ years ago. I’m writing this for you, because I know how many voices there are around us (and inside us) who tell us to hide and to be ashamed. And I just wanna offer you an invitation, another possibility: to turn that on it’s head, to embrace the sun (wear sunscreen!!!), and to show off your scars.

You can go ‘hell yes, I totally gonna do that’ or ‘no thanks that’s really not for me right now’ – self-harm and scars are very personal issues and there is no right or wrong when it comes to how you choose to deal with them. I just wanna put this out there, my experience and how I see it, because it’s one possibility, and I wish someone would have told me that earlier.

Here is what I see when I look at my scars today:

Today I look at my scars and find them beautiful. My scars are part of my body. They are a part of me like the experiences of this time is a part of my life. They remind me of a time where pain and joy lived very close together. Where I would lose and find myself over and over again. Where I experienced the most intense struggle, worry, exhaustion, and loneliness – as well as the most amazing love, friendship, and kindness.

Today I look at my scars and they remind me of the battlefield in the everyday. They remind me of all the weird stuff (worrying about how to survive the next day, how to ever fall asleep again, and how to know that I’m alive) right next to all the normal stuff (worrying about homework, what to wear, and if I liked boys or girls or both). These little fading white lines on my skin belong to this incredible young person who didn’t know why she was drowning in waves of fear and pain sometimes, but did her best to keep her head above the water. So that she could do her homework, dance the night away, finish school, fall in love, grow up, make mistakes, and try again.

Today, I look at my scars and don’t regret them – I know that the self-harm was me coping the best I could back then. Of course it would have been great if I’d had less fucked-up stuff to deal with so that I wouldn’t have needed extreme measures of coping in the first place. But I am no longer ashamed, not of the fact that I did self-harm, and not of the traces this has left on my body. The only thing I regret is ever hiding them. Every hot day in long sleeves. Every trip to the pool that I skipped. Every single minute I spent worrying what other people might think, say, or not say. Isn’t it a little weird that we go through hell, manage to come out on the other side, and then worry about what people think about the scars…? The way I see it, I have missed out on too much already and now just wanna enjoy my life – I had enough worry, now I deserve some fun.

So today, I look at my scars, throw on a t-shirt, and simply don’t give a fuck anymore. I do acknowledge that this ‘simple’ is actually a complicated process of baby-steps that may well span out over a few years (as it did for me), but take the fact that I am here right now as prove that it is possible. And feel welcome to show off your scars as much as you like. Enjoy the summer everyone 🙂

REFERENDUM HEARTBREAK.

I usually blog about sexual abuse and mental health, but this Brexit shit is seriously eating away at my sanity, so when my friend Ione asked for contributions for the Guardian 75% Blog, I just had to write about it.  Here we go…

I’m 29 years old, from Germany and live in the UK for 5 years now. Although I couldn’t vote in this referendum, I feel part of the 75% because this is my community. I’ve found my home and my ‘framily’ in this beautiful place where we all come together no matter where we come from. Where people are open minded and ready to change the world. Where I can be who I am and feel welcome and accepted with whatever culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity I have, whatever languages I speak, whatever traumas and hopes I bring with me.

I don’t care about nationalities, I don’t feel ‘german’ or ‘british’ or anything else – it’s a mere coincidence in which country I happened to be born. My home is this amazing community of people who tirelessly work to create a more peaceful world and fight oppression of all kinds, no matter where we are in the world. And I take control by contributing to this community and doing my part, wherever I happen to live at the moment.

This is why I would have voted remain yesterday. Not because I agree with everything the EU does and stands for (far from), but to keep this community and to keep it open and welcoming for everyone.

So yea, by all means, do criticise the EU, fight for institutions like EU and ECB and IMF to be held accountable, protest against the capitalist oppression they put on the people, work on ideas for democratic alternatives. But do it from a place of solidarity and passion for social justice (we all know that this leave vote wasn’t about social justice…). That means do it without borders and without ANY of that ‘us’ vs ‘them’ bullshit.

And don’t forget that the EU is one reason we have a generation with so much potential for bringing peace in this world. It provided us with the opportunity to travel freely, live in other countries and connect with other cultures. It has given us friends all over the world. This is a powerful fundament for peace.

I am so sad and angry about the people who think they can just throw all of this away. I am sad and angry today about every single person who adds more nationalism and xenophobia and fear and hate and hostility into a world where we have too much of this already. I am sad and tired of the many attacks to this home that we are building, of attacks through words, through fists, and through bullets. Of too much bad news in the past weeks. Of too much violence and hate.

Today I’m exhausted from all these past weeks and from having to watch this referendum, standing in the middle of it, my life and my community so deeply affected by it, but not having a vote and unable to add my voice (I guess this is why I’m writing this now, after a lot of coffee & a lot of tears).

The 75% give me hope and today I just want to send love and solidarity to all my fellow social activists, to all young people who don’t feel heard while they have so much important stuff to say, and to all people from all generations who help building these communities – through your presence and through your actions you are creating something strong and beautiful. Something that goes far beyond nations and borders and walls of fearful and hateful minds. Through your presence and your actions you are creating a home for people like me. And I don’t know if I’ll ever find the words to tell you what that means to me. The only thing I know is that I want to do all I can to give this experience to as many other people as possible, and to all the generations that will follow after us.

WOW FESTIVAL – THE POWER OF GIVING TESTIMONY

The invitation to the WOW Festival came as a surprise, per email, just minutes after I had said to a friend “I need to think about just how public I want to be with my survivor activism”. Before I could consciously think it through, the words GIVING TESTIMONY had found their way into a deep layer of my brain, creating a resonance that made all attempts at conscious thinking irrelevant. I knew I needed to do it, before I even had the time to read the details.

I am 29 years old and right in the middle of a fairly new and exciting journey into speaking out and survivor activism. Until two years ago, I was generally silent about my experience of sexual abuse. A silence that was sometimes interrupted by little acts of telling. Sometimes I have told people because I needed help, or because I wanted to explain some of my craziness. Sometimes I was just drunk enough for my secret to slip out without being caught in the brick-wall-strong barriers that my mind had in place otherwise. And sometimes I simply told because I had found a person who, for some unknown reason, seemed able to hear it, like that one teacher at college. Still, silence was my normal, because generally I didn’t have the space, or the words, or the feeling that sexual abuse was something you can actually talk about.

It was only two years ago, after joining a support group, that I decided to break my silence for good. I started to speak out in the context of activism, using my voice to encourage other survivors to speak and seek support. Sharing my knowledge and experience so that people understand the dynamics of sexual abuse, learn how to support survivors, and prevent it happening to children in the first place.

Yet, the idea of giving testimony felt like something that goes beyond all this. And I needed to explore what it was, that was drawing me to this word, to this idea. So I wrote an email back, saying that I would love to give testimony (and about 5 minutes after I received the confirmation it actually hit me and I thought “What the hell are you doing!?”).

It hit me that I had never actually given testimony. I did disclose to my parents when I was nine years old, but I remember it as a confession. It came from the feeling of having done something really really bad, regularly, over and over again, for years. The guilt of having lied about it all that time. The intense fear of going crazy with my horrible secret. A feeling that I recognised a decade later, when I read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment on a summer holiday and couldn’t stop crying because it so much reminded me of how I had felt throughout my entire childhood.

My perpetrator was reported to the police and convicted in court, but because he confessed I didn’t have to make a statement to the police or give testimony. Instead of feeling relieved, in my child mind I had just magically escaped punishment for all the horrible things I had done and was left with a fearful feeling that the sky still might fall down on me anytime. It didn’t occur to me that I was the victim, that I had never done anything wrong. I’m sure my parents must have told me that it wasn’t my fault, but I’m even more sure that these words did never reach my brain. And I’m not sure that this ever truly changed, even after all the speaking-out I have done lately.

So there I was, on a Saturday morning, on my way to Southbank, to give testimony. And for the first time in my public speaking journey, I went fully unprepared. Except for a poem to share, I had no idea what I would say. I wanted this one to be for me – not with a focus on aspects I find useful or important for a particular audience, no learning points and take-home messages. Just my experience, and an equal measure of curiosity and fear of what would happen when I started speaking.

On the panel we were four women, each of us bringing her own unique story and telling it in her own unique way. I heard their stories before I spoke, I listened, and felt the connection on a physical level. Hearing another woman telling my story, as if she took the words and thoughts and feelings straight out of my head. Relating even to the smallest details, never mind that it happened in a different culture and in a different country. You can’t get much closer to feeling truly not-alone.

When it was my turn to speak, I was full of emotions, full of all these stories, each one in some way connected to mine. I shared my poem, and for the first time since I wrote it I could feel the emotions flowing through my body – with such a strength that it felt like it was not just mine, it was all our anger, all our despair, all our sadness finding it’s way into the words. When I told my story, I didn’t think and let the memories surface and direct the significance of what to say. And when I looked into the eyes of other women in the audience, I understood that this significance went far beyond my own. I understood the relationship between the individual and the collective – and that sharing the smallest personal detail can be met with the biggest universal resonance.

I understood that it was not my fault.

****

A week after WOW, I’m still processing and trying to fully understand the power of giving testimony. Still trying to grasp that radical thing that happens when we get together and ‘simply’ share our stories. The connection that I felt on a physical level to everyone in the room, the amount of people who started speaking about their experiences in the discussion group afterwards. The hugs from strangers that said more than thousand words, and the look in her eyes that said “Me too. I can’t say it yet, but I know, in time, I will.”

It seems that by giving testimony, we share our experience in a unique way. We speak our truth, we put it out there, we let it solidify in words, we allow it to take shape and form, we let it take up space. It is a formal, almost ritualistic act that gives permission for us to speak, for others to see and hear our stories, to connect and to feel, and to step forward and share their own. Somehow, by giving testimony we open up a space, we give permission, we tear down a wall of silence that for so many of us has felt absolute and unbreakable, and unleash a flood of words and tears and testimonies and stories that had been buried under oppression and silence. And with every voice who joins in, this space just get’s bigger and we all become stronger.

The whole WOW Festival, to me, was a massive experience of having a space for testimony. Allowing for women to take the stage with their voices and ideas and lived experiences. To share, in a big yearly ritual, our stories of oppression and trauma, of identity, of joy and success, of fight and solidarity and celebration. Stories that were told on big stages with microphones, and acts of testimony that happened in the middle of a busy market space during a chat at our Survivors’ Collective stall.

When I thought that “this one’s gonna be for me” I didn’t know how much this would turn out to be for every survivor in the room and beyond. People told me I had changed their lives, and all I know is that we all have changed each others lives in a profound way. I learned that when we talk about activism and speaking out, we should never forget the power of giving testimony as an act of personal and political revolution. It gives weight and significance to the experience of violence and oppression. It is a framework to make sure that injustice is seen and acknowledged, and that survivors are validated in their truth. It is the fundament for political change, individual and collective justice, and personal healing.

As a society, we owe this experience to every victim and survivor of sexual violence. We all should have the right to be able to report, to go to court, and to give testimony in a way that is empowering. We should not have to be afraid of this turning into yet another traumatic experience. Even if our legal system will never be able to guarantee a conviction for every single case, the opportunity to give testimony about sexual violence – and any other experience of injustice and oppression – in an empowering and supported way, should be a human right.

Beyond the legal system, let’s all open up spaces for testimony in our daily lives. We can hear and validate people’s experience of sexual violence and oppression. We can create opportunities and communicate that we are ready to listen, show that we really can and want to hear these stories.

That was my biggest surprise last Saturday: I usually tend to apologise to people for my story, for talking about sexual abuse – I’m like “sorry for ruining your day with my horrible childhood”. Sitting on that panel and watching the room fill up with more than 150 people, I couldn’t help thinking “Really, so many people come here at 11am in the morning to hear our stories about sexual abuse and sexual assault?” – it was an overwhelming moment when it sank in that everyone indeed had come to hear our stories. And when I spoke, it was the first time I didn’t feel any need to apologise.

Thank you WOW for this experience. Thank you Zaimal, Winnie, and Julia for speaking together with me. Thank you to my Survivors’ Collective ‘framily’ for being so brave and supportive. Thank you to everyone who came to see us, to those who spoke, to those who listened. To those who took the mic and shared their stories. To those who shared tears and silent understanding in their eyes. You are all beautiful and brave! Your story matters. Your voice is important.

I walk in the world differently since, because in every step I take I feel the support and power of all our voices. That is the power of sharing testimony.

 

WHEN HAPPINESS IS NOT THE DEFAULT OPTION.

It’s a Friday night, it’s late, I’m coming home from a long and exciting and exhausting and beautiful day. I get out of the tube into the night, walk down the corner of my street, and all of a sudden I feel happy. Fully and deeply happy. Like when your heart is light but your feet are firmly in touch with the ground. Like when you sense the people and the lights and the air and the scents around you but you’re not drowning. Like when you can feel yourself and the world around you, and the difference and the connection, and how together it all makes sense.

I started my day with contributing to a new sexual abuse survivor community hashtag on twitter: #everydaytriggers. The idea is to share how the aftermath of the abuse still affects us every day. The little things that can throw us into a world of violence, in a heartbeat, without warning, when we just wanna sit in the sun and sip on our latte, like everyone else – triggers, you know. Mine was: ‘Christmas – when it starts hitting the shops I know I’m in for 3 months of merry trigger fireworks’.
I spent half of my day on a child protection conference and the other half listening to young people telling me about their troubles. And in the end I sat at the Thames, chatting with a friend about our experiences of sexual abuse, over a beer and half a pack of cigarettes.
Actually ‘friend’ is a bit of a weird word to describe someone who I only just met last week for the very first time. But I simply don’t know any other word which could capture the level of closeness that I felt. While we were watching the sun going down over the river and the sparkling lights of London’s skyline rising up into the night, we finished each others sentences, knowing that also the unspoken words would be heard and understood.

Am I crazy for counting this as one of my happiest days?
Maybe I am. I know a lot about craziness. But only recently started learning a lot about happiness. And I still struggle to make sense of the relationship between the two.

Crazy seems easy. Crazy moved into my life a long long time ago. Crazy would first visit, then move in, then go to bed with me, eventually also to school. Until I didn’t sleep any more and dropped out of school. But crazy lived in my body and in my mind, and followed me everywhere, until I realized I simply had become crazy myself. The professionals agreed and wrote me a list of diagnoses, all ending on some sort of -disorder.
In my hand a list of all the things broken, so many that I didn’t know where to start with the repairs. Wondering if there is anything left of me, a little bit of human being, a healthy option hidden somewhere under all the disorder. A little space I could use as a hideaway while I’d send the rest of me off to repairs. Wondering how you can even repair things that had never been allowed to grow into existence. How do you fix something that was never really there…?

For the mental health professionals my crazy was measurable, in symptoms and numbers. How many flashbacks in one day, how many nightmares per week, how many cuts on my arms, how deep, how often, how many suicidal thoughts, how many kilograms on the scale, how many dinners not eaten, … Even my thoughts became numbers. Do you think you are always doing everything wrong? Do you blame yourself for what happened to you? Do you agree or disagree? Completely, not at all, or a little? On a scale from zero to six? I fill out the same questionnaire several times, with different pens in different colours. To match the complexity of my mind and show the contradictions in my thoughts.
But what I really wanted to say is:
I am drowning in the blackest of all nights. I am loosing the ability to feel the surface of the earth and stumble into an endless nothing. I am falling and I am scared that there will be no ground. This wave that has kept me up and running, it broke, right over my head. And I know it’s just a question of time until the sky will fall down too. Because that’s what was supposed to happen when I was 9 years old, when I told my secret, the only one that I was never allowed to tell. And now I have waited so long that it is making me crazy and I just want the sky to finally breath out, and fall. So that I too can stop holding my breath, and breath out, for one last time, before I end.

Happiness, back then, was a concept a little too big for my crazy mind. So I went with the professionals on that one, they should know, I thought, they studied it after all. And it seemed simple: Decrease the numbers. Less flashbacks, less panic attacks, less nightmares. The fresh cuts on my arms better approach the zero. Over the cigarettes we debated as I argued that they stood in negative correlation to flashbacks. Only the numbers on the scale, they were supposed to go up, in a nice and steady curve, of blue ink.

All these symptoms will never go completely, they said. But they can significantly decrease, they said. When they said ‘after years of therapy’, for a moment, I lost every last bit of hope that had been hiding in some remote place of my mind. But I am smart, I thought, I learn everything in half the time, maybe even therapy has some corners I can cut. And still, I knew what significantly means. It means that the amount of flashbacks I will have after ‘years of therapy’ is not the same as the amount I had before. It actually only means to calculate that you can say with a certainty of 95% that 5 per week is not the same as 15 per week. Not that I’m happy. Not that I feel like a human being. Not that I can feel the surface of the earth or actually walk on it with my head held high.

I tried it anyway, therapy, outpatient, inpatient, CBT, psychodynamic, on and off. It helped me functioning, it contained my crazy for a while, it calmed me down sometimes. But in the end, even when I had a degree and a life, I still had no idea how I could convince myself to ever feel part of this world. Because flashbacks had never been my problem. My problem was that I felt like an alien in a world full of humans. Because I was still keeping my secret. Because I was still holding my breath. Because I was still waiting for the sky to fall down on me anytime.

Because all the therapy in the world could never change what had happened. Because I didn’t want to make peace with it, or take responsibility for it, for something I had never asked for, for a mess that I hadn’t created. I didn’t want to spend my years in therapy – the same years that others were spending growing up, studying, partying, falling in and out of love – just to end up as broken as always, just with some new patches to make it less visible.

Because there was no therapy that offered the option to default to an un-abused version of me. No chance to know how it feels like to be a child and a teenager and a young woman without fearing that the sky will fall down. How it feels to walk through your life without running from a wave. To learn something in sex education that you haven’t already experienced before you started school. To associate Sundays with laziness and Christmas with warmth and childhood with fun. To not visualise a big bright red exclamation mark hovering over your head whenever others talk about ‘those people’. To not have an invisible wall of glass between yourself and the people around you. To chose to just not think about sexual abuse whenever you don’t want to. To talk about your life and your self without carefully cutting out more than half of it every time. To never have learned how to say ‘I’m fine’ absolutely convincingly while you actually want to die. And to truly understand how there possibly can be a connection between sex and love – and that you can have both with the same person.

This is the most frustrating thing about any form of therapy: That we all know too well that there is no default option. That we can’t ever be un-raped. Even if all the numbers went down to zero, even if I was free of symptoms, this would still not make me feel happy, or normal, or human. This is why, if we don’t want to give up, we have to find a third way. And maybe, if it doesn’t exist, we have to create one for ourselves. Because we still have a right to experience happiness.

I don’t know everything about it. Maybe not even much. But I know that it has nothing to do with numbers, that it doesn’t live in the same reality as symptoms, and that it often hides in the most unlikely places. I know that for me it started with the very thing I was most afraid of:
Speaking.
Telling my secret again and again and again. Fearing that this time the sky will finally fall, learning that it doesn’t. Every time. Again. I started speaking through words that would pour out of my head onto the paper that I never would give anyone to read. I spoke through fictional characters in the protection of the bright lights of theatre stages. I spoke to the few people in my life who had managed to come as close to me as you can get to alien that is falling down a rabbit hole. And finally I spoke to other people who felt like aliens too, and together, step by step, we became human again.

Many of us still have ‘symptoms’ and flashbacks – obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t need a twitter hashtag for it – but we all live our lives, we have a life, and now we also have each other.
And we speak. We do the most radical thing that any survivor of sexual abuse can do, we meet in the middle of our very real lives and talk about it. About the secrets, about the craziness, about the skies that are falling and the waves that are breaking, and all the different forms of running that we ever tried out to escape it. It makes me stronger every day, and happier. I speak more and more, almost public, to all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations. And in a strange way I enjoy the speaking. I enjoy the strength and the urgency and the power it has. I enjoy the community of beautiful people around me who understand even the most silently unspoken word. I enjoy that together we have found a way to turn shame into pride, anger into activism, and isolation into belonging. Alchemy, it seems, feels very magic.

I don’t live in numbers anymore. I didn’t count a single calorie in the last five years, I don’t even own a scale. But I own a body and I allow myself to live in it. What is left of ‘symptoms’ doesn’t define my life – they make sense now and became part of my unique way of functioning and struggling. And this life, I can live it now, and I feel like I have finally found a space in this world. A space for my ambitions as well as my craziness, my joy as well as well as my sadness. And with the community of other survivors I have found a space where we can share even the absolutest darkest sadness, and the depth of fear that only people who have themselves been to this other world can understand. And we can have a beer together and start a twitter hashtag about it.

I have found a kind of happiness that I never knew existed. A happiness that doesn’t depend on fixing anything. It can’t be measured – but I can feel it and it is truly my own.
I can feel it on days like this, when my biggest most horrible secret is a part of my life, I am part of the world, and when I start thinking that the sky will never fall and that it might finally be OK.
When I can walk home through the night, feel the surface of the earth, with my head held high, feel the air on my skin, breathe it in and breathe it out, and all of a sudden become overwhelmed with happiness.

THAT PLACE.

I had too many cigarettes and not enough food
Lost the connection between my feet and the ground
Stumbling backwards and then down down down
Endlessly into the same nothing that I know so well
That place with no light and no walls
No end and no floor
From where I can’t climb out cause there’s nothing to hold
From where I can’t call for help cause every sound dies
before it can come out of your mouth
That place where you wonder if you’ll ever come back to the world
Where the sharp edge of the razor is the kiss of the prince
Where the blood brings back colours into the black and the white
Where the pain takes it’s time to travel through galaxies
Where the tear of a girl gets lost in the ocean
Where the skin is so thin that it breaks from the touch of a feather
Where I fall and I break time and again
Where I have to dance with the shadows before I can learn how to walk
Where I know when I leave that it won’t be for good
For I have it inside me
this place
And the magic door can appear
In the spoon and the plate on the dinner table
In the eyes of a stranger and in the eyes of a friend
In the letters of headlines and in the sounds of glass touching glass
Between the laughter and chatter of parties is a hole that pulls me in
And sparkling Christmas lights soak up my gravity sending me out
into the darkness of the sky
So hold me in case I disappear
Turn your whisper into a scream so that it reaches my ear
Tighten your grip of my hand so that I can’t fall
And when I’m gone beat the drums so that I can find my way home
Light a fire so that I know where this is
And wait for me cause I’m so far away that it might take me some time to arrive.

FREEDOM – LETTER TO MY TEENAGE SELF

I’m getting into writing letters to myself lately and it’s actually a pretty fun thing to do. This one I guess is as close as I’ll ever get to traveling back in time and telling my teenage self all the things I now know she would have needed to hear back then. I thought I’d share it here – maybe there are other people out there who could need some of those words too…

Hey there 🙂
This is your superhero self from the future. And I really need to tell you some things that you really need to know.

First of all: I know how you are feeling right now. I know all these moments when you think you have ultimately car-crashed your life. Disappointed everyone. Failed. Really fucked it up. I know that you feel like everything is your fault. That you feel like you’ll never be good enough. That sometimes you feel like you’re the most horrible person in the world. And yea, even this feeling that you’re not part of this world, that you are so different, like an alien, kicked out – not only out of school but out of the race of human beings. I get it.

I hear all the stories other people are telling about you. Your parents, your relatives, your teachers, that horrible guy in the job centre, even complete strangers. Somehow they all manage to magically agree on the same simple narrative: That you are going off rails, that you are misbehaving, acting out, that your are making trouble, that you are seeking attention, that you are crazy, that you are messing up your life. Whenever they get to the part in which you are apparently doing all this out of a weird attitude of teenage rebellion gone overboard – I just wanna travel back through time and shout it in their faces how absolutely wrong they are (or at least find a way to make them shut the fuck up).

But today, in this moment, all I want for you is to hear my voice through all that noise. I want you to know:
You are OK. You are absolutely awesome just the way you are. There is NOTHING wrong with you.
These stories you hear about yourself, are just that – stories. Made up by other people. Fairy tales they tell themselves to make their life easier. Comfortable narratives that they can use to deny their own shit. Lies they tell, so that they don’t have to admit their own mistakes. A thick protection blanket they created so that they don’t have to change anything in their life.
I know that none of this is YOUR story and that this blanket is not protecting you – it’s suffocating you.

So here’s what I want you to do:

Peel yourself out of this blanket. Shake it off, throw it away or leave it with the people it belongs to. Feel the ground under your feet, breathe, and start walking. If you don’t know where to go, if you get scared, just put one foot in front of the other foot. If you don’t know your own story yet, don’t worry, I know it is out there and I trust you to find it.

It’s OK to be searching, it’s OK to be lost, because eventually you will find this place where you can be free. Trust me, I know, because I’m there right now. Where people love you for who you are. Where your voice is heard, your story makes sense, and your anger changes the world. Where your mess of emotions creates the most wonderful fountains of colours. Where there are no rails and where you can walk with other people who all create their own path. Where your pain can float out into the air and write a graffiti across the sky. Where you can lay down in the grass on a summers day and watch it dissolve into the clouds.
Maybe you come across this phrase that ‘it gets better’. I used to very much doubt that. And today I know it’s not true – it doesn’t get just ‘better’, it actually gets pretty amazing.

Ten years ago, I was you. Kicked out, literally. Sitting in the job centre office for fuck-ups. Being told I was just trouble. Being shelved as a hopeless case.
Today, right now, ten years later, I’m sitting in my own living room in my own flat in London, after coming back from work, which not only pays my rent but allows me to live my dream, fulfils me, and makes me happy every single day. Today I am surrounded by creative, open minded, supportive, and inspiring people who I call my friends and who feel like my family.

Today, I want to thank you. For going off the rails. For being the angry, vulnerable, crazy, smart, radical, lost, strong, passionate, rebellious, troubled, beautiful person you are. I want you to understand, that I’m here today, not in spite of you, but because of you.
Everything I’m good at, I learned from you. And I will always love you, respect you, learn from you, and keep you very close to my heart.

PS: Anyone who dares to call you a phase or a mistake, can expect to be kicked out. of. my. life. I do own my story now. And I’m proud of it.