Puppet strings are bearing down on me
Trying to control the enemy inside me
Choking me
Destroying me.

There’s a hole in my soul
Which I filled with everything
but love.

(c) 2001

I lost my virginity in 2001. I was fifteen and my boyfriend – soon to be fiancé – was eight years older. He lived in a council-owned property with a nerdy Lloyd Grossman lookalike, at the end of a long, narrow street in Liverpool. Over time, he would move to my hometown to be closer to me. We were together for a couple of years, and there’s a reason why I have rarely mentioned him; simply because the thought of his face gives me panic attacks. 

During that time I was still struggling with anorexia. I’d gained a little weight, but my BMI was still too low. However, I’d walked away from the mental health system (as I’ve done many times) because all they could offer were pills and force-feeding. I was vulnerable – much younger than my fifteen years both physically and emotionally – and when a man eight years my senior paid attention to me… I jumped straight in. Didn’t give a damn about consequences or morals. I jumped in feet first and, by the time the relationship ended a couple of years later, I’d grown up immensely. I knew what it was like to be hit by a man. To be sworn at and locked in his flat. When he chased me down the road, hurling a full can of Coke at my head and pulling my hair until I hit the ground… I stayed. I stayed because I was desperate to be loved. 

We ended with his boot in my belly and a footprint on my face. Police and concerned strangers. My mobile smashed, shattered across the road. Black eyes and swollen fingers. My mother and auntie taking me to the police station to give a statement. And, finally, an injunction. A letter stating he couldn’t come within ten feet of me or contact me in any way. 

Still. He inspired poetry. 

I’ll write about him one day.


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Crazy English Summer, Part Two

Looking back through my blog, I realised that I never continued my post about my time in a mental health unit. I suppose it slipped my mind. It was difficult to write that first post, because it meant I was opening up about experiences I don’t talk about much, and I suspect I’ll find the rest of it just as hard. Although I’ve left a lot of that time behind – and memories are often hazy at best – it’s still something which happened to me, which I experienced, and which I still get angry about sometimes.

My first impression of PL (the unit) is that it looked nothing like a crazy home. I was disappointed; I’d been imagining something out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, with long rooms filled with bed and nurses in starched gowns. In reality, it wasn’t unlike a large house, with a dark wooden staircase in the hallway and a lawn outside with a tree plonked in the middle. When I stepped out of my brother’s car with my suitcase, I noticed that there were forget-me-nots growing underneath the tree.

I remember a meeting; a sort of induction, then being shown to my room. I was to share with two other girls, which I felt uncomfortable with. What if they took my stuff? What if they were bitches? I was given the bed furthest to the right and told to put my clothes in a small wardrobe. I didn’t like to tell them that I’d need more space; I’d packed everything I owned, just in case I needed it when I was away. Separation anxiety was a problem back then.

I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother and brother, although I must have done. I do remember sitting down to eat though; one charred chicken burger (without the bun, or salad or… anything) and a cheap ice cream pot. I sat at the big rectangular table, weighing up the other patients.

There was a thin blonde-haired girl with a Sylvia Plath poem blu-tacked to the wall next to her bed. She was bulimic. Another thin girl with dark, greasy hair in plaits and a scowl sat opposite me. Bulimic too. A bigger girl with a brown bob and a relaxed look was next to me, She told me her name was Carla, and later she told me that, like the other girls, she was bulimic, and had been abused by her father since birth. Her arms were covered in cuts and scars, but she had a naturally happy face. I warmed to her.

The boys were less memorable, bar one. I can’t even remember his name now, but there was one seventeen year-old guy with dark hair and darker eyes, who I fell a little bit in love with. I was going out with my first boyfriend at the time, and I was ashamed of myself for mooning over a boy with a guitar. We’d sit together in the day room (a ratty old sofa and a couple of chairs, along with a television and CD player) and listen to The Holy Bible, or go for walks on the local recreation ground (in a group, of course, with a couple of staff to keep an eye on us) and talk about music and how bloody horrible it was being a teenager.

It’s hard to explain all this, because memories run together, and I was locked in PL twice – for two weeks at first, then six – so some things might get mixed up. The general idea is there though.

For the first two weeks before I managed to get out, I cried constantly. Over everything. I cried if someone else did, or if a member of staff looked at me funny. I missed my house and my room, and being able to touch my things and feel secure. A few days after I was brought in, another girl joined us. She didn’t come downstairs for a long time though because she was on suicide watch. Occasionally I’d try to peek around the door, attempting to get a glimpse of her, but a member of staff would always shoo me away. Theories soon started; that she had been found trying to hang herself, that she was brought in covered in blood. We never did find out what happened, but after being on her own for two days she started sitting in the day room with the rest of us. A few days later, she left.

I spent all my money calling my mother and boyfriend from the payphone at the top of the stairs, begging them to bring me home. I’d promised I’d be good and behave, if they just got me away from PL. I hated it; I can’t explain how much I hated being watched constantly, having my every move checked. I hated being told when to go to bed, and I despised having to explain, over and over, why I wasn’t in school anymore. They held daily lessons in a big room covered in paintings. I think they thought it looked nice, but walls papered in the drawings of disturbed teenagers aren’t really the sort of thing you show prospective buyers, you know?

Try as I may, the ‘teacher’ (an older woman with grey hair and a twinset) couldn’t accept that at the age of thirteen I’d walked out of school and removed myself from mainstream education. Nor could she accept that I wasn’t being home-educated. Every day I had to tell her that the reason I had no work to do was because I wasn’t going to school. Every day she’d insist that was impossible.

After two weeks, my mother relented to my endless nagging and took me away from PL. Because I’d gone in voluntarily, they couldn’t stop her. I think I cried all the way home.

I don’t remember how I ended up in PL a second time, or how much time elapsed between stays. I know that during that time, my boyfriend and I broke up and I ran away, losing it entirely for a little while. I can only assume that having to get the police helicopter out to find me at 3am was the last straw for my mother, and so when my psychiatrist suggested that, unless I agreed to go back to PL, I would be sectioned. I must have had some sense, because I agreed again. In some part of my mind, I was aware that I didn’t ever want a sectioning on any sort of record. Life was turning out to be difficult enough already, without adding more fuel to the fire that was my ever-diminishing chance of a glowing future.

I packed more carefully the second time. Although my boyfriend and I had broken up, I still took the little pink stuffed rabbit he’d won me at the fair (Little-G, we called him). Admittedly, the rabbit had no head because I’d cut it off in a fit of rage, but it was a small comfort. I brought some make-up and books with me, preparing for the long days of nothing which stretched ahead and the inevitable jealousy of how beautiful the anorexic girls seemed. My father travelled with me on the train and we mostly sat in silence, looking out of the windows at the fields rushing by, at my home leaving me far behind. At one point, he turned to me and said, “I think you’re being very brave with all this”.

I realised then that I’d never given a single thought to how everything was affecting my dad. I knew my mother told him about my psychiatrist appointments and medications, but I’d never really factored him in to the whole situation. I was angry with my mother for agreeing to send me back, but my father didn’t play any part in it.I sat back and thought about my family, and how I could always rely on my dad, regardless of what my mother thought of him.

I settled in. Carla was still there, but everyone else had left to go home or to other units. The blonde bulimic had a flat. She wrote Carla a letter one day, telling her that while she’d been in PL, one of the staff members had been abusing her. We knew who she meant straight away; yet we never said anything. We were too beaten-down and in awe of supposed authority. Plus, we were crazy; who would believe us? We played rounders on the rec ground with the member of staff, and I seriously weighed up the possibility of me getting away with smacking him on the head with the bat. Repeatedly.

The day after I arrived back at PL, Rachel was brought in. She was in a state – ripped, bloodied jeans, a huge gash down her arm, and screaming like a banshee. She’d been brought straight from hospital after ripping a massive hole in her forearm with a hook. I was impressed; I’d been self-harming for years, and never had the guts to do that much damage to myself. Her freckles stood out on her pale face as she said, “hiya” and trooped upstairs. I got the feeling she’d been here before.

Next to arrive was Victoria. A tiny, elfin girl with oversized eyes and a nervous twitch. The first thing I learned about her was that she weighed exactly five stones. The second thing was that she had been raped years ago. Like many anorexics I had met, she had a tiny, mouse-like voice and apologised constantly. PL was her last stop before hospital, she said, and she had to put on weight or they’d put a feeding tube down her.

Carla and Victoria became my best friends in PL. We shared CDs and, when we went our separate ways, wrote to each other for a while before losing touch. Carla taught me bulimia tricks and how to fool scales, and Victoria squealed with delight when I did her make-up for her. We’d walk into the city centre when we were all allowed outside for a short while, and steal lipsticks from Boots and drink diet coke. Carla would smoke and I’d occasionally take cigarettes off her. At night, we’d lie in the dark and wait until after obs, so we could talk about why we were in PL. Carla said that her father kept sending her presents and begging letters, but she was ignoring them. One night, she turned to me and said, “I lost my virginity at six months old, who’s going to want me?”. Victoria would lie quietly, listening, occasionally chipping in with advice and input. She told us about her fear of men, and after that, Carla and I would form a barricade around her every time a man came nearby, daring anybody to touch our tiny, fragile friend.

I still went home at the weekends, and one day my mother brought me (in my brother’s car, I presume) back to attend a meeting. It must have been early on, because the staff were asking about my mental health history and medications. They also asked about my family, and whether there was any history of mental illness. What my mother said changed me forever.

“Her father is an alcoholic, he was violent. It’s why we separated”.

I sat in the office, chewing over what I’d just heard. I had no idea; not the slightest clue. Not that my father had been drinking (looking back, there were hundreds of signs, I’d just been too young to understand them) and certainly not that he’d ever hit my mother. Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. Why my sister, W, refused to speak to him. Why my mother was such an alcohol-nazi. Why she abhored violence so much, even in films. Why my father left us before I was born.

Up until that point, I’d been a daddy’s girl. I worshipped him. Afterwards, I went cold. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him, or even look him in the eye. I still struggle.

I was given medication in PL this time, although I can’t remember what, or if they even told me. I think I may still have been on meloril. Before breakfast and bedtime, the patients would line up in the upstairs hallway and wait for their names to be called. Then they were given a tiny, white plastic cup of pills and a flimsy cup of warm water. It wasn’t like in the films; nobody sold their tablets or shared them out, we just took them and basked in the warm glow of whatever brand of drug we’d been prescribed for our teenage angsts.

Part One

30 Days Of Truth: Day 8 – the story of O.

Someone who has made your life hell or treated you like shit.

This is probably going to be the most difficult question for me to answer, because I want to talk about O, my ex-fiancé. Somebody I shared some of my happiest times with, as well as my worst times. It’s probably going to be another long post, so I’ll apologise now.

I loved O. I want to make this clear from the start. It’s a love story, with a bitter ending, but a love story nonetheless.

We met when I was nineteen and he was eighteen, in October of 2004. I was a relationship at the time – a sort of rebound to an ex-boyfriend – but I fell for O as soon as we met in a quiet pub in the town centre for a blind date of sorts. We’d found each other on the internet. In a fit of desperation to escape the relationship I was in, I hinted that I might be after a relationship if the right guy came along, and we arranged to meet; I was probably at my most insecure point in my life, and it was a big deal for me.

The date almost didn’t happen. He said he would meet me in the pub around 5.30pm, after he’d finished work at the motorbike dealership down the road, but he didn’t turn up until 6.30, by which time I was just getting ready to leave. I wasn’t at all sure if the “date” was a good idea anyway, and when he didn’t show, I just accepted it as par for the course and got up to go. As I did, O walked through the door. I’ve been thinking a lot about my romantic and sexual relationships, and although I was incredibly paranoid and clingy throughout my time with O, I also believe it was the first real time I fell in love. I thought I’d been in love many times before, but with hindsight I can see the BPD coming into play, the need for validation and control played out through my relationships. Would it be twee to say that I fell in love with O as soon as I saw him? It would; but it wouldn’t be far from the truth.

It was serious from the start. We kissed that night at the railway station, and were inseperable. I was living with my mother, and finally doing my GCSE’s at the local technical college, so we only saw each other a few times a week, but we both spent a fortune on late-night phone calls. I told my boyfriend it was over as soon as O and I became a couple; he spent weeks sending me messages and emails about how I was jumping from one bed to another. I suppose he was right – I’d been quite shameful in my behaviour – but things simply hadn’t worked between us when we got back together. It was only ever a rebound/sex thing, and I thought he knew that.

O lived with his parents, sister and brother in a large house on the outskirts of the county. He collected motorbikes, liked classic rock, and ate cereal in bed, listening to Damien Rice. On the surface it doesn’t seem like we would have connected – especially since I was so prone to anxiety attacks over the slightest thing at the time – but we clicked almost instantly. He confessed to being a virgin, which I found a little odd, but not the strangest thing I’ve ever heard. He wasn’t the first virgin I’d been with.

Insecure, O used humour to allay his fears (something I only picked up a while later) and I found it such a relief to have a boyfriend who made me laugh, who shared jokes with me. I’d become jaded by the idea of dating and relationships, and O gave me new hope for love and affection.

Our relationship played out much like any other at first. Dates at the cinema and meals together. Unlike my past relationships, O insisted on paying for everything. After a couple of weeks, we slept together for the first time. I started staying overnight at the weekend, and we’d cuddle in bed and watch films, drinking tea and eating chocolate. His father gave me a front plate off an old VW camper; everything seemed perfect.

If it seems like I’m holding back, it’s because I am. I’m finding it so hard to write about O – some feelings are still very raw – and I’m worried I won’t do it justice. I really feel like I have to get across just how beautiful our relationship once was, so the fallout makes sense.

At the time, I wasn’t diagnosed with BPD, just chronic depression. I was still self-harming and purging, unwilling to give up the crutches I was leaning on so heavily. The scars and new cuts/burns were impossible to hide from someone I was having a sexual relationship with, so I was honest from the beginning; I admitted to O that I had a huge problem, and that my past was something I was finding it impossible to deal with. He surprised me with his reaction. He simply pulled my sleeve up and kissed my scars. We were sitting on the pier, in a little blue shelter by the skate park, and as he stroked my arm and told me it didn’t matter to him, I felt happiness for the first time in years. He stroked my short black hair and told me he loved me.

It was bliss, for a while. Even after the arguments and bickering began, we mostly existed in a little romantic bubble, drifting through life together attached at the hip. I dealt with college in my usual way; lots of absences due to bad days and poor health, but passed with flying colours. I had friends, I had a boyfriend who seemed to think the world of me, I’d been given my own computer for Christmas… things were going well. I started riding pillion on O’s Honda Hornet, discovering the rush of adrenaline only a motorbike can give. I stayed away from class-A drugs, even stopped smoking weed. In fact, I gave up smoking altogether, as O didn’t smoke and I didn’t want to have a disgusting habit drive him away. This is where the first mistakes were made; I tried to change to fit a fake ideal I’d created. I wanted to be the perfect girlfriend.

O took me to classic vehicle rallies in Llandudno and at Haydock Park. We slept in a tent and stamped around in the mud when it rained. I was struggling with a lot of issues – especially my body image – but when we lay together under sleeping bags, listening to the rain on the tent and watching the shadows move in the torchlight, I could forget everything but how wonderful it felt. O was an incredibly attentive boyfriend, always moving in for a hug or a kiss, always wanting me, always saying he loved me. At home, I’d cook him chili and curries, and he would make me cups of tea. I didn’t miss smoking or drinking heavily, I didn’t even miss the drugs. My days were filled with thoughts of O.

O proposed to me in a tent at Haydock Park. We’d been arguing about his ex-girlfriend – I wasn’t happy about him texting her so often and keeping it from me (paranoia was rife at this point) – and after rowing for ages, he finally said that he was asking for her advice on how to propose to me.

Do I believe him? No. Did I believe him at the time? I wanted to, dearly. I heard what I wanted to hear, and accepted. The next day, he bought me a cubic zirconia ring until he could afford a “proper one”.

His mother cried; mine seemed strangely happy. She liked O.

We chatted on MSN every night we couldn’t be together, sometimes talking until 3am on the phone. He taught me to ride his bike and how to replace oil filters. On Wednesday nights we would ride to a small bikers’ pub in the countryside, racing  against cars and practising wheelies. I often felt a bit lost at these meets – everyone seemed so knowledgeable about bikes – but O looked after me. I met a lot of his friends, and although I found it difficult to shake off my shyness and anxiety, I felt slightly more included. Like I had a place in the world. I did, however, find the biking community a difficult place to be; a lot of emphasis was put on women to look a certain way, at least that’s how I took it when I saw O’s bike magazines. I was overweight and growing my hair out – I looked nothing like those models draped over that Hayabusa – and I struggled with that all through our relationship. When we were in bed, I would stare over his shoulder at the perfectly-toned and airbrushed women blocking the views of the bike, feeling insecure and ugly. O’s excuse was that he had the pictures for the bikes, but how could you see the bike when some woman’s draped over it? It’s something it took me a long time to deal with – I don’t feel the same way anymore on the whole – and it put a huge dent in our relationship over time. I’d only just started dealing with a few issues from my past, and everything was very raw and out of context.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As time went on, my paranoia grew out of control, and I was convinced my suspicions and fears were perfectly rational, even though most were ridiculous. I started checking his emails when he was out of the room; behaviour I would never consider now. I’m not proud, but back then it all seemed to make sense. One night, I was feeling particularly panicky, and felt I needed some sort of validation to how I was feeling. I waited until he left the room, and opened his email account. It didn’t take long to find a half-naked photo he’d been sent by a girl he knew.

Now my suspicions had proven slightly correct, I went crazy. Smashed his laptop screen and shouted, not caring about his parents hearing. I stormed out, and pretended to call a taxi. I knew he’d call me back in.

We stayed up all night talking. I was shaking with rage and fear. I can see now how irrational my reaction was. Very early in the morning, we went for a long walk through frosty fields, watching our breath in the cold air and not talking much. O apologised over and over, and I was scared of losing him. I said I forgave him, which was a lie; I was simmering. I just didn’t want to be without him.

My paranoia grew, and still I stayed oblivious. Everything was so logical to me that I couldn’t see how downright unattractive I was being: sending text after text if O didn’t answer his phone, calling at 4am, storming off down the road if we had the smallest argument. I was quiet and unresponsive with his friends. My shyness was peaking, and I didn’t want to open my mouth and say something stupid. O was still hiding his phone whenever he was texting somebody, which I felt was only fair. I’d betrayed his trust, and he’d betrayed mine. We were even now.

Despite this, our relationship was mostly harmonious when we were together. We would often lie together on his bed, just staring at each other. We developed an intense sexual relationship, taking any chance to be alone together. To the public, we were the sweet golden couple. Indoors, we were sexually violent and coarse, with a drawer full of sex toys, poppers and restraints. It became a game of sorts to see how many public places we could have sex in without being caught. For the first time in my life, I was comfortable about my sexuality, and not frightened of the emotions involved. I had control over an aspect of my body, at last. I’ve always been aware that my sexuality isn’t quite the norm, and before O I believed I was in some way defective. I’m bisexual, or, to be more accurate, pansexual. At least, that’s the best description I can find to fit my particular way of thinking. O accepted this without the usual smutty jokes, although I later discovered it fuelled his own private paranoia; he thought I would run away with a woman. O later admitted to finding the idea of sex with a man appealing, and we played out scenarios, allowing our fantasties to slip comfortably into our sexual relationship. We tied each other up and cut each other with razor blades. We wanted to scar each other; to leave a mark.

I know none of this sounds particularly romantic, but in a way our openess and lack of shyness in the bedroom brought us closer together. We had a dirty secret, and nobody could take that away from us. In bed, we were invincible.

The sexual aspect was contradicted beautifully by the romantic times we shared – admittedly, less often now we were arguing frequently – and although things weren’t perfect, I was happy in my own way. Anxious and prone to hysteria, but happy.

Despite all O’s attention and compliments, I still couldn’t get to grips with my body image, not helped by weekend takeaways and his father’s obsession with fatty, greasy food. So many times, I found myself being too shy to refuse yet another scotch egg (I wasn’t a vegetarian back then) and slowly chewing on it until I could convince myself the calories were somehow going to disappear if I just didn’t think of what I was eating.

O’s father featured a lot in our arguments.

He’d been a truck driver before an accident left him with a metal plate in his head and an uncontrollable temper. Sometimes he was lovely – laughing and joking – and other times he was unpredictable and downright frightening. I used to find loud men threatening, and O’s father shouted a lot. I was used to a quiet family life, with minimal swearing from my parents, so O’s household was a new experience for me. It was loud and frantic, with something always happening and the television always blaring out the X-Factor or Coronation Street. Unlike my family, they were very close-knit and it seemed there were a thousand relatives all living in the same town, all as loud, all as opinionated. It soon became clear that O’s father ran the show, and anything done without his permission would be greeted with shouting. He collected motorbikes like O, and would often follow us into the garage, pointing out imagined flaws in O’s handywork and swearing bitterly if O disagreed with his opinion. He used the word “stupid” a lot.

When we were alone, I would tell O how his father was making me uncomfortable. It wasn’t just the noise, it was the jokes about rape, the comments about overweight women on television, the racist outbursts from nowhere. I got sick of hearing the N word thrown about. O said I was being too sensitive and needed to just humour him, but I couldn’t. It made me feel weak and vulnerable.

Our relationship carried on, full of tremendous highs and shattering lows. When we argued, I would threaten to leave, knowing O would come running after me. I became incredibly manipulative, although I never realised it at the time. My panicked phone calls became more frequent, and O stopped answering the phone as much, claiming he was busy or had no signal. In reality, he’d been turning his phone off to avoid the constant nagging. If O had told me how annoying I was being, perhaps I would have stopped or at least calmed down, but he never mentioned it, and I didn’t realise. It’s easy to convince yourself that all those crazy thoughts are rational.

When I look back now, I’m amazed how much I’ve changed. I suppose a lot of that is down to carefully-controlled medication, but perhaps some of the progress I’ve made is my own doing. I’d like to think so.

Eventually, even the sexual side of our relationship faltered. I had been experiencing a deep, nagging pain whenever we had sex, and was bleeding on a regular basis. I saw my doctor, who referred me to a gynaecologist. Swabs were taken and a camera was inserted. The results came back as pelvic inflammatory disease, which had caused scar tissue to build up over time. I had a diathermy to remove the tissue, and a laparoscopy to make sure everything was as it should be. Afterwards, I bled for a long time. For weeks on end, I bled heavily, ruining clothes and bedsheets. I became self-conscious and distrustful of my reproductive system, not believing it would ever feel normal again. I was in a lot of pain, and sex was the last thing on my mind. O and I didn’t sleep together for six weeks, perhaps longer. For us, that was a lifetime, and when we did eventually start trying again, I was cold and unresponsive. I’d suddenly become uncomfortable with the idea of sex, of being touched, and I just wanted to sleep. I’d started a hairdressing course at the local college and was finding it difficult – the work was easy, but the pressure on times and perfection was hard to deal with – and that added to my exhaustion. I would meet him after college, and we’d go back to his house, where I’d sleep until 11pm, then go home. This cycle carried on for a long time, and I grew to hate it but couldn’t manage without deep, dreamless sleep. I’d get back home and sleep for another 10 hours.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’d been struggling to hold my scissors in college, and often took days off because I was so tired. Things got worse after the diagnosis; I had a huge panic attack in the college toilets after my taxi was late, and after that I starting having them daily. Each time, I would phone O and chatter at him until I felt safe again. He was missing work for me and spending a fortune on calling credit, but it was the only way I could calm down. Without those calls, I became convinced I would die; I would choke to death on my own fear.I started seeing a counsellor – a blonde woman with leopard print heels who I took to instantly – causing me to withdraw even further as I thrashed out my worries in a small room. I became scared of even using tampons; sexually, I had failed.

At the opposite end of the scale, a year later I had an implant in the muscle of my belly to shut down my hormones, to check for a tumour or Cushing’s disease. Things were going wrong with my body which seemed to have no explaination. The tests came back clear, but a month with very little apart from testosterone surging around my body turned me into a maniac. I became prone to violence and screaming fits, from nowhere. I wanted to damage everything and hurt everybody. Most of all, I rediscovered my sex drive. However, I didn’t direct this sexuality at O, but at outside fantasies and secret wants. I became obsessed with experiencing sex with somebody else, distrupting my entire day with sick imaginings and dangerous scenarios. I didn’t cheat on O – I don’t think I wanted the physical aspect so much, just the emotional gratification – but it left me very confused. Even when the implant broke down and stopped releasing hormones, I found it difficult to switch the darker side of my sexuality off. I no longer wanted romantic, cuddly sex. I wanted to be hurt and sworn at. I wanted to be used and scarred. I’ve always been very open when it comes to sex and those thoughts were in no way alien to me, but the frequency was an uncomfortable shift. I seemed incapable of asking for affection, or allowing any sort of romance. Deep down I wanted to be loved and adored, but on the surface being a sex object seemed much, much easier to deal with.

I left college, unable to cope with the physical pain of fibro and the emotional upset of being constantly surrounded by women with perfect hair and lipgloss. I cut my hair short again and dyed it dark red, but it never suited me. Nothing suited me. I had no idea of my self-image. Inside, I was a girly girl and I was afraid of being the butch, fat woman on the back of a motorbike. I tried to diet, but couldn’t get a grip on my eating habits. For a long time I did nothing except see O, write poems and waste time on the internet. Eventually, O left his job and went on the dole, and we wasted our time together in a haze of late-night food binges, bad horror films, cans of Stella, fights and violent, sexual acts of forgiveness We got tattoos, using the same needle, saying it was so we could never be apart.

I tried to stop cutting, for his sake. I managed a year without purging or harming myself. I felt frustrated that he wasn’t trying to calm down his vices though. Although O had very little money now he had no job, he bought and sold motorbikes by the dozen. I would get used to riding pillion on one model, then he’d sell that and buy a GSXR. Nothing had been said about the wedding we were supposed to have. I’d been hoping we would save some money and have a small wedding in 2010, but although O agreed and talked long into the night about what it would be like when we were married, he never made any moves to plan anything. In fact, it seemed to fall by the wayside. I ordered a few venue brochures and looked at some 50’s style dresses online, but for all intents and purposes, the marriage didn’t look like it was ever going to happen. We agreed on a date – the 22nd of October, 2010 – but never took it any further.

Almost four years into the relationship, things started truly falling apart.

For years, we’d shuffled along nicely together, fighting but always making up. Our relationship was passionate and we were both stubborn. None of the fights seemed to matter when we were listening to music together or lying in a field with our heads poking out of a tent, watching a meteor shower.

A year earlier, I’d had a miscarriage. O was training in Hull at the time, so I was alone when I woke up covered in blood. I hadn’t even known I was pregnant, and had been taking antibiotics for a kidney infection. I’ve written here about my fears of never being a mother, and around the time I miscarried, those fears were particularly strong. I’d been running a website for women with PCOS for a while, and I became terrified by the stories of IVF and taking temperature in the morning. I was starting to feel motherly for the first time in my life, and I was scared I would never have that chance. When I miscarried, something broke inside me. I lost hope. When O came home, we lay on his bed, naked, crying together. He swore nothing would change, that he still loved me, and that one day we would have children together.

I never quite recovered from the miscarriage, and I don’t think O did either. Things weren’t the same after that, and when we reached almost four years together things went from bad to worse. O never answered his phone and started making excuses not to see me. I alternated between binging and starving, unwilling to accept I had lost control. I harmed myself and started taking over the counter pills to calm me down. I’d started smoking again, and I spent the nights chain-smoking with a bottle of Tia Maria while O lay on the bed, fuming at something I’d said. I cried at the slightest provocation. We started smoking weed together, getting high on small bags of cheap dope.

In 2007, I became very ill. I was experiencing extreme pain throughout my upper body and vomiting black stuff everywhere. I was diagnosed with gallstones, and sent away. It got worse, until I was in A&E every couple of weeks. Eventually, I was admitted with an infected gallbladder, pancreatitis and a failing liver. I was jaundiced and hadn’t eaten for weeks. That’s another story, though.

O visited me almost every day, driving my mother to and from the hospital. He’d sit with me and gently put his arms around me, saying it didn’t matter about my unwashed hair and yellow skin; that he loved me regardless. When I was finally operated on (they removed my gallbladder, after settling down the infections with IV antibiotics), O took me home afterwards, helped me into my Winnie The Pooh pyjamas and tucked me into bed. Gave me my painkillers and stayed with me until I fell asleep.

During my time in hospital, I’d started chatting online with a guy called C. He was 45, but we got on well due to our mutual love of Nine Inch Nails and obscure bands. O became very jealous of C, especially when I lost six stones in the hospital (I was in for a while, on a totally liquid diet) and my hair started growing out again. After the operation, O didn’t seem able to connect physically with the ‘new me’, or the tight-fitting clothes I’d started wearing. I’d gone from a size 18 to a size 8, and was showing off my body for the first time in years.

During our relationship, I had very few friends. Those I did have fell by the wayside as I got more unwell, and eventually it was pretty just O and I. So when I started mentioning conversations I’d had with C, he’d become grumpy and caustic. In many ways, O was even more prone to jealousy than I was. I’d undergone a bit of a personality change while in hospital, and I refused to drop the friendship.

Just before the operation, I went to see O at a local vehicle rally. I hadn’t wanted to stay the night before for a reason I can’t remember, so I got dressed up in a white shirt and tight grey trousers and went to say hello. He was there with his friends, laughing and chatting, and when he saw me he grabbed me in a big bear hug and spun me ’round, getting mud and oil all over my shirt. A girl I’d never seen before walked up to him and said “here’s your hoody back”, then looked at me. O said “this is T, my girlfriend”. The girl looked a bit confused, then stuck her hand out to shake mine.

We went for a walk around the show, stopping under a secluded tree to get out of the rain. O said that the night had been terrible, and half the group had fallen out and gone home. As we were talking, we somehow got onto the subject of sex, and O said “you know, I wouldn’t mind if you slept with other people”.

I looked at him, wondering what he meant.


“I mean it. You can sleep with other people”.

We abandoned the show and went back to his house. Talked for hours in his bedroom about what he’d said. O told me that he’d find it sexy, and that he didn’t ever want to hold me back. In hindsight, I should have pushed the issue farther, but I was confused. I felt that I was losing O, and anything I could do to hold onto him… well, it wasn’t something I’d rule out. If it meant he stayed and loved me, perhaps sleeping with someone else would be the right thing to do.

I thought of my options. None of my exes were on the list; I’d fallen out with them all, and most would probably shove me away with a bargepole. Male friends? I had a few, but none I’d want to sleep with. A stranger? No. One of O’s friends? Too close to home, and too weird. Eventually, I settled on C. I knew he fancied me, he’d said as much. He was much older than me and not attractive, but I knew he’d drop his pants if I asked. I asked O if he was sure he wanted me to do this, and he said yes. So I propositioned C.

It was too easy. A week after the operation, C invited me ’round for “ice cream and chocolate”. I got nervous though, and cancelled. Called O and told him to meet me in the park. I explained how I couldn’t go through with sleeping with someone else, that O was who I loved and what I needed. He smiled and hugged me, and we sat on the warm grass under a tree, taking photographs of butterflies for the rest of the afternoon.

O was still being furtive – more so than ever – and kept mentioning the name of the girl at the motorshow. I teased him at first, saying he was suffering from mentionitis, but after a while I became suspicious. She was all he talked about, and I’d start catching him out in little lies about where he’d been. If his mobile rang, he’d go out of the room and talk for ages. Despite turning C down, we’d stayed in touch and I asked him if I was being unreasonable in suspecting O and this girl. C said that I wasn’t, and that O didn’t deserve me.We started meeting up, just to talk. He took me to the beach and grabbed my hand when I was jumping off a rock. He brought me Dr Pepper and Galaxy chocolate. I confess, I needed the attention, but never took it any further than friendship.

O and I continued to fight, and after weeks of screaming and crying he told me that he was breaking up with me for a week, to get his head together. He said he couldn’t cope with me anymore, and just needed a week to think. I was gutted; we’d been together for almost four years. After a lot of begging and promises to change, I finally agreed with him that I’d not contact him for a week. At the end of those seven days, we would meet up and talk about our relationship.

I spent the first few days in an angry haze, taking my MP3 player and Smiths collection for long walks through the park and around the golf course, chain-smoking and often stopping in the street to just stare at the pavement.

Halfway through the week, I kissed C. I’ll never know why, I just seemed to crave some sort of male affection. It was a horrible, stale kiss. Nothing like O.

When the week was over, I admitted to O that it had happened. He went crazy, even though he’d been the one to insist on the break. He’d said anything which happened during our time apart was nothing to do with the relationship. His reaction made me angry, especially when he retorted with “yeah, well I’m sleeping with Ally (the girl from the motorshow)”.Even as my stomach sank, I heard myself say that we were once again even. O promised it was a one-off, drunken thing, and I decided, stupidly, to forgive him. I’d hardly been innocent myself.

After that, everything changed. We were flogging a dead horse, trying to keep our relationship afloat when there was no trust. O disappeared sometimes, missing work at his new job and taking his bike out. He never answered the phone. Sometimes when we were together, we’d cry over what we’d become. Other times we would turn our backs on each other. He shaved off his floppy brown hair and went to rallies without me. I spent more time with C, going on long walks and talking about everything which was happening.

I knew I was going to sleep with C. The idea didn’t appeal to me, but I craved some sort of affection. I wanted to have my own weapon to wield against O sleeping with Ally. The thought of them together was killing me.

I wore a flowery strappy top and a pair of baggy jeans, wore perfume and applied red lipstick. I felt like the biggest traitor in the world. He took me back to his house and we slept together in his small, dark bedroom. I hated it, but couldn’t turn back. I’d gone too far, and simply didn’t know what I wanted or needed anymore. I faked enjoyment and blocked my ears to his grunts. It felt cheap and tawdry, like a bad porn film. He fell asleep afterwards and I lay awake, wondering what he hell I was doing in this house, with this man snoring and mumbling next to me. I inched over to the edge of the bed and tried to sleep. I didn’t know myself anymore.

O found out. He locked himself in his bathroom with my phone and read my texts, which I’d forgotten to delete. Sometimes I wonder if I left them there on purpose.

We struggled on together, unwilling to let go but unable to deal with who we were. We broke up, then got back together the next day. Tearful phone calls and late-night confessions were our lives together. O bought a car, a 106, and we would drive to the sea wall and sit together in silence, listening to soft music and watching the lighthouses across the ocean. Sometimes he would kiss me, with the saddest expression on his face.

Eventually, we broke up, on Valentine’s day. I’d bought him forget-me-nots. He displayed a card from Ally in his bedroom, with a photograph of them dancing together. We still slept together sometimes, occasionally kissing when nobody was looking. I stayed the night a couple of times, but it was clear I was no longer O’s girlfriend. That role had been taken by Ally, with her long curly hair and skinny hips and bags of cocaine.

A few months later, Ally fell pregnant. They now have two children together. I still have my engagement ring, somewhere.

I wrote about O for this question because we both fit into it. I made his life hell, and he treated me like shit. It’s hard to get across what happened between us on a blog post, without rambling on for hours. He hurt me, and I hurt him. He filled my head with empty promises. Even after we’d split, he would tell me he loved me and wanted to be with me. He slept with me and promised me the world, without me asking. He told me how we’d find a way to be together, eventually. None of that was real. He lied.

Day 01  Something you hate about yourself.
Day 02  Something you love about yourself.
Day 03  Something you have to forgive yourself for.
Day 04  Something you have to forgive someone for.
Day 05  Something you hope to do in your life.
Day 06  Something you hope you never have to do.
Day 07  Someone who has made your life worth living for.


Love was always the rope I hung myself from, the thing I desired the most, and that which I systematically destroyed whenever it came close enough to touch me.

When you’re young, it’s easy to see love as an endless romance. A Disney fairytale where the princess is always pretty, the hero always brave, and the ending always happy. Every wedding is white, there is no such thing as separation or divorce, and one day you will grow old with your sweetheart. Even when you experience your first heart break (when my first boyfriend dumped me because of ‘sexual pressure’, I threw a chair at him and cried for six months), you still hold onto that little pebble of hope; that one day, your prince will come and you will live happily ever after in a converted barn, surrounded by happy, healthy children, spending your days baking pies on the Aga and feeding chickens.

Then reality inevitably sets in.

Over and over, your heart is torn in two by broken promises and promiscuity. The rot sets in when he stops calling as frequently. With each new relationship, your hope is quickly diminished by lies, painful truths and late-night arguments. You find yourself faced with choices; give up, or break as many hearts as you can. Walk away, or keep flogging the horse until your arms ache and the spit in your mouth tastes of failure.

You learn that what you thought was an apologetic kiss can just as easily mean goodbye. Love teaches you the art of fine-tuning your jealousy, until you can no longer tell what’s real and what is fantasy.

Then one day, somebody turns your life upside down. All misconceptions about what love should be are thrown out of the window; everything you learned from romantic comedies and books becomes the big lie. Love simply isn’t like that.

Love is falling asleep with your mouth on his nose. Waking up and eating cereal together out of the box. Sharing tobacco. Midnight cups of coffee to keep you both awake so you can play computer games. Love is walking to the shop with him, even though your body aches. It’s quiet and unassuming. It’s simple. It’s not about drama, and the passion isn’t portrayed through grand gestures. It’s a pint after work and a shoulder massage after a long day.

Love is nothing like they say. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t break your heart.

I love him.


Your breath wears alcohol
As your hands
Kiss my face
With their sharp, stinging slap.
Your knuckles
Caress my cheekbone
As soft as a sledgehammer.

And my broken body lies
Slumped on the cheap carpeted floor.
You stand above me
I know you’re crying
I know you’re apologising
Don’t you know
How your words sound so

I won’t get up for you

(c) 2002