I knew this day would come. I couldn’t start a blog about anxiety without discussing what caused it. Although it’s been 5 years since it happened, I’ve still only ever talked to one person about it. That was a therapist and then, it was reluctantly. Now, I’m going to open up about what happened and how it affected me for the first time – and to the whole WORLD!!
I guess the only reason I can do this now is because mentally, I’m in a good place. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t forgive my attacker and probably never will. Many people will say that I need to forgive in order to fully move on. Maybe that’s true. Part of me actually would love nothing more than to get in a room with this guy and face him one to one in a fair, fully-clothed battle. Let’s see how he fares then. Right now, I don’t want to forgive. The only forgiving I really needed to do to move on, was with myself.
The story behind what happened the day I was physically assaulted, in retrospect, is quite funny in a macabre kind of way. I can laugh at certain aspects of it. I certainly couldn’t at the time. Or for years afterwards. But I can see the humour in it. I even tried to laugh it off at the time. What else can you do when you are sat in the middle of a street on a Sunday morning, stark naked, hands cupped around your nether regions after leaping over a garden fence? To the outsider, I’m sure it would have been quite entertaining; watching a bare ass sprint away from another man, probably for sleeping with his wife or something. They wouldn’t have been far off.
I had been out on the town, drinking with a friend the previous night. It was my first weekend back after a year long journey which took me backpacking by myself through India, South East Asia and the Pacific. After several years building a terrific new life , with a confident new me, after my entire youth was blighted by social anxiety, this was to be the pinnacle of my recovery. It was the cherry on top of a 5 year period where I achieved so many dreams that I thought would never see the light of day due to my crippling anxiety.
Little did I realise that the next 5 years were to hit new lows, sending me tumbling even further down the well of desperation and almost to complete obliteration.
I’d ended the night by going back home with a friend of mine and two girls we’d met. I was soon alone with one of the girls and stayed the night. We slept in the same bed, though nothing actually happened. Next morning, we were both woken by a thud on the front door. She got up to answer it. I heard a commotion. The next thing I saw was the bedroom door flying open and a fist connecting with the side of my left eye, as I scrambled to get out of bed. Too late. I don’t remember much of the following period. I know I begged him to stop. But I felt no pain. The rest is a blank. Right up to laying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.
I don’t know how it happened but I knew that if I didn’t reach up, grab the front-door handle and escape, I might not live to tell the tale. But I did open that door and I am telling that tale.
Turns out he was the girl’s psychotic ex-husband, returning to the house to bring back their 7 year old daughter a day early. Undoubtedly because he’d phoned up the previous night to argue with his ex and had heard me and my friend talking in the background. The daughter was there with him and saw it all – including him hit her mother. So this is the kid of “man” we are talking about. One who actually had a restraining order against him, after smashing the window in just a couple of weeks earlier. A person who had previously kidnapped his own daughter, refusing to bring her back to Mum until she got back with him. How on Earth was this disgusting piece of shit still on the streets and allowed access to his little girl? A girl whose life will now be scared maybe even more irrevocably than my own.
And I can tell you, I was scarred physically (cuts on my head, an eye that will never see quite as accurately as it once did) but it was the mental scarring that took me longest to deal with.
I was actually OK for a few days. At least, that’s what I told myself. It was a while before it really hit me. The pain from my swollen eye, double vision and a broken bone in my foot. That was bad enough. But then out of nowhere, came the weird sensations;
uncontrollable shaking. Adrenaline coursing through my entire body like a surging river. It was as though I was on constant alert and I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. Fight or flight had kicked in.
I could no longer sleep well or concentrate on anything for even a few minutes. Whilst the pain from battle wounds rescinded after a few weeks, it would be years before the anxiety dissipated. I had to take anti-anxiety pills to stop the worst of it but they left me emotionless, lifeless, flat, stagnant. I had no motivation to do anything and stopped going out entirely. I lost any friends I had previously, had to move back home and was too scared to get a job. I was going nowhere fast.
Debt started to rack up. My old life in London became a distant memory. I was no longer that confident man with the world at his feet who had travelled the globe alone and stood proudly in front of classes, teaching refugees. I was a husk, a shell. Even worse off than when I had social anxiety. At least then, I was really young, my whole life ahead of me. Now I was almost 30 and felt life was slipping away. Who would employ me now? How could I possibly make new friends and get a career started at this age?
I felt like a failure and couldn’t see a way out. I honestly just felt it would be better if I ended it all. At least I would be at peace. I would sleep well for once.
HOW I TURNED MY LIFE AROUND
Those thoughts could have been the beginning of the end. But instead, they became the beginning of a great turn around. I decided that I couldn’t do that to my family. Couldn’t put them through that. I’m still alive because of them, though they’ll never know that. I saw a doctor who put me on anti-depressants. The suicidal thoughts stopped. But I realised that if I was ever going to be normal again, I’d have to get off medication. It took a while though. A new doctor in fact. He asked if I was happy, coming in every month for my pills and a sick note to say I couldn’t work. I said no. He put me on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course. It changed everything.
I became more aware of my thoughts and behaviours, and able to deconstruct them. Twinned with me getting off medication, I slowly but surely was able to regain some confidence till I was eventually able to leave the house more often. I realised that the assault left me feeling way more vulnerable than I’d thought. I was scared of groups of men and even once hid in someone’s garden to avoid two blokes who were walking towards me.
I was also ashamed that I didn’t put up a better fight, that I pleaded for him to stop and that I was naked in public. I felt weak and emasculated, even though it was a cowardly, surprise attack.
I needed to face what I’d been through, let go of the past, forgive myself but more importantly, release the fear and force myself to get out more. CBT taught me how to deal with all of that.
In the process, I became a stronger person. Even stronger than when I went travelling. Because I began to look at the world in a different way. Started learning about the human mind and what we are capable of when we learn to harness it. That was a major part of my spiritual awakening. No matter what happens to me now, I will be strong enough that it will never affect me and bring me down the way that assault did. Anxiety will never be able to hijack my world again because I understand what causes it and how to overcome it. The power lies totally within all of us. We just have to be aware of how to use that power.