Day 12

A shivering figure in a grey coat and earmuffs trudges through the snow towards Liverpool Street Station. It is six o’clock. The station is empty except for the pigeons looking for forgotten bits of chips and chicken and the cleaners who are busy sweeping the floors with their heads down and headphones in. The figure seems to be walking slowly but determinedly towards the chemists, which is the only boutique other than the McDonald’s upstairs that is open at this time in the morning. A moment passes and suddenly, someone taps the figure gently on the shoulder.

“Miss, can I help you? Miss?”

Oh, she’s talking to me.

I am that figure.


“Hello, my name is Elliott*. You’re very exotic-looking. Where are you from?”

I am at a classmate’s Christmas party. A pre-Christmas party, more like, since it’s the twelfth. I struggled with myself for a long time before deciding to go. I barely knew anyone from this city, a couple of my friends said they would be there and it would be a great chance to network. I once heard someone say: “We gotta network to get work.” Who was it again? Nevermind. Focus.

Right now I am standing in front of Elliott, this tall, almost ridiculously preppy man, who fashions himself to be an “expert” on China because he did a year abroad there. He has a highly exaggerated Oxbridge accent that is really grating on the ears. He has been negging me and annoying the hell out of me but somehow I find myself drawn to him. If only to unmask his bullshit.

In the end, I impressed myself with my performance that evening. I was flitting in and out of the different crowds at the party, mingling and chatting as if I belonged there. Unsurprisingly Elliott and I exchanged emails AND phone numbers before he left.

Typical Otter.

Typical.


I spent the next week blocking his number and throwing my phone into the Thames.

I wish that was what happened. What really happened was we spent the next week emailing banter and texting each other to see when we would meet next. In private. He spent the next week blowing me off that I thought we’d never meet again.

Then he called. It was the eve of my birthday.

“Hey, where are you? Should we meet up?”

Elliott sounded drunk.

“What? You mean right now?”

“Why not? It’s Friday night. Are you already asleep like an old lady?”

“I guess we could? Where are you?”

“Don’t move. I’ll come to you.”

“Sure. I guess we can hang out at mine.”

I gave him my address and hung up. I was berating myself already but it all happened so fast. I gave myself a pep talk about living a little, especially since I was going to turn 23 tomorrow.

Time came and went and soon he rang to tell me he’s downstairs. I see him at the reception desk, all pink and ruddy cheeked from alcohol and god knows what else. Whereas at that very moment I have never been more sober in my life. I checked him in to the building and told myself that this is going to be quick and amicable and then I’ll get him on his way.


“Is there somewhere where we can sit and hang out?”

“How about the common room?”

“Oh come on. Let’s go to your room.”

And so we found ourselves sitting on my bed as I find something nice to listen to to break the awkward silence. As it’s typical of him, he resorted to negging again by judging my musical tastes.

He put his mouth on mine so fast that I forgot what I was saying before that.

“God you are so beautiful.”

His hands were all over me, taking my top off, groping my breasts so tight that I could hardly breathe. He pushed me onto my back and climbed on top of me. I knew what was coming. This has happened before. Why is this happening again? I froze. But before I dissociated I managed to squeak something out.

“Please. Please use a condom. Please.”

I heard my voice and barely recognised it as my own.

“Yeah, yeah yeah. Don’t worry.”

And then he was in. Wait, I can feel all the ridges of his cock.

Fuck. He doesn’t have a condom on.

The more I struggled, the harder he held me down, and the harder he felt in me.

I completely forgot what happened, if he came, what position we ended in. But I remember him sweating profusely on top of me, his long curly hair hanging limply from his head and falling just above my shoulders. I remember the smell of his sweat and musk radiating off of his skin as I tried harder and harder to remove myself from my body.

I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I just lied there and prayed to any god or holy being that would listen to make it stop.

And then it did.


“Would you like a shower?”

“Uh…why not actually. I am sweaty as fuck.”

“Hey, didn’t I tell you to use a condom. What happened?”

“Lucky for you I don’t have STIs, haha.”

“It’s a joke. God, lighten up. We just had some great sex. Just enjoy it.”

It’s the night before my birthday. It’s the night before my birthday. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening again. And then I heard myself blurt something out.

“Uh, what?”

“It’s the eve of my birthday, you know?”

“Oh, shit. Happy birthday, I guess. Look, I am going to head out. I’ll text you.”

“Ok. Bye?”


He left as quickly as he came (haha). And I found myself sitting on bed, shaking with fear and shock. I peeled myself up and headed straight for the shower. I turned up the water as hot as I could take it and took out my brush and tried to scrub myself clean. It didn’t work.

When I came out of the shower all hot and raw, I sat myself down gingerly in front of my computer and started thinking of my next steps. What the fuck just happened?

I started googling like a demon.

Date rape

Date rape how

What is date rape

Date rape without a condom

Sex without condom “date rape”

Sex without consent without condom “date rape”

The last few search terms that I had inputted were enough to tell me that the shit had hit the fan. I found myself on multiple forums confirming my suspicions. But somehow it wasn’t quite enough of a confirmation just yet and so I found a hotline– two, to be specific– to call. I just need to talk to someone. If that someone can just confirm what had happened maybe I’ll feel less alone.

I punched the numbers in and what happened next was just an immense waste of time and did more harm to me and my psyche at that time than not. The woman on the other line was absolutely bored stiff with her job and it became clear to me that she was just there to ensure that the person on the other line wouldn’t kill themselves that night. After that one call I couldn’t bear to make another.


I dissociated again. By the time I “went back into my body” I found myself curled up in fetal position on the bed. I hadn’t had a wink of sleep all night and it was almost six.

It was then that I gathered what’s left of myself and came up with a list of actionable tasks, things that need to be taken care of. First thing: protect myself. How can I do that? By making my way to the chemists and telling them that I had unprotected sex and I need the morning after pill. Make this as vague as possible because I am not in a state to tell them everything and have them make me call the police. Where is the nearest chemists? Right, Liverpool Street. You can do this, it’s just a three-minute walk away.

Put on your coat. Put on your shoes.

Oh, look, it’s snowing. How pretty.

Put on your scarf. Put on your ear muffs. Don’t forget your money.

Happy birthday, Otter.

*name has been changed for my own protection and safety

Image: TUBĄDZIN

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Day 6

Holy Batman anxiety. A trip to the pharmacy this morning where I made a mistake in cutting the queue after having thought that there were two, instead of the one, has left me with a shaky hands, heart palpitations and stars and butterflies.

How did I even get here? When did I first begin to realise that this is a condition not everyone has?

Was it when I realised that I would get dizzier and dizzier when my parents pressured me to make calls to the charity hotlines when I was a kid?

No, because I don’t like peer pressure, that’s all.

Was it when I got shaky before I got on stage for concerts?

No, because I read The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. If they made a book about it, then I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill with my nervousness.

Was it when I caught myself going through the play-by-play of my mistakes over and over again in my head, as if I could go back in time and make it all stop before it had started?

No, because mommy said it’s important to review the mistakes we make every day so that we don’t make them ever again.

Was it when I got my first panic attack because of all the people and noise? Was it when I felt my stomach knotting up before going to a party?Was it when I would hide in the toilets before presentations? Was it when I would feel the world spin after turning red whenever I heard my voice crack from nervousness?

When was it? And does it matter?

When I was little there were some weekends where there would be a charity event on television. My father would always use it as an opportunity to try to toughen me up. There’s always the song and dance with him asking me if I would like to do a nice thing for the poor people out there, my responding that if we wanted to do nice things for people then we should just show it with our actions instead of donating money that would trickle down several middlemen and lose its meaning. It all usually ends with him throwing down an ultimatum before The Rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was where my parents would pretend to be the people on the receiving end and we would practice our lines before I actually make the call. A bizarre ritual in and of itself without all the rest of it. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they didn’t seem to realise that The Rehearsal just made it worse. Most times I can finish barely dialling the number and would start to be short of breath. Then I’d wheeze and then I’d start to cry. The rare times where I’d made it past the dial tone, my throat would close up and I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Then came the yelling.

There would always be the yelling afterwards: “Otter, it was just a tiny phone call to a stranger about something inconsequential. Why can’t you even do that? Are you going to avoid strangers your entire life? Is that it? You can’t hide behind us forever, you know!”

To be quite frank, I don’t really remember his exact words because it always happened in such a blur, his voice drowned out by my own crying and wheezing. They would try to backtrack when I would start to get the shakes, and then they would explain how they didn’t mean to hurt me and try to explain that they understood what I was going through. That was the worst bit, because they would always get it wrong.

The more they explained the more I shook. Then they’d babble and explain some more and it would get worse.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

My mother likes to say that I get panic attacks because I have a “weak heart”. She said that again a week ago when I was on the phone with her. I am just too fucking tired to argue anymore.

Now, there are good days and there are the bad. But sometimes I really wonder if my anxiety would have been this bad if I had been able to stand my ground and had said no to them, at least once.

Checklist for the day

  • 1 empty water bottle on the coffee table
  • 1 bag of clean unfolded laundry by Big’s door
  • 1 unplugged night light sitting in the corridor
  • 1/2 load of clean laundry lying on the bed in the master bedroom
  • 3 pairs of shoes in the entry way
  • 6 dirty glasses, 2 dirty coffee cups, 2 dirty dishes, 1 dirty pot
  • 12 glass bottles to take down for recycling

Image: © Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Day 1

I write today to stop escaping and to start documenting.

To document the reasons that made me escape in the first place. To document the numerous checklists that I made in my head to make me stay grounded (but let’s be honest. If they worked, I wouldn’t be here). To document the darkness. To document the light. In doing so, I can come back here when the whirling dervishes of my head try to drown me, when I feel like I have nothing more to give, that it is okay because like everything else, it will all pass. When I am at my most stable, I know there are others out there like me, with worry and doubt behind their eyes, hoping for a kindred spirit out there.

I write today to start something.

When life comes at an unstoppable speed, when I feel like a grain of rice being washed, with both hand and water pushing me towards something greater than you, I just want to hit the stop button. If not “stop”, then “pause”. It is times like these when I would escape: into a book, under my covers, in my thoughts. A shelter for my brain so I can breathe again. This sort of escapism saved me from the worst of myself, but also made me incredibly vulnerable. I want to stop running and start living.

I write today to fight back.

There are often multiple sides to one story and there are moments, especially in this time that we live in, where it seems as if that whoever screams the loudest wins. Where I would once keep my head down low and my mouth shout, now I wonder why I feel as if I should do that? Would I not be complicit in shutting my voice down? Don’t I also deserve to be heard?

I do, we do.

I have always had the habit of making checklists in my head. It was/is a crutch for me when dealing with anxiety and when I was recovering from my rapes. Maybe I will stop making them one day, but until that time I am going to document them here. In doing so maybe it will banalise the process, free up some much needed headspace and also it’s all part of the archive.

Checklist for the day:

  • Heightened hearing: Y/N
  • Strained breathing: Y/N
  • Lowered appetite: Y/N
  • Knot in stomach: Y/N
  • Heightened irritability: Y/N