Now before I start, I'd like to give a brief word about this post. I have been in two minds for quite some time about whether to include this part of my life in this blog. As you read on you'll understand why. There are obvious reasons as to why I would not want to share this, even more so to put it out there on the Internet for all the world to read - but I am going to, and the reasons as to why I have chosen now to do so, may not be so obvious. I am not asking for attention, for people to feel sorry for me or to be guilt tripped or anything, that's the opposite of what I want. I want to include this because it was, and continues to be, a terribly important part of my life, and fundamental to the shaping of who I have been able to do and become today. Also, I think it's important to show the reality, however painful, as well as these incredible stories I have because it is real life after all. Finally, I guess it's bit of personal therapy too. I've never been able to talk about this properly as it is an awfully touchy subject for me, and I think this will be a liberating experience. Okay... here goes.
At the end of the summer 2012, I felt like an entirely new person. Well, more accurately, I'd found the old person that I'd been all along. My soul felt refreshed and I held a mix of dreaded anticipation and sheer excitement at returning to uni again - determined this time to start with a firm grip on myself. But although I always speak of my first year as an absolute mess of a year, I regret nothing about it. I didn't particularly like who I was and the things I did and what happened, but I believe it all needed to happen for me to be able to have that realisation. I needed to go to the complete other end of the spectrum to realise where my place on it was all along. Because there was simple fact about my first year and the people I lived with, that, regardless of anything they said or did subsequently, no matter how drastic, would never change - and that was that I'd been saved. And this is why, at the end of the summer, before returning to uni for me second year, I decided to get a tattoo.
I'd loved my school years . My time at first, middle and secondary school was an absolute blast, and I'd change none of it for the world. I loved to learn, I was pretty popular with a lot of great friends, and generally had a bloody great time growing up. But then I hit sixth form. How dramatically everything went so very, very wrong.
It had begun with an illness. In the first few weeks of term at the start of year 12, I was struck down with intense abdominal pain and suspected appendicitis. I was taken straight from school to hospital one Friday afternoon and did not return for another two weeks. I did not have appendicitis but the Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. I stayed in hospital for a week on emergency watch as my condition deteriorated, before eventually going under the knife to figure out what was wrong. To cut a long story short (excuse the pun), the Doctors never did find out what was wrong with me, but during the operation I had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic, and my 30 minute op turned into a 3 hour ordeal as the Doctors could not keep me breathing. I had to have CPR performed on me three times before they jammed a tube down my throat and nose to force me breathe. As you can imagine, when I came to and was told all that, it changed me a little bit.
I suddenly, out of nowhere, became very mature. The fact that I'd been pretty much dead disturbed me to the core and almost forced me to grow up a lot. When I was all better, I returned to school with a new outlook on life, and not necessarily a positive one. I became very serious and less sociable. This is when I first began to develop my own personal tastes and take more care in my appearance and how I presented myself. Because I had no job and my parents were always reluctant to give me money for clothes, I used to go into places like Topshop and River Island and take down little sketches of the outfits I saw, then go to charity shops and see if I could find similar items, often to great success. This is what sparked my long-enduring passion for vintage clothes and fashion.
So I began to dress differently, and this did not go unnoticed. Quickly people started making snidy remarks about how I'd 'changed', how I was 'trying to be something I wasn't' and I was 'pretentious' and 'up myself', but that was just the beginning. I dyed my hair and started wearing make-up and the remarks got worse and the whispers not so hushed anymore. Then out of nowhere it all seemed to spiral drastically out of control. I started getting hundreds of anonymous messages online airing my most private secrets publicly and stating things like "you think everyone loves you but in fact everyone hates you", and "isn't it funny how the people who you think are closest to you are the ones who hate you the most" and I began to shun myself away from people, as I didn't feel I could trust anyone anymore. I couldn't understand what I'd done to cause all this, and my best friend actually said to me one day, "Y'know, I really don't get why everyone hates you."
Cutting myself off just made everything worse, as people began to think I was being snobby and thought I thought I was better than anyone else. I tried to put on a brave front and fight back online which just exacerbated things beyond any expectation. The worst thing was, it was the people who were supposed to be my best friends that were doing it. One of the most humiliating things was to realise at the age of 17, I was being bullied. Things just went from worse to worse - I got dog shit smeared over my car windows and rubbish stuffed under the windscreen wipers, I got messages over and over telling me I was fat and everyone hated me, and I spent my time at school just watching people pointing and laughing at me as I sat alone. It was genuinely like I was in 'Mean Girls' or something, Then I got messages telling me I should kill myself.
I got sick. Really sick. I fell into a dark and terrible place. After a month I was diagnosed with depression and put on a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, which I still, to this day, never completed. I don't remember much of those days. The abuse soon dwindled out as everyone got bored of me and I was just left alone in the corner and forgotten about and broken. But despite it all stopping, the deep depression clung to me like a sickly shadow. The thing I remember most was the overwhelming tiredness. Most days I couldn't even find it within myself to open my eyes in the morning, let alone get out of bed and face going to school. I just slept all the time, but still never felt rested. My absences soon wracked up and I was called in for many disciplinaries. I didn't even stick up for myself or try and defend my actions, I just let the oblivious teachers talk at me and tried to look sincere as I promised to do better in school. This continued for months.
I stopped eating after a while. Partly because the fat comments had really touched a nerve, and partly because I just didn't have the energy or effort to. Most people think depression is about being sad all the time, but that's not what it's like at all. It is just an overwhelming and profound sense of eternal... blankness. I was just a shell of a person who'd forgotten how to be. What was worse was that I had no reason to feel that way. The abuse had stopped and even some people had come forward and apologised, I now had a boyfriend and a loving family, but I was just... absent. I'd forgotten how to function and was just slowly sinking into this abyss of no return. I remember trying to talk to my friend Harry, who'd left the school, about it, saying I just didn't want to be here anymore and he said to me. "Katie... if you ever EVER did anything stupid... I'd never fucking forgive you for it, Katie. Never." But I was numb and his words meant nothing. They were dark, dark times.
Then one night, about a year after I'd been diagnosed, I had been crying to myself solidly for hours after punishingly reading through the old messages, and I was curled up on the bathroom floor in a pathetic heap of shuddering human. I weakly sat up, smudging mascara across my face and tried to slow my stuttering breath. Then, with only minimal awareness and presence of mind, I slowly got to my feet, picked it up, and sat back down again on the floor.
It glistened between my fingers. My tears and irregular breathing had stopped. It was so small and it would be so easy. Slowly I turned over my right hand and looked at the threads of blue veins against my grey wrist. I looked back at the razor blade in my hand. And that's when the thought of such pure and concentrated despair, from the final depth of my depression, the floor of the pit of self loathing which I could never wish anyone to ever experience, came to me and detonated with horror the very fibre of my being.
Killing myself wouldn't be so bad.
If ever the phrase 'my life flashed before my eyes' could have been more apt, it was then. Suddenly I saw the the very skin on my bones jump as if it were alive itself, every inch of it having grown up with me for the past seventeen years, a living history. In my mind I saw my life in a sort of montage of home movie clips.
I saw myself being born, how happy my parents were, all their dreams coming true in the form of me. I saw the hours and hours they put into caring for me, making sure they did everything I could to turn out to be the best possible person I could be. I saw them looking into my eyes at night and kissing my forehead as I fell asleep. I saw them spending every penny of their hard earned cash into making sure that my life was amazing, I saw them teaching me how to walk and how to talk, showing me the world, and telling me stories. I saw them crying at the gates on my first day at school, so proud of their little girl. I saw them mounting photos of me on the mantelpiece and sending copies off to Grandma. I saw them teaching me how to ride a bike and laughing as I crashed headfirst into the trailer outside the Canadians house down the street. I saw them endure my endless tantrums and 'I hate you!'s, still loving me regardless of how horribly I treated them. I saw them agonising over the bills after Christmas because they'd forked out everything they could so I could have the very best toys like all the other kids. I saw them helping me with my homework, grounding me, teaching me, loving me, holding me, wiping away my tears, encouraging me - seventeen birthdays, Christmas's, summer holidays and school terms - seventeen years of ME.
And then I saw myself, I finally saw myself and what I was doing, at the lowest, darkest point of my depression, knowing that I could lay waste to every single part of that, make all that time, effort, money and strain completely worthless with one small swipe across my skin.
I cannot tell you what that feeling felt like. I'd say it was a mixture of sudden realisation, disgust, guilt, sorrow, shock and horror - but really, that doesn't come close. I felt my whole body physically shake with the intensity of that emotion and I howled a noise that I didn't even know a human could make.
I count that as my darkest day, but also the day I began to wake up. I don't think I was ever really going to do it. In fact, I'm certain of it. I think it was just the thought that the idea of suicide didn't seem shocking to me anymore that made me fully realise that I was seriously not well.
And from then on, I began to heal. I locked away all those past resentments and put my head down and got through school as quickly and painlessly as I could. I painstakingly slowly began to pick up the tattered pieces of myself. It took time, but every little shard that I picked up found its place again, and I began to slowly and meticulously cement everything back together, ten times stronger this time, until I gradually began to form this impenetrable armour.
As you'd expect, all this didn't have a great effect on me academically - hence why I went into clearing. I was also terrified about going to university, as I didn't think I was mentally strong enough to handle the strain. But with the tuition fees changing, there was nothing I could do. So, with my past lying heavy on my shoulders like a backpack of stone, and a half tattered soul trailing along behind me like a moth-eaten cloak, I braced myself the best I could, and headed to the unknown lands of Hertfordshire.
I never would have imagined how lucky I was to be. Although admittedly I did end up going a weird way, my life improved three thousand-fold. I met hundreds of new friends and welcomed a new world of exciting possibilities, and I fell in love with the uni lifestyle. And it was mostly thanks to my housemates. I never told them the extent of what happened to me, but I indicated to them that I'd come from being in a bad way, and thankfully, they never pushed to find out the details. That sort of made it even more special for me, because they didn't even know how they'd helped me, it was just by being themselves that they had saved me.
Although we had our scuffles and fall outs throughout the year and continue to now, nearly two years on, it will never change what they did for me at the start of my first year. Even our worst of the worst days here are still better than my best of best days when I was suffering, and that is such an important for me to remember.
So, at the end of summer 2012, before the start of my second year, with Ariella by my side, I got a tattoo of six small birds on my back, to represent the six of us in the house, and the freedom they bought me. As I sat in that chair in the tattoo parlour, after an incredible year of living and thriving, I really appreciated just how far I'd come from that dark place. With each painful stroke which rattled my ribs, it felt like all the pain and suffering that I'd inflicted on myself over the past few years was being concentrated, channeled through the tip of that needle and sealed within my skin in the form of these six tiny birds, forever. Never to be released ever again, but forever marked there so I'll not forget from where I have come from.
Over time, the tattoo continues to deepen in meaning for me. Some people get loads of tattoos to represent different things, but this one seems to fulfill it all in one for me. It is a symbol of the freedom I have achieved from depression, it represents the five others which helped me to do that, it is a reminder of
that dark place I went to and managed to come back from, and now, it has become to me a symbol of strength. I feel like my recovery and my armour is almost complete, I feel wiser, more resilient and most of all, fiercely strong-minded. And I owe that entirely, to being reduced to my weakest point.
Most people say to me "You got a tattoo of your uni housemates? Ha, someone's gonna regret that in a year." but I just smile, because I know that if it wasn't for my housemates, and what they helped me to do, then there's a chance I wouldn't even be here at all.
(and you know what, it's on my back, so if I do one day hate it in fifty years time, I'll never have to look at it!)
And that's the story behind my tattoo.
P.s I bawled my eyes out through the majority of typing this, but my good god.... do I now feel peace.