I write novels about angry women. I write about women who start revolutions in the name of revenge, women who fight for their family, fight for their friends, fight for their freedom. In spite of the angry women I’ve written, and the angry women I’ve read about, I am not an angry woman. I am repressed. My capacity for anger is something that scares me, and because of that I push it deep down inside me until it barely exists.
But there are times when the waves of frustration and discontent rise up into a tsunami, and make me wonder how much longer I can contain them. Because I don’t know how to express my anger, it changes form, and becomes sadness, or depression. Yesterday I was angry, today I didn’t want to get out of bed. Unexpressed emotions become debilitating. Hence why I am writing this blog, to release the emotions I’ve suppressed for the past two years, and begin the journey of healing.
This blog is the last thing I wanted to write. I’d had the idea in my head for a couple of days, but I couldn’t bring myself to get past the first two paragraphs. Tonight I was talking with a friend about the issues I’m about to discuss, and he told me I had to write about them. Writing is how I deal with emotions, it’s is the only way I can reclaim my voice. I told him I couldn’t write it, and he asked why not. All my reasons came back to fear: I’m scared people won’t believe me, I’m scared people will think I’m an attention seeker, I’m scared my parents will read this and ask why I never told them the worst of what happened, I’m scared of the shitstorm it will cause if the person I’m writing about reads this. I’m scared of being so open and vulnerable on the internet.
I don’t know how to begin, so I’m going to start with the trigger for this blog, rather than the beginning of the story.
This week in my film analysis class, we studied horror films. This week’s screening was Halloween. I hate horror films at the best of times, but my loathing of Halloween goes far beyond a distaste for the genre. I told myself I could do this, I could sit through the film. Five minutes in, the music sent shivers down my spine, made my heart race. Nothing scary had happened yet, but I was in a state of panic. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want everyone to see me leave. I didn’t want the person sitting two rows behind me to see me leave. My heart throbbed in my chest and I was sure if I stayed a moment longer it would explode.
I grabbed my bag and my coat and my water bottle, and fled the cinema. I stood in the hallway and breathed deeply. When I finally calmed down enough to exit the building, I leant against a fence and stared into space. I had two hours to kill before the seminar. I could go to the library and find a computer and write, or I could go and get coffee and read a book. I couldn’t decide. I stood for maybe ten minutes, looking around me in either direction. My heartbeat increased, my eyes practically glazed over. I was in a state of panic that had little to do with the content of the movie itself.
I finally made a decision. I crossed the road to the nearest cafe, bought an overpriced, disgustingly syrupy hot chocolate. I stared into the lukewarm, sugary nightmare, and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. My body seethed with anger, the kind of anger I’m uncomfortable thinking about, let alone feeling. I knew it wasn’t about some stupid film, but the context in which I’d watched it.
I first saw Halloween when I was eighteen years old. I went with my best friend at the time, and a girl from our class. My “friend” knew I hated horror films, and he talked me into going, and took pleasure in the fact I’d be scared by it. I got through the film relatively unscathed. By this, I mean I had my hands over my eyes 90 percent of the time. There’s a bit where you think the killer is dead, and then he sits back up all of a sudden. My “friend” told me it was okay to look again, that he was dead and it was over. So I looked, just as the scary-ass killer sits back up and continues his murder rampage. I was slightly traumatised by the film. Furthermore, it was a midnight screening, and in Glasgow the public transport shuts off around midnight. I had to walk home alone in the dark after watching a terrifying horror movie that I hadn’t wanted to watch in the first place. This is probably why I associate that film with my boundaries being disrespected, and with a feeling of being unsafe.
However, it is not the movie I was triggered by, so much as the person who had first made me watch it. This is the story of a so-called friend who emotionally abused me for seven months of my life, who walked over my boundaries countless times, and coerced me into things I didn’t want to do. Why am I writing this blog? Because I have kept my mouth shut about it for two years and it has eaten me up inside; because abuse is insidious and it destroys your voice, steals parts of yourself long after it has happened, destroys your self-worth; because I don’t know how to express anger in real life, and the only way I can release the pain and fear and betrayal is through the written word. Why not just write it in my diary? Because the whole point of this is that I am so fucking sick of censoring myself on this topic. To write it in private defeats the point, because it would perpetuate my view that this story should be hidden, that my voice isn’t worth being heard. So here we are. If you know the person I am writing about, perhaps you think I am not justified to write this. I understand why you would think that, but at the end of the day, karma’s only a bitch if you are. He abused me, he destroyed my self-esteem, and I am still haunted by it two years later. He doesn’t deserve my self-censorship, he doesn’t deserve vague allusions to what he did, he doesn’t deserve me walking on eggshells trying not to damage his reputation. I’m not writing this out of revenge, I’m writing this to reclaim my power and reclaim my voice.
Our first conversation was about pornography. I feel like that set the tone for our so-called friendship. We met on a facebook group for people on our university course, and became friends from there. We messaged each other nonstop for the month before we met. We talked a lot about sexuality. I like to talk about taboo topics, because I’m fascinated by them. It was my first male/female friendship, and I used it as an opportunity to learn about men, to help write realistic male characters in my novels. I talked to him about the female body, he talked to me about the male body. For the purpose of education.
But soon he wanted to do more than talk. He wanted me to send him nude pictures. At first, I entertained the idea. My phone was broken, so it wasn’t like I could actually send anything. I never know where to draw the line, I explore the idea of things in theory, without wanting to do them. By the time my new phone arrived, he cornered me by pointing out that I had agreed to it. I tried to back out, said I was nervous, but he talked me into it. Later on he made me feel like it was my idea. Our whole “friendship” was a nightmare slippery slope, a constant scale of one thing leading to another, with every line so blurred that I began to wonder if the lines had ever been there in the first place.
So I sent the pictures. He sent pictures in return. So many, so frequently, and always expected me to comment on and compliment them. It was always his timing, always on his terms. Everything was on his terms. But it was the first time in my life that I’d had a close friend, and I would have done just about anything for him. It’s hard to recognise red flags when you don’t know what a healthy friendship looks like.
This wasn’t the only boundary he crossed before we’d even met. I told him that there was maybe 1 percent of me that was attracted to girls (the jury’s still out on that one, two years later I don’t have the faintest clue what my sexuality is, no label quite seems to fit). It wasn’t something I’d ever told anyone. His response to this was to make me rank the attractiveness of all the other girls who would be in our class. I told him it made me uncomfortable, that these were people I viewed as friends, I didn’t see them in that way. He constantly talked about them in a sexualised manner. As I’ve said, I don’t know what my sexuality is, but that’s not the point here. The point is that he took the slightest hint of bisexuality and exploited that in spite of my protests.
On my first day in Glasgow, we were meant to spend the evening together. He then told me he could only stay for an hour, because he had family visiting. The story soon changed, and he was going to go to a concert with another friend. Right from the start, I felt like he chose her over me. I spent my first evening in Glasgow feeling bitter and alone, betrayed by my so-called friend.
I can’t remember much of the first month. I remember we regularly hung out with other people from our course, and that I always felt like they didn’t quite like me, that I was the odd one out. Months later, one of these girls told me that she preferred talking to me alone, because when we were a group He always spoke for me, and never gave me a chance to have my own voice. But I didn’t see that at the time.
Early on, he began to use affection as a weapon. In group situations, he would always sit as far away from me as possible. He was reluctant to let me hug him in public in case people thought we were a couple. He was paranoid about people thinking we were together. He called me clingy, used affection as a bribe. If I told him I loved him, he’d say “you too” or not say it at all. He said saying “I love you” too many times makes the words lose meaning. I still find it difficult to be close with people who can’t express affection, because there’s still this part of me that feels like they’re withholding it to weaponize it against me, the way he did.
He then got a crush on a girl in our class. Every time I said something nice to him, he’d whine “why can’t she say that?” He’d talk about her in a sexual way, make me analyse every detail of her. He made me message her and try to figure out if she was interested in him, put the idea in her head that they were a good match. I didn’t want to, but by this point I was in so deep that I would have walked off a cliff if he told me to. To this day I refuse to play matchmaker for my friends. I hate being stuck in the middle, and I hate the position he put me in.
He asked her to meet up, the three of us. I remember the day, it was the 5th of October, 2016. She cancelled last minute. He and I went for a walk in the park, we sat on a bench, overlooking the fountain. I can’t remember what we talked about. What I do remember is that he got an erection, and felt the need to tell me about it. I was like “okay” and looked pointedly in the other direction. He made a joke like “you can’t touch it” and I was like “yeah, I don’t want to.” Then he made another joke about how it may be my only opportunity to ever touch a penis. Our whole “friendship” could be summarised in the phrase “one thing led to another.” So, one thing led to another. Long story short, his apparent jokes resulted in me giving him a handjob in a more private corner of the park. Me, the ultimate goody-two-shoes, the girl who never had a rebellious phase, the girl who never breaks any rules, performed a sexual act in a public place. On the rare occasions I walk past that part of the park, I’m still surprised no one saw. Afterwards, he said it was the only non-sexual handjob in history. He also said that he would never…return the favour because that would be “too intimate.” Gotta love those double standards.
Over the next couple of months, we spent less time with our classmates. Instead, we spent time with his other best friend. I hadn’t particularly warmed to her. I felt like she didn’t like me, and there was an unspoken turf war over him. It was like we were in this tiny cult of two people, and he was our cult leader. She lived just up the hall from me. When he came to visit me, he would disappear to visit her. Or he’d kill two birds with one stone, and hang out with both of us at once. I constantly felt judged, that she was better than me. It didn’t help that he would jokingly said “be like [redacted].” He may have meant it as a joke, but many of his jokes revealed his true motivations.
On top of pitting me against every possible female opponent, he would make comments that chipped away at my self-esteem. The ones that lodged themselves into the museum of my memory are “you’re not UNattractive” (as in, I’m certainly not attractive), and “some people will never be beautiful.” He claimed he didn’t feel comfortable complimenting his female friends, even though he spent his life talking about how attractive they were. The reality was, he liked to compliment his female friends, just not me. Not to mention all the backhanded compliments, the thinly veiled insults about parts of my body he should never have been allowed to see.
By November, he had another crush, another girl from our class. She was pretty and lovely, and he was obsessed with her. He would talk about her nonstop, he would forget to save me a seat in class so he could sit next to her. I grew to resent her. Not her as a person, but this projection of her that he constantly talked about. I didn’t want to be a part of it. He and I fought everyday, because I was so sick of him treating me as his fill-in girlfriend whilst he tried to woo every other girl on the planet. I wasn’t in love with him, I wasn’t attracted to him, all I wanted was to be his friend. But I love my friends deeply and passionately, and that was never something he could understand. All he saw in me was devoted worshipper, and he took advantage of that as often as he could.
He grew more and more obsessed with this girl. Throughout this first semester, he still made me send him nude photographs. I grew more and more reluctant. He didn’t understand that consent isn’t a one-time thing. However, by December, he began to change his mind, because he planned to ask out this girl. So he said “from tomorrow, we’ll stop.” And I said “okay, we’ll stop now.” And he was like “no, we’ll stop tomorrow, you can still send me pictures tonight.” For perhaps the first time in our “friendship”, I put my foot down and said no, this is a double standard, we stop now, you don’t get to call the shots here.
We still fought a lot throughout January, almost every day. I felt like he didn’t value our friendship, and that he only cared about whichever girl he was obsessed with that week. During this time, I got closer with his Other best friend, mostly because he forced us to spend lots of time together. I still don’t know how to feel about her, and I don’t know how much of our friendship was real, but two valuable things came out of it: 1) she taught me a trick for opening jars, which has come in handy when I need to stress-eat pickles, 2) she introduced me to the music of Frank Turner, who is now my favourite singer, in spite of the association with her. Frank Turner’s songs have gotten me through so much, and taught me to be strong, and that means more to me than how I first heard of him.
Me and [redacted] spent November through January fighting constantly. He now had a new trick up his sleeve: he would bring his Other best friend into our arguments that had nothing to do with her, to make me feel like I was crazy and unreasonable. This is a psychological term known as triangulation, that is often employed by narcissists. At the time I just felt like I was being ganged up on.
You see, by this point I didn’t really have many friends. I had one other close friend, and that was it. [Redacted] always seemed confused when I knew any people he didn’t know, and discouraged me from having other friends. When I went to improv — the two hours of the week where I escaped from his clutches — he’d get annoyed that I wasn’t replying to his messages. Some weeks I’d skip going altogether, to spend more time with him. He was like an addiction. By this point I knew he was bad for me, but I didn’t know how to live without him.
I felt isolated and alone, my mental health was in shreds. He often tried to convince me I was mentally unstable. I began to doubt myself. Now I can see that this was gaslighting, but at the time I felt like I was to blame. I was too clingy, too needy, too much. It was all my fault.
The end of January was my 19th birthday. I’ve never been particularly into birthdays, but I wanted to do something because this was the first time in my life that I’d had friends. Except I didn’t have many close friends, and I didn’t know which people to ask. I chose an assortment of people. I asked one girl from improv because she was someone I wanted to be better friends with, I asked a couple of classmates, my one other actual friend, and of course Him and his Other best friend (who was conveniently sick, and couldn’t come). He spent the entire time talking, and I barely got a chance to say a word. By this point I was resentful. The one day of the year that should be about me, and as usual he was making it about him.
A few days later, we had another big fight. I suggested we take a week’s hiatus from our friendship. He was firmly against this, but I eventually convinced him. I only lasted about three days, but this was my first taste of life without him. By this point, I had started socialising more with people from improv. I took baby steps, but these were perhaps what saved me in the end.
During February, there was this week where everything seemed a little too placid. I recognised it for what it was: the calm before the storm. A few days later, I was talking to his Other best friend, and she said they had had a fight. I was surprised, they never fought. Both refused to tell me what it was about. I speculated with my other friend, and she said, as a joke, “maybe they had sex.” As soon as she said it, I knew it was true. I didn’t ask him straight away, I asked his Other best friend. She told me to come to her room, so she could tell me in person. I messaged him and told him I knew what happened.
I don’t know how bothered I would have been by the fact they slept together if he hadn’t lied to me for a month. It was the lying that broke me. He had created this fucked up three-way friendship, distanced me from everyone else until the two of them had become my whole world. And then he screwed up the dynamic of that friendship by screwing her.
I always knew it was inevitable he’d have sex with one of us, but deep down I always thought it would be me. Our friendship was a slippery slope, and there was only one way I expected it to end. I’m glad it was her rather than me, but I was certainly surprised. I was in shock that he lied to me. Once trust is broken, it cannot easily be repaired. I didn’t know if I could forgive him, but I was prepared to. I couldn’t forgive her. She told me it was her idea, that she seduced him as a challenge, to see if she could, even though she knew it would hurt me.
I was humiliated and betrayed, and I was near alone in the world. I felt powerless, and I wanted to scream and rage and destroy something. So I wrote some angry poems — when I read them back now I am still shocked at the venom they contain — and I performed them at a spoken word open mic, which I made him attend.
It’s not my proudest moment. I am not a vengeful person, and at the time I didn’t gain any satisfaction from the fact I made him cry. All I knew was that I needed to get my voice back, after seven months of silence, and this was the only way.
He told me I was a terrible person, but that he would forgive me if I agreed to stop being cruel to [redacted]. I told him I couldn’t do that. I had finally gained the distance to see our “friendship” for the toxic mess that it was, and there was no way in hell that I was going back to it.
Disentangling my life from him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. There are two reasons I managed: 1) sheer determination, 2) the new friends I made. The same day I found out about him and [redacted] I bonded with a girl from my improv group, and she is still my best friend, almost two years later. I threw myself into improv. I knew I had to make new friends fast, and I did, and I am eternally grateful for that.
The next few months were incredibly tough. In addition to the emotional trauma of coming out of an abusive “friendship,” I got three unrequited crushes in the space of a month, which was horrendous for my practically nonexistent self-esteem. The third crush is frequently referred to in these blogs as “the guy who took 4.5 months to reply to a facebook message”, so you can imagine how that felt, after everything I had suffered.
In addition to the aforementioned heartbreaks, I spent two months travelling that summer, and fell into an awful depression. My laptop was stolen, my cat died, I was alone with my thoughts in far distant lands for way too long. I returned home as the shell of a person. I looked into the core of myself and despised what I saw.
During my second year of university, I began to put myself back together. I was depressed for the entirety of the first semester, and well into the second semester. But I had an amazing group of friends, who I love with all my heart, and they helped me heal the broken parts of myself. It was also the first time I’d been close friends with a guy since [redacted]. It was challenging for both of us at first, because I kept getting triggered by associations, and I projected my fears onto him. I was so scared of history repeating itself. But we got through that stage. He’s not like [redacted], and he is one of the bestest friends I’ve ever had. He’s also the reason I wrote this blog, because he made me see that some stories need to be told, no matter how terrifying it is to tell them.
The story doesn’t end here. During the first semester of second year, [redacted] was in one of my seminars. I could deal with him in lectures, because there were 100-200 people in the room, but in seminars there were 12 of us. He’d sit opposite me, and look at me the whole time. Afterwards he would follow me to my lecture, even though he wasn’t in that class and had no reason to walk in that direction. He wasn’t in my seminar in second semester, but I remember one day I was walking to class, and I saw him. It was late January or early February, the week after my birthday. He was walking towards me, then he stopped walking, turned sideways, and just stared at me as I walked past. I was completely unnerved by this, and I ended up having a panic attack during my class. I was petrified of seeing him, scared he would approach me.
Due to the lecturer strike that altered the course of the semester, I barely saw him after that. I saw him briefly before an exam, and didn’t see him for the whole summer. I didn’t feel panicky when I saw him this year. I told myself I was over it. He no longer approaches me. I saw him holding hands with his Other best friend from first year, and I presume they’re dating. The sight of it didn’t affect me at all. I was like “okay, that is now a thing, I’m surprised it took them this long” and moved on with my life.
But as the weeks go by, the panic begins to creep in. The sight of him doesn’t give me panic attacks anymore, though I can hardly bear to look at him. The sound of his voice still fills me with dread. And then yesterday, watching Halloween, with him two rows behind me, I had a panic attack over him for the first time in nine months. I told a friend about it tonight, and he thinks I have PTSD. I think he’s right, but at the same time I feel so stupid. How can I have PTSD because of someone so small and insignificant? If someone’s going to fuck up your life, it should at least be someone interesting or fearsome. I look at this person and wonder how he could ever have had so much power over me.
I constantly doubt what happened, blame myself for it. I went to counselling over the summer, for my anxiety, and when I did bring up the topic of Him, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the ins and outs of what happened, I was too embarrassed. Too embarrassed to tell a counsellor, yet I can write it on the internet? How very typical of me. I’m so scared you’re all reading this and thinking I’m writing it for attention. I don’t want attention. If you’re reading this and know who I’m talking about, I would be mortified if you mentioned it to me. Because it’s not something I want to talk about to anyone. But I’m telling the story in the hope it will set me free, and give me the release I have been searching for these past two years.
Time makes you see things differently, as do particular events. For me, one of these events was the #metoo movement. It made me question particular encounters in a whole new light. Not just [redacted] but also the first man who kissed me. I always tell the story like “haha there was this creepy guy who thought I was a prostitute,” but looking back now, I can see it was basically assault.
I was eighteen years old, and travelling alone in Estonia. I’d been there about four days, and was lonely and homesick, unable to communicate because I didn’t quite realise that most Estonians speak English. A man followed me into an alleyway, and spoke to me in a language that wasn’t Estonian. I responded in English, and told him I couldn’t understand him. He was delighted that I was English. He told me he was from Nigeria but lived in Finland, and asked if we could go somewhere so he could “practice his English.” I was a very naive eighteen-year-old, and didn’t realise this was an innuendo. I was sensible enough to stay in a public place, but I did go with him. We sat on a bench at the edge of the old town, and talked. He asked if I had a boyfriend, I said no. He asked if I’d ever been kissed, I said no. He said “I’m going to give you your first kiss”, and kissed me. I sat frozen still, unable to move. It was unexpected, and disgusting, and I didn’t know what to do. He then had the audacity to tell me I was a terrible kisser, and asked if I was a lesbian. He then proceeded to tell me that I shouldn’t trust men, because all men would want to rape me, except him, and then he said we should go back to my place. He also said no man would respect me based on how I dressed, and that when he first saw me he thought I was a Russian prostitute. I soon made my excuses and left.
All I could think was “every book I’ve ever read has lied to me.” To this day, I’ve never had a properly good kissing experience, so I still feel slightly lied to by fiction, but that’s a matter for another blog. My initial reaction was a combination of disgust, and surprise that someone actually thought I was attractive for the first time in my life. There was a part of me that was flattered. Looking back now, I see it a lot clearer: he kissed me without my consent, disrespected my boundaries, and was an absolute creep. But I don’t know if I would have seen just how bad it was, if it weren’t for the #metoo movement exposing so many abusive men, and showing just how pervasive and normalised sexual assault has become.
I realise now that the creepy guy who thought I was a prostitute and the abusive arsehole “friend” weren’t just isolated incidents, they formed a pattern which still affects my relationship to my sexuality, and my relationship to anger. In general I am private when it comes to my sexuality. Yes, I make a lot of sex jokes, but have you ever heard me talk about it in a non-joky way? Unlikely. To me, it is something that other people try to do to me, my body is an object to be used. I am in no way empowered. There is a glass cage between me and my own sexuality, it doesn’t belong to me, because the majority of my experiences have been at the hands of men or boys who thought they had more of a right to my body than I did. Two years later, and I don’t know how to heal the damage done.
In astrology, sex and anger are ruled by the same planet. I never made the connection until yesterday, but now it makes so much sense, because they are the two areas of my life where I feel disempowered and repressed, the two areas of my life I’m afraid to write about, the two areas of my life where I don’t have a voice. So here I am, reclaiming my voice. Because fuck the patriarchy, fuck abusive men, and fuck staying silent out of respect for their reputations or egos.
Even having written this blog, there’s still a part of me that terrified of how people will read it. I’m scared you’ll think what he did isn’t that bad, that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Believe me, I’ve had the same thought many times. It’s not like either of these men raped me, it could have been so much worse. I have spent two years victim-blaming myself because I am so scared of actually admitting that I’m a victim.
For as long as I can remember, my biggest fear has been assault, to have no control over what others do to my body. I didn’t realise my biggest fear had already happened until months or years after it took place. And that terrifies me. But at the same time, it has taught me that I survived the thing I was most scared of in the world. Pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t make it go away. I can’t rewrite my own history book. What I can do, is write the present, and lay out the foundations of the future.
I am twenty years old, I deserve to have a healthy relationship with my sexuality. And I deserve to express my anger. I’m never going to be an Angry Woman of the type I write about, and perhaps I don’t want to be. Earlier tonight, I talked to a friend about everything I’ve just written. I tried to convince him it was a terrible idea for me to write this, that I don’t know how to fight, I’m not cut out for this. He told me there’s more than one way to fight, that I don’t need to express anger in an aggressive way. He said sometimes it’s more effective to show anger in a reserved and articulate way.
I have felt so much shame about what happened. I have been in the same class as an abuser for two years, shared acquaintances with him, tiptoed around the tale of what happened because I didn’t want to seem gossipy or attention seeking. After our friendship ended, I kept quiet, and he controlled the narrative. But I am done letting him or any other man speak for me. I have a voice, and I am using that voice to say “me fucking too.”