No one expects things to go wrong. Whatever anyone tells you, no matter how pessimistic they might proclaim to be, no-one actually expects things to go badly wrong in their life – at least not until something does go badly wrong.
There are exceptions: those who have experienced serious childhood trauma and have been introduced early to the notion of hardship, poverty, or abuse. But my demographic – white and middle-class and usually from a loving, supportive family – don’t expect things to go wrong. Until my mid-20s, things going wrong consisted almost exclusively of academic ‘failures’ which I blamed on what I perceived as the limitations of my work ethic. More than once I dived into a pit of self-loathing for not getting top marks until, when studying for an MA, I finally learned to let it go. (I’ve since read that it can it can be extremely damaging to imbue a child with the knowledge of her own intelligence; the ‘potential’ I may not be living up to continues to haunt me.)
When I was on the cusp of 25 I had my first experience of heartbreak, which was as earth-shattering and soul-destroying as all the books, films and songs say it is. I remember, in between childlike sobs on my bedroom floor, asking a friend how it was that something so acutely painful could be normalised through popular culture? She shook her head, baffled as I was at how a nine-month relationship appeared to be ripping me apart from the inside.
After three subsequent weeks of not eating and sleeping in a bed with my younger sister, I decided to go to a party (where I was complimented incessantly on the weight I’d lost) and met someone whom I liked and went home with. It didn’t lead to much, but it was a catalyst for moving on – securing me in the knowledge that there were hundreds of people it was possible to connect with. Distance from the relationship pulled the scales from my eyes as I realised its shortcomings, and my ex’s handling of the break up – blocking me out totally – meant I lost respect for him quickly. I’d survived my first terrible emotional trial intact.
‘See,’ I told myself, as I embarked on my 26th year stronger than ever before: ‘everything happens for a reason’. Except it doesn’t.
Two and a half years later, in November 2017, I was raped. The scale of the aftermath of this event continues to stump me. I’m making peace with the fact that I’ve unwittingly embarked on a journey of processing that might last a lifetime. I’m adjusting to the idea that just because something changes you, it doesn’t mean its broken you. I’m slowly absolving myself of blame for the consequences of abuse; attempting to disassociate who I am from violence and remembering that trauma is something that happens to you, not because of you. I’m understanding that many – if not most- people won’t be able to grasp what I’m living with and that like all mental health, its personal anyway.
My experience was made more extreme by the fact that I have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). The diagnosis – which I sought a year before it arrived – was given to me with overwhelming affirmation by a psychiatrist in March 2018 – just after I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Everything was intense. The intersection of both ‘disorders’ continues to make life difficult to live. The hypersensitivity which is characteristic of each was and is a cause of great distress.
And then just under a year later, in February of this year, I was raped again. This attack – objectively more violent and more random than the first – was something I struggled to own and make sense of in the way that I had previously. I didn’t tell anyone. Then I told a few people – but my words were vague and I’m sure they didn’t quite understand what had happened. Besides, by now I felt ridiculous. How had this happened to me again? I figured it was easier to sit with it alone – I’d put my loved ones through enough and I couldn’t bear to cause anyone any more pain. I felt like I was radiating waves of trauma and I began to hate myself.
It was around this time that a relationship I was in broke down. It was a relationship that I had, perhaps naively, believed would help me rebuild. We were incredibly connected and fell in love in spite of the complications that plagued our existence both as individuals and as a couple (he was friends with my ex-boyfriend.) When he pushed me away, professing an inability to love and be loved as a result of a toxic past relationship, I felt pain like I had never known before.
Arriving at a time in my life when I was so overcome with shame and self-loathing, the rejection added another layer of both. I kicked myself for falling in love in the first place. I loathed myself for being the victim of two separate attacks. I despised myself for my own emotional intensity – finding it more and more impossible to accept and ride the ‘ups and downs’ of life. And I had no philosophy anymore.
Things don’t happen for a reason.
I am lucky in vast amounts of ways. I’m writing this in a beautiful café near Venice Beach in Los Angeles. I flew out here to stay with family and to help myself process everything that went wrong.
And I’ve realised that things didn’t go ‘wrong’ because it was never guaranteed that things would go ‘right’.
The arbitrariness of life is cruel. People who tell themselves everything happens for a reason might be stupid, or desperate – but what they’re trying to do is inject meaning into a world that kicks you when you’re down. Numerous friends have told me that I ‘deserve to be happy’, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I think it’s the most absurd notion I’ve ever heard. What, so there are people who don’t deserve to be happy? As if happiness is something that can ever be deserved. It’s a product of a randomly allocated mix of factors, and most of the time its temporary.
In dark, dark moments – moments that pervade my life at the moment – I take comfort in books, in films, in the words of people that tell me I’m not alone. I’ve got used to waking up with a huge rock in my stomach, but I’ve also got used to knowing that this feeling will subside as the day goes on. I’ve got used to the idea that I’ll be markedly more guarded the next time I fall in love, but I’ve also accepted that I will fall in love again. Having had a childhood full of love, it’s been strange to have to rebuild my feelings of worthiness – but in doing so I’ve come to appreciate my own strength, resilience and – dare I say it – bravery. And I’ve got used to the idea that something terrible might happen again, but also that I’ll probably survive.
I’m still a way off from believing that I might feel happy one day, but I’m also redefining what happiness is. Sitting alone with a coffee, in a sunny garden, dong what I love – writing – is enough for me right now. Soon, I’ll have a drink with a friend and laugh. Next week I’ll go to the cinema with my niece and nephew and feel so overcome with love that I’ll wonder how I ever questioned the point of existence. I’ll read a paragraph in a book that resonates so profoundly I’ll underline it excitedly in black ballpoint pen and share it with the people that matter.
All life is – all it can ever be – is a series of moments. And all we can do is to try and not let the pain from the past dictate what we take from these moments and how we live them. Things don’t happen for a reason, but you can make your own meaning. Knowing this is, I think, accepting that there are things more profound and more important than happiness.
I hope things get better. But, crucially, I know I’ll be okay if they don’t.