I set a reminder on my phone at 11 o’clock on Friday the 17th of March to write a blog post the following morning as I was probably knackered (even though I imagine I went on to play PS4 all night). Well here we are, 39 days later and I’m finally getting round to writing it. After ignoring numerous buzz notifications from my ‘Reminders’ app nudging me every day to write the damn thing, it’s happening. I’ve been putting it off because I’m nervous about the subject matter. Actually, tell a lie, I’m nervous about the reaction to the subject matter. Anyway, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Until about the age of 18 or 19, I lived nearly every day of my life in fear, believing I was a freak, a disgusting monster, that I’d be punished for what I had done if the truth ever got out. I struggled with the incessant, persistent and cacophonous thoughts screaming at me to confess my wrongdoings whilst simultaneously grappling with the overwhelming sense of dread that people might find out what kind of person I was once they peeled back the mask. This situation deteriorated rapidly over the period of about a year, of which I was bed bound for 9 months of that time. This whirlwind of hectic emotions came to a crashing halt when I picked up a book in the Picadilly branch of Waterstones in London. I’ll provide some context, as I can appreciate that you might be asking a lot of questions already.
Becoming bed bound for 9 months happened overnight but was a culmination of years upon years of failing to deal with issues in my life. Not speaking about my darkest fears, secrets and worries all lead me down the path of despair which kept me prisoner, chained and held down by mighty weights that I’d conjured up all by myself. You see, when you don’t address a problem (and people can’t always deal with things as and when they arise for myriad reasons, granted), it grows from a little seed into a mighty Giant Redwood forest, sinking roots deep into your veins that are excruciatingly painful when the time comes to pull them out.
So anyway, after being privy to my dad having a breakdown in front of me and asking me if it was worth both of us just ending our lives together, I realised something drastically needed to change. When I speak about this moment, whether to friends, groups of people or for TV and radio, I say that it was like all the lights came back on. Hold on to your butts, there’s a Jurassic Park analogy incoming! Just as in the film, the whole system falls into disarray when Nedry plants a virus (in my case, OCD) that crashes the Park’s computer programmes. For a period of time, there’s chaos as everything goes to hell (my many months of being zombified by my OCD) until Ellie manages to get the systems back online (seeing my dad completely breakdown).
Cut a very long story short, I started putting a plan together to work on my recovery which led to me being able to venture out every now and again with dad. It just so happens that on one of these days out, we walked into said Waterstones and, on the 3rd floor, I plucked ‘Sex Life: How Our Sexual Encounters and Experiences Define Who We Are‘ off the shelf. From that moment on, the course of my life was veering off the path of insanity and torment and started off in earnest in the quest for a better life. For it was inside the pages of that book, that wonderfully Willy Wonka, Cadbury’s chocolate, Guardians of the Galaxy purple book, that I found solace, redemption, salvation, belonging, acceptance, understanding and most of all, hope.
When you’re a kid, you have no idea (basic this is good, that is bad excluded) of what is right and what is wrong when it comes to larger concepts in life such as love, sex, relationships, philosophy etc. However, children often have a curious and wandering mind that is constantly seeking out new experiences and absorbing them like a sponge. It just so happens that in my childhood, I had sexual experiences with friends of both genders. At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was sexual because I didn’t know what sex was or that it was inappropriate. It was a game. It was another form of role-playing. You know what I mean, we’ve all played doctors and nurses, teachers and all that jazz. When I think back, my memories are vague but I distinctly remember being filled with feelings of curiosity and discovery as opposed to desire and sexual lust. I didn’t think about these experiences again until I was 15 years old, right about the time my OCD flared into life for real, coinciding with my diagnosis and the beginning of my proper battle with mental illness.
I struggled feverishly for around 3-4 years, avoiding the issue which I knew was acting like coal for the OCD fire that burned like a sweltering furnace in every fibre of my being. It affected my GCSEs, my A-Levels, my friendships, my university prospects, my relationships; it was all consuming. I was terrified that if I told my dad, he’d be angry at me and I would get in trouble with the police. I worried every day that I would blurt out everything I had done and be taken away, flashing blue lights and sirens wailing around whilst I collapsed into myself. I was on the brink, and it took a total mental breakdown in the middle of Greenwich on the street followed by hours of crying and talking with my dad for the cause of all of my problems to show its face.
My dad’s reaction was just about as perfect as it could’ve ever been. After listening to me explain myself he was silent for a while. Inside, I was thinking that he was furious, that he was planning on how to deal with all of this information and that he was upset with me, that I’d lose him and he wouldn’t want to speak to me ever again. But he looked at me and said “Well now I know, and you don’t have to deal with any of this on your own anymore” (or words to that effect as I was a wreck at this point). This only sparked more tears and he cradled me, his 19-year-old son who had just poured his heart and soul out to him, into his arms and held me. I hadn’t felt comfort or safety like that for 4 long years of suffering. In those years, I’d only believed the worst about myself. I’d struggled with my sexuality, telling myself every day that I wasn’t gay to try and prove it to myself (there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay or bi or whatever you are, so long as you’re happy). I couldn’t stop sexually intrusive thoughts from plaguing my mind, I had wet dreams nearly every night, prompting showers every morning and a change of bedding every day. All of those worries and fears evaporated in my dad’s embrace. I’d go so far as to say that his love cleansed my soul.
However, even after all of my dad’s reassurances and advice and support, it wasn’t until I picked up that book off the shelf that I realised that I wasn’t the only person in the world who had experienced what I had. I read stories from so many adults detailing similar events in their childhood, some seemingly more complex, some much the same. I sat in one of the armchairs that Waterstones put out and devoured page upon page, dumbfounded with my new knowledge that I wasn’t a monster, I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t a bad person. I was just a person living with fears that were seeped into my conscience but this book lit up those fears and showed them for what they really were. Balloons from my childhood that I was finally able to let go. I didn’t have to hold on to them anymore, and in turn, they didn’t have to hold on to me.
It was only when I accepted myself and stopped fighting who I was and the things I’d done that I truly began to recover. It wasn’t an overnight thing, I’m still recovering now, 6 years later. But it gave me the breathing room and the distance to challenge my negative thoughts. In the interim, I believe that there are changes we can make as a society to stop someone going through what I did in my late teens. I firmly stand behind the notion that educating children about sex and sexual experiences should be something that starts before they leave primary school. In no way am I saying we should encourage children to be sexually active, not in the slightest! But kids are curious and play childhood games and do engage in sexual activity, whether we like to believe it and admit it or not. I know that if I wasn’t so terrified of talking about what I’d done as a child, a lot of my problems that impacted me in my teens wouldn’t have occurred. If you present the concept of sex as a sordid and negative thing, children are only going to be more secretive about it. Whereas, if you approach it in a child-friendly way and explain that it’s a natural and normal thing but should only occur at the appropriate time, I think a lot of problems can be avoided at the source! And if you discover that your child has engaged/is engaging in sexual activity with other children in the form of innocent games, please don’t fly off the handle at them and be angry at them and shout at them and punish them! This will only make them close in and believe they’re a bad person and will seriously affect their view on sex and sexual relationships in a negative way as they grow up.
I also believe that schools are failing children by not providing good, healthy and informative sex education. I know from personal experience that my sex ed was terrible and many other people that I’ve spoken to about the subject are in agreement. Something needs to be done so that this notion of sex as a dirty and secretive affair can be banished and it can be painted in the light it should be seen in. That it’s the most natural thing we as human beings can do in our life, aside from eating, drinking, sleeping and shitting!
So, in conclusion, don’t let your self-doubt, fear and worry rule your life. Talk to those you love and trust because I promise you, it won’t be half as bad as you expect if the person you’re telling truly loves you. If you feel you’ve experienced something similar to me, I urge you to pick up a copy of the book I mentioned and give that a read. I hope that it’ll provide you with some comfort and help you believe that you’re not alone. I suffered in silence for many unnecessary years and I wish I could have that time back but I can’t. Don’t let yourself go through the same thing. There is help, there is support, there is hope, hold on to that.