Full moon.

The wind is cold in the desert, the stars look like tiny pinpricks in a jewellery box. The city lights are glittery, like the stars.

I’m shivering but alive and loving this. So are the others. There’s a gleam of expectation in the Dutchman’s eye. He’s watching us absorb this place. He keeps asking us what we have enjoyed, what we are excited about, if we are ok. Always, always checking on our wellbeing, making sure each single one of us feels safe, protected, happy.

The rough wind often whips my hair into a frenzy, which annoys me so I have to fix it with water whenever I have the time. Nineteen starts to enjoy the hairstyle- I sometimes catch her preening at her newfound reflection and loving it. Fourteen bites the bullet and gets brave with the Dutchman. Fifteen has heartfelt conversations. I find myself desperate for another hug, one more kiss, another funny moment shared over pancakes or in a bath together or on the Strip.

The sun shines most days here, pretty brightly, and cuts the chill in half as long as you’re walking in its beams. I twist my fingers between his, we walk slowly along the Strip without a care in the world. He takes us on evenings out, little dates littered here and there. There’s moments where each one of us cannot help but fall asleep on the buses, and his warm hands wrap around our sleeping form and hold us tight. We are terrified of falling asleep in public. This is a huge change.

Mornings are finally not scary but enjoyable. Fourteen wakes up needed romance, cuddles- fifteen the same. Nineteen can play it a little less innocently depending what mood she’s in but will equally need hugs once it’s over. I’m a mixture. I just want to love this guy in every way. The best part of waking up with the Dutchman is the kisses. Oh gods, we all melt. Running our hands through dark curls, stroking his cheek. Heaven.

He jokes that even Death needs to go on holiday- where better than here, somewhere that’s so incredibly alive in the middle of a place where things are struggling to live, often dying in the heat? Lights glitter like gold dust, and a juggler of alcohol pours the tastiest cocktails and I sip the elixir of life. I want more. Not of the drink in my hand- no, I want more of this time spent loving him.

One bright morning, we head to where the columns tower far over both our heads and the sun beats down. It’s pretty warm actually. We head out to a garden which is sadly closed- a garden that bears my puppy’s name- and manage to find a place to sit inside a little cabana near a pool that more closely resembles an ornate water fountain in a stately home I once visited than a place to swim.

He tells us how remarkable this place is, how vibrant it is. We have to agree… we thank him, profusely, for letting us join him on this incredible chance to see somewhere that most never go to.

He’s not finished.

He tells us about a girl who fell for the Lord of the Underworld, a goddess who ate six pomegranate seeds and realised that there was no going back. I don’t think she wanted to. She was accompanied to and from the Underworld by a moon goddess and her large, friendly, female dog.

At this point the hair on the back of our neck stands up. We suddenly know where this is going.

He explains that he thinks Persephone and Hades were meant to be, like us- that our love may have even inspired the tale because he doesn’t think that this is the first time either of us have walked the earth. I have to agree- so do the others. There are so many signs that this is what should be- the universe drops them on our laps on a daily basis. He explains that there was a moment that he knew this was the place he would ask us to marry him, and by us, I mean all of us. He knew that he wanted to marry us in the first few weeks of our relationship. He had been planning this, we knew, because he had asked back near Christmas if it was a totally crazy idea and if we had any thoughts on not getting married.

We all couldn’t think of a single reason why not then, and now that this is happening… yes, still the same feelings. Stronger now, we think, because he has brought us to this place to ask a very important question… with a difference.

He asks each of us in turn.

This is surreal. We are so happy we are crying. The sun throws tiny flecks of light around from the water, and four girls reach for their man and hold him tight.

The reason we are only posting this now is because we have been hoping and wishing and waiting for this sort of stability, this sort of promise, and now it has happened we can hardly believe it. On Valentine’s Day, my happy parents threw us an engagement party. Today, the Dutchman and I viewed the place where my parents got married so we could maybe get married there.

An hour ago, I bought a very important dress.

This is happening, anxiety. Shut up depression, we have found a new way to kick you in the teeth. Honestly, panic, you’re kind of useful now because we can channel you into checking wedding plans. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

Finally, I have what the six-year-old version of me had always dreamed about: someone who loves at the same speed as me.

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A torch in the dark.

Same airport, same system… Different person.

I wait here for things to start, for my flight to leave. I have done this excited waiting before… Only there was always a sense of mild insecurity. Don’t hold your breath. You only have three weeks then there’s another four months or so of holding on and wishing and hoping time would move a bit faster.

This is totally different.

My heart is pounding but instead of a nine hour flight, I have a brief hour in the air to contend with. Instead of endless security and unfounded suspicion, I was in and out of security so fast I had no time to panic. I’m sitting with a drink of hot green tea, having just eaten a panini, and I’m calm and relaxed but at the same time my blood is on fire. I am keen to wrap myself in am embrace that I know will be back my way faster than I can miss it, an embrace I had no idea that I had been missing until I tumbled into it.

I will never forget anything J did for me. He is a good person. He will always be so… But I think he needs an American girl, a nearby lover who can be relaxed as he is. As I have healed, what I’ve needed has reared its head again and demanded to know why I’m not acknowledging it.

I know that I kept wondering what the future held for me, and worrying that I would be left almost alone in a huge continent with a greatly reduced social circle. I wanted to believe that I would do the same as my cousin, who has done it and forged friendships and relationships out there which are flourishing. In time, I might have… But I would never have really known.

Love has had other, more dramatic plans. A kiss in the dark, sealed by the words, “Are you sure?” A long-held spark kindled into a roaring blaze, a fire tornado razing everything to the ground and bringing creation instead of destruction when it had passed. Shoots of life curled into being, tangled into my unresisting, lonely, cold heart. Lonely after a week of heartbreak and a year of separation.

Shadows are security now, and I’ve never thought life so full of promise. The weather may be horrendous, storms blowing, but my heart and soul are blazing warm still.

I’m a burning torch in the dark.

Missing you.

Tonight, I’m missing J an awful lot. I was lying in bed this morning and I looked at my room, and wished that there was a comforting and familiar weight lying next to me. I wished that I could roll over and slide an arm along his side, and hear him mutter sleepily, “You ok baby?”

I usually reply that yes, of course I am, but had he been there this morning I would have told him that yes, I am ok with him. I’m always ok with him.

J has been having a tough time recently. He has his own issues and on top of that he is quitting smoking, which is pretty hardcore and I admire him so much for it. Still he is there for me, despite the fact that some nights he is too stressed to chat on Skype. He always sends me little emails of encouragement- funny stuff he’s found on the internet or stuff he knows I will be interested in.

In America, I was lying next to him the night I told him I loved him and I was bursting with the need to tell him, and I wasn’t frightened at all when it spilled over my lips. He has told me every night since that he loves me, and it’s not tinged with that horrible fake feeling I used to feel whenever I said it.

It’s because this time, it’s real.

TW (again, sorry) Self harm, my ex, and me.

I’ve not posted about this for a long while because I was trying hard not to trigger myself, but I realise that now I am safer. I actually managed to shave my legs with a razor the other day and I was thinking entirely about that annoying patch of hard-to-reach hair by my ankle, not about hurting myself! I was so pleased with myself, I took the puppy out for a play in the garden as my reward. I was reflecting on how hard it was four months ago to go anywhere without a blade and how the itch in my head demanded new cuts, and deeper scars. I’m glad I managed to move on and pick up where I left off with my recovery- I had previously been eight months clean, I think. I was so proud of that achievement and I’m glad I am continuing with beating this addiction.

 

I remember being with J in America this time round- I’d been upset about the new scars on my legs, and terrified of wearing shorts, and frightened he would shout at me. There was no need to worry- J was as kind and pragmatic as ever. I’ve mentioned before that he refers to my old cuts as battle scars, and he has looked up solutions for reducing their lividity. This time, being with him was no different.

‘Oh, hey baby, if you want to use the vitamin E, I left it in the kitchen on the counter. Just pop the capsule and smear the gel on your leg, that’s all.’

I glowed, and went to fetch the vitamin E.

He’d seen them earlier that day and told me my legs looked fantastic, as usual, and that the scars were barely visible. He said they weren’t that bad at all, and he was soon mock-arguing with me about the merits of short-shorts versus my beloved waist-highs. Hah, I love our banter.

 

This was a stark contrast to my ex. Lying in bed with J, I rolled over and kissed his smooth, tan shoulder.

‘Thank you for being so understanding about my scars.’

‘Hey, baby, it’s no big deal. You’re self conscious of them, so I try to help out.’

‘I know. I know I keep saying thank you, but it’s just my ex walked out on me partly because of them, and I still feel guilty over them.’

‘He’s an asshole. Seriously. You just struggle with something a lot of other people struggle with, it’s stupid to walk out on someone for that. Did you try tearing the paper like I told you about?’

‘Yep. That works. I love how it feels when you have that much paper and you really sweat ripping it to shreds. I love how it’s destructive but I’m not destroying me any more.’

I felt him smile in the dark.

‘See, it’s getting all that energy out of you. It works because it’s stopping you getting all that energy out on yourself.’

‘I’m really proud of myself,’ I said, allowing a smile to creep over my features, ‘I did well with this.’

‘You should be proud. It’s a big deal. Goodnight, baby, sleep well.’

I leaned across to kiss him, and he smiled when I leaned back again. I snuggled back down next to him. It’s so odd that I feel that safe lying next to him, and even when I’ve had a nightmare he’s the first person I want a hug from.

‘Goodnight, you sleep well too.’

 

In the days that have followed, I have run through this conversation in my head many times. I don’t think there’s a moment where I could quite believe how lucky I was to start with when I met J, but this conversation was another in a series of amazing eye-openers. Self-harm has lost me friends. It had some poor misguided kid trying to copy me (horror of horrors, please god no). Worst, my family does not understand it (my mum has had me nearly naked, trying to find the last place I took a blade to myself. She means it well, but it humiliated me) and my ex left me for it.

That first year we were together and I was at ballet school, I’d already been struggling with it since I was thirteen. He had a counsellor for a mother and claimed mental health issues himself, but he had no clue why I sliced my skin and didn’t want to bother finding out why. I tried to tell him once, and I remember he blocked the conversation by telling me that he had a much worse problem with depression than I did, and that he never cut himself, so I shouldn’t either. He took away my dad’s old penknife that I’d been using. At the time, the taking of the penknife proved to me he loved me so much that he couldn’t bear to see me hurt. Now I think it was simple control. The only person allowed to hurt me was him. I couldn’t even hurt myself.

I did stop self harming, but I never addressed the issues behind it because he told me I had quit self-harming “for love.” Ew. No, I hadn’t, I had just buried it- and it all streamed back out when the dance school I went to became one of the most awful things I’d ever had to go through. I cut incessantly. I used to wrap my pointe shoe ribbons over the cuts on my legs. Ballet teachers asked me where I’d got the cuts, and I lied. Broken razors, stupidly-placed furniture, falling on gravel… They went away, secure and stupid.

But I confessed to my ex. I wanted sympathy and support and a way out, which I got a little of to start with. Only a little while later, when it kept happening, I got tirades of abuse.

‘You were supposed to have given this all up for me! What the fuck? I thought you loved me more than this. Clearly you don’t.’

I’d cry and promise not to do it, then Monday would hit and it would start again. It just got worse and worse. Eventually, the night I ran away, he had been chewing me out over my self harm again and I’d been apologising for it again and again. Then he told me he wasn’t going to talk to me again until I had sorted out all MY problems, and then hung up. That’s what triggered me to run. That’s what made me carve two scars into my wrists and go.

Those two on each wrist are the only two scars I have from anger. I never cut because I wanted to hurt someone else, and I never cut out of anger. Those are the only two I have where I was all kinds of fucked up: anger at him, a fuck-you-I-am-sick kind of feeling, despair over the break up and over my stupid life, and the wish to die. I’ve cut since then because I wanted to die, but I think that was the only time I had that particular cocktail in my veins.

 

J has been nothing but good about my fading addiction. He understands my self-consciousness over scars, red ones, purple ones and little white ones. He’s kissed those on my arm and on my hips, where they lie like spiderwebs now. He’s researched help with quitting and methods to get rid of scars, and thinks I’m beautiful in nothing but my scars. I can’t get over how fantastic that is.

My ex? He caused many of them. May he wind up understanding my pain at some point- if there is a hell, it would be poetic revenge for him to suffer everything I have.

 

 

The best thing about the first time J saw me naked? No scar comments. Not a one. Just the biggest, happiest smile I’d ever seen on his face til then. That honestly made me forget my scars, and it allowed me to just be. Now, you see why I’m itching to get that back. I only have to wait four more days, and I can feel that way again.

Nightmare.

The dark space of the attic was filled with boxes, broken clothes-rails, junk and toys. Moth eaten clothes flapped. There was a creak of floorboards and I whipped round, dust settling as I saw a dark shape materialise.

Reaching out, I knew who it was- my best friend R’s fiance. I wanted a hug, some reassurance that the whole attic didn’t harbour what I was most terrified of.

Instead, he lunged forward onto all fours, teeth snapping, and his features melted into the monster. Humanoid but not human, like my friend but not my friend, and teeth snapping for my flesh.

I fled, a strangled scream pushing from my lips, past boxes and broken things and shadows that mocked me. It was so close, it was going to sink teeth into me at any second…

I ran slap-bang into my friend Mr Robot. He grabbed me, held me tight, and I sank to the floor, a sobbing wreck. I opened my mouth to try and tell him what had just happened, but his teeth snapped at my face and a grin stretched along a mouth that was widening beyond normal human range- the monster again! His teeth snapped shut on air inches from my eye and I fought5 to extricate myself, wriggling out and running for the open door where light streamed through from the landing.

He followed, the monster did, galloping unnaturally on all fours. More clothes rails hung out here on the landing, more clothes flapping and then stopping abruptly when the monster hid…

And then it lunged from a rack close to me, teeth reaching for my calf, wild hunger in its eyes and skin gleaming in the harsh light of the single lightbulb. I screamed, scrabbling backwards, clasping its throat in my fingers, bashing its head onto the floor, the instinct to survive overpowering the revulsion at the creature’s heartless disguises- manifesting itself as my dad, my friend Mr Robot, my best friend’s fiance-

I jerked awake and threw back the covers. My eyes were gritty and my throat ached from that scream I’d been unable to give voice to. I scrambled out of bed, still running from the thing, knowing it waited to devour me whole, ripping flesh from bone, in the darkest corner of my nightmares. I had no balance as I made it into the hall, my legs made of jelly, my hands over my eyes to protect myself from the light that suddenly streamed into being. My lurching gait brought me to the lounge, where I stood stock still, waiting for it to get me now. I had come to a dead end.

Where the fuck was I?

“Babe? Are you ok? What’s the matter?”

I turned: J was lying on the couch. I dimly recalled that about an hour or more ago, he’d left me sleeping so he could try and wind down, his insomnia not letting him sleep. I stumbled towards him and slid down onto the couch beside him.

“Was it a nightmare, hon?”

I shivered. he laid the gentlest of hands on me, stroking my side as I shook. His kind hand found my shoulders and arms, ran along them, and he told me I was safe and no-one was coming for me.

Those warm calm hands brought me from the no-where-space of my nightmares, and into the real world. I wanted to sleep but the beast still beckoned me.

“Are you ok, babe?”

I nodded, then rethought.

“J, that nightmare was horrible.”

“I know, baby. Believe me, it will pass. Eventually the nightmares will fade, and you’ll be ok.”

I sighed, and snuggled into his arms.

“J?”

“Yes?”

“Sometimes, when I wake up from a nightmare, I think I’m going to die.”

“No, baby. You’re safe here. Nothing like that’s gonna happen to you, I promise.”

 

Later, as he led me back to bed, I felt safe again. I trusted he’d not let even my dreams hurt me, and I was right. I was still alive, and the monster in my dreams, wearing my friends’ faces, was dead.

No Quarter. I am on the move.

I have a few things to talk about, a couple of things to get off my chest. Today seems like a good day- I’m back in London, missing J enormously, and my family, but overall I am feeling ok. Balanced. Happy. At long bloody last!

The journey back here was pretty good- I travelled down with a friend. She drove, I chatted at her from what felt like the wrong side of the car (apparently, I’m too used to American cars now!). I spent the first half of the journey trying to explain to CK what my depression, PTSD (finally, I got told that part of what I have is PTSD, after I don’t know HOW long telling mental health professionals that was what it was) and voice-hearing experiences were all like. She’s a kind, sweet girl, is CK, and she listened well and asked questions.

Before I came back to London, I had the appointment with the psychotherapist that I was dreading. I am now so scarred by psychiatrists and fucking assessments that I was sure this would be another put-down: “Get back in your place, crazy bitch. You’ve already got a diagnosis (lies), why the hell do you need or want help?”

Actually, it turned out to be a little different.

I brought my mum with me- she of the awesomely strong backbone- in case I needed her to back me up. I wanted to get across that my personality is NOT fucking disordered, that I NEED help for the trauma I have suffered, and that I am really quite desperate to get better and not worse.

The receptionist gave me the same bloody forms to fill out, and I filled them back out again with impatience. Seriously, I had done this so many times I was bloody sick to death of the sight of the stupid fucking forms. Mum looked over my shoulder until I got to the difficult bits, and then I turned so my back was to her. She stroked my back and said she was sorry, she was just being nosey. I didn’t mind, it’s just hard to write about voices that want you dead with the mother who still sees you as her baby watching.

When I gave in the forms and was called in, the psychotherapist said to my mum that we would only be half an hour, to which mum said that she would rather come in with me. So with a little bit of further argument, we all went in.

At this point the psychotherapist, M, explained that if therapy was to work for me, I would really have to see her alone. I was still like an abused dog at this point, distrustful and ready to snap, so I told her I understood that but my mum was there to tell M that I truly did need therapy, and to be my backup in case I wasn’t believed. M was shocked, I think, beneath her professional demeanour, by how determined both my mother and I were about me getting help. Also, I think the fact that I told her that so far, I didn’t feel helped or believed must have been a bit of a blow to the gut for her. It’s true, though. J is shocked by how little help I have received, as was his good friend.

We came to an agreement- I would stay alone, and M would listen to me. Mum left, and I felt alone, skeptical, and desperate.

M and I didn’t really talk about the symptoms I was experiencing too much- she wanted to know why I wanted therapy. Why the fuck do they ask these questions of someone who has been asking for therapy for months is beyond me. I did tell her, like I have told many other mental health professionals, that I am desperate for help because I cannot manage my distress. I cannot live life searching the street for a tall, broad-shouldered man with curly hair. I do not want to wake up screaming from my nightmares any longer, nor do I want to lie awake in bed and pray that eventually, I will be able to sleep without seeing images of the assault/s (yeah, I’ve deduced that every time I didn’t want to but I was too frightened to say no was the same) flooding my mind.

I told her how frightened of strange men I am, how much fear floods me if I think I have seen him in the street. I told her how the voices will still tell me I am making this up, and I told her how I hear three of them.

I think I’ve been listened to, because M finally told me she was putting me on the waiting list for therapy. She challenged some of my thought processes, too- the mark of a good therapist, I feel, especially if thee thought processes are irrational or frightening. She told me I would have to be back in my hometown for therapy, and that I might have to wait up to four months for therapy.

So far, so good, ish. At least now I have a chance to heal properly, with help from a professional. I wanted this, and I finally have it.

Moving on from the appointment and its fantastic outcome, I had the most amazing time in America. I know I’ve already written about this before, but I have a head flooded with memories of the calmest, safest three weeks I have lived since becoming depressed again. Certain turns of phrase will have me laughing out loud, certain songs make me shiver or smile or just feel safe. J sent me lots of silly e-cards on Valentines Day, featuring our favourite serial killer, Dexter. Seeing those made me forget the horrible Valentines Day argument with my ex and remember instead the cosy, warm nights we both spent on the couch, curled up together and munching through season after season of the series.

I loved it so much out there that I am already £70 up towards my goal of going back there asap. I have already done two shifts since arriving back in London, and my social anxiety whilst working is minimal because I am so focussed on what I have to do.

So, a mixed bag… but in all, there is a reason I am feeling positive, and that reason is that I can finally stop grasping at straws and reach for my life again.