If someone out there is feeling alone, if you find a tiny bit of hope, even if it is a finger that someone offers you, grab onto it because it saves your life.
I attempted on my life when I was 14. I had been sexually abused by a friend’s father from the age of 7 to 9 on and off. The only reason it stopped was because they moved out of the country. It was later into my secondary school that I realised something had happened to me which shouldn’t have happened.
At the same time, I was a tomboy, always drawn to boy’s clothes, playing football, drawn to female teachers and pupils. When my classmates went out with boys I had to pretend I had a boyfriend or made boyfriends in my mind.
All these made me feel really alone and led me to walk into that road. My suicide attempt at that age was never identified as an attempt because I was a teenager who was hit by a vehicle. Back in the late 80s such things were classed as just accidents. I knew when I was stepping into the road that vehicle was going to hit me. Despite having serious injuries, when I came round, the first thing that came to my mind was that my mum was going to kill me.
I went to Canada when I was 18 and worked as a nanny. It was there that saw a lot of same sex relationships. Living in that open and accepting society made me think about my identity. I asked myself, ‘Who am I? Am I a boy trapped in a woman’s body? I came out first as a bisexual and then gradually when it was acceptable came out as a lesbian. After 10 years in Canada, I decided to come home. One day I went to a shopping centre and I heard the word: Lisa! It was my abuser. At this point I was 32 and suddenly everything came flooding back. I had shut that away for years and hadn’t spoken about it. Nobody knew about the abuse and the attempt, so his encounter was like a filing cabinet wafting sheets of memories out and out and out. I couldn’t go to sleep that night and I started self-harming. Even then my parents didn’t understand because I had not spoken about the abuse.
My sister’s young children saw me with bandages on my arm but I had to tell them auntie Lisa had hurt herself with an iron. You make up lies to hide it from children because the last thing you want is to be seen as a failure, as a rotten cell that gets pushed to the side. The hardest part was family members trying to understand what was happening. I needed to get it all in a proper timeline but how could I do it? I had no idea what was happening myself at that time, let alone trying to make them understand.
My dad asked my doctor to section me but she knew I needed support instead of sectioning. However, at that point of crisis, I had to wait for a year and a half to get counselling. My doctor was wonderful, she set up weekly appointments and those went on for a long time until five years ago when I felt I didn’t need them anymore. Then it became a monthly check in.
During those weekly appointments with my doctor, I learned a lot about mental health myself and set up a group called, Thank God It’s Friday, which was a support group to help vulnerable women. We had 27 ladies, a committee, and I was the chair. I remember we had a course about ‘How Good You Feel About Yourself’, which I attended but I didn’t talk until the final session. It was the first time I’d spoken about my self-harm and abuse in public and it helped my journey to recovery.
People played big roles in my life, from my cousin who I lost when I was 13 to others who I met in my life to this day, and of course my wife. My dad and sisters now know a lot and understand me which also plays a big role in my recovery.
I met a good friend who is like a sister to me. She saw me at my worst and said whenever you feel on the edge of self-harm come to me and I’ll give you something meaningful! It was my tattoos. My tattoos tell stories about my story, recovery, people I lost, love for my family, and my alter ego, the incredible Hulk. My tattoos cover my many scars.
I always loved the Incredible Hulk as a child. I had a figure who used to rip off the heads of my sister’s Bionic Woman or Cindy doll. When I was at my lowest point, I got this rage and anger and felt like the Incredible Hulk on the inside. At that time, I didn’t know where the anger was coming from but I felt what had happened to me had taken my purity away and violated me in a way no child should experience. I was raging and my blood was boiling inside. Hulk was a persona that could bring the angry Lisa out.
Connections and Community
Doing a lot of volunteering jobs, including being community health champions, was a journey in itself and helped my recovery. And then I found Sheffield Flourish which became the start of taking control of my story and journey. I feel I play an important part in Flourish and want to blow my own trumpet.
I can now go into a room and say I have got lived experience of living with mental health, or mental health lives with me. I am still on that road to recovery but now I can see the signs and triggers and have learned to acknowledge them and then move on. I would self-harm eight years ago while now I know how to manage. I know the abuse wasn’t my fault and acknowledging those timelines and trigger months have been an important step for me.
I can tell people that if you see me quiet it might be a difficult month for me. So if I am being quiet, just check in and ask how you are doing? What people see is the bubbly Lisa but, in fact, I hide a lot of nerves and anxiety.
I have a little sheep on top of a barn. It is an old 80s toy. If you push a button at the bottom it folds down, that was me broken, and when you bring the button back out it’s upright. It will never fold down anymore. It is always upright now.
Helping others feel like I have a purpose and a sense of belonging, that I am not alone and not worthless. So find that tiny bit of hope and grab onto it!
Artworks by Justine Kate Dixon (2018)