This week I’ve been feeling absolutely rubbish, especially today.
I feel like a little mouse and depression is a cat that’s had me in her teeth today, after chasing me all week.
(Image – Pixabay).
All week, if you’d asked me what mood I was in, I would’ve said I was fine, or just a bit restless. And if you’d seen me chatting to my flatmate or work colleagues, I probably looked happy.
But I suppose deep down, I haven’t been OK, because
- all week I’ve felt starving, but when I’ve tried to eat, I can’t
- although I’ve been chatty in person, I can’t reply to my friends’ texts. I just don’t know what to say
- tiny things keep nearly making me cry
- my heart keeps having palpitations
All week I thought I was fine but restless, and then today I nearly called in sick. I felt like I wouldn’t get through the day. I kept crying when I was getting dressed.
I think the incident with CAPS LOCK GUY has had a bigger impact than I thought.
It’s not the first time a guy has made me feel uncomfortable and a bit afraid.
I decided to write about something which I’ve been considering for a while. I’m in two minds about writing this, as I don’t want to be overly heavy-going or attention-seeking, and it’s very personal, but when I’ve written about other heavy things, writing it here has helped me straighten it out in my head.
When I was 10, I was mildly sexually assaulted by a stranger.
It wasn’t that bad, and I’m lucky in many ways. It only happened once and it wasn’t by someone I knew, and it certainly wasn’t rape. It could have been a lot worse.
It was a Friday afternoon, in November. My class had swimming lessons on a Friday afternoon. I grew up in a small town, and the nearest swimming pool was 10 miles away. I didn’t like having swimming lessons there. I already had swimming lessons outside of school, at a different town, on a Wednesday evening, which I liked.
At the swimming pool we went to with school, the water was always cold. Plus, I felt a bit aggrieved that at my normal swimming lessons, I was in the middle class, but in the school swimming lessons, I’d been put in the beginners’ class.
That day, I was in quite a good mood. There was a girl in my class, Jemima. These days, we would probably say she had a learning disability. Lots of kids in my class picked on her, and I’m sure at times I was a dick to her too, but I generally tried to be nice to her.
We always got a coach to the swimming pool, ten miles away, and that day, Jemima and I sat together, and we were singing loads of songs. I can’t remember what, but we were singing our hearts out on the coach and really enjoying it.
When we got to the swimming pool, I said “Let’s definitely sing on the way home too!”
The swimming pool was in a local leisure centre. There were separate changing rooms for men and women, but they lead through to the same locker room and entrance to the pool.
I can’t remember anything about the swimming lesson, but afterwards, the locker room was packed. I think a few different schools used it, and everyone was getting their things from the locker room at once.
A man came up behind me and touched me. It instantly felt wrong.
I could tell it was an adult from his height, and I could tell it was a man, and my first thought was that it must be an adult I knew, from the familiar way he was touching me, but I knew that both the teachers who brought us swimming were women. I remember he put his hands around my waist and I remember he touched my bum a lot. It was like he was trying to move me out of the way to get past, but it was way too much touching, and went on way too long for that. I can’t remember where else he touched me, but I remember he rubbed my body against his a lot. There was a lot I didn’t understand about bodies back then.
My school friend, Alice, had seen the whole thing, and afterwards she came straight over to me and said “did you know him? Because that seemed really…” there wasn’t a word.
“No, I don’t know…” Her reaction completely confirmed what I felt, that something had been wrong about what just happened.
I felt stunned and confused. Then the man walked past again, and I looked at him and he asked me if I was OK, which I found weird.
Alice and I went into the women’s changing room and got dried and out of our swimming costumes and into our school uniforms. We were talking about what just happened, trying to make sense of it.
I felt so confused and wrong.
We were getting back on the coach, and Jemima came running over and said “what shall we sing?”
I said sadly “Sorry Jemima, I don’t feel like singing now!” I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I think Jemima did something like flicking my bag or something to express her annoyance on the way home.
I can’t remember the coach journey but I think I just sat in silence and didn’t talk to anyone.
When we got off the coach, I found Alice and said “what should I do?” as we went back into school.
“You know what, I think he was just trying to get past, actually!” Alice said, as we weaved through loads of parents who were already in the playground, waiting to pick up their kids.
I felt really crushed. The whole thing was so confusing, and it did seem like he wanted to get past, but no one had ever touched me like that before. I didn’t want it to be more than him trying to get past, but I couldn’t say it was just nothing, because I knew it was something. If it was nothing, why did I feel so wrong and weird?
And I just knew that isn’t how you get past someone.
I think Alice knew it too, because despite her saying that, she then went and told a boy in our class what had just happened to me.
I don’t know why she told him. He was a boy who lived at the end of my road, and sometimes we hated each other and other times we liked each other. He was a much cooler kid than I was. I was a square and he was a naughty boy. Sometimes he picked on me but other times we played together near our houses.
We were in our classroom by now, and everyone was milling around. The naughty boy came up and said to me “did you tell a teacher?”
“No! I’m not telling anyone.” I was confused and Alice was confused so I didn’t want anyone else to know.
“I’m not letting you go home until you tell a teacher.” He said.
I was annoyed but I thought maybe he was right.
I went up to our class teacher and said “Mrs Green?” I took a deep breath. “There was a man in the changing room at the swimming pool and I… didn’t like the way he was rubbing up against me.”
I remember her instantly grasping the gravity of the situation.
All the other children left. I can’t remember Alice and the naughty boy leaving.
My mum never picked me up from school because she was always at work, so usually a friend of the family, Mrs Mansfield, picked me up and looked after me. I can’t remember who was supposed to be picking me up that day – maybe it was Mrs Mansfield or maybe I was supposed to be going home to play with someone else after school.
Whatever was supposed to be happening, it didn’t happen.
Mrs Green, my teacher, phoned my Mum and I stayed in the classroom with her while we waited for my mum. I have a feeling maybe Alice and the naughty boy went and told Mrs Mansfield to go without me.
I remember sitting with Mrs Green, while she tidied up the classroom. I felt weird and somehow ordinary at the same time. She was chatting to me about the school play at the Secondary School – the Crucible – which my older brother was in.
Then I remember my mum arriving in the doorway of the classroom.
She took one look at me and I went over to her and we just looked at each other and she gave me a massive hug. I still remember the feel of her coat.
I think she briefly talked to my teacher while I went and got my school bag and swimming things.
I had Girl Guides that night and we talked about whether to go or not.
That weekend it was Remembrance Sunday, and it was also my Dad and Aunt’s birthdays, so there were lots of family at my house.
On Sunday it was the Remembrance Day parade, which my Girl Guides group was involved in, so I went to that. I had sort of tried to forget what happened at the swimming pool.
Then, when my family were all having tea and cake for my Dad and Aunt’s birthdays, my mum took me to one side and said some police were coming to talk to me about what happened at the swimming pool.
I felt scared.
I remember there was one lady police officer and one policeman. We were in my living room and the rest of my family must’ve been somewhere else, in another room, except for my mum, who stayed with us.
They asked me what happened, and asked me about the man. I told them exactly what I remembered about him, what he looked like. I remembered seeing his hands on my body and looking at his fingernails, wondering what was happening, so I described his fingernails to them.
I remember the police woman asked me to do to her what he did to me, so she could understand what happened, but I didn’t because I couldn’t. I did something, but it was only like 10% of what he did to me. I didn’t want to touch anyone else like he did to me, especially a stranger, especially a police woman. I remember knowing I was not managing to explain it. I knew they weren’t getting the full picture, I couldn’t explain it.
I went away and my mum talked to the police on her own.
Then my mum came and got me and tried to find somewhere quiet we could talk on our own, and she seemed a bit stressed. All the rest of our family were milling around, so we went into the downstairs toilet, and I remember thinking it wasn’t a very good place for a private conversation as it was very echoey.
She said “you know when a man wants to have sex…” and she explained what an erection was. I didn’t know.
Then she asked me, because the police had asked her to, whether the man had an erection. I didn’t know! He came up behind me and I didn’t see him until it was over and I didn’t know what an erection was. I wasn’t looking at his body afterwards.
The police left.
Afterwards, they contacted my mum and said the only man that fit the description was a teacher from another school who looked after disabled children.
No action was going to be taken because they didn’t know if he’d done anything wrong with me.
I wasn’t too bothered at the time. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen and I was glad I wasn’t going to have to talk to anyone else about it, and I was still confused about it too.
I spent the next few years being confused about it. Sometimes I thought he was just trying to get past and I felt stupid for making it into something it wasn’t, and other times I thought there was something wrong with the way he touched me.
I went back and forth, but either way I always hated people coming up unexpectedly from behind me. I still do.
Then, when I was 16 I started seeing a doctor from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) because I had anorexia. He was a good doctor. He would always weigh me and work out my body mass index and tell me what would happen if I didn’t eat. We would talk about what I was eating and how I was feeling, what had been happening at school, with friendships and boys and exams.
When I was 17 I got together with Rob, my first serious boyfriend. This was the first time the swimming pool stuff seemed to really bother me, because I was thinking about losing my virginity to Rob and suddenly I felt scared.
I told Doctor Webster what happened at the swimming pool. I said I was confused about whether the man did anything wrong or not.
Dr Webster was really straightforward about it – if it felt wrong and my friend who saw it thought it looked wrong, it probably was. Why would it have felt so wrong, instantly, if it was nothing?
At the time it happened, I was 10. I knew about sex. I knew where babies came from. I think I also knew people had sex without wanting to make a baby sometimes. However, I didn’t know about erections. I didn’t know that people did other things, like groping each other, and that was part of sex too.
I think maybe the police thought it might’ve been harmless, what he did, because it was in front of so many people, and he asked me if I was OK afterwards, but now I think either he thought it was OK, so was unashamed to do it in front of other people, and was surprised I looked spooked afterwards. Or he absolutely knew what he was doing and knew you can get away with it in a crowded place, like all the sexual assaults that take place on crowded trains or at gigs, and he asked if I was OK afterwards to confuse me.
I felt really reassured by Doctor Webster’s reaction because it matched what I felt in my heart.
I had trouble losing my virginity to Rob, because sex was really freaking me out. I really wanted to do it, or my brain did, but my body kept feeling spooked. My vagina would absolutely clamp shut, and we couldn’t get his penis in.
It went on for months, and I was stressed out about it. I was worried there was something wrong with my gynaecology. Rob was patient.
One day, I had a bath and seriously explored the area, and realised everything did seem to be in working order, and it did seem like the layout matched what I had seen in tampon leaflets. I remembered I had the same problem with using tampons for ages, and then one day it just worked OK and was never a problem again.
A few days after that bath, we managed to do it and I was so relieved. It lasted about 2 minutes and he still had his shoes on and his trousers round his ankles, and my family were all downstairs, but I had just suddenly felt like it would work OK and we seized the moment.
Often, I don’t think about the swimming pool incident. Sometimes I don’t think about it for weeks or months. I’ve told my major boyfriends, and a couple of my closest friends.
In some ways, it makes me a bit fearless. I wasn’t safe when I should’ve been, so I’ve re-calibrated my sense of danger. I feel a lot less afraid in certain situations, like walking home alone, late at night. You’re never safe, so why worry?
Over the years, men have made me feel scared in a variety of ways – men groping me on the tube, men hurting me during sex, angry boyfriends, abusive text messages.
And now CAPS LOCK GUY. Most of the excessive physical contact was affectionate, rather than sexual, and maybe he was just trying to be nice and missing the signs that I wanted him to stop.
But I feel it’s reawakened the unsettling, unsafe feeling inside me.