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Trauma, bullying and resilience

Caroline Louise Murphy got in contact with Riders Minds to share her experiences. In the first of a series of blogs Caroline openly shares her story of highs, lows and resilience.

After finding out about this wonderful organisation, sadly after the devastating loss of rider and founder Matt Wright, I couldn’t contain my need to contact them directly and get involved.

Riders Minds is a mental health support system dedicated to people in all areas of equestrianism which in my opinion is a world filled with red flags for your mental health, whether it be in the metaphorical ménage or something that you bring from home to the saddle that then affects the connection you have with your horse that ride.

This chapter of my story is all about what happened away from home that brought me to my horse, a difficult read and life to live but I am so appreciative of all of my life experiences because it has lead me to Coco, my dream horse and I am stronger than ever right now. I’m happy and have a wonderful Mum and animals. Please note this story features some difficult themes of trauma so please take this as a trigger warning.

  As a child victim... sufferer... survivor (though I despise having to use such words, it best describes what I was) of extremely traumatic and graphic domestic violence, I am no stranger to mental health problems.

I will be very candid and open about this in my blogs to you. It started at birth and ended abruptly at the age of 17 with an incident that has left scars on my whole family, some very physical as well as mental.

Alcohol was not a friend to my family member during a time they really needed support and initiatives like Riders Minds were not around. A stigma was attached to anyone who wasn’t big and strong, who didn’t “man up” and who cried or showed any emotion.

I am so pleased to say that I have used the strength I gained from the situation for the betterment of myself rather than falling into the same trap my poor family member suffered, as abuse can become a cycle where the abused ultimately takes that mantle and becomes the next to abuse.

  I was then raped age 17 by a friend on the eve of my 18th birthday, the emotional fallout of this twinned with my upbringing of not crying or showing weakness struck me hard and it took me over a decade to talk to my loving, caring Mum who has always been my best friend, about what had happened.

Again a stigma had prevented me from stepping forward about what had happened to me, a friend had thankfully burst in, hearing my cries and pulled him off of me, I would have had a witness but worrying no one would believe me was a very strong theme.

Not wanting to trouble anyone, feeling my self worth was less than zero because of the things that kept happening to me. No self confidence. Believing I almost deserved to have these things happen to me and wondering what I had actually done to deserve them at other times. There must have been something?

The verbal abuse was far more troubling and soul destroying for me than the physical. I was bullied at school as well as at home. I had bad acne - I was called spotty (you grow out of these I promise you! At the time I wanted to die and I thought it would never go away). I pulled my hair back in an Alice band - “how large is your forehead?” I closed my eyes when I smiled - “can you see me?” at the time I felt these were words (mainly from boys) that the whole world were saying, that the world was laughing at me and staring at me.

  I was a size 6/8 and walking into the common room one day I heard a boy whisper “look at her boobs!” Only for a girl to say “it’s only because she’s fat”. As a size 16 now I look back and wish I was that size 6 to 8 thin tall blonde, I didn’t know what I had back then, but hearing someone say that sent me into a world of turmoil and I attempted to take my life and suicidal ideations (not going through with it but self harm and attempts to numb the pain) became regular.

It was mainly boys at school, on the way home a particular boy of my age would sit behind me intentionally and set my hair on fire with his lighter, spit on me, pour orange juice on my white shirt and put chewing gum on my seat so I sat on it in black trousers and couldn’t get it off,  or it would be put in my hair and I would have to cut locks out to get it out. Someone else’s spit.

That started my OCD and that has really stuck with me.

The girls were also a special kind of nasty, I had “I hate Caroline Murphy” scratched into tables (I have no idea what I had done apart from being a geek and wanting to do well in my school which I think drew attention to me). Bags were left outside the music room with valuables taken inside, my bag was taken by someone during the lesson and my whole pencil case and all of my lunch and belongings were emptied into the toilet, inside the water. I was devastated.

We weren’t a family of money and with the domestic violence I was having to hide all of this happening from home, my Mum was extremely supportive.

  When things were really bad at home we would have to stay in the school car park, on shopping centre car parks and sometimes if we had run from home in danger, with the vicar up the road.

This had a massive impact on my school work and I became a bit of a rebel, I realised being a bit of a naughty girl also stopped the bullies, I became a smoker, I dipped from class. I didn’t spend it doing much but crying and sitting, trying to find peace from all that had been happening in life at home and at school. I was getting extremely unwell.

The incident happened at home and I really couldn’t get out of bed anymore, I was physically in pain day after day. I’d completely my AS levels and was in my A Level year, I’d got C,U,B,A in my AS level results the U was biology and the A drama, I was always more of a dreamer than a numbers girl.

 

It got so bad with the diagnosis of my illness they misdiagnosed as depression at first (a symptom for sure but not EXACTLY what it was) that I had to miss my major interview for Paul McCartney’s drama school LIPA and eventually medically was pulled from school completely.

I was diagnosed with M.E. Myalgic Encephomyalitis, a very physical form of chronic fatigue which people call “yuppy flu”. To those, I say - spend a day in my shoes. I couldn’t open my eyes and spent 3 days asleep most of the time, then being awake for half an hour and doing the same again; I say awake - I had my eyes open but no one was home.

 What a lot of people don’t realise is that you also get incredibly bad insomnia with M.E. I would also be awake for 3 days in a row and it would feel like the torture they did in wars where they wouldn’t let people sleep! Literally! I tried everything, sleeping tablets, turning off all electrics, you name it, it’s called sleep hygiene and I was clean as a whistle. It was my internal clock having a meltdown and to this day I can’t sort it out or tell when it’s going to have a funny!

When you’ve had friends at school it’s actually incredibly difficult to go from that to NOTHING but your Mum. They said they’d come and see me but never did. My BEST friend hurt me more than anyone by saying he didn’t have time to do anything when he came up; only to see his parents and then plastered pictures of all of our friends and him together in a pub.

I wasn’t even warned this might happen! I wasn’t even an afterthought. I was the elephant that wasn’t even invited to the room and that hurt, it took me a long time to realise I wasn’t wanted because I was “disabled”. They didn’t even want me for my blue parking card!

  I became more and more depressed and into myself, I withdrew from society and spent over a decade house and bedbound. I would sleep constantly and that literally is about it. Video games on my computer and Xbox were home for me and I longed to be the long eared elf or big furry cow I was playing as in the forests and barrens online. I hated myself, my life and I put on a lot of weight as I didn’t move at all.

One day I braved leaving the house with Mum to get some jeans and in the car on the way I felt my eyes going white, I get a lot of migraines so I felt perhaps it could be a migraine aura. As we carried on my eyes went white with bright flashing lights, I was blind. Completely blind.

I somehow managed to try on jeans with no eyesight and then got back into the car and we went straight home as sometimes I can sleep off the aura before the pain comes and it goes... the pain never came but the white light stayed... for four days!

Mum called the doctor and he looked into my eyes, I had got partial sight back but my right eye was almost completely blind still. “Papilledema” papilla what now? Damaged optic nerves, permanently! I rushed over to the opticians and got an emergency eye hospital appointment... and then to a neurologist.

  I was diagnosed with a brain condition called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension otherwise known as Pseudotumor Cerebri, in laymans terms, a brain condition that acts like a brain tumour without being one.

I over produce cerebral fluid which is the liquid protecting your brain all around it, it then backfires and squashes parts of my brain affecting movement and speech, mood and allsorts! It also makes the pressure in my skull so high that it pushes into the back of my eyes and is crushing the optic nerves, damaging them permanently... blinding me! I will never get back the sight I’ve lost.

Okay so what do we do... you can have a brain shunt that may need revising each year due to blockages, over funnelling out or under funnelling out your liquid or even scratching your brain and causing permanent brain damage! Okay and the other one?  

You can have altitude sickness tablets that make you constantly wee out this high pressure, as if you were climbing a high mountain or diving in deep sea and needed to release the high pressure from those situations, you take LOTS more tablets as your brain is under much higher pressure. So I opted for the tablets! Not risking any more of my very precious brain cells (that’s a joke about me being a little thick! I am a natural blonde!).

This news absolutely crushed me... it meant that the speed of my games were too fast for me to keep up with so I didn’t have any outlet, I needed better glasses and an eyepatch as any kind of light in my blind eye was making it really hurt with photo sensitivity. Just another thing on the list!

I withdrew even more now I didn’t have any online gaming and just watched TV and slept, Mum bought all meals up to me and she would sit and watch TV with me and we’d go to bed, that was my existence 24 hours a day.

After a hospital trip Mum needed to return something to a shop, the height of Summer. I had my eyepatch on and I was sitting in the car with the window down and the doors unlocked, as if it’s locked and I’m in there and move the alarms go off! I get so embarrassed! I saw a group of men parked in front, being loud, smoking (I had quit by now a few years earlier after poor Mum had a heart attack with work stress), doing things they shouldn’t be doing and throwing McDonalds litter on the floor. I have no confidence and was staring at the floor hoping they wouldn’t see me.

  They did, it became a gang mentality and they came over to my window and leant against the car, I was shaking and pinching my fingers into the palms of my hand until it hurt, biting my cheeks, hoping they wouldn’t pull the door open. They stood there making pirate noises at me and calling me Captain Hook. It might sound really funny to you but as a 20 something year old with a group of six to ten 35-40 year old men around your Mums open car in a massive car park where no one is helping - I was terrified.

I did what I did when the violence happened to me at home and just looked at my feet or concentrated on something on the horizon. I wanted to die there and then. Mum came back after it had happened and I was shaking so much I began to scream, they’d gone but I’d taken a sneak picture of their number plate afterwards.

I was so frightened and had no self worth, I phoned 101 and reported them for littering. Something in my voice told the lady on the phone that I wasn’t okay, she asked me what had really gone on and I told her. She told me that this was a disability hate crime and should log it as such.

While it had been happening a small young girl with Downs Syndrome and her father had walked past and I dreaded them seeing her, the lady said that they wouldn’t have done it to that girl in public because the father would likely have been able to give them a hiding!

I think this is important to know that bullies are weaker than you think.

Two policemen (one lady) came to my house and the man, Pete, was so supportive, he took my statement and he said that if it was his daughter, off the record, he’d have whooped their butts!

He was so nice, I didn’t feel I was worthy of the police at all, I literally just wanted to report them for littering as I felt so hurt and they’d strewn their rubbish all over the car park. Unfortunately as it was private it didn’t get them into trouble but Pete and his colleague used the number plate and went straight over to them, they were known to the police and he said he used some very stern words and mentally ripped them a new one!

They admitted they’d done it. I was so thankful to Pete I emailed a letter of thanks and was able to surprise Pete with my own commendation which the superintendent helped me organise, I was given a tour of West Mercia headquarters including the dog section which was amazing!

They gave me a beautiful bunch of flowers on the night and I was even able to meet the chief constable for the West Midlands which was incredible! It helped me to know that bullying of this nature IS taken seriously even if we ourselves don’t know it is until we phone in! Whether it be disability like mine, race, religious, you name it, it is NOT on. If Pete hadn’t been there for me I wouldn’t be alive today I’m sure of it, it set me back so much in any sort of recovery I’d been trying to achieve.

 

Unfortunately a couple of years later, with more sight loss, with nothing in my life, feeling unworthy of a space on this earth, being passed from pillar to post by mental health services, I tried to take my life.

I regret it now, absolutely, but at the time it was what I felt I needed to do. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, I felt my existence was a bane to everyone and I still do!

However I feel like it would absolutely be more trouble for people to deal with if I did that and I’m at that level of acceptance at the moment. I would never end my life, I cannot do that to my Mum or my animals!

I’ve got to this point. How did I get there? I hope to write that for you next time. Just know that it started with a list of reasons to keep myself on this planet and at the top was “horses”.

Writing this part of my story was absolutely to show you that you’re NOT alone with your human world problems and next time it will be about finding Coco and the good she has done for me but with some of the tribulations I’ve experienced in the horse world too. A more positive look at life but also how the horse world can be just as difficult and why we are in desperate need of organisations like Riders Minds. Thank you for this opportunity RM!

Thank you for listening to my story so far, I hope you’ll tune in for the next instalment and if any of my story has affected you, please call Riders Minds directly or contact me myself at www.Facebook.com/TheBigIrishGrey where I will always be happy to talk to you and let you know how I’m progressing with my self acceptance. It’s forever a journey but I’m happy to be moving in the right direction.

If you need help or are affected by any of the issues covered in Caroline's story, call Riders Minds -

0300 102 1540



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