Hannah Guest is a nurse and survivor of sexual abuse. After enduring some difficult years she is now seeking to use her own experiences to educate others about the potential impacts of sexual abuse and to develop resources to improve the support for survivors in the workplace.
When I decided to travel to Africa to experience nursing in the third world I knew I was in for an experience of a lifetime. I hoped that I would learn about the impact of culture on healthcare, develop skills in improvisation, and return with a newfound appreciation of the NHS and a collection of momentos by which to remember my trip. I did not expect to be severely abused by someone who should have been keeping me safe. I did not expect to come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and to re-live my experiences in the form of flashbacks and nightmares instead of photographs and fond memories. I did not expect my ‘trip of a life-time’ to almost destroy me. But that’s exactly what it did.
It took 5 months for me to develop PTSD after my abuse. During that time it was as if nothing bad had happened to me. I thought I had ‘got away with it’, put it down to experience, moved on. I wish. One night as I lay in bed in a shared student house the reality of what had happened finally hit me. I began having flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares, became hypervigilant, highly anxious and depressed. I hardly trusted anyone and had very little self-esteem. Despite all of this I fixated myself on my studies and tried to deny that anything was wrong.
When my distrust of people caused me to struggle on placement and my flashbacks distracted me from my academic work I confided in my personal tutor at university. He arranged for me to get some counselling, encouraged me to see my GP, supported me through the remainder of my degree and helped me to report what had happened to the company with whom I had organised my trip. Most importantly, he believed me.
Nine months later I graduated from university and entered the world of work. I had received several months of counselling and was well established on anti-depressants to help control my PTSD, but I was still highly symptomatic. Over the next 4 years I cycled rapidly between feeling relatively well and feeling unable to cope with life or that life was no longer worth living. When I was well I achieved at work and engaged in social activities and leisure pursuits. When I was unwell I self-harmed, I overdosed, I became addicted to opioids, I worked 60-70 hour weeks, and I regularly contemplated ending my life. I was desperate for help and was referred to local mental health services but promptly discharged without intervention. Meanwhile I was having an ongoing battle with my managers about my fitness to work, resulting in numerous referrals to occupational health and copious amounts of sickness absence.
In August 2014 I discovered the Rape and Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) and have since had two courses of counselling with them. I cannot thank RSVP enough for the support I have received from them and am in no doubt that I would not be the survivor that I am today without them.
In 2016 I stumbled across Emily Jacob, who back then was just beginning her journey with ReConnected Life. A nervous email turned into a couple of Skype chats and subsequently to me undertaking Emily’s ‘Taste of Recovery’ course and becoming a member of the Facebook community that she runs for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. It was through the Facebook group that I became involved in writing ‘To Report or Not to Report’.
When the idea for the book first came about it had been five years since my abuse. I had reached a place of relative stability and was psychologically ready to begin using my story in a positive way. That doesn’t mean that writing my chapter was easy. Going back over what had happened to me and trying to explain the decisions I had made about reporting/not reporting was emotionally draining and triggering. I had to be careful to balance writing with self-care, which meant only writing on days when I felt strongest, writing for short periods of time, grounding myself before (and often during) writing, and allowing myself some ‘me-time’ after each episode of writing. Furthermore the decision to publish under my own name has undoubtedly provoked some anxiety in me, but I feel that it is something that I both need and want to do. My main reasons for writing are altruistic; I hope that the book, and my contribution to it, will raise awareness of the impact of sexual abuse crimes on victims, increase understanding about the difficult decisions that victims make about whether to report and the implications of this decision, and ultimately prompt much needed changes in the justice system. For me personally I feel a mixture of power and catharsis about putting my story out there in black and white with my name attached. Mostly though I feel proud. Proud to be a survivor, and proud to be helping others so that they can become survivors too.
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