Worth Living Ambassador Ashley Shaw
“My name is Ashley Shaw. I am originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I am currently in my second year of nursing at St. Francis Xavier University. I chose nursing because of my own personal struggle with mental illness that I want to share with you.”
At age 16, I was raped.
I was in such a state of shock that this could ever happen to me. So I refused to admit it. I didn’t tell my friends or my family. I spent the next six months pretending it didn’t happen. I would drink excessive amounts and take too many drugs until I was in a state that I couldn’t remember for a while. But as soon as it wore off, it would all come rushing back. I would take more, and more and more until all I was doing was self-medicating. After a few months of doing this my parents started to notice. I wasn’t going to any classes, I was failing pretty much every class, and I never came out of my bedroom. I think the turning point was when I started refusing to go to dance. Dance was the one thing that had always been my happy place – no matter how sad or mad I was I could go there and I would just forget. So when I stopped wanting to go, they knew something was up.
They sat me down and talked to me about how I was acting and told me they were worried. But being a stubborn 16 year old, I refused to let them into my personal feelings- feelings I hadn’t even come to terms with myself yet. So they had no choice- they started watching everything I did. Made sure I was going to my classes, made sure I wasn’t doing drugs (as much as they could) and continuously tried to get me to open up. But I wouldn’t.
A few months later, I got to my breaking point. Pretty much everything in my life was falling apart. I had pushed all of my friends out of my life (except the ones who were giving me drugs). I was fighting with my parents pretty much every time we spoke to each other. I was failing all my classes. Then a boyfriend ( I can’t even remember his name now) broke up with me and I guess that was just my tipping point. So I did my usual- self-medication so I could get the courage to take out my rope.
Everything after that was kind of a blur- maybe because of the drugs, maybe because I had just cut off all the oxygen to my brain, or maybe because I just didn’t want to remember. Either way I remember my parents finding me.. being in the car.. my mom crying.. my dad trying to comfort her.. and then the hospital. I remember being hooked up to machines and doctors and psychiatrists and crisis nurses all attacking me with questions. Then someone at some point decided I wasn’t going to be going home.
Instead I was admitted to 4-South. Where all of my things were taken away from me. I couldn’t have my phone or most of my clothes or makeup because they had a string or a mirror or something I could use to harm myself. I remember how much I hated it in there. People always trying to but their way into my head. Being forced to talk to a psychiatrist. After about two weeks of this, I decided the only way to get out was to lie. So I told them I was feeling much better and that I wasn’t going to hurt myself. I even put on a fake smile until they finally let me out.
My mom took a month off work to be with me and make sure that I didn’t hurt myself. It made me so angry. I thought she didn’t trust me. I felt like a child. But the truth is she couldn’t trust me to be alone. Every second all I could think of was how to do it, and be successful this time.
Going back to school was awful. People would stare and whisper. It was pretty hard to hide the fact I had been out of school for so long. People were coming up with their own stories- ones that were worse than the truth. So I sucked up my pride and told them that yes I had tried to kill myself but that I was okay now and coping. I didn’t tell them why I had tried to kill myself- in fact I still wasn’t really admitting that to myself yet. I still believed it was just because of some silly boy.
I don’t even know at what point I started realizing what had really brought on all of this. Maybe after months of therapy and group therapy for drug abuse. But at some point the two pieces really clicked. I mean how could I have thought about the night I was raped every single day without realizing that it was what caused me to start using drugs, and cutting, and to become so depressed. I decided life wasn’t worth living? How could I miss that? When I finally came to terms with it, I told my parents.
I can’t get over the look of hurt in their eyes. Someone had taken advantage of their little girl and I could tell how much that hurt them. My dad went from hurt straight into anger. He wanted me to press charges, he wanted to kill the guy. But I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t want to have to sit in a court room facing the person who ruined my life and describe what he did to me. I thought no one would believe me. I had no proof, I didn’t get a rape kit that night. Instead, I showered for hours until I couldn’t stand how hard I had scrubbed my skin any longer.
And besides, what good would bring up the past really do? I was finally starting to heal myself. I started opening up to my parents and they became my rock through the next three years. I got clean- no more drugs and no more cutting. I made a new group of friends and I focused myself on my last two years of high school. I took advanced classes and got good marks and I decided that life WAS worth living again.
I decided I was going to go into nursing and specialize in mental health. I wanted to help people- I wanted to have some meaning in my life that made me feel like I wasn’t just living that I was really doing something to better the world.
And so here I am- six years later in my second year of nursing and I couldn’t love it anymore. Yes I still have bad days- in fact I still have a lot of them. And sometimes I lose sight of it all and wonder why I’m here.
I can’t say I haven’t thought about killing myself or that I haven’t slipped up and cut or done drugs. Though I can say that every time that happens I jump back on the horse. I don’t let that one slip up hold me back.
I may suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety but that’s not for what I want to be remembered . I want to be remembered for someone who overcame all of that and decided to do something good. I want to be remembered as a nurse.
If you , a family member, friend, or colleague is experiencing thoughts of suicide or distress, call 911 now.
Other resources :
Canada – Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention www.suicideprevention.ca
USA – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
United Kingdom – www.nhs.uk