It’s a little weird to be writing an introduction about myself, so bear with me! Hi, I’m Nicole. I’m the insane owner of this Menagerie, and the one who decided that going on this trip, entire furry family in tow, was a good idea. That probably gives everyone a pretty good insight into who I am as a person, haha!
I’m obviously an animal lover; horses are my greatest passion. I’m also an avid reader and bit of a permanent student, I’ve collected something around nine degrees in various areas of study so far. Learning, I believe, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. To me, travelling is a lot like visiting the world’s greatest library… it’s learning on the grandest scale.
I’ve been lucky to live a fulfilling and interesting life so far, and to make many of my childhood dreams come true… I know that’s more then a lot of people can say, so I try to always remember to embrace life’s trials as part of the entire experience. There are no highs without lows as they say.
In some of the other introductions, I’ve spoken about some of the challenges I have faced, as we all do from time to time. There was a time, a long time, when I didn’t speak about any of those things, mostly because I was ashamed and scared of other people’s reactions. But part of what I learned along my healing journey is that there are so many people out there with stories similar to mine who are also afraid to speak up. So I’d like to share a bit of my story with all of you, in hopes that others like me will not be so afraid to raise their voices.
I was raped and sexually abused for a period of six years. The abuse was severe enough to require two major surgeries to repair the damage and remove scarring. By the time I was 25 years old, I was a shadow of the person that I had once been, and that I had hoped to be. Unfortunately, while I was serving in the military, sexual assault was still not being addressed with openness and compassion; there was a lot of victim blaming and if one went for mental health help, the risk to career was very real. So I stayed silent.
Eventually, the trauma overwhelmed me, and the only way out seemed like taking my own life. I was lucky Syn was there to save me. But while I managed to continue putting one foot in front of the other with the help of the animals that came along, I was like a ghost watching life pass me by. And the longer I remained silent, the more my health, both mental and otherwise, suffered. I was suffering from constant physical symptoms that seemed to stem from no physical ailment. Worse, I was constantly angry, to the point of rage, for no apparent reason. Where once I had been an independent, confident young woman with goals and dreams, I was now barely able to wake up in the morning and function through the day, all I wanted to do was sleep. My work suffered, my new marriage suffered, and I felt as if I was losing my mind. It was terrifying. Mere months after arriving in England, dying once again seemed like the only way out… so I asked for help.
I lost my military career, but at the time, getting out seemed like the only way to gain some sanity. I was put through rigorous mental health tests until it was finally determined that I was suffering from complex PTSD, a form of the condition that victims of long term trauma often have. While there was relief in knowing what was wrong with me, the pain was far from over. For years I had hid my trauma, and now suddenly, I was being forced to face it, and to tell the people I loved about it… my new husband didn’t know my past when he married me, and it would eventually become clear that he wasn’t able to cope with the challenges of loving a rape victim. My family and close friends had been unaware of the extent of the abuse, imagine telling your mom or best friend you’d been raped for years… and then there was the therapy. I was grateful to finally be getting help, but it left me exhausted, emotionally drained, and unsure I would ever be myself again.
I struggled for another two years, fighting my way from victim to survivor. Nefsi held my hand every step of the way, and other animals joined my family and gave me the love and stability I needed to keep going. And for a while, it was enough. It was enough to survive, to be able to call myself a survivor instead of a victim. It was enough not to feel those unexplained rages anymore, to get occasional decent nights sleep without nightmares, to be able to go out in public with Nefsi to keep the worst of the anxiety attacks at bay. I found a certain type of contentedness, even if happiness seemed permanently out of reach.
But one day I woke up and realised I didn’t want to live a life based solely on surviving. The PTSD had cost me so much… my marriage to a man I love, my passion for horses, my desire for adventure… so many dreams lost to that ugly word rape. I was tired of letting it define me; I wanted to LIVE, to live fully, to be happy again. It suddenly wasn’t enough to simply survive, I wanted to thrive.
And I have. I couldn’t save my marriage, but I did manage to find and save my self-respect. Over the last year, I have lived out a lifelong dream of riding racehorses, in Newmarket no less, the horse racing capital of the world. And now, I’m about to embark on the craziest adventure I can imagine, and instead of feeling stressed, I feel excited. I’m never going to be “normal” again… I still suffer from nightmares regularly, and it takes a lot of happy pills to keep me stable. Without an Assistance Dog, I’d once again lose the freedom to explore the world. My ability to handle conflict and certain types of change will always be harder for me then for some people. And relationships, both romantic and otherwise, hold their own special challenges. But I like to think that I’m doing pretty good with the cards I got dealt. And I’ve realised that sharing my story matters, that being an vocal advocate for better treatment for rape victims matters, that speaking openly about my struggles with suicide matters, that my voice matters. One of my hopes with this blog is that it might bring light to someone who is struggling through the dark. Because I’m living proof that the darkest days can be overcome, that you don’t have to stay a victim, or settle for simply surviving, that it is possible to still have dreams come true, to set goals and reach them, to aim for the moon and end up in the stars… that it’s possible to thrive.