I’ve sat in front of the computer for the last half and hour wondering whether or not I should publish this post. I wrote it at 2am a few days ago when it felt like my heart had just been served a massive king-hit. So after a few days of reflection, I’ve weighed everything up – considered all the options – and finally accepted that all of the risk of publishing this falls on me. The easy thing to do would be to not write, the right thing to do is to write. So that’s what’s I’m going to do. There will be people who will punish me for writing this. If that’s what they need to do, so be it, I’m ready….here it goes..
Many, many years ago – so many that it feels like another lifetime – something happened to me that changed my life, forever. My head physically hurts when I think about it and a big part of me doesn’t want to think about it, let alone write about it. But I know I need to. Because if I don’t write about it, acknowledge it, the silence around what happened will continue to legitimise a crime that was done to me.
When I was 12 years old I was sexually assaulted in a park across the road from St Lukes mall. The assault involved me being coerced – by an eighteen year old ‘boy’ – to give his friend – a sixteen year old – a blowjob. The incident was witnessed by about ten other school-aged boys, and the thing I remember most clearly is how throughout the ordeal the eighteen year old casually played with his pocket-knife the whole time, like it was a just a toy.
There is a lot of grey and haze in my mind around the hours, days, months and years after that but the thing I remember most clearly, is the rumour that found it’s way into my all-girls school – that I was a slut.
It was just a rumour, but the damage it did to my already beaten and battered spirit was immeasurable. The whispers, sly looks, notes written, and comments made about me were horrid, hurtful and for the most part untrue. And the worst thing about it, was that it didn’t take long before the rumour had taken on a life of it’s own. People knew about the Leilani they heard about and made judgements and assessments about me without even knowing me.
As any one who has followed my writing – or is close to me – will know, over the years I have fought to overcome many hardships and succeeded against what have often felt like insurmountable odds. The hurdles I have had to overcome to get to where I am have been as much psychological as physical. Coming to terms with living with bouts of depression and anxiety have been part and parcel of this journey – and my ability to not only manage but achieve things that most people wouldn’t even dream of – while managing this is indicative of what I am capable of.
And I’ve always been proud of this and tried to hold my head up high, being open about my mental health – hoping that by doing so I might make a contribution to our society – even only a small one – that would mean that we might be a little more accepting of the fact that taking care of and managing our mental health is part and parcel of EVERYONE’s lives, not just a few people.
So you can imagine how it felt yesterday when someone confided in me that two individuals had independently told this person that they had heard a rumour that I was “crazy”. Crazy as in ‘nuts’, ‘mentally unstable’…. a rumour with a label at its heart that is designed to hurt and denigrate – in this case, me.
And although I know I’m not ‘crazy’, rumours have a way of cutting small holes into peoples lives that create deep incisions that hold a knife to shame.
But this time I’m prepared. And I’m not afraid to stand up and call the originators and purveyors of this rumour out. Because: my strength is in my vulnerability. I have never and will never pretend to be anything other than I am.
I am a survivor. I am a survivor of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. But that is not all I am. I am also a loving parent, a Fulbright scholar, published author and capable public policy professional with a first class honours Masters degree.
The experiences and the hardships I have borne are part of the full package that is ‘me’. They don’t define me, but they will always be a part of my life. That’s what makes me human. And even more importantly, that’s why connecting with other people – at a ‘human’ rather than intellectual or judgemental-level – is key to the way I live my life and the reason I have chosen to put my name up to stand for Parliament as a Green Party candidate.
Struggle and hardship transcend ethnicity, class, gender, age – and it is a big call for someone to sit back and casually pass on – even to check the veracity – of a rumour they have heard without having the guts to ask the person (in this case me) directly.
We live in a society where we get told to ‘speak out’ about the issues that affect us (the recent – brave – plea from Jono being an example of this) and yet when we do our honesty and courage is used against us.
The truth is large parts of our society want us to speak openly, but the risk and cost of speaking up are all on the individuals who do so. No wonder we remain confounded by NZ’s escalating rates of mental health crisis and ever-increasing suicide rates.
And here’s the great irony. I want to fight for a society where this is no longer the norm. But in that very fight, I am coming against the very same personal costs that I am fighting for others to not have to carry. And as it turns out that makes me “crazy”…all I want is a society where care and empathy for others – whether or not they have struggled with mental health – is part and parcel of the way our society operates.
Call me “crazy” but I believe in hope. And what’s crazier is that I think if more of us “crazy” people were in Parliament – our society would be better off for it.
PS (for all the other “Crazies” out there) – when I was feeling absolutely rubbish about this situation a few days ago, my loving sister sent me this quote from Steve Jobs.
- “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”