On July 15th 2019 Mandeep Hayre shared her experience of trauma incited by sexual violence. In a powerful twitter thread Mani (her preferred name) owned her voice and story by calling out her rapist – her ex-husband. In publicly addressing her sexual assault Mani hopes to empower other survivors of sexual abuse and more specifically victims of marital rape. Mani wanted to show the world – that had previously judged her for leaving her abuser – that life does go on and despite the challenges faced when dealing with trauma, she is all the more empowered for having openly acknowledged that painful time in her life.
You can read Mani’s twitter thread here. For anyone who is not on Twitter I include a copy of Mani’s tweets in a text format below.
“Never shared images publicly but something in my gut wanted to (a wedding photo is included in the twitter thread). I had a wedding 13 years ago today. I was 23 years old. He was from India. Standard setting for a story right. Getting married at a ‘good’ age and settling down for life with someone who your uncle set you up with? Wrong. I was a pawn, as all I ever wanted was to please my family so I slapped on a smile and did my duty as a daughter. The only time I ever realised I was now a ‘wife’ was on our wedding night the first time we were alone together. I cried myself to sleep. One week later we had a ‘honeymoon’. Here is where the non consensual ‘wedding night’ happened. It took me 4 years to understand that marital rape was a real thing. Two months later I attempted to end my life. I failed thankfully. I gained the family I wanted back and I began living my life on my terms. It’s been 13 years and I’ve yet to have a successful relationship. That one decision may possibly have robbed me of ever trusting and loving anyone enough to share a life with. But what I found is that whilst I’m still dealing I have come a LONG way in 13 years. Not everyone is that lucky. This is me today (includes an up-to-date photograph recently taken). Not as sexy as the picture will have you believe but I’m smart sassy and a little ditzy plenty more yet to come.”
You recently posted a twitter thread about your wedding day and marriage to your ex-husband. This went viral – fast. Can you tell us about your decision to share your story?
I publicly shared my story in July after coming across a photograph of me as a bride. The date of my thirteenth ‘wedding’ anniversary was also looming. Despite writing a blog about my wedding and marriage over two and a half years ago (see here) I decided to tell my story on Twitter because I now have a much louder and more confident voice. This idea of using the term ‘marital rape’ a few years ago was hard for me; even in my blog, I didn’t use the word ‘rape’. I just wasn’t ready to.
I eventually used that photograph that I had found, in my twitter thread – which you have now seen. There’s something powerful in owning your story with sexual violence and in putting it out there to the world in a way that you can control. When I posted my twitter thread I figured I’d get a few likes here and there but I wasn’t expecting the reaction, mostly positive, that I received. It was overwhelming to see how fast that thread went viral – with messages of support coming in too.
There were some negative comments of course and mostly from men, which I did read but decided not to dwell on. Trying to justify why I did what I did to those men was pointless. It also raises the point about them not understanding what being raised as a British Asian female is like when confronted with the pressures to please our parents and the expectation that is placed on us to be someone’s wife by a certain age.
Talking about what happened to me publicly gave me the confidence to raise the much needed awareness on sexual violence – an issue that I am starting to see a lot of people failing to understand, or even believe is a problem – especially in our community.
In your twitter post you refer to your ongoing battle with anxiety. What coping mechanisms do you use and what suggestions do you have for anyone else coping with anxiety?
When I lived with my parents it was exercise. I found it was a great stress relief and whilst I wasn’t militant about it, fitness was ingrained into my lifestyle. I would never miss a single class or a PT session. I loved how I felt when I exercised, and not just physically but mentally too.
I moved to Birmingham in 2017. In my two years of living in Birmingham I haven’t quite had this experience so the coping mechanisms I put in place for myself came crashing down, and with work stress and life getting more and more demanding, I found it harder to cope. It was at this point that I decided to start therapy (I write about my therapy journey here). Therapy helps when life feels a bit too much. My anxiety is the worst it’s ever been but this is getting better slowly.
The other thing I do is go back to my faith. I remind myself that my difficult times are temporary and that God has a bigger plan for me.
Plus, my family are pretty great and my friends from back home. They remind me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved and it’s great to see how proud they all are of me despite the obstacles I internalise.
What encouraged you to openly discuss your journey with anxiety and trauma?
Not enough Asians talk about mental health openly. I mean, that’s an understatement. At times it feels like Asians don’t talk about anything openly. I figured if I can help one person by doing this then it’s worth me bearing my soul and showing people that even someone like me – bubbly, happy and always smiling can be suffering. Compromised mental health is nothing to be ashamed of.
People assume so much about me because I’m so open about certain elements of my life but I’m only open about the things that I want to raise awareness for. I don’t do it to gain attention or to gain fake sympathies. I do it because I want people to know that it is okay to talk openly about anxiety and depression without the fear of judgement. Mental health is something that affects everyone at some point in their life. It’s not permanent and feeling like you can’t open up or discuss your feelings is not healthy. Take it from someone who for twenty-four years didn’t share anything about how she felt. I’m now thirty-six.
What is a bad day like for you and how do you overcome that?
I’m quite an emotional person. I’ve learnt to control the ‘need to react’ as I’ve gotten older. Although when something feels unjust I still speak up but that causes me stress and anxiety. I also overthink everything. So when I do react, I go over what I said, what was said and whether what I said, has had an impact on other people because I never intend to hurt anyone.
I use my support network like my friends and family to keep me grounded on days I’m really bad, and therapy gives me a safe space to talk about how I’m feeling.
In what ways do you deal with past traumas?
The odd thing is my anxiety isn’t always triggered directly to past traumas. The trigger recently was an Indian lady who had traits that reminded me of how I felt prior to getting married. This is what has made me re-evaluate and want to get therapy, to not just cope with the act of the rape but the feeling of helplessness around the whole marriage, wedding and post marriage.
Buying my own house also triggered a lot of emotions and feelings especially with financial constraints and it also gives you time to think when things in life calm down. With all those pressures I think I overthink about why am I not achieving certain milestones, even though from other perspectives I’ve achieved so much.
What advice do you have for someone afraid to open up about experiences with sexual violence?
I would say find what works for you to deal with your trauma but I would also seek help. It doesn’t always have to be family. I’m lucky that I can speak to mine (finally), but you will have people in your life that you trust and can open up to. Getting help or therapy to deal with trauma is a personal choice; mine took me 13 years to get to that point. But I would say do talk, it’s extremely cathartic.
Tells us about your role with RSVP (Rape and Sexual Violence Project) in Birmingham and how you hope to support survivors of sexual violence.
My role is quite new at RSVP. I’m a trustee on their board. I’ve not quite got my teeth into it but I fully support the amazing work they do and the help they provide to women and children who have been victims of sexual assault. As I become more involved with them I’ll definitely share more with you!
You mention suicide in your online post. This must have been a very dark and lonely moment for you. How did you pull yourself away from feeling suicidal and what would you say to anyone close to feeling that alone?
My attempt at killing myself 13 years ago was more a cry for help than wanting to die. The odd occasion I do feel that low, I wonder if the world is better without me. I pull myself away by thinking about my niece, my other family members and that I actually do have a positive impact on them and I’m sure they’d miss me, even if I don’t always believe it.
Sometimes others telling you how much they love you or how much you mean to them don’t filter through. It’s like there is a wall, a wall between you and the words that are meant to heal you but every so often the words do find themselves through a crack and they do reach you. It pulls you back to feeling better.
If you would like support on any of the issues raised then please contact Rape Crisis in England and Wales, your local rape crisis centre or Samaritans in the UK. If outside of the UK you can reach out to your local NGO or rape crisis centre.
Illustration used in this blog is by illustrator Alexandra Johnson. Art work belongs to the artist.