Ferry Fiasco: Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?

In the year where the Isle of Bute has been hailed as The Sunday Times best place to live in Scotland, its residents have never been more divided. Some think it’s merely a case of mainlander privilege to bare this perspective considering they have never experienced many days of ferry cancellations and missed mainland appointments. Others revelled in the pride of their community being placed on the map. Finally Bute was getting the credit its scenic coastal landscapes so deserved. In essence, while some welcomed this as a much-needed boost to the economy through publicity and tourism, others were fearful of what this meant for the 15×4 miles Firth of the Clyde island.

But let’s be clear — this isn’t like the Viking invasions of the 11th Century. Day-trippers aren’t packing bags for a day of plunder and pillage in Bute’s town of Rothesay. They’re here to share the fruits of what the islanders are able to feast on all year round — or at least some of it. This is where the Bute cynics may have a point:

The Sunday Times panelists alongside tourists likely have little understanding of what it’s like to be at the mercy of a lifeline service that is currently hitting headlines across the nation for unreliability. CalMac, the UK’s largest ferry operator (in terms of number of routes and vessels), has come under fire from both the press and its highly-dependent islander customers and commuters. Consequently more and more Bute residents are returning to an age old question: Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?  

Ferry Fiasco

According to Google Trends, the search terms ‘CalMac’ and ‘island bridge’ peaked—perhaps not so coincidentally— at the exact same time in mid February 2022 when reports of delays to shipbuilding started to surge in Scottish media. Headlines included ‘ferry delays’ and ‘decimated ferry services’ in reference to CalMac. All of this came as rising tensions between Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) and Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) were being brought to light. John Sturrock QC describes the relationship between the two companies as ‘personal animosity’ which were contributing to delays and ‘costing the tax-payer a fortune’.

Not only this but recently there have been calls for resignations within Scottish parliament if the delays continue. Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, had projected that the overall cost of building new vessels had increased by over £8.5 million. According to The Scotsman, Ms Forbes said that she recognised how pertinent it is to complete these ferries for vulnerable islands and the reasoning was due to ‘outstanding legacy cabling issues’. It must be noted that these ferries were contracted by CMAL, which is government owned and government subsidised.

Due to these delays, older vessels are still in order which in turn impairs reliability due to technical issues and frequency of required servicing. For instance, one vessel that served the Isle of Arran had been out of operation until early May due to an engine failure and consequently, CalMac’s managing director, Robbie Drummond, has had to recognise that such an occurrence is detrimental to both island economy and to vital healthcare.

The Daily Record reports that pubs have been running out of alcohol, tourism has declined (which has been recognised as an island’s ‘lifeblood’) and has become unendurable for those who require the ferry services to attend hospital. Most importantly, Mr Drummond issued a statement on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that clarified money being spent on maintenance had increased by 70% in the last 5 years. CalMac is running purely on ‘ageing fleet’ and vessels that are well beyond their lifeline. This has real life implications for islanders.

The Scottish Ferry Review found in its consultation questionnaire in 2010 that the ageing of CalMac vessels are not singular to Arran, but have covered a far wider scope for many years. Within the review they stated that: “In tandem with the increasing fleet age, the rate of bringing new vessels into service has been reducing over time with a greater time period evident between commissions.” The review found that in 1974 the average age of vessels was 13 years old and by 2012 this average had shot up by 9 years to 22.

The reviews’ recommendation to reduce this trend was that vessels needed to be replaced ‘at a rate approaching one per year’ and that assuming these vessels have a lifespan of approximately 30 years, the predicted average age would need to be reduced from 22 to 19.5 years old. So, what does this mean for Bute?

Currently Bute operates with 2 main vessels from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay. These are the MV Argyle and MV Bute. Often times in Winter months the MV Coruisk is also put into service to tackle tempestuous weather in replacement of either one of the Rothesay ferries.  At the north end of the island the MV Loch Dunvegan operates alone from Colintraive to Rhubodach.

The youngest of the 4 vessels at 15 years old is the MV Argyle and the oldest is the 31 year old MV Loch Dunvegan. The average age of all 4 vessels combined is 20.5 years old, taking it over the recommended national average age of 19.5 years for CalMac vessels. For a company that displays one of its main qualities as ‘modernisation’ on their web page, having a vessel in service on Bute that has operated since 1991, does not seem to substantiate this claim of modernity. The review does not corroborate this either. This has been seen in practice and poses great difficulties for the Isle of Bute. More required servicing and technical issues have prevented more than just a ‘day-trip’ but vital services and resources.

According to a particular case on the 13th December 2021 posted to a community Facebook group, CalMac’s website showed that the MV Bute had been withdrawn from service due to a ‘technical fault’. Its replacement, the MV Coruisk, was delayed in the adjustment which seen the service for the latter half of that day and the remainder of the following day cancelled. Thereafter it remained on a single vessel timetable with the MV Argyle.

It’s important to highlight that there is also a significant issue with single vessel operations and in the same review, it was raised that: “We do not believe a single vessel operation constitutes provision of a lifeline ferry service” and this is exactly what CalMac brand themselves as on both the David MacBrayne website and the CalMac website: a lifeline service. It is not difficult to understand why many may feel that it’s unjust to constitute CalMac as this type of service when, often times, it does not live up to the provisions that it should.

How The Pandemic Ignited the ‘Bridge Debate’

The Isle of Bute community Facebook group has the second largest number of members (14,000) amongst the Scottish islands, second only to Skye (38,000). This community group was once a place that solely consisted of scenic pictures representing Bute’s wildlife before turning into a public discussion board to air concerns for other Brandanes (Bute residents) to respond to — which more often than not— has its habits of turning into heated debates.

On the 7th December 2021, a woman who runs a well-known hotel on Bute posted to the page in an obvious rage that was directed at CalMac and tagged councillors, urging them to get involved with her complaint. The woman had stated that she had arrived an hour and a half early at Wemyss Bay for the last sailing. She attempted to purchase a ticket but allegedly staff reported that the network was down and she’d have to pay by cash.

After explaining that she didn’t have cash as she was sure that CalMac had become a cashless company, she was told that she would not be able to travel unless she went to the nearest cash machine (which would require her to walk over a mile to the co-op in the rain, by a dark busy road) and acquire some: “The refusal to let a single passenger travel on the last sailing and to assume it is acceptable for anyone to be able to walk a mile and a half in the dark has left me flabbergasted.”

This was the only option provided. She stated in her post: “Yes I’d asked if someone could pop into Rothesay before the boat sailed and pay for me. Yes I’d asked if I could pay on board at the cafe and yes I’d asked if I could do a bank transfer. Everything I suggested was shot down in flames.”

She continued: “The only suggestion that was given to me was to sit in the car and wait to see if the network came back on — if it didn’t I’d not be allowed to travel.”

When the woman was finally able to get cash, she then had to walk down to the foot passenger ticket office — despite being a vehicle passenger— as the vehicle office claimed that they weren’t allowed to handle cash: “You couldn’t make it up. Not one apology was issued and the bad faith towards this company grows by the day.” 

This event occurred exactly 3 months after Bute Councillor Liz McCabe announced that there were issues with members of the community not being allowed to pay their ferry fare by cash: “For those who may not know, when travelling with CalMac you CAN pay by cash as a last resort. Seemingly we have been able to do for some time. However I have had some people telling me this was not the case for them.”

One responder to this statement said: “They wouldn’t let my husband when the rest and be thankful was closed! Point blank refused at Wemyss Bay.”

Issues with payments during the course of the pandemic sparked outrage in the community with some maintaining that CalMac were using their power to exploit islanders. One responder to the 7th December incident said: “Surely if the card payment network was down, then there should have been a contingency plan put in place?”

While others declared it was a ‘disgrace’ and ‘dreadful behaviour’ for a company. Another responder stated: “Absolute disgrace and if you complain it’s a waste of time. Build a bridge.”

As December went on, the Isle of Bute community page filled up with phone screenshots of ‘technical difficulty’ warnings from CalMac’s website, ferry cancellation complaints and soon, the idea of bridge building had resurfaced. It appeared that the community was truly beginning to lose faith and losing it very close to a time where sons, daughters and grandparents would be depending on these lifeline services to spend time with their families for Christmas — for some, the first time in many years due to the pandemic.

In an obtained FOI, over 2,201 scheduled sailings for the entirety of Bute in 2021 were cancelled compared to only 854 pre-pandemic. Granted, there are many external factors that simply cannot be managed by CalMac but it does leave wonder as to why there were also almost 1.5k less scheduled sailings than in 2019?

After contacting an individual who regularly and openly spoke quite positively about CalMac online, I asked for their opinion on a bridge as they are a regular commuter due to their job as a delivery driver. They were initially willing to co-operate but as the questions turned to issues around the use of ferry services, this person shut down all conversation by informing me that their boss is not happy with them talking to journalists and that if I wanted any more information, I was to contact their marketing team. The marketing team I later found out was the marketing of a distribution company who rely heavily on CalMac for business. Purely from speculation, I believe that this was an attempt to avoid decrying a company they so heavily depend on. Again, this is speculative.

The Debate

There is nothing that seems to ignite debate in an island community like presenting the group with a poll centred on a bridge. The poll that posed the question: ‘Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?’ garnered a staggering 687 respondents, 387 of which (the majority), voted in favour of such endeavour and the remaining 300 voted against.

The main argument for those in favour of a bridge centred on the quality of ferry services to and from the island which has already been extensively touched upon in this investigation. However, some moved away from the notion of ‘the quality of service’ and more onto the idea that the external factors that impose a threat to ferry services are of equal issue i.e weather, COVID and technical issues. Although not the company’s fault, these are still valid reasons for desiring the freedom of what being connected to the mainland could bring. One respondent stated: “Living on the island has become more difficult during uncertainty of ferry especially during winter months, a bridge would solve that problem.”

While another stated: “I would just like the freedom it would give you should you be running late and the ferry is away at least there is an alternative way home instead of having to pay a hotel to stay over.”

A lot of ‘pro-bridgers’ acknowledged that they didn’t want rid of the ferry services on Bute altogether, they would just prefer to have an alternative option available in which they had access to mainland facilities and resources. 

As mentioned earlier, tourism is the main source of economic success for many Scottish islands and with islands like Skye, who in its first year of having a bridge, over 61200 vehicles crossed  which was more than the official numbers of the ferry according to the Evening Express, there is no wonder why this appeal exists on Bute.

Besides economy, the most gripping point came in the form of vital services such as healthcare. 

Highland Healthcare Branch Secretary Dawn MacDonald stated that a bridge could mean “the difference between life and death” as well as prevent missed appointments due to bad weather and ferry breakdowns. The most poignant of Mrs MacDonald’s statement came in the form of a life or death situation: “Years back, a GP’s daughter took an asthma attack and the delay in getting her to a hospital on the mainland almost cost her her life. It was too close to death for the GP’s liking and subsequently, he moved away.”

A spokesperson for Bute’s Kidney Patient Support also highlighted the issues of healthcare on the island: “Before the dialysis unit opened on Bute in November 2021 there was no treatment on the island. Patients had to go to Inverclyde 3 times per week. They went by ambulance transport each day, but you will understand if there was bad weather or breakdowns on the ferries then they couldn’t travel.”

Bute Kidney Patient Support was community and trust-funded. This is a resource that was created through the help of Dr Marshall Trust contribution as well as the campaigning and fundraising of Bute’s community and businesses. Without either — this resource may never have come to fruition.

The spokesperson also confirmed that: “… the mainland does have higher quality resources. The unit on Bute is classed as a satellite unit so if a patient has other health issues etc. then they may have to go back to receiving dialysis at Inverclyde.”

Finally, in regards to patient satisfaction it was believed that the island unit has been a “god send” to patients, however, “living on an island does have its limits” in regard to vital care services.

This leads to a very interesting point from the ‘anti-bridgers’ who believe that: “This is island life, if you don’t like it, move away. You chose to stay here. Move. Simple.” But is it really so simple?

Firstly, many islanders did not exactly choose to stay on the island. They were born here and as humans — they don’t get a say in that. Secondly, house prices are not as affordable on the mainland as they are on Bute— this is what constitutes part of the appeal for the ‘best place in Scotland’. As of November 2021 the postcode of PA20 (which covers the entirety of Bute) has an average house price of £109,906 compared to other areas merely across the water such as Wemyss Bay at £182,958 and Glasgow at over £200,000.

Another resident explained why it’s not as simple as just getting up and going: “Due to the boats being very unpredictable and my partner working on the mainland we are now looking to relocate, he lost thousands this winter due to ferries being cancelled. If there was a bridge I wouldn’t need to move away from the place I call home where all my family are.” 

Independence is another issue that was raised amongst those against a bridge. What would this mean for the independence of the island and would Bute still be able to hold onto its islander status? From the example of Skye, it would be safe to assume so, even if at very least by name. The logistics may be a little more complicated in terms of island benefits but it can be argued that island concessions would be far less needed with adequate accessibility to both essential and recreational facilities. Afterall, these island benefits are only in place for the sake of equity. It is accepted as a universal fact that rural communities are less advantaged than their mainland counterparts. However, politically, islands are synonymous with the character of ‘independence’ therefore a more compelling question posed to you reader is: Is the Isle of Bute ever truly independent if it is dependent on CalMac? Is it truly ever independent if its community is at the mercy of one company?

In media, we discuss the dangerous threat to democracy that media monopolies pose and that plurality and diversity are ways of maintaining democracy so best as we can as members of the Fourth Estate. Can this same principle be applied to rural communities where it is clear that business monopolies exist? These are certainly questions worth thinking about.

The vocal passion for the opposing side was so distinct in contrast to the ‘pro-bridgers’. In fact, so passionate that I had received a peculiar email in response to my proposition on the community Facebook group. The email address was generated from an encryption mail website named ‘Proton Mail’ and the sender was disguised with an alias. They had urged me not to take this investigation any further and linked me to a blog post that they seemed to create in direct response to my poll. It highlighted that any investigation for the sake of “journalism” would instead be “insincere” and “malicious”.

Though clearly not open for discussion, the sender made some fascinating and well-researched points that laid down the foundation of the anti-bridge argument. Some of which included the extortionate cost of such a project. If we disregard hypotheticals if only for a moment and move more to practicality, we can look at the case study of Skye.

The bridge cost £39 million to construct and not without great controversy initially. After a toll was applied to the bridge by the US company that owned it, protests arose and soon, the Scottish Government bought the Skye bridge, eradicating the toll which had generated criminal charges and public unrest. If the Scottish Government are struggling to finance and deliver new vessels on time, this certainly leaves room for skepticism when it comes to financing and delivering a bridge. 

Visual aesthetics, uniqueness of character and the enjoyment of remoteness were all other incredibly valid points brought up amongst the Facebook comments. Many were also concerned about the environmental impact and rightly so. The anonymous author of the blog who stated that if the bridge were to be built at Colintraive and Rhubodach: “[they] are within a National Scenic Area (and one of only seven in the Argyll and Bute region) so development of any kind would face tremendous roadblocks from communities, authorities and environmentalists.” 

You can view their extensive points against the idea of a bridge on Bute here.


This investigation concludes that it isn’t so much ‘pro’ or ‘anti-bridge’ so much as it is ‘pro better services for islands’. Though the debate is shrouded in hypotheticals, there is value in looking at its practicality which case studies such as Skye can provide, albeit with its differences. There is no doubt that those in favour of a bridge are not necessarily calling for a bridge as much as they are calling for better, more modern and reliable services, better governance and more freedom of choice for their island. There was a real impression that this is a community that has exhausted all other options when it comes to pleading for better. The practicality of such a huge endeavour will forever remain debatable.

Finally, though much of the community did not feel compelled to speak out on this topic when approached, it is clear that it’s a touchy subject for some islanders. And often the things that aren’t talked about are certainly the things that need to be talked about. Divorce, death, illness and sex. They’re all difficult topics. And for islanders — bridge building seems to be one of them. 

Author’s Note:

The voices of Bute’s community matters – after all, it is the people of Bute who these council-centred issues affect. If nothing is said, nothing can be done. Some islanders were agitated or fed up by the proposal of such a question regarding the bridge with remarks such as “not this again”. But actually — yes, this again. Yes, ‘this again’ because it is a question that has been left unanswered. If it was a problem that possessed a solution, it wouldn’t have to be solved. And until there is an answer or solution, you can expect to see the ‘bridge debate’ continue to arise in conversation. Whether you choose to partake in it or not is purely personal choice, but those who want to be heard should be heard.

My aim was to move this debate along and to provide at least *some* answers to its surrounding questions. And sometimes investigations can pose more questions than it does answers. That rings true for this. I went into this investigation with a curious mind and a genuine desire to find an answer to this age long debate. However, being raised on Bute, I also wanted islanders to think about the institutions that they are governed by and the way their community is run. Knowledge can only be gained through the provision of information and only then can productive action be taken with that knowledge.

Thank you to all who have collaborated with me on this piece and to the community for providing me with insightful data. Your voices and opinions are incredibly important to the progression of rural communities.

Feature Photo Credit: Isle of Bute by John Williams, 2016.

The Hands That Make a Home

In a city that I couldn’t call home, my hands were a resident all on their own. Hands that have made both friends and enemies with the liquid that protects them, the rubber that guards them and the 20 seconds that guides them. These hands of mine have become shy and introverted, quaking and unreliable in times when I’ve needed them most. To prepare a hearty meal, to work to pay my bills and to craft the art that swims marathons in my mind.

They have become stifled in creativity yet zealous in their new duties. No e-mail has went unread, no call has went unanswered. My hands stood like two vacant little armies, waiting for orders from their sergeant in charge. They were no longer the warm creators of my art but cool operators of my commands. They had become strangers of the world’s own making. Of my own making.

Though familiar with motions of mask-wearing, nose-blowing, hand-washing and computer- clicking, they had become strangers to the co-operative motions of the most precious task of all — home-making.

Home was a place that I had no business being at over the last few years and in its absence, I had— admittedly— neglected the hands of home that fed me, that warmed me and made me.

But now, I was ‘here’ and ‘here’ was where I could set those cold and tired little soldiers free to enjoy the home-grown and hand-cooked meals that filled the void of microwave dishes. To revel in the experience of my mother’s soft fresh, folded laundry. To feast on my no-longer-captive creativity and to allow my fingers to glide along the piano keys that stirs that forgotten feeling of ‘togetherness’. Most important of all was to realise that some of the most spectacular hands that make a home aren’t even hands at all — they are paws.

As my time on my little rural island draws to a close, there is just one thing that I will leave for the big city comfortably knowing and that is that my hands— alone—don’t make a home.

Author’s Note: This was a graded photo essay as part of my masters degree.

Climate Change Denialism

It was just shy of 6 months ago that I grabbed myself a taxi in Stirling city centre. It was the first day of many sweltering days this year. The driver locked eyes with me in the rear-view mirror where beads of sweat trickled from his face and said: “This isn’t a heatwave, this is the government.” This was not the first nor the last encounter I had this year with conspiracy theorists, but it was certainly the one that was firm in my memory as the UN’s COP26 event drew to a close in Glasgow.

On the 9th of November this year, CBS News reported that conspiracy theorists were taking to the internet after the event to encourage climate-change denial.

I thought back to that day in the taxi and of course, I couldn’t help but wonder. This was one man and his theories. Theories that were conveyed with such conviction that you would be forgiven for believing them. And a man whose job required him to come into contact with countless people a day, possibly spreading these theories like wildfire.

The scope of misinformation is frightening enough via the old-school channel of word of mouth, but not arguably as speedy and as accessible than through the much-loved modern channel of the internet.

Subsequently, two questions plagued me: What are the catalysts for climate denial and does this impose real life dangers?

The immense amount theories that have been circulating recently, included climate-change lockdowns were approaching, that climate change is exaggerated, not man made and it is the result of secret government experiments.

In a blog post from the University of Hull, Professor Mike Rogerson who is also a palaeo scientist made it his mission to debunk the circulating theories, emphasising the dangers of misinformation:

“The problem is that society gets climate information from the media, not from scientists. And the media, in an effort to seem unbiased, often line up one climate scientist against one denier to debate their point.”

However, Mike continues:

“But that doesn’t mean that the scientific community is split 50/50 on climate change. Actually it’s more like 97/3” and we all know which way is likely to be which.

However, climate denialism has worked in pursuit of one goal and one goal only since at least the 1980s… profit.

EXXON, an energy company founded in the 70s, were obsessed with innovation.

With this, they decided to invest in science. It was actually their very own scientists that were the first to present original papers explaining how the burning of fossil fuels will influence the climate.

This discovery was made in the early 80s just as the price of oil was decreasing, so the higher-ups at Exxon decided to ignore the information and turned to their business growth.

The scientists came back with more, in-depth research and told them that it was worse than they had originally thought.

“If Exxon wanted to be innovators so bad, maybe they would have taken this moment to diversify the energy sector, invest in alternative energy sources, but instead they decided to lie to you, to me and to your mom.”

So, EXXON being EXXON decided in the late 80s, when climate change was being accepted as an issue publicly, that it was time to instil doubt.

They set about doing this by making the apolitical nature of science… you guessed it— political, creating divisions, controversy and most importantly…doubts among the public.

As David Puttnam highlights in a Ted Talk on the reality of Climate change in 2014:

Humans used slaves as a source of energy and as it was fought to be abolished, the opponents argument was centred on profit. Then came the industrial revolution where years of innovation produced a new form of energy and so we progressed, we did better.

Notice any correlations here? This has been seen throughout history time and time again. Meeting expectations for profit is far more dangerous than exceeding expectations for a better future.

Dr Guy McPherson once said: “If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

So what are the real life dangers of conspiracy theories and climate denialism?

Well, let’s sum it up like this.

The wider spread of misinformation, the more doubt is created, the more instilled denial becomes and the less meaningful, moral (and in this case) pro-environmental action is taken against REAL life issues. And this becomes even more harmful on social media where 54% of our youth consume their news. The youth that is essentially carrying our future.

A paper on why conspiracy theories are dangerous by Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Hutton revealed in 2015 that: “Exposure to conspiracy theories reduced people’s intentions to reduce their carbon footprint.”

The authors claim that conspiracy theories: “cannot be dismissed as trivial or harmless.” And that they pose a great threat to societal behaviours. 

So the disregard for human suffering in the pursuit of profit from huge corporations combined with the spread of misinformation creates what we know as climate denialism. What can we do?

Do your research, check your sources and always, always, always choose consciousness over ignorance.

In regards to the corporations, I’ll leave that to David Puttnam to tell us:

“We’ve been sucked into the belief that an economic system is the only possible way forward and in truth, unless we alter the system, it is the absolute certainty that it will see the end of us as a species.”

Fame over family: The dark world of family vlogging

With the camcorder making its way into residences across the world in 1983, a surge in home videos and family-filled footage showed the value in collecting memories and sharing special moments within the safe confines of your own home. Sony had allowed movie-making to be available to the masses. However, another revolution in more recent years broke down many barriers within the world of communication: The social media revolution. So too did it break down the barriers of people’s own homes. Family footage of children opening Christmas presents or losing their first tooth is no longer limited to the privacy and viewership of close relatives, but to everyone that has access to an internet connection. This is family vlogging.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that babies in bow-ties and seemingly average parents sharing aspects of their everyday life is as innocent and authentically wholesome as it sounds— but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that that’s not the case. As often is the instance with social media, not everything is what it tends to present itself as. This sickly sweet and rapid-growing YouTube genre (which has shot up in viewership by 90% in recent years according to Time Magazine) is nothing short of disturbing no matter how one tries to dress it. Even more unsettling is the realisation that the negative effects of family vlogging on these ‘influencer kids’ are still little understood. The whole genre raises a multitude of ethical questions that are in desperate need of answers. 

The most effective way to understand the ‘unique’ world of family vlogging is through examples of what are considered huge names in the category. RomanAtwoodVlogs, The Ace Family and The Labrant Family all have subscribers upwards of 10 million on the world’s favourite video sharing platform,YouTube. The latter of the three families was described by The List as ‘social media royalty’ and have been the subject of both great controversy and intense media worship. The same magazine has estimated that the Labrant family are making anywhere in the region of $15,000 per day or $5.5 million per year. With the channel’s yearly hike in subscribers, this is likely to be far exceeded as of now.

So, how do they become ‘social media royalty’?

Let’s begin with what is at the core of family channels— the children. According to a study in 2019, Pew Research Center found that YouTube Videos that feature children under the age of 13 receive more than three times as many views as videos without children. ‘Creators have seen it as a way to guarantee ad revenue due to the videos’ popularity,’ The Verge wrote in a 2019 article discussing the new study’s findings. More children means more views and in turn, means more money.

Parents and owners of family vlog channels seem to neglect the more genuine aspect of home movie-making that existed before the social media revolution. The aim is not to have valuable private documentation of the good, the bad and the ugly to pull out at celebrations to reminisce. It is now for the pursuit of celebrityhood and six-figures. When parents then establish themselves as channel owners involving their children for monetary gain, the lines between parenting and business become blurred.

The daughter of The Labrant Family’s founders, Everleigh, was illustrated in The List’s 2020 article as a ‘pint-sized social media hit in her own right’ before stating that she, as of 2019, was in the top 3 richest YouTube children in the world, determined by the U.K website Childcare. Comparing an 8 year-old child to a common measurement for beer or cider can be seen to be verging on objectifying. Children are often portrayed as money-making props not just by the media but by those that they are supposed to trust the most — their parents.

Now, allow yourself to be introduced to the infamous tactics of ‘clickbait’. According to dictionary.com, clickbait is ‘a sensationalised headline or piece of text on the internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article on another web page.’ This can absolutely be applied to video content, too. It is essentially anything that entices a viewer and makes them want to ‘click’. From Pew Research Center’s study— that even includes children.

In mid-September of this year, a Los Angeles mum known as Jordan Cheyenne was caught, through an editing error, forcing her son to ‘fake cry’ for a YouTube thumbnail on a video titled ‘we are heartbroken’. What is more disturbing is that her son was genuinely and authentically crying because of the prospect of their unwell puppy not surviving. The appearance of empathy and nurture that we associate with not only good parenting but good morals, had vanquished in the pursuit of a clickbait, staged thumbnail. In the pursuit of fame and fortune. 

Los Angeles mum telling her son to pose for the camera to get a clickbait thumbnail, Credit: Supplied

Unfortunately, Jordan Cheyenne’s case is one of the few incidences of inauthenticity that is publicly highlighted and doesn’t slip easily under the viewer’s eye. Some family vlog channels are far more subtle and their manipulative tricks go unobserved— especially when targeted at a younger and less experienced demographic.

These type of YouTubers include The Ohana Adventure: A family vlogging channel that is centred around Jason and Rachel Bennett, along with their 6 children. In 2020, Jason Bennett was featured in a podcast interview with another YouTuber known as TheTechieGuy (Liron Segev), discussing how he gained his 2.7 million subscribers at the time. Bennett and Segev’s discussion was incredibly insightful but at times awfully uncomfortable.

Several notable points were raised where Bennett explained that the reason he began the channel was to get him and his wife out of debt, where as a family they are always thinking about the next piece of content and even that he has business meetings with his children almost weekly.

Among the more potent things being discussed was the family’s demographic where Bennett admitted that he had to age down his target audience because he realised that teens lose interest once they have a driving license. ‘If you can get eight year olds, they’re very engaged, they’re very active, the algorithm loves it,’ Bennett said. This didn’t so much unsettle as it did fascinate until his final statement as the podcast arrived at a close.

Segev asks if there is one message Bennet could put on a tweet or a video that everybody could watch, what would his message be. Bennett responds with: ‘I’m all just about be real. Honestly, just be real. I respect people that are real so much because real isn’t popular.’

That may seem like a lot of ‘honesty’ and ‘real’ talk for a man who titled a video ‘Mom gets Cancer removed! scary facial surgery’ which was nothing short of a lie. In actuality, there was no cancer removal in the video at all. It was just the removal of benign moles from Rachel, his wife’s, face. Not even 10 minutes into the video, the nurse had told Rachel: ‘This doesn’t look like anything precancerous. This looks healthy.’ 

Credit: The Ohana Adventure

Yet still, this was seen as an opportunity for sensationalism, clickbait and content. When the results arrive, they gather all their children in a room to film their reaction to the fairly predictable results. The children’s reaction was the money bag in not just this video, but in most family vloggers’ videos. This was catastrophising for the sake of ‘content’. Not only a lie, but can also viewed as an insult to all those that have genuinely had to have cancer removed. Unfortunately, their audience does not have the capacity to hold them accountable for actions like this because, like Bennett admitted, they are children themselves. Most can’t understand this; they can only fall victim to it.

It was clear after listening to this podcast that for Jason Bennett, family vlogging wasn’t about getting out of debt anymore, not even about living comfortably— it was about living luxuriously. This leads us to what happens when you finally combine all three: children, sensationalised thumbnails and titles. You get a distasteful viral video with 12 million views and a huge sum of cash in return for your lack of humanity and morals. This is exactly what happened when a channel called Best Trends uploaded a video of a young girl in obvious physical and emotional distress titled ‘Little Girl Goes To Heaven While Her Parents Watching (emotional)’. Undress that title and you essentially have ‘a little girl dies while her parents watch’ and what is deeply saddening is more so that the majority response is so positive to this upload. The girl, thankfully, does not die but Best Trends have essentially created two victims in this instance — the little girl and the viewer.

What are the consequences?

‘For the first time in history children are having their entire lives documented online for the whole world to view,’ says a 2020 Humboldt State University paper on the dangers of parenting in the public eye. The largely understood yet just as dangerous aspect of family vlogging is the competition.

Jason Bennett mentioned in the podcast feeling in competition because a lot of family vlogging is becoming very ‘me too’. Now, they haveto make their family stand out and are willing to go to extreme lengths to do this. When you have a whole category of families trying to outdo one another with ‘pranks’ and ‘dares’—somebody is going to get hurt. It constantly evolves, propelling into never-ending disasters of psychological abuse with nobody to put the breaks on.

We seen this with the family vloggers, DaddyOFive. A dad and step-mother who lost custody of two of their children because of psychological child abuse that was used as online content. They carried out ‘pranks’ on their children where they would break their valuables for a negative response, and then tell their child it was a ‘prank’ and replace the valuables for a positive one.

That’s the thing with this category of YouTubers. What is this teaching not only their children but what many family vloggers claim is the majority of their demographic — other people’s children? That if you first tolerate the extreme discomfort of watching your valuables being destroyed, then you will be materialistically rewarded. 

On a far darker scale, Nisha Talukdar in a paper researching the effects of family vlogging in children for Christ University last year, found that a well known YouTuber had to delete all the traces of her children from her channel when she discovered that her videos were being used on paedophile websites.

“Anything can be turned vulgar and these parents don’t really realise what kind of people are embedded in their subscribers’ and views’ list,” Talukdar writes. To most family vloggers, as we have gathered, their subscribers are just figures. Their demographics are just statistics thus when monstrous people are brought to reality, this is something that parents cannot seem to fathom. That number is no longer just a number, it’s a real person. It’s a bizarre naïvety, that one can argue, doesn’t really feel justified.

It isn’t like there aren’t stories nearly everyday about the use of the internet in harmful ways. Or even an exposure of a child sex crime. It appears that parents essentially decide that the perks of celebrityhood outweighs the protection of their child, and that will inevitably be a hard thing for some children to come to terms with as they age.

So as of now, it can be hard to provide any evidence of concrete consequences while this new media phenomenon soars in popularity. Essentially, the only real thing we can do is speculate with given events and circumstances. However, it’s almost inevitable that time will reveal all. And by then, it is only natural to fear that it might be too late.

Victim Blaming: The injustice of believing in a just world in 2021

The cold brush of February air stunned a fatigued 19 year-old Claire on the weekend following Valentine’s Day in 2021. Not one to usually rise at the crack of dawn, she had physically, though not mentally, prepared for her first early shift in a small town’s biggest business.

Her mind was preoccupied with the anticipation of an exquisite post-Valentine’s dinner that evening with her boyfriend—who was also her colleague. It was warm thoughts like those that she had vowed, that very day, would make the early winter morning shifts tolerable.

While the sun sprouted from behind leafless twigs, Claire made her way through the vacant streets of town and to, what she felt, was the quiet safety of a job that she had grown to love.

To those that knew her there— if only at face-value— she presented herself as naïvely optimistic, humble in manners though remarkably gentile in speech.

Claire began carrying out her duties when a middle-aged supervisor, who she was somewhat familiar with, approached her and began prying into her relationship.

He began spouting sexual innuendos before pulling down the collar to peer at a love mark on her neck. She masked her fear with a polite laugh. 

Crippled with anxiety and becoming increasingly aware that a long day with this man was ahead of her, she had told one of her managers at the front desk that she had been physically sick in hopes of being let home early.

She left that day, only to return for one more shift at her work that, strangely, was in a different department from where she specialised.

Her boyfriend had reported the incident that morning to a manager in a pursuit of justice and instead, she received hostility in the form of being called both a ‘liar’ and ‘overdramatic’. An investigation was never carried out.

Her only witness was the business’ CCTV footage that she had begged to be reviewed but according to managers, it had conveniently ‘not been working’ at the time of the incident.

“Consequently, I lost my job and I lost my boyfriend,” she tells.“The corporation doubted me, my boyfriend then doubted me, so I began to doubt me.” 

Was this really the consequence of false claims from an ‘overdramatic’ young woman; or the consequence of corporate cover-ups and malpractice that contribute to the ever-growing epidemic of victim blaming culture?

According to an article discussing ‘The Psychology of Victim Blaming’ published by The Atlantic in 2016: “Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them.”

Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at the University of the South reminds us in this article: “Murders, burglaries, abductions—whatever the crime, many people tend to default to victim-blaming thoughts and behaviors as a defense mechanism in the face of bad news.”

With this in mind, we can see that victim blaming can take on many different forms. Sometimes brazen, other times subtle, but almost always —destructive. So, why do we do it?

A 2010 study from the Journal of Social Psychology on ‘General Versus Specific Victim Blaming’ revealed that those that believe in a ‘just’ world are more inclined to engage in said behaviour. These are the same people that believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people and that all is fair.

Though, it has been revealed time and time again that we simply don’t live in a ‘just’ world and those that victim blame tend to instead believe that good things happen to strong people and bad things happen to weak people.

A significant pop culture example of this is in the criticism of the character of Cinderella, who was ultimately condemned for her key ‘feminine’ traits of softness and kindness. Feminist critics claimed that the 1950 Disney film centres on a weak, passive woman who can’t stand up to her abusers and is rescued by a Prince.

However, The Take on YouTube released a video essay ‘Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim’ which claims this is a complete misreading, and unintentionally (and almost subtly) feeds into the victim blaming culture.

“This isn’t a story about a man stepping in to save a helpless woman.” The Take claims. “It’s about a woman who faces adversity head on, who chooses kindness and optimism even when it’s hard, and who uses her own creativity and inner strength to rescue herself.”

The video essay discusses in ways the feminist critique ironically misses the mark with empowerment and instead feeds straight into the victim blaming narrative: “She grows up in an abusive environment where she lacks all power.”

“Her kindness and ability to cope through fantasy actually represent her strength and bravery in the face of adversity. In the time since the film’s release in 1950, perhaps qualities like kindness and optimism have come to seem simple, obvious and naive.”

But instead, these are rare qualities that are often undermined and hard to practice. A woman doesn’t have to wield a sword to be a warrior. She doesn’t have to harness traits of masculinity to exude strength. Finally, while we dwindle on what she (the victim) could’ve done as an outward display of strength, we seldom ask the perpetrator why they committed the crime.

Instead we should be looking broadly at the failing societal structures that impede on the progression of moral education rather than looking individually at ways to, not only justify, but enable the ruthless savagery of an unjust world.

According to statistics from rapecrisis.org, as many as 33% of people believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped and still, there are those that question why only 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.

Lady Tremaine shattering the glass slipper, which is the only tangible symbolism of Cinderella’s strength and her story, is no different from the manager shattering the only pieces of evidence and power Claire had as a victim against a huge corporation — the CCTV footage and her voice.

“I didn’t feel I could report it to police,” she says. “I wasn’t believed by the people that I needed to be believed by, though now seeing how prevalent victim blaming is, it has made me realise that nothing was wrong with me— It’s them.”

It’s not so naïve to believe that like Cinderella, Claire will feast on the fruits of her own poetic justice all in good time, in whichever form that takes for her, and I bet it will taste ever so sweet.

*’Claire’ is a pseudonym for the victim in this article. Anonymity has been provided.

Breaking My Silence: Domestically Abused at 18

Trigger warnings – Graphic descriptions and evidence of domestic violence, a lot of mentions of s**cide and mental health/illness. Graphic pictures and mentions of physical illness. This is a heavy read.

In my silence over these last 2 years, a lot has happened. I moved house, I met the love of my life, I graduated and got accepted for my Masters degree. I took on many jobs, I started new projects and have morphed into a completely different woman. A woman that my 18 year old self would hardly recognise and in all honesty, I couldn’t be happier with that. I’ve grown. Really grown.

Now, before I start you may be wondering, why didn’t I talk about what happened to me for so long?

  • The pain that comes with delving into past emotions and reflecting on trauma.
  • The guilt, shame and embarrassment that you carry as a victim of domestic abuse is indescribable. What could I have done differently? What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I strong enough? Why didn’t I leave?
  • The way that people would see me. My trauma felt personal, something for only me, my abuser & those closest to me to know of. I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently because of what I endured.
  • The judgement. Everyone’s going to have an opinion and for 2 years, I was terrified of that. Especially when most of my abuse took place where there was not just small town but small island mentality.
  • My abuser is well-known, at least within my age group. How many of his friends and family are willing to lie to protect him? How many of his friends and family are in denial of what he done to me? and finally, how many of his friends and family are willing to attack me on his behalf – I bet a lot.

    So, why now? Because…
  • Reflection is one of the greatest tools in any human being’s toolkits. Reflection has been done by so many philosophers, writers, great thinkers and politicians and without it, we would never learn. Just look at Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France or Reflexions sur la revolution en France. A huge, monumental reflection that changed the course of politics today. So if my reflection can help prevent or change just one person’s experience with domestic abuse, I’ll have achieved exactly what I’ve set out to do. Not for revenge, but for everyone else’s justice.
  • The guilt and the shame I have carried for years has dissipated with learning, time and an absolute determination to heal the wounds that were keeping me stuck. Because I’m not a victim of domestic abuse, I’m a survivor. I am not to blame for what he done to me. Nothing is wrong with me. My strength far outweighs his and the reason so many can’t leave an abusive relationship is because they are trapped like I was. That does not have to be physically. And that’s okay, because I found my way out… but many don’t and I have a duty as a survivor to help change that.
  • I’m no longer afraid of how people see me. I came out the other end of a life-altering experience and I want to show others that they can too, and if that means sharing my own personal traumatic experience, then I will.
  • People’s opinions no longer frighten me. I know the truth. I know my experience better than anybody else and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it is my value and commitment to absolute integrity and I have a duty to that in every aspect of my life. Always will. Other people do not intimidate me and their views on my experience is a reflection of them and their morals, not of me.
  • I’m no longer frightened of my abuser nor his close ones. He has no power over me whatsoever anymore. When you fear someone, you ultimately give power to them. It’s a sad element of humanity that has put many tyrants in positions of power and control over decades. Their principle tactic is other people’s fear and how they can play off of that for personal gain. Abusers do exactly that. But when you are no longer afraid, you are taking back that power. It takes time, but I’m there. It’s mine.
  • A wonderful girl a few years younger than me approached me recently and told me how much my writing helps people and how an article of mine on the effects of my experience with birth control at 16 helped her in making better decisions with her body. How discussing topics that are ‘taboo’ and aren’t talked about was exactly what she needed to read at 14/15 years old and how often the things that make people uncomfortable are exactly the things that need to be talked about.
  • Knowledge is power. I want to highlight and show the exact signs of an abuser, because when we can recognise the signs, we can better protect ourselves and loved ones. We have the power, not them.
  • My story didn’t end 2 years ago…he is still harassing me. Yes, you read that right.

Lastly, I want to leave you with this thought reader before I continue with the details of what happened to me:

I’m a writer and I have journaled about my life since I was 10 years old. What everyone else doesn’t know, my diary does. I still do believe that some things in my life are best stuck to the pages of my little black leather book for the sake of my own self-reflection. But what happens when the reflection has been done? What happens when you’re 21 years old reading the memoirs of a 19 year old girl that you barely recognise?  The lessons have been learned and life moves on, but every time you look at yourself in the mirror, the wounds that were raw at 18 and 19 have faded to scars at 21. What happens when 2 years later justices, still, have not been served and stories have never been told? I’m not just a writer, I’m a survivor and I will not be silenced. I have a duty to young girls and boys, to women and to men and certainly to me, to let my truth be told. To not only share my story, but to tell YOU, yes you reader, how healing the wounds of domestic abuse (or any trauma) is not impossible, for when they fade into scars, they are not scars of their brutality, they are scars of YOUR bravery. How the road to recovery is never linear and how time, though a healer, is not a cure. I have a duty to tell you that you’re not damaged goods, but a whole person deserving of love. And finally, I have a duty to show you the ‘red flags’, the behaviours and attitudes to be aware of so that you or your loved ones can leave before it’s too late or even better, get out before you or they are even in.

Anonymity Disclaimer: I have absolutely no obligation to protect my abuser by not revealing his identity in this article. However, it is my better judgement to keep his anonymity for MY protection, since part of this story was a court case. I will be censoring his name in screenshots and voice recordings, as well as putting the pitch of his voice down a level. Throughout the written dialogue, he will be referred to as Mr. X. My name, my voice and my words will be revealed exactly as they were. NOTHING has been altered in any of the evidence provided except to protect his identity. I am being completely and utterly transparent, hence why I am including all 16 minutes of voice recording from one of the nights of severe abuse, despite large gaps of no talking. If the recording is too painful or triggering to listen to, please feel free to skip on or leave the article. Finally, I decided against editing the voice recording for brevity as it goes against my integrity and what I stand for so you will hear the full, original tape with subtitles. I will include EVERYTHING that I can and EVERYTHING that I have. My commitment is to sharing the truth and be assured that I will. Here it is…

The Timeline…

The Roadmap and Timeline of Abuse – Ailsa Gillies

I wanted to provide you all with a roadmap/timeline of my abuse from start to finish because this absolutely encapsulates its stages and though a painful journey, it is necessary to not only reflect on, but to help guide both me and you throughout my last 2+ years. This puts into perspective how long this has plagued me and gives a brief, bitesize and digestible insight into the abusive patterns over the years.

June 2021 – Starting at the End: The straw that broke the camel’s back…

When my mum called me to tell me that my abuser (Mr. X) had stolen an outdoor chair from our family business in broad daylight, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach as I stirred the pasta in the pot before me. It was the name I dreaded to hear and would always prefer to opt for ‘he who shall not be named’. He was the first person that sprang into my mind as I shared the Facebook post a few hours before on the Isle of Bute page. With gut instinct and an educated guess based off of his previous behaviours, I just knew.

Comments came flooding in and after my mum’s phone call, I remember typing my own comment above reluctantly. Nobody on Bute knew the story behind it, even comments like “great news” made me uncomfortable. Not because of the commenter but because nobody had any idea that for me and my family, it really wasn’t. It wasn’t just somebody looking for a spare chair for their garden. It wasn’t a stranger who wanted to poke fun at the business and essentially, the Isle of Bute page that I had shared it in – it had nothing to do with the community either. There wasn’t a community thug or thief roaming the Rothesay streets. It was my abuser making a personal attack on my family because that was his only other resort and just another way of trying to get to me after all these years.

The most unsettling thing about all of this was that he had done this at around 11am while my family had an employee in the shop and before he could hand it back, he broke it. He broke it to send a message. This went way deeper than just a stolen a chair. From then on, I knew his insatiable desire to intimidate, provoke and have power over consequences in these last 2 years hadn’t subsided like I had hoped. He hadn’t changed and certainly hadn’t learned anything since his court date. He does and always has thought that he was above and beyond authority. That his actions have no consequences and that, to put quite simply, he is invincible. Here’s the thing, I’m a great believer in divine timing and when this incident happened, I started the ball rolling with this article. I knew it was time to break my silence.

May 2018 – Where it all began…

A picture taken of me and Mr. X at my home on Bute and on the night we formally met when I was 18.

I had known of Mr. X from school but formally met him back in the summer of 2018 through a mutual friend. I was inviting a few people round to my house on Bute after finishing first year of uni and one of them at the time asked if he could bring Mr. X along. I said ‘of course’. That night me and Mr. X really seemed to hit it off. He seemed humbilly unaware of how funny he was, he was quirky and at the time I felt that our characters meshed. But after coming out of a relationship that Christmas just before, I didn’t want anything serious. I wanted anything but serious and he seemed to match with me on that – at least at the time.

In my mind, he seemed to understand me where others (my parents and close ones) didn’t and seemed to align with where I was at in my life. From my music taste, my views on life at that point and the internal chaos I was going through. To me he understood it all. He almost seemed to liberate me from everything at that time I (stupidly and naïvely) felt was tying me down. In hindsight, I know that those closest to me were just trying to protect me. But I was 18 now, I could do what I wanted… right?

Here is an excerpt from my diary that demonstrates my complete confusion and lack of direction in building myself at that point. This was written on Saturday, May 12th 2018 at 11:30am :

I am enraged with my lack of self love and care recently and I am finding myself in more and more situations that are both challenging and encouraging change in order to become the strong woman that resides within me. This journey of self-discovery was inevitably going to pose challenges and each I must take something from in order to grow.

After spending a year at university amidst the complete chaos of self-discovery and trying to really figure out who I was, I have to admit, I was in a really vulnerable place. I still hadn’t worked everything out about myself and what I believed in. I wasn’t a fully-formed stable woman yet and he caught me right in my most vulnerable moment of personal upheaval. Where I turned on all the beliefs I was raised on, questioned authority and most dangerously, rebelled against my family in a completely oblivious self-sabotage. Mr. X and I got on so well because he was years ahead of me on that. And if there is one thing I love, is being taught.

From school, he had always been the type of person to get in trouble, provoke people and prey on those he perceived as ‘weaker’. He knew better on the topic of rebelling than I did and at the time, that drew me in. It’s interesting to note that after moving away to stay in Lochgilphead for a short period when I was 15 (due to personal issues), Mr. X was one of my aggrovators and taunters when I eventually moved back. Though at this time, I chose to forget this as he wasn’t alone on a list of people who participated in doing that in school.

So that was him and that was me. We seemed to align and I truly thought he could teach me a thing or two about being adventurous and exciting since my entire life before university felt soo careful. I thought he could show me how to be independent, free and awakened… but that happened in a way that I’d never expect.

As time went on over the course of the summer, I found him fascinating with his love of taking risks, always wanting to climb hills, camp out in the wild and… get uncontrollably drunk, fearing no consequences. His response to me asking “what if the police come?” when we would go drinking outside would always be “so we’ll hide” or “we’ll run” and there was something so exhilarating about that.

Reader, in truth, I was enamoured with the risk and not so much the person and I’ll tell you why. It was at the end of May that I first experienced the scarier side of Mr. X, and the first huge set of red flags were placed right in front of my eyes that I chose to be blind to. And let me tell you, the red flags you choose to ignore now will cost you later.

My parents were away and he had invited me on a walk round Loch Fad. I was looking forward to this but insisted that I wasn’t drinking because I was feeling rough from the night before and had noticed swelling on my tonsils. When we met for our walk, he showed up with a litre of Glen’s vodka and I laughed while asking “where is your mixer?” and he told me it was for both of us and that he didn’t bring any. He told me that we were both drinking it straight (red flag no. 1). I went back to my house and grabbed some diet coke, pouring it into a spare water bottle because that litre really intimidated me, even between two of us and even with mixer. I remember vividly the feeling of “I really shouldn’t be doing this” as I left my house for the second time to meet him.

Anyway as the night went on, I sipped at the water bottle mixed with vodka and diet coke as he gulped the litre, blasting music out of my bluetooth speaker behind me. I remember being so questionably sober even after a few drinks and him, well he was on a completely different planet. This didn’t scare me at first, until I had to pick him up from a ditch at the side of the road.

I pleaded with him to get up but he just kept asking where all his friends had gone to which I responded “it’s just me”. I had never seen somebody so drunk that they had mistaken people for being there when they never were and let me tell you, I never want to again (red flag no. 2). He kept insisting that his friends were there (a pattern that frequently occurs throughout this whole story and you will later hear in the audio) and it sent shivers down my spine, despite the heatwave of a summer we had that year.

As I eventually got him up, he staggered behind me as I walked ahead, murmuring and quizzing me on things about my life at university (including how many guys I “had been with”) etc. I told him bluntly that it was none of his business (and ladies and gentlemen, it never is anybody’s business unless you want it to be). At this point, I was merely interested in him as we had only met up once or twice before this event. I enjoyed being around him but at this stage, I can confidently say I had little to no proper or deeper feelings of attachment to him. Please note this as the story progresses.

As he progressively dug and dug for things to bring up about me and his fixation on “how many men I had been with” (red flag no. 3), I eventually snapped and told him that enough was enough and that he had crossed a line. This was just as we almost made it full circle round Loch Fad, stopping at Lover’s Lane as he slurped at what was left of the litre bottle.

His immediate reaction when I retaliated was to tell me that he had “feelings” for me and that he really “liked” me more than a friend and that’s WHY he was pestering me about it. This is not normal or okay to do to anyone and definitely not okay to justify it by saying you have feelings for someone (red flag no. 4). I didn’t know if I should have even believed him because of the condition he was in. Regardless, feelings or not, he should not have crossed those boundaries. But it got worse…

The First Sign of Verbal and Physical Aggression

When he revealed his feelings to me, I didn’t respond the way he clearly had hoped and he didn’t like that – to say the least. I told him that I didn’t share the same feelings as we had only met a few times before and well, that’s when the name calling, the strangest behaviour and nothing short of bullying began.

He told me upfront that I was a “slut” who must’ve been with a multitude of men before (which was completely untrue but something that I never feel I have to justify, but I gave up trying to fight it). I resorted to silence and my silence was aggravating so eventually he told me to go home. The problem was he had my house keys in his jacket pocket since I didn’t have any pockets on my skirt. Everytime I tried to get them off of him, he would run away into the darkness of the woods in Lover’s Lane laughing a hysterical and echoey laugh which absolutely terrified me, especially at night time. He was genuinely playing mind games with me and it felt like I was chasing after The Joker just so that I could get home safely. It sounds as ridiculous and weird as it was, honestly.

After a good while of asking him firmly then pleading and begging him to come back (trying as many approaches as I could), he emerged from the bushes and gave me the keys but insisted he would walk me home. I allowed him in my terrified, exhausted and frankly exasperated, state. So he did and we eventually reached my house where he proceeded with the taunts about my time at uni; how “stuck up” I must be, how “slutty” I must’ve been in my first year at uni (seriously, I don’t know what he really thought goes on at uni but he couldn’t be more wrong) and several other inappropriate questions that I chose not to answer. Again, he didn’t like that and eventually asked if he could come in and stay at my house since my mum and step dad were away. I said “no” and if there’s one thing Mr. X does not like is a “no” (red flags 5 and 6).

He started the name calling and the shouting. I was so simultaneously embarrassed (since we have neighbours) and terrified that I got myself inside as quickly as possible and turned the lock on the side door. But he wasted no time in making his way for the front door. When I got to it, I remembered in my short-lived relief that it was already locked… but my front porch door wasn’t. He began violently kicking this as I stood in the hallway listening to the thumps of the wooden doors smacking off the porch walls inside. “Rat! You’re a fucking rat!” he kept shouting and my silence only seemed to provoke him more (7 million red flags ). I stood and listened with my back against the wall thinking of what my next move was going to be. I opted for going to a safe place in my bed upstairs where I was at a safe enough distance but could still hear him shouting below. Baffled, confused and truthfully, quite hurt, I eventually fell asleep.

The First Sign of Gaslighting

The next day I woke to an unbelievable amount of missed calls and private messages from Mr. X, telling me how sorry he was and how he was “so embarrassed” with his behaviour from the previous night. He told me that he had just drank too much and became a different person (I don’t think I even need to count the red flags on this one). He begged me to meet him that same day but I told him I couldn’t as I had to go to work. Again, he couldn’t take “no” for an answer and kept trying to persuade me to let him meet me at my work down at the Putting Green. I felt incredibly uncomfortable but still he insisted on making things up to me. Despite this, I still refused.

That day I didn’t even know if I was going to go to work as I had woken up with tonsils the size of tennis balls and a horrific fever which had clearly been brewing from the night before. I had phoned my mum that morning and told her how ill I was but decided to push through and go into work but was let away early as my illness progressively worsened.

My mum and step-dad came home later that evening. She sat on the edge of the couch where I was wrapped up, hardly able to speak. She told me that I had to “put the bottle down for a while” as I was over doing it and it was clearly catching up to me. I knew she was right and I made a promise to both her and myself to do that because I could see how badly my body was reacting to the weekends of excessive drinking and Mr. X‘s measures. Yes, he insisted on pouring all of my drinks and done so throughout our entire relationship.

I told Mr. X I couldn’t see him for a while until I felt better, though we kept in touch over messenger. It was through this that I began to feel the pressure of accepting his apology and most importantly, accepting his justification for his behaviour. He told me that he was intimidated by me going to uni and how “out of his league” I was (which I thought was ridiculous, but you’ll later hear him describe this in the audio tape) and that the reason he put me through hell the night before was because he liked me so much. He proceeded to convince me that that’s what people do when they like you so much. Mr. X continued explaining how embarrassed and rejected he felt when I didn’t share the same sentiment and that’s when a huge shift happened. I began to feel responsible and that I was sorry. This poor boy had feelings for me. Had I led him on then completely rejected him? How could I have done that? I owe it to him. This was my exact mentality. So, owe it to him I did.

How to Recognise Signs of Abuse by cattonline.com

The First Signs of My Cycle of Abuse:

Phase 1 for me was the tension as you have read: insults, accusations, fault finding and controlling behaviours from asking about my past, my time at university etc. Making comments on the way I was as a woman.

Phase 2 was the explosion kicking the doors, verbal abuse and destruction of property.

Phase 3 was the honeymoon. The very next day with the apologies, the promises of change and the justification.

This was all within 2/3 times of MEETING him. And I dread to say it reader, but this was a foreshadowing and a repeated cycle that happened over the next 7 months of my relationship. Let’s continue…

I spent virtually every single day and night with Mr. X over the course of June, July and August and never formally as his girlfriend. We went  up the hills in the sun, camping, sleeping in bird huts (because I was too scared to go home and face the wrath of my mum and step-dad), all while he filled half of a 500ml empty bottle with pure vodka for me, the other half diet coke and said this is the way I should be drinking now. 

One night in June, I remember saying that I was going to go to the pubs with some of my friends and he said “why would you want to be one of those girls?” and proceeded to tell me how he fancied me more because I liked to go out adventuring and how I wasn’t like those “basic” girls that go to pubs. It makes me laugh with how ridiculous that belief is and even more ridiculous how I could agree with it. But in my head, reader, “I owed him”.  

Essentially, he was subtly controlling every aspect of my life. Convincing me that my parents were wrong and that they were just trying to hold me back. That they would never and could never understand us. Eventually, I felt like I was falling for this guy because really, I didn’t have anybody else and he made damn sure of that.  

There was still part of me that held true to what I wanted for that year: self-discovery and not having ties to anybody. I say this because Mr. X asked me to be his girlfriend not once, not twice, but three times that summer and I refused until the fourth. Even on the fourth time,  that took convincing. Anything that takes someone to convince you, should not be happening ESPECIALLY after 4 tries. So, there you have it. There was still a part of me that didn’t want this, but I caved. 

September 2018 – Becoming ‘Official& My Return to Uni

I went against everything that I wanted for that year.  I lost a good, close relationship with my mum and step-dad and felt like I was constantly justifying why I was with this guy because when I say I was warned about him, I mean I was hounded with warnings. Yet I felt the need to defend him, because like me, I felt he was misunderstood and he convinced me that we were the only two that could ever understand each other. 

My mum gave up fighting with me over him and I eventually wanted them to be introduced to each other. After all, he was my boyfriend and I felt it was necessary but I will never forget how he went about this. He tanned a bottle of Buckfast before making his way downstairs to meet my parents because “he was so nervous” and everything that came out of his mouth when he spoke to them was slurred, skewed and practically made little to no sense. But still, they gave up fighting with me but the more he proved me wrong, the more I was determined to prove to my mum and step-dad that I was right and that came at a huge emotional, psychological and physical cost. 

I was now drinking more than ever in a bid to keep up with Mr. X. We were preparing for me leaving to go back to uni in early September and this news hit him like a tonne of bricks- but it was reality. No more camping, no more drinking, no more hill walking and running away from everybody else into the fields. Reality hit us both hard for different reasons. 

He knew that Stirling was a bigger place than Bute with more people, even more adventure and a lot of nightclubs. He didn’t like that. The more I got to know other people, the more Mr. X felt like he was closer to losing control over me. So what did he do? Before I left for university, he told me to change my Facebook relationship status to ‘in a relationship’ with him. I was so reluctant and he could sense that. Rule number 1: ALWAYS trust your gut. What came next was emotional blackmail. 

 “How do I know you won’t leave me for other guys at uni?”, “How can I trust you if that isn’t on your profile?” “Are you embarrassed to be seen going out with me?” “I won’t feel comfortable with you going to uni without that on your profile” and again… I caved. Even when the alarm bells were deafening in my head, I caved and again, he won. He had control, like he always wanted.

Reality hit me differently because I had spent virtually every single day with this guy and him alone for 3 months and all of a sudden, that was going to be over… so in that sense, it worried me. I had a strange and irrational dependency on him. As if all I could ever need was him. I hadn’t felt that in a relationship before so in my naïvety I mistook that for true love (that’s what he told me it felt like), when really it was extreme codependency and almost like a case of Stockholm Syndrome. I needed him for EVERYTHING and when he wasn’t there, my anxiety shot through the roof. I felt like an incapable little girl without him and he made sure to remind me that I was.

Soon, I was headed back for uni and from then on, it only got worse. It’s almost like the further away from him I was and the more people I interacted with that weren’t him, the more insecure and out of his grasp I was. I could slip through his fingers at anytime in his eyes. His response was to draw me in closer and closer until I was eventually under his thumb. 

There are too many red flags to count at this stage but one of the worst from the time of moving back to Stirling for uni was his constant need to FaceTime me before every single night out with my friends. He always wanted to check in on what I was wearing and would make sure that I was constantly messaging him on a night out. He was even severely threatened by the fact that one of my three other flatmates that I moved in with was a guy. At the time, I thought this was just because he cared about me and wanted me safe but in reality, he just wanted to exert even more control over me than he already had, especially when I was physically out of his reach. 

October 2018 – The first night of verbal abuse and humiliation in our relationship  

It was Mr. X‘s birthday and I had come home to Bute from Stirling to celebrate with him. Everyone at his work had decided in late afternoon to go for drinks in the pub. I decided to come along a little later (approx 8pm) as I was taking longer to get ready and wanted to give him some time with his colleagues. By the time I had reached the pub, Mr. X was prancing around, chirper and very drunk. I was in high spirits too since this was the first legal time that he could celebrate in the pub (yet another reason he hadn’t wanted me to go to the pub before this – because he couldn’t be there).

The night carried on and I chatted away with his family and friends while he floated around the pub. Honestly, the energy felt really welcoming and for once, I thought in my own kind of selfish way, that I was really happy to be around other people instead of the monotony of just drinking with me and him. I was so looking forward to a great, social and high-spirited night but as always, these things didn’t usually last when I drank with Mr. X in social situations (which I came to find out).

As the older of the people out celebrating for Mr. X‘s birthday disappeared home to their beds, us younger ones carried on and before we knew it, we were at a girl’s afterparty who I was naturally really suspicious of. I’m not usually one to judge as I always follow the rule of “he who is without sin may cast the first stone”, but I had witnessed the way this girl treated younger boys along with other people and it really didn’t sit right with me. It was a strange after-party to be at but Mr. X was good friends with her and so I let it roll.

On the taxi ride home, he began making comments about my time at university again, making me feel like I had something to prove (I cannot remember verbatim and wouldn’t state what he said unless I did) but before I knew it, we were in a full-blown argument in which he resorted to name-calling. He was as vicious and terrifying as I remembered from the first night of this back in May.

We both apologised the next day, agreed that we were both drunk and I tried not to make a big deal of it or how much his words hurt me. I hate carrying on conflict for any longer than it needs to and so we forgot about it. Or at least he did. I may have forgotten what he said… but never the way it made me feel.

Mr. X and the Art of Humiliation

Mr. X wasn’t just a master of verbal aggression during arguments; he slid it into conversation and in front of other people in an absolute pursuit to humiliate me.

One day in October we had returned to Bute together after a short visit to Stirling during my University reading week. As we always did, we drank on the travel back down. The journey was exhausting to say the least as we had to get a replacement bus which caused so many difficulties but when we arrived, our mutual friend who had originally introduced us at the party back in May, had offered to pick us up and we could all spend some time together in his car. Mr. X didn’t want me to join. But this friend was my friend too and had invited me along, so this hurt me. I never made a big deal about it and decided to contact one of my other friends who had a car and asked if he wanted to go out a drive for a catch up since I hadn’t seen many of my friends in a long time.

He agreed and when Mr. X and I reached Bute, we went our separate ways. It wasn’t long before the car I was in passed the car that Mr. X and my other friend were in so we all decided to meet up with parked cars out in the countryside. Conversation ensued and I was being my usual bubbly self, engaging in conversation and enjoying being able to socialise properly again when Mr. X took a hold of the conversation and completely cut me off.

I felt a little hurt but continued to stand and listen as the four of us all stood around outside the two cars and when I went to give my input into the conversation, Mr. X turned to me in front of everyone and aggressively told me to “fuck up”. A phrase that you will hear also in the audio tape. Me and my friend have since talked about this incident and how uncomfortable it made him feel as well to witness. I was completely humiliated and my instinct was to shut down after this and not speak at all until we got back to mine.

When we both got dropped off at my house by our friends, I tried to climb out of the car I was in when he hurried over and tried to shut the car door on me. I had just about enough of this. As both of our friends drove away, I told him outside my house that I was fed up of the way he treated me and he wasn’t coming inside. He retaliated by being his usual sarcastic, nasty self and what did I do? I caved and let him in. Every argument felt like I was fighting a losing battle and the emotional energy that this took from me was unbelievable.

November 2018 – The Abuse Caught on Tape and Absence from Uni

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. This is where I get to back-up my claims and not just provide you with a narrative, but provide you with cold, hard physical evidence.

First square -taken on October 11th 2018 in a Counsellor’s waiting room at the uni, waiting on my appointment and images of my sweat patches after attending a seminar at uni. The last square is a picture of my underarm sweat.

I want to provide you with some context to what happened to me in the month of November. It was a really difficult time for me because adjacent to all the abuse I was suffering from my boyfriend, I had also been dealing with the absence of my sister as she was in a psychiatric hospital due to severe mental illness that almost cost her her life on multiple occasions. Every single day was uncertain for me and I had no emotional capacity to retaliate to any of Mr. X‘s abuse.

To me, I had lost the greatest friend in the world (everyone knows how close I am to my sister) and every single day I was praying that things would get easier for her. There was not a moment that she was not on my mind. At this time, I was struggling with my own mental ailment that has plagued me since school – anxiety. This caused (and still causes me) extreme and horrific hyperhidrosis.

Remember when I said previously how dependent I was on Mr. X and how I was rarely socialising with anyone BUT Mr. X … this was the price I paid when I returned to university and HAVING to attend seminars and lectures. It caused the sweat patches that you see in the picture on my shirt. That was after a one hour long seminar at uni. It can be hard to see because of the stripes on the shirt (this was on purpose so nobody could see my sweats and to prevent embarrassment at uni) but I have circled the patches and explained where they are located.

In early October, I seen a counsellor at the university but never returned for my next appointment because I was convinced this was nothing to do with my relationship like she was eluding and instead was just something that was wrong with me and something that was wrong with university. That’s what Mr. X had made sure that I knew. That every other outside source was to blame for my heightened anxiety and actually, that he was the only thing keeping me afloat. Because remember…”I needed him”.

Now, on the 10th of November (this date really sticks in my head), Mr. X carried out his same manner of drunken verbal abuse on me. Questioning me on my history with boys – my ex-boyfriends, people who I had fancied, people who I had briefly dated… EVERYTHING, before resorting to telling me how much of a “whore” and “slut” I was. I was sick to the back teeth of this. When I sat in silence, he would taunt me about girls that had been interested in him and how I am lucky because he never pursued them. How grateful I should be that he never took these other girls up on their offers of one night stands AND long-term romances.

He began bringing up a night in August where I was at my Aunty’s wedding. He went on about how I was late to meeting him after the wedding. That night I sent him a snapchat of me drinking a glass of white wine at the wedding (he knew I never usually drank that and was usually on vodka because he poured them) and all he could respond was “well we know what girls are like with wine”, implying that they are more sexually inclined. He brought that up again on this night of November 10th. Remembering this makes me cringe.

I left my Aunty’s wedding to come and meet him and he stood me up. I was 5 minutes late and he had gone by the time I arrived. I waited at the bench for a while before he showed back up again and proceeded to be angry that I had “enjoyed” a night with anybody other than him. He wanted to punish me for this. Even on the night of my Aunty’s wedding, he wanted to punish me for enjoying my night. And still, on this night 3 months later, he was bringing the “white wine” up and the “amount of boys” that were at her wedding in an attempt to trigger me. What were meant to be some great times (including Bute’s Highland Games night the next day after my Aunty’s wedding) were taken from me. Because I HAD to spend it alone with him.

Now, on November 10th, he began getting up in my face, spitting whilst trying to aggravate me with past events and eventually, an argument ensued. I was always trying to fight my corner but when you have little to no emotional strength left in you, you tend to pick your battles. I was left yet again feeling emotionally defeated and LONGING for him to just go to sleep and sober up.

The next day, I woke to flowers and a whole bag of sweets next to my bed. He had sobered up, kissed me and apologised. It is the strangest and most bizarre moment of joy when abusers reward you for tolerating their abuse. I got an amazing rush of love and appreciation that next day when I seen the beautiful array of colours next to my bed. Like I said, it feels like a reward for your efforts. “Tolerate my drunken abuse and you’ll get love and affection the following day.” Just look at the diagram of the cycle of abuse. It was always Phase 3 “The Honeymoon” phase that I strangely longed for as the cycles repeated.

But reader, when your mum comes into your room and sees gorgeous flowers of a charming and blooming romance that she has had to come to accept but doesn’t know that those were flowers followed by a night of abuse and torment, that’s when you realise that you are worlds apart from everything and everyone else. Those flowers were a product of gaslighting. That is the domestic abuse cycle summed up. The exact emotional trap that abusers will place on you so that when people question why you don’t leave, you struggle to fathom the words because there ARE times when he buys me flowers, there ARE times when he says I’m beautiful… but that doesn’t make him a good guy.

*Let this be the pitstop reminder in this article that no matter what, this is never your fault. It’s psychological warfare.*

The Night I thought I was Going to Lose My Life (The Audio Tape)

Please read this before you listen to the audio tape. Context is so important to everything and I NEED to discuss the day of my 19th birthday and everything that led up to the most horrific experience of my life (worse than my seizure the day after my 21st). What you hear in this audio and what I have had to revisit and transcribe for you, my readers, is physical evidence of both my verbal and physical abuse and the worst night of it at that. Revisiting this tape (which I haven’t done in years) has been the hardest part of writing this article. It is reliving one of my most traumatic experiences where I was certain I was going to lose my life and so I pressed record. Please read the context before listening to the tape. Everything in the tape will then make sense.

What Happened on November 17th 2018 (My 19th Birthday)…

I had taken sickness absence from university on the 12th of October 2018 to the 12th of November 2018, following incredibly unbearable anxiety at university, deep worry and concern for my sister and a complete lack of direction in my own life. Mr. X had told me after I had returned home on my month off that I don’t need uni. That I should “just leave” and him and his job would support me. He was determined to eradicate me of any dignity, self-sufficiency and independence that I had left. I really do scoff at this now but then, I was in two minds. I just knew that I needed time away and needed important “me” time to figure myself out.

That didn’t happen. Mr. X was never away from me when I returned home. Fuelling me with drink (and when I say this, no he did not physically force me to drink – coercion and manipulation alongside emotional blackmail is a huge part of this cycle) and not leaving me to work on my essays. This meant that so many were submitted too close to the deadline, requiring me to stay awake until 6am or later at some points. One night before my deadline, I had stayed awake until 3am, fell asleep until 7am and completed the essay by 11am, just one hour before the deadline. It was exhausting. I had barely attended everything that I needed to at university due to anxiety so it was a miracle to even pass but the mental blocks I suffered at this time were close to unbearable. I really thought that I could bare university no longer and my grades were suffering.

A sick note from my doctor for University active from 12th October – 12th November 2018

When I returned to university on 12th November, it was harder than it ever was before. I had laid low and dormant for a month, spending time and energy in trying to get Mr. X out of a job that he hated. I also spent that entire month trying to give him motivation and ambition in life, all the while neglecting my own. It really is a sad irony.

When I travelled back down to Bute on Friday 16th November 2018 for my 19th Birthday the following day, I remember having this feeling of complete hopelessness and for the first time in almost 19 years, I hadn’t looked forward to a birthday. First off, the absence of my sister put a huge void in my heart. Birthdays were never the same without her, let alone while she was in hospital recovering from a horrendous depression. My sister had always been the ray of sunshine in the darkest of times and so I wasn’t really in good spirits for my birthday.

Amongst this, the family had to really come together for my sister so my birthday was put on the back burner which I completely accepted and understood. I would have put anything on the back burner for her and still would. I came home and the house felt vacant and everyone’s temperaments were running high with worry. I retreated to my bedroom when I arrived and spent the night before my birthday in there until the next day.

I woke up on the 17th of November feeling incredibly lonely and isolated. I was looking forward to Mr. X finishing his morning shift and appearing at mine at lunchtime and… he did. He had gotten me a wonderful gift – The Beatles ‘White Album’ Book remastered by George Martin’s son. This was an expensive and beautiful gift but most importantly, it was incredibly sentimental to me because of my newfound love for the Beatles and music in general. Along with this, he bought me the Beatles’ ‘Help’ album on vinyl which I was so excited to listen to but unfortunately didn’t have a working record player so would have to listen elsewhere.

That lunchtime I thanked Mr. X so much and told him that I would take it down to my dad’s that night so I could appreciate it and play it on my dad’s record player. My dad was also really excited to hear the album since he had just gotten back into his old records and the Beatles all over again. This seemed like the perfect plan.

My mum and step-dad had surprised me by booking a table for a meal for all of us (Mr. X included) and wanted to try and make my birthday as special as possible despite the family issues we were all going through. I really appreciated this and informed Mr. X of the plans.

The plan for me was to visit my dad’s in the late afternoon after Mr. X left to return for the rest of his shift and show him the wonderful gifts that I had gotten. Down there, I would play my vinyl and have a few birthday drinks with my dad and then leave my dad’s to meet Mr. X, my mum and step-dad for a meal in town before heading out to the pub with the three of them. I then promised my dad that I would return just before the pub’s closed so that we (Mr. X and I) could spend some time with him, listening to music and celebrating. This is exactly what happened until the very last hurdle after going out to the pub.

Mr. X had invited his dad along which I was excited for because I hardly knew him and was eager for opportunities to get to know his family. His family was a part of Mr. X that was very secretive so I was looking forward to this. When his dad arrived, he seemed funny and honest, full of opinions and seemed to enjoy our company in the pub. He got on well with my step-dad as they had already known each other. It was pretty nice and wholesome to watch and I was really enjoying my birthday, distracted from all the issues I had been carrying for the past few months.

The evening carried on until just before midnight when Mr. X and his dad were incredibly drunk, hugging and chatting to just about everyone in the pub, leaving me, my mum and step-dad sat at our table. I remember vividly being unusually sober because I felt a sort of uneasiness in my stomach that lasted from the day that I travelled down. I’ve come to know that whenever I get this sicky, almost butterfly-like feeling in my stomach that it’s usually a sign of bad things to come. I always trust this and it has never failed me unfortunately. I was not in a particularly great place emotionally and after the heavy meal that I had earlier, drink didn’t seem to touch me. At least pub measures didn’t and this was also different from the half-a-glass measures I was used to getting poured.

I remember really wanting to return to my dad’s to play more of the vinyl but no matter how much I asked Mr. X and his dad if we could get going, they’d find someone else to chat to or put on another song on the jukebox. I became deflated and phoned my dad, promising him we wouldn’t be long but he had told me that he was going to his bed within the next 15 or so minutes.

In desperation, I pleaded with Mr. X to leave and told my mum and step-dad thank you and that I would see them when I got home. This took longer than it needed to and certainly over 15 minutes. Mr. X brought his dad along with us – which I didn’t mind but in their drunken states, they staggered and walked really slow, chatting sentences that barely made sense to a really sober me.

By the time we had made it halfway, I knew we weren’t going to make it to my dad’s so said that I would just walk up to my mum and step-dad’s house. Mr. X‘s dad said that we could all go up to his instead and I said that I didn’t have anything to drink up there. He informed that they had vodka, beer etc. but when I inquired about mixer, he responded that they had none.

I came up with the idea of going to my dad’s, who had said that he would leave the door open for me anyway if he had gone to bed so I could come and collect my presents, and I could take my diet coke from there and bring it up to Mr. X‘s house. We all agreed and Mr. X‘s dad said he would walk ahead while we made our way to my dad’s. I was admittedly really upset with the outcome because I felt immensely disappointed with how my night had went. I felt exhausted, emotionally drained and quite frankly at this point, ready for my bed. I was angry at not being able to finish listening to the vinyl with my dad who I hadn’t seen in a while or spend some real quality time with him on my birthday before having to rush out. But I could tell Mr. X and his dad were still in the mood for “a party” as he refers to it in the audio tape, so I obliged.

As me and Mr. X went our separate ways from his dad, heading toward my dad’s house he turned to me and said “what’s up with your face?” to which I honestly responded everything that I highlighted above and well… he didn’t take that good. He said that I was “spoilt” and that EVERYONE else was enjoying their night and I explained to him that I had a lot going on in my head between being just back at uni after a huge breakdown, missing my unwell sister and feeling very lonely mentally. Again, to him I was “selfish” for saying this and was ruining “his night”.

I can’t exactly remember what happened at this point, but we definitely reached the outside of my dad’s block of flats and I’m almost certain that his words got so hurtful that I decided against getting the mixer and going to his dad’s altogether. I do, however, remember heading for my own home and he followed me.

We reached a red postbox which is featured in the picture outside of P&D’s (my family’s business) and it was here after several taunts of the usual slut-shaming and calling me a “spoiled brat” that he took his fist and punched the palm of his hand and in the most spine-chilling voice, looked me dead in the eye and warned me that “this could be your face.” I continued walking home, feeling almost zombie-like and numb at this point. I tend to do this in traumatic situations – just completely shut down. I just took his threat of physical violence as exactly what I thought it was… a threat. But it was a horrific one at that.

As I continued to walk, my mum and step-dad actually passed us in a taxi after leaving the pub. I was only a few seconds away from my house so they kept going in the taxi and beeped at us. Mr. X caught up with me, following me into my house and straight up into my bedroom, where I changed into my pjs and got into bed. I was completely exasperated with the entire night. I really do remember lying in my bed wishing over and over again in my head that my birthday would end and that Mr. X would leave me alone.

My mum and step-dad decided to continue the night down in the kitchen, while listening to music (you can hear this in the background of the audio tape). This one night they decided to shut the door because they thought I was going to sleep and didn’t want the music to keep me awake but this turned out to be a huge important factor in what ensued.

The taunts got worse and worse, to the point that Mr. X was grabbing my body parts and shaming them. Telling me that I was “too fat” in certain areas and even calling me “obese”. I got up to walk down stairs to tell my parents about what was happening to me and he followed, trying to stop me and as we reached the side door, I managed to get him half way out of it before he put his foot in-between the door and the frame to jam it. I was terrified.

Again, I felt defeated. So I warned him that if this continued, I would get my parents involved as he came back inside. But he called my bluff. He knew I was scared of them doing nothing if I said something. He always said “what are they really gonna do?” after so many arguments that I’ve threatened this before. I was scared of my mum and step-dad thinking this was just another couples fight. Everyone around me being so drunk but I was stone cold sober didn’t help. I felt like I was facing this all alone. And really, I didn’t feel this was the time to get an “I told you so”. It’s important to note that my mum and step-dad never did this and never would do this, but my mentality combined with Mr. X‘s threats and gaslighting, made me feel like the whole world was against me, except him. He distorted my reality.

He followed me back up to my bedroom and I just lay in my bed, at times turning over and pretending to sleep because I felt I had exhausted every other option. But everytime I asked him to leave, he insisted I was a thief because the vinyl he got me for MY birthday was still down at my dad’s and because I wouldn’t walk down at midnight to go and get it, I was stealing. I even told him I would give him it back the day after. I just wanted him to leave. That’s all.

He continuously insisted I had boys’ clothing in my room (they were his clothes for staying at mine that night) and insisted that I was a slut, whore etc. He accused me of cheating (not on audio, but before I recorded). I have never looked at another man in my life in a relationship, let alone cheat and my previous partners can attest to that. In the audio he tells me that “I’m a special child” that people worship me but that he “won’t die with folk worshipping me”. A very spine-chilling statement. You will hear all of this, reader.

He also is persistent about other people being in the room… sound familiar? and mocks my appearance and threatens me with my sister (knowing how close I am to her and how she was in hospital with severe mental illness at this stage) by saying: “if you care about your sister you’d look at me,” and when I didn’t, calling me a “selfish wee fucking cunt”. This had been going on for a long time before I pressed record. I had never heard it get so bad with threats of physical violence and verbal abuse. I feared for my life that night and in my fear of losing exactly that, I recorded the abuse on my phone. You will also hear several moments where he grabs my neck, shakes me and eventually grabs my throat, choking me.

Now, reader, you are about to hear the audio tape of the night of November 17th, early morning of November 18th. Please wear earphones or headphones when listening to this, though it’s transcribed and has subtitles. I really would like you to hear EVERYTHING in its rawness. If at any point it gets too much, please do not listen. Mute the video and read the transcription. Or leave the video. I don’t want to trigger anyone. But this is what I experienced at my own house on my 19th birthday by my then boyfriend after refusing to attend his dad’s for an after-party:

*Again, his voice has been altered for censorship but mine is exactly as is. The last 6-7 minutes are particularly evident of the abuse (and are extremely hard to listen to) but the whole audio provides context of how I was treated.

Even after the recording stops, he verbally tortured me the entire night. You can see how me describing the audio and actually hearing it is so different. The “I love absolute fucking bits out you” in an angry tone really terrifies me and particularly triggers me when revisiting this tape. In honestly…all of this tape does but there are times when transcribing this, my boyfriend has had to console me. It’s incredibly dark and really hard hitting but that was my reality and sadly, it is still the reality for so many people. THIS BEHAVIOUR IS NOT NORMAL. IT IS NOT OKAY.

I managed to get Mr. X out of my house that night by threatening (once again) to wake my parents and as I turned the light off, crying in the dark, I heard clattering on my attic bedroom roof. At the window across from me in the pitch black, there he was. A dark, hunched figure on all fours crawling up my roof and window trying to get in. This was my real life horror movie.

And you guessed it, I let him back in so that he would eventually fall asleep, sober up , not disturb my parents and yes… the next day I got flowers. Frustrating to read and frustrating for me to admit.

December 2018 – The Breakup

After that night, I started to really distance myself from Mr. X because a clean break never felt possible. It felt like leaving him suddenly would do more harm than good. His energy (although already really bad) seemed to get worse, either that or my rose-tinted glasses were fading. I think most likely, I was starting to see him for what and who he really was because he had shown me so much of his ugly side already. In fact, I’m not sure if it was his or my energy that shifted but something did. Something changed, that’s all I can tell you.

He knew I had seen his ugliness and forgave and stayed, so he got comfortable. He got comfortable knowing that I would probably never find the courage to walk away since he thought he had reduced me to nothing. But he was wrong. So very, very wrong. I could no longer stand being around him and I knew deep down that this wasn’t what love was and this was not how love was meant to be. That the life he wanted me to live and the future that he wanted us to have – a stay at home housewife, who cleaned dishes and looked after children while he drank himself into oblivion and I obeyed his every order, was just not going to happen. That was not who I was. I was always and still am a free-spirit. A maverick, a non-conformist and sometimes, I see myself as the feather that floats around in the opening scene of Forrest Gump. I can’t be tied down. I’m an independent, free-thinker and I had so many ambitions, big ideas and dreams for my future and he was not about to take that away from me. He took a lot…but he could never take that. And that frustrated him.

My sister’s condition worsened around her birthday in early December and I really started to see what was important to me when I came so close to losing her again. So close that I still find it hard to discuss and comprehend. I remember taking my nephew (her son) out for a walk around the park and watching how his little face glowed even in times of darkness, how he was so oblivious to how much of a saviour he really was to everyone in such a terrifying time and looking at my nephew and thinking if some woman were to treat him in the future the way I had been treated over the course of 2018, how enraged and protective I would become. But the difference with me was, nobody knew. I kept this so hush-hush. So nobody was enraged or protective, because nobody had any idea what I was going through.

Mr. X appeared in my house a few days before Christmas, clearly out of his box on cocaine and drunk beyond belief. He began getting soppy and telling me how much he loved me and how I was the best thing that happened to him and reader, pardon the expression, but I shit you not, I felt like throwing up in my mouth. He repulsed me. Standing before me, he really and truly repulsed me. Everytime he spoke, I wished he would shut up and that’s the god’s honest truth. Something really shifted.

I said “you’ve been taking stuff, haven’t you” and he knew how I felt about him constantly taking drugs and he denied it. I might’ve had the slightest glimpse of believing him if he hadn’t had white powder lining his nostrils so I broke up with him on the spot and kicked him out of my house. This time he happily obliged and left.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do. My mum was downstairs blow-drying her hair and I went down to tell her she was right. She was right all along and I absolutely broke my heart to her. She cuddled me and told me to block him on everything, which I did. Everything except messenger. Why? I have no idea why but I wish I had.

The entire night he bombarded me with messages, telling me how he got into a fight and was “jumped” by a group of boys. He demanded me to feel sorry for him and what an awful girl I was that broke up with him that night. That the reason he got into a fight was because I sent him out my house so it was my fault. Truth be told, I was trying to console myself crying knowing that I had done the right thing but he was tormenting me yet again, trying to make everything so difficult. And yes, I should’ve blocked him and left it there but as you’ll see below, this was the mental state I was in after the breakup. This picture was saved about week after.

Screenshot of a quote representing my mentality at that time, a week after the breakup.

I met up with Mr. X several times after the breakup and around Christmas to try to work things out or try to get through to him, showing the suffering he had caused me. He couldn’t comprehend. This was a boy who had little to no regard for anyone else’s suffering apart from his own. I remember standing outside the church next to my house on Bute in the pitch black knowing that my words were falling on deaf ears. I was so frustrated and in tears of desperation, pleaded with him to just understand why I couldn’t be with him anymore. No matter what I said or did, I felt like I was giving a little boy into trouble and he couldn’t take it. He would always walk away in a temper tantrum and this repeated. Even when we were not officially in a relationship, I let this boy (for that’s all that he is and will ever be) get comfortable disrespecting me.

Revealing the Abuse to My Family

It wasn’t until Christmas Eve when my sister was recovering and we eventually got to see her again after almost 4 months. We were able to go to her new house and have some lunch, but the whole day I was on the verge of tears. I was simply not coping.

It was a beautiful reunion between my sister and I, but conversation carried on between us all and she asked what was going on with me. I told her what had happened with the breakup but not to worry as I desperately didn’t want to place any other negative burdens on her. I never wanted to mention anything else other than the breakup but it seemed the harder I tried to hold back, the closer to breaking down I was. I told everyone at my sister’s house – my mum, my step-dad, my brother-in-law and my sister of the trauma I had endured. I let them hear the audio tape that you just heard but something back then didn’t compute about JUST how abusive that was. It felt like part of me was still in denial about everything and was just showing them a tape of a normal argument. It is so strange but I remember that feeling. I’m unsure now if that is a type of coping mechanism or detachment from trauma. A psychologist could tell better.

As the tape went on, my sister gasped and my mum’s face grew angrier and angrier as she stared at me. Again, in my head, I couldn’t understand why everyone was so shocked. This was just life for me. My step-dad shook his head and told me he couldn’t listen anymore. It was quite a horrific time and I knew from then on that I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t be Mr. X‘s girlfriend ever again. It was really done. Or at least I thought it was.

January 2019 – He Would Not Leave Me Alone…

I made a huge mistake on New Year’s Eve. I met up in secret with Mr. X behind my family’s back to spend it with him, under promises that he had a complete breakthrough and was a whole new person. Abusers will do this. And I can tell you reader, they never had a breakthrough, they never change and you cannot fix or change them. You have to accept that. That’s what I know now, but didn’t then.

He told me how he couldn’t bare to see me with anybody else and as I prepared to go back to uni in the month of January after my Christmas break, he again, tried to get me under his grasp. He really didn’t like me being where I wasn’t under his watchful eye. Where I couldn’t be under his trap.

Picture taken on New Year’s Day on Barone Hill. – He was beside me.

Mr. X wanted me to relive the past, to really remember the good times. Again, abusers will do this. He did this by taking me to the hill we always climbed back in the summer of 2018. He said that New Year could be our fresh start, wiping the entire slate clean and back then, I really did believe him. I fell for the words that were coming out of his mouth. I fell for the symbolism that came with taking me back to a place where I really did spend a great summer. But that great summer cost me a horrific winter. True love doesn’t require sacrificing one season for another. True love doesn’t require sacrificing your independence, happiness and self-love to please another. This was never true love. This was just plain, calculated and heartbreaking abuse.

My mum eventually caught on to where I was and I felt her wrath. She was so disappointed and angry. She had messaged him on Facebook to find out where I was and he lied to her. He said that he hadn’t seen me but I was right beside him on top of a hill. And when I say this woman fought long and hard with me to get me away from him, she really gave it all her might but I was in a trance-like state with him. Really and truly out of her reach and I have no idea how frightening that must feel for a mother. The promises of better things to come were all I could cling onto when I had suffered so much trauma. I was nothing but a shell of a human being at this stage.

Returning to Stirling

I had found out that Mr. X had slept with someone else the very night I ended things, though he denied this. I had heard through various other sources and people about the exact same story of him walking home with this other girl. It didn’t shock me but it still hurt me. It was almost like if he could do this on the very night we ended, what else could he have been doing when we were together and I wasn’t home. It felt like I had only just discovered the tip of the iceberg when this came to my attention. And those that are persistent in accusing others of cheating, are usually the ones guilty of it themselves. This is something else to note.

I broke my heart wrapped up in a blanket on the couch watching TV but not really watching it, more so staring at a screen while crying hysterically. My mum and step-dad were through in the kitchen when I approached them like a ghost-like figure. My mum held onto my shoulders and said “I need you to go through to the bedroom and take a good long look at yourself in the mirror, because this isn’t you. This isn’t the woman I raised,” and I did.

I walked through to the bedroom and looked at myself through tear-filled eyes and all I could think was how right my mum was. I looked like just a helpless, damaged little girl. I was looking at a vacant stranger and reader, throughout all of this story, that has to be the one crucial moment that still breaks my heart to this day to remember. Not losing him, but losing myself. And that is the greatest tragedy one could ever suffer.

As I lay on the couch sobbing, my step-dad came through and told me that it was time for a clean start and that my mum and him were going to take me back up to Stirling earlier than planned. We first started by me applying for several jobs in Stirling, joining a new society at university and spending more time with my flatmates who I began to get closer to.

Life was certainly looking on the up. I was still hurting terribly, but the pain got easier to carry. That was until Mr. X again made an appearance back in my life. He had created a Twitter and messaged me through there and from then on, we began speaking again. He wanted to come and see me in Stirling, telling me that since I left, all he has is reminders of me when the Beatles play on the radio and how if I don’t see him again, he’ll drink bleach. That he had already considered it while in the shower because I left.

I felt awful. I invited him over to mine in Stirling so we could talk as I was concerned for him and he travelled up. This was a humongous mistake on my behalf again. Once there, the day seemed to be okay. He showed no worrying signs of not being stable and continued talking normally. Then it changed to “I know we aren’t getting back together but who have you been with since we broke up?” and “what have you done in Stirling since we broke up?” and these questions were asked invasively and aggressively.

I responded with the truth which was “no one” and “not much”. Still he pressed and gave up when I told him he was searching for answers that just weren’t there. After that, he headed to the shop, bought drink and said that was what we could do while he was there and I stupidly obliged. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.

As the night went on, Mr. X popped down to the toilet but had left his phone on the desk beside me where several snapchat messages were being delivered from the girl that he had supposedly been with the night we broke up. He denied even speaking to her when I first brought up the situation to him and now I just knew that this was a lie. In my terrible curiosity and hurt, I opened the message. It really was none of my business and I know this now but I had never done it before and curiosity got the better of me.

The snapchat message from her read: “come do it again xxx” and I knew then that something had gone on between them. What he did after we broke up is his business, but trying desperately to get me back while in cahoots with someone else really irked me. Especially when I had spent 7/8 months in isolation and restraints from absolutely everyone. Again, I had no idea how long this had been going on either. They only got seen together on the night I split up with him, I have no idea what happened before that – so really, it could be anything or it could’ve been nothing. Irregardless I was furious. I had been lied to. Treated like a fool and disrespected again. I invited him into my home in Stirling that day in a fear that something was going to happen to him and he had completely baited me.

When he returned from the bathroom, I turned to him with his phone in my hands and read out the message. “Come do it again?!” I exclaimed. He lunged at me, trying to grab his phone from my hand, pushing me in the process. When he couldn’t get it, he flung a pot noodle that was on my desk all up the wall in a rage. He had been caught and he hated me for that. He started his usual horrible remarks, calling me a “stupid bitch” and “horrible wee slut” until BOTH of my flatmates emerged from their rooms asking what was going on because I was hysterically crying. One of those flatmates I’m still really close with today and he heard everything that went on in that room and consoled me through such a difficult time. I’ll always be grateful for that.

After spending some time with my flatmate, I returned to my bedroom where he was. It was late now and there was no chance Mr. X could go back to Bute but I felt so uncomfortable with him staying in my flat. He calmed down and told me the things I wanted to hear. Such as: the message was out of context, how he doesn’t actually speak to her and then the story changed to that it was actually one of his pals that had messaged her through his Snapchat earlier. At this stage, I really stopped caring and just wanted him out of my house. This didn’t even feel like a betrayal anymore, it just felt like sad, pathetic and dangerous behaviour that I did not want to be around.

I told him he had no right to emotionally manipulate me into letting him come up to stay and he said that he just really wanted to see me again. When he admitted that he had no intentions of harming himself my heart sank and once again, I felt like I’d placed myself right back in that trap. Here I was, stuck in a loop again. I begged him to go and find somewhere else to stay, to even book a hotel for a night but just to leave me alone and I will never forget what he turned to me and said.

“If you kick me out tonight, you know fine well there’s train tracks behind your house and you have no idea what I’ll do…” and reader, that’s where I should’ve just put him out the door but I had that threat looming over me. I wouldn’t have lived with myself if anything happened to him and he knew that and he played off of that.

Even when he returned to Bute and I felt somewhat of a relief, he haunted me. He messaged me constantly and I couldn’t bring myself to block him as I felt responsible if something were to happen to him because I left him. I just couldn’t do it. He absolutely terrorised and haunted me. So much so that when walking over Stirling bridge one day at 7am in the morning, I stood at its ledge and wished for relief. I wondered what it would feel like for the water beneath me to swallow me whole and I wouldn’t have to suffer at his hands anymore. I had never had thoughts like that before and I have never had thoughts since. I pray that I never do again.

A little lighter and happier side-note here is that whilst starting uni again in January of 2019, I actually first seen Kai (my current boyfriend) playing guitar and singing at a Live Music Society event that I had joined and fell head over heels, even at first glance but I was going through so much dark stuff that I didn’t feel ready to talk to anyone else at this stage. We then got talking and went on our first date in early October of 2019 and he asked me to be his girlfriend the day before my 20th birthday in November. We now live together and have been together for over a year and a half. He has definitely been my lighthouse in this storm.

February 2019 – The Harassment, Murder Jokes, The Police and Women’s Aid

Reading week of 2019 for university rolled around. I was still in little contact with Mr. X but had tried desperately to turn my attention around to my studies. As I said previously, I was so scared of completely shutting off due to the threats and the way he retaliates in times where I call for a clean and immediate break off so my tactic was more of a steady distancing. I genuinely wanted to do better by myself since my grades had suffered so much since I had met him.

my university grades throughout that year

I wanted so badly to fall in love with myself and my degree all over again but as usual, I struggled to get away. With every hurdle I crossed, there seemed to be another one waiting for me with him. My grades here are not awful for a 2nd year student, but they weren’t what I was usually capable of and you’ll see this later. As you can see I was hitting a lot of 40% which is the bare minimum mark. That’s passing by the skin of your teeth. Still passing, but barely.

So reading week rolled around and at this point, my mum and step-dad had taken off to stay in South Africa for 3 weeks. I told them that I was going to visit Bute during reading week but would be staying at my dad’s house and oh how I wish I had done just exactly that.

When I arrived on Bute, I only let close friends know that I was there and had done this for the last month of travelling back and forth between Stirling and Bute. He had spotted me out a lot (Bute is a small place) and sent me this email below 2 weeks before my reading week. Mr. X had spotted me in the co-op when I came for my break off from uni. He then messaged me on Twitter saying that he was hurt that I hadn’t told him I was coming down and if we wanted to meet up. I said that I wasn’t down long enough but he knew it was my reading week and called me out on that. I wanted to meet him, reader, I’m not going to lie. I felt like I was clinging to whatever was left and since distancing myself from him, I felt more in control but that was NEVER going to be the case.

An email from Mr. X on February 2019

I found it hard not to continuously feel sorry for him when he was sending me emails like that. I feel foolish now and the Ailsa I am now would never tolerate this but this was a huge learning process for me. I don’t want other people to go through this just to “learn” when I have the tools already to give you the power of knowledge to prevent this from happening. Prevention is better than cure. So, back to the story:

I knew that if we were going to meet, it would have to be in private where nobody would see us because if word got back round to my family or anyone, I would be in trouble. My mum and step-dad were really sure that I was not even messaging him at this point. So, I realised I had a spare key for my mum and step-dad’s house and took him there to talk while they were away. Everything seemed fine and he told me how he had cleaned himself up, how his work was doing better than ever and how all he has ever thought about for the last month was me. Hearing this made part of me light up and the other part want to run for the hills. He told me that I had really inspired him to become more ambitious, that he was applying for college and that he had so much more to offer me now. I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions. He was saying all the right things and everything that I wanted to hear.

That same day, I told my dad that I had found a key for my mum’s and was just going to stay up there for the rest of the week and my dad never really questioned it. Me and Mr. X stayed there for a few nights but I began to 1. feel incredibly smothered by him being there for days at a time and 2. suspicious of the fact that he had no work to go to. Really suspicious. And one night lying in bed, there was a huge clatter downstairs when the house was empty besides us. I went down in the morning to find that a huge canvas that had never once fallen down in the house before, was lying side-up balancing on the radiator below where it hung. Somebody else really didn’t want him in this house. This also happened with another portrait in the house the next day.

One of the nights he was there, we watched a true crime documentary and when someone said that the murderer had wrapped his wife up in a bag and disposed of her, he jokingly turned to me and said “that’s what I’d do to you.” That really didn’t feel like a joke. Many a true word said in jest. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, when we were downstairs making food in the kitchen, he approached me from behind with a knife placed directly at my backside and laughed in my ear. It felt safer to stay with him than it ever did to leave and he made sure that was the way it was with us.

The most defining night was when we sat down in the kitchen and he took my mum’s £20 litre of vodka from the cupboard and began pouring us drinks. The sheer arrogance of just taking that from her cupboard, the absolute disrespect and literal no regard he had for my mum said it all. I was not shocked by any of his actions at this point but sat there and obliged with the drinks that he poured. We took to looking at things on Facebook on my laptop, going through some of my sister’s old photography on Facebook when he made me click on my profile picture out of the blue. So I did, in hopes he would finally say something nice about my appearance. He said “well we know what everyone is looking at and it’s certainly not your face”. I was horrified by this comment. It was completely belittling and degrading – yet again.

I told him how horrible that was but he insisted he was just stating facts before returning to take another swig of his drink. I tried to let the comment go but it really sat with me. I then turned to him and asked “how come you’ve not been at work?” to which he responded that he’s on holiday. I nodded my head suspiciously and he could sense my disbelief. This is when he got defensive, accusing me of being distrusting (do you blame me at this stage?) before retorting to the usual name-calling and yet again targeting my time at uni, making comments on the things he’s seen me wear while up there through social media posts etc.

I told him to leave straight away and he left willingly after my threat to call the police, but that’s when he started banging on my kitchen windows, thumping on my glass side door and screaming at me from outside. He began taunting me telling me that actually, he had duped me again. That he had actually got sacked from his job months ago and never told me, so he wasn’t on “holiday”. That he had actually been doing worse to me in our relationship than I ever had known of and promised me that he had gotten much worse with drugs, drink and women since our time apart. Again, I just begged and screamed and pleaded to be left alone. It got so bad that I desperately FaceTimed an old friend of mine who was online at this time in hopes that she would help but in fact, another one of my friends came to my saving grace instead. He said that he would be up quickly and when he arrived, Mr. X disappeared.

He promised to stay with me the entire night to ensure that he wouldn’t come back but what horrified me was at 9am in the morning, Mr. X had made a return and came face to face at my glass side door with my friend as he was about to go to the toilet. My friend stared him down until he eventually left again.

I was in a state. I was half-drunk, hurting and confused. I had allowed myself to be betrayed more and more, over and over and over again. My friend insisted that I should get some sleep and to try and calm down but in my hysterics I phoned the one person who was always there for me, who never judged me but always helped me – my sister.

She was still recovering fully in the hospital at this point and when she received my call she told me that I have to call the police. I insisted that I would but if anything happens to me, then she has to know exactly what and who it is because nobody knew that me and Mr. X were still talking. That is how fearful for my life I was at this point. After blocking contact with Mr. X on everything I could think of that night into the early morning, he was hounding me with emails while standing outside in my garden in the dark on his phone to even the early morning and afternoon in which he returned home. I will show these below. They were awful and twisted. Also please be aware that he was sending these emails to different google accounts and email addresses that I had, including a google account that I made for me and my friend when I was about 13. That is why the email address changes a lot in these screenshots.

* £20 for the vodka that we drank of my mum’s.
and yes, he even resorted to messaging my Make-Up page that hadn’t been active in a year since I wasn’t responding

So meanwhile I was being spammed with messages, I went to my bed with my friend still keeping a watchful eye inside the house. I had no idea that while I was sleeping, my sister had actually talked to her police officer friend who was in a bed beside her in hospital and her friend told her that the police HAD to be called because she had seen too many cases of this end in tragedy.

1 in 3 women aged between 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and 2 women A WEEK are killed by a current or former partner in the UK according to Refuge.org. This statistic rose during lockdown to 16 murders over the course of 3 weeks. Please think on that statistic.

I will be eternally grateful to my sister and her friend for really saving my life for if the police were not called, I really dread to think where I would be or if I would even “be”.

Giving My Statement to the Police

I was woken by my name being called repeatedly in a worried voice and my shoulders being shook. It was my dad. The police had contacted him because they tried to get a hold of me and I was sleeping upstairs, unable to hear them. He let out a sigh of relief as I came to. “You need to get down to the police station immediately” he said to me, telling me that he’d wait outside for me in the car.

I was in a zombie-like state once again, numb and barely functioning but knowing what had to be done. I got dressed and down to the police station I went. It was here that I gave my statement and told the officers of all the trauma I had suffered over the last 7/8 months. They told me that they’d be making an arrest due to the cause of fear and alarm from banging the doors and trying to get into my house the night before. They asked me harder hitting and deeper questions that my dad had to leave the room for. I won’t discuss any of this and I’m not sure I ever will. The officers assured me that I was doing the right thing but to me it felt so wrong. I still felt sorry for him. He’s got no job, no girlfriend and now he’ll be in trouble with the police. Again, I blamed myself. But it was never my fault, it never will be my fault. I will never be to blame for how he treated me and for how his actions brought around his own consequences.

My dad took me back to his house and asked me to explain everything to him properly. I couldn’t really fathom much but kept referring to all the questions I had answered in the police station. My dad wasn’t coping very well with it all. It all came like a shock to him and he had to leave to go out to work in a really shaken state. I stayed in my dad’s house, staring out his window and crying helplessly. I felt battered, used and bruised in every single way. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom before, this was definitely it now.

My brother was heading back out to work after lunch from my dad’s house and I said goodbye to him and all he said was “bye”. I remember the defeated, lonely and isolated feeling echoing through my body and encompassing my every inch. He opened the door up again after he said “bye” and said “I need you to know that if you ever need me, I’m always here,” and with that, he left. I really did need to hear that in that moment. My brother is not the emotional type but he let me know that day that I wasn’t alone. I’m still unsure of how much of the story my brother actually knows. It’s not something I’ve really talked about with my family since it happened besides my mum and my sister.

The Audio Tape and Women’s Aid

I never made contact with Mr. X again after that day and still haven’t. The next day, I told my dad that I was okay to stay up at my mum’s house again and that I would lock the doors and stay in her bedroom where the door locked from the inside to make sure I was safe. I was also made aware that his arrest had been made and part of me felt a relief.

I wanted to be on my own for the rest of that reading week to grieve. Not grieve the loss of him, but the complete loss of myself. I needed to grieve all the emotional batterings I had taken, all the psychological trauma he had inflicted on me and come to terms with my experiences. It was horrendous, but I lay there in complete solitude watching music documentaries and I started to find a happiness. My happiness was in music. It was in art. It was in these independent, free-thinker mavericks who were unapologetically themselves. It was in their talent, in their genius that I found comfort through one of the hardest times of my life. I watched Woodstock live lying locked up in my mum and step-dad’s bedroom on their tv. I fell in love with the idea of peace and love (though I’m sure there is some sort of psychological aspect of being abused that made me desperately seek this). I started to form my own political opinion on “war” and “violence”. It was the start of who I am today. I found a vice. A vice and an escape that made me better, not bitter. In fact, it kickstarted my entire career and shaped me into the woman I am today. Strong, resilient and completely and utterly unapologetically herself and nobody can or ever will change that.

Women’s Aid called me the day after my visitation to the police station. They tried to get as much information about my situation as possible but when the woman described me as a “victim of domestic abuse”, I panicked and hung up the phone. I didn’t want to be a “victim” and I didn’t want anybody to describe me as that. I was ready to heal, I was ready to put these burdens to bed and I was ready to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. A phrase that constantly cropped up in my head randomly on walks to uni. I was never going to come out the other end of this worse off. I was going to continue to better myself. To learn, to be better and to do better by myself and other people in the same positions. So no, I didn’t feel like a victim, I felt like a survivor who was ready to heal. And that’s where the healing took place, right in that mindset.

The police visited my house the same day as the Women’s Aid call, asking to hear the audio tape that I had mentioned in my statement. I sat with both of the officers who could not have been anymore helpful in my situation. They were gobsmacked by the audio and the woman police officer asked me to send this over to her email. The man asked me if I would like to press charges and in my shaken state I hesitated. He waited a moment before saying, “you don’t have to do this for you, do it for the next person he ends up with.” And for me, reader, that changed everything. I told him to go ahead. He was absolutely right. I had already suffered at his hands and was ready to heal, but I couldn’t watch some other poor girl go through that, especially knowing how dangerous he could be. I made it out alive, others might not be so lucky.

May 2nd 2019 – The Court Date

I held true to my word and bettered myself. I was still feeling like a floating figure roaming around Stirling made out of shards of broken glass. I felt unlovable and unworthy and decided that to combat this, I was going to restart and rebuild my life again, from the ground up.

I got a job as a waitress in Bridge of Allan which began to build my confidence and get me back on my feet with my independence. I was also looking forward to an exciting holiday to Magaluf with my little cousin and her friends. I really invested in improving myself in every way I possibly could but still, something always felt missing.

I returned home from uni one day and began a video call with my mum, when I received a knock at the door. I went downstairs to find a massive parcel delivered in my name. I carried it upstairs and showed my mum as she sat grinning at the other end of the camera. Tearing it open, there was a beautiful keyboard before me and I immediately knew it was from her. She said “I listened when you said that you felt something was missing”. My mum was the one who taught me piano at a young age and at this point, I was getting really back into the things I hadn’t touched in a year since I had been with Mr. X. Piano, writing and music in general.

I was on the road to feeling whole again. However, one thing lingered with me and that was the looming presence of my court date on May 2nd but I did it. I showed up to court, ready to battle his lawyers and ready to speak my truth but standing in the waiting room, a woman approached me asking if I was Ailsa Gillies.

She told me that after his lawyer listened to the audio tape, Mr. X decided to plead guilty for a lesser punishment. Though relieved that I didn’t need to stand up in court, I needed to know if I was going to be safe. Through Women’s Aid, I applied for a non-harassment order but was denied as this was a first time offence. Well I felt helpless to say the least. This meant that he could come near me anytime he wanted.

This was his first charge.
And this was his second. I’m unsure if he plead guilty to this charge, or he was let away due to lack of evidence besides my witness testimony and just an audio tape. I can’t be 100% sure but I knew the police were pursuing this charge.

August 2019 – Harassing My Family Members

So, here we are on the timeline. Thank you so much if you have made it this far. This is not an easy read but it’s a necessary one.

I seemed to just get better with time though I suffered in many other ways – sleeping with scissors under my pillow in Stirling to protect myself (because one time after we broke up, he actually showed up to my flat unannounced in Stirling and I only knew because my personal hotspot connected to his phone. He was outside my door- how creepy), constant night terrors where I would dream he was trying to kill me and getting frightened when hearing birds on the roof. These were a few of the ongoing sufferings I had after my abuse, but I had still come a long, long way.

August rolled around and I received a message from a family member, telling me that Mr. X had messaged her after spotting her walk up to her house one night. The messages were bizarre but still, he had a clear obsession and willingness to get to me through any means possible. He knew fine well who she was and how she was related to me.

November 2020 – The Anonymous Instagram Account

I want to make this very, very clear. I cannot prove that this is Mr. X. I tried to uncover this account’s identity but to no avail. I did make a vow to myself though, if another account does the exact same, I will be taking it to the police. I have suspicions that the messages you are about to see on Instagram were from him. Very strong suspicions. From language, to the way he types and even to the things he would mock. This Instagram account targets the exact same aspects of me that he used to do to my face. Again, I cannot say with 100% certainty but I can say that I have my suspicions.

These messages came flooding in right after I had taken my first tonic clonic seizure and I was in a state of recovery and vulnerability. It also came after I shared an article discussing my experience with my seizure that I had shared on the Isle of Bute page. The timing felt strange and suspicious also.

I obviously do not think this highly of myself but I really was determined to show that his (or whoever’s) words have no impact on me anymore. I have enough self-love and confidence to pay no mind to the content of these messages. Notice how these messages all attack my physical appearance. So, so shallow. But as I said, I just had a feeling it could have been him. Then again, it could not be either. Who knows.

But it is a fact that he continued to harass my family and their business this year in June and I’m tired of it. I really am just tired of it. It is these little pathetic attempts that show the character of abusers.

Where I am Today

I have a voice that will no longer be silenced and after 2 years, I’m confident enough to say that I have found it. After my abuse, I began to heal… though there are emotional and psychological scars that I will have for the rest of my life, those are just a reminder of my bravery. I did rise like a phoenix from the ashes and yes, I am a wounded warrior but I can honestly say, I have worked so hard on healing, on bettering myself and following my life goals and ambitions religiously, despite any setbacks. I’m not one to give up so easy and I continued the journey I sought out to do at 18 years old – to find myself. To really find myself.

Sitting with a counsellor over a year later in January 2020, I told her of my abuse and what haunts me the most is feeling like I have lost myself. She said the most poignant thing to me: “Thank god you did, because I don’t think you really would’ve wanted that version of yourself back anyway,” and she’s right. You aren’t meant to be the same person you were a year ago and it’s okay to look back on who you were and cringe. In fact, if you’re not doing that, you’re not growing.

What I settled for then, I wouldn’t even come near now. The amount I tolerated then, I instantly cut out of my life now. And yes, I grew to have the most healthy, safest and purest form of romance with the man I am with now who doesn’t see me as damaged goods, but a strong woman and doesn’t see my past struggles as baggage but of victories.

The Physical Impact

I suffered extreme illnesses due to stress after our breakup. I came down with incredibly awful laryngitis and a hellish fever, so bad that my flatmate had to take me to a&e. I then started to get bleeding gums despite having really healthy gums and teeth. Then I broke out in a horrible rash and ulcers all over my tongue. These were all stress-related illnesses and my healing process was not just a mental one – it was physical too.

But I did heal. I continue to heal and this article has been an incredibly difficult but healing one. I get to speak my truth. I get to release the weight I was carrying for no other reason other than fear. But I’m not scared anymore. In fact, I feel free. Really free and what a liberating experience this is.

I graduated university in June this year with my Film & Media and Journalism degree and I will demonstrate the comparison of how much better I done in my last 2 years of university without him. I had nobody holding me back. I grew and am continuing to grow into the woman I have always dreamed of being and have nothing but support and love surrounding me. It does get better and letting him go was the best decision I could ever have made.

my university grades after I began to heal

Now we have reached the end of our journey, I have just one last thing to say:

In the end, if I have become a better person out of this situation, I win. No matter what the court told me, no matter what people knew or didn’t know, no matter of the justice or the injustices. If I continue to build my own empire – blossom beautiful relationships, career opportunities and goals. If I continue to work hard, reap rewards for my efforts and help those who I can through my experience. If I can stop just one young girl from entering a relationship littered with red flags, or a struggling mum walk away from years of subservience to a man who believes she should be tied to a kitchen sink, then reader, I have won. So, I’m sorry Mr. X , but you may have walked out unskaved in many a battle with me but you best believe that I’ve won the war. 

Help Services and Support

If you or anyone you know are suffering or think could be suffering from domestic abuse, then there are so many steps that can be taken:

– If you are in fear for your life, please contact 999. No partner should make you feel threatened, fearful or terrorised. These feelings are not healthy.

– You can always contact me through any form of social media or e-mail at ailsagillies@hotmail.com. I will always be available to chat and give help or guidance from a survivor’s perspective when I can. Even if you would just like to share your experience, feel free.

– Professional help services are available. Women’s Aid have a live chat where you can talk to a professional through your device at https://chat.womensaid.org.uk/

– Additionally, you can also seek help and support in Scotland through the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline at helpline@sdafmh.org.uk or on 0800 027 1234

– If none of these feel possible for you, then Boots Pharmacy/Stores across the UK are using their consultation rooms as a safe place for people experiencing domestic abuse. You can find the full information here: https://www.boots-uk.com/our-stories/boots-pharmacy-consultation-rooms-become-safe-spaces-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse/

Finally, Clare’s Law has been a huge step forward in preventing domestic violence and abuse.

“Clare’s Law, often known officially as a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme or similar, designates several ways for police officers to disclose a person’s history of abusive behaviour to those who may be at risk from such behaviour. It is intended to reduce intimate partner violence.”

You now have the right to ask for a person’s history of abusive behaviour before/during a relationship with them and you have the right to know. 

Once again, thank you for reading and please parents, educate your children on how to treat other people in a relationship and on what a healthy relationship should look like. Use this article as an example of what it shouldn’t look like.

The Cost of Incivility: Bullying Culture in Argyll and Bute Health Services

Many of us in our workplace will experience what Harvard Business News brands as ‘incivility’ and just as many of us will probably be more familiar with the term ‘rudeness’ and in severe cases; ‘bullying’. However, Argyll and Bute Health Services’ relationship with the term has surpassed the point of familiarity; breaking right through into a point of association and with this, comes huge tangible costs.

The effects of a manager or co-worker being uncivil can intentionally cause a worker to decrease their effort according to a Harvard study. Now, as a waitress this may mean that somebody gets the wrong coffee, but for Health Services, that is a potential loss of life.

It was highlighted in a review carried out by QC John Sturrock into bullying and harassment in NHS Highland in 2019, that there was a significant issue within Argyll and Bute; describing its managers as ‘undermining’ and ‘intimidating’.

One member of staff in the Sturrock review describes the defensive and intimidating behaviour from staff on the front line as ‘a normal practice that we endure on a daily basis’ and explains how this destroys morale and shatters confidence.

From this, Sturrock recommended a separate, independent review into the constituency’s health service which was soon commissioned by NHS Highland in partnership with A&B HSCP, however controversy surrounds the credibility of its ‘independence’.

Despite this, the findings of this review revealed in May 2020 that 68% of the 508 respondents to its ‘Argyll & Bute HSCP Review’ survey reported experiencing bullying and harassment within its Health Services and more than 87% of those report that it occurred more than once.

The review states that this issue needs to be addressed ‘as a matter of urgency’ and emphasises the need to change the culture to one where ‘colleagues feel listened to, valued and respected.’

To do this, NHS Highland and A&B HSCP created a 100 day plan to ‘rapidly’ address the issues outlined in the survey, claiming that they have ‘advanced the pace’ and ‘resources’.

Dawn MacDonald, the Branch Secretary for Unison NHS Highland voiced concerns:

“I don’t believe that there has been much progress made since the review. As a union steward, I’m still dealing with bullying and harassment cases from within Argyll and Bute within an almost daily basis.”

Recently, the lack of progress has forced Argyll and Bute MP, Brendan O’Hara to write a letter in October to the A&B HSCP with signatures from both Dawn MacDonald and Councillor for Mid Argyll, Douglas Philand.

In the letter, Mr O’Hara states:

“…Barely a week passes when we [trade union and elected representatives] are not contacted by current or former employees of the HSCP who are being bullied or who have been bullied in the past.”

The ineffectiveness of the procedures to eradicate bullying will lead to substantial, physical and psychological issues within the NHS as a whole.

Firstly, it is estimated to cost the NHS in England at least £2.28 billion a year through sickness absence, employee turnover and decline in productivity according to the British Medical Journal.

No specific, isolated study has been carried out in Scotland as of yet but if those statistics and the results from the reviews are anything to go by, the financial cost is likely to be catastrophic. These are finances that can be put into services and treatments and it’s important to think; how would the average British tax payer feel about that?

The human cost is just as great and that goes for both patients and staff as there have been reported cases of patients losing their life due to a decrease in morale and productivity from staff resulting from incivility from managers or colleagues. The detriment is real.

Not only this but the pressures of health care greatly exceed most other jobs already; the psychological damage that incivility inflicts on workers is unimaginable. Between 2011 and 2017, more than 300 nurses in England and Wales took their own life according to statistics published by the Office for National Statistics.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing claims that nurses were constantly ignored by employers when they ‘raised concerns about their mental health’.

The cost of incivility can be demonstrated in almost all professions but none as profound and detrimental as health care and it is evident that there is a whole other epidemic brewing in the walls of Argyll and Bute’s Health Service: bullying.

If there is a zero tolerance policy on abusing staff for the public, where is the zero tolerance policy on abusing staff on the inside?

Image credit: “Hospital” by Ralf Heß is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

COVID-19: Hospitalised During a Pandemic

There are three places I’ve never wanted to get familiar with in life: prison, Fubar and hospitals – yet recently – the latter became like an old friend who’s overstayed their welcome after arriving for tea unannounced “to catch up”.

I say this because hospitals have been in and out my life like an old friend for various reasons; a problematic kidney when I was born, a severe migraine when I was ten, and the loss of a loved one at thirteen, and again at fourteen – so not really a friend at all.

On November 18th, 2020, the day after my 21st birthday, that ‘old friend’ came unannounced – but this time was different. This time it stunk of disinfectant, operated like a war zone, and exuded an icy, cold distance from its staff who examined me from meters apart, to its interior that had me feeling like nothing was within my reach – not even normality.

And like an old friend, I felt obliged to stay… I did just take a seizure after all, I thought.

Arriving at the front doors, my boyfriend and I were greeted by staff standing armed with disinfectant like the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace – but I’m afraid the only royalty there was in its name: ‘Inverclyde Royal Hospital’.

After checking in, I was directed to a specific part of the building & with my hand wrapped in my boyfriend’s, proceeded to the lift where a receptionist stopped us: “You can’t go with her, sorry.” 
As if hospitals weren’t already a place where you could be in a crowd of people and still feel so lonely, I thought as I said my goodbyes.

Though I understood that we were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I still couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t just saying goodbye to my boyfriend, but goodbye to all the necessary information I needed to provide the doctors with about my seizure, as my memory was corrupted – and my boyfriend was my only witness.

Still, I rattled my brain hard for the memories of what I was told happened and relayed them to a petite, curly-haired Irish doctor who stood 2 meters away from me in a vast, four-bed room on J- ward.

Though I soon became familiar with the doctor, the nurses passed in and out of the room like little heroic enigmas, tending to the elderly women in the room yet unsure of me. I could see their brains doing overtime, trying to figure out why a fully clothed girl in jeans is lying on top of a hospital bed. That, and the fact that I pulled the average age of that room down considerably. Yet still, they tended to me, albeit with slight distance and confusion, taking my blood pressure and temperature but never prying for information or engaging in chat.

I can’t say I was disappointed that they never engaged in chat, I’d have been no use anyway. I was still trying to come to terms with both the trauma of my experience and my fragmented memory but though my mouth struggled to speak, my eyes and ears couldn’t have been more alive. As the hours ticked by waiting, that’s all I would find myself doing – listening and observing.

I couldn’t help but be startled by the sight from the bed beside me, a poor, old woman strapped up to the ventilator, the mask on her face signifying a very different message than the mask on mine, as I heard her every struggled breath. When she wasn’t struggling to breathe, she was shouting ‘Help!’ And ‘Sandra!’ repeatedly.

This is real, I thought.

Though I couldn’t have been sure that she had fallen victim to this virus, I could only be sure that what she was experiencing couldn’t have been far off of it – and the reality of losing my breath, depending on a machine for the oxygen in my lungs, falling victim to this virus. It all became too real to me.

Yet, what picture I could paint clearer in my mind – and what ached me the most – is if that were my loved one lying in a hospital bed, deprived of the one essential natural source that should not be taken from us by anything other than time itself. That ached a harsh reality through my person.

It reached 6pm, and I had become well acquainted again with my ‘old friend’ for the past 9 hours. It stayed not only for tea, but for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and yes, it truly overstayed it’s welcome – but I feel no anger towards it, for there was lessons certainly learned – and realities that I was forced to face.

This is real.