I racked my brain for days on where to start the story of my life. Do I go way back to the beginning or do I start from where it all started to change for me? Let me give you a brief overview of me.
I am 26 years old and have lived in Christchurch for most of my life. I grew up in north Canterbury on a horse farm,where I was an only child. I went to St Margaret’s College, where I left at the end of the 6th form, as school was not really for me. I ended up attending KSSM school of makeup and I enrolled in the first ever course that was held in 2009 and fell in love with makeup. The feeling of making people see their true beauty and feeling amazing about themselves gave me a great sense of achievement. As much as I loved makeup, the earthquakes came about, and my family lost all our restaurants one by one (the Simo’s franchise). I then somehow made my way into the recruitment industry during the Christchurch rebuild,as I wanted to do my part to help. It was in this job that I got the same sense of achievement from helping people into roles where they could provide for their families. It’s an overwhelming feeling when they tell you how much your effort meant to them and how much you have changed their lives.
While I was in this job, I met an amazing man who was older than me, had a great job and seemed to really have his head screwed on. He had a beautiful little daughter who was his whole world and there was just something about him that had me head over heels. Everything moved very fast from there, we were inseparable and after a few short months we were living together. He made me laugh and pushed me to do so many things that I never thought I would do.
After about 6 months, the relationship really started to take a turn for the worst. He would force me to go to the gym because he didn’t want me to get fat. He would portion my meals and started choosing my clothes. This was my first “adult relationship” so I just assumed it was normal. I started to drop weight like there was no tomorrow.My friends were shocked at how small I was getting and then they started to ask the questions, does he treat her okay? Is he controlling her? Is she happy?
I remember vividly the first time he hit me.
I remember the feeling of utter fear as I looked in his eyes and couldn’t see him… I remember laying in fetal position on the ground until it was over and looking at him, telling him I was sorry.
Me, I was sorry?
I had made him leave town after a night out as he was too intoxicated. This was all my fault. I sat next to him, holding him, begging him not to be mad at me.
I know what you’re thinking. If that was me, I would leave him straight away… I used to think I would too.
The next day he told me he was so sorry, it was just the drink and it would never happen again. Ok I said to myself, I do dumb things when I’m drunk too. That’s all it was. He was just drunk.
Little did I know that was the day
my life would change.
It wasn’t like he did it every day and it wasn’t like every day was bad, but my life became like I was constantly walking on egg shells. What’s going to happen when I walk through that door? I pushed everyone close to me away, anyone who might be able to see through my lies and the layers of makeup to cover the bruises. My bosses sat with me at work and begged me to tell them why I had marks around my neck or a black eye and I would tell the how I had fell off my bike or tripped over at home. If people knew, they would tell me to leave him and I was not ready for that at all. I guess that’s the thing about these kinds of relationships… On the outside looking in you are asking yourself, why is she not leaving him? But when you are the person involved, it’s a whole new level of control that you really don’t know how to get out of and don’t really understand.
We had many issues in the years that we were together. There was a child involved and following that, a drug addiction, which was also a huge factor that soon took over his life. I was so sure I could help and change him. I did everything in my power, but every step I took to try help him was a step that meant that I got more and more hurt mentally and physically. I felt extremely alone and felt like this is what I must deserve in my life. I felt like a tiny insignificant human.
I went to my doctors and broke down. I was 60kgs, which is tiny for me. I was eating only plant-based foods,as that was our house rule. My OCD was through the roof and anxiety had taken over my life. I was a wreck. I told her everything about our relationship, apart from the physical abuse. She put me on citalopram and advised me to see a counsellor.I figured I must be the problem. If I fix me, that will fix him, and we could live happy ever after, right? That’s something I used to think a lot. If I take these steps, life will be great, but life wouldn’t be great, and I was let down yet again.
After I started taking the citalopram,I started to see things a little clearer. My eyes were a little more open to the reality of what was happening in my life. The abuse continued to happen more and more frequently. He put me down so much that I believed these things about myself and thought, if I left who would want someone like me anyway? As the mental and physical abuse began to take its toll, the police were called more often and not by myself, but by the next-door neighbours hearing my cries.There were a few times I remember thinking, this is it, this is how I die. That’show bad it got. I had no energy to fight back and I had nothing anymore. He sucked all the life out of me.
But again, I did not leave. It took the final straw to make me pack my bags and leave. It took broken ribs and a broken hand, to tell me this is enough Gen, your happiness is far more important.
I went to work battered and bruised and told my boss everything. He sat there with tears in his eyes and said,“Gen that’s not love that’s not how people that love you treat you”. He told me to get my pets pack my bags and leave. This meant I had to tell my best friends and family something that I had tried so hard to protect them from. I started by telling two of my girlfriends.
Have you heard your friends heart
I hadn’t until that day. I felt utterly sick, how had I hidden this from them? Next was my mum and dad, who were just completely and utterly hurt and broken for me. But none of these people were mad, they were proud of me. This was not the emotion I expected,they were proud of me for having the courage to leave and for telling them.
I packed my bags, got my pets and drove to my best friend’s farm where I felt safe. This may sound like I had my shit together, but I was an utter mess making my way away from my house. I told my group of friends and the support was overwhelming. These girls truly loved me and cared about me and were so proud of me. They were there every night in bed with me, holding me tight while I cried, and on the phone, when I needed them. These girls did everything in their power to show me support. I was important,I did deserve to be loved and oh boy, did they show me love!
FINALLY, I HAD LEFT!
But the pain didn’t leave as I came to terms with the mental and physical abuse that I had been through. Anxiety soon became an emotion that took over me and I had to learn to control it. I found that healthy eating a fitness was something that helped me feel in control over my body again and gave me back a small bit of control I had lost. I loved going out again with my friends and going on adventures to the hillside,getting out amongst nature and going on road trips. But it wasn’t enough. Afire had been lit inside of me that I could not get rid of.
I signed up to help with Guide Dog Foundation, Barnardo’s and the Woman’s Refuge. All small things to try help people.But I wanted to help more, I wanted to spread the word to women like me that are stuck and let them know that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel and that people love you, and that you can get out and start again. I did research into mental and physical abuse in New Zealand and that’s when it really started to hit home. Did you know that New Zealand has the highest rate of family violence in the world? And that police here attend a family violence case every 5 minutes? I went on to read that one in every three women will experience domestic violence in their lives… I was one of these women.
As I read on there was a sentence that really stuck with me…
“This is not something that happens in some parts of New Zealand this is happening across every single social and ethnic group we have to acknowledge this is happening on every single street and every community, we need to make people think and talk about this maybe the more aware the less it happens”
When I left my ex, I remember the police coming over for the last time to my beautiful villa in Merivale. My gardens were perfect, my home looked like a house from House and Garden and I remember saying to the police officers, “I’m so embarrassed” and he replied, “We are called to this neighbourhood more than any other”.
I decided this is it, I’m going to make a change, but how? I signed up for Heartbreak Island, not for love not for money and not for fame, but for something far more different … to have a platform to spread awareness regarding domestic violence, controlling relationships and mental and physical abuse. I needed a social platform to have a voice, and this was a good way to start I thought. I truly believed this was my calling. I had made it through the other side with the will to help others. My confidence was already knocked, I thought very little of my looks and my personality, as I had been told so often that I was “fat, ugly, stupid”. I didn’t really think that I had a chance, but how bloody great if I did? I feel like someone watched over me during this time in my life, I was chosen to be on the first season of heart break island.
This show mentally challenged me on so many levels and really pushed me to breaking point. I was on an island with a handful of strangers for five whole weeks and let’s be honest we had all gone mad.
I returned home to Christchurch nervous but ready for the show to air. I waited for five months for this by the way, and in this time, I continued my self-love journey. I wanted to be my best self when this show came on TV and I wanted to be ready for anything. I sat down with my closest friends and family to watch the first episode of Heartbreak Island season one.
BOOM! 10 minutes in to the episode, I am called a catfish by a cast member and my phone went mad. Hundreds of messages saying “CATFISH”, “YOU UGLY B**CH GO DIE”, and the list goes on. I was in utter disbelief …
I said nothing mean about him, yet I was the one being bullied online? what had I just witnessed and how could these people be so cruel? The messages continued for days and days. I was “fat I was ugly”, they commented on my pictures and messaged me on Facebook. I couldn’t understand. I was angry and disappointed in this country that I called home. I couldn’t leave the house, for the fear that someone would say this to my face. I was back to square one and I had absolutely no confidence in myself.Why had I put myself out there for it just to knock me back?!! Then I remembered I wanted to make a difference I wanted to make a change.
I then did my research, in to online bulling and the numbers shocked me. New Zealand has the second highest bully rates in the world! They did a study at Otago University, on children between the ages of 11 and 18, and 87% had experienced online bullying in someway. I wrote an Instagram story about how disgusted I was in these people who could say such nasty things about somebody they didn’t know when they have no idea what is going on in people’s lives. I asked the question to the public, why is this happening in our tiny nation? “what are your thoughts?”. I received thousands of messages in response to this story ranging from people who were bullied at school, Plunket mothers who were bullied by other mothers, people who had lost young teens to suicide due to online bullying, girls who were my age who were being bullied at work, boys who were being bullied by their girlfriends and last but not least girls, who were being abused by their partners. I was absolutely shocked at our tiny nation, how and why were we doing this and how were people getting away with it?!
That’s when I decided as Kelly Clarkson once said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I thought… Fuck it! I have had enough. I’m going to talk about body confidence, I am going to talk about abusive relationships, I am going to talk about online bulling and I’m going to talk about mental health, because if we don’t start talking about these things, they are never going to go away. I worked with Amnesty International on a story that was given to our prime minster, on the effects of online bullying. I thought, we need to start speaking up and saying, it’s okay not to be okay and stop acting like our lives are perfect and keeping up an image on social media, for on-lookers. We need to put our hands up and say, this is me like it or leave it.
I want to be someone young girls and women look up to. I want them to know just how beautiful they are, and I want to be honest with my life struggles and be a voice that lets people know it’s okay to be who you are. I want to be a friend to all, for anyone having a hard time and be that person that if they have nobody else, they have me.
I have a vision for my future and I am grateful for the hurdles I have overcome. I want to use my social media to spread an honest and truthful message to people. I don’t want people to look at my life and think it’s perfect, I want them to relate to me or think, I have felt that too. I want to eventually be able to run my own talking groups, where I can talk and help people who experience mental health issues or have been in abusive relationships. My dream would be to talk at high schools and try make an impact on young people’s lives. I have signed up to to help the Woman’s Refuge and would love to be able to run community events, to help raise money for these strong women and help show the woman still stuck, that there is a reason to get out.
This is obviously my long-term goal and something I work on every day, writing down notes and coming up with new ideas. It’s something I would love to create right now, but the reality is that Rome was not built in a day. For me to create an impact, it needs to be something great, so watch this space as I have no intention of letting go of my goal. I struggle everyday with my past,but I feel like it’s made me the person I am today. I want to be able to be me,raw and real and help change people’s lives. I don’t know how yet or what my full potential may be, but just even being able to speak events like the recent Brunch Club telling other women how I started to find the me I always wanted to be is a step closer than I was yesterday. I am grateful every day for the people in my life who helped save me and I will never be able to thank them enough.
If any of you have felt like this before or are going through anything, I am a message away. I will listen and do my best to help. If you know of someone you think is going through a hard time,ask them if they are okay and offer your ears, you never know whose life you might change.
I want to finish on a good note,it’s not all doom and gloom. A few months back, I was out in town celebrating with my friends and I decided to go home early as I was not able to keep up with my girls. After a quick stint through the BK drive through, I was in my driveway. I got out of the taxi and felt something hit the ground. I picked it up and it was a large wallet. I looked inside and found $100 note and a lot of cards and photos of two cute wee kids.
I messaged the lady and added her on Facebook and did all I could to try get in contact with no reply, so I put her name on my Instagram saying, “does anyone know this lady, I have found her wallet?” the messages rolled in. She called me 5 minutes later, absolutely overwhelmed that somebody was retuning her lost wallet. She told me she lived in Dunedin and had returned home but would get one of her kids to come and pick it up from me. She gave me her sons number to contact him and arrange for him to collect it from me. That night there was a knock on my door, and we had a brief chat … now five months on he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He loves me like I have never been loved before and shows me utter kindness. He is already my bestfriend and I think when you are truly ready for love, the right kind of love,it finds you just like this modern-day wallet Cinderella story brought him in to my life.