Last month was Sexual Assault Awareness/Prevention month.
This month is Mental Health Month.
For me, the two go hand in hand. This is something I don’t talk about, try not to talk about because I haven’t even told most of my family that I was sexually assaulted – that I was raped – in July 2009. And everything was fine, it really as. But instead of time healing all wounds, time has forced me to face the truth of what happened head on. That I never saw who my attacker was, that I never reported it, that this is a thing that happened and it’s always going to be part of who I am.
It doesn’t take a therapy appointment to see ripple effects that the event happened on my life. The crippling self doubt, the depression, the anxiety, the panic attacks and PTSD. The need to prove that I’m more than a statistic, a survivor, a victim. It doesn’t take a therapy appointment to see that some days, I’m fine. I’m okay. Other days, I can make it through the day because I, like Dr. Banner, am always angry.
I didn’t have control over what happened to me. I didn’t think anyone would care about what happened to me. After all, who would have believed me? The friends I did tell when it happened, I don’t think did. But I’m no longer friends with them.
I also didn’t have control over my recent fall – a fall that re-opened the trauma that I felt seven years ago. It’s the same trauma that I re-live whenever I go to the OBGYN. Sometimes when my husband gets in bed and just wants to hold me. It’s the same trauma that rolls through the back of my mind whenever there’s a new news report, that’s part of a politician’s attack on a minority group.
Seven years ago, I could avoid what happened to me because conversations about rape and rape culture were invisible. Seven years ago, I didn’t feel worthless. I didn’t feel ruined, weak, an invisible other just because I discovered the power of liquid eyeliner and subtle contouring.
Five years ago was the first time I tried to kill myself.
A year ago I bought an Xacto knife because I felt like I was crawling out my skin and needed some sort of release.
But today, I don’t feel any better. Today, I feel unoriginal. I feel invisible. I feel like my story is just like everyone else’s story and that it doesn’t deserve to be heard. But isn’t that what people want us – victims, survivors – want us to think?
When I meet new people I still wonder if they can see it on me: the shame of having been violated by someone whose face I never saw. The shame of being sober, of not wearing provocative clothing, of making the mistake of telling a drunk person off when I was on my way back to my car alone. I wonder if they can see the way I scan crowds, put my back to the wall, dig my finger nails into my palms because the click, click, click of keys against the side of a pant leg brings me back to that humid summer night.
Mental health is an ongoing battle for me. Anxiety and depression either let me be happy and productive or cripple me, depending on the day. My head injury is trying to slow me down, warns me when I’m pushing myself too far, but most of the time can’t hold back the sudden rush of memory and the panic attack that follows.
I’m not what happened to me. It doesn’t define me.
But it also does.
It’s cut into my bones and it’s the one event, even beyond 9/11, that has changed the way I move, the way I think, the way I assess situations. Fight, flight — these terms aren’t part of my natural instincts anymore. It’s sit still. It’s waiting to see what happens. It’s counting to ten and convincing myself that the lone man in the parking lot, the parking garage, wherever I am, isn’t a predator.
So mental health month is just another month for me. A month where I keep track of how many panic attacks I have a day and what triggers me. A month where I try and delineate if I’m panicking about something TBI-related, or something past-related. It’s a month where I’m hyper-aware of what I’ve gone through and that I’m not the only one who’s gone through this.
The difference between this year and last year, though, is that I know I have the right to come forward. I know that what I have to say, what I’ve experienced, is valid and should be shared. I’m a statistic and a human being. I’m not alone even when I feel I am.