Shouting “STOP!” in retrospect (content warning: rape)

a cure for what ails you, abuse, personal experiences, ptsd, relationships, therapy

Hey readers!

I had a great, if intense, EMDR session this afternoon. I’ve mentioned X a few times before, especially in my last post, and he was the subject of today’s sessions.

I’ve mentioned before, in very vague terms, that I have a long history of sexual abuse. Those of you who have listened to the RISK! episode have heard me say it directly: I never talk about it. I’ve been to literally a dozen other therapists in the last eleven years, but due to insurance issues or money in general or whatever, I was never able to see a single counselor for more than a few sessions.

As a result, I am extremely uncomfortable discussing any of the rape-and-what-have-you in anything less than broad terms. I can vividly describe everything else–the physical and emotional abuse, what it did to me psychologically, how the effects have rippled through time and still mess with me to this day. But if you sit me down and ask me to tell you exactly what happened, to describe it? Then I clam up and can’t even say the word “sex” without looking at the floor.

I had to do that today. I had to lay out the details of a memory that I very recently had a flashback about. I had to describe how we were positioned, to talk about that rolltop desk and how I used to lean into it and stay absolutely silent because I knew if I made a sound or asked him to stop, he’d be angry. And when you’re in abuse-victim-survival-mode, avoiding that anger is pretty much all you think about. I just had to get through that moment and then things might be better. (This is called “conditional assumption” or “deferred happiness” and is extremely common in abusive relationships.)

I want to pause to make an important distinction here, since we are talking about rape and consent–by “had to,” I mean that my therapist (who we’ll call S from now on) invited me to talk about my flashback in very general terms: “Can you tell me what the flashback was about?” She never probed for details, and her sensitivity was much appreciated.

We began by identifying my negative false belief: He is raping me and hurting me but I’m not saying anything because “I don’t matter. I have to do this.”

She asked me, as is typical by now, to rate how disturbing I found that belief while I was thinking about the scene I’d described. Then, she asked what I’d like to replace that belief was (and how believable it was to me as I was sitting in her office, pre-EMDR). This is what I replaced that thought with: “I do matter, and I don’t have to do this.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I prefer to use the hand buzzers for EMDR–I’m migraine-prone so the lights don’t work well, and because I have that thing where sudden and/or loud sounds in my left ear trigger an uptick in the dissociation. So, I relaxed (as much as I could) into the couch, a buzzer in each hand, and willingly stepped back into that moment.

It was like entering a time capsule. I was disturbed and amazed at how easily I could reenter the memory. I saw myself, leaned against that desk, slipping my fingers, one at a time, into the grooves in the wood as a distraction. My abuser–my rapist–was not there, only a strange, smooth grey nothingness behind me. It was like my mind wasn’t even going to let me go there, to see his face. I’m actually grateful for that. I imagine my mind saying, “Okay, so you have to relive this a little so you can rewrite it and feel better, but you do not need to see his face. I’ve got your back.”

I was standing in the corner of my bedroom, just at the foot of my bed, and looking across at that girl by the desk, that girl who was me-and-not-me. I saw our dresser. I saw the window–the light outside was, as in most of my memories of X, a strange grey-blue that could have been dawn, dusk, or midnight. In my memories, it is often all three.

S. stopped the buzzers and had me draw a deep breath, as is our custom by now. She asked what I saw, how I felt. Then we started the second round.

This time, the details were clearer–the way the yellow light cast shadows at the corner of the desk, the frayed edges of the area rug behind the dresser. I began to feel angry. I wanted to scream at him to get off her, to let this girl–this child–go. To stop filling her head with bullshit and lies.

I was 18. I’m 29 now. Looking back, I was a baby. I was coming out of this intense childhood full of abuse and anxiety and no one had taught me what a relationship was supposed to look like. The only relationships I saw were dysfunctional ones; later in life, I sought out and clung to what was familiar to me. Unfortunately, what was familiar was also rape-y and weird, which are two words that could pretty accurately sum up my life from ages 17 to 19.

I told S. about my anger. We chatted for a few minutes to decompress, then jumped back in.

This time, I was furious. I was screaming at him, telling him that I am a human being, not something to masturbate into and that I do matter. That I don’t need to perform for anyone. That I am not a dog that does tricks and licks its owner’s boot even after being kicked. 

That my body is mine, and that my ownership means something.

By the end of the session, I found the false belief, the “I don’t matter and I have to do this,” disturbing for a different reason. I find it disturbing that I ever felt that way. And above all, I find it disturbing that another human being was not only capable of doing that to me, but that he enjoyed it.

We’re going to pick up again next Monday. In the meantime, S. told me to keep yelling at him in my head. I left her office with a smile.

You know how in Dogma, Alanis Morissette plays God and absolutely destroys Bartleby with her voice? That’s how the scene with X is going to play out in my head from now on. I’m also picturing the final stanza of “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

I am wishing you a wonderful week filled with ferocity, dear readers! Y’all come back, now, y’hear?

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News Day Tuesday: Jane Doe V. Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Hickman

News Day Tuesday, stigma

For my first News Day Tuesday, I’d like to cover the case of Jane Doe V. Harris County, Texas, and Sheriff Hickman, which I believe is a prime example of the shoddy treatment rape victims receive when they seek help from the justice system. I know that this is not always the case–however, Jane Doe’s case is a particularly egregious example of the abuse that can occur when a mentally ill person is jailed instead of receiving proper mental health care.

You can read the entire transcript here; however, to paraphrase, Jane Doe was raped and had a mental break while testifying against her rapist. She was taken to a psychiatric facility for treatment; however, upon her release, she was arrested and jailed

While in jail, Jane Doe was subjected to physical and psychological harm. She was repeatedly assaulted by both inmates and jailers and denied access to necessary medical treatment, most notably her psychiatric medication.

At one point, jailers tried to convince her that her grip on reality was so distorted that she was the one being charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault and that her rapist was the victim.

Jane Doe later filed a lawsuit against Harris County, Texas, and Sheriff Hickman.

Again, you can read the entire document for yourself here, but please be aware that the content is disturbing and may be distressing to some readers.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it can be a scary and dangerous world for us, the people living with mental illness. I believe even one story like this is too many, and it baffles me that people continue to wonder why rape victims often don’t come forward, let alone pursue charges against their abusers. The risks, simply put, can feel too high for the potential “reward” of seeing their rapist behind bars, especially in a time when having a mental illness is still seen as a character flaw and a punishable offense.

Be safe out there, readers.

Risk!

abuse, Authoress, ptsd, relationships

On November 14, I had the honor of participating in the Risk! podcast live show in Milwaukee. In my story, I talked about the abusive relationship I was in from ages 17 to 19 (tw: there are some kind-of graphic descriptions of rape and abuse). You can check it out here!

I’m not really the most social person and am still pretty shy, so I was extremely nervous about the show. I mean, I didn’t even know I’d been raped until years later, when I learned that rape isn’t just when you scream “No” at a stranger in a dark alley and they force you to have sex with them anyway. It takes so many different forms, and all of them are very real, very legitimate, and very damaging.

But knowing something and believing it are two very different things. I was worried that people would come up to me and go, “That wasn’t rape,” or “That wasn’t even that bad!” Instead, I got an outpouring of support and spent about an hour after the show greeting and connecting with a lovely group of people.

All in all, it was a super-positive experience and it kind of lit a fire for storytelling in me that I didn’t even know I had. One of the women who approached me after the show mentioned a Madison storytelling group, and I might look into that once I get situated in my new job and finish the last of my boring, soul-sucking post-divorce adult stuff.

Have you ever told your story publicly, readers? I’d love to hear from you!

Pain.

a cure for what ails you, abuse, memories, ptsd, relationships

My last pain doctor suggested that my history of abuse (especially sexual abuse) might be the main source of my pelvic pain, along with neuropathy. I have muscular trigger points that cause low pelvic pain, despite having had two injections and a nerve block. It’s true that my endometriosis has progressed from stage one to stage two, after essentially being “reset” by a laparoscopy in March 2011, but I’m taking two forms of birth control to at least slow the progress, if not completely stop it.

I have no more options for controlling or reversing the endometriosis. Lupron didn’t work—all it did was leave me with horrible acne scars on my left cheek and $2,000 poorer. Another surgery is out of the question, mostly because of finances but also because there’s a very good chance it could cause more scarring and adhesions and actually make things worse. All this has led me to reconsider my stance on the mind-body connection, which I’d previously scoffed at.

I was looking up information on pelvic pain related to a history of abuse and found a study on the topic from 2000 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11084180). Some highlights:

  • 22% of patients with chronic pelvic pain were sexually abused before their 15th birthdays
  • 25% of women with chronic pelvic pain were exposed to emotional neglect, especially during childhood
  • 38% were exposed to physical violence

I haven’t written as much about sexual abuse as the other forms I’ve suffered, and I think that’s probably because I still haven’t connected with any of it emotionally. Now that I’m in a functional relationship with a good person who makes me feel safe, appreciated, and generally cared-for, I’m beginning to feel better about myself and more secure and confident in my self-worth.

In short, I think I’m finally ready to talk about it, though in the interest of protecting their privacy, I’m going to avoid all but the vaguest references to abuse within my family.

I’m still not completely sure whether or not I was molested as a child, although more therapists and psychiatrists than you can shake a stick at have all told me that my partial memories, repression, sexual precocity, and general attitudes toward my body and sex are strongly suggestive (no pun intended) of early abuse. I was terrified of men until I was fifteen—I stopped crying and completely losing it around them around age seven or so, but I kept my eyes down, or at least averted, and would cross my arms over my chest and hunch over—anything to keep them from seeing me or even noticing that I was there.

My mother had a boyfriend who made me profoundly uncomfortable from the time I was five until she went to prison a year later.

I remember crying whenever she left me alone with him. They both drank, but I was especially frightened of him. He was tall and overtly masculine in a swarthy sort of way with dark eyes and hairy arms. I will never forget those arms, which I think explains my penchant for mostly hairless men with less testosterone-loaded features.

I have a memory from when I was about five-and-a-half of lying in bed in the room he’d set up for me in his house. (We frequently stayed overnight, and I’d always cry when she insisted I had to go with her.) They’d gone out on a date and had left me alone with his son, who was fifteen at the time and very kind and protective of me. He used to read me books before bed, but because he was pretty severely dyslexic and I was way ahead of the curve in terms of language and reading ability, I usually took over and read him to sleep on the living room floor before putting a blanket over him and tucking myself into bed.

For some reason, I was still awake that night when they came home, albeit in a drowsy twilight state. I remember them opening the door to check on me and seeing the dim, watery yellow light flooding in through the crack in the door. She walked away and he lingered there for a moment. I remember seeing him hesitate, then approach my bed. I remember his dark silhouette against the thin light from the hallway. I remember that hairy arm stretched over my chest, and then everything fades to black. The memory ends there.

It bothers me, not because of the implications but because I pride myself on being annoyingly self-aware and don’t like the idea that my brain, which I know so well, is still hiding things from me. I want to know. I don’t want to know. I’m curious, but I know there’s probably a good reason my brain is blocking that memory. What good would it do, anyway, knowing for sure whether or not anything had happened? I know that he was abusive toward both of us in other ways, and I feel like that should be enough.

But sometimes it’s not.

I’ve written about the other abusers—all four of them, for a grand total of five—in other posts and may revisit the topic later. But for now, I wanted to finally speak out about the one incident from when I was a child that’s still bothering me, that I still haven’t been able to untangle, in hopes that it might strike a chord in one of my readers. I don’t like to think about other people being abused, but I know it’s one of those horrible realities I have no choice but to face, especially since I want to specialize in trauma therapy.

It feels wrong to hope that someone will be able to relate, that they will reach out and that maybe we can have a dialogue and reach some sort of insight together (or at least achieve catharsis), but I feel like it would be incredibly helpful right now. I’ve learned that we need to lean on each other, because no matter how good the intentions of our friends, partners, and families might be, there is no substitute for being able to talk to someone who’s experienced what you’ve been through.

I am here for you, readers. If you need help, I will help as best I can. And if you need to howl into the void, I will be your void.

Anniversary.

abuse, memories

Today is a happy day.

Seven years ago today, at about 9:00 PM, I told my abusive ex that I was leaving him, that I didn’t want to do it anymore, that I didn’t want to live in violent cycles of rejection and acceptance. I told him, for the first time, that his behavior was abusive.

It was terrifying. I had just completed my first year of college and was living at home with my auntmom and grandmother. There had been a huge thunderstorm and the power was out, and I was sitting in my bedroom, back against my bed, staring into the flame of a candle.

I started to feel restless. My aunt-mom was reading in bed, so I wandered into her room and sat down. “I don’t think I want to be with — anymore,” I said slowly, unable to meet her gaze. She nodded and patted my hand. I left and made the phone call.

He threatened suicide several times but some weird strength had possessed me and I called his bluff. The next few weeks were miserable—he blew up my phone, told me he had started smoking and drinking because I’d hurt him so badly, and made comments that made our mutual friends uneasy.

But it passed. It always passes. And today, I am celebrating my freedom and thanking the universe for that out-of-the-blue ferocity I needed to finally make a clean break after two years of hell.

Some thoughts.

abuse, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, therapy

It is physically painful for me when people thank me for writing, or helping them, or tell me I’m brave or a role model. I’m not a role model. I wake up most days hoping to die. I don’t know how or why I’m still alive. D.’s theory is “sheer dumb luck,” and I think he’s right.

I am a junkie. I cold-turkeyed it over a year ago, but not for noble reasons. I stopped because it was no longer taking away the physical and emotional pain in one fell swoop. It simply stopped working, so I quit. That’s all. I still think about it every day and I think I always will. This is one thing I’m proud of, however—that I was able to stop and stay clean despite all the awful things that have happened in the last year.

My therapist told me last night that I’m the toughest woman she’s ever met. She’s in her 60s, so I’m guessing she’s met quite a few people. I’m not tough because I want to be or try to be. I’m tough because of my animalistic survival instinct–in other words, I’m tough because I’ve had to be, not because I want to be.

I vacillate between strong feelings of self-loathing and guilt and equally strong moments of self-esteem where I actually feel good. But those feelings are always tempered by the fear that my meds have stopped working, that I am manic again, that I am going to ruin things and use people up like I have countless times in the past.

Right now, my pride is wounded and I feel terribly alone. I know I have good people in my life who care about me, but none of them can relate to being raped innumerable times and having people blame you for it because you were too afraid to actually say “no,” to trusting someone completely for the first time in your life and having it unravel all at once, to visiting your mother in prison as a child.

On top of it, I’ve been having horrible nightmares again and the partial memory that strongly suggests I was molested by one of my mother’s boyfriends when I was five is beginning to come into focus at a time in my life when rehashing sexual abuse is the last thing I need.

My therapist referred me to a clinic that specializes in sexual abuse and PTSD. I didn’t take it personally—as an aspiring counselor myself, I understood where she was coming from when she said that she didn’t want to risk making things worse because she doesn’t have much experience in sexual abuse or trauma. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that I wasn’t being “fired” as a patient. Therapists, it seems, are the easiest group of people for me to trust. Their motives always seem to be pure, and the confidentiality helps, I think.

I’m thankful for all the support I’ve been getting, both for the blog and in my personal life. Words cannot express how much I appreciate each message and each person who reaches out, whether it’s to reassure me or tell me how I’ve helped them. That’s what keeps me going—fighting the good fight. I want to feel strong. I want to beat this thing. I want to help people. If I can make things even a little lbetter for everyone living with a mental, I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. If you’d told me what I’d be doing now when I was a motherless, lonely child being bullied and dealing with the prodromal phase of bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second.

My family, for all their dysfunctions and refusal to discuss the dark side (the way bipolar disorder has spread like wildfire down through the generations), has been immensely supportive. While there was a rough period when I first started my column in my hometown’s newspaper at age 19, they quickly warmed to it and realized that I was doing something most nineteen-year-olds wouldn’t be capable of and that I was taking all the pain and trying to turn it into something positive.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother and beloved great-aunt and other aunts telling me that I was talented, that I had something special that I needed to hold onto. It’s difficult to believe some days—as we all know, knowing something and believing it to be true are two entirely different things.

But I’m trying. I do what I need to do in order to get through the day. Some days are easier than others. Some feel impossible. I’m a big believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” mindset; while it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s served me well over the years. At the very least, it allows me to save face and present as “normal,” even if I’m completely falling apart on the inside.

It’s another bad weather day in my head, which I guess is my reason for writing this. I also wanted to reach out to all of you and say that I’m here for you, too. I’ll always listen if you need to talk—all you need to do is reach out and I’ll be there. It’s the least I can do.

Affirmations.

a cure for what ails you, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Last summer, I met a wonderful woman completely by chance. I was heading home from a nearby gas station after a cancer run and wished her a good afternoon. I wandered over to her patio, noticed she was reading a book called “Fuck It Therapy,” and struck up a conversation.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to drop by for chats, and she revealed that she’s been journaling about her life for several decades—no small feat! I was particularly impressed because I’m notorious for purchasing pretty journals in hopes of actually sticking with the one-entry-a-day plan, only to give up after a week or two. She invited me to leaf through them, and I happened upon an entry where she’d written a list of affirmations.

They resonated with me because she’d managed to put to paper the types of things I tell myself when I’m feeling particularly low—things I’m good at, things I like about myself, and so on. But her entry contained one vital piece that my own thoughts were lacking (disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing here) : I am worthy of being loved not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because I am human.

I’ve been even more introspective than usual over the last few weeks (if that’s even possible) and have been ruminating about what’s behind these words. It occurred to me that while I may tell myself these things, I’ve never stopped to digest what they mean, particularly in the context of my life.

It’s an important thing to consider, but it’s been particularly helpful recently because I’ve been feeling pretty low and down on myself. I’ve been having nightmares about the rapes almost every night and on top of it, the formerly repressed and still-patchy memory of possible molestation that I’ve been carrying around since I was five years old is starting to come into focus.

My ex-husband is seeing someone new; this person is wonderful, but I’ve been comparing myself to vim a lot, and as a result, my self-worth and self-esteem have been taking a huge hit. Combined with my brain “thawing out” and the defense mechanisms lowering a bit, life hasn’t exactly been easy lately. We had a good chat this afternoon, the first discussion we’ve had since we split in September that’s left me feeling loved and cared-for. I’d been seeing myself as a failure, something not meant to be happy or loved because I’ve been through too much. I am spiky and emotionally cagey and, as of the last few months, unable to handle physical touch from anyone outside my family without having a mini panic attack and dissociating even more. (It’s worth noting that I still consider D. family, and vice-versa; you can’t go through what we’ve been through and not remain close to the other person, even if you’re no longer romantically involved.)

But I have bright spots most days, even if they don’t last that long. I’m starting to see my worth as a person, totally independent of the J. who survived decades of abuse and plays the piano well and is bilingual and a writer and applying to grad school to become a therapist, the J. who is pretty and funny and interesting and outgoing, even if the “outgoing” part is often affected.

Humans deserve to be loved. We need love. We need affection. Every person on this earth, no matter how objectively terrible they may be, is worthy of love and care.

This revelation makes me feel better about my decision to become a therapist, as “misanthrope” and “counselor” are a somewhat unusual pairing. But I’ve been capable of stashing my inner life away in favor of objectivity for most of my life, so I’m hopeful that my ability to compartmentalize will help me in the long run. The fact that I can think of literally every person other than myself in such a positive light seems laughable, but I guess we’re all our own worst critics.

Baby steps, baby steps. Where are you in your journey to loving yourself?

Last night, I felt dirty.

abuse, ptsd

I felt weird for most of the day yesterday, and the actual “dirty” feelings set in sometime late that afternoon. I’ve felt this way before, but not in a long time, and I’m still not sure what triggered it.

I spent an hour or so lying in bed last night feeling as though my skin was too tight for my body. I couldn’t relax and the feeling kept getting worse. This is what rape does to you.

I still have no idea whether or not I was molested as a child. As I’ve explained in previous posts, every therapist and psychiatrist I’ve seen, as well as quite a few of the people in my life, think that it’s extremely likely that something happened (based on my attitudes toward sex, my body, relationships, and my general well-being, as well as my sexual precocity and early sexual behavior).

I don’t know. I have flashes of memory, thirty-second clips of film that play inside my head at all-too-frequent intervals, but there’s nothing conclusive. I’ve recovered a few memories of my mother’s arrest, but that’s all. With that in mind, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to assume that there’s more lying dormant inside my head that I can’t access. I pride myself on being incredibly self-aware, which makes my inability to grasp at these memories all the more frustrating.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever feel clean again. Ages 17 to 19 were particularly horrible, and though I know that everyone makes mistakes, the abuse and my subsequent promiscuity take more of a toll on me than I’d like. I keep most of this discomfort from others and only confide in a select few people. As always, I’m extremely comfortable telling pretty much everyone about what happened, but I always conveniently neglect to discuss my feelings in the narrative. No one asks, and frankly, it’s a relief. As long as I don’t let emotion sneak into the equation, I can remain detached and objective, which is pretty much my default state anyway thanks to the dissociation.

I try very hard not to let myself get lost in my own head, but I find it happening more and more frequently these days. I know it’s my mind finally processing the sexual abuse, but I’m a little lost as to what to actually do about it. 

Rape is the ugliest word in the English language.

I remember.

abuse, explanations, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

I remember the way the cold March wind felt against my pale blue spring jacket as I stood alone on the playground, looking up at the dead trees creating a black labyrinth against the white sky.

I remember that wind, warmer now, ruffling my hair on an overcast day.

I remember rainy early-summer days where it was so dark outside, the lights in the living room were on and cast a soft glow on the miniature city I’d constructed with my figurines.

I remember painting the room overlooking the garden at my friend’s house. It was, again, overcast, and the coolness of the dark hardwood floors beneath my feet, spattered with seafoam paint, was the most wonderful thing I’d ever felt.

I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood at sunset after a thunderstorm, inhaling the heavy air and taking time to admire the myriad of colors in the oil spots on the wet pavement as if committing each one to memory.

I remember waking up in my mother’s boyfriend’s house in the spare bedroom he’d made just for me. They had just returned from a date. I remember seeing the door open, his frame silhouetted against the yellow light of the hall, and then nothing.

I remember my very first mixed episode. I was fourteen and stressing over what outfit to wear to a “graduation from middle school” party a wealthy friend was throwing. In my frustration, I grabbed a coat hanger, desperate and aching and crying and full of rage, and slashed up my upper arms. I wore a sweater in May.

I remember waking up before dawn and walking to my aunt’s station wagon in the frigid air. I piled blankets and my chapter books into the back in preparation for the two-hour ride to the penitentiary where my mother was being held.

I remember the twelve years during which my mother and I communicated only by phone and letters.

I remember going up to see her at age 19 with my new boyfriend, who later became my husband. She was already drunk when we picked her up, but I think we had a pretty good time.

I remember when my great-aunt died. She was like a mother to me. I got the news early in the morning on the day I planned to visit her in the nursing home, then promptly sat down and churned out a 20-page psychoanalysis of Dorian Gray. Then, I spent the next two weeks crying. We sent out our wedding invitations the day before her funeral.

I remember the first time a boy ever hit me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy ever told me I was worthless. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy raped me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the last day I cut myself: December 16, 2013.

I remember the first time I felt stable and glad to be alive in years; it was three weeks ago.

 

Baby steps, readers. Don’t let anyone tell you your past doesn’t matter; it is your story and has made you who you are. Just don’t let it repeat itself.

Stay safe and lovely, readers.

– J

I’ve been feeling like a raw, exposed nerve lately.

ptsd

I’ve been dealing with a particularly ugly batch of memories lately, one that I should have dealt with sooner: the sexual abuse/coercive rape in an otherwise abusive relationship I was involved in during my teens, and a sexual assault that occurred last summer.

Let’s back up. I had my initial consultation at a local pain clinic last Thursday, and while the attitudes of the doctor and his PA were certainly off-putting and had me feeling as though I was on trial, guilty of something, it was one particular portion of the physical exam that triggered me.

From what I understand, physicians are supposed to begin with “neutral voice, neutral touch” when approaching “private” areas. The first portion was okay, though the pressure on my lower abdomen caused quite a bit of pain (I have endometriosis, which is why I was there in the first place). The problematic part came when the doctor instructed me to sit up. Then, instead of letting me know what he was going to do before he did it, he slid his hands up my skirt, onto my inner thighs, pushed my legs apart, and then sat back to wait.

“Push your legs together and let me know if it causes pain,” he said. I did; no pain. There wasn’t any actual inappropriate contact; it was just the circumstances (abrupt touch and being in a closed room with two men who had already put me on edge with their accusatory attitudes) that happened to trigger me. The part that baffles me is that he kept referencing my bipolar disorder and (especially) my PTSD. He had a problem with the fact that my mood stabilizers put a damper on most of his plans for treatment and wasn’t afraid to tell me so.

The worst part was when, upon noticing my escalating anxiety, began commenting on my PTSD and saying that I need to find coping methods, need to work with a therapist, and so on. As he was heading out the door at the end of the visit, after we’d discussed a procedure involving a nerve block (which he had initially said would require only a local anesthetic), he looked over his shoulder and said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll want you very sedated for that procedure.” By this point, I was a nervous wreck; my hands were shaking and I had pushed myself as far back in the chair as I could, trying to make myself as small as possible.

I’ve put in a call to the complaint department and have asked for a new doctor, though I haven’t heard back yet on either count.

Moving on, I finally confessed (is “confessed” the right word?) to my family about the rapes and the assault. My mother and auntmom were infuriated but not surprised, considering they hated the guy I was dating at the time and knew I was being abused, though they never really tried to intervene. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering I wouldn’t have listened at the time, anyway; as we all know, abusive relationships come with a lot of brainwashing. On Sunday, I also “came out” to another aunt about many of the things I’ve kept hidden from my family for the past seven years, including the sexual abuse, the trauma I suffered as a child, the bullying, and the miscarriage I had at five weeks when I was 19.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying couple of days and I’m struggling to get back on my feet and regain my characteristic toughness. But dealing with all of this so directly and all at once has definitely taken its toll; I feel anxious when left alone and, unfortunately, have found myself feeling apprehensive around men over the last few days. D. and I were unloading bags from the car this morning and there was a portly man in overalls, a stained t-shirt, and a John Deere cap—basically, the stereotypical “farmer” type you see around here—standing next to his pickup truck in the parking space two away from ours. He was staring at me. He didn’t move, he didn’t smile, he didn’t say anything. He just stood there and stared.

Normally, I would have met his gaze fearlessly and unflinchingly until he looked away or left, but today, I just….couldn’t. I put my head down and kept my eyes locked on the ground as I walked as quickly as possible toward the building, thankful that management recently added locks to the outermost doors as well. D. followed close behind and agreed that the guy had been creepy, but the commiseration didn’t help much; I felt dirty for a while and hated myself for bitching out, for not being able to act like the bold broad everyone seems to think I am.

Right now, I feel vulnerable, exposed, weak. That incident on Thursday ripped me wide open and I don’t know how to close it up this time. I’m not sure why my mind decided now was the perfect time to deal with things that happened six years ago (though the sexual assault was last summer), but at least I have the wisdom to know that all I can do is cope to the best of my ability and ride it out.

If any other survivors of rape/sexual abuse/sexual assault/whatever you want to call it have any tips for coping, I would love to hear them.

Stay strong. Stay beautiful.