Content warning: sexual assault, obviously. This is also probably tediously long so, I’m sorry.
Today at work, I gleefully announced to my co-worker that I was so excited to go home tonight and do absolutely nothing. At the ripe, young, hard-partying age of 23, I pride myself at always leaving at least one weekend evening all to myself. It’s my time of sabbath in a life and a week that is otherwise packed full of obligations and social time (I was just saying to my cats, as I got home at 10pm last night, “Think about how much more time I’d have if I didn’t volunteer!”).
The last few weeks have been hard, emotionally & mentally, and I feel like I’ve been perpetually exhausted. I’ve been very late to work, unable to get out of bed, just laying there lost in thought and feeling. I’ve been going to bed early, tired of being in thought and feeling. It all started when that stupid, horrific, disgusting 2005 Donald Trump tape was leaked, in which he admits to (and brags about) sexually assaulting women. I never even listened to the tape – I don’t intentionally put myself in situations where I may trigger – but suddenly, everyone was talking about it. The social media posts were bad, and not always avoidable. But everyone was just talking about it, anywhere you went. Friends, family, co-workers, bartenders, people at church, people at parties, people I don’t even know. And regardless of what they were saying, people were talking and so many words were being thrown around. It was (and is) unavoidable.
I hear a lot about how overly-sensitive our culture is. I read articles about how college classrooms can no longer teach because everything has to have a “trigger warning” slapped on it. I have a mixed bag of feelings on this and can see both points of view. But I also know what it’s like to walk into a situation unknowing.
Today as I walked home from work, I was thinking about a time during my senior year of college. I was watching a documentary in my feminist media studies class. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that my professor didn’t tell the class that it could trigger past experiences with rape or sexual assault (she previously had warned us about a different documentary we watched; I skipped it). I remember absolutely nothing about the documentary, I only remember everything that came after. I don’t know how I made it most of the way home. I stood on the train barely holding myself together, collecting pieces of myself, my humanity, my worth, my experiences, my wholeness, just trying to keep them all pushed snugly together. I called my boyfriend as soon as I got to the station platform, begging with him to come pick me up, I couldn’t make it home any further.
I remember crying on the platform. I remember at least two kind men approaching me, concerned, asking if I was okay. I remember completely breaking down as soon as I got into my boyfriend’s car. He had seen me like this so many times before, he was not alarmed anymore. He stayed calm, as he always did, and present. By the time we pulled up to my house, I was screaming with pain and terror, unable to breathe. I remember looking out the window of the car and seeing my neighbour, who was out doing yard work, standing and watching me as I screamed and sobbed. We made eye contact between tears. I have no idea what I looked like to the outside looking in, but my boyfriend (good, sweet, gentle, forgiving J, whose eyes could calm raging seas) sat with me as I lost it, and then, eventually, collected myself again, as I always do.
These attacks usually leave me out of it for days to weeks. They are so emotionally draining that I have to go to bed immediately afterwards. Sometimes I cannot get out of bed the next day, or the next two days. Sometimes I need a full week of rest before I am fully present again.
I don’t remember how long it took for me to recover from this one, but I do remember that I dropped my professor a note asking that, in the future, she put a trigger warning on that documentary too.
I rarely have these attacks anymore. They used to be a very regular part of my life, until I changed my surroundings and equipped myself with tools to lessen the surprise, the attack. I had two this summer and felt like I was very nearly going to lose it again. I stayed in bed fearful that I was reverting back to my old self. I wasn’t. But it was enough to remind me the severity of living this life, in this world.
So, these past few weeks have been hard. I’ve been hearing stuff about sexual assault being punted around everywhere. And regardless of people’s opinions on it, whether they’re progressive and understanding, or misogynistic and troubling, it is hard. As I watched the third presidential debate on Wednesday night, I found myself gasping for air. As Chris Wallace brought up the allegations against Trump for sexual assault, I watched as a powerful, disgusting, privileged white man rattled off all the tropes about how sexual assault does not exist. “They’re lying.” “I do not even know them.” “I would never do that.” “They just want money and fame.” “Their accusations are illegal.”
I don’t know how to describe the feeling I got. I was texting with someone as it happened and in the middle of our conversation (about the debate), I interjected with, “OMG. HAIR PULLING. CRYING. DESTROYING APARTMENT.” This wasn’t actually how I was feeling. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to say that I wanted to destroy my apartment. But actually, I felt sad and empty. I felt like a piece of my identity, my soul, my self, my struggles and trials, my strength, my defiance, I felt it being pulled out from my stomach. I felt empty and small and lost and so very alone.
This wasn’t a full panic attack, like I’ve had so many times before. It was a small attack on the psyche, like I’ve been suffering from so much in the past weeks, ever since that tape got released. It’s so hard to be immune from this as it is, when we live in a culture where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be the victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Immunity is seemingly impossible. But usually the blows are small, and come as little pinpricks that heal quickly enough, and you don’t hemorrhage or fall apart.
Last Saturday, as my friend as I sat on a patio for one of the last chances of the season, he asked me how I’ve been doing, with all the press about sexual assault. Am I doing okay? This is one of my sweetest friends; I’ve adored him ever since I first met him at a (non-Halloween) party in college, where I was dressed like a frog. My heart already feels so full when I am with him, but, as he checked in on my well-being, I could feel my heart warming and swelling even more. “It’s been hard,” I said, grasping for words. No one had asked me that, even though I was acutely aware of how troubling things had been lately. The pinpricks were accumulating, constantly stabbing over and over, quicker than they could heal. I wasn’t hemorrhaging or falling apart, but there was a constant pain, exhaustion, weariness. I was shuttering myself in more so than usual.
It’s been hard, but I’ve been taking measures of self-care along the way. Bubble baths, journaling, bingeing Gilmore Girls, making soup, quiet yoga sessions. And tonight, I have a time of sabbath and healing. It’s Friday night and I am young and should be free to the world. Instead I am happily at home unwinding, healing, taking care, and intentionally rewinding myself.
Check in with your people who may be having a hard time these past few weeks. We need words of caring.