Updated: Dec 17, 2021
My story of sexual assault, its affect on my mental health, and a silver lining.
On social media platforms today, it's easy to portray life as fantastic rainbows and butterflies through photos and videos, all love and light. When in reality there are many of us struggling behind these screens. Positivity is a beautiful thing, but where there's light follows a darkness that not all are comfortable seeing. Some of the most monumental minds have known great struggle. Hellen Keller for example said, "Although the world is full of suffering. It is also full of the overcoming of it." Often the people who have suffered the most, go on to be the strongest, most loving and compassionate human beings because they can understand and empathize with the emotions of another.
Maybe now is a good time to openly say, I've had my share of struggling with my own mental health since the age of 16. People have different ways of coping, drugs, alcohol, exercise, caffeine, tv, sleep, staying busy, etc. I've found travelling to be a successful remedy, a change in perspective to help me see that things aren't always as bad as they seem. Surely someone out there has experienced worse, so I return with a new appreciation for what I have and a fire for this life I am fortunate enough to live. I've made many friends and had some incredible experiences, but I've also had equally terrible experiences. Accepting some of these darker truths has motivated me to be a bit more real and honest about a few of the things I've encountered in my life and what I have learned from them.
Having been raised to embrace a "why not" dream-like attitude, I do realize that I'm very lucky to have had a beautiful childhood and parents who've worked hard to save for my schooling. Because of this support I've built confidence in my abilities, and been able to invest most of my earnings into foreign adventures and new experiences. Travelling alone is what I enjoy most, I feel free because no one knows my name. I can experience different ways of living, choose to adopt recipes and traditions that I like, and most importantly enhance my perspective. Some may say that I have broadened my horizons past the point of being "normal", but what is normal anyway?
With that being said, I'm a very open minded person but not naive to the unforgiving ways of the world and motivations of other people. I've learned to take proper safety precautions when travelling, spend the extra money when necessary, and trust that I can gauge my own level of comfort accordingly. I do not however, make a habit of living in fear. Sometimes making a mistake is a more valuable lesson than playing it safe, because in life you fail, you learn and you grow.
I grew up figure skating, spending most mornings before and after school on the ice. My coach in his old age used to throw skate guards at us if we didn't have our arms up, and has also made all of my friends cry. He did however drill a very valuable life lesson into my head "when you fall down you get back up and try and try again, no one else can do that for you." Recently I have fallen down very hard in life, and remembering these words helped me through a rough time. Ultimately you choose how you respond to any given situation, you choose the habits you foster, the food you put into your body, the information you read, and the perspectives you adopt. I try to see the world through an optimistic and positive lens. I get a kick out of finding the silver lining in almost any situation by simply believing the world is an intricate puzzle of people, woven together to learn different lessons from each other. I also have the saying "everything happens for a reason" ingrained in my brain (thanks mom).
Not telling my stories and speaking up feels equivalent to brushing them under the rug and pretending that they never happened. But this is not really about me, it's about a very real world issue that affects every country, race, age and gender. Sexual harassment and assault has been a reoccurring theme in my life, beginning in my teenage years. I've been inappropriately grabbed in a bar in Europe, catcalled nearly every time I walked outside alone in SE Asia, and in my own country I've been held down against my will and made to feel guilty for saying the word "NO." The worst of my experiences happened at an all inclusive resort, after I was roofied by a bartender. Jet lagged, I'd woken up from a nap and decided to attend the last half hour of a pool party. I ordered a drink and retreated to a quiet corner to keep an eye on my drunk roommate dancing in the pool. Unfortunately I was heavily drugged to the point of losing consciousness, taken to a hotel 45 minutes away and raped by three of the resort workers. Waking up very disoriented and unclothed laying in the bottom of a tiled shower, I quickly grabbed a towel and ran.
Luckily I did recognize where I was, and found my way back to the safety of my hotel room. I felt unsure and scared of knowing what had just happened, so I pushed the few details I could remember to the back of my mind and said nothing to my family and friends. I blamed myself for a long time. The months following this event revealed the rather violent truth of my situation through flashbacks and the detrimental effects it had on my mental health. I experienced severe PTSD including; many panic attacks, manic mood swings, depression & suicidal thoughts, short term memory loss, muscle tension, insomnia & nightmares, and extreme anger towards men. I couldn't handle the stress of daily life, manage a full time job, I quit school, and isolated myself from everyone. Trying too hard to be ok made things a lot worse and it took a while before I could actually accept that this had happened to me.
Fortunately, things did change for the better when I showed myself some compassion and grabbed back onto the reigns of my life. I've since spent months in talk therapy, art therapy and have seen many different types of practitioners. I'm very happy to now be able to manage my body's response to stress without the use of medication by controlling my diet, and using massage therapy, acupuncture & herbal medicine, while continuing my studies in the realm of natural health and preventative medicine. It was a humbling experience to say the least, I can now understand and empathize with so many women and men who are struggling with the same issues. Statistically 1 in 6 women are raped, these stats do not include unreported situations like my own.
Now I not only understand this trauma but have found understanding the reasons for it to be a remedy for my anger. Hurt people, hurt people. I don't condone the actions of these men by any means, but it's also not my job to judge them. So I ask myself this question, how can someone respect another person's body and freedom of choice if they don't respect their own? Having no idea who they are, I can’t know what's happened to them in their lives to make them feel like it's ok to treat me this way. It must be a cold and dark world where they live. At least I’ve known love, and beautiful moments with family and friends. I held onto those memories when I felt scared and alone, in my own stubbornness. In the end I’ve realized that I am not afraid of these men, I feel sorry for them and I hope they are faced with situations and lessons that teach them what the word respect means.
By now I’m sure you're waiting to hear the silver lining in this one. This situation and major life event has been a huge catalyst for my personal growth and development. My experience with PTSD forced me to stop, listen and learn what my body needed to be ok. Before this, I was so busy running through life that I never stopped to take the time to respect and appreciate my mind, my body and everything they do for me. Having developed a beautiful relationship with myself, my mental health improved significantly the day I began to take responsibility for myself by understanding that my needs are valid. Whether it be rest, movement, hot food, a hug, a good long hike, alone time in the garden, or chamomile tea over coffee. I’ve realized I want to spend my life helping other people develop a sense of peace and belonging within their bodies.
Finally, I’ve learned that anger and resentment make you bitter, but compassion and forgiveness set you free. I want to say thank you to new friends, old friends and my amazing family who have shown me nothing but love and support through this time. I love you guys <3