part 1

I lost my virginity when I was 20.

There was nothing romantic or charming about it. It wasn’t done after a long, intimate talk or some “connection”. No. I lost my virginity at the age of 20 through a whirl of pain, fear, panic and a hazy thought of, “Oh my God, why is this happening to me?”

You see, at the age of 20, I was raped. This event was made all the more painful by the fact that I was a virgin. I had escaped social and peer pressure, had protected myself during a time when girls in my middle and high school were getting knocked up left and right. I was proud of myself for being a virgin, not because our society does or doesn’t value a girl’s virginity, but because it meant that I hadn’t allowed myself to be pressured into sex by a guy who would do and say anything to get me to sleep with him. I wasn’t necessarily proud of my virginity; I was proud of my willpower to resist.

It took me years to figure out what had happened, mostly because I refused to confront it myself. I was the type that followed the mantra “out of sight, out of mind”; if I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t bother me. I was back to a smiling, laughing, joking girl barely two days after the attack. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed. What would people say? I decided that if I pretended it didn’t happen, it would never bother me.

Unconsciously though, I did question it. I questioned why it had happened. I began to read up on stories about how many people in nursing homes were raped every year. I recoiled at at the number of little girls who were abused by their own fathers. When we imagine a typical bar scene, you don’t see guys looking at an obese girl and saying, “Damn, I’d tap that”. And yet physical appearance doesn’t seem to play much of a role in rape. Anyone can be raped. Why?

Rape involves sex. Yes, I won’t deny that. Rape, by definition, is when someone uses force or threats to have sex with someone else. But the mentality behind rape is not sex. It’s about power. Control. Being (pardon the pun) on top.

He was older than me. He wasn’t good-looking, perhaps more plain than average, but he was charming and sweet. Initially, he appeared wise and mature, a result of both age and experience. He was thoughtful. On particularly rough emotional nights, he’d drive over as fast as he could to be there and hold my hand.

And then he wanted to have sex. It started out rather jokingly. He’d try to put his hand down my shirt. He’d try to unbutton my jeans. I’d push his hand away, half-laughing, half not. He took it rather good-naturedly. Then it became more insistent. He would begin to complain whenever I stopped him. He would randomly buy condoms and leave them around for me to find. His idea of a good joke was to put a condom in my wallet and have it fall out onto the floor of a crowded restaurant. He would buy condoms and leave the empty boxes around for his roommates to find. He would buy flavored condoms and insist that I would like how they tasted. When I complained or protested that these things made me uncomfortable, he would tell me to lighten up.

After a while, I began to question myself. Was it my duty, as his girlfriend, to offer my body to him? Was I obligated to have sex with him simply because he was my significant other? Was that what was expected of all girlfriends? Was I really the one who was wrong?

But then I had another thought. What was stopping me from sleeping with this guy anyway? I already knew the answer though. I just didn’t want to admit it. But I didn’t trust the guy. I didn’t like his pressure, his authoritative-ness, his threats, his condescending manner. He didn’t care that some of the things he did got me in trouble, as long as I did what he wanted me to do. Class at 8AM? Who cares, I was going to stay on the phone with him until he fell asleep, even if it took 4 hours. Went over on my minutes? Then stop calling other people.

All those screamed a neon-red “WATCH OUT”. So why was I still with him then? Part of it was an issue that I’ve discovered many girls have: I didn’t want to face being single and alone. It’s a stupid reason, but those first few weeks are hard because a sense of comfortable security is gone. The other reason, in part, was fear. I wasn’t afraid he would hurt me. I actually didn’t think he was capable of doing any physical harm to me. I was more afraid of the fact that he would insist on coming by and that we would argue. He would make threats. I would cry. He would be immediately contrite and try to soothe me. And then insist that we shouldn’t break up because “obviously you still have feelings for me.” I didn’t want him to crumble my resolve to end the relationship. I was afraid to admit that I was weak and afraid.

I may have been 20, but God, was I naive about love and relationships. I didn’t trust my own strength and willpower.

Eventually, he moved out-of-state for work. Our already failing relationship was rapidly declined. And I finally got the nerve to say it. I wanted to break up.

He didn’t take it well, and I didn’t expect him to. I felt slightly guilty for dropping that on him when he had just moved out-of-state, but I knew that if he were anywhere nearby, I wouldn’t be able to gather to courage to say it. After hours of arguing, he finally pleaded with me to at least break up with him in person. He would drive down the next day and we would end it properly, like civilized adults. No phones, no Internet. Just face-to-face, like two mature people. He asked that we talk in private, because he didn’t like arguing in front of other people. This was something I knew to be true of him, so I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I didn’t like arguing in front of other people either. So I agreed.

I never regretted a decision more.

I don’t recall much of what happened that day. There are still big blank spots in my head that I don’t want to recall. Oh, I remember that the conversation started out civilly enough. I remember how nervous I felt as I stared at my hands and told him in a trembling voice that I wanted to break up. I wasn’t sure why I felt nervous. I attributed it to the fact that I am horrible at confrontation and this one was one of the least pleasant ones I had to do.

His immediate response was, “Why?”. I didn’t want to drag the conversation on. I had already laid out my reasons the night before, I didn’t see why he needed to hear them again. But I told him again anyway. With each reason, I saw his face become darker. And then… And then I brought up the sex. How I didn’t like that he was pressuring me. How I wish he could have respected my boundaries more, but he only laughed at them. How I didn’t appreciate the little condom jokes he played. I didn’t want to have sex with him because I wasn’t comfortable with him and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t respect that.

Maybe I could have said that a little more tactfully. Maybe if I hadn’t let the words rush out of my mouth in such a raw and bitter way, things wouldn’t have gone the way they did. But the words were out and I remember my heart pounding because I had never spoken to anyone like that before.

The next thing I knew, I was on the floor. I remember the sharp pain on my face as he slapped me. I remember the tears, the feel of his hand over my mouth. I remember the panic because he was strong, so much stronger than me. I remember wondering why I couldn’t pull away, why no amount of fighting or kicking or screaming made any difference. I remember the words: liar, bitch, slut, whore – each one piercing through my heart like a knife.

I don’t remember the rest of it. I don’t want to remember what actually happened. I don’t need to know because I already know what happened. I don’t want to recall the more painful details.

As he was about to leave, I remember huddled on the floor, covered in tears, blood and God knows what else. I couldn’t cry anymore. My throat was raw from trying to scream so much. My body ached from bruises that wouldn’t show up until later. And yet I needed to know.

Why? Why did he do this?

I’ll never forget what he said. To this day, it still haunts me.

“I thought that’s what you wanted.”

And then he left.

Why?

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i’m (NOT) okay

“How are you doing?”

“I’m okay.”

No one wants to hear about your shitty day. If someone asks you how your day is, you’re not supposed to tell them about how you were late to work for the third time this week because all three of your children are desperately sick and you’re basically a single mom with a workaholic husband who prefers to be at work than at home. Come on, no one fucking CARES.

We don’t look at a person with bleary, puffy, blood-shot eyes and ask if she’s okay. We look away and and pretend not to notice.

As more of the people around me find out about my mental issues, more people ask me how I’m doing. I rarely say that I’m struggling or that I’ve been having bad thoughts again. I rarely say I wish I could crawl under a rock and never come out. I don’t talk about how crazy school is and the endless drama between the staff and students. I don’t tell people about how heartbreaking some of the things I see at the hospital are. Mostly because people don’t ask. Mostly because the people who do ask don’t want to know.

Asking “How are you” has become the equivalent of “Hi, can we chat/something crazy happened and I want to tell you about it.” Sometimes, I’ve tried being honest, saying things are tough and I’m having a hard time. Usually the response I get is, “Oh that really sucks :(” and then after a prolonged silence: “Well I hope you’re okay.”

Uh, excuse me? No, I’m not fucking okay, did I not just make that clear? Didn’t I just say I wasn’t okay, which is one time out of the 500 times you ask me how I’m doing? If you’re going to throw blanket statements at me, why do you even bother asking me how I’m doing?  I’m NOT okay, isn’t that obvious? I’m NOT okay, NOT okay, AT ALL. Does that not matter to anyone?

But as usual, I can’t really blame everyone else for it either. Most people don’t know how to respond to, “No, I’m not okay.” What do you say when your friend tells you about how much she’s struggling to survive? Or that a particular case brought up a slew of unwanted and uncherished memories?

I, too, want to be able to express my emotions just as they are. I want to be able to say, “I’m not feeling okay. But I don’t know why.” I want to be able to honestly say, “I’m feeling miserable and sad and for the love of God, don’t judge me for the reasons.”

I want people to stop asking how someone is doing just to be polite. I want people to ask because they mean it and they really want to know. I want people to want to know and really care because it hurts to know that people don’t.

I’m not okay, guys. I’m really not okay.

And I’m sorry this turned out to be a rant. I was a little tipsy when I wrote this.

support system

This hasn’t been an easy road. I’ve wondered if this roller coaster is worth it because, wow, it really is a roller coaster. When you go up a hill, you feel that little twinge of excitement, fear and apprehension. You’re not really sure what to expect. It could be thrilling or it could be absolutely terrible. And that drop where everything on the inside stops…. imagine just being on a roller coaster all day. Sure, a 2 minute ride is fun and thrilling. But imagine now that you’re stuck on it. You can’t get off. You need to wait at least 3 months before you can get off and back on somewhat solid ground.

How fun is THAT, right?

The problem with mental illness is that people don’t see it quite like a regular disease. As much as I have believed that things have gotten better, there’s still a lot of stigma and fear. Sure, we’re a lot more open-minded than my parents’ generation used to be, but of course I still hear people ask, “Why can’t you take care of it on your own? It’s all just in your head, right?”

Yes. Yes, I am fortunate that I am not schizophrenic. I am fortunate that I am severely bipolar. It’s depression. It’s sadness. It’s just a low unhappiness that everyone will go through at least once in his or her lifetime. And maybe that’s why people have a hard time seeing “depression” as an actual disease. Why get worried over something that seems to be a normal emotional range?

But it should be alarming. We shouldn’t dismiss it. It’s not okay to just say, “Oh get over it. Deal with it. You’ll be fine. This won’t last long.” Or my personal favorite that I get as a girl: “It’s just that time of the month. ALL girls get like that.”

It’s tough. What is this lack of support? Why do people so easily dismiss this? That’s a somewhat rhetorical question because I kind of know the answer. Part of it, as I see it, is because it’s hard to figure out when people complain for attention or when they’re actually depressed. I’ve dealt with both and given my time and energy to both and both were equally exhausting. After years and years, I finally cut off the attention-seeker because things became so toxic and draining. I was upset, hurt and annoyed that I had tried to be supportive to someone who actually didn’t need my support. She just wanted to brag.

But for the friend that truly needed me, I didn’t mind. For the attention-seeker, I spent 10 years. For the one who needed me, less than a year. Yeah. I can see why people want to dismiss it.

Support isn’t everything. But it’s just so important. Support can’t save everyone. Sometimes, mental illness is so severe that just as with any physical illness, that person cannot be saved. But sometimes, more than hospitalization, more than medication, support can be all someone needs to survive.

I can attest to that. Since I was 9, I took it upon my awkward, preteen (not even preteen!), hormone-confused self to shoulder my depression on my own. I thought it was something I can handle and work through. It was in my head. It was puberty. Puberty was distracting me from school and I was getting bad grades and THAT was why I felt so depressed. It had nothing to do with my mental well-being. And it was brutal hell. More times than I can count, I hit rock-bottom. Hurting myself was pretty common. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. What pain? The pain of having no idea of what was going on with me. Remind me to get more into that one day.

But I managed to survive. How? I want to say I was smart. I didn’t go too far with the hurting. That’s why most suicides are labeled “accidental”; they didn’t mean for it to go too far. And I was able to barely survive through school.

Then I started graduate school. And this program, good grief, it brought out the worst in me. Every day, I questioned myself about my self-worth. Everything. EVERYTHING. Blew up. I was this close. THISCLOSE to losing it all.

Then… through some great miraculous intervention, I found a tiny group of support. It trickled in one person at a time, but within three months, I had a small, compact, solid group of support that helped me get back to a reasonable level. Things began to stabilize.

I don’t know if i would have survived the last three months without my support. I can see a very bleak end in the parallel universe, one that I’m very glad that I avoided. Things aren’t perfect. I still have my moods. I still feel the emotional pain. But at least now, I have people who will be there and hear me out. I know they won’t judge me. I know they’ll listen. I know they’ll offer their ear, even if they can’t offer any advice. I’m still here now because I had people who would just listen to me.

I can’t encourage it enough with all of you guys out there, too. I didn’t want it. I spent 17 years avoiding support. But I now know it’s not really weakness. It’s vulnerability. They aren’t the same.

You don’t have to know how to deal with a person who is depressed. You don’t have to share your life story with friends. We just need someone who will listen and be there. Just like with the medications, if you can find that one right group that will understand, things can stay afloat.

Support systems. Who knew how much of an impact the right people could make.

let’s build a snowman

Back when I was still an undergrad, I used to do pretty risky stuff. I pulled multiple all-nighters. In a row. I ate dorm food. For every meal. I started research papers three hours before they were due (and miraculously finished them). I ingested more coffee in a day than most people do in a week.

I was obviously living life on the edge. Oh yeah, I was a rebel like that.

But one of the riskiest things I used to do was take walks.

I know, right? YOLO, people.

No but really, one of the riskiest things I used to do was take walks. Why was this risky? Because I usually took them by myself at approximately 2 or 3 in the morning and I didn’t have a set place to walk. I walked all over the La Jolla/San Diego area. Or rather, as much of it as I could before the sun came up. There are more times than I can count that an officer pulled up next to me and asked if I was alright because I was walking around alone in the wee hours of the morning like a crazy person.

Sometimes, if my roommate was awake, she’d go with me. But usually, I went alone because she would sleep way before I did. And I didn’t know who else to ask. Who would want to take a walk with me at midnight, much less at two in the morning? Who would want to wander aimlessly around the city, in the temperamental San Diego weather, talking about nothing and doing nothing?

My penchant for walks in the early morning hours has not changed. Sometimes I want to sneak out of my house and just take a walk all around my city. But even though my city is much safer than San Diego is, the trails that I want to walk are a lot riskier because of the lack of people and no lights. So the obvious solution is going with a friend. But what kind of friend wants to take a walk with a mentally unstable girl at 1 in the morning through gravelly horse trails?  I tried to ask one of my friends to take a walk with me, but I couldn’t even get the words out. Can you imagine how that would sound?

“Hey, you wanna take a walk right now? Yeah I know it’s 1 AM. Yes I know you have work and I have school. Please?”

So I sat in my car and listened to the rain instead. I guess these walks are not one to be shared just yet.

positive thinking and mister optimist

I once talked about how I have fairly well-meaning friends. They try to be optimistic and happy and they worry about me, to the point where they sometimes harass my closer friends to figure out if I’m okay.

Appreciating these friends is a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand, I love that they care and it causes little residuals of warm-fuzzies that I usually have a difficult time feeling.

On the other hand, it’s exhausting because I have to put up a front that what they said actually made me feel better.

 

But the truth of the matter is, no, it did not make me feel better. Positive thoughts and words don’t work the same for depressed people.

It’s… highly unfortunate. But here are some examples:

Ex 1: “Think about all the people that care for you!”

Normal: Aww, that’s true! I feel so incredibly loved and happy.

Me: That’s true… I’m such a shitty person for inadvertently hurting those people…

 

Ex 2: “There are so many other people out there that are in worse situations than you are.”

Normal: You’re right. I shouldn’t let something like this get me down.

Me: You’re right. God, I’m a failure as a person. I can’t even beat this thought.

 

Ex 3: Snap out of it!

Normal: Okay, okay I know I shouldn’t let it bother me.

Me: Snap out of… what? Isn’t this normal?

 

Ex 4: “You can’t die! Do you know how that would make me feel!?”

Normal: (normal people would not even say they want to die)

Me: I can’t hurt the people that love me… So I’ll keep on living, even though it’s incredibly painful.

 

Ex. 5: “Think happy thoughts!”

Normal: FUZZY PUPPIES!

Me: What… are happy thoughts?

 

Okay that last one is less serious, but the point is… it’s not the same. The same words have devastatingly different effects.

It’s such an annoying dilemma at times…

therapists are useless

I’ve recently been getting urged to see a therapist. I avoided it because the implications of a therapist are actually pretty terrible. I would officially be labeled as “having problems”. Awesome.

But then, someone mentioned that therapists go to school and are paid a lot of money to listen to things that most people do not want to hear. And at first I laughed at it. It’s a sad but awkwardly funny truth about therapists; more often than not, they get paid to listen. They go to college and get paid to learn how to listen. Seriously, how is that NOT funny?

But in about thirty seconds, the reality of that “joke” sunk in. Therapists get paid… to listen. Of course they learn skills and techniques to help others cope, but in general, they… listen. It’s funny to a normal person.

But for me I thought… isn’t that what a friend is supposed to do?

Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I went to see a therapist. For the first time, in the 17 years that I have been struggling, I just talked. For one hour, I talked about how I felt, why I was there, what was going through my head. I talked about how depression made me feel, what it meant to me to be depressed, what I saw. I talked about how I fantasized about driving into a wall, jumping off a building or falling asleep and never waking up. I talked about how I didn’t really want to die and that death itself had nothing to do with how I felt. I talked about how I just wanted to stop feeling this way because I knew it was bad and awful and hurtful. I talked about how alone I felt, how I had driven people away because I acted different and because I thought differently.

And for one hour, he listened. No comments, no falsely optimistic thoughts. No impossible tasks, no looks of panic. No preconceived notions.

No judgments.

I went home and I thought about it. There was no way that what I had said was not alarming to the therapist. How many people would go, “Oh you want to die? That’s cool.” But he never said a word, And I thought… wasn’t this how I’m supposed to talk to my closest friends? Shouldn’t I be allowed to talk about my darkest thoughts without receiving comments on everything I say? Even if they are worried inside, shouldn’t I still be allowed to talk qithout being judged? Why in the world did I have to go to a therapist to talk about all this? Where were my friends in all of this? Why did I have to find a complete stranger?

I left that hour-long session feeling more clear-headed than I had felt in a while. Not much had actually happened. I just talked and he just listened. Amazing.

I realized that, although they mean well, if friends could just listen without making any judgments or comments, therapists would become more or less unnecessary. Maybe we could use them for those coping techniques. But people like me would no longer need to seek outside ears to hear us out.

But friends can’t do that because… I don’t know, I guess it scares them too much. Most of them don’t know what to say, even though they don’t need to say anything all. Most don’t realize that they just need to be there for us, maybe even offer a hug. They don’t realize less is more.

So until then… I’ll keep those therapists around.

the vicious cycle

Image

NOTE: I apologize that this is going to be an extremely poorly written post. I struggled to write it because I didn’t know how to say it.

A constant dilemma that I think a lot of younger people face is that issue of needing experience in order to get hired. How does that work? In order to gain experience, I need a job. But to get a job, I need experience. In which case it seems like I’ll never get a job.

Depression comes with a lot of crazy emotions and unfortunately, loneliness is one of them. There’s a feeling of immense loneliness that intensifies the sadness and emptiness that outlines my whole day. Many times, I’ve tried to fix this loneliness by talking to my friends.

Like most people, I have a friends. Some are great, some are terrible. Some try to be there, some only see their problems. But all of them have no idea how to react when I tell them I am depressed. The general overwhelming response is panic and/or disbelief.

A third of my friends will say, “Oh that’s interesting. I hope you feel better. So I was hanging out with my boyfriend…” Basically: You’re not important enough for me to think about. Listen stuff about me and my boyfriend. We know who those friends are.

Another third will give me some variation of these three lines : “Think happy thoughts!”, “What about everyone that loves and cares for you?”, and “Don’t say that!”. These friends don’t realize that these words, despite being very well-intentioned, are very painful to hear.

The last third will invariably panic and despite wanting to help, choose instead to run and to avoid because they just have no idea how to deal with such a problem. Or else they’ll attempt the above approach, but upon realizing that the tactic isn’t working, will abruptly retreat. Their panic feels like abandonment, which, in its own right, is also extremely painful. No one wants to feel abandoned.

So what do I do? I retreat. To hope that my friends will understand and listen, only to realize that their words hurt or that they do not want to, can not or are unwilling to be there for me is more pain that I’d like to have. So I go back to holding it inside and being alone. Being alone is better than being rejected. Who wants that?

But then again, who wants to be alone?

Depression is a lonely, lonely walk. When in its grasp, I more often than not cry out for a hand to hold. But people are afraid. People are naturally afraid of what they do not know. They don’t know what to do because they don’t know what it means. Some are afraid to get too close, and so will only throw me a life saver. Some yell things like, “You can do it!”. Others think that I’ll be able to climb out if they throw me a ladder. So they throw it in and don’t look back to check that I’ve gotten out.

But obviously things aren’t so simple. Depression leads to loneliness. So we turn to our friends to relieve that loneliness. But the response is usually more painful than we want, so we retreat again.

It’s a vicious cycle that I’m constantly trying to break.