[CN: sexual assault, PTSD]
I wrote this the same day as the story that precedes it, but it’s taken this long to be able to edit it, and to want to finish it. But here it finally is.
On Sunday evening, TK and I left Philadelphia following my amazing birthday weekend and headed back to New York. We fell short on time, as these things happen, and had to scramble to make the bus on time. When we walked onto the crowded bus, we realized there were not two seats together. At one row however, there were empty aisle seats. I asked each person at the window if it was possible to switch, so we could sit together. Neither would agree to this. I was let down, I’ll admit it. Mostly because I’ve done this countless times for others on airplanes. So I was bummed. I was looking forward to snuggling up, chatting a bit, and napping on the ride home. It seemed like the only proper way to end what was such a lovely weekend together.
I was tired. I was a bit grumpy because all the fun of the weekend, and our time together, was nearly over. I will not deny any of that and because of all this, I became a bit flustered. But when I had to fight back tears for a second, I wanted to smack myself. It was not the end of the world! I was annoyed at myself already. I sat next to a man, who was stretched out in such a way that he took up a sliver of my seat. He wasn’t particularly creepy, he really wasn’t creepy at all. But I could feel anxiety starting to crawl inside me. The lights went out and the bus started to move. I clung, as inconspicuously as I could, to the aisle-side arm rest.
TK continued to ask if I was alright. I said I was, I mean, why wouldn’t I be? I’m fully capable of sitting next to a stranger and across the aisle from my boyfriend on a bus, right? I tried to take slower breaths and calm myself down, as I could feel panic starting to churn inside me. I talked to myself, how ridiculous I was being. I told TK he should get some sleep. Mostly because I didn’t want him worried about me, and I knew this feeling I was having wasn’t going away anytime soon. I tried looking out the window, and telling myself it was only an hour and a half and we’d be back in New York. I tried reading. I tried making fun of myself. And still, the panic grew. At one point, the man sitting next to me moved and lightly elbowed me. I was immediately gripped with fear. Of which I immediately told myself was utterly uncalled for, though I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.
TK would look over and talk to me from time to time, I’d grin and try to be funny. He didn’t buy any of it, he knows me far too well. I could not wait to get off that bus. I knew I was having a panic attack, something I haven’t dealt with in many years. I also knew I had little control over the situation, but I could watch my breathing, maintain some positive inner-dialogue (Which, sometimes means sarcasm and teasing in my mind. It works.), and just keep myself together enough to not cause a scene. Trust me, at times I wanted to scream and just get off the bus. Completely unrealistic, but when you are gripped with that type of fear, you don’t think rationally. I would never consider actually making a bus stop on the highway, but there in the darkness of that bus, it seemed like a feasible solution.
By the time we arrived back in the city, I felt like I was suffocating. Back on the streets, I was able to exhale and talk to TK. I told him I wasn’t sure why I was feeling like this. I felt better, though it felt like I had just been through something terrible. As we walked toward Penn Station, we realized I would make the next train. This was good news since I was tired and it was Sunday. I hugged TK goodbye, still feeling like someone was sitting on my chest. I told him I was going to be okay. I had convinced myself I was going to be. I went down the stairs to my train and sat there, still trying to talk myself out of all this internal mess. The anxiety started to build back up. I tried to talk myself out of it. I began to feel nausea creeping in. A couple of drunk guys walked past me and my heart pounded. I called TK and asked if he’d gotten on the subway yet; he hadn’t. I asked him to meet me, I needed fresh air. I quickly got off the train, ran up the stairs, and headed outside the station.
The cold air immediately hit me. It snapped me out of the downward spiral I was headed in. Being outside, feeling like I could escape if I needed to, not being trapped in an underground railway, helped. TK found me, and just being in his presence allowed me to settle down a bit more. He was very worried about me, I could see it in his eyes. Of course, this only made me feel worse, that’s just my nature. But he was determined to not let me beat myself up. I told him I felt like I was going to cry. I tried my best to explain the other things i was feeling–the panic, being sick to my stomach, the suffocating–and why.
He hugged me tighter, telling me to go ahead and cry. I did. It helped. I’ve never been encouraged to cry. Growing up, it wasn’t something I saw from my parents or other family members. If I did cry, I typically was labeled as a “cry-baby” and “too sensitive.” Most men I’ve been with were raised the same way, I guess, so on the occasion I might cry, the response was quite similar. For years, I heard from one man that I was “too pretty to cry.” What the hell does that even mean? It is utter bullshit, clearly, and means “stop crying.” So anyway, after a lifetime of all those reactions, being able to, let alone wanting to, cry in front of anyone is difficult. I despise crying in public most of all. Yet there I was, as throngs of NY Rangers fans were leaving Madison Square Garden and people were rushing in and out of Penn Station, I bawled my eyes out. After trying to put this all in perspective for myself, and explain this event to TK, he suggested we take a walk. We strolled along the station, the cold air further helped to ground me. I was feeling drastically better at this point.
I felt like a fool, quite honestly. I’ve shared everything, all my truths, the beautiful and the ugly ones, with TK. But being so emotionally vulnerable, and having a panic attack in his presence made me feel ashamed. I want to be so much stronger than I am. Even if my idea of what that is is impossible, it’s the measure I put on myself. I didn’t want to be seen as weak or unstable or too much to handle. Even if I try to convince myself I am Wonder Woman, I have to remind myself I’m only human. That’s a hard concept for me to realize sometimes. I’ve always had to be the constant positive in all my relationships, not just romantic ones. I’m the bubbly one that takes on everyone else’s woes. That is my default, to some extent. It’s a part of who I will always be, and I wouldn’t change that. But it is a relief to feel like I can be me, even when it’s a me I’m not particularly fond of, and a me that I’ve rarely ever shared with another person. The good with the bad, that’s life, and that’s how a relationship should go. TK could not have been more thoughtful in his approach to all of this. I’d say I owe him a debt of gratitude, but I know he wouldn’t hear any of that.
So what happened? A small part of it was that a wonderful weekend was over and I was going to miss TK. I will be completely transparent here. And I won’t deny that those feelings weren’t present at all. Or that they are not important. A big part of me actually wishes that was the only reason I was so distraught. While it would be ridiculous to react in such a severe manner, it would be such a better reason to have gotten all worked up and upset. But the overwhelming conclusion and reason to why I had a panic attack and subsequent breakdown was because I was triggered. I think being in the dark next to a strange man, combined with the noises and environment of the bus, for whatever reason caused a chain reaction of anxiety. When I was so startled by his brushing me with his elbow, I knew this was the type of fear that has only ever stemmed from my rape. I’ve felt this other times, though those situations were all more obvious, walking down a dark street, being approached by a man, and so on. This was a harmless situation, I was perfectly safe. The mind is weird sometimes.
I have pieced together for myself some reasons why this happened. I have been under more stress lately, I have some big changes coming up, and I’ve been dealing with some emotional turmoil with others. Another factor has been the amount of discussions of rape in the media. From the terrifying headlines out of India to the disturbing story out of Steubenville, it’s been hard to not feel slightly triggered at times during a regular day of reading the news or my Twitter feed. I have taken a step back the past couple of weeks. As much as I want to be a voice for victims and fight against rape culture, I’m well aware when I need a time out. With all of this going on, I was probably more like a ticking time bomb, and the smallest of triggers would have set me off.
You get years past a rape, or other traumatic experience, and you think, “finally, I can live my life like it was before” and the truth is, you never do go back. It’s not to say things will never be good or that you can never have your happy ending. It’s just that those fractured pieces, however buried with positivity and wonderful experiences, are still there. If nothing else, it was a reminder that as much healing as I’ve gone through, there’s always more to be had. This was also my mind’s way of telling me to take a deep breath and stress less. It’s like someone with a disease. If they are under emotional stress, their body will become more susceptible to infection. Once you have or have had PTSD, you have to watch your stress load. If you don’t, well, you’ll find yourself freaking out on a bus and having an all-out meltdown at the entrance of Penn Station.
I’m re-committing myself to several things that will nurture the inner-me. I’m taking better care of myself with what I’m eating and I’m exercising daily. I also want to start meditating. I’m making time in my week to spend creating art. That is my solace. I’m also writing again, trying to read more as well. From little things like watching a funny movie to the bigger things like making plans with loved ones, all of it helps. I’m giving and asking for more hugs. I’m choosing to listen to and surround myself with good and supportive people. Out with the negative, in with the positive. I’m slowly learning to let myself off the hook. I can’t do it all. At least not today. I guess my point to all of this is to remind anyone out there who has overcome a traumatic experience to take care of themselves. Actually, it’s good advice to everyone, and something many of us forget all too frequently.
I think the next thing I create will be a sign to hang in my room, it will say this:
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