ProjectDakota

the sometimes unintelligible thoughts of an ocassionally intelligent blonde.

An Open Letter to the Woman I’m Becoming

Hey self!

I’m not really sure where to start. I never thought I’d be writing a letter to my future self, but I suppose now is as good a time as any to do so. I know you’re going through a lot of things right now, and that 2015 wasn’t nearly the year you expected it to be, but you’ve learned a lesson: never expect something to be a certain way, because you can’t predict the future. That’s a pretty important lesson to learn, and hey, it only took you 28 years.

You’re such a strong person, self, and I’m allowed to say that because I AM you. I know you don’t feel that way now, and it’s perfectly okay to feel that way. Honestly, your life is kind of a disaster right now… but you’re working on it, and that’s what really matters, because sometimes the best you can do is try.

I know you’re scared about life right now, but I also happen to know that you have so much going for you that you don’t need to be scared. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, and while it isn’t always smart about men, it is smart about all of the other things in life. I know you keep that picture on your phone that compares having anxiety to that moment right before a chair tips over, but the chair never tips. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel that way. It’s also okay to deal with it in your own way. It’s okay to be antisocial. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to hide under a blanket and listen to Adele on repeat. It’s okay to let your heart be broken and not know what to do about it. It’s okay to feel alone, but in the end, you have to realize that you’re not alone at all.

Lastly, I know you always think everyone else has their life together, but I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody actually has their life together, and it’s okay if you don’t either. Think about it: how many people in the world who are your age have actually taken the time to figure out who they really are as a person and not just succumbed to the societal expectations that have become the norm? Not too many. So don’t feel left out, love. Everything will come together if you work for it, and you are.

Trust your instinct and follow your heart. Everything will work out fantastically, even if it doesn’t seem like it now. You can do anything you set your mind to, and just like Jennifer Lawrence said: “Don’t worry about the bitches!”

PS: Love yourself first and always.

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The Dark Side: Living With a Mental Illness

I have a disease.

Do you remember when you were young, and you’d overhear your parents or a group of adults discussing a particular topic (maybe in private [we all know kids are little eavesdroppers!]), and, not knowing the conversation or subject at hand was taboo, you’d bring it up in public, only to get shocked and embarrassed looks from your parents and scornful looks from other adults?

That’s how I feel when I bring up the topic of mental illness. Such a stigma has been placed on these diseases that most people are afraid or embarrassed to admit that they’re afflicted by one or more of the 400 mental disorders that exist.

I’m not.

Let me start by giving you a few statistics about depression, the most common mental illness in the world:

  • 1 in 10 Americans will experience at least a singular episode of depression in their lifetime with women being the most susceptible.
  • There are an estimated 121 million people in the world living with depression; 36% of those are Americans.
  • Up to 80% of depression can be treated, but 80% of the people who have it go untreated.
  • The number of people diagnosed with depression increases 20% every year.
  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the US for people ages 15-44.
  • The median age for MDD is 32.
  • MDD has a lifetime risk of 17%.

Some people have singular episodes of dysthymic (mild) depression which can last up to 2 years in adults; some people, like me, have recurring depression and are encouraged to receive long-term care – medication, therapy, etc.

I didn’t know what a mental illness was until I was almost 10 years old. I didn’t start to fully understand the concept until I was 17. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 23.

Growing up, I had a relatively normal childhood. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary happening until I was 8 or 9. It had to do with one of my brothers; [I won’t go into detail yet, because one of the upcoming posts will be dedicated to that story, and I want to be able to give it the attention it deserves]. To keep it short yet still give you the main idea, my brother was diagnosed as Manic Bipolar, then later as Manic Bipolar/Borderline Schizophrenic. I didn’t know what either of those things were, and that meant I didn’t know what they entailed or how to deal with them, so I did what my parents told me to do: “Don’t make him mad”, “Just stay out of his way”, “Just leave him alone”. Those guidelines worked for the most part, and I was able to escape my middle school/high school years relatively unaffected by the stigma of my brothers mental illness.

In general, I’ve found that when dealing with something unknown, you’re usually afraid of it, and sometimes, when it comes to sharing it with others, that fear of sharing something unknown with someone else can quickly turn to embarrassment. A few of my close friends knew about my brother, and asked about him, but I always covered it up with “It’s genetic – he gets  it from his dad’s side” (we have different dads) in the hope that they wouldn’t think it was contagious and be able to catch it if I sneezed around them or whatever. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the truth is, depression and bipolar disorder are genetic from both sides of our family (both parents – our mom and his dad).

I’m going to move on with the story, but first I need to fill you in on the Cycle of Depression, otherwise the next half of my story will make little to no sense. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Bear with me if you will.

Cycles of Recurrent Depression

  • Asymptomatic stage: No physically visible or emotionally noticeable symptoms of the disorder. Length of asymptomatic stage varies by person and can last for years.
  • Minor Depressive Episode: Described as two to four of the common signs of depression, such as a drop in energy levels and loss of interest in every day life. Minor depressive episodes can last up to 2 years.
  • Major Depressive Episode: Can last as short as 2 weeks, though most episodes may last 6 months or more. In this stage, five or more of the signs and symptoms of depression will be experienced. This stage is the key part of the depressive cycle because it differentiates diagnosis between Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. Those with MDD will revert back to stasis, while those with Bipolar Disorder will experience an additional cycle stage: The Manic Stage. This part of the cycle is characterized by extremely outgoing social behaviors, often together with feelings of invincibility and euphoria.
  • Return to Stasis: This final stage is simply the individual returning to a steady emotional/mood state. This can be caused by a life change or medication. It may last a few week (depending on the type of depression) or for life.

Having learned the cycles of MDD, I can almost pinpoint my transitions through my ever-advancing adulthood and through each stage of the cycle.

I’m not sure how old I was when I started the Asymptomatic Stage of my depression; I imagine it was some time after I was sexually assaulted. I showed a few signs of the minor depressive stage (mostly insomnia and lack of interest), but I went to weekly group therapy and the signs diminished quickly.  I stayed in the asymptomatic stage for almost 4 years, until my marriage dissolved.

The Minor Depressive Stage started after my ex-husband and I separated. I was a 22 year old girl who was terrified of being alone, completely afraid of everything, and had no idea what she wanted, so of course I jumped right into a new relationship. I took no time to adjust to who I had become, and no time to deal with what had happened.

A few weeks into the new relationship, I experienced a miscarriage. I never knew I was pregnant. I wasn’t even remotely aware of how to deal with that type of loss, so I didn’t. I pushed it to the way back of my mind. And that pushed me into the next stage of the cycle.

The Major Depressive Stage was huge for me. Just like the doctors say, it’s the key part of the cycle, and it turned out to be a key part in my life story.

The weight of an unbalanced, unhealthy relationship, the stress of an overwhelming full-time job, and a (in my opinion) toxic level of hormones due to an unwise choice on my part led to a culmination of disaster.

ImageThis is what trying to describe depression feels like.

When you don’t know the cycles of depression and can’t explain to anyone else what you’re going through, it’s overwhelming. Have you ever looked into a well or a really deep pool and imagined diving in and sinking deeper and deeper until you touch the bottom? Depression is like that, except you don’t dive, you fall; and you sink and sink and sink and think you have the strength to swim, but you don’t. You think for a brief moment you’ll be okay if you can just reach your arm to the top – someone will grab your hand and save you; but your arm won’t move and you don’t know whose hand you can trust. Depression is like drowning in a pool surrounded by people.

My major depressive stage lasted for almost 9 months. [I never realized until exactly this moment that it lasted for 9 months. Have you ever forgotten a traumatic moment in your life, only to subconsciously recall it? The breaking point of my major depressive stage happened right around the time I would have given birth. Funny how the body works.]

It started with me not getting off the couch on my days off. I wouldn’t shower and I’d live in sweatpants. Then I had terrible mood swings. I’d love, hate, scream, fight, and cry all in the timeframe of an hour. Then I became suicidal. While driving, I’d think nobody would miss me if I drove my car off the road. It wouldn’t happen just once, either. It happened every time I drove somewhere. Then I’d stand at the kitchen sink while doing dishes and hold a serrated knife to my wrist. I’d hold it so close that I could feel my pulse beat against the blade. My ex almost caught me doing this once. I don’t know what he would’ve said or done. A few days later, after my ex left for work, I swallowed a handful of over-the-counter sleeping pills. There were maybe 10 or 12 there. I don’t know what I thought would happen. I took them then laid on the couch. It didn’t take long until I started to throw a bunch of them up. I could barely make it to the bed to lay down. I was still there when my ex came back. He tried to talk to me, but I was barely lucid. I hallucinated every time I opened my eyes. I slurred answers to him while watching huge ants crawling all over him and the bed. I don’t remember how long I was like that, but when I woke up it was still the same day.

The next day when he came home from work, I asked him to take me for help. He refused, so I begged. He begrudgingly took me to an emergency prevention center. I saw a doctor, but because I was scared I didn’t tell him about the sleeping pills the day before. When he asked if I had a plan to kill myself I said no, but they were all there in the back of my mind. Drive my car off the road. Slit my wrist. Overdose. He determined I wasn’t an immediate danger to myself or others, prescribed Paxil for me, and sent me home.

The first time I took Paxil, I was playing Plants vs Zombies on our laptop. I finished a level, then the next thing I knew my ex was shaking me, asking if I was okay. I said Yeah, why? And he said that I’d been staring at the same spot on the wall for half an hour. I found out later that this was a form of a seizure caused by the medication.

I tried to stay positive. We made it through Christmas without drama. New Years Eve rolled around , and we had a huge fight because he wanted me to go to a party at his friends house (who I hated), and I wanted to go to a party with his brother. We made up, but our relationship never really recovered. That fight was the next to last straw that broke the camels back. We managed to make it through a week long vacation with my parents during the first week of January.

In mid-January, I scheduled a surgery that helps control my endometriosis. He was supposed to drive me to the hospital, but he “couldn’t leave work” even though he had managed to take a whole day off a few months prior so he could stand in line at the Apple store for the newest iPhone. Alas. He showed up ten minutes before I went into surgery, then drove us home afterward. He never offered to care for me, even though I wasn’t supposed to be moving around. He went about his life as usual, and I took care of myself.

Four days after my surgery, we were supposed to go to weekly dinner at his parents house. He told me he wasn’t able to come get me, so if I wanted to go I had to drive myself (even though I was on heavy painkillers). So I did. I had to go in sweatpants because I couldn’t wear anything tight over my abdomen; I’m sure I looked pathetic. He was cold to me during the entire dinner, then left the house before me without even a look back. So, of course, I got stuck in the snow on their street and his brother and brothers friend had to help push me out. That made me furious, so I was fuming and looking for a fight by the time I got home. (Does Vicodin make anyone else mean? Anyone?)

We got into a huge knock-down-drag-out; I smashed a glass in the kitchen while screaming, then promptly locked myself in the bathroom and swallowed an entire bottle of Phenergan, an anti-emetic. There were 23 pills in the bottle – I took the time to count them all before I swallowed them.

I wrote about the aftermath in a previous post, but I’ll put it here to fill in the gaps:

I walked out of the bathroom calmly, but he saw the empty bottle on the counter and freaked out. He asked me if I had taken them and I shrugged and said “Yep”. He freaked out even more, called my parents, then forced me out to the car so he could take me to the hospital. When we got to the ER, I told the triage nurse what had happened; because of my calm demeanor, she didn’t take me seriously. They left me in the waiting room for 45 minutes.

My mom showed up about 20 minutes after we got there, and my boyfriend kept hanging around, even though he had kept telling me that he would leave as soon as my mom arrived. He just stood there, staring at me, and I felt so pathetic. I finally lashed out at him to leave, so he did.

I was so upset after he left that I started clawing the inside of my right arm with my left hand. My heart started racing. I needed to throw up. I told my mom that I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. She ran and got a nurse. They took me to the back. I was still in complete denial. The doctor came in and said “Soooo… I see you tried to kill yourself tonight.” I just stared at him and said “Nope”.  Even now, looking back at it, suicide was never my intention that night.

The nurse brought in bottles of liquid charcoal – which is used to absorb toxic drugs or chemicals that a person has ingested – for me to drink. I remember trying to drink it while the nurse was putting in my IV. It was disgusting, so I tried to give it back to her. I drank an entire bottle, but when the nurse tried to hand me the next one, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t hold it. My mom kept trying to talk to me to keep me conscious, but everything felt so heavy. I felt my eyes roll back into my head.

I woke up the next afternoon in the ICU. I had been in a coma for almost 16 hours. Nobody I knew was there; I was alone. I started crying immediately. The nurse came in and was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t stop crying. Then I felt the need to apologize for crying. She explained that I didn’t need to apologize, and that I’d probably cry for the rest of the day because that was one of the ways the medication was leaving my system. Weird, I know.

So, basically, I shouldn’t be sitting here writing this post. I should be dead; the ER doctor told my mom this many times. But… I’m not. There’s obviously something I have left to do in this life.

Anyway, the resulting week on the psych floor is something I’ll write about in detail someday (It’s a bit like It’s Kind of a Funny Story, minus the teen angst and Zach Galifianakis), but for now I’ll just say that it helped me realize I’m fully in control of my moods and emotions.

After my release from the hospital, I returned to stasis (or, ya know, normal). I took the time to find myself. It has taken some trial and error, and a few hard knocks, but here I am.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, and I’m gonna tell you why: I recently went through my second MDD cycle. This cycle was bad, but bearable. I knew how to handle the stages better. It was still hard, but I’m a survivor, or something like that.

The cycle was shorter this time: from start to finish was only 6 months. I was Asymptomatic for 3 of them. Minor depression happened when my best friend accused me of coming on to her husband. Major depression happened when I had a miscarriage at the beginning of April, then carried over through the last month and a half with incredibly poor health. I was surprised by the difference between the two major depression stages I’ve been through.

ImageI couldn’t resist.

I know you’ve seen the commercial for the medicine Cymbalta. You know, “Depression hurts. Cymbalta can help.”, then it shows the women not laughing, not walking their dog, not answering their phone? Well, this time the depression hurt. I would go days without showering (gross, I know) because my body would actually hurt when the water hit it. Smiling hurt. Walking hurt. Everything hurt. I felt like maybe if I could just peel my skin off, make sure my heart was still beating, I’d be okay.

Well, here I am, skin and all, and I’m perfectly fine. I don’t know if I’ll stay this way, but I try not to dwell on my illness. I have so much to look forward to – I’m getting married next year, for one! – and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.

ImageToday I’m choosing happiness. And tomorrow. And the day after.

There’s beauty in everything, but not everyone can see it, right? Well, maybe the beauty in my illness is that I can encourage one person to seek help or speak out so others will know they aren’t alone. I know I’m not going to kick a stigma’s butt with just one blog post, but I’m sure as hell gonna keep trying.

“Mental illness is a very powerful thing. If it is with you it is probably going to be there until the day you die. I am trying so hard to break mine, but it is not easy. It is my toughest fight ever. “

 -Frank Burns

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Surviving.

Image

I am a sexual assault survivor and this is my story.

For the most part, I like to think that I’m pretty street-wise, but I haven’t always been that way. When I was 18 (and quite naïve [6 years ago]) – a little over a month before I turned 19 – I made a very unwise decision.

I used to play games online: games against people, usually people I didn’t know. I usually wouldn’t talk to them – they were creepers for the most part – so I’d turn off the chat option. One night I didn’t. I decided to leave it on, and the random person I started playing against just so happened to be from Michigan, about an hour or so from where I lived. We chatted about nothing in particular for a while, then he started asking lots of questions. I tried to be as vague as possible, but when he asked where I worked, I told the truth (at the time I worked at Tim Hortons). Never in a million years did I ever think he’d show up there, but he did. {This is the first time I’ve ever admitted that fact to anyone except the police officer who handled my case.}

He seemed like a pretty decent guy, so when he asked for my number, I gave it to him. We talked a few times, and sent ten texts back and forth, maybe less, so I was really surprised when he asked if he could come over and hang out sometime. I said, “Uh, maybe?” and made sure it was clear that I lived at home. That fact didn’t seem to bother him, and he kept persisting that I let him come over; he even persuaded me that it would be okay if I snuck him in.

During the few days that we talked, we also became friends on Myspace (I know, I know). After a few days of pressuring, I finally gave in. So, on a Saturday night in November after my parents had gone to bed, I snuck him into my house. He asked if we could watch a movie, so I turned one on. He also said he was cold and asked if I would turn the heater on. I was naïve, and it never even occurred to me that he wasn’t touching anything or that he wanted as much cover noise as possible. I also didn’t notice – or realize until later – that he had band-aids on his fingers, covering his fingerprints – not all of them, but the ones that really mattered.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the movie, then he started touching me – first my legs, then he just kept moving upward. I flinched away and said something along the lines of “I’m really not comfortable with this”, to which he replied, “Just be quiet and relax, you’ll be fine.” When I didn’t relax he started to get forceful, then started ordering me around. I had no idea if he had a weapon, and even if he didn’t I’m sure he would’ve found some way to hurt me if I had tried to scream or get away; I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing, except for what he forced me to do. I won’t go into detail, but the things he did caused long-term damage that I still deal with today.

When he was done getting what he wanted, he looked down at me and said “Go clean yourself up. You’re disgusting.” I went to my bathroom, sat on the floor, and bawled my eyes out. All of a sudden, I heard a noise coming from my room; I slowly left the bathroom and peeked around the corner into my room. He was gone – he had jumped out one of my windows.

I felt so helpless. I had no idea what to do, because I didn’t know if what had just taken place was considered rape or not, partially because I never said the word “No”. There was only one person who I trusted to ask about it – my best friend at the time. It was late, but I called her anyway. I told her the short version of what happened, and she said that her future brother-in-law was a cop, so she would call and ask him then call me back. She called me back ten minutes later and told me that I needed to tell someone or report it. I agreed, but never planned on telling anyone else – I was too ashamed.

I tried to sleep that night, but I couldn’t close my eyes. I was hurt (emotionally and physically) and embarrassed. I got out of bed early Sunday morning to ask my mom if I could stay home from church. She said no, so I showered, got ready, and went to church like I was supposed to. I tried to act normal, but I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I called off work that night. I stayed in bed all day Monday; I just kept telling my mom I didn’t feel well.

In the early evening, I heard my dad come in from work and say something to my mom. She knocked on my door, came in, and told me to get dressed because my dad wanted to talk to me. At that point I knew he knew something.

I went out to the dining room and sat down without looking at my parents. It was quiet for a minute, then my dad said, “Why don’t you tell me what happened on Saturday night?” I still couldn’t look at him, so I just shook my head and started crying. My mom had no idea what was going on, so she asked my dad what happened. He angrily told her that I had invited a guy into the house and then had sex with him. My mom said “WHAT?!?” then started to go off on me. I looked up at her and said, “No, I didn’t. I let him in, but I didn’t have sex with him. He raped me.” My mom asked what I meant by “raped”, so I told her what he did. I couldn’t even look at my dad; I was humiliated. Eventually I asked my dad how he found out, and he said that the youth pastor of our church had called and told him. I’m not sure how the story got so skewed (not that it even matters anymore), but I’m guessing that my friend either told, or someone we both knew overheard, misinterpreted, then called the youth pastor. It’s still a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but in a weird way I’m glad whoever told did what they did, even though their version was wrong. If they wouldn’t have done so, I would have never had the courage to tell anyone or seek help and emotional support.

After my parents finished asking a bunch of questions, my mom decided that I should go to urgent care to get examined. I never saw a doctor while I was there, only a nurse practitioner. I explained to her what had happened. She asked if it was someone I knew, and I said barely. She replied “Well, next time be more careful!”, then told me to go home and take a bath. She never even looked me over for bruises or did a pelvic exam (not that I actually wanted one). My mom couldn’t believe what the NP had told me. She took me home so I could go to sleep, but I still couldn’t fall asleep until it was daylight outside.

I didn’t know it, but while I was sleeping my mom went to the police station and asked for help. They told her to take me to the emergency room for a rape kit, so that’s what she did. I was there for hours. They took all kinds of DNA samples and ran all kinds of tests. A woman cop came to take my statement and to take a statement from my doctor ( it was at this time I learned that my cervix was ripped and my uterus was tipped), and a social worked from a domestic violence/sexual assault service came to talk to me and give me information on their private and group counseling. The doctor prescribed medicine to help me sleep, and I got to go home.

Over the course of the next few days, I had to quit my job because he knew where I worked and I was terrified he would show up there, and the police came to my house to collect evidence that may have had his DNA on it. I explained to them that he had been wearing band-aids to cover his fingerprints, but they were still able to get a few off the window where he had opened it. They took the clothes I had been wearing and a few other things. They asked me to show them his Myspace page, but it was gone. It was a terrible stroke of luck (for lack of a better term) that I had happened to save a photo of him to our computer. When my dad saw it he almost broke the computer monitor.

A few days after the police were at my house, I got a call from the officer who was handling my case; she asked me to come to the station to listen to a voicemail so I could identify his voice. My mom drove me to the station, and I listened… it was him. The officer told me that they had found out where he worked, and that the name he had give me was fake. Oh, and he also had a criminal record (big shock, right?). I asked what his real name was, but she said she couldn’t tell me. She also told me that based on my statement, the collected evidence, and the recorded physical trauma I had enough to press charges. I discussed it with my parents, and we decided to move forward.

In the months that followed, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the day finally came for me to go downtown to meet with the prosecutor, I was so nervous. I sat down with her, and we discussed the case for a few minutes. She told me that she was sorry for what had happened to me, but when it came down to the bare bones of my case, I didn’t have one. She said that if I was to continue and the case went to trial, I would have to testify in court and the defense would tear apart my testimony because I let him into my house; not to mention having to face him all over again. In a way I was relieved. I explained to her about my mom’s diagnosis, and how I was ready for the ordeal to be over – I needed to move on, and that’s exactly what I did.

I moved, I got engaged, I got married, I moved, then I moved again. I got divorced, I started dating again. I moved in with the guy I was dating. We moved. I got a new job. I started battling depression off and on.

In 2010, a  few weeks before the holidays, my (ex) boyfriend and I went to a local mall to do some early Christmas shopping. We were walking on the second floor when I looked up through the crowd and saw him. The rapist was there, free, walking directly toward me. There was no way I wouldn’t have recognized him – you don’t forget someone who changed the course of your whole life. I grabbed my ex’s hand and stepped closer to him. The rapist got closer. When he was a few feet away, I made the decision to be brave. I wasn’t the naïve girl he had hurt four years before. I locked eyes with him, and I know he knew who I was. This look came over his face… a smug “I got away with it” look that I will never, ever forget. As he passed by, he brushed my hand with his. I managed to make it about fifteen feet away before I started hyperventilating. We left the mall immediately.

After that, my depression got a thousand times worse. I had zero self-esteem: I lived in sweats and put on a front for everyone. Eventually my depression got so bad that I ended up in the hospital (read about it here), but I ended up getting the help that I needed.

I haven’t seen him since, and I hope that I’ll never have to see him again. I also hope that he never does what he did to me to anyone else, and if he does, I hope that he’ll be caught, convicted, and sent to prison.

—————————————————-

I didn’t decide to tell my story to gain sympathy or receive unwarranted praise for being brave by speaking out; I wrote it so other (perhaps silent) survivors will know they aren’t alone.

The following are five things I had to learn in the aftermath of my assault:

1). Never minimize or belittle what happened to you.

A week after my assault, I started going to group therapy at SafeHouse. Listening to other women’s stories of survival has had a lasting impact on my life.

On my first visit, there was a girl who was maybe a few years older than me; she had been tied up, raped at gunpoint, put in a closet, then robbed. After hearing her story, I had a few minutes of the “What am I doing here?What happened to me wasn’t nearly that bad!” feeling. I didn’t know how to not feel that way, but I’ve come to realize whether it was a stranger or someone you know, whether you verbally said no or tried to fight them off, rape is rape. Sexual assault is a crime that, in my opinion, goes unpunished far too often. Minimizing what happened to you makes you feel terrible, and will no doubt make you feel like you are to blame.

2). Never place blame for what happened to you on yourself.

This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. For years I’ve plagued myself with “What if’s” and “If only’s”, and that is no way to live a life.

As hard as it may seem, coming to terms with your sexual assault is something you will have to do. It doesn’t matter how you act, how you dress, how you talk, etc… you didn’t ask to be assaulted. At some point in time, the person who committed the crime consciously decided to take advantage of you, and the full blame lies on them.

3). You will carry the emotional (and maybe physical) scars with you for the rest of your life.

I hate to say this because it isn’t a nice thing, but the goal of this post has been for me to bring you the truth.

Over the last 5 years, a goal of mine has been to overcome my sexual assault. I have determined not to let it define who I am. So far, I believe I’ve done a pretty decent job, save for one thing: the triggers.

My assault has never been something I’ve wanted to dwell on. I’ve worked hard on trying to push it to the back of my memory, but sometimes I will see, hear, or smell things and flashbacks will occur. I have no control over them. The biggest three are the smell of a space heater, band-aids on a mans fingers, and someone touching my upper back. If any of these things cause a flashback, I almost automatically have a panic attack. When they happen, I find the best thing for me is to be alone so I can read, write, or watch a movie. I cannot say what other people use as coping mechanisms, but those are mine.

The point is this: You’re never going to forget what happened to you, but don’t let it become the negative focal point of your life, especially when there are so many beautiful things in the world.

4). It’s never too late to talk about it.

I was terrified to go to therapy; I was afraid that I was going to be judged for what happened to me, just as I had been by people I already knew (at one point I was told that I had been asking for it because I had a Myspace page), but it wasn’t like that. The women in the group listened with empathy – they even cried when I cried. Being able to tell your story to people who have gone through something similar will bring you a strange kind of peace.

5). You are not broken.

Please, please, please don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are damaged because sexual assault happened to you. People who have never experienced certain things don’t know the strength it takes to overcome them.

You don’t deserve to live less of a life because you’ve fallen prey to someone else’s disgustingly perverted, selfish, and possibly somewhat misogynistic decision.

You deserve to be happy.

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Statistics show there are approximately 207,754 sexual assault victims (age 12 and older) in the US each year; 54% of those assaults are never reported to the police. That means there are close to 112,200 women who never tell their story and/or don’t know how to handle what has happened to them.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s never too late to seek help or guidance, and always know you aren’t alone.

Lastly, don’t ever be afraid to share your story.

I’m glad I shared mine.

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The Vanishing Flames: A Not-So-Brief Open Letter of Apologies to My Unnamed Ex-Boyfriends

The pain experienced during a breakup is as individual as the millions of people who go through it.

Boyfriend One (2003-2004):

I’m sorry you never had the chance to experience life; you were gone before yours ever really started. I’m sorry I took the little things you did for me for granted. I wish I would’ve known how to hold a conversation with you where I didn’t get embarrassed by every little thing; we would’ve had so much to talk about. I’m sorry I was naive about so many things. I’m sorry I didn’t go into the picture booth with you at the mall while I was in California. I’m sorry people made fun of us because our names rhymed. I’m sorry I never kissed you on our last night together. I’ve never admitted this to anyone before, but you were the only guy I’ve ever dated that I wasn’t embarrassed of for some stupid reason. I still miss you and your blue eyes.

Boyfriend Two (2006):

I’m sorry I grew up quicker than you. I’m sure we would’ve been great together, but it just wasn’t our time. A good friend told me a few weeks ago that we were supposed to end up together but something got in the way, so you went and married someone who looks just like me. That’s the truth, but I’m far more awesome. I’m sorry I let other people’s opinion of you affect the way I felt about you. I’m sorry for all those times I was overly dramatic and would cause fights for no reason. I’m sorry you ended up having to publicly slaughter your reputation for a choice we made together. I’m sorry we let our parents dictate our relationship, even though we were both 18. I’m sorry for being so cold-hearted when I broke up with you, and I’m sorry for breaking your heart. If you ever stumble across this, please know that I’m glad that you’re happy, and I mean it with all my heart.

Boyfriend Three (2007-2010):

I’m sorry you hid who you were to make other people happy . I’m sorry the airline lost my luggage the first time I came to visit and you had to buy me all new makeup. I’m sorry I didn’t help you become a better person. I’m sorry your family hated me. I’m sorry I was such a nag sometimes. I’m sorry for not being an adult and breaking it off, it would’ve saved us both a lot of heartache. I’m sorry I didn’t know how to have a grown up relationship with you. I’m sorry that things ended so badly between us – I never wanted it to be like this. If you ever read this, know that the only thing I’m not sorry for is letting you go. I hope you’ve found yourself.

Boyfriend Four (2010-2011):

I’m sorry I couldn’t be who you wanted. I’m sorry I was  immature. I’m sorry for all those times I stormed out. I’m sorry for that night at the Halloween party, and basically every other time we went to J and M’s house. I’m sorry for my depression. I’m sorry for all the drama I created. I’m sorry for making you take care of me. I’m sorry for the New Year’s Eve argument.  I’m sorry for dropping the phone you bought me in the washer. I’m sorry for the days I lived in sweats and never got off the couch. I’m sorry I never got you a Christmas present. I’m sorry I was terrified every single time you drove us somewhere. I’m sorry I purposely broke one of your blue glasses. I’m sorry for snooping. I’m sorry you had to sit with me at the ER until 2am. Most of all, I’m sorry for the night I locked myself in the bathroom. Thank you for helping me grow up.

Boyfriend Five (2012):

I’m sorry I did wrong by you, and I’m sorry for the way you had to find out about it. I’m sorry for not trusting you. I’m sorry for pushing our relationship to be something it was probably never meant to be. I’m sorry I didn’t like Cabin in the Woods and for forcing you to watch Workaholics. I’m sorry for the time I made you stay at my aunts. I’m sorry about that time in the basement. I’m sorry I made you go on the disastrous double date. I’m sorry you had to take care of me when I had that terrible fever. I’m sorry I ended up being just like the person you said I wasn’t when you defended me. I’m sorry I always showed my insecurities at the worst times. I’m sorry I sucked at Munchkin. I’m sorry for the Absinthe night. I’m sorry I never got to see the waterfall. I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better encourager to you. Through all of these apologies, one thing remains: You know me better than anyone I’ve ever dated, and I find a strange comfort in knowing my secrets are safe with you. Thank you for Harry Potter and The Unwritten.

To all of the unnamed guys that I’ve written these apologies for, I also have to say thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for all of you.
~S.

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Five Reasons I Love Being a Girl

  1. Girls are fun.

Think about it… has there ever been a time you’ve spent with a girl where she wasn’t fun at least once? Probably not. I’m also pretty sure that it’s only a girl thing. Dudes aren’t fun. Activities with dudes can be fun, but dudes in general are either cool or awesome. I’ve never heard a guy describe another guy as fun.

  1. Flirting.

I’ve come to the conclusion that girls master the art of flirting far quicker than guys. We have the uncanny ability to make guys feel comfortable by the way we speak to them or look at them. I was once corrected on my idea of what flirting was, and was told this: Flirting is done by one to gauge anothers romantic interest. I’ve come to find that most flirting done by women (besides body language), is done verbally. There are also girls who like to flirt solely for amusement and have no romantic interest in the person initiating the flirting.

Sure, sometimes we can be oblivious to the flirtatious advances of guys, but that’s where body language comes in.

  1. Body Language.

 Once again, I believe that girls master this art far quicker than guys. Body language is a more progressive/forward form of flirting, usually involving posture, facial expressions, and gestures. Body language can also provide insight into the attitude of the person you’re speaking to. When reciprocating in a flirtatious manner, body language is often mirrored to make the person more at ease. Body language is done almost entirely subconsciously, and researchers have suggested that 60-70% of all meaning comes from non-verbal behavior. I’ve found that the most common flirting techniques involving body language are:

  • Laughing
  • Prolonged eye contact
  • Arm touching

I’ve also found that when the other person is interested, these techniques gain the most attention and show the most interest.

  1. High Heels.

 A brief history of the high heel:

    • In ancient Rome, prostitutes were identified by their high heels.
    • By 1850, heels were considered fashionable and a sign of privilege for both men and women.
    • In the New World, the Massachusetts Colony passed a law banning women from wearing heel to ensnare a man, less they be tried as a witch.
    • In 1888, America opened its first heel factory, despite the fact that many opposed heels due to the “sexually aggressive” gait it created. Some also compared the heel to a “poisoned hook” used to catch an unwary male.
    • Post war 1950’s, French designer Christian Dior collaborated with shoe designer Roger Vivier to create the stiletto.
    • In the 1960’s the feminist movement pushed away from heels, saying that they indicated subservience and sexual stereotyping from men.
    • By the 1980’s women realized that wearing heels for themselves gave them a feeling of power and authority.

Shoe fashions have come and gone and will continue to do so, but the heel will always remain fashionable. We all know they hurt like hell, but there’s nothing that makes your legs – or butt – look better than a great pair of heels.

  1. Cleavage.

 I know that you know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter if you’re showing a lot or a little, because someone is going to look.

For many women, cleavage is an important aspect of femininity and is generally used to enhance physical and sexual attractiveness; but please, beware! –  cleavage has been known to attract creepers at an alarming rate. Also know that cleavage isn’t always necessary; like any beauty tool, it should be used with discretion.

I’ll also never understand what guys find so fascinating about boobs. I’m sure that if they had to carry them around all day they wouldn’t find them so interesting.

If you’re feeling a bit envious because maybe you don’t have much cleavage, don’t worry – you can get it for the low price of $58. In fact, I’m pretty sure the push-up bra was Victoria’s Secret.

These reasons don’t stand for all the girls out there in the world, but they work for me.

Sure, maybe they’re a little bit shallow, but aren’t we all a little bit shallow deep down?

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An Open Letter to My Future Boyfriend

Dear Joseph Gordon-Levitt,

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Rumspringa: IFB Edition – Part Three

This is the end of Rumspringa, and I’m a little bit sad. I never thought I’d become so attached to something, but I have. If what I’ve written has helped even one person, then sharing my story was worth it.

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Rumspringa: IFB Edition – Part Two

I’m prefacing this post by stating that it will be somewhat different than Rumspringa Part One. This post is more of my personal story so that you, the reader, will better understand the choices I’ve made concerning religion that have led me to where I am today.

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Rumspringa: IFB Edition – Part One

Let me preface this post by clearly stating a few guidelines:

  • If you know me well and would prefer to keep your current opinion of me, you may want to discontinue reading.
  • For my still religious friends who may read this, please note that this is in no way meant to be taken as me basking in my bad choices.
  • This post is not written to disrespect or mock any religious beliefs, nor to bring shame to the people who had any influence in my upbringing.
  • Please note that all decisions referenced in this post were made by me, and should not be a reflection of my parents or how I was raised. I am an adult who is fully capable of making her own choices.

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Five Reasons I’m Terrible At Relationships.

 

I won’t lie… I’ve dated. A lot. But I’ve only had five serious relationships, one of which resulted in a failed marriage. They all start out great, but after a while things fall apart.

I’ve always had great role models for how relationships are supposed to work, but for some reason the good relationship vibe did not work its way to me. Sometimes I seriously wonder whether or not the relationship part of my brain is completely defunct.

After every breakup, I try to take away something I’ve learned from that relationship that will help me in the future.

Here are five of them:

 

  1. I have the tendency to try to change people.

My mom has always told me that a relationship is “all in what you’re willing to put up with”, and sometimes I think I can put up with more than I actually can.

I’ve never openly tried to change a guys personality, though saying I’ve been secretly manipulative isn’t correct either.

I’ve seriously dated a few guys who are insanely computer savvy, and I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact, I find it incredibly fascinating. However, it quickly becomes tiring when the only time he removes himself from it is to go to work or bed.

There comes a time when a guy needs to learn which is more important- a real life relationship, or a machine.

Also, I don’t consider myself to be a shallow person, but this happened at the beginning of a potential relationship:

Once, I dated this guy and he was great. I liked everything about him… except the way he dressed. We didn’t look like we belonged together at all.

After a few dates, I casually mentioned going shopping. He brushed it off. The date after that I flat out asked him if he would let me dress him. That, too, was a no-go. Maybe it was shallow and bitchy, but I broke it off soon after.

Most things aren’t a deal breaker for me, but a guy who dresses like Seth Green circa Can’t Hardly Wait  is one of them.

Coming to the realization that someone isn’t willing to change something for you (regardless of whether or not you’ve openly suggested/influenced the prospective change) is a hard knock.

The conclusion I’ve come to is this: Nobody is fond of change, especially when it’s trying to be done to them. And if I’m not willing to change for someone, I can’t expect them to be willing to change for me.

 

  1. I rush the relationship

I think Halley Martin had it right- The quickest way to ruin a relationship with someone is to actually try to have a relationship with them.

This is nothing new for me; I’ve been doing it for almost my entire dating career. I’m not entirely sure how it happens, but I think it goes a little something like this:

  • Girl meets boy.
  • Girl likes boy.
  • Girl loves the meeting someone new/butterflies phase; girl pushes for relationship commitment.
  • Boy warily agrees.
  • Instead of enjoying the butterflies phase, girl starts getting too serious.
  • Girl tires of relationship far quicker than boy.
  • Girl leaves boy in unexpected haste.

Instead of falling in love, I fall in love with falling in love. In complete honesty, I’ve never taken the time to thoroughly enjoy those butterflies. I have an unbelievably hard time letting fate run its course. I know that this has caused me to hurt some guys along the way.

If you’re reading this and you’re one of those guys, I’m sorry.

 

  1. I can never find an emotional median.

I like to think of this as my brains most recent development to help me slow down the “rushing the relationship” phase, but it usually backfires.

In an effort to not ruin potential relationships, I try to downplay my emotions. I have an unbelievably difficult time finding middle ground- I’m either overzealous or emotionally detached.

There are a few variables that noticeably effect these changes:

  • The emotional state of the guy in question.

If the emotions of the guy don’t meet the emotions I’m showing (or if he doesn’t show emotions in general), I feel as if we’re not on the same page.

  • The current circumstances in my life.

If the circumstances in my life are bad at the time, they’re going to seep into my relationship and negatively contribute to my emotional state.

  • The long-term potential of the relationship.

If I feel the relationship has long-term potential (six months or more), overzealous me will be ecstatic; emotionally detached me will crawl into my head and think of hundreds of reasons why the relationship will never work.

Screwed up, I know.

I haven’t decided if my failure to find an emotional median is due to not dating the right guys, or if it will continue regardless of who I date.

 

  1. I commit, then turn into a commitment-phobe.

I like to compare this to a person who is afraid of roller coasters: they work up the nerve to finally ride, but once they’re strapped in they have a panic attack.

I have a rule that I’ll never enter into a relationship with someone I wouldn’t consider marrying. I feel that would just be a huge waste of time.

So, at the beginning of a relationship, I end up liking the guy so much that I want nothing more than commitment, but then the relationship quickly becomes stale to me and I want nothing more than to be out of it.

Sure there have been instances where I’ve talked myself out of this because I truly loved the person, but later on we’d wind up ending the relationship anyway.

There has only been one instance where I’ve made the decision to break it off and truly regretted not letting the relationship run its course, regardless of how it could have possibly ended.

 

  1. I forget who I am.

I’d like to think that for the most part I’m a good girlfriend, though I’ll not give myself undue credit.

Maintaining my individuality has recently become a huge thing for me, and I’m finally realizing how slowly morphing into my significant other has affected my relationships in the past.

Let me say this: It’s impossible to spend a large amount of time with someone and not expect some of their quirks/habits/personality traits to rub off on you. I wouldn’t have some of my favorite quirks or habits if it weren’t for the guys I’ve dated; but there’s a huge difference between sharing interests and changing yourself to be what you feel they want their ideal mate to be.

Unless you’re a complete egomaniac or narcissist, you aren’t going to want to date yourself. If a guy is attracted to you, it’s because you’re you. Personality traits and quirks are what draw me to certain guys the most, especially the geeks. Gotta love ‘em, right?

I don’t label myself, because I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t fit in any of them, but sometimes I wonder if I’m ambivalent to this so that it’s easier for me to mold myself into what the next guy I date wants me to be.

I’ve learned to maintain my individuality with family and friends, but not in romantic relationships– I’m too afraid. I know that my friends and family love me no matter what, but that isn’t so when it comes to new romance. Emotions in new relationships (to me, at least) are circumstantial, and I feel that in order to maintain a relationship I have to lose sight of who I am in order to keep them interested.

I’m working on it, trust me.

At this moment in time I have no particular interest in dating, mostly because I keep having these weird moments of clarity about my life {Chris, if you’re reading this, you were right!}, and I know that I need to work on things before I bring anyone else into my world.

But hey, if you know any cute single guys, keep them in mind for me. You never know- they might like crazy blondes.

Just sayin’.

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