This is harder for me to talk about because it’s fresher than everything else. This will be basically a stream of consciousness so I can actually get it out.
It will have almost been a year soon. The beginning of September since I was last raped by my neighbor. It has been on my mind a lot as September approached and now that it has arrived. Last September was the worst of my life. It was the worst month of my life. I had to get a pelvic exam to check for damage on my birthday. Yea, my birthday is in September. My favorite time of year, autumn. Worst month of my life. Worst year of my life.
Raped by my neighbor across the hall a few times in my sleep, I can never know for sure how many. He managed the building, had full access to me. He was always around. Stalking me. My keys going missing, clothes going missing, packages going missing, and my neighbor always lurking, watching, waiting. Standing outside my door just breathing. Knocking, demanding my time, my body, my freedom, my mind.
A year of getting horribly ill. Walking pneumonia, bronchitis, throat infection after throat infection because of the man assaulting me. I’m always sick. I have chronically illnesses, my immune system is weak, I have pelvic floor pain. With being raped, the pelvic trauma, my pelvic pain became so awful I was basically immobile. Bed ridden. Unless I was pushing and sacrificing myself to help those I loved. I was concerned with how swollen my pelvis was, how irritated, pained, and engorged my genitals were. My vaginal pain was off the charts. So yes, I was always sick. But we were all stressed and scared by how sick I was. We were desperate and hunting for an answer. What was causing this?!
Then getting rejected from the only graduate school that has the resources I desperately need for groundbreaking research because said sicknesses and trauma depleted energy for my application. As soon as I took the GRE math section with my fever raging I knew I wouldn’t get in that year. It was crushing. Even more so because I had pushed myself as hard as I could that fall to get in. I had been so desperate for an escape from that hell, so desperate to pursue my passions, so desperate to have the resources I needed to begin working on my dreams.
Trevor and I had driven to Columbia University to meet with three African history professors I was interested to work with. More than 24 hours, drove straight through. We were in New York for two days, one night. All for those meetings so I could show them who I was and the two professors appreciated what I had to offer. The professor I most want to work with said if I could put together the application to pass the first rounds of elimination he would push for me. He loved my research. Pre-colonial Senegal? Nice thesis. Looks good. Jolof? Caste? He loved it. He was enthused. I had emerged with a new hope and I felt like I had failed him all because my brain cannot do math well when I am in crippling pain.
Months later the rape report. The people grilling me like I was presumed “liar.” Suggesting I heard voices when I flashed back to Bobby’s voice and said “I can still hear his voice.” I was traumatized, just reporting, just disclosing, and they were treating me like I was in court. “Well if you can’t handle this now.” They said. I was shocked, but also not which made me angry, and I was terrified and alone with these two men who were implying I was crazy.
Then the rape kit where I blacked out so many times I barely remember. My husband seeing me torn up and swollen down where it felt like a black hole had sucked out my insides, more swollen than he had ever seen me. The nurses saying I had “multiple personalities” because I have not changed my legal name yet and used my non-legal name. The nurses suggesting I was high on methamphetamine because my heart rate would not go down and I was terrified.
Then chained to a hospital bed after a friend who was supposed to understand trauma blatantly assaulted me and told me it was not like rape: “I could but I won’t because I love you.” After a cop shoved my face into the floor as I crawled away from that attack. The EMT arrived she made me feel safe I thought I was safe, we talked a bit in the ambulance. But then I blacked out my memory, then my memory is patchy like I was fading in and out, and then they were trying to give me something. Begging, screaming, pleading for them to let me go as they tried to inject me with god knows what. So they held me down and restrained me. It took maybe five people. Five people holding me down to inject me with god knows what? I was terrified. It felt just like every assault has. No consent. No control. For a victim this is the worst possible thing.
My husband says he could hear me screaming, begging. Traumatizing.
Traumatized and triggered to the point of a psychotic break laying in that hospitable bed. I began seeing the doctors and nurses as people in my life who could save me or who had hurt me. I remember begging the nurse who I thought was my mother to please just please god do not leave me here tied up. It was terrifying. Disorienting. I was hallucinating. I was in and out of consciousness. I was drugged. I did not even have basic control over my mind, over my basic perception of reality.
My brain fighting, exhausted to make sense of what was happening to me. Why were they doing this to me? I had not done anything to anyone. I had done nothing wrong. I had been raped and assaulted. I had PTSD. My body was sick, so sick. I begged and yelled for them to let me go to the bathroom. No response. I “soiled” myself only to be mocked by them later as they cut off my pants in front of men as I begged them not to. As impatiently they ordered me to roll over when I simply could not because I was chained to the bed.
It was inhumane. There was no empathy. I was a nuisance, a “hysterical” woman to be controlled rather than helped. Then they sent me to a mental hospital. I was homeless I had nowhere else I could go. I went. It was awful.
Months of living with pregnancy symptoms, such as symptoms of gestational diabetes that magically disappeared after September 11th. Only to test negative for pregnancy in September during my rape kit. The only ultrasound for my uterus although I was sure it was ectopic from the pain and the fact that chances exponentially increase for ectopic pregnancy when you have endometriosis and pelvic swelling.
Only to then feel like my insides were exploding. I literally thought I was in labor. They took me to the hospital. They did not tell me what was going on. I honestly thought I had somehow passed the fetus and would be okay. Little did I know they found nothing when they had me “go to the bathroom” which by the way, when you feel like and think you are miscarrying fetuses after being raped that is an incredibly traumatizing experience. Thus, the mental hospital used this “imagined miscarriage” against me. But the hospital had not even tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Even when I suggested and then begged for an intravaginal ultrasound to check my ovaries, where the most pain was. No, instead they simply assumed I was crazy, my pain and symptoms were imagined, not real.
Only for my stomach to feel like it was exploding again, it became further swollen and distended. I began passing thick reabsorbed blood (melena – you get that from internal bleeding being absorbed) in a mental hospital. Bleeding that lasted for two weeks without medical treatment because “nothing was wrong with me, I wasn’t in agonizing pain, endometriosis and fibromyalgia were not even real, in fact I had not even been raped I was suddenly schizophrenic.” Pain and bruises on my hand and foot, where I remembered Bobby hurting me, pain that did not show up as a broken bone on x-rays so *shrug* whatever.
Somehow, despite years of therapy and no symptoms I was now “diagnosed” schizophrenic by a psychologist who did not believe me about anything. I was imagining my rape. Imagining what I believed, still believe, was an ectopic miscarriage of twins. Imagining everything, oh and I was “clearly obese” so that men would not rape me. The misogyny was rampant. I was so vulnerable, so raw, like a bleeding gaping wound their messages clawed at me. They played mind games with my head, telling me who I was and what had or had not happened to me and I doubted everything I ever thought I knew.
The first night in mental prison I knew I needed medical care. That was the night my stomach hurt so bad I thought I would die and when I say this I mean it. I have had chronic appendicitis for three weeks before surgery. I have had three abdominal surgeries. I have endometriosis which doctors describe as like a “pain cancer” without malignancy. I know pain. That was the most pain I had ever been in. Ever. My hand and foot felt broken, I have had broken bones. I needed help.
They refused it, mocked me, said but you were able to walk to the front desk to get help. When I begged for help getting back to my room, exhausted and shaking they were cruel and cold. One man actually shoved me down when I couldn’t ease my pained, swollen body onto the stiff awful “mattress” pad. I shook violently, uncontrollably for periods of a time that night. The man who had shoved me walking into my room every fifteen minutes with a flashlight. It was horrifying. Revictimizing. Retraumatizing.
I was completely and utterly alone and I literally felt like I was dying. It got hard to breath. I lay there thinking breath, breath, breath, survive, survive, survive feeling this horrifying feeling I had never felt before. I can only imagine how much worse actual death is. I was deathly pale, barely eating, nauseous all the time, my abdomen hurt as it swelled even larger. Something was wrong. I have never been wrong about my body even when others said I was. Something was wrong and I was completely alone and no one would help me. I sobbed into my pillow – he walked in and told me to keep it down so I did not wake my roommate up. I felt ashamed to cry from then on. Keep quiet. Don’t let yourself feel it all too much. Don’t cry.
A girl on my floor was molested in her sleep. This place was hell. I was not safe. We were not safe. We were the most vulnerable population and the staff knew it and abused it. People were miserable, staff was unhelpful, we helped each other, they offered little to nothing but control. They controled us. They had all the power over us. Either I took a medicine that could affect my heart, prescribed for a condition I did not have, diagnosed by a misogynistic doctor who did not even believe I had a physically observed, tested, and diagnosed disorder (endometriosis – I have pictures and scars), or I was not cooperating.
The pain from my untreated illness, my endometriosis, my fibromyalgia, and my PTSD were all untreated. It was all getting worse. I could not do my physical therapy without help. I could not get the medications I needed. I could not use medical marijuana – the one thing that has helped my pain better than anything. I could not eat the foods that help my illnesses. I could not get sleep in that bed. I could not wear clothes that helped my pain (compression and joint support). I could do nothing to treat my pain and they were doing nothing but teaching basic “stress management.” I was fine with stress management, rape not so much.
I demanded they let me go or treat me, but if they would not treat me it was within my rights to leave. They wouldn’t let me go. Not only that but they threatened to hold me for months. It took my mother and husband parking out in the lobby for nearly an entire day. The doctor who saw me even said “are you sure your husband even wants you back?” To which I retorted with (I imagine eyes bulging and blazing) “positive.” I told my husband that and he was livid “I sat in that fucking room all day to get you back! I didn’t want you back?! That fucking sexist prick!”
It was abusive. It was unacceptable.
I was locked up like a criminal and my rapists were free. All of them.
Last year was the worst year of my life, last September the worst month.
It was also the year I woke up.
That was the month I found myself.
I woke up literally. He was on top of me. His arms holding mine down, his palm pressing into my left hand. His legs trying to pin me as I squirmed. His heel slamming down on my foot, sharp pain, a sound. I woke up.
What I had thought were just nightmares and night terrors from continued PTSD was Bobby. What I had dismissed and pushed aside all those disgusting feelings every time he was around had been him hurting me. Trauma. It does a number on your brain. Just because you’re sleeping does not mean you are not aware of the assault. I was.
When I woke up it was blurry. I thought I was still sleeping. I pushed him off me. He fell. He left. I was so disassociated, half asleep, possibly sleep walking (as I did repeatedly the weekend I reported my rape due to sleep deprivation). I can barely sort out the memories. They are a jumble of hands and mouth touching and just wishing I was dead the entire time. I was on pain medicine before, strong pain medicine that knocked me out. I sank back in bed and did nothing – but I had woken up, I was waking up, I was going to wake up, it had begun.
For two days I struggled. Fighting to remember what was wrong with me. I remember I told my husband “I feel like I forgot something I need to remember.” I knew something was wrong. I had no idea what. I had known for a long time but now it was killing me. He used to drop off my packages at my door. That day I ran into him in the hall. I found myself wanting to rip his balls off with my bare hands. I found myself wanting to flee in terror. My heart leapt into my throat, he said something about the package as I pushed it into the house, a curt “thanks” came out of me pre-programmed by years of please-and-thank-you. He could barely meet my eye, I was glaring daggers with a pit in my stomach, my fingers trembling, my body felt like it was burning in rage as an ice cold chill hit me, kicking the box into the house as quick as I could.
Throughout the night I closed in on it, tossing and turning and in the wee hours of the morning it hit me like a bag of bricks. It rained down on me and it was the most heartbreaking, devastating, terrifying thing to have to admit. Trevor and I cried together. Tried to figure out what to do. The next part of the story is for another time.
But I had woken up to my reality and that year I decided I would never again be asleep. I would never dismiss my feelings. I would never ignore my instincts. I knew Bobby was trouble the day I moved and he hit on me to my own husband. I would never lose myself like that ever again. I would never doubt myself.
This year has been a process of constantly trying to figure out what that means. I mean, I know who I am. But what does it mean with trauma, revictimization, and PTSD to stop doubting yourself? Because sometimes I cannot control it. What does it mean to heal? Am I healing fast enough? What do I do and how do I know if I am doing any of this right?
It has been a long year, but also one of the shortest of my life because I was struggling to even remember days of the week. For months I was flooded with all the memories of those nightmares, I was remembering pieces, they flooded in randomly, I was trying to sort through them. I had night terrors so bad I would wake up fighting off blankets and sometimes my husband. I had nightmares every single night. Eventually it got so disabling I just actively fought to repress, box up, dismiss, push away those memories. I needed a break. Trying to heal is a daily battle and it does not always leave time for living. Now, I have to go through the process of remembering and reprocessing in therapy. It is going to be so hard. But I can do it that is why I am a survivor. I survive.
We began this month with a trip to the Rocky Mountains in a cozy cabin. Away from everything it was like I was digesting all the work I had done all year. I was realizing how far I had come. I was realizing how much I have accomplished, can still accomplish, realizing his power over my life is gone. I am free.
I still have a lot of healing left to do even though a year has almost passed since the torture ended. But I woke up and I have realized what that means for me, I can function again in society. I can research and write again. I can study again. I can have a life and I can also be a hundred percent unapologetically me, a survivor through and through.
Now I just want to keep healing, continue my research, and help people who have been through this. So I have some words of advice after all this, this is the point of telling you all this:
Be unapologetically you.
Trust yourself implicitly.
This is the hardest and most important tenant of healing. I am admittedly not at all successful at it most days. I struggle every day with this.
But please, please love yourself.
It could save you.