This post is part of a series, part of a conversation about mental illness by authors of science fiction and fantasy. You can learn more and read more author posts here. This post will include some discussion of sexual assault and coping with the aftermath of trauma in daily life.
When it started, I almost didn’t feel like the ground had opened up.
I went about my life, with a word I never wanted to own hovering about my consciousness. It pressed in on the boundaries of my reality until I acknowledged it. It took months for me to do that.
The word “trigger” has been turned into a joke on the internet, so much so that I hesitate to even use it. It has become synonymous with “hysteria” in the sense that word used to be used, to describe (almost always women) as overly emotional, reactive, illogical. I say this because those targeted by this “joke” are almost always members of marginalised communities already, and I’ve yet to see anyone daring to ridicule combat veterans (ridiculing anyone with PTSD or mental illness should be abhorrent to all).
There is nothing illogical about triggers, though. And when there is nothing illogical about them, when they make crystal clear sense as a way your body is reacting to threat, remembering trauma and trying to keep you safe, the emotions and reactions are also far from illogical.
The first time I experienced a psychological trigger, I didn’t know what it was. All I know is that being in physical proximity to the person who had hurt me was suddenly too much, and I threw up. I caught the vomit in my mouth and swallowed it. Something about the way he smelled, the way he was in my space yet again–to this day I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. When I was alone again, my mouth still tasted of bile and I knew I would never let him near me again.
That was the first time I fell into the hole.
It’s well known, at least on an intellectual level, that most people know their rapists. Mine raped me the day I broke up with him. He always needed to have control. He blamed me for not stopping him the moment it was over, as if my saying no, and my saying stop, and my pushing his hands away had been anything but me trying. It took me months, even after the day of the vomit, for me to do the maths on that day and to recognise that my saying no, my saying stop, my trying to push him away and him overpowering me meant that he had been the invader, and he had crossed boundaries I had set, and that horrible word rape was something that he had done to me.
It’s been eight years since then.
This year, with the many high profile cases in the news, I found myself falling in that hole more often and at first, I couldn’t figure out why. We are so conditioned to believe that these things are illogical somehow that we forget they make total sense. The overwhelming anxiety and mix of blazing emotions I felt reading the letter Brock Turner’s victim read in the courtroom–that is the most natural thing I could have felt, especially considering that some of the details of what happened to her are picture perfect what happened to me.
I used to talk about this a lot more. It led to many, many people reaching out to me to say “Me too.” And it led to many, many well-meaning people sending me story after story after story from the news, stories that weren’t their own, and I for the life of me am not sure why they felt I needed to see them. To be horrified that our justice system always resoundingly fails? I’m not sure. I spoke to those folks and asked them to at least ask for my permission before sending me those articles. For those who reached out with their own stories, though, it was different.
By far, after the trauma I experienced myself, the most horrifying thing was realising how not alone I was. Every single one of my close friends who were women had similar stories. They had been violated at the hands of spouses, boyfriends, friends of boyfriends, family members, trusted friends–what happened to me was far from being exceptional. It is one of the stranger things I’ve experienced, the duality of relief that my experience was not something that happened in a vacuum, and absolute horror at how common it is. It’s one thing where I would gladly be the only one if it spared others this experience, but one where I also took solace in not being alone. It’s an ever-spinning coin in midair.
Rape survivors experience many types of intersecting fallout. Major depression, anxiety, rage — and often, they cause demonstrable shifts in our quality of life and our ability to keep moving forward. For some it can be too much. Care and treatment for mental illness in America is something that has systemic class barriers that intersect with many other influences, like race and gender identity and sexuality. All of it can feel…overwhelming. I have never been able to access treatment for PTSD or for my autism, or for the accompanying intersecting anxiety and depression that has come hand in hand with the PTSD.
There are days when I feel like that hole under my feet could swallow me. Eight years after the trauma that opened it, even with a trusted, loving partner who not only champions consent but actively seeks it out in all our interactions, sometimes I still trip and fall into the hole.
When I saw that Gail was organising #HoldOntoTheLight, I knew I wanted to participate. I wanted to write it to speak directly to others who, like me, may often feel stuck and unable to seek the help we need due to financial or institutional barriers. And when we factor in issues of our sexuality or gender identities, sometimes those barriers can seem like Everest–in not only feeling unable to access care itself, but in fearing to reach out because we don’t know how or if we will be received as whole people.
You are not alone. You are not the sum of the holes that open beneath you. You are solid starfire made flesh. You leave hope and truth in your wake, and in you is the persistence of a thousand suns.
You are worthy of the purest, most incandescent love that blazes in all colours. You are worthy of the soft womb of dark when the light hurts your eyes. You are worthy of the feeling of your feet touching the floor each morning, of your hands finding the best and softest piece of bread to eat. You deserve life. You are so welcome here, on this earth. I am so glad you are here and breathing, and each breath you take is in defiance of things done to you, because those things are not you, and every atom of oxygen that brings life to the blood in your veins sings the songs of life. You are living, right now, in this moment, and I am so thankful for that. You are fierce. You are marvelous. You are magic.
If you need help or someone to talk to about sexual assault, you can reach out to someone at RAINN here or call 800 656 HOPE.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com, and on the HoldOnToTheLight Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/ and on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight (note the ‘we’)
Media: Contact Gail Z. Martin via www.AscendantKingdoms.com. Recaps will also be posted on http://www.MagicalWords.net and http://www.DisquietingVisions.com
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