*This post discusses sexual assault.
I haven’t posted on here in over a year. And what a year it’s been.
There were many reasons for my silence – working long hours, self-editing to the point of paralysis – but mostly, I no longer related to the identity of this blog. I feared the idealist had gone, slowly siphoned away by a series of events that hacked me to the core, leaving me raw, exposed and weak. It’s only now that I feel I’ve regained my strength and stepped back into myself. The tail end of 2015 was really an out-of-body experience; 2016 was all about reconstruction.
Before providing context, I’d like to explain why I’m even sharing this deeply personal story at all – and why now. Simply because, one year after the worst period of my life, I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve been since childhood. One year after feeling so low I felt I couldn’t go on, I’m writing about it with distance and insight, direct from my sunny balcony in a whole new city. My life looks and feels so dramatically different that I don’t recognise myself. And it’s exciting and soothing and liberating. I’ve shed my coat after a long winter. This post isn’t about being smug or #blessed; it’s about honesty and solidarity for anyone who is currently struggling. It is so easy to compare yourself to a highlight reel, so I wanted to strip away the facade as a reminder that you’re not alone. It can get better. It really, really can.
In 2015, I had an exciting, perfect-on-paper job that I enjoyed. But slowly, the demands and stresses took their toll and my body and mind began to burn out (I live with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, making full-time work an almost superhuman challenge). Every day was an auto-pilot pursuit of work, sleep, work, sleep. I felt exhausted and battered on a cellular level, like being trampled by a stampede over and over. My social life became non-existent, my personal life in disarray. There was just nothing left in the tank.
Then in August I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. I’d always imagined I’d be the kind of person who fought back; who punched and kicked and screamed for help. The person who reported it. But I did none of those things. I froze. It all happened so quickly, yet somehow in slow motion. He’d grabbed, pushed and literally shoved before my brain even caught up. I managed to get away before it went any further, but the damage was already done. There is very little that is ours in this world, and when somebody violently infiltrates your body, your only safeguard to the outside, it changes you. Changes the way you view. Long after the physical act, I have a phantom feeling of that violation. I had never felt so worthless in my whole life. I’d been reduced to an object for entertainment, a husk with no will of my own. I confided in a couple of people but his actions were disregarded as “handsy”. Immediately, I internalised the blame. Analysed every moment that led to it. What could I have done differently? That old chestnut. What could I have done differently. That’s not the question we should be asking, is it? The only decision that made a difference came from him and him alone. The feeling of powerlessness haunted me; I saw the world through a newfound filter of fear. My illusion of safety had evaporated.
Then a few months later, I was sleazily propositioned by a good friend; a married man and father. He thought of it as nothing more than a question, but to me, it was a betrayal of trust that nullified everything that came before. Was our friendship all fuelled by an ulterior motive? Had I been groomed for this moment? Once again I felt dehumanised, humiliated, unsure of what to believe … stripped of my sense of autonomy, like a chess piece in a game I wasn’t permitted to play. I have always been quietly confident, headstrong, independent, ambitious. Optimistic and astute. Suddenly I felt submissive, frail, jittery. I felt like a victim and I hated that – and judged myself accordingly.
Because I couldn’t retreat inside myself, I began to feel detached from my body. One night, after a dinner with friends, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I lay flat on my back in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to reduce my rapid heartbeats and shallow breathing. But I couldn’t get on top of it. The panic spread throughout my body. Then suddenly I was overcome by a sense of calm … then stillness. My mind felt as if it was floating away, like a balloon released to the sky. I thought I was dying. The only thing scarier than feeling pain is feeling nothing at all. I got up, hoping that walking around would bring me back down, but still my mind hovered. I knelt on the bathroom floor, hoping the cold, tangible tiles would jolt some sensation and tether me, anchor me. It didn’t help. I cried out for my sister, who helped me into bed and stayed with me until I fell asleep. The doctor said it was a panic attack, and my days became a seemingly endless cycle of dread, preparing for the next one. I can see in hindsight that it was my brain’s way of protecting me from the overwhelming level of input; those episodes were mechanisms to mentally and emotionally reboot. So it’s really a form of healing. But when you’re in it, the world becomes muted, experienced under a veil. And when you’re unable to see, smell or feel its beauty, verve and possibility, you lose the capacity to be happy. Numb becomes normal.
Approaching 2016, I was certain I couldn’t survive another year of the same. That push was a blessing – I made the snap decision to move from Perth to Melbourne and focus on my passion (writing for theatre and film). As soon as I set foot in my new city in March 2016, the inner chaos quietened. As though all that resistance had just been my insides screaming for change. I’ve been here for nearly 11 months now. I don’t want to give the impression that it was instantaneous or easy. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into self-care, therapy and introspection. It took four months to find a job; I’ve had my heart broken; I’ve worked two jobs, double shifts, scrimped and saved and eaten like a student. My big brother passed away in October and, particularly being away from my family, the grief has run deep. So, no, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. But that’s what this whole shebang is about. Setbacks, hurt, sadness … they’re all part of the spectrum of being human. I have never once regretted moving and being true to myself. All of the wonderful recent experiences, developments and opportunities have stemmed from that decision: I love my house, roommates, my location, my job; my first theatre piece was produced in November; I’ve met fascinating people; made cool, kind friends, and am dating a great guy. I’m finally where I need to be.
But that’s just my story. I hope by sharing I can drive home the point that turmoil is not a natural state of being – it’s a distress signal. Pay attention to it. We all deserve to feel calm and content in this life.