This is part II of a III part blog. If you haven’t read part I, read it first by clicking here.
After about a week of trauma therapy in PHP, the work finally began. I stopped resisting and started being honest with myself about my experiences. I stopped trying to do everything right and started trying to tell the truth. Through this, I realized that the reasons I thought I’d been hospitalized weren’t really the reasons I’d been hospitalized. The things that I thought had tipped me over the edge were only the topsoil in a deep and messy hole. And the only way out was to sit in the hole and get dirty.
Because I had been in survival mode for so long, actually feeling my emotions was exhausting. I don’t like for people to see me upset and I don’t like to be vulnerable, but trauma therapy was requiring me to do both of those things basically all the time. After a day or two of this, I told my therapist that I felt like there was a gaping wound in the middle of my chest and the only way to feel safe was to curl up in a ball. She said, “What are you afraid is going to happen? You’re safe.” I wasn’t sure what I thought was going to happen if I let go and sat in it. In retrospect, I think it was the actual letting go that I was so afraid of. I had built my life around hanging on in order to survive. I thought I would lose myself. I thought the darkness would take me over. I thought my grief and trauma and shame would eat me alive. But, in reality, it had already tried and I had escaped.
I cried for a week. I cried constantly in group even if I wasn’t the one sharing. I bought frozen and prepackaged meals at the grocery store because I could barely manage to eat, much less cook. I laid in my bed and cried myself to sleep every night, overwhelmed by the amount of emotions I was finally allowing myself to feel. Plus, the loneliness of knowing that no one else can help you with your feelings is probably the most destitute I’ve ever felt. Some days, I felt ok during PHP because I knew others around me felt the same way. It was often when I left that I felt the most overwhelmed. When it was time to go home, what was I supposed to do? The answer was: nothing. I just had to sit there and feel terrible. I felt lonely and sad and overwhelmed, and you just feel it. I felt homesick for something I couldn’t identify and entirely umoored. And when I felt like drinking or hurting myself or ending it all just to make the feelings stop, I called someone to sit with you. And kept feeling.
After about a week of feeling all of this, I remember asking my therapist, “How long do I have to sit it in? How do I know when I’m done?” She looked at me and said, “I’m still sitting in it.” There will always be things I need to sit in and feel. It will probably never be as overwhelming as the second week of trauma therapy because I aim to never get to a point again where I have decades worth of built up trauma to process, but there will always be something. No one else could tell me when I was done sitting in it. I just knew. One night, I looked at a picture of my mom and sobbed for hours. After that I knew I had reached the bottom of the cave and it was time to find my way back out.
To be continued in part III…
*tw* suicide, abuse, assault, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders
I once thought that mental health safety plans were only for people who were “really suffering”, only to be used right on the verge of self harm or suicide. But recently, I realized that once someone reaches a place that urgent, it’s too late to make a plan. Asking for help should happen much sooner, immediately after symptoms and warning signs start to appear. Many of us, myself included, think our symptoms aren’t “bad enough” to get any serious help from a hospital or a helpline, but the truth is that it’s much better to ask for help too early than too late. So, based on my limited experience (DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional), here are some helpful insights into creating a mental health safety plan.
- Know your triggers. Do you have something really stressful coming up at work? Are you going to have to have a difficult conversation with someone you love? Are you going to be interacting with someone who makes you feel unsafe? Have you been looking at literally anything on the news? Be able to identify the things that trigger your anxiety and depression (or whatever it is you experience) so you can make sure to have a plan ready before the triggers are present.
- Make a plan while you’re feeling helathy. By the time you find yourself in a hole of panic or depression or suicidal thoughts or substance abuse, you’re not able to make a cohesive plan. Have you been feel good lately? Now is the time to make a plan. Every office building and hotel I’ve ever been in has an emergency evacuation plan posted on each floor. They don’t wait for the building to catch on fire to make an emergency plan. They make the plan while things are still safe and functioning well. Once the emergency begins, the chaos makes logical thinking impossible. It’s important to be thinking clearly when you make a plan for yourself.
- Know your warning signs. Know what to look for within yourself so you’re aware of when you should start to reference the plan you’ve made. If you can stop yourself from spiraling deeper by implementing your plan early on, that’s a huge victory. Knowing yourself and how you respond to triggers is crucial. If you can identify what you’re feeling and understand your symptoms, that’s honestly half the battle.
- Plan for the worst case scenario. As an anxious person, this is not always something I would suggest. When I’m getting on an airplane, I should not imagine the worst case scenario because I’ll find myself in a panic spiral about my plane falling out of the sky in flames. However, when it comes to imaging what you might do at your worst, you need to be prepared. Even if you’ve never harmed yourself or attempted suicide or abused substances or developed disordered eating, mental health can be an unpredictable monster. Know which hotlines to call, even if you’ve never needed them before. Know what resources are available at hospitals near you. Know your therapist’s phone number. It’s not overkill to have the resources at hand.
- Have a support system. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is huge for me. I hate asking for help. I’m an #indepedentwoman and I don’t like having to depend on others. But I promise that your friends would much rather get a call at 2am or have you ask them to come sit on the couch with you in silence than know you were suffering and didn’t reach out. List a few people you can call when you’re struggling. If you’re not good at saying how you’re feeling, develop code words with your partner or best friends so you don’t have to do the emotional labor of explaining what’s going on.
This is all fairly new to me, so if you have any suggestions of your own or things that have worked for you, please share them! Also, here are a few resources I’ve found helpful:
- Check out the My 3 app (not sponsored, just a great resource). It’s available for Android and iPhone and provides a place for your safety plan that’s always in your pocket. You can choose friends to contact, list resources for yourself, keep track of your warning signs and coping skills, and make a plan to keep yourself safe all in one spot. 10/10 would recommend.
- If you’re more of a “write it down” type of person, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a great Patient Safety Plan you can print out.
- Lastly, here is a template that I made based on personal experiences. I had trouble finding a template related to interacting with your abuser, so I made my own. Check it out here: Assault/Abuse Survivor Safety Plan Template.
Stay safe out there, friends. It’s a crazy world, and we have to take care of ourselves in order to fight the good fight!
If you are having thoughts of suicide (or if you are concerned about someone), there is help available right now. A trained counselor is ready to talk to you and provide help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is a free 24-hour hotline. (Press 1 for a dedicated line for Veterans and their families. Para español, oprima 2.) If emergency medical care is needed, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
**TW: assault, abuse**
“I have friends who are women.”
It felt like Brett Kavanaugh repeated this over and over throughout his hearing. This statement is the patriarchal equivalent of “I have black friends” – a phrase often used by white people to prove that their actions couldn’t possibly be racist because they know a black person. Knowing black people does not mean you don’t say and do racist things. And knowing women does not mean you aren’t a part of the patriarchy. In fact, it’s entirely irrelevant. Not everyone has black friends (though that blows my mind because it’s 2018). But, everyone knows women. Everyone has a mother. By nature of existing you have come into being through the body of a woman. Yet, there are rapists, misogynists, and abusers everywhere. Knowing women means nothing. The recently arrested East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer was living with his daughter when he was arrested. Bill Cosby has a wife and daughters. Brett Kavanaugh has a wife and daughters. This does not exempt them from being perpetrators.
What’s more, being a “nice guy” does not mean you have never assaulted anyone. Bill Cosby was the apple of America’s eye for decades. He was viewed as a wholesome, all-American, family man. But it turns out, there was a lot of abuse happening under that facade. Throughout Kavanaugh’s hearing, he pointed to letters and statements from friends that stated he was a good person, a nice guy, a good friend. These things are not mutually exclusive to sexual assault. I know because my own story feels eerily similar.
The person who assaulted me is a “nice guy”. He cares about social justice and even claims to be a feminist. No one who knows him would point to him as being a violent or mean person. I’m sure he could get 65 people to sign a letter stating the he’s a good person, just like Kavanaugh. I myself was blinded by his good-guy persona, so much so that I continued to see him for several months after my assault because I didn’t realize what had happened to me. It seemed impossible that a guy like him could do the very thing that he spoke out against. He went to the women’s march. He fights for the marginalized. How could he have possibly done something so against what he claims to be his moral code?
I dont’ know the answer to that question, but I do that Dr. Ford’s story feels all to familiar. If I were in her position, I’m sure people would be saying things about my perpetrator that are similar to the things being said by the committee and others about Kavanaugh. He has a mother. He has a wife. He has a sister. He has a daughter. Witnesses claim they have never seen him act like this before. The reality is that these things don’t matter because they don’t prevent assault. Having women friends that you talked to on the phone in high school and never assaulted does not mean that you never assaulted anyone else. No one assaults every woman in their life. Just because there are women who have not seen this side of him does not mean that side doesn’t exist. Nice guys can be rapists too.