And Shaped My Mental Health
*WARNING* *POSSIBLE TRIGGER* *WARNING*
I’ve been thinking a lot about my rape. Everything in our news has sort of forced me into thinking about a subject that I tucked away for 30rs. I recently wrote about how I feel my assault has perhaps had a hand in much of my chronic illness, if chronic illness/autoimmune disorders are in part, caused by elevated stress. Today, I want to talk about how I feel my assault shaped me and my mental health. To be clear, I am only talking about my assault here as a teen and not including a four-year marriage that was also violent and abusive and no doubt had an impact on all facets of my health.
It was 1987 and I was 13yrs old. I went to a YMCA day camp in my town. Day camp was the closest thing I got to a “camping” experience. My mother was not the out-doors type and because I was an only child, and probably because she needed some me-time too, I was sent to day camp for a couple of sessions. I was always a very introverted child- an INFJ to the core and I wish I had known that then or had come with an owner’s manual for my parents, because it was very hard. Both my parents are very extroverted and it simply did not carry over to me. They felt that day camp would get me around kids my age and I would blossom from the cocoon of introvert-land. No such luck, but I did love going to camp.
To sum up the hierarchy of the camp you had the camp-goers and staff/counselors and also counselors-in-training (CiT). These were kids that were too old for camp and who were 16-18 years old and who worked they’re under the guidance of counselors and would play with and monitor the camp kids. Please keep in mind that these memories are 30yrs old and from a child’s memories. I have always loved kids. I felt like I was an adult trapped in a child’s body. I don’t know if this was because I was an only child, if it was because for a lot of my childhood I lived in neighborhoods without children and where my companions were senior citizens, or because I just got kids. While I had a few friends my age, when we did age-related activities, when we were all thrown together, I spent a lot of time playing and keeping company with, the younger kids and also with some of these counselors-in-training. Among them, were both boys and girls and at the tender age of thirteen, I both idolized them and wanted them to like me, including the boys. But I was 13 and approaching in Junior High and awkward and didn’t feel very pretty. Until, one of the boy-CiT’s eye landed on me. He payed attention to me and whenever he needed help would recruit me. I felt very special.
My day-camp, though I do think they had a special week that was overnight, was not that kind of camp. My parents were extremely frightened of something happening to their only child and in a day and age of “Adam,” they had a good reason to worry. So I did not get to go to the special overnight week that some of my friends were able to attend, however, we did have day trips where we would go to an area with a lake (and forgive me, as this is a place I have not been back to in 30yrs, so my memory is foggy) and where they had areas for art and crafts and other things, bathrooms and showers for after the lake and places that were out of sight, though you were not allowed to wander off without an adult or CiT. This place is where my assault took place. The boy had me wrapped around his finger and so when he asked me to help him get some stuff for a project later on, I didn’t question it and it didn’t seem odd to me that it was in the are we weren’t allowed to wander to. He was a CiT, which was the equivalent to an adult for me and I was glowing with pride that he liked me and trusted me to help him. It was here, away from the others and in a supply closet that he raped me. I remember the surprise and the fear with a terrible acuity. I remember the way he pulled down my shorts and put his hand over my mouth and told me not to scream. I wouldn’t have dared anyway, the fear had me all but silenced and all I could do was cry. He raped me and told me if I said a word, if I tried to tell anyone, that he would hurt me and my parents. After it was over he brought me to the girl’s bathroom and told me to wash up. He left me there and I did as he said, still feeling the horror. I washed everywhere. So even if I had told, I’d already ruined any possible DNA being found. I was a kid. I was terrified. I don’t know how I made it the rest of the afternoon. Mostly, I don’t even remember. I think I slipped into some rote function and did what I was supposed to and when I got home I pretended not to feel well.
I never told anyone. Not a camp counselor, not anyone.
That up-coming school year was horrible. I have no doubt I drove my parents to the brink. Things get fuzzy for me here. I spent a lot of time in detention and I was not doing well academically either. Everything from my demeanor to my style changed. I was more withdrawn than normal; my favorite color was black and I was always seeking trouble. I was experimenting with boys and not in a healthy way. I had it in my head that I brought this on myself and that I somehow deserved it for flirting with this boy because I wanted him to like me. So, my perception of myself in relation to boys was a thing to be used. At some point my parents sought help for me, taking to me a psychiatrist who apparently at some point had been a priest. I was seeing him because I had begun to not eat. Anorexia and bulimia, for me, was a way in which I could control something within myself because I wasn’t able to control what happened to me. I told this doctor I had been assaulted and this doctor did not believe me. I remember recounting to him in excruciating detail what had happened and he told me that it was an imagining. That my brain had conceived this idea as a way in which I would not have to be culpable for my actions. In other words, I invented this horrible experience because I did not want to be responsible for my bad grades, or my mouth, or constantly doing things wrong in school that landed me in detention. To be fair to this doctor, these are my 30yr memories and it is from the perspective of a child. It may not have been how he intended, but it was how it was perceived. This only made me more combative against my parents and they decided that therapy was not working and we stopped going.
Jump forward to High School, I turned my focus on writing. I wrote poetry and fiction and I spilled my pain onto paper. I also fell into some sports and found a way to release some of the anguish I’d been feeling. My behavior in High School was either way, way up in elation or way down. I cycled fast, and there could be days I was good and days where I shut out the world. I knew something was wrong with me but I did not have the words for it. Sometime in my Sophomore year, I think, I went on a choir trip for a competition in Virginia Beach. This was the first time I’d been allowed to embark on such an excursion, by myself (without parents) and I was excited. Everything went well until the night before we had to leave when we were out on the beach and met some men in the military. We were expressly told to stay away, but I was high on life and daring and I befriended two marines. One of them more so than the other and I invited them up to my room (That I shared with 3 other girls). They showed up and half surprised and half dizzy with excitement that they did come up I let them in. Two men who were probably between 18-21 years old, in a room with four girls around 15. I thought I was in love with the one. He held me the entire night and when morning came, excitement and that rush of love drained faster than I can even describe, leaving me with torment and anguish because we were expected to leave. He promised he would write and I half believed him but knew it was unlikely. I didn’t want to go home and I can’t even put into words how quickly and how devastating my mood plummeted. I couldn’t even register the possible danger I had placed my friends in, as I recall their fear when they showed up at our door and when I let them in.
I believe that my assault had an impact on a developing mind as well as developing emotions. I think that whatever made me predisposed to Bipolar biologically, was set-off by the assault and changed the wiring in my brain. I’m not a doctor or psychologist and I don’t claim to know a lick about the biochemistry of it, I’m just saying how it feels in my own head and body. That the body who raped me when I was barely a teenager most likely altered the course of my mental health. I also believe that this alteration predisposed me to an attraction to men who were abusive. I think it’s naïve to believe that events in our lives have no impact on our brain and body. I think in some ways that it is unfair to lay the entire burden on biology for making us this way. That our brains were simply pre-wired for all of this. Can’t it be both? I believe that my sexual assault, and later on my abusive marriage, were integral in making me who I am today. This includes everything from my personality, my quirks and anxieties and my bipolar. Sure, it’s possible that even if I’d lived a charmed life and never encountered the kind of pain I had, that I would have turned out exactly the same way, but I believe pain changes us. And when it’s all said and done, despite it all, I like how I’ve turned out. My experiences have allowed me to become a writer and to share what happened to me with all of you so that maybe, we all heal a little. I feel truly blessed that I can use my platform to engage with other survivors and other warriors out there. We over-come our pain through unity. We use our powerful voices to change things.