Trigger warning: this post contains mentions of sexual assault and suicidal thoughts. If you aren’t comfortable with these topics or if it’ll upset you to read it, please don’t read this post. I’d much rather you stayed safe and happy.
I was walking down the stairs of my house today, after all of my housemates had gone to bed. Out of seemingly nowhere, I got hit with this inescapable feeling of horror and dread; everything felt like it was collapsing. As I leaned against the wall to steady myself so that I wouldn’t fall, I couldn’t think of anywhere to run to, anywhere to turn to. Then, I remembered I had an outlet all along. So now it’s time to talk about the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to talk about on this blog. Bare with me: it might take a while.
I don’t really know how to do this. Do I start from the ‘Incident‘? Do I start from now? How do you explain your entire fucking world falling to pieces without it turning into a jumble of screaming? Perhaps I’ll start with this – I’m in my second year of uni right now. In my first year of university, in February of this year, I was sexually assaulted.
It hurts every time I say it. It doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times I write it down. I was assaulted. I am a victim of sexual assault. How many times can I say it before it feels palpable and real? Even six months on, I still shudder and the sick feelings always take me by surprise. For a lot of you, reading those words will make you feel that same sense of horror. If that’s overwhelming you, stop reading now; I won’t go into detail but I don’t want to trigger anyone who’s still recovering.
The person who assaulted me, I’ll call them the perpetrator, was someone I considered a friend. I let them stay over because I didn’t want them to drive 200 miles home, in the dark, after a meeting with a friend had gone badly for them. It happened when they thought I was asleep. I kicked them out the next day, early in the morning, then went to the police the day after that. God, how the fuck do I do this? I don’t know how to articulate how much it broke me to have my trust utterly shattered like that. I didn’t stop them; I didn’t say anything because I was terrified out of my mind. I didn’t talk to them at the time or ever about it just in case; I needed to escape but didn’t have anywhere to go. Writing all of this down in short sentences is just bringing it into stark relief for me.
The days after were a blur. I remember going to the police station and giving my statement, telling a friend about it and being totally fine, pacing round my room and throwing the clothes into a bag at the back of my wardrobe. I remember crying every night because I didn’t feel safe in my own bed or even in my own room. The one place which should have been my refuge turned into a nightmare within the space of a second. God knows how I got through all of it – I broke down a few days after with some of my friends and just started screaming out of sheer terror. I didn’t know how to carry on when my head was filled with such poisonous guilt and shame.
Shortly after that, I left uni for medical reasons. By that, I mean I was actively suicidal and knew that I couldn’t look after myself. Apart from the in-person interview and statements, the only contact I had with the police was them calling me to tell me that they were closing my case because there wasn’t enough evidence to go to trial or anything like that; this was a month or so after. When the police officer asked, ‘You’re doing alright in your head, aren’t you?’ I replied with a yes, ended the call and cried so hard that another piece of my heart gave way. It’s one thing to know that the police aren’t good with sexual assault cases; it’s another to experience it and to feel disgusting every day because of it. Maybe I couldn’t have given evidence in a witness-type situation but I wasn’t even given the choice.
When I told my parents (they knew something was wrong because of how I came home), I felt horrible. I was still convinced that it was my fault and to be honest, I have my days now where I can’t breathe for fear that it’ll happen again. They were supportive but I couldn’t work or even get out of bed; it was humiliating to not be able to do basic things because I could only do the bare minimum to keep myself alive. I didn’t care enough about myself to want to live and it was only because I was around my family that I didn’t do anything about it. That scares me now, when I think about it, but at the time it was the only logical thing I could focus on.
I returned to uni very briefly and then Covid happened which put a real spanner in the works. Luckily, being at home (again) made it easier to survive on a day-to-day basis. Slowly, I began to pick up the pieces of just how badly the perpetrator had hurt me. Saying it out loud got a tiny bit easier but when it’s directly on my mind, I feel an oppressive weight sinking into my chest. It’s as if my attention narrows onto this incident; certain words will set me off, or being touched in a certain place. A couple of days ago, one of my housemates touched my shoulder and I completely freaked out. When you’re dealing with trauma or wonky mental health resulting from it, the reactions can sometimes be random or unpredictable.
Half a year later, it’s still very much affecting me. I struggle to sleep and the therapy I’ve received for these issues hasn’t been amazing. Now I’m back at uni, I might try to get more help because I can’t carry on like this. Coming home for a second time would be so difficult, especially with a global pandemic happening? Most days I feel alone or hopeless; I wish I could stop the trauma reactions from showing on my face because I don’t want to bother my housemates with it constantly. The reality is, though, that I am traumatised and that’s not going away any time soon.
I want to get to a place where I can talk about this and be constructive. I want to help others who have been through something similar but I can only do that when I’ve got to the stage of recovery where I don’t shut down every time it’s mentioned. Next time I write about this, I want it to be with strength and not this boundless sorrow that I can’t control. I know that won’t be easy and that everyone deals with their recovery differently; it’s just always upsetting me and has affected more friendships than I can count.
One of my ways of ‘coping’ with it was to push friends away, either acting like everything was fine and just drifting or giving a non-specific explanation of my mental health being low. Over the next couple of months, I want to start to repair those friendships – I won’t tell everyone what’s happened but I want to be able to talk to the people I love without a huge wall blocking my emotions out. Sometimes, I don’t have the capacity for conversations even about simple things and I’m hoping that’ll change soon.
I don’t know if anyone who knows me in real life still reads this. If you know me and you’re reading, I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you in person. It’s so much harder to talk about this to individual people, over and over; my heart breaks every time. But if you’re reading this then I care about you so so much, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked. I find this specific thing – the assault, the trauma associated – almost impossible to talk about without sobbing my lungs out.
Thank you for reading this; I know that it was disjointed. I needed to throw my feelings out onto a screen and this seemed like the best way, for my own, and others’, sake.
So much love,
From Elm 🙂