Fair Forewarning: This post deals with intense emotional/physical trauma and abuse
The last two weeks, last three weekends, I have not so much as stepped outside my comfort zone as leaped outside it.
Two weekends ago (night of July 1st), I agreed to stay late in town to watch the fireworks, then go to a dance and stay over at a friend’s house. I have never gone to an adult dance or club before. And have basically never slept over at someone’s house as an adult (outside of relationships), despite several attempts at it.
Last weekend was Pride. My friends convinced me to march in the parade. I have never seen the parade, never gone to any pride events and certainly never marched before. Knowing how I work, I convinced myself to go to another dance on Saturday night and stay over at (the same) friend’s house then go to the march together. On Saturday when I was getting ready to go, I got a phone call saying the bloodwork I’d done first thing in the morning had come back and the numbers were off which meant I needed to see my GP ASAP. I had only just given myself my first low-dose of testosterone at the time. Later, at the dance, I ended up hanging out mostly with two guys who I had just met, dancing, and chatting. The night at my friend’s house went fine, and we got to the parade on time. However, after parting ways (he was marching with a different group), I couldn’t locate my group. I walked the length of the parade and asked for help, but no one could help me. That drove me to actually make a phone call, something I only very rarely do, to a friend who equally dislikes phone calls. I finally met up with my group, and that friend, and realized that I was in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack.
My last anxiety attack, and my first one (only ever had three) were in the first half of my four months of no sleep, three years ago.
I did the march, I couldn’t not. My friend I spent the night with had my backpack at his house, and my current primary support network was right there in the parade. So, I marched. At the end, where the celebrations were, I told my friends that I needed to be with them in some quiet spot for a little bit. We ended up sitting for close to two hours before I was okay to move around again. After that, the day went well.
The fallout has been beyond imagination.
The disassociation I experienced with the risperidone had far reaching effects. I’m still working on putting all the pieces together of what changed and what I lost and what needs finding again. I found one of those pieces at Pride last weekend and I never knew I’d lost it.
The anxiety attacks I had three years ago were paired with a heightened general anxiety due to lack of sleep and lack of control over my general life situation. But, they were isolated.
The anxiety attack I had last weekend opened a door in my mind to realizing what anxiety actually feels like. That door stayed open and I realized that I live my life on a daily basis just sitting at the edge of anxiety.
I’ve spent the last week trying to work through it and process why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. Certainly, I shouldn’t feel anxious about getting on a bus, something I do 4-10 times a day every day, but this week has taught me that I do. One of my coping mechanisms, one of my ways of processing things, is to have conversations. I will end up having the same conversation over and over and over again until I’ve completely exhausted all the people I can confide in so I can try to deconstruct everything that happened and everything that I’m feeling. I’ve spent my week in conversations.
Which brings me to this weekend and some of my big eye-openers about why I feel the way I feel.
On Thursday, I went to dinner with a friend. We had initially bonded over some awkward experiences with one of our mutual friends, but are working on expanding our friendship beyond that. Our conversation inevitably moved to the trauma of our lives. I ended up sharing one story that I’ve only told a handful of people. When I did, he told me that he knew immediately that was why I was having issues spending the night at someone’s house. After he and I parted ways, I shared the same story with my safe person that I marched with (the one I made the phone call to). He told me that he knew I was a victim of sexual violence, but didn’t want to pry. On Friday, I spent some time with the safe friend, his girlfriend, and another friend of ours. They convinced me to spend the night at the safe friend’s house so I could go do some construction work with the girlfriend and other friend in the morning. They seemed to think it would help. On the way to pick up my stuff, I told the other friend (who was giving me a ride to my house then to my safe friend’s house) the same story I’d told the first two friends on Thursday. They told me some of the ways that they did their healing and suggested a program for me to investigate to help work through what happened. If you’re not following, that’s three people in two days I told about this thing that happened. This morning, I woke up at my safe friend’s house and went to do the construction work. I lasted until noon before I had to say I was done and we all trooped home.
Four Years Ago (read at discretion)
Four years ago, I was living in an abusive situation. I was a live-in nanny for a family that did not have a healthy dynamic. They took advantage of me and my time. I was accused of not being honest about my experience and skills. I was manipulated into agreeing to stay multiple times when I tried to quit. I was so emotionally exhausted that there were several points that I broke down to tears in the middle of the day. As an escape, I rode my bike and I went to the local pub. In just 7.5 months of owning that bicycle, I put over 3,000km on it and wore the tires almost bare. I was a well-known regular at the pub and expected almost nightly from 7pm until 2 or 3 in the morning. I became friends with a very diverse group of people including a music producer, an engineer-turned-cook, and one of the local Italian Mob Bosses. I was also friends with some younger people who didn’t come nearly as regularly as I did.
One night, it was cold, icy, and I was tired and very drunk when the bar closed. I didn’t want to ride my bike home. A friend offered me somewhere to sleep for the night, said he’d take me to breakfast in the morning, then drop me off at the house I was working out of. I took him up on the offer and told him, very explicitly, “I’m not interested in doing anything, just sleep. I’m sleeping in my clothes.” He agreed that would be fine and we loaded up my bike and headed to his place.
When we got there, I realized we’d be sharing a bed. I’d been led to believe there was somewhere else for me to sleep, like a couch. Whatever, I’m adaptable. I reiterated that I wasn’t interested in anything but sleep and I was sleeping in my clothes. He wheedled and pleaded and eventually got me down to underwear and undershirt before we climbed under the covers. He asked if we could spoon and I agreed, though I wasn’t comfortable with it. He waited until I was almost asleep before he started working his hand under my shirt. I told him no, and pushed his hands away. He persisted. I asked him to stop, he persisted. I turned to tell him again, and he kissed me and stuck his hand in my underwear. He stripped me and had his way and then spooned me the rest of the night like this was an okay thing. In the morning, he woke me up to do it again. Then we got dressed and he took me to breakfast and dropped me off at the kids’ house like everything was all fine and grand.
And then he kept coming to the same bar and being friendly with me.
I kept telling myself that I should have known something like that would happen. That there’s a certain expectation when a man brings a woman to his home after a night at the bar. That I should have been more adamant in not taking off my outer clothes. That I should have just gone home instead of staying out that night.
It took two years of feeling negative feelings every time I saw one of his facebook posts to admit that it was rape. To admit that it wasn’t my fault. To admit that I was taken advantage of, assaulted. I told only three people initially. This weekend, two years later, I told three more. And now I’m telling, well, whoever reads this.
In my conversations this week, I’ve realized that a great many of my sexual/romantic relationships have had some level of abuse in them. My first two sexual partners coerced me into sex, convincing me it was something I wanted (which it was, just not with either of them). My second sexual partner (third romantic relationship of any level of seriousness) was emotionally abusive and manipulative and isolating. He played off my OCD to get me to do things and then made me feel horrible for not doing them perfectly. He slowly drew me away from my family and friends while not adding me to his own circles. My most recent romantic relationship had a certain level of coercion to it as well, to the point of twisting what I wanted into what he wanted when it came to my surgery (perhaps you remember my posts about that). When he asked for me back, I laid out certain things that could not be negotiated, that he had to agree to, that he had to accept, and he refused. One of them was that I am hard on the male side of binary, that I cannot be referred to with female pronouns/pet names, and that I need to be seen and treated as a guy. He told me that he didn’t know those things were hurtful (despite the fact that we’d talked about it the few times he did use them), and that he wasn’t gay and that he never saw me as either gender.
Finding Anxiety (mostly safer reading now)
Since Pride last weekend, I’ve realized what anxiety feels like. I’ve realized that I feel it every day. I’ve realized that it has a great many sources and there is a lot of work I need to do to bring myself back to a level of peace. I’ve also realized that I’ve lived with this daily anxiety for a very, very long time. I cannot pinpoint a single time when I have not had anxious tendencies, though some of them are certainly much worse now than they were 10 years ago when I was still in high school and before the sexual abuse.
I’ve been a compulsive picker (of scabs and skin) for as long as I can remember. My body is laddered with scars from picking and repicking my scabs and scars. I have had self-harm ideation for as long as I can remember. (This has never included suicide.) One of my earliest memories is of taking a hammer to my knee, purely to break it. I had a plan for how I would explain the injury to my parents. But I wasn’t strong enough to actually do any damage. I was 3 or 4 at the time. Since then, there have been many small successful self-harm attempts, but none needing more than a bandaid. I have had OCD manifesting in different ways since at least my preteen years. Washing the dishes was a very big problem for me for a long time (and one of my almost daily chores). There were needs to have things just right in order to actually do things, there still are. There was certain routines and rituals to using certain objects including the internet. There were obsessive tendencies to go through EVERYTHING of something (read a webcomic, beginning to end, even if it means staying up all night; read encyclopedias cover to cover, not just the entries of interest; sort through all of the photos in one location or all of the cards; look at all of the photos posted to a photo-sharing site, an impossible task that nearly broke me). There were needs to have things organized in a very specific manner (Dewy Decimal organization of my home library and, when I found it, my parent’s library).
In the last 10 years, I’ve added reluctance to engage in new situations or be in new spaces with new people. One new thing at a time, everything else must be familiar or I’m not okay with it. I have a reluctance to go over to other people’s houses, especially overnight. I’m less adaptable to any level of change unless it was rooted in something I control. And I have more obsessive thoughts circling around in my head.
Knowing what I know now about my mental-emotional state, I want to work towards finding a balance of some sort, finding some way to be at peace with my daily life. Knowing what anxiety feels like will allow me to know where my limits are and how far to stretch them. Having the friends I do around me will help me work through this in ways that are healthy, I hope.