25 November 2018
Same & Different
**Note: The following blog post could be potentially triggering for those who have experienced sexual assault. You can contact RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline, accessible 24/7 by phone (800.656.HOPE) and online at online.rainn.org**
I begin my talks by using the metaphor of a mask. I explain that, when I was in high school, I wore this mask. I pretended that everything was okay when it wasn’t. I pretended that I was okay when I wasn’t. I hid everything that I was feeling from others and, sometimes, even from myself. I numbed myself from any emotion. I suppressed everything.
Once I began sharing openly about my mental health in college, I felt this mask begin to disappear.
One of the things that I try to stress in my talks is that, even though I’m coping much better today and receiving help, it doesn’t mean that every day is great. Life isn’t perfect for anyone, whether you have a mental illness or not. Some days are much better than others. And, some are far worse.
In college, I made a promise to myself that I would be transparent about what I was going through to try and help someone currently struggling- someone that related to whatever I was going through and needed to hear the message that I was trying to tell myself. But, over the past few years, I’ve learned that it is much easier for me to talk about my struggles when they’re deep in the past. When I started opening up about high school, I had been so far removed from the experiences that it wasn’t as difficult to share how I used to feel.
But, opening up about current struggles? Showing current 'weakness'? That’s a different story...
My nonprofit‘s mission is to be open and share the parts of us that we don’t want others to see. But, how can I expect others to be vulnerable if I can’t be vulnerable with what I’m currently going through?
So, I want to share that I have been struggling the past month. And, I want to share the story behind the reason I have been struggling.
This past October, I had 8 speaking engagements in a span of 5 days in 3 different states. I was really excited because this was the most I had ever booked in a row. The Friday before this speaking trip started, I decided to go out. I only remember short blips from the night, but I am going to share what I do remember.
I remember being at a pregame, not drinking more than I normally do.
I don’t remember going into a club.
I remember sitting in a VIP section because I couldn’t walk.
I remember a girl asking me if I had any friends that she could call for me, but I couldn’t form words.
I don’t remember losing my phone or wallet.
I remember being on the street with a stranger pulling my arm to walk with him on the sidewalk.
I remember that I wasn’t able to speak as a security guard asked for my license in this stranger’s dorm.
I remember the stranger asking the security guard to let it slide and let me in without identification.
I remember looking up the ceiling crying in a bed while the guy raped me and just hoping it would end soon.
I remember looking down at the bruises on my body the next morning, serving as reminders of the night before.
And, that’s all I remember.
The reason I share this is not for sympathy or to share that I am now part of the overwhelming statistic of sexual assault victims. My story is not unique. This happens every 98 seconds in the United States. The reason I share this is because I noticed some important things about myself from this experience- parts of myself that have changed since high school and parts of myself that haven’t changed much at all.
What hasn't changed?
I currently have unread voicemails on my phone from my local victim services, asking me to call them back about a free support group in my area. I posted on Instagram the next day, acting like everything was fine. I make sarcastic comments about it to friends and family, which makes them uncomfortable, because I don't know how to deal with it.
I haven’t changed in that I still try to suppress any negative emotion. I numb myself. I like to pretend that if I act like something didn’t happen, it means it didn’t.
But, what has changed?
I told my parents what happened and got the rape kit done at the hospital, instead of completely hiding my struggles like I did back in high school. I had been going to therapy for months before this incident when I was feeling good, so when this happened, I was comfortable sharing the experience with my therapist. I was honest with audience members at those 8 talks about the fact that I’m not feeling 100% currently and that that’s okay.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that the mask that I speak of in my talks is not completely removed. But, I also have learned that it’s much more removed than it was in high school, which to me shows progress and change.
The difference between high school and now is that I know that I am not alone. I know that it gets better. I know that there are people who love me and are there to support me if I let them. I know that therapy and medication can help. I know that I am a much stronger human being than the guy who chose to treat me like I was not a human being at all.
I am a believer that things happen for a reason, even if it doesn't make sense right now. So, if you’re reading this and going through anything that I am currently going through, I don’t believe you're reading this by accident or coincidence. You are loved. You are needed in this world. You are going to make it through your pain. And, I’ll keep telling myself that too.