Over a decade ago, a guy I was dating raped me. I feel dirty just typing that, but there it is. For the longest time, I didn’t even remember the event, but it kept assaulting me from the depths of subconsciousness. It wasn’t until November 2015 that I finally started dealing with this and other traumas in both therapy and writing.
It was harder than I’d even imagined it would be. Basically, I spent months reliving every trauma I’d experienced—all at once. It was hell. While awake, I’d combat flashback after flashback. At night, I had disturbing nightmares.
But I got through it.
Then, several months ago, the piece of shit who raped me friend requested me on Facebook. After years of neither seeing nor speaking to this person, he suddenly thought it was appropriate to contact me. Never mind that he’d raped me or that we had a slew of other issues in our trainwreck of a relationship; the damage he’d done was extensive, the list exhausting. This person had been warned repeatedly years ago by myself and others to stay the fuck away from me, yet keeps trying to force his way back into my life every so often.
When I saw the friend request, I panicked. Full anxiety attack with hyperventilation and flashbacks and everything. I also went a little berserk.
Facebook and other social media are a digital part of my business and life, but they’re also a safe space. They’re the places with which my voice is amplified, places where I share my writings and feel strong, secure, and safe. In that moment, though, I no longer felt safe or in control. If he’d been able to find me on Facebook—when I’d made my privacy settings more secure than Fort Knox—he could find me anywhere.
Even at my home.
It all had to go, I realized. I had to scrub myself from the internet. Before I could fully think through what I was doing, I started deleting Facebook friends. There was no rhyme or reason to it; I just went into my friends list and started manually deleting people, one by one—people I’ve known for years, family members, readers. As I scrolled through my friends, mindlessly going through the “remove friend” process over and over, I started thinking about how to go about getting rid of Instagram, Twitter, my blog, my website.
And then it dawned on me: Was I really going to upend my entire career over this person? Yes, he’d hurt me—hurt me in so many more ways than I can ever express to anyone, taken from me not only my sense of safety but also three years of my life that I could have spent much happier. But I’d been healing. I’d grown strong. I’d found my voice and faced all of that pain head on. Was I going to let him undo all of that progress and send me burrowing deep down into myself again? Was I going to let him hurt me once more?
I stepped away from the computer.
Months later, I’m still dealing with the consequences of that day. Since then, I blocked him from my personal profile and business page, and opened up my personal profile to be public. Where I previously refused to add people I didn’t know well, my profile is as open as it can possibly be to my readers and colleagues. Still, I deleted a lot of people.
I tried re-adding as many people as possible, but 1) I had a lot of friends before my little spree and 2) the weird behavior confused a lot of people. One day we were friends, then we weren’t, and then they got a new request from me. There are a lot of scammers out there, so I totally understand people’s wariness, and I feel bad for confusing anyone.
Mostly, though, I’m proud of the progress I made after my initial panic. While I blocked this scumbag, I searched for and blocked the other guy who’d raped me a year later. In a way, it was sort of like typing the final sentence in a chapter.
I’m no longer afraid of these men. When I used to imagine running into them, I saw myself running away or freezing completely. Now I see these scenarios ending in one of two ways: me punching the shit out of someone, or me telling them to fuck off and stay away, and them walking away.
I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.
I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.
If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.
I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.
I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.
Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.
Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.
Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.
My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.
My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.
It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.
A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.
It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.
With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.
Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.
A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.
Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.
Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.
With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.
My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.
Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.
Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.
When that happened, I had to practice self-care.
When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.
For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.
I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.
Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.
My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.
The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.
So I took my time.
I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.
I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.
I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.
I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.
I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.
When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.
I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.
For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.
What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!