Trigger warning: suicide, sexual abuse
I didn’t used to be like this. I was the high-functioning one, the one who kept going even when she was exhausted. I could keep it all in, control it. I was sad sometimes—I still had depression and anxiety—but it was manageable. I could deal with it by talking about it. A dinner invitation, a movie night, even just a chat in the corridor could help pick me up out of depressive episodes. Reminders that people cared were able to combat the voices in my head that said they didn’t. The voices could be drowned out a little. Things weren’t easy, but they were easier. It was possible to win the battle.
Then you came along.
Always willing to make your own opportunities. When that was performances for your music, it was inspiring. When that was helping me with my own, it was mutually beneficial. When that was finding your own supervisor for your dissertation because the university didn’t help, it was weirdly impressive. You had a drive that I really admired, and I felt safe around you. Like you had my back. Like I could go to you with all of my troubles and you wouldn’t judge me for them. I told you about my mental illness. I told you how lonely I felt. I told you how I was scared of saying no to people out of fear of disappointing them and how it had gotten me in bad situations before. You were one of the first people I ever told that I was a lesbian.
In hindsight, your response of “I believe everyone is a little bit bisexual” should have been a red flag. But I trusted you, so I let it go. Maybe you were just the more progressive of the two of us.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now that I look back over everything, more and more red flags start popping up. Your refusal to go to a consent workshop. The serial cheating on your girlfriend. The time you arranged my birthday celebrations so that I would spend it with you rather than my friendship group. Your apparent joy in getting me drunk, despite knowing about my alcohol problem that you were watching develop.
The time you groped me when we were sharing a bed.
The time we had consensual sex for a laugh and you made me feel like I’d been complicit in an affair with a girl you weren’t dating. Like you’d used me to initiate the conversation about exclusivity. The time you told me you may have given me chlamydia, laughed, and walked out. The time you laughed at me and called me an idiot for being scared I might be pregnant.
The time you listened to me telling you I was a lesbian and you told me to just pretend you were a girl. When you carried on having sex with me as I fought off tears. The times when you’d talk me out of panic attacks, only to return to trying to fuck me as though that hadn’t been the cause in the first place.
When I told you how I felt, you were the one who cried. You made me comfort you, made me share a bed with you again. I didn’t sleep. You slept soundly.
You left, and (I assume) never looked back. When I’d message you out of self-hatred, you’d act oblivious to the fact that you’d hurt me. You were sorry I was suffering, but not sorry enough to realize it was because of you.
I had a degree to do, and I couldn’t get out of bed most days for fear of facing the world. I was scared that there would be someone out there who would do the same to me as you did. Scared that my friends would turn on me as you did. Then I tried being high-functioning again, filling all my time with theatre and music as a way to not allow myself to think about you. It didn’t work. I burned out and went straight back to square one. Everything in my life was dictated by you, by thinking about you, by avoiding thinking about you. You had no idea—you were oblivious.
The next time I was remotely intimate with someone, I tried to kill myself days later. My degree had all but come to a halt, despite final exams that were happening in a matter of weeks. Your hold over me refused to loosen—I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t crying, and I wasn’t caring. I was drinking. I was lashing out at my friends for no good reason. Several weeks later, I was hospitalized for trying again. The doctors said I was lucky to be alive. I suspended my studies for a year. Lived on suicide watch for a month. Became homeless. Everything got worse, and my job became the only reason I had to get out of bed. You, of course, had no idea.
Now I’m scared to eat for fear of a catastrophe, scared to sleep in case I wake up and you’re there. I’m not scared of you—I’m scared of what I let you do to me, scared of how easily I accepted your words that crawled inside my head and threatened to change me. I’m scared of trusting people in case they use that trust against me as you did. I’m scared of sharing a bed with someone in case they do what you did or in case I wake them from a panic attack. I’m scared to talk about what happened because I still struggle to accept that someone I trusted so dearly did anything wrong. I blame myself. Of course I blame myself. Doesn’t everyone?
I talk about you in therapy every week. My therapist says that my eating disorder may be connected to the PTSD and that as we unravel the eating disorder, we can start to tackle the PTSD. Every time she says “PTSD,” I feel like a fraud, because I let it happen and I don’t deserve treatment for it. I deserve to be punished for villainizing you.
I overshare to my friends in a way I never used to. I joke about what happened. I joke about my 3 a.m. excursions of the city streets looking for a man to yell at. I joke about everything, because in a way I can’t quite explain, nothing feels real anymore. I joke that men are trash, that men are so entitled. You, the man who forced himself onto me as a 13-year-old at a cadet camp, the man on the street who grabbed my face and tried to kiss me, the man who followed me home and attempted to get me into his car. I alienate my genuinely good male friends as a way to deal with what happened with you; I’m not sure if I’m just angry or whether I’m scared that they might do the same to me. It’s irrational, as I know that they would never do that—but I once thought the same about you.
I had a life before you. I didn’t want a life after you.
But I’ve got one, and I’m spending it picking up the pieces you left behind.
And you’re oblivious.