PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve spent months trying to decide what I’d share with you tonight, and I’ve settled on those four letters- P, T, S, & D. As if sharing the fact that I’ve been raped wasn’t already trying enough, I’ve decided to disclose my mental health status. In a lot of ways, it’s become pretty easy for me to share what happened to me here during my freshman year; I was raped by an acquaintance at Midd. It happened in Allen Hall. But I continue to struggle with how to share the enduring trauma of that night with others.
I truly don’t know what was more traumatic, being raped or going through Midd’s judicial process as I experienced it. I went through not one but two separate investigators. This was the week before finals, mind you. I had to listen to my responsible person claim that I liked being raped. That I seemed to enjoy it, even. With each email, with each briefing, with each meeting and update, I was forced to relive my rape over and over and over again. I was asked one terrible question twice, and ever since, it played over and over again in my mind like a broken record: “Did he ejaculate into your mouth?” As if, without a rape kit, that question even mattered. Completely irrelevant. Completely unnecessary. Completely traumatic. As if his ejaculate somehow made a difference, or made this whole damn thing any better or any worse.
The trial brought out the symptoms of my PTSD in a much more acute way, although at that time, I didn’t have a diagnosis. I felt as though I was going crazy. Sleeping at night was nearly impossible. I would shake my head no, reliving my rape constantly. I would take those black skinny jeans out of my closet, buttoning and unbuttoning them for hours on end. I became hyperaware of my surroundings; I was always on the lookout for my responsible person. For quite some time, I couldn’t handle anyone touching or coming near my head. I began to yank at my own hair in the quiet of my bedroom, replicating his violence against my own body. There were flashbacks that were so vivid and seemed real. And I didn’t have the language or the sense of safety required to seek the help that I so desperately needed.
As I experienced it, the worst part about being raped was the lack of control that I had over my own body. As I’m experiencing it, the worst part of my PTSD is that I still lack a lot of control over my own body. I wouldn’t have PTSD if I hadn’t been raped. And on some days, it feels like my symptoms amount to my responsible person’s enduring control over me.
To be certain, the symptoms have become much easier over time in the aggregate, although this is no neat, linear narrative of progress. I’ve spent countless hours going through exposure therapy. I’ve arranged educational accommodations through the ADA office. I’ve gotten off of the meal plan because on many days, it’s too exhausting to eat and be on the lookout for him. I’ve found ways to take care of myself and manage my symptoms, but I may very well live with aspects of this disorder for the rest of my life. Above all, the inconsistency with which my symptoms come and go is exhausting.
In the early days, it was easy for me to have the space to behave in these kinds of ways. The people who mattered most to me were so gracious. But nearly two years out from my trial and three years from the rape itself, I feel the pressure to “just get over it” already. I wish it were so simple. I’m no longer resentful towards my responsible person— out of necessity, I’ve had to resign from my bitterness and rage. But even as I’m doing my best to move on and make this experience matter and make a difference, I’m left in a body that remains deeply affected and afflicted. The PTSD takes so much away from me, even still:
It’s missing days of class, when I’m too exhausted and afraid, sinking into the all-too-comfortable avoidance. It’s staring at my front door and not wanting to enter this community every morning.
It’s the mountain of pre-planning that it takes for me to enter crowded spaces and parties. It’s getting off of the meal plan. It’s that feeling that I get when other guys start to look like him.
It’s seeing, hearing, or even smelling things which remind me of my rape or of my judiciary process.
It’s having trying moments with my current partner, someone who I absolutely adore. It’s running into your responsible person at night as you’re walking to climb into a bed that would otherwise feel safe and warm.
It’s applying for a job and churning over whether or not to the check box reading “Major psychiatric disorder (i.e.- PTSD).”
Yet the PTSD has also taught me a lot of valuable lessons along the way, a paradox that I can’t yet understand:
I have reasoned that employers who would reduce me to that box are not worthy of my time.
I have learned that there are partners out there who will listen to and deeply honor the enduring memories of my body. I have come to value my close friends in ways that I cannot describe. I know what it feels like to be indebted to and supported by wonderful people.
I have worked hard to reclaim things, especially spaces and relationships, so that the bad memories exist alongside a whole host of good ones. And I have learned that some people and places cannot be reclaimed, and that’s okay, too.
It is not my goal to “survive” with PTSD; it is my goal to thrive. But even a neutral day—even on the most normal of days—I am still left completely drained. I’d like to be able to leave you with some feel-good, I’ve made it, YAY-ME! ending, but the truth is that I do not know what the future has in store for me in this regard. Zero clue. I’ve given up on aspiring to my pre-rape normal-- I will never have that. Some days, thriving with PTSD means reading your story in front of a room of relative strangers. Some days, thriving with PTSD means being able to brush your teeth and get out of bed.
It has taken me years to be able to say this and actually believe it. It’s a revelation of sorts: I now know that the problem with my PTSD does not lie within me, but within the actions of a person who caused the trauma that necessitated the label of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As I leave Middlebury and walk across that graduation stage, I am torn. Because I’ll shake President Patton’s hand, and so will he. That still stings a bit. As I move on into the “real world,” though, I think that it will be easier to heal in many regards. Yet I am still scared of how all of this might continue to play out.
But I know that I’m stubborn as hell. You have to have a stubborn streak to be able to live with PTSD at the very site of your trauma for as long as I have. And that, my friends, is the paradox. That at the very site of my trauma, I have also found abundance. That I have felt both deeply isolated and interdependent here at Middlebury. That rather than resenting him, I have an enduring belief in his capacity for growth and change. And that at a moment of great weakness and choicelessness, I have found deep inner strength. Thank you so much.
Author: Anonymous Middlebury College Student