Friday, 5 February 2016

Time To Talk

This week has been both Mental Health Awareness Week and Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Week. It's an interesting but quite fitting coincidence considering the amount of mental health issues that arise as an after-affect of being on the receiving end of sexual violence/abuse. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know I'm a rape survivor and I struggle with mental health issues as a result of sexual violence and other non-sexual abuse issues I've experienced throughout my life. I have anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm also autistic.

It's not very possible to describe how life is day to day because one day is very different from the next. Some days I can be relatively calm and function almost normally. I can get up from bed, take my medication and go about my day ready to tackle the world. Other days I can barely see a point in leaving my bed out of sheer fear for what might happen. Little things like putting the oven on to cook dinner or getting dressed can be extremely daunting. Certain activities that most would find really mundane e.g. signing on at the job centre can be quite draining and I have to retreat back to my residence in order to unwind. Unexpected noises are sometimes really distressing especially sirens, honking horns, fast passing trains and loud building work. I depend on wearing headphones and listening to music when I'm out alone so I can listen to a noise I can control and still be able to pay attention to what's going on around me.

Social interactions are a mental minefield of me trying to appear fine when inside I'm unsure of what to say. I get so anxious when out that I get super reluctant to let people buy me drinks for fear I'll be spiked once again. Being around strangers is a nightmare. If I'm with a group of people and only know a couple of people, I cling to them for dear life to feel safe. In order to cope at comic cons, I have to prepare myself the week before and keep myself busy during the weekend so my brain hasn't enough time to overthink.

It doesn't get much better in the night. I am a very light sleeper and am very prone to waking up more than once in the middle of the night because of a strange sound. I struggle with flashbacks of the rapes and sexual assaults which creep up a lot in the night. I can wake up either sweating and trying to catch my breath or in a phased, numb state akin to being zombified. When I first started dating my now-partner, it took a while before I could sleep in the same bed as him without feeling anxious despite the fact I know he wouldn't attack me. I've struggled with sex and whilst I'm quite comfortable in my relationship, it doesn't stop me having moments of excruiating pain during sex or becoming overwhelmed and needing to stop.

This is just an overview but I feel it's important to tell. Many know that rape is illegal. Many know it's wrong although some are very quick to blame the victim rather than the attacker. Not a lot of people actually stop to think about how we as survivors have to deal with our mental health afterwards. There's a giant stigma around being a rape survivor and there's still a stigma around having mental health issues so we're in a very stigmatised place. I wish to end that stigma in my own way by being honest about my own struggles and to begin a proper dialogue in the hopes that support services for survivors get proper funding and support. I want the stigma to end so that others like me can get proper help and lead lives without fear.

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