According to Statistics Canada, one in four Canadians will experience at least one anxiety disorder throughout their lifetime. While I find it important to be aware of these statistics, I do not want to minimize the severity of a disorder like anxiety to a simple number. This number, 25% of Canadians, is on the precipice of irrelevance. By this, I mean that one cannot reduce the multi-faceted complexity of a person’s anxiety disorder to one number. This 25% consists of women, men, and youth who have all suffered through various hardships and destitutions, and cannot so simply associate themselves with one another under the banner of a statistic. In order to communicate my story, I will affiliate myself particularly with those who are dealing with—or have dealt with—trauma-induced anxiety.
Post-trauma stress, anxiety and depression can be the results of one event, or an accumulation of stresses and trauma. It is always an experience of one’s resilience being overwhelmed by circumstances. The details of one’s trauma can be unique and at the same time no different from many others. Nevertheless, it is an experience I want to bring to attention in order to create an open dialogue. I am tired of treating trauma as a taboo topic.
However, the traumatic event of significance to me should not additionally be minimized in the manner I have previously condemned. I can already sense a tone of disassociation I use as I attempt to tell my story, since the lack of ears available to women like myself with similar experiences is indicative of the lack of conversation around the topic. For this reason, I have decided to explicitly tell my story, and where my trauma-induced anxiety came from in order to, once again, create an open dialogue. What I wish to add to my earlier statement is that as much as I am tired of treating trauma as a taboo topic, I am equally—if not more—frustrated with the treatment of rape as a taboo topic. Once more I can list the statistics associated with rape in Canada: one in four women in North America will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime; only 6% of sexual assault incidents are reported to the police; over 80% of sexual assault victims are women. But no number will express the gravity of post-trauma anxiety, stress, and depression felt by a victim of rape.
Halfway through the summer of 2016, I became a victim of a traumatic sexual assault. I did not know my rapist nor did I ever clearly see him. I was in an unfamiliar town immersed in unfamiliar surroundings. However, following this event I have progressively familiarized myself with the incident, allowing it to define me more and more over time. Each victim’s circumstances will vary, and post-trauma reactions are unpredictable, but my evolution since June 23rd, 2016 has followed the three subsequent phases.
Days after the assault I filed a police report, flew home, moved in with my best friend, and introduced a self-destructive regime in hopes of never remembering the attack again. My immediate way of coping was to not cope. I was full of anger and self-denigration as I let the fury engulf me. I was furious not only because my rights had been violated, my body intruded, and my mind distorted by a man. I was also furious for those who had experienced this to a lesser or greater severity than I had. I was furious that I was a mere statistic. Thus, I would primarily define this phase by post-trauma depression, and my attempts to drown it out. I spent the rest of the summer with little distractions other than drugs and alcohol. I did not want the distraction of a job so I could fully feel everything I was supposed to feel; I did not want the distraction of any of my usual summer activities for that same reason. Ironically, though, this solution resulted in feeling nothing at all, thanks to my auspicious self-medicating strategies.
The most frustrating element of this first phase was my inability to properly communicate my state of mind. My friends, family and therapists all applauded me for my resilience and growth. I do not want to sound theatrical when I say that various substances aided my social abilities, but this was the case. From the perspective of any observer, unbeknownst, my summer appeared ideal. I spent every night with my closest friends and supporters—who undoubtedly contributed to my healing—while arriving home at the usual hour of six in the morning. I would demonstrate enthusiasm at our friends’ shows, run through parks, spend weekends at the lake, and take part in anything else the rest of them were doing. To any observer this was a luxurious summer. Anyone could—and would—so easily say to me, “You seem to be doing really well.” This is where a lot of my resentment stemmed from. I am aware that in order for someone to understand how I feel, I must communicate with them. However, this was not easy for me at the time. My solemn inner self stunted my communication skills, and my conversation rarely went further than how I spent my time the previous day. Hence my frustration with “You seem to be doing really well.” Internally, I was using all of my energy to suppress and ignore any recurring images, sounds, or feelings of my traumatic experience. The flashbacks were visceral, and they took a greater toll than anyone knew.
However, I do not blame anyone around me for making these assumptions of my well-being. It is impossible to understand how one’s head works, especially after trauma. For this reason, I continued to perform my stimulating summer act and let my lifestyle take its course.
Once I felt my time left with the dismal summer was shrinking, I had to make a choice: do I let my perpetual toxic habits swallow me whole and take away my academic career, or do I move on to phase two of recovery and face my last year of my degree? Evidently, I chose the latter. Phase two can be defined by the addition of post trauma anxiety. These conditions did not come out of the wood due to the added stress of school. Rather, school replaced the summer’s destructive distractions with constructive ones. My anxiety instead was drawn from relationships. I understood that my experience with trauma further displaced me from those around me, and with a heavy academic schedule I knew this could only further strain these connections. And so it did. I was no longer capable of balanced relationships. I regarded others’ everyday conversations and issues as mundane and insignificant. I viewed everything from the perspective of a victim of rape; from the perspective of an externally and internally hurt woman. I looked at everyone as if their own experiences could never compare to mine, and they could never understand mine. I did not want my pain to be appropriated. I endured so much to feel this pain, and so I was only capable of the minimum when it came to sustaining friendships. Realizing this put me in a state of isolation, more anxiety consumed me. The process became cyclical: I was angry that no one could comprehend what I was feeling, and so I separated myself. This made me angrier with myself for placing distance between myself and others, thus returning back to square one. I ran through this cycle for months.
It was not until my third and current phase that I was able to disconnect myself from my situation entirely. I began to look through a lens of objectivity and put to use some of my anger from my first phase. While I experienced emotions of contempt towards those around me throughout these post-traumatic phases, I cannot forget about the simultaneous mental struggle that occurred. Flashbacks, victim’s guilt, self-hatred, among other disturbances were commonplace. However, I am not the only one who has experienced these feelings. I am not the only woman who has been oppressed, violated, beaten, stripped of her rights, or raped. This is where the aforementioned statistics become significant. I can use my anger for those 25% of women who experience sexual assault within their lifetime, for those 94% of victims who stay silent, and for those women who make up 80% of all sexual assault victims. Rather than channeling my anger into self-destruction, I have learned to channel it into empowering initiatives to raise awareness. I have come to realize that communication is going to help me, for it reminds me that I am not the only one. I have no reason to feel anger or resentment towards my friends, family, and supporters. The only person who deserves any antagonism is the man who raped me. While I still experience sensations of anxiety, depression, and stress, these do not define my current phase. My current phase is about realizing how to control these post-trauma symptoms and turn them into progress, since I am not the only one who needs to persevere.