I am a rape survivor. My journey started over 20 years ago. I write about this openly here to be a voice for those who have survived similar events and who may still be struggling to move forward. Recent statistics have shown that 1 out of every 6 women in the United States will experience a sexual violence act in their lifetime. It is also known that statistically these women are more likely to suffer from PTSD and contemplate suicide. That is why I write about this topic today. I have walked in those shoes and recall the early years after this happened. My brain was riddled with PTSD and depression. I would attempt to leave the house with a smile, but I hated myself. I felt dirty and ashamed. Often I would feel like people were looking at me and judging or looking at me and thinking “oh, that poor girl”, even if they were people who did not know what happened or me. Nightmares haunted me every night. I often tell people the dreams of PTSD remind me of the old Nightmare on Elm Street movies. In that movie the evil Freddy chases people down and you cannot escape him. PTSD dreams are like that. Everything you experienced and saw returns in your dreams every night, to the point you wake-up in a cold sweat and afraid. I remember many times waking up and feeling like I was suffocating, like someone was standing over me. The sheets would be pulled over my head and I would slowly count to ten until my brain adjusted to my environment. One, two, three, just breath, keep breathing, it is not real…those were my calming words. When I got into my 20’s I was lost for quite a few years and if it had not been for two amazing college friends I do not know how I would have made it so far away from my family. I went to college twenty-four hours away from my home. I wanted to be away from my past and around people who did not know about the “poor little girl”. My PTSD brain thought I would cope better hidden away, but that is far from the truth. The thing with mental health disorders is that they follow you wherever you go and you cannot escape them. No, you have to face them head on. I got into some good relationships with men, but if they were nice I would often ruin it thinking that I did not deserve a kind man. I was tainted and my insides were disgusting. Going out to the clubs, dancing, and having a drink in my hand was the one time I could numb my brain. I wanted to be numb. I wanted to forget. I wanted the night sweats and the nightmares to go away. Relationships with men were difficult for me. Trust did not come easily. Allowing people to get close to me or intimate was an up and down journey. Sometimes it was simply easier to be alone.
That experience also led to the opportunities I have now, where I get to talk about my past journey while helping others and working to end the stigma that surrounds mental health disorders. I often refer to PTSD and depression as my dark friends. When I was with them my mind was not my own and I often felt lost. Many assume that those who have mental health disorders can simply put a smile on and embrace the day, but that is far from the truth. There were many days that I felt like I was having outer body experiences. I was not in control of my thoughts or actions because everything inside of my brain was foggy and distorted, yet deep inside I was screaming to be free. From the outside I would watch, as I would push people away to try to keep them safe, for my pain was not meant to be theirs too. I would watch as those around me walked away because they could not handle my mood or watched as those I loved looked at me with faces full of worry. On my journey I had three suicide attempts. The first two were my distorted mind taking a bunch of anti-depressants thinking that would lead me back to happiness and make the nightmares disappear. The last one took place 12 years ago and was me truly trying to escape my depression and PTSD. I was so tired of fighting, hurting, and making those around me suffer (my distorted mind thought they were suffering). That final attempt was my life changer. It opened the door to my mind and I came to realize that in the end I have to learn to love myself. Thanks to those who support me I did just that. I fought hard and came to realize along the way that my journey was meant to be. It gave me the ability to be here and to educate others. I have worked in the medical field for 18 years. I know the stigma that exists out there well. It is for this reason I wish to work with those who battle the same battles I once did, when I am done Grad School, by working for the VA.
When I think of those who battle mental disorders I think of the word ‘fly’. If you watch a bird in the sky they have pure freedom. That freedom is key and is what fly means to me. The ability to have pure freedom to be ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to change us. The ability to not be perfect and express it. That is my goal in sharing my story. I am not afraid to show my flaws or ashamed of my past. I want others to be able to tell their stories without fear or judgment. Mental health disorders are real and it is time for the stigma to end. Suicide is not selfish, it is a mind distorted by thoughts that those who have not walked in such shoes will not understand. If you struggle with a mental illness do not be afraid to talk. If you know someone who struggles with mental illness ask him or her questions and talk to them like you do everyone else. Together we can end the stigma. We can all learn to fly together. My name is Jolene and I am a PTSD, major depression, and rape survivor. Watch me soar!! No one is alone. Rape is not a dirty word. It is time to talk.