Dressing up again in tiny clothes assembled from every other closet in the Orlando area but mine, we prepared to leave for yet another social. I loved my sorority, for the most part. I often wished we would do something other than go to the bar and talk about something other than boys. But my parents were both in greek life, my mom was a tri-delt, they met their life-long best friends and each other this way, this had to be good! So we headed downtown, all made up and dressed to theme. This particular social was with one of my favorite frats at the time, mostly because I had a crush on one of the brothers. I had just gotten my first “little” and the way it works is you get a mentor when you join your sorority and that’s called your “big” and you’re then the little. I was finally a big with my own little instead of being the baby! I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to spend more time with her and meet all her friends. This particular brother was one of those friends. We got to talking at the social about him asking my little to be his little too! You can also have a fraternity big along with the one in your own sorority. Hanging with my future co-big I began to like someone for the first time since my horrible ex. So needless to say, I was fairly excited to get to spend more time with him. He pulled me on to the dance floor with him and I was so nervous. I really wanted him to like me. I tried to dance to the best of my ability, which is not well, when he turned me around expecting me to grind on him- which I’m not good at or comfortable with. But, I obliged, I wanted him to like me. Then, he turned me back around, thank goodness… and kissed me! I was so pleased with myself for officially moving on! But that pride quickly turned into panic as he suddenly pulled me off the dance floor and into the nearby bathroom. I tried to communicate that I was uncomfortable but he tried to coax me, suggesting he just wanted to be out of the public eye. I obliged, I wanted him to like me. Pressed up against a stall door I quickly regretted my decision to allow him to bring me here, I told him I wanted to leave. I said no, but that didn’t matter. He was bigger than me, but I still wish I’d fought back. I went numb, like I’d trained myself to do, as he turned me around once more. With my face against the bathroom wall I bit my lip and waited for him to be done with me. Once he let me go I walked out of the bathroom and was greeted by one of my sisters, crying. I was so thankful for her troubles so that I could focus on hers instead of my own. I spent the rest of my night tending to her drama and wiping her tears. This is when I met her friend from the frat…
Weeks later the boy that helped me tend to my drunk, dramatic friend was someone I was spending time with frequently. We had a lot of mutual friends and his best girl friends were my sisters, as well as my chosen roommates for the next year. His roommate even asked me to be his sorority little. I felt so comfortable and safe with that group. On night, my new fraternity big and I were over at their apartment and he challenged me to a drinking contest. My apartment was right down the hall and these guys were my friends, so I naively didn’t see the problem in engaging in a little drinking-game fun. That is the last choice I remember making that night. I woke up the next morning, assuming I was in my own bed. Until I heard breathing. I quickly regained consciousness and realized I was not in my own bed and I wasn’t even wearing my own clothes, or any at all for that matter. The boy that I had been so close with since the night of my first rape was lying next to me. He hadn’t had much to drink the night before because he had an exam the next day, that day. I checked the clock and knew he’d be up soon. I quickly snuck out, hoping not to be noticed. I had no idea what had happened that night. Almost a week later I was throwing up, seemingly for no reason. I had been going through my time of the month the night of the party and assumed I had removed my feminine hygiene product, since I didn’t find it the next morning. But I was wrong, I didn’t remove it, it was still inside me- far. I had toxic shock syndrome, and a new understanding of what had actually happened that night.
Soon I found myself in a very unhealthy relationship with sex. Searching for something to help me feel back in control of my own body. I pretended nothing had happened (twice), and kept the secrets of those nights to myself. My depression was in full swing, but I remained the same bubbly, outgoing girl everyone knew, on the outside. I played the sorority game, kept going out and trying to fit in. I felt like my bond with my sisters was more important now than ever. As I got closer and closer with my roommates and my little I was finally brave enough to talk to them about what had happened with their friends. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but what I got certainly was not it. Victim shaming and taking the side of the boys, my friends suddenly saw me as the enemy. I had gotten too deep and too real for the shallow, fun-focused system we had in place. Suddenly I wasn’t invited out anymore, I wasn’t getting closer anymore, instead I felt them and myself drifting away farther and farther. I was alone. October 2012 was the first time I seriously thought about the unthinkable. Luckily I’d had enough practice at swallowing things that I was able to keep my suicidal ideation from becoming anything more
Years later and I still tell my story as if I saw it in a movie once a long time ago. I still have that bubbly, goofy, outward appearance. No one believes me when I tell them I’m depressed. I beat myself up every day for not being happier, more appreciative. I still have a lot to come to terms with. Those things all feel like someone else. I’m not this sad, empty person. I’m a dreamer; a romantic. My therapist thinks I’m not ready to truly deal with my trauma yet. All I know is I’m ready to move forward. Finally, I found someone to love and feel safe with, yet my depression still interferes. I can’t simply will it away even though I know I have so much to be happy about, so much to love. I am learning over and over again how important it is to love yourself first. Even after all those life lessons, I was still naïve. I wanted to spend all my time caring for him and everyone else, but not myself. I let myself rot away. My old passion and my new found apathy for life constantly at war with each other. I call it feeling “grey” like my mind is just overcast all the time. I long for the vibrancy in life I used to feel. Maybe if I faked it enough… That’s why I play happy so well. I developed two separate inner and outer personalities, careful not to let anyone too close to what was underneath. They always leave when they find out, I have to hide it. My mind is constantly telling me to go numb again, just block it out. I can so easily slip away and drown in my personal darkness, despite the bright light I know I poses. I don’t look back on my experiences and feel angry at the boys, but I cannot shake the countless deep, burning emotions I feel about the girls. Why would they treat me that way? Bully and abandon me… I still have a hard time finding female friends. Or any friends for that matter. I try so hard not to let the people who have wronged me consume my thoughts. My worst fear is that my depression is a result of their actions, allowing them to still have power over me even though I’ve left them all in my past. That past that feels so distant and detached from who I am now. I can often feel like I’m watching myself from outside of my own body, like the happy and functional version just got pushed out. She still exists but is overpowered by some other entity that wants me to feel sad and sick and tired all the time. I’ve named him Sid, like the bully next door from Toy Story. I feel like the toy, that simply wants to make people happy, but am helplessly and needlessly tormented by something bigger than myself.
But, lately its been different. Being a psychology major and an intern at NAMI I’ve learned about the chemical, genetic, and scientific influences that are the true causes of my illness. This empowers me, strangely enough. I’ve learned to listen to myself and gained instincts that I’m exceptionally proud of. This is about me, not anyone else. I’m learning to love my mental illness for the wisdom, intuition, and empathy it has brought me. At NAMI I found people who are honest and open about the struggles they face. I feel a renewed hope for my life. I have been given a super power. I’ve learned so much about myself and others that I can read someone like a book and know how to treat them the way they wish they would be treated. Like I wished someone would do for me for so long. That is why I want to be in this field, that is why I want to share my story. Its a love/hate relationship for sure, but I wouldn’t trade my journey. I finally feel like I can still be something important, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll do. My life matters to me again. I don’t just want to live, I want to thrive. I want to be a positive psychologist and write a guide book for the support groups of those struggling with mental illness. I want to give a Ted Talk. I want to fight the stigma inside and outside of myself. We can all better understand the mind. I’ve been naïve so many times before, but now I’m beginning to get it. The most naïve thing would be to assume we could ever fully understand it at all. I’m ready to share my darkness, my light and all the ambiguous grey in between. This is all much easier said than done some days, but I know I’m living in recovery and every step I take, no matter how small, makes a difference. My journey still continues and my story is not yet