The first time I was sexually harassed, I was six years old. Six. I was a little girl. A boy in my class, whose desk was paired with mine, exposed himself to me and tried to get me to touch him. He actually grabbed my hand.
I fought back.
I wrenched my hand away and told him no. I froze with panic, terrified that I would get in trouble. Eventually, we were moved around. (My teacher paired students with someone new every so often.) I never told a soul, until now.
I’m telling this story because ever since that first time, it’s happened so many more times, I can’t count. Boys and men touching me, making jokes and comments, catcalling. Then there are the two boyfriends who sexually assaulted me. Raped me. Violated me with acts of violence that I will never forget. Men who I trusted with my body and heart, yet they only wanted to control and possess me. To hurt me. I went years without telling anyone, and it almost killed me. This story has a happy ending: I did the work, and I healed. I grew strong. I got my voice back, and a confidence I’ve never known before. But.
I’m worn down to the bones, sick in my soul every time another story hits the news or blogosphere about men who hurt women. I’m tired of the violence, the victim blaming, and the bystander effect. All three contribute to rape culture, and these three seemingly small things—men who turn away when they overhear other men make a sexual joke, for example—are the reason why women stay silent. Only when others come forward do we feel protected enough to raise our voices, too; there is safety in numbers.
I’m tired of men making excuses or saying they’re sorry. Instead of being sorry, stop being a piss poor excuse for a man. Don’t justify your past actions or write apologies to the women you’ve hurt. Start being a better person. Stand with us when we’re accused of trying to ruin a man’s career. Speak with us when we tell a man to leave us alone. Stop automatically siding with your bros, and start being a brother to the women in your life—both friends and strangers.
And for fuck’s sake, quit it with the “not all men” line. When you’re whining, you’re centering yourself in a story that isn’t yours. Your selfishness is complacence, and your hands are around her neck, too.
I had so many plans and hopes for this new year—so many things I wanted to do. Yet these past couple weeks, I’ve been mostly immobilized.
I’ve been bedridden before. I’ve spent entire winters doped up on painkillers, binge-watching whatever from the relative comfort of my bed. But this winter was supposed to be different. I’d started Plaquenil and Prednisone, and they were helping. Then they weren’t—or at least, not as much.
It started off slowly. The joints in my neck and lower back hurt, but the pain was tolerable. As a whole, I was feeling better; I could actually use my hands again. Then the joint in my neck swelled to two or three times its normal size, and my back joined the screaming chorus.
At first, I thought it was my new pillows. I’d bought a couple king-size pillows and they’re super thick. I figured I’d tweaked my neck while trying to sleep on them. I bought a less thick pillow and the pain immediately improved. Until it got worse again.
So then I thought it might be my work setup. For the past few months, I’ve been working from my couch. Not the most ergonomic setup—especially since I tend to lean into my computer when I really get into whatever it is I’m working on. I became more mindful of my body while working, keeping my neck and back more straight while on the couch. Mike joked that we should duct-tape my head to the couch to keep me from leaning forward and putting strain on that joint.
I also cleaned up my office a bit and returned to working at my desk. It’d become a bit of a dumping ground these past few months—getting more and more cluttered as I felt worse and worse. Even still, with a proper desk and chair, I can’t sit at the computer for very long. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it 40 minutes.
The only time my neck and back aren’t screaming is if I’m reclined on the couch with full blast heat on them—or flat on the floor on my yoga mat. Alternating heat and ice was helping, but the other day I iced my neck for no more than 20 minutes and it made it worse. A lot worse.
Last Thursday, I saw the APRN at my GP’s office. I had to go in for a refill anyway, and figured I’d have her look at my neck—which was my biggest concern, considering the joint is so swollen. I told her what I’d been doing: TENs machine, Advil, rest, ice, heat, Tramadol (as well as my Plaquenil and Prednisone). She said the joint was definitely swollen. I explained that the Advil was helping a little, taking it down by a notch, and told her I’d been taking two Advil three times a day. I asked her if I could take more and, if so, how much would be safe to take in a given day.
“Don’t take too much, or it’ll cause an ulcer.”
“Oh, of course! But how much can I safely take?”
“Just don’t take too much.”
I wondered whether I’d accidentally walked into an episode of Punk’d. “Okay, well, is there anything else I can do? It’s really painful.”
“The Prednisone should help it.”
“Well… I’ve been on it for a month, and this is a new problem.”
She mentioned Prednisone again, completely brushing me off.
It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, if my husband hadn’t recently been in to see her about his swollen knee. She prescribed him a relatively new NSAID: ibuprofen 800, which also has an antacid in it to lower the risk of ulcers. I don’t think she does it on purpose, but she doesn’t listen to me. There’s definitely a gender bias when it comes to patients, and until now I’d never really dealt with it so blatantly. When she sees Mike, she’s on her game, helping him with all of her expertise. When she sees me, she either laughs me off or ignores me completely.
That’s not even what I’m really angry about, though.
Every day, I fall further and further behind on my production schedule. I try to do simple things around the house—like cleaning my bathroom—and I pay for it for days. For a brief window, I got a glimpse of what it’d be like to live with low pain. (On one particular Sunday, it went down to a 5/10!) I started to feel hopeful that I’d get my life back. I know there’s no cure, that I’ll never be pain-free again, but every time I turn around, I feel like I’m losing yet one more thing.
I haven’t worked a normal job in years.
I haven’t been able to write in months.
I’m just really tired of this disease taking from me, and I still don’t even really know its damned name.
And, if I’m being really honest, I’m a little scared.
My pain has changed; now when any of my joints creak, there’s pain where there wasn’t before, and the pain in my neck and lower back is a burning pain that creeps up and down my spine like fire. Every time my disease changes, we find another piece to the puzzle. My doctors have said so many times that something autoimmune is definitely brewing, and I’ve joked that if this is “just” brewing, I don’t wanna know what full force feels like.
So I wonder: Is this full force? Am I about to get the answers I’ve been wanting? And, if so, will I like those answers?
I have a really hard time asking for help, but I’ve got electricity/heat, student loans, and other bills creeping up on me. If you’d like to help, you can buy my books, throw me a tip on PayPal, or donate to my GoFundMe. If you can’t help financially, a comment offering virtual hugs would really lift my spirits. I appreciate your support, in whatever form. 💜
When you’re autoimmune, you’re also immunocompromised—meaning that because your immune system is confused and attacking healthy cells, it gets ultra confused when you get sick. Sicker, in my case.
When the average person gets a cold, you might be out of commission for a day or two, depending on the cold. Usually within a week you’re back on your feet, though. When I get a cold, it also sends me into a flare: my joints start hurting (or hurt even worse than they already were); the stiffness really sets in; my fatigue knocks me on my ass twice as hard. It often lingers for weeks; I might as well have the flu.
It’s fun times.
Usually I can power through, but this past week I’m getting my ass handed to me by some super bug.
It’s supposed to start off as a scratchy throat, morph into a bit of a throat cold, kick you with some fatigue and brain fog, and then finish you off with some diarrhea—all with a fever. Everyone else had this thing for a day, a day and a half tops. Me? I’m on nine days and counting.
ED: So I checked in with my girl friend; she, her husband, and her daughter all have the same symptoms. We’re pretty sure we all have the flu. I’ll cut a bitch if I miss Xmas dinner.
It won’t go away.
Yesterday I started to feel a tiny bit better; the fatigue lifted to my “normal” chronic illness fatigue level. That I could handle. But then, as if I was in a game of Mortal Kombat, the bug screamed out “FINISH HER!” and pummeled me with diarrhea—all freakin’ day.
I hoped that today I’d start feeling better, but now I’m back to no energy.
Just when Prednisone was starting to help with my joint pain. *sighs forever*
I mostly missed out on Thanksgiving because of my UCTD flareup; if I miss Christmas dinner because of this rando’ sickness, I’m gonna choke someone.
I also have cabin fever—bad. Like, I’m totally stir crazy, in a totally insane way. Last night I was singing to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Just a hungry girl
Living in a hungry world
What? Prednisone makes me ultra hungry (though yesterday I only had four meals instead of my usual five).
I’m not even exaggerating here. I’m officially a Hobbit.
A couple years ago, I bought a highly praised NA book that caught me by surprise a little over halfway through. In the book, the main character was dealing with trauma after a horrific accident that took her parents’ and boyfriend’s lives. She takes her little sister and runs away from their uncle’s creepy advances, and settles down out of state. On the surface, her handsome neighbor appears to be the man of her dreams—until she finds out that he was in the passenger seat of the car that killed her loved ones, and he stalked her across the country because he wanted to get to know her in an attempt to make up for the loss. When the twist is revealed, she continues to pursue a relationship with this man instead of being horrified.
Never mind his sick guilt and the coercive relationship and sex. That is No Big Deal. She’s in love and everything is happily ever after, thank you very much.
In another beloved series, the main character is almost raped at every turn when she first arrives in a strange place. Later on her beau is raped in exchange for her safety. Every book in the series continues to use rape as a plot device—even later when their daughter is raped. The only time the trauma is addressed is when her lover is tortured by the demons of the act and she must rescue him.
Today I started reading another popular book. There was no mention of the heroine being sexually assaulted in the blurb, nor a warning in the front matter, yet in the prologue she discovers in detail that she has been date raped.
I would’ve slammed the book shut if it weren’t on my iPad.
I’ve also read countless books where the heroine is almost raped by some guy and the hero rescues her, the event bringing them closer together and serving as a warm and fuzzy catalyst for their relationship. It happens so often, I should be desensitized to it. Instead, I’m pissed.
There are so many other ways to advance plot, kick off a romance, or highlight human evil. Yet so many storytellers rely on sexual assault as a crutch. I guess it’s no big deal if you’ve never been raped or attacked, but when it comes out of nowhere, with no warning, it can be extremely triggering for the 1 in 4 women who have been sexually assaulted (not to mention the countless women and men who never report).
If it absolutely must happen in your book, give victims a one-line heads up somewhere in your blurb:
Still recovering from date rape on her prom night, years later Bettie is determined not to let anyone in.
Or stick a bold or highlighted trigger warning in your foreword or in the product description:
Please note that this story contains graphic depictions of sexual assault. Read at your own discretion.
Some people get really nasty about trigger warnings, griping that they shouldn’t have to be “PC” and “cater to everyone.”
Look, there are just some things that are universally triggering. Rape is one of them. I wish I’d known that the rape scene in I Spit On Your Grave was extremely violent, detailed, and lasted about 20 minutes. Since it’s a revenge thriller, I was willing to deal with a short scene knowing that the main character was going to make those motherfuckers pay. But I had no idea it was going to be so excruciating and intense.
Nor did I realize that the Outlander series had so much damn rape stuffed into it. Plenty of people I know read that book before I did. Some of them even knew about my history. But not a single person said to me, “Hey, just so you’re aware…”
People who have lost loved ones to murder can choose to avoid murder mysteries, horror, and thriller entertainment because those are genres widely understood to contain at least a mention of violence. Exactly nothing about romance implies “Hey, this probably has rape in it because it’s a love story.”
If sexual assault is essential to your story—like the #ownvoices standalone I’ve been working on—have a fucking heart. At least mention it somewhere in your blurb so that every 1 in 4 of your readers isn’t taken by surprise and sent into a downward spiral of flashbacks. If it’s a small part of the story—such as a brief mention—a short trigger warning at the beginning is plenty.