A Disturbing Prospect is the darkest book I’ve ever written. Not only is there a body count, but the book also deals with some real-life nightmares that I’ve longed to fight back against. Some of these themes may trigger personal trauma.
I needed to tell the story in my heart and right some wrongs, but I’d also never want anyone to suffer because of my words. None of these themes are gratuitously presented in the book, and my vigilante bikers always prevail. Still, I want my readers to be safe, so here is a list of potential triggers.
Animals: There’s no pet death in A Disturbing Prospect, but an animal is harmed.
Childhood Sexual Abuse: Some of the characters have a history of being sexually abused as children. None of their memories are described, but there is mention of it having happened.
Self-Injury: A character catches a glimpse of another character’s self-mutilated arms.
Sexual Assault: One of the recurring themes in this series is violence against women and children. (One of the other recurring themes, however, is justice for that violence.) There are some hints of past sexual assault throughout A Disturbing Prospect.
Stalking: A character mercilessly stalks and taunts another character throughout A Disturbing Prospect.
Violence: All of the good guys in this series are vigilantes—antiheroes who take justice into their own hands. There is blood, fighting, gun violence, and a villain body count.
If you feel that you won’t be safe reading A Disturbing Prospect, please don’t risk your health. As a sexual assault survivor and someone with PTSD, I wish every book came with a list of trigger warnings. No book is worth risking your safety.
If you’ve read A Disturbing Prospect and feel that I may have missed something, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Over a decade ago, a guy I was dating raped me. I feel dirty just typing that, but there it is. For the longest time, I didn’t even remember the event, but it kept assaulting me from the depths of subconsciousness. It wasn’t until November 2015 that I finally started dealing with this and other traumas in both therapy and writing.
It was harder than I’d even imagined it would be. Basically, I spent months reliving every trauma I’d experienced—all at once. It was hell. While awake, I’d combat flashback after flashback. At night, I had disturbing nightmares.
But I got through it.
Then, several months ago, the piece of shit who raped me friend requested me on Facebook. After years of neither seeing nor speaking to this person, he suddenly thought it was appropriate to contact me. Never mind that he’d raped me or that we had a slew of other issues in our trainwreck of a relationship; the damage he’d done was extensive, the list exhausting. This person had been warned repeatedly years ago by myself and others to stay the fuck away from me, yet keeps trying to force his way back into my life every so often.
When I saw the friend request, I panicked. Full anxiety attack with hyperventilation and flashbacks and everything. I also went a little berserk.
Facebook and other social media are a digital part of my business and life, but they’re also a safe space. They’re the places with which my voice is amplified, places where I share my writings and feel strong, secure, and safe. In that moment, though, I no longer felt safe or in control. If he’d been able to find me on Facebook—when I’d made my privacy settings more secure than Fort Knox—he could find me anywhere.
Even at my home.
It all had to go, I realized. I had to scrub myself from the internet. Before I could fully think through what I was doing, I started deleting Facebook friends. There was no rhyme or reason to it; I just went into my friends list and started manually deleting people, one by one—people I’ve known for years, family members, readers. As I scrolled through my friends, mindlessly going through the “remove friend” process over and over, I started thinking about how to go about getting rid of Instagram, Twitter, my blog, my website.
And then it dawned on me: Was I really going to upend my entire career over this person? Yes, he’d hurt me—hurt me in so many more ways than I can ever express to anyone, taken from me not only my sense of safety but also three years of my life that I could have spent much happier. But I’d been healing. I’d grown strong. I’d found my voice and faced all of that pain head on. Was I going to let him undo all of that progress and send me burrowing deep down into myself again? Was I going to let him hurt me once more?
I stepped away from the computer.
Months later, I’m still dealing with the consequences of that day. Since then, I blocked him from my personal profile and business page, and opened up my personal profile to be public. Where I previously refused to add people I didn’t know well, my profile is as open as it can possibly be to my readers and colleagues. Still, I deleted a lot of people.
I tried re-adding as many people as possible, but 1) I had a lot of friends before my little spree and 2) the weird behavior confused a lot of people. One day we were friends, then we weren’t, and then they got a new request from me. There are a lot of scammers out there, so I totally understand people’s wariness, and I feel bad for confusing anyone.
Mostly, though, I’m proud of the progress I made after my initial panic. While I blocked this scumbag, I searched for and blocked the other guy who’d raped me a year later. In a way, it was sort of like typing the final sentence in a chapter.
I’m no longer afraid of these men. When I used to imagine running into them, I saw myself running away or freezing completely. Now I see these scenarios ending in one of two ways: me punching the shit out of someone, or me telling them to fuck off and stay away, and them walking away.
I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.
I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.
If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.
I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.
I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.
Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.
Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.
Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.
My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.
My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.
It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.
A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.
It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.
With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.
Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.
A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.
Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.
Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.
With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.
My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.
Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.
Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.
When that happened, I had to practice self-care.
When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.
For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.
I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.
Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.
My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.
The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.
So I took my time.
I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.
I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.
I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.
I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.
I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.
When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.
I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.
For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.
What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!
I thought I’d put together a list of organizations who are fighting for our civil rights here in the States, for those of us who are able to donate.
If you can’t donate, it’s okay! There are other ways to help, like continuing to be the kind person you are. Simply existing is resisting—especially if you’re from one of the marginalized groups who stand to lose a lot. You can keep creating art, volunteer in your community, attend town meetings to have your voice heard, educate people, and speak up when you see or hear something that is wrong.
This list is ever-growing, and is in alphabetical order; each are equally important to me. If you’d like to suggest an organization, please leave a comment and tell us who they are!
Even a $5 donation here and there is helpful; if every one of us did that, we could support these organizations in their fights for us. Please donate now.
ACLU is a non-partisan group of lawyers who uphold the Constitution and Americans’ civil and human rights.
Black Lives Matter works with local police and communities to improve the lives of all black people, addressing social issues and needs within the black community.
Lakota Law Project was originally created to stop state departments from wrongly taking Lakota children out of their homes and placing them into foster care. They’re also dedicated to fighting the Dakota Pipeline.
Planned Parenthood provides affordable healthcare for women, men, and teens—including but not limited to cancer screening and treatment, birth control, and family planning.
RAINN assists survivors of sexual assault with counseling, emergency care, and crisis support. They also provide education, work to improve sexual assault justice, and fight rape culture.
Looking for other ways to help? Resistance Manual is a fantastic resource put together by DeRay McKesson and others with information on the Trump administration’s and GOP’s proposed policies and agendas, and how to fight them.
You can also donate to organizations right in your own community. To find them, Google search things like “sexual assault nonprofit Connecticut.”
These organizations need your help now more than ever, as their tireless work is putting a huge strain on their resources (and the Trump administration has already begun federally-defunding some of them).
Please comment with any organizations who need our help, and share this list wide.
Up until November 2015, I had no idea that the events I’d experienced were considered traumas. In fact, I was so determined to believe that they were no big deal, I’d repressed them almost completely. Any time you bottle something up, though, it almost always explodes on you.
And explode it did.
It wasn’t until I started seeing Dina*—a trauma-certified therapist—in November 2015 that I realized the things I’d experienced were not only traumatic, but also the root of the depression and anxiety that I’d been fighting for the past 15 years.
Trauma is any event that shatters your sense of safety and what you thought you knew about the world. Trauma is subjective, meaning that what might be traumatic for me may not affect you the same way, and vice versa. Examples of trauma include:
being bullied as a child
becoming sick with chronic illness and/or pain
getting into a car accident
having your area hit by a severe storm
being sexually or physically assaulted
serving in a war
having a miscarriage
the death of a loved one
None of these examples are more or less traumatic. Everyone responds to stress in different ways.
For example, if you’re driving during a snowstorm and slide on ice, doing a complete 360° turn and nearly hitting a wall, you feel afraid. Your hands shake, your breathing and heart rate speed up, and your brain kickstarts the fight/flight/freeze response to help you get through the incident.
If you’re able to process the event—driving, snowstorm, icy roads under snow, spun, stopped before hitting the wall—you’ll realize you’re safe and your brain will shut off the fight/flight/freeze response.
If you’re not able to process our example event, though, you may start having nightmares about the incident (re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks). You refrain from driving yourself anywhere whenever it snows (avoidance symptoms). You snap at the people around you for seemingly no reason and have a hard time sleeping (arousal and reactivity symptoms). You may even completely forget that you nearly hit a wall while driving in the snow, but still believe that you’re a terrible driver when it snows (cognition and mood symptoms).
For years, all of these things were happening to me, and I had no idea why. I experienced recurring episodes of severe depression and anxiety. I saw nearly a dozen mental health professionals, who repeatedly misdiagnosed me. Many of them asked questions about my past, such as “Have you ever been raped?” But none of them ever mentioned that my past traumas could be causing my present symptoms.
I tried medication after medication—all of which affected me adversely, either intensifying my depression and anxiety or causing unusual side effects. One antidepressant, Viibryd, caused waking dreams, extremely vivid nightmares, and severe anxiety and depression. Still neither my therapist at the time nor the APRN who was prescribing me the medication ever realized that my problem was not chemical, which explained why antidepressants were not helping.
I hit my lowest point in October 2015 when, against my will, I was hospitalized under a physician’s certificate.
My APRN had recently taken me off one of my antidepressants, Wellbutrin, without weaning me, and I had a really hard time coming off them due to rapid withdrawal. Within days, I become barely recognizable.
I’d walk into a room and, unable to move, burst into uncontrollable tears.
I kept having weird thoughts that were not my own, like “I wonder what would happen if I filled the tub, got in, and then threw a toaster in with me? Wait. Where the hell did that come from?!” The thoughts freaked me out, because I did not want to die.
I wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or shower and I spent every day on the couch watching TV shows and movies that I later wouldn’t remember.
It was absolutely terrifying, because I knew this wasn’t like my usual depression and anxiety.
I told Grace* (the therapist I was seeing at the time), and she told me there was nothing more she could do for me. I also told the APRN who prescribed the medication, and he decided I should also come off Abilify, the other antidepressant I was taking. When I asked if I should wean off, he insisted that I should be fine.
For quite some time, I had a hard and fast rule: no social media on weekends. Over time I started bending it. After all, my life doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays, and I enjoy sharing it (especially on Twitter). I still try to hop on as little as possible, using my time to just recharge. But this weekend, I needed a cold turkey cleanse.
I completely unplugged from both Twitter and Facebook—a feat that required gargantuan effort. Actually, Friday night I hopped on several times “just to see.” What I was trying to see, I don’t exactly know. Truthfully it was my way of getting another fix. I didn’t cut myself off from Instagram and Pinterest, but I used them only minimally. Mostly I relaxed.
On Saturday, I slept in until 2:30pm. My friends with children are glaring so hard at me right now, but in my defense I hadn’t slept Thursday night, and I’ve been fighting off flareup fatigue while juggling anxiety attacks. I desperately needed the rest—even if I woke up somewhat panicked because more than half the day was already gone.
Sometimes, you just need quiet time.
Because the last couple of weeks had been full of panic attacks, I really needed to calm my mind. Thankfully, my old therapist E gave me some really great tools. I used eucalyptus essential oil to combat my three-day tension migraine. If you put some on your chest, the back of your neck, your forehead, and temples, it really helps sooth the pain.
I also binged The Fosters. If you haven’t caught this show, you need to. Going in, I thought it was going to be a lighthearted family show. And for the most part, it is; no matter what happens, you know the Adams-Foster family goes to sleep with love in their hearts. But damn, do they tackle some heavy stuff. They do it in such a way, though, that you can’t help but feel good (even after they’ve played with your emotions and made you cry). I love the healthy relationships and choices they portray. No matter how hard things get, there’s always a chance for these characters to move forward. And the fact that this show is so pro-LGBT+ makes it even more of a winner.
In between episodes, Mike and I started Luke Cage, which is like a billion times better than those other Marvel shows. *cough* Daredevil *cough* Jessica Jones *cough* I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who doesn’t dig those shows. I tried really hard to like Daredevil, but I couldn’t even get through one episode of Jessica Jones. However, Luke Cage is kick-ass. Maybe it’s because Mike Colter is oh-so-damn handsome. Or maybe it just took some time for the team behind these shows to really hit their stride. But the acting, pace, story, and characters are just phenomenal. We’ve only been able to watch one episode a night, and I’m dying for more.
Side note: I recognized Colter from Ringer and The Following right away. I was super excited, because I loved him on those shows. He’s such an awesome actor. And did I mention how gorgeous he is? 😍
We also went grocery shopping, which ended up a bit more of an adventure than intended because we ran out of money before we could finish. Starving artist problems, sigh. I’m so looking forward to the day when we don’t have to worry about these things. But we have enough to get us through the next couple of weeks, and that’s all that matters.
On Sunday, I spent the entire day binging The Fosters and working on a project I’d thought I’d completely abandoned. Back in 2007 when I was in college, I took a crafts class as an elective. It was a difficult course because it was very hands on, and that was around the time when my arthritis first started. I had to get a doctor’s note to skip certain projects because they put too much strain on my wrists, and it broke my heart. However, there was one activity that I really fell in love with: embroidery.
A post shared by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on
Even after the semester ended, I continued playing with it, learning new stitches and working at my own pace. Though it is hard on my hands, I’ve found that using a hoop really helps. Frequent breaks, too. 😉 I’d started a project in 2012-ish, recreating leaves placemats that I’d seen in the Kohl’s store I worked in at the time. They weren’t even that pretty, and the store had jacked the price way up. I thought to myself, I can totally make those, and started… but never finished.
In fact, when I picked it back up again this weekend, I realized I’d made even less progress than I’d thought. I was able to finish my first one, though, and nearly completed a second. By the time I went to bed last night, I was so relaxed, I dropped off to sleep almost right away. And I didn’t even need the eucalyptus oil!
This weekend I also got to spend a little much needed time with my sister-in-law. We jammed out to this song on the radio, which I’d heard before but hadn’t caught the artist. Now I know and Kiiara is fantastic writing music. I just love how chill this song is, and her voice is angelic.
This weekend I learned something really cool about myself: No matter how hard things get, I’ll always work through them and move forward. In the past, my anxiety and depression have felt suffocating, like they would go on forever and ever. While my anxiety was pretty bad these last couple weeks, the key difference this time around was that I knew eventually it would pass—especially if I kept using my self-care tools. This time last year, I was so lost, but in the past twelve months I’ve grown in leaps and bounds. I’m a completely different person. I’m still me at my core, but I’m also stronger. More confident. Empowered, not ashamed.
In the quiet of my calm mind this weekend, I sat reflecting on all of this. It feels so good to be in this place, to be this version of me. Even though I still have my challenges to work though, I’ll always keep moving forward.
And when I need a break, I’ll keep making myself unplug, for fuck’s sake. 😉
September is Suicide Prevention Month, which dredges up a lot of complicated feelings in me. You may or may not know that I’m a survivor. Almost two years ago, I’d been on antidepressants that, as usual, had an adverse affect on me. I was so messed up, I was convinced that no one loved me, that my husband had abandoned me, and that I should just die. I was also grieving the loss of a dear friend, so I’m sure that didn’t help. None of those things were true—my husband was in fact baffled at my behavior and worried—but I couldn’t see through the dark clouds.
From the moment I woke up the next evening, confused but alive, I felt ashamed of what I’d done. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I felt stupid and I felt like a failure. It took another year before I finally came off all of the medication and was properly diagnosed with PTSD from multiple traumas throughout my life.
But that year in between was hell.
None of my doctors realized that the medications they were prescribing me were just making things worse. In fact, despite how awful I felt, they usually just increased the dosage or added a second or even third medication. I finally talked the psychiatric APRN I was seeing into discontinuing my medications. Through the haze of pharmaceuticals, depression, and anxiety, I could still hear my gut. And my gut was saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”
Unfortunately, for reasons that I will probably never understand or forgive, my APRN didn’t wean me off. We’d discussed how various psych meds always strongly affect me, and I even asked if I needed to wean. He said no, and within days I went into withdrawal.
I felt an infinite amount worse.
Almost immediately, I became completely unable to care for myself. I spent my days lying on the couch binge watching TV and movies I can barely even remember. I became a ghost woman, barely eating, not taking my arthritis medications, and rarely sleeping. Even my thoughts weren’t my own. They weren’t suicidal, per se—I didn’t want to hurt myself—but I kept thinking things like, “I wonder what’d happen if I filled the bathtub and tossed a toaster in? Wait. Why the fuck did I just think that? I don’t want to do that.”
It was frustrating because I’ve been suicidal in the past but it was my decision, if that makes sense. This was like a stranger had stepped into my brain and was pulling the strings.
I knew it was the medication.
Psych meds have what’s called a half-life—the time it takes for the substance to get completely out of your system. As you go through the half-life, if you don’t wean, you will start to have withdrawal symptoms. The medications I was taking happened to have a shorter half-life, which means they’re even harder to come off of.
Though I was still seeing a therapist and the APRN, neither of them thought to do something about this. I was on my own.
I tried to ride it out. I really did. I kept telling myself it’d get better, especially as each day passed. But there are really no words to describe how I felt. It was terrifying, like crawling through endless cotton-thick white mist. I had no concept of time, no desire to write, and it seemed like I’d never be myself again. I just wanted to get back to my life.
On a Tuesday evening, I made the decision to go to the ER. I did not feel suicidal but I knew I needed help coming off the psych meds. While I didn’t exactly want to try any other medications, I guess I thought the hospital staff would prescribe me something to ease the transition or at least refer me to a new doctor who could.
I was so wrong, and I deeply regret going.
The staff did not listen to me. I tried to be honest, briefly explaining my history and how psychiatric medication always seems to do the exact opposite for me. But instead of hearing “past medication made me attempt suicide,” I think all they heard was “past attempt at suicide.” I was signed in against my will and, no matter how hard my family, husband, and I tried to explain again, I ended up being held for a week.
During my first night there, I had to meet with a social worker who asked if I had ever been sexually assaulted. I told her I have, twice. Not an hour later, they parked a patient next to me who kept screaming about how he did not rape his girlfriend.
The whole experience was horrifying, and almost a year later I still have flashbacks.
But after I was finally released, I found a new therapist who was trauma certified. Between the drugs finally wearing off, her proper diagnosis, and the new techniques she taught me, I felt better within weeks. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t received the proper help that I needed. Maybe I would’ve started seeing a new provider and taking yet another medication that wouldn’t work; my mental illness has never been chemical, so there’s no chemical balance to readjust. Maybe that next medication would have been the one to finally kill me.
I’m not saying antidepressants, etc are all bad. They help a lot of people—many of whom are my own loved ones. But we over-prescribe them. Few providers know what to do with trauma patients, even though many of them are required to ask the same screening questions. And mental illness in general is so stigmatized, too many people just get brushed off. Hospitals have quotas to fill so they can make their monthly budget; affiliated and private providers are overbooked with too many patients.
We have to do better.
I don’t know how to patch the holes. All I know is writing, so all I can do is share my story and hope it inspires other people who do know what to do and have the power to make things better.
Putting these words out there used to terrify me. It still does, a little, and I’m not quite ready to share all the details. But in less than a year, thanks to my therapist’s help and quite a bit of independent work, I feel stronger than I ever have. Last week, I was able to let go of the past and stop letting one of the men who assaulted me continue hurting me. I was able to step out of that trauma cycle, stop obsessing over what happened, and walk through the door. I’ve closed it, and I feel fantastic. Free. I’ve got my magic back.
I just know that, someday, I’ll be able to let go of what happened to me last year. I’ll no longer feel uneasy at the very mention of a hospital. And I’ll keep getting stronger.
I’ll probably still have to deal with depression, anxiety, and flashbacks for the rest of my life, but not as intensely. The problem with multiple traumas is that it’s like ripping open a gash over and over. The original wound never heals, and just festers unless you get the right help. But I’m finally healing—mostly because I finally got the proper diagnosis and treatment. Now, when I have a flashback, I know to let it happen and remind myself that I’m in 2016 and I’m safe. When I have an anxiety attack, I know that it won’t last forever, that if I just breathe and ride it out, I’ll be okay. And I know that when I start to feel depressed, it’s time to ramp up my tools (journaling, yoga, meditation, essential oils, R&R, etc), and I know to always carefully balance my workload as a preventive measure so I don’t get overwhelmed and spiral out.
This isn’t the happy ending to a movie; my life is a work in progress. I’ll still have bad days or months or even years. But something tells me it will never be that bad again. I can’t even put into words how strong I feel, even when I’m down. I’m so much stronger than I ever was.
And even though a lot of that magic is mine, the spark started with Erica, my therapist who I may not see anymore but always think of and will be forever grateful to. If we had more Ericas in the world, maybe we wouldn’t need a suicide prevention month.
If you or someone you know might be in danger of hurting yourself, please call 911 for medical emergencies or Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or, if you prefer, text Crisis Text Line.
I am not a trained or licensed medical provider. I am just a woman who has been there. I can offer an ear but I cannot give you any medical advice. Please use the above resources to get professional help.
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.