I Mistook the Effects of My Sexual Assault for Depression

At 13 I was as innocent as could be. I had a tainted vocabulary and sense of humor; but it was nothing unusual for a young teen discovering who she was.

On the weekends, I was often with friends on the beautiful streets of my hometown. An abundance of small shops and cafes kept us busy most of the time. Occasionally, we’d venture up to the east side, a residential area with a popular park. Some of my friends lived in the area. It was comforting… I always felt safe.

I was in love with the damn kid from the day we were introduced. It wasn’t long before I was daydreaming about him, letting my mind wander – what our wedding would look like, what we’d name our kids. I knew he liked me too, though he didn’t always show it. His inconsistency with affection only made me chase it more adamantly.

One afternoon, after venturing around the park, my friends and I parted ways. The ones who lived nearby went home, but I lived far and didn’t want to leave yet. I followed two friends back to one of their houses. He was one of them.

It’s funny how boys seem to know what their friends are thinking. Looking back, I understand why our friend left the room for a convenient five or 10 minutes. I can’t remember how long it was because all I do remember is pain.

I never let him in. I didn’t ask for it, nor did I want it.

He never hurt me on purpose. He was just a stupid, hormonal boy. He did it because he liked me. So it was OK.

But it really wasn’t. I held it together until he jokingly kicked me out, at which time I proceeded to walk down the street aimlessly and alone. It didn’t take long before I burst into tears. I didn’t know what I was feeling. In some ways, I felt nothing. Something was taken from me, and it left me numb.

I left a good part of my innocence in that room. Not by choice, but because of the way society has failed to raise boys who understand that “ow” means stop. That pushing you away means no.

Since the age of 7, I have fought a relentless battle with anxiety and depression. In the months following the assault, I ignored all the signs that my mind and body gave me which indicated I had been harmed. I wrote the symptoms off as side effects of my mental illness.

I cried often. I overslept. I had trouble eating due to an upset stomach that seemed to never disappear. More than anything else, I replayed the scenario in my head. What did I do wrong? And why was I so upset about it? I adored this boy. I should have been grateful that he chose me…

I still liked him. Somehow, I felt like I belonged to him. I loved being with him but was terrified. Every time I thought I’d have to be alone with him, I got sick. I still have a vivid image in my mind of when I went behind a tree and vomited Pepto Bismol and bile just from the sight of him.

He took advantage of my friendship for years – my naivety, my admiration. And he wasn’t the only one. Unfortunately, like millions of other women, I have been assaulted many times in my life already. My first assault introduced me to what would be a lifetime of vulnerability and disrespect. Welcome to being a woman.

I no longer mistake it for my own illness.

The saddest part of this story isn’t the sexual assault: it’s the fact that mental illness can mask damage that supersedes our worst nightmares.

We must find a way to understand that mental illness is no excuse to let ourselves suffer.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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