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Why It Took Me So Long to Admit I Was Raped

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

For the longest time, he was just a number. Truthfully, he was the second person I’d ever done it with.

“Oh we had sex,” I’d told my best friend the next day. But she didn’t know exactly what had happened the previous night. And as for me, I just blocked it out.

It wasn’t until I got with my fiancé that I really started to explore my mental health. The more I delved into my past and my issues, the more I realized there was some dark stuff lurking around in the farthest recesses of my pretty little mind. Sure, I had thought about that night and wondered if I could call it rape, but then I pushed it aside… Every time.

See my rape wasn’t like off of a TV crime show. It wasn’t brutal and aggressive. I wasn’t hurt nor did I feel like I was raped. But I was. That night I was tricked into being somewhere I shouldn’t have been. And then asked to do it… Over and over. No matter how many times I said no or expressed I didn’t feel like it was a good idea (I tried to be polite), I knew I couldn’t stop what was about to happen, so I stopped resisting.

I stopped resisting for the simple reason that I wanted to go home. I wanted this to be over with. I knew he was a big dude, already pinning me down trying to kiss me. My objections were met with, “But it will feel good” or “Just let me do it for a minute.” I was 17. I was scared. I had already been tricked into being somewhere I hadn’t intended to be.

But I wouldn’t call it rape. Technically, I had given in. I had said “OK” after a lot of back and forth. I did not feel like I had the right to say I was raped or sexually assaulted. I felt like I was a slut for a long time. I had let him do that to me. I let it happen. Why didn’t I fight harder? Why didn’t I get more aggressive? Why didn’t I claw his freaking eyes out?

It wasn’t until I saw him at a restaurant while I was with my fiancé that I realized my feelings were valid. I had a long conversation with my fiancé about it. I have a right to say I was raped. Not ever assault is brutal and violent or looks like an episode of Law and Order: SVU. But it can affect you in some of the same ways.

I believe it isn’t until you confront those feelings and call it what it is that you will ever be able to move on. I now feel a sense of freedom from that baggage that I carried for so long. Don’t be afraid to tell someone what you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to face those dark places in your head. And always know that you’re a survivor.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration.

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How a Facebook 'Like,' 'Love' or 'Share' Could Impact Mental Health

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As a mental health professional, my approach to social media has always been cautious. It might be a novice psychologist or a cultural issue, but my feelings towards social media have taken a more flexible stance as I move forward in this digitally adept world.

I recently witnessed how a joint effort was successful in helping a person receive necessary medical attention due to their mental health condition. It was mind-blowing to personally witness the power of a Facebook “share” and the potential reach these simple practices have.

Another equally heartwarming example, was the outpouring support and love generated by Sinead O’Connor’s recent video, where she opens up about suicidal thoughts. I believe this was an evidence of the powerfully positive effects of social media.

While social media has received a lot of backlash by the mental health community — especially true with younger and more vulnerable populations — there might also be something quite compelling about social media and its uses to advance the mental health cause.

The mental health stigma is an issue that continues to prevail in society. When we look at high profile celebrities acknowledging their mental health difficulties — such as Selena GomezDemi LovatoSinead O’Connor and Kristen Bell — those experiencing a similar situation might feel a certain degree of relief. Relief in knowing there’s someone out there who has gone through the same thing they did.

These celebrities, with their glitz, glamour and seemingly perfect lives, are human first and foremost. When we — “simple mortals” — are able to humanize these celebrities, we often start practicing self-compassion almost instantaneously; an ability necessary to start practicing self-care.

There are countless websites out there dedicated to raise awareness of mental health (such as The Mighty), and how these companies use their social media to open up the conversation and start connecting with people, is doing wonders to the mental health community and the cause to finally end the stigma.

We hold in our hands powerful tools that, if used appropriately, can end up saving more than one life. In your social media life, I encourage you to give more likes, more loves, more shares. You never know who you might be helping in the process.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Blackzheep.

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5 Ways to Prepare for College If You Struggle With Your Mental Health

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Editor’s Note: Anna Jarashow Guimaraes is a social worker at Fountain House’s College Re-Entry Program, which helps academically-engaged 18-30 year-old college students, who withdraw from their studies due to mental health challenges, return to college and successfully reach their educational goals.

Returning to college after a summer away can be exciting, and it can also be nerve-wracking, particularly if you are going away for the first time. Being on campus comes with social and academic stress, so it is especially important if you have a struggle with mental health to know what resources are available and to make plans about how to connect with them before you arrive on campus.

Here are some ways you can assure a smoother transition:

1. Locate mental health support services.

If you have a history of struggling with mental health, contact local mental health resources, both on and off campus, before arriving at school.  Research and connect with all support services that you think may be helpful. Having this in place before the semester starts means you do not have to do extra work finding resources if or when you need them. For example, if you plan to work with a local therapist while at school or attend a local cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group, make an appointment before school starts or during the first week before schoolwork starts to pick up.  Even if you are not sure that you plan to make use of a support, get connected early in the event that you do. It’s like having insurance, you want it in place in case of an issue.

2. Register with your school’s disability services office. 

It is particularly important for students with a mental health diagnosis to connect with their school’s disability services office before arriving on campus. Once you register, most schools will ask you to meet with them to discuss accommodations. Also be aware that some schools require you to register each year. Because most schools require some kind of paperwork in order to register, make sure you get whatever your school requires from your mental health care provider(s) before you go. Some providers need a few weeks notice to produce the right documents, so the earlier you ask for this paperwork the better. Meeting with disability counselors before the semester starts or within the first week is always best, so you have access to support from the start. However, you can reach out to them at any time, so don’t worry if you miss the first week.

3. Get organized, make a calendar. 

Create a personal planner using your school’s academic calendar as a guide. Include school closures, exam periods, and any other important personal or academic events that you know will happen during the semester. As soon as you get each course syllabus, you can add due dates for major assignments. This way you can map out what you need to do well in advance.

4. Have supplies on hand.

Buy as many class supplies ahead of time as you can. Some professors post syllabi before classes start and if not, email your professor and ask for a copy of the class syllabus. If you are able to get it early, check out the books you need or purchase them in advance so that you are good to go for the beginning of the semester. Tip: buying or renting used books online cuts cost! Also, you may want to purchase materials like binders, notebooks, folders, planners, and anything else that will keep you organized.

5. Arrive early and get situated.

Early arrival on campus will allow you time to set up a comfortable living space from the outset. You can even checkout where your classes are to avoid anxiously running around to find classrooms in your first week.

The more prepared you are going in; the better you’ll feel once you get there. You can’t plan for that pop quiz in the first week of class, but you can make sure that you know your resources, know your way around campus, know what the semester might look like and have a comfortable space to spend your downtime.

Here’s to a great school year!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Png-Studio

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17 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Pursue a Mental Illness Diagnosis

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When you’re struggling with your mental health, there may come a point in time when you realize you need to seek help for what you’re experiencing. Part of this “help” might (but not always) mean getting an “official” diagnosis. Getting a mental illness diagnosis can be beneficial for a number reasons. For many, it means getting a word to describe what’s been going on in your head, and it can also help you and your treatment team decide what treatment is right for you.

But what recovery looks like for one person may be different than what it looks like for another. It’s important to remember every individual’s recovery journey will be unique to them.

With this in mind, we wanted to know what mental health struggles people have experienced that caused them to seek out a medical diagnosis. To open this discussion, we asked members of our mental health community to share a “red flag” that let them know they needed to seek an official mental illness diagnosis.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. I cried for five hours straight. Just sobbed and sobbed until no more tears would come. That was a Friday. I made it through the weekend somehow and called my doctor on Monday.” — Noreen A.

2. “I lost all emotions and I felt lost. It was like a huge fog in my head that I couldn’t escape. I also felt very heavy, I couldn’t hold myself up. I saw no reason to continue living. Every little task was like climbing Mt. Everest.” — Melissa Z.

3. “I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house for fear of answering the voices out loud and people looking at me like I’m ‘crazy.’ That was no way to live and I’m so glad I got help and medication so I can participate in life again. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m certainly much better off now.” — Jace P.

4. “[I had] angry outbursts for no real reason… way too much clutter in my head. [I] couldn’t control the negative thinking or talk myself down from those thoughts like [I] had been able to in the past…” — Trisha S.

5. “For me it was [because] I wasn’t taking care of myself anymore. I was angry and irritable all the time. I just felt numb and empty. I couldn’t get out of bed, shower, brush my hair… all those easy day-to-day tasks weren’t easy for me anymore.” — Erin K.

6. “[My] symptoms had become physical. The exhaustion was unbearable. It was tearing me down. I had actually been put on high blood pressure medication that I was able to come off of once we were able to find some control for my anxiety.” — Amanda L.

7. “I was losing it. Everything was falling apart. I had been cheating on my girlfriend, seeking out attention from others and I started self-harming again. I dissociated daily and had no real will to live. I was extremely irritable. It was definitely one of my lowest points and that’s when I decided I needed to talk to someone. I needed to get help.” — James S.

8. “When the thought of ending everything sounded best, I knew I needed help.” — Ashley L.

9. “I was listening to [the] song ‘Wake Me Up’ by Avicii, and I related so much to the lyrics that I just broke down and couldn’t stop. Called up work to say I wouldn’t be in then [was] off to my GP.” — Josh S.

10. “When I had a crisis last year, I had my first mixed episode and I knew it wasn’t ‘normal.’ I couldn’t function much, and that wasn’t like my depressive episodes at all, so I asked for help — not as an act of bravery, but to stay alive.” — Luz B.

11. “My friend pointed out that I was different, that I just wasn’t myself anymore. He said that something was wrong and he was worried about me. I was in such a haze, I hadn’t realized how bad the depression had become.” — Caron H.

12. “I panicked in the middle of a midterm and walked out, leaving it almost entirely blank. I was freaking out that the people beside me thought I had no idea what I was doing because they had already flipped their pages and I was still on the first page. I thought the professor was going to accuse me of cheating if I looked at the clock. I made a doctor’s appointment that day to get help.” — Erin W.

13. “When I stopped crying, when I literally felt nothing. When I realized I couldn’t even remember what happiness was. When I knew I had no motivation to do anything.” — Kristina C.

14. “I started to realize something wasn’t right when hallucinations started happening more and more each passing day and when my sleep was so off due to fear and anxiety. It was affecting my everyday life. My mind was a literal mess. I knew then something was up and what I was experiencing was not ‘normal.’” — Hollie M.

15. “Losing all of my friends and constantly getting into arguments for no reason. Going up and down with mood. Energetic to complete recluse in a matter of seconds. I knew I had an issue, this was around age 13, shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with anxiety issues.” —Maci P.

16. “I screamed the house awake seven nights in a row [and was] unable to return to sleep after waking up hyperventilating. My foster mom took me to see doctors and I got a diagnosis of PTSD and night terrors along with medication to help me manage it. Thirteen years later and I still think her decision saved my life.” — Hope H.

17. “For me, it was when people started to notice. I knew something wasn’t right but thought I could figure it out on my own or ‘power through it.’ I had always kept it somewhat hidden. Once people started noticing I wasn’t doing well, I knew it was time to see a doctor.” — Brooke R.

Thinkstock photo via IconicBestiary.

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I Was a Mental Health Intern at The Mighty, and Here's What Happened

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Core beliefs are something I’ve spoken a lot about in my time in therapy. Over time, I’ve come to believe many of the fortunate things that happen to me are either a mistake, a fluke or that I was just given said opportunity/item/gift/chance because someone felt bad for me. When I got word The Mighty wanted to hire me as an editorial intern this summer, all of those options came to mind.

They just want to give me a position because I’m a contributor. They think I’m a terrible writer and are actually only taking me so I can stop writing such shitty articles for them. They emailed the wrong person, and now they can’t take it back and oh well. They’re taking me because they feel bad for me.

Then the eating disorder thoughts.

They feel bad because your recovery is a sad mess of a life. They’re trying to make use of your joke of an illness, you were never sick. Not sick enough. Stop lying to them.

I could go on. I tell myself all kinds of things.

I then tried to challenge my thoughts.

I would say I know a lot about mental health. I’d like to think I know something about writing. I haven’t taken an English class since a frustrating freshman year college class, and I’m embarrassingly going to admit I’ve forgotten whether the punctuation mark goes inside or outside the quotation mark (read: the answer is in).

Even as I came up with these counter thoughts, or even just thoughts to distract, the negative thoughts always outweighed them. The negatives always stuck to me more, and I always seemed to quickly forget the counter thoughts.

***

Fast forward a few weeks. I’m in the office (this was before I remembered where the punctuation mark goes), and I’m nervous. Thoughts are flying. I’m doing my best. I’m coping with a recent change in my personal life, and it’s got me vulnerable. Real vulnerable. I turn in my first edit, and there’s notes. I have trouble making and admitting mistakes, and someone else has just called them out to see. I’m definitely going to be fired.

They mention an intern project on the second day, and I’ve already created “Musicians and Mental Health” in my head and get a little too passionate a little too quickly. It’s to compensate for my mistakes.

Over the next few weeks, I take a few cry breaks in the bathroom. Yeah. I’m not so stuck in my head after a few weeks of editing pieces. My heart aches, and it starts to feel pointless to edit, “I am not ok” to “I am not OK” because the point is, there is someone out there who is struggling a lot and I am sitting here editing their pain on my laptop. Something doesn’t feel right.

I start to get to know the people in the office more. The topic of my favorite group of boys, the Jonas Brothers comes up. I catch on to peoples’ personalities and likes and find I relate to most everyone in the office in some way.

The office is pretty quiet, and it makes me a bit anxious. My head tells me they’re just waiting for me to say something unintelligent. Or completely entertaining. Nothing in between. I just start talking. Sometimes I laugh randomly. I put in headphones and dance a little dance in my seat because everyone is living for Kesha’s music revival.

I go to lunch. Most of the time I go out because I need to see some sun and other scenery. Sometimes friends meet up with me. Sometimes I wander in stores. Sometimes I talk to people. I drink iced coffee. I walk back. I work. I publish. I interview. I make connections with the people I work with and we bond over silly and not-so-silly thoughts that run through our heads. We have inside jokes, and we share quotes from stories we are editing that range from heart-wrenching to helpless to hopeful. One day, I put a quote I feel perfectly describes eating disorder recovery in the group chat. I wonder, “What’s the point of me copying and pasting all these quotes?”

And then I remember. I think back to the quotes I read when I was hopeless and struggling to sit alone. Words I wanted to believe but couldn’t.

“Calorie counting is not the catalyst to happiness.”

“This is a reminder that this is not permanent.”

“I am not defined by the number of people who have asked about my GPA or the number of times I felt trapped by the answer.”

“You matter.”

I wanted someone to tell me why I was going through this, why the Universe had chosen me to have some strange set of events occur that would lead me to eating disorders. How I was going to get out of it. If I was going to get out of it. Endless questions and thoughts I couldn’t make sense of that therapists told me they understood, but I wasn’t so sure they did. I think back to my struggle and wonder what in the world got me through, and the answer is words.

I write these words so simply and easily, but there was a time not so long ago where I couldn’t. I couldn’t say I was going out for lunch or making meaningful connections or drinking coffee how I like it (with cream). I had no sense of humor. Walking was a means of compensation, not transportation. But now, I can. And I think back to what it was, and it was the conversation, the therapy, the writing, the songs, the words.

And that is why I love The Mighty. The words on this website are saving lives, telling stories, holding peoples’ hands and hearts in moments of darkness and celebration and everything in between. I think back to when I thought I was only hired so they could give me an English lesson. And then I remember, it’s because I know struggle and strength and hopeless and tired and hopeful and wonder and I believe in the power connection and words that have in our healing. And these people get it. The Mighty gets it.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Editor’s note: We did not force Danielle to write this piece, but we did make her use correct punctuation. We’ll miss having her in the office and learning new Jonas Brothers facts each day.

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I Created a Mindfulness Technique in My Dream – and I Can't Stop Thinking About It

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Y’all, I had a dream two nights ago and I just can’t stop thinking about it. This dream has radically changed how I think about my life. I woke up today thinking about it again; it’s been three hours and I can’t sleep or stop thinking about it, so I think I’ll share. Bear with me as dreams are weird and hazy and confusing, but hopefully, you can follow along.

In my dream, I had a session with a famous therapist — the famous therapist’s name was Sally or Susan or something like that. My brain isn’t super original when it comes to names. Anyways, I was in her office with my husband, where I was crying and telling her all about my life and talking about how nothing I’m doing seems to be working. She nodded gravely and told me it was because all I was doing was repainting my porch. Stay with me, guys. This is where it gets real. I was like, “This sounds like another mindfulness exercise that isn’t going to help,” and she told me those exercises helped you recognize the chips in your porch paint and the other general wear and tear. What the heck, right? She gave me a workbook and told me I needed to do the homework before she saw me again the next day. In my dream, I went home and grumbled about having to do some more pointless analogy therapy that ultimately would do nothing for me. I then opened the workbook and what was in there was fascinating.

The Porch Theory is this idea that your life is built like a porch. (I need to add here that I am not a carpenter, have built stage set pieces, and am fully aware that what follows is not actually a good way to build a porch.) There is a poured foundation made of concrete. On top are four main support beams. Covering those are the long pieces of wood that make up the porch. Then comes the stain/paint and the decorations.

Each part of the porch represents something different. The foundation is what your every action stems from. This is the root cause of everything you do. Then the foundation beams are the four main focuses your brain has. The long pieces of wood are your values that stem from those main focuses (which are influenced by the foundation). And then comes the paint/stain, which is the actions you do and your outward symptoms, caused by the values which stem from the focuses, which are influenced by the foundation.

In my dream, I did two written exercises. The first was to analyze my life starting from the paint and working my way back to the foundation. Then I labeled a diagram of my current “porch” with what I had written. This exercise took a long time, even in dream world. I ended up skipping around to the different parts of the “porch” as I tried to make sense of everything. The end result was me staring at this “porch,” feeling as though I had been laid bare onto paper. My paint — the outward manifestation of my inward life — included things like: “People pleaser,” “excessive apologizing,” “panic and anxiety attacks,” “sobbing,” “anger towards my health,” “shame over needing mobility devices, medications, etc” and “going to countless doctor appointments even though I know this doctor isn’t the one for me.” I could go on, but you get the point. The long pieces of wood, the values, were things like: “Religion,” “putting family and friends above health,” “getting the highest education possible,” “being the best,” “keeping a clean house at all costs,” “forcing my body to stay healthy as much as possible” and “working a good job.“ The four main support beams were: “Not wanting to be abandoned,” “not wanting anyone to regret being around me,” “not wanting to be a burden” and “thinking everyone else deserves more/better than I do.”  My foundation was fear and worthlessness.

After I did this exercise, I found myself back in the dream therapist’s office, sobbing and holding my husband’s hands as I told her all about my porch. What could I do? This seemed like a horrible life I’d created for myself, and I felt hopeless about it.
She told me that yes, this is a terrible porch. It is, at its foundation, flawed. She told me I couldn’t expect a beautiful life when my thinking was all stemming from places of fear and worthlessness, the same way I shouldn’t expect a porch with a nasty, cracked foundation and rotting wood to be an amazing place to have lemonade and iced tea during the summer with my husband. She told me it wasn’t my fault my porch is awful. She jokingly told me that, with the life I’ve lived, she was surprised the whole damn house hadn’t fallen apart. I couldn’t stop crying. She got down on my level, looked me in the eyes and quietly asked me if I was ready for a new porch. I told her yes, but how the hell do I do that? She nodded solemnly and said, “Renovations.”

She then had me do the second exercise in the workbook. The second exercise was, “Describe your dream porch (aka ideal life/values/etc.). My dream porch’s outward appearance were things like: “Singing in the shower again,” “smiling,” “enjoying time with friends,” “happiness,” “baking” and “painting.” My porch boards, my values, were made up of: “Living in the moment,” “gratefulness,” “finding contentment,” “loving friends,” “relationship with husband” and others I can’t remember right now. The four beams were “mental health,” “healthy marriage,” “physical health” and “hope.” And the foundation? It was self-love.

Sounds great, right? But how to get there? Sally-Susan the Dream Therapist was a little hazy on this one, but told me that every time I am having an outward symptom or thought that echoes the nasty porch, to think of the ideal porch and try to follow along with what I think that would look like. For example, if I find myself crying over how messy the house is, I should take a step back and realize this comes from that gross foundation. I can then try to remind myself of how I want to be thinking. For example: “Yes, the house is messy but it actually isn’t hurting anyone and hey, isn’t it great that my husband and I have been resting and going places and having fun and yeah, we haven’t had time to clean the house but look at all we’ve done this week!” Another example: “Yes, the house is messy but it actually isn’t hurting anyone and if it is, I can ask husband for help because I don’t have to do it all by myself and it isn’t horrible to ask him to help and we could play music and it could actually be fun!” Or: “Yes, the house is messy but no, you haven’t ‘done nothing’ all week, you’ve taken all your pills on time and rested your joints and remember that one time you pet your dog? That was pretty awesome! It’s OK to focus on your health. Remember those beams on your dream porch? It’s OK.” She told me I was going to need to go right down to the foundation and change it and then the other changes would follow.

My dream therapist told me this was going to be nasty, messy work. She told me to think of it like any renovation. There will be setbacks. She told me that any time I experience a setback while working toward this “new porch” and feel like I’ll never get there, to just think of it as a construction issue and forgive myself. There might be termites living in the wood of the porch, waiting to be exposed. The renovation crew might take unexpected holidays and leave me with a shattered mess to work around for weeks. Maybe there’s some electrical wiring that needs to be replaced. Perhaps we’ll get the porch built and realize that the foundation was never actually touched, the crew just said they did it and we have to tear the whole thing apart again. She told me that just as remaking a foundation for a house or porch is ridiculously hard and irritating, remaking a foundation for my life will be too. And just like porches continually need weather-proofing, the occasional board replacement, repainting and other regular maintenance, keeping myself healthy will require constant work. But she told me to look forward to the days when I can sit out on a nice porch, sipping iced tea on a lounger next to my husband and watching the sunset.

Although it was a dream, I’m going to follow along with the Porch Theory and see if it works. Feel free to join me. If you’d like, you can share your own “Dream Porch” with me in the comments.

This post was originally published on the author’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via Remains

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