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5 Unexpected Ways Rape Affected My Life

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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.

I used to think surviving rape would be about tears, shame and the wearing of baggy clothes. So, when it happened to me at age 20, I had no idea what a bizarre, counterintuitive ride I was in for. It’s been nearly five years since my rape and now I know how rape can change your life. 

• What is PTSD?

1. Your brain may rebel against you.

Throughout my journey to put my rapist to justice, I met several other rape survivors. We all had promising careers, intellectual extracurriculars and diplomas all over our walls. What did we marvel over? Why did our brains suddenly feel like mush? After the rape, I found myself stumbling to recall my words mid-sentence and pay attention to my favorite TV shows. I locked my keys in my car too many times to count. It was embarrassing, but mostly, it was devastating because I realized just how much I took for granted.

2. Your body might not trust you.

Trauma hides in the body. We often think of the psychological damage from an assault, but I didn’t realize my body could also change in other ways. A couple years ago, I noticed I was always exhausted and my muscles were constantly aching. I tried everything — yoga and extra rest — until I went to the doctor. I was examined, prodded and prescribed a sleep study.

The next day, the results came back. I was shocked. I had developed sleep apnea. I had begun to spontaneously stop breathing in my sleep. The reason I felt exhausted was because every time I did this, I was wrenched out of deep sleep and never got to truly rest. It was chilling to know my rape could affect me on such a deep and basic level.

I now sleep with a machine that helps me breathe at night; a look complete with tubing and a mask. It was endlessly frustrating to get used to and I still haven’t found a way to stop the breakouts I get from the silicone face straps. Who would’ve thought a rape could’ve given me cystic acne?

3. You may become afraid of the strangest things.

I used to be fearless. I used to be able to do things like hang upside-down by my ankles, zip-line over a hundred-foot ravine or cling to the crashing bow of my father’s boat in a tropical storm. I certainly wasn’t so fearless after the rape. But what was strange was what I actually became afraid of. I thought rape would mean a fear of sex or men. But suddenly, I found myself jumpy around horn-rimmed glasses. A certain texture of hair on a waiter or a hand placed too near my calf could send me straight out of the room with the shakes. I suddenly found myself sleeping soundest with a machete under the bed. My rape turned me into a ball of nerves. I jumped at the most mundane things and part of the scariness came from not knowing what was going to scare me next.

4. Sometimes, people will become afraid of you.

A few years after my rape, my annual review was handed to me at work and I felt my heart sink into my stomach. It was filled with paragraphs of comments about how my coworkers had been concerned after noticing me acting tired or stressed on certain days. It was of course true that I was stressed; I had to put my head down in the spare office from the dizziness of a poor night’s sleep. I already explained my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to my managers, but reading the rambling anxieties over my stress management made me feel so misunderstood. I never felt more alone than I did that day. I now realize I was being  judged all year, despite my hard work. I had become something to be wary of — an inconvenience — and the process of healing soon meant the process of hiding it.

5. You will discover who your friends are.

When you are in the darkest hour of your life and call for help, see who answers. Who does — and who doesn’t — will completely surprise you. I was always relatively vocal about my assault on social media, and was always shocked and humbled at how many messages I received from sheer acquaintances, pledging to lend a supportive ear whenever I might need it. On the other hand, a couple of friends I once considered some of my closest still avoid the topic with me years later. I’ve lost many relationships because my dates didn’t support the choices I made in my recovery, including choosing to speak out about the botched police investigation. So, while it cost me some friendships, many of my friendships only deepened as a result of my attack, because it revealed the truly gold-hearted people in my circle to me.

Unsplash via Luca Iaconelli

Originally published: December 15, 2018
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