PTSD after the Election. Triggered by Trump. Why this election might be hard for a Rape Survivor.

Gabriel and I live in rural Minnesota with our two kids–farm country. We are not surprisingly surrounded by many Trump supporters. We have both been Hillary Rodham Clinton fans for years and have excitedly followed her campaign. I made small donations to her cause a few times after a glass of wine and an extra patriotic West Wing episode, but other than that, I didn’t do much else. But Gabriel spent the last several months engaging in difficult and quite honestly, uncomfortable conversations with people who planned to support Trump. He would bring it up at the dinner table. I would grit my teeth and awkwardly attempt to change the subject. I would roll my eyes when he asked me to edit a thoughtful and well researched comment he spent fifteen minutes crafting in order to respond to an offensive article posted on FaceBook. It drove me nuts.

“You’re just going to upset people!”

“That’s not going to change anyone’s mind!”

“This is a waste of time, babe.”

I was a total nay-sayer. I discouraged his passionate political outbursts and they sometimes out-right annoyed me.

Finally, it was the morning of November 8th, and I was honestly glad all the the election talk was about to be over. Gabriel and I excitedly discussed our country’s bright future over our morning coffees. “How empowering it will be to have a ‘Madame President’!” I tearfully told Theo that Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to be our first female President. He cheered, “Yay! Hillary Clinton!” like a good democrat’s son and contentedly went back to eating his yogurt. Gabriel went early to cast his vote (I had sent in an absentee ballot for Ohio) and we nervously spent the day wondering when exit polls would start to become significant.

That evening I poured some wine, turned on The Crown and continued my embroidery as if it were any other night. Gabriel couldn’t tear his eyes away from his computer–checking exit polls, reading predictions. We were excited but thought the outcome was obvious. Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to become our President.

“Oh my gosh, babe. Turn that off. We need to start watching the news.” The edge in Gabriel’s voice made me start.

“What!? What is it?”

“She’s not winning.” Gabriel swallowed and switched The Crown to CNN Live Election Results. We watched in horror as one state after another turned red. Tears slid unchecked down my cheeks as the flabbergasted newscasters reported on her continuingly narrowing odds of winning.

We turned the computer off around midnight and went to bed. Defeated, deflated, disgusted.

I ignorantly assumed all of the Trump support I heard flying around on social media was fringe. I thought surely it was only a few rogue Republicans with neo-natzi tattoos and Confederate flags in their truck windows that supported Trump. I was ignorant and apathetic. I misjudged them. I mean, their own party leaders had denounced Trump! But I was wrong.

Theo woke up the morning of November 9th at four am. He was sad and grumpy. So were we. None of us could go back to sleep. Gabriel went to check the election results with a small hope that maybe something crazy had happened in the last four hours and Hillary really would be the 45th President. I snuggled our babies in bed. I called down the stairs, “Was he really elected?”

There was a long pause. “Yes.”

More tears fell and I hugged my kids close, grateful they were too young to understand what this meant. America had elected a President that called Mexicans rapists, judged women by their boob size, mocked people with disabilities, supported stop-and-frisk and admitted to sexual assault. This was the man we chose to represent our interests. But he doesn’t represent my interests. The morning of November 9th–I felt scared. My President grabbed women by the pussy whenever he felt like it because he was a “star.” Under his example and leadership, my daughter and I weren’t respected. We weren’t safe.

I continued to cry off and on that day while listening to NPR discuss the results of the election. Theo asked to play outside and I found myself afraid to go into the yard. I felt like I used to feel two years ago when I was newly a rape survivor and PTSD made leaving my own bed scary. I had flashbacks to the rape, and I felt weak.

The man who raped me used the word “pussy” several times in the attack, making that word a particularly potent trigger for me. News outlets played the tape of our President Elect using that word over and over again. I felt disempowered and small. I was as shocked by this sudden return of PTSD as I was by the election results. The election of Donald Trump was just another reminder that our culture doesn’t prioritize the safety of women and other marginalized communities.

Ever since the election I have felt myself slide back into old habits and feelings of insecurity and hypervigilance. At first, I felt silly and dramatic for “back-sliding” in my healing process as a rape survivor, but I now realize that my feelings of fear are justified. I don’t know what the presidency of Donald Trump will bring, but I know his campaign bred hate, intolerance and fear. It is fair to assume that his time in office will only usher in more hate, intolerance and fear. So if you’re a rape survivor, a minority, a refugee, disabled, a member of the LGBTQ community or basically not a white male cisgendered person–it’s okay to be scared. Don’t feel silly or dumb if you’re suddenly sleeping with the lights on again. Me too. If you’re feeling sad or angry or scared, it’s okay. Me too. If you feel like backing away from the mean world and hiding in a corner under a thick blanket with hot chocolate and a fantasy novel–don’t worry. Me too.

I now regret all of the discouraging words I spoke to Gabriel as he voiced his opinions loudly in opposition of Trump. I regret shying away from political conversations in order to avoid confrontation. I played my part in the election of this harmful man by doing nothing. But the world doesn’t end here. I remember feeling like the world ended when I was raped. But it didn’t. There was work to be done, and healing to fight for. Now there is work to be done and healing to fight for as a nation. But if you feel sad and scared, my friends, don’t feel alone. I’m with you.

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July 8. Again.

July 8, 2016

I woke to a soft gray rumble. The comfort of rhythmic rain on the window like a mother patting her child’s back–quietly hushing, shushing and rocking.

Thunderstorms comfort me. They feel ancient or outside of time–great gray clouds unaffected by our progress, innovation and strife. Rain, unhindered by our trivial and arbitrary borders, will fall wherever it chooses–soaking, feeding, softening without judgement. And lightening is the most awe-inspiring magic that penetrates my controlled 21st century life. Surprise. Power. Fear. Science explains this phenomenon but that doesn’t diminish the wonder of blue, gold and white streaks of energy slicing across the sky, burning into my retinas.

A morning thunderstorm reminds me that I’m safe in my powerlessness. Safe in my eternity. I can’t explain the connection but it’s palpable in my heart.

The dusky light softened the edge of Gabriel’s broad shoulder as he rested next to me. The haze deepened the air–slowing down morning rustles as we moved to meet the day.

Theo sprawled across my belly and softly rubbed his hand back and forth over the rounded circumference of my growing baby bump. The weight of his little body wasn’t comfortable, but his small meaty hands were warm and tender.

Mothering makes me feel connected to other times and places. The connection between mothers and their progeny sustain the scaffolding of human history. I’m not the first woman to find comfort and peace in the natural love of a toddler’s gentle stroke.

I was just as much born for this child as he was born for me.

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The eighth of July is the anniversary of the day I was brutally assaulted–beaten, raped and nearly killed. The eighth of July is a wound that reminds me that normal days full of work, chores, meal making, hand holding and general routine can turn into a nightmare. As soon as July first ticks by on my calendar an uneasiness begins to creep into my soul. How do I know that today is safe? How do I know I won’t be devastated, ravaged raw and used today?  How do I continue through life if it is possible to be taken and broken by those who are stronger than me? Like the storms: Surprise. Power. Fear. Always a possibility.

As the date approached this year my anxiety increased. A few days before the eighth I was in the shower when panic, fear and anger gripped me. I began roughly scrubbing my face and then I started tearing at my lashes. I pulled out nearly all of my eyelashes. I was stunned. My eyes burned. Naked and raw.

This year on July 8, 2016, everyone in my family went to great lengths to make me feel loved and safe. But the first moment I found myself alone, my cheeks were suddenly wet with tears I didn’t know were waiting to fall. I sat on the end of my bed and allowed the sobs to reverberate through my body, shaking me from head to toe. A few minutes later Gabriel slipped into the room and sat down next to me, allowing me to soak his shoulder without saying a word.

“I’m so glad I didn’t die,” I whispered through my tears. A soft groan-like sigh escaped his chest as he rocked me.

“Me too. Me too,” he whispered back.

As my sobs ebbed we remained together clutching each other, attempting to protect one another.

“This is also the day we learned about our boy.” I turned to look up into my husband’s face–his eyes crinkled in remembrance.

The eighth of July will always be a painful and jarring day. But as much as it’s an anniversary of death, it’s also the birthday of my new place in the world–my new place as a mother. On July 8, 2013, I joined the leagues of women who have endured rape and abuse, but I also joined the folds of motherhood. Not a day has gone by since July 8, 2013 that I haven’t thought about being raped. But not a day has gone by that I haven’t also thought about my precious son.

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TTC and Other Fun Acronyms

Gabriel and I have been trying to have another baby since December. I know that’s not long, but it’s already an all consuming adventure. When I talked to friends and family about our choice to go for baby #2, eyebrows were raised as people slowly nodded their heads. Some were bold enough to state, “But you’re so young!” Well. To that I say, “I am already a mother. We are already parents and that cannot be changed. I am 23 years young and I want another baby.”

I got an IUD last July and almost immediately started to ache for a second child. Go figure. Gabriel and I had no long term plan or vision for how our family would look (I think that much is clear). We thought maybe someday we would want another child, but we were also comfortable with the idea of just having Theo. He’s our little light and in some ways I can’t imagine having another child.

But I began thinking about how formative and wonderful my three older sisters have been in my life. When I was raped all three of my sisters either jumped on a plane or jumped in their car and met me at my parents’ house in Maryland. They were all there to hold me, cry with me, pray with me and carry me when I needed support. And all three of them were by my side as I labored long and hard with Theo. When I was laying on my bed attempting to push little Theodore into the world, one sister was holding my left leg, Gabriel held the right and the other two were between my legs in the thick of the action—cheering me on. They dealt with my shenanigans through my childhood, my moody apathy through adolescence and now they are my best friends and biggest supporters in adulthood. My mom and my three sisters and I have a massive on-going group text where we update each other throughout our days about our lives. We talk about our children, our spiritual lives, our bodily functions and our relationships. We carry one another through the ups and downs of being women.

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I want to give the gift of a sibling to my little joy. My firstborn.

He already seems like an older sibling to me. We live with my sister Becca, and she has a daughter, Dottie, who is six months younger than Theo. Theo calls Dottie “Dobby” which I think is the most wonderful nickname a child could ever have. Those two little babies greet each other every morning with shrieks, smiles, hugs and kisses. They fight, push and scream at each other and then turn around and tickle each other in fits of laughter. It is glorious to behold how much they love one another.

I know having two babies won’t be easy. But the timing is right. Someone once told me, “If you wait until it’s the perfect, most convenient time to have a child, then you’ll wait your whole life.” In some ways this can be a dangerous sentiment. It’s definitely best to be in control of your family planning situation and make your own decisions about when you want a child. But honestly, our little Theo surprise was the best thing possible. Was it convenient? Heck no! Children are never convenient (except at parties full of people you don’t know…then you can just chill with your baby and it’s totally acceptable not to talk to anyone). But I’m a mom—whether I feel like it or not—and I honestly don’t often “feel” like a mom. But my son is getting older by the minute. I want him to have someone to call when I’m old and start saying funny things and a decision needs to be made about putting mom in a home. I don’t want him to carry that burden alone.

It’s a scary and vulnerable thing to start trying for another baby. For one thing, there are all of these crazy acronyms online that make it impossible to read anything about conceiving a child without an answer key to consult. Here are some of my favorites:

TTC: (Trying To Conceive) Simple. Utilitarian. I like it.

AF: (Aunt Flow) Yep. That is in reference to every woman’s monthly flowering—their menstrual cycle. Some genius went ahead and decided that Aunt Flow was the absolute most accurate and universal identifier for a woman’s period. I’d like to ask for their formal resignation.

BFN: (Big Fat Negative) Okay, this just seems a little rude for a bunch of women trying desperately to conceive a baby to be forced into identifying their negative pregnancy test as a BIG FAT NEGATIVE online. Not the most sensitive acronym around.

BD and DTD: (Baby Dance and Do the Deed) I like these two because they acknowledge a very important part of the process: SEX. Reading all the literature about basal body temperatures, ovulation dates and EWCF (Egg White Cervical Fluid…yep); it’s easy to forget that it takes two to tango. And sex when you’re TTC is different than regular ol’ IUD sex. It’s giggly, exciting and sometimes romantic. You’re trying to create a life here, not just get it on. And at other times, it’s awkward. “Quick honey, my cervical fluid seems to be the right consistency! Let’s have intercourse!” isn’t the flyest of dirty talk, but it’ll get the job done.

Anyway, Gabriel and I are excited to find ourselves tripping awkwardly into this world of intentionally making a baby. It was so easy and accidental the first time, I’m just hoping and praying our desire for a baby doesn’t somehow shrink up my eggs or confuse his little swimmers. Okay, I need to do a little bit more reading about how this all works, but in the meantime, I’m anxiously awaiting my BFP (Big Fat Positive)!

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Agent Myrin

I’ve shared before that the walk from my car to OSU campus is a pretty anxiety producing time for me. In reality, just being in a public place full of strangers who haven’t earned my trust is a pretty anxiety producing time. For months after I was raped I didn’t go in public places alone. Heck, I hardly moved about my own house alone! The mall was my worst nightmare. Hundreds of strangers milling about without any discernible purpose or direction. They were all a threat to me. Everyone’s face seemed to be full of hate and violence. My stranger anxiety has quelled considerably and I can now read facial expressions and body language to get a more accurate picture of potential danger. But sifting through strangers to assess potential danger is still a big part of my daily life.  

Strangely, ever since being raped I’ve also gotten into crime shows. Sometimes this surprises people because they know I’ve become a big scaredy cat so they wonder why I would want to watch scary shows about murderers and rapists. A lot of rape survivors become adrenaline junkies for a while after their assault. I knew a girl who would go to bars just to be hit on by drunk scary slobs because it gave her a rush to push them away and succeed this time. Another woman I knew took up skydiving and got several tattoos. They could control the danger to a certain extent. It made them feel brave and alive instead of the paralyzed with fear.

I get my rush by cuddling on my couch with tea, an adult coloring book and a show about serial killers. I know the violence. I get the hate. Seeing other people talk about it, experience trauma and solve terrible crimes makes me feel more normal. I sympathize with the screaming girl and I long to be the badass detective that wields the gun and bravely enters the dark creepy warehouse alone.

This weird new crime obsession has leaked into other areas of my life.

It started slowly and organically. As I walked down the car lined sidewalk, I used the windows on the cars to keep an eye on the man walking behind me. I adjusted my body language and pace to keep a good distance between us—the James Bond soundtrack played in my head.

“I’m basically a spy,” I thought to myself.

Agent Myrin was born.

Agent Myrin is an undercover agent that has been in the field for two years. She has infiltrated an international white collar gang that is allegedly funneling funds and arms to several lower level gangs that run human trafficking rings. She is fluent in French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Italian. Her Mandarin is conversational. She knows countless ways to kill a man, but she prefers to capture them and get information. She’s a believer in second chances. Her cover may have been blown by a sleezy, brown-nosing messenger boy who suspects she’s not as committed to the gang as he is. She is on high alert. Assassins could be anywhere.

This is the narrative I play in my head as I walk from my car to OSU. It’s perfect. I have to act cool and normal (not like a paranoid hyper vigilant crazy PTSD lady), but I also have to keep my eyes open. I play little scenarios in my head involving crazy hypotheticals and stunning punch-kick combinations.

If that guy in the blue hat lunged across the street toward me I would run up the driveway to my left, jump the fence, run through the school yard and into the elementary school. He would follow close behind. He would grab an eight year old boy with glasses and hold a gun to his head. I would put down my weapon and exchange my life for the kid’s. With a quick headbutt and palm to the nose I would disarm blue-hat-guy and turn his gun on him. I would then interrogate him to see who he worked for.

To be clear, I do not carry a gun with me. I don’t even own a gun. It’s just a comforting fantasy to believe that I could handle myself against any bad guy who crossed my path.

I studied Tae Kwon Do as a kid and I’ve taken countless self defense classes in my life. When I decided to go to college in Chicago my dad made me take an intensive self-defense class run by the Columbus Police. A cop wore a bunch of pads, fake attacked me and I had to fight him off with all the moves I had learned. I hate to say it, but none of those skills came in handy when I was really attacked. I don’t know the research about success rates for those kinds of classes, but from my experience they aren’t truly helpful. If an action isn’t ingrained in your everyday life it will not be a reflex when you’re attacked. The only reflex I trust is my scream (which proved to be extremely loud when I was attacked) and the instinct to simply hit and push the person away.

I carry a sharp, plastic cat shaped object that I attached to my keys. I wear it on my hand every time I’m out in public. It isn’t a real weapon, but it’s akin to wearing brass knuckles all the time. I trust that if someone jumped me I would instinctively hit them with that fist and at least draw some blood. If some asshole touches me again I want some of his blood on my hands. DNA testing should be a breeze. Though it wasn’t an issue getting his DNA the first time without any of his blood on me.

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Sometimes I realize how silly it is to pretend to be a CIA or FBI agent. In fact, it probably makes me certifiable. But it brings some levity to my fearful walks. It makes me feel strong and capable. And why not occupy my thoughts with a fun fantasy? What else would I think about? Groceries, school, sex, food, money? At least in the imaginary world of Agent Myrin I’m kicking butt, taking names and catching bad guys.

 

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Love Yourself. Take Your Pills.

Last summer was tough. We were pretty broke. Gabriel was working a part-time job; I was in school and we were riding my student loans like there was no tomorrow. Gabriel decided he needed another part-time job ASAP so he went everywhere within a half mile radius of our apartment and got another job. He was hired on the spot at a gas station nearby and realized he could get more hours if he worked  third shifts. He does whatever it takes to care for our little family. He’s my hero.

We needed the money for sure, but the thought of being alone at night began to bother me. Gabriel had often worked until midnight and that was hard enough. I didn’t like to be alone in general, but I especially hated being alone when it was dark outside.

Ever since I was raped I haven’t been able to sleep well. Before we were married Gabriel used to sleep on the floor of my bedroom so I didn’t have to be alone. He takes care of me.

For two years people have been asking me if I take any anti-anxiety medications or sleeping pills to help with all of my anxiety. I would puff out my chest and proclaim, “No! I don’t need any pills!” as if that earned me some cool rape survivor points. But after Gabriel worked a few night shifts, I knew I needed to deal with my weird pride. Gabriel would tuck me into bed, make sure I had water, books, my computer and Inali laying safely beside me. I would make him check every closet and under every bed and table before he left. He locked my bedroom door and the apartment door. Still I stayed up the entire night—paralyzed in bed, shaking, crying, texting Gabriel and battling with flashbacks. I needed help.

I made an appointment to see my doctor.

I researched anti-anxiety medications and I thought I still didn’t need to go that far. I just needed help sleeping. When the nurse ushered me back to see the doctor she asked, “Your doctor has a student shadowing her today. Would it be okay if he ask you some questions before your doctor comes in?”

“Uh…sure,” I hesitantly replied. I sat in that tiny room with optimistic art on the walls and my hands began to shake and sweat. There was a light knock on the door and the medical student came into the room. His white coat was personalized with a blue plaid bow tie and a well fitted button down shirt. He was African American. I haven’t talked about it much, but I was raped by an African American man. I refuse to let race be a trigger for me, but it’s something I’m still working through. I’ll probably never like the specific shade of green my rapist was wearing, and that’s fine, but I won’t let this injustice done to me affect the way I interact with an entire race. But it’s still tough.

He smiled, shook my hand and asked me how he could help. I sighed and all in one breath I said, “Well, a couple of years ago I was raped and I’ve done a lot of counseling and work since then, but I still have a lot of anxiety and trouble sleeping and I’m hoping for some pills to help me sleep.” He nodded his head and made a few notes.

“Well, how long were you in counseling?”

“About two years. I recently stopped, but I don’t think that’s the issue. I’ve done EMDR, I journal all the time, I have great family support. I just need help sleeping”

We discussed my diet (it’s okay), my exercise routine (it’s erratic, but better than some) and my alcohol and coffee consumption (pretty standard). I explained that I’ve tried essential oils, I do yoga and I know lots of breathing techniques. I heard the desperation in my voice as I awkwardly defended myself (as if I had to). I heard the true meaning of my words: “I swear I’m not lazy or crazy! I’ve tried everything else!”

I have no idea where I absorbed the notion that medication was for those who don’t try hard enough. I prided myself on all the healing and hard work I’d done to be a relatively normal person (who still can’t sleep in the dark, hates to be alone and fears certain shades of green. . .)

The student stepped out and conversed with my primary physician. They both came back in the room a few minutes later smiling and ready to talk.

“Emily, you’re not dumb,” my doctor began, “You are a very healthy person who I think would benefit greatly from some anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication.” I melted with relief. I had passed the test. I had tried everything, I wasn’t crazy. I just needed some help.

She wrote me a prescription and I started taking antidepressants that day. That was six months ago. My world has shifted back to center in those months. I never realized how much energy I was spending trying to tie my brain to my body and keep my emotions and thoughts in a manageable range. I used to have such unexplainable highs and lows. Some days I would wake up and know it was going to be a bad day. I would stay inside, feeling the weight of anxiety pressing on me from every angle with no explanation. Gabriel carried me through those days. I would be distant, sad, scared and angry for no discernable reason. I was scraping by.

Now I go weeks at a time without untriggered anxiety forming unsurmountable roadblocks in my life. While fear and anxiety used to commandeer my mind for days at a time, I now feel steady. Level. Controlled. I don’t feel numb or dead or “not myself.” I am more myself. These small pink pills put the reins back in my hands.

I don’t know why I felt so ashamed to get help. I had some weird notion that I needed to fix myself. I thought if I couldn’t handle the anxiety on my own then I was weak and the anxiety won. But really I was surrendering to the anxiety daily when I let it steal my time and my thoughts. Now, I don’t allow my anxiety to run the show anymore. I have an ally that regulates my hormones, and generally makes the sun shine a little brighter. And the best part—I sleep. Gabriel quit his job that required third shifts and got a better job, but even so, I go to bed before Gabriel all the time now (he’s more of a night owl than me). I can crawl into bed, in the pitch black room that we share with Theo and fall asleep alone. I haven’t been able to do that for two years.

I call them my happy pills (or my crazy pills if I’m feeling a little pessimistic). I’ve learned this is part of loving myself—accepting the help I need and marching forward—stronger than I was alone.

Love yourself. If you need to, take pills. Don’t be a hero. Don’t be silly. Don’t try and conquer the world alone. The best way to screw the bad guys in this world is to be the brightest, strongest and truest versions of our beautiful selves. Take your pills, people. Go be strong, brave and medicated!

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The Tradition of Rape

Last week I had my last First Day of college ever. In true senior fashion, I woke up late, forgot to pack a lunch and rolled into class late. I only have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays (which is amazing) but that means I have four and a half hour classes fifteen minutes apart. And they are all in different buildings. My Tuesdays and Thursdays are loooong days. If you think of me on those days, send up a prayer. Or send coffee. I’m not sure which one I would prefer.

My second class of the day is Twentieth Century Poetry. My professor is exactly what you would expect from an English poetry professor. He’s a fifty something year old white man with stylish suits, a fresh haircut and a pinky ring. He says fancy Italian words like ‘Octtava Rima’ and ‘stanza’. (Okay, that last word isn’t fancy, but he informed me that ‘stanza’ is the Italian word for ‘room’ which totally blew my mind. Stanzas in a poem are like little rooms of poetry adding up to the large building of the poem. Sorry for my geeky digression. I’m a poetry fan.)

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On the first day of class my professor did the standard discussion of the syllabus, warning us that these are big-kid poems and some of the material is big-kid stuff and then he passed out two poems for us to read and discuss. About ten minutes into our reading time he says, “Oh, I maybe should have warned you. The second poem is a rape poem. So a little dicey.”

Great. I thought. Day one. Bring it on. I turned to the second poem and this is what I found.

Leda and the Swan

     By W. B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                   Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Greek mythology, I’ll catch you up. Zeus was a huge asshole and was fond of taking the form of an animal and raping human women. Leda is the woman he choose to rape when he was a swan. Leda then had four children as a result of the rape. Two of her children were Helen of Troy (the face that launched a thousand ships) and Clytemnestra, who was the wife of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra and her lover ended up killing Agamemnon when he returned from fighting in the Trojan War that her sister was a part of starting. It’s a whole big mess.

My professor goes on to explain that this particular rape “was a rape with consequences.” I was taken aback. A rape with consequences? Is there ever a rape without consequences? There are millions of rapes that go unpunished by the legal system, I’ll give him that. But every rape has disastrous, deep and lifelong consequences. My professor explained that this poem is about the cost of culture. He reasoned that without the rape there would have been no Helen; withouth Helen there would have been no Trojan War; without the Trojan War there would have been no Homer nor would there have been the Iliad and the Odyssey; without those important texts then Western culture as we know it wouldn’t have existed. Therefore, this specific rape had consequences.

By now my blood was already bubbling. Why are we talking about this rape as if it had to happen? As if it was an important and necessary step to the formation of our culture? Then a male student raised his hand and commented, “I really like the first two stanzas. It’s so primal. So instinctual. It’s almost erotic.”

My jaw dropped. Rape is erotic? Instinctual? Primal? What are we even talking about? Another male student raised his hand and said, “And the content mirrors the traditional structure of the poem, because Zeus did this all the time. This isn’t new news.”

My professor responded, “You’re right. There is something rather traditional about this rape.” At this point in the conversation I began to spiral inward and check out. Rape is erotic? Traditional? The foundations of our culture? Are all of these things true?!

It reminded me of a scene from  the TV show  How to Get Away with Murder.  Gabriel and I are obsessed. The protagonist alludes to sexual abuse she experienced at the hand of her uncle when she was a child. Growing up her mother never told her that she knew about it, but in a certain episode there is a confrontation over it. The mother yells at her saying she needed to get over it. The mother cuts her down saying that for her aunt it was an elementary school teacher that raped her, for her it was a priest in middle school. “Men have been taking things from women since the beginning of time. There’s no reason to talk about it and get all messy everywhere…”

This scene brought tears to my eyes. Entire families of women have endured sexual violence silently. Carrying the burden of shame, fear, anger all alone. And in the classroom we talk about how traditional and standard rape is. Rape is prevalent. Disgustingly prevalent. Maybe some would call it a global tradition. Makes me want to spit just thinking about it. At least a quarter of the women in this country have been the victim of sexual assault and all women move through this world with an awareness of sexual violence that men will never understand. But just because this is a universal experience does not mean we should incorporate it into our society so comfortably by calling it a tradition. In fact, we can’t. An entire gender has been alienated, subjugated and belittled by sexual violence since the beginning of time. And we still talk about it in classrooms like just another building block in the grand scheme of things.

I want the conversation about rape to change. I want more people to be appalled that millions of women are walking around with triggers, flashbacks and coping mechanisms as a result of sexual violence. I am often reminded of that fact as I wander through my days. I look around me at all of the women walking across campus and I have to catch my breath as I imagine all the weight women carry with them. Horrors we will never understand.

Leda had to carry the weight of that rape for the rest of her days. Every time she looked into the faces of her children she was reminded of that traumatic day when her security was ripped from her. I was not impregnated as a result of being raped. I consider it the grace of God that I was already pregnant with Gabriel’s child, so I was protected from that painful reality. But our culture is built upon this pain. Our society supports and makes space for rape as if it is an inevitable byproduct of being human. I will not accept this. I want my son to live in a world where a poem about rape is met with tears and astonishment. I want shock to ripple through his body when he reads how deeply disrespected a woman is in her everyday life. I don’t want sexual assault to be considered normal, and common even though it is still sickeningly pervasive. I don’t know if I’ll ever live to see the day when these things are true, but I’ll never stop fighting for them.

 

Nap Time: The Real Happy Hour

Nap time. It is the best and the worst time of the day. For those of you who don’t have children, let me explain. Nap time is not the part of the day where we get to slip on our comfy pants (hint: we’re already in them), pull down the blinds and spend our afternoon dozing on the couch with a Real Housewives marathon in the background. That sounds like heaven. That is not our life. Nap time is the 1-3 hour window when children turnoff and mothers are supposed to complete every task there ever was.

Nap time is when I’m supposed to do laundry, meal prep, clean, write, organize everything, have some “me time”, shower, finally brush my teeth, make important phone calls that can’t be interrupted by screams, homework…etc. When that 11 o’clock hour rolls around and Theo has finished his morning snack and starts rubbing his eyes—I whisk him away to his room where we rock and shush and coo until he’s down for the count. Then I tiptoe out of his room, gently shut the door behind me and immediately a huge list of expectations bitch slap me in the face like a feisty hooker.

Should I do those stupid dishes? Should I maybe shower? Make-up? Nah. Should I read that book I’m supposed to read for school? Probably not.

I make my way downstairs only to end up laying on the living room floor—phone in hand—scrolling Facebook or Instagram. Thirty minutes later my phone will fall on my face as I nod off and I realize I’ve wasted a quarter of my precious alone time. Wiping the drool off my chin, I decide to eat. Because eating alone is amazing. During nap time I can finish an entire meal. By. Myself. I don’t have to share. Or stop halfway to refill water cups, or get second portions, or clean up a tipped over dog water dish. During nap time, I can just sit in silence, and eat.

It is glorious.

After I eat, I only have an hour—maybe an hour and a half left. This is where the shame and doubt really start to set in. What to do? When I was a single student with not a care in the world, I could fritter away my time anyway I pleased and I hardly felt any guilt at all. I knew I would get done what I needed to, and besides, who cares? My time was my own. Now that time alone is at a premium—when I get it—I totally panic. It feels like a defining moment for me. My mind races to all the imaginary productive moms out there that vacuum, wax their parquet floors, clean the gutters and make homemade bread while their children rest peacefully in their round Scandinavian cribs.

These imaginary domestic goddesses haunt me as I shuffle lazily from room to room in peanut butter smeared yoga pants and polka dotted house socks.

I’m not sure when I started taking myself so dang seriously, but the balance of my day rests precariously on how good or bad I feel about myself after nap time. Sometimes I think, “I should just be super productive and clean everything and start prepping for tonight’s dinner.” So I hop on Pinterest to look up a recipe for dinner and two hours later my kid is up and we’re playing with blocks again.

Here’s the thing—I’m not sure the real answer to my delicate self esteem is really to become a more efficient “housewife.” (That word sends shivers up and down my spine. Not because I think it’s unimportant—in fact, I think it’s ridiculously important—but because I feel like such an utter failure at it.) I think the answer lies somewhere deeper than that; somewhere inside where I don’t feel centered or solid. The place where my soul rests isn’t secure and I feel myself searching for an anchor.

I adore my son, and being his mother feels so natural to me. Hanging out with him, playing, snacking, dancing to music, exploring—that’s exactly how I want to spend my day. But being a mother doesn’t feel natural. It’s as if I missed the first meeting so I never got my membership card and they don’t accept tardy submissions. I’m waking up to this paradox in my heart and I’m beginning to understand how much daily discomfort it is causing me. My insecurity rears it’s ugly head during blessed nap time. So much so, I’m usually super happy when Theo wakes up because my life becomes so much simpler. I don’t have to fret about how to spend my time—I just spend it with him.

I’m avoiding the temptation to just duck my head down, dig my heels in and make a bunch of to-do lists and meal plans. That is what I’ve done in the past, but my feeble attempts to slap a band-aid on this soul issue have obviously never done the trick. My to-do lists grow too long and I feel too inadequate and my meal plans just become a plan of the meals I’m not going to make. And the cycle of shuffling aimlessly about and feeling bad about myself starts all over again.

I know this is about finding a home. A place of security and comfort within myself. I’m not sure how to go about doing such a thing, but I’m starting by reading a few books about who God made us to be, and I’m asking God who I am. I need to ask Someone Else for these answers because when I ask myself, I don’t come up with very kind responses. And I don’t believe the unkind responses are true, just because they feel true. Living through/with PTSD has taught me to respect feelings and give them space, but not always to give them weight. I might feel crappy, but that does not mean I am crappy. Hallelujah for that.

I’m hoping the answers come quickly. And I hope they magically sink down through the layers of skin, bone, pride and vanity until they hit my core and I’m instantly secure. But I doubt that will happen. I’m more likely looking at years of drudging through over two decades worth of baggage. But I think it’s a fight worth fighting.

Like Mulan’s warriors sang, I’m “a girl worth fighting for.”

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Learning to Trust

I stare at the packed dirt path beneath my feet. Glancing ahead all I see is a swirling wall of golden grey light and dust. The sun dances off the particles floating through the thick fog. I kick a few loose rocks forward and watch them disappear into the cloud five feet in front of me. To my left there is another path. It’s a little wider and the fog dissipates further down that trail. The sun haze filters through the canopy of the tall aged trees standing watch beside that path. It is tempting. But it’s quiet. It’s too still.

“Look to the trees,” a warm whisper prickles the back of my neck. My eyes dart up to the branches looming above and I see it. The rustling. The unprovoked movement in the leaves. There was no wind that afternoon. An ambush.

The path to my left seemed safer at first glance but now I know violence and slavery await just steps into the forest. It is a trap. With a deep breath I take a few steps down the foggy path in front of me. The wall of shimmering vapor slowly rolled back before me, revealing only five feet in front of my steps. But the cloud didn’t obstruct my view—it focused it. I noticed the roots forcing their joints through the faithful dirt. I saw brightly colored insects carrying food—four times their weight—across the landscape in order to feed their families. I feel my heartbeat in my ears and my breath on my tongue. I can’t daydream or zone out; the path would suddenly turn right or curve to the left and I fear stepping off into the forest. Who knows what pain lurks beyond the mist. I trust the comforting blanket of fog. My courteous and cozy guide brings moments, creatures and experiences across my path I could never have planned for.

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Marriage: The Everyday Shit

Every morning when Theo wakes up, Gabriel gets him from his nursery and lays him beside me in bed. Theo nurses and sweetly cuddles me for thirty to forty minutes. He lets me know he’s really ready to get up for the day by slapping me in the face or (unfortunately) pinching my nipples. Oh, the highs and lows of motherhood.
One morning, Gabriel laid him beside me and I noticed his pants were wet. Gabriel smelled his hands.
“Oh no. It’s poop.”
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Self-Care…whatever that means

    In the past two years I have heard a lot of counselors adamantly stress the importance of “self-care.” My head would begin to bob up and down in agreement while inside there was a battle raging between my true feelings and my social graces.
 
    “Don’t roll your eyes!” my social graces would shout.
    BUT AM I NOT SUPPOSE TO BE EMOTIONALLY HONEST?!” my true feelings would shout back.
 
And the battle would rage on.
I suck at self-care. I don’t get it. Am I supposed to take care of my physical biological needs? I already do that. Am I supposed to go buy myself a coffee, sit down and journal for an hour each day? Who’s supposed to watch my kid during this? Get a pedicure? As if I can afford that. Rub my own feet? Unsatisfying.
 
I googled self-care and printed out a list of one hundred ideas. My top three:
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