Saturday, April 8, 2017

I Wanna Get Better

I'm hanging out a friend's place right now on a sunny, Saturday afternoon. For some reason, it was hailing this morning near my apartment, but the sky was clear elsewhere. I haven't done much all day, except my laundry earlier, after having done not much else all week. I'm going to try to get my Teach For America application done today, before plans to hang out with friends later.

The end of the semester is winding down and from the outside, it looks like it's all going to be okay. I have an internship in Washington D.C. this summer, I have housing for next year, I have a healthy balance of academics and social life, and I'm dating a boy who I'm genuinely excited about. There are so many good things going on in my life that I want to hang on to.

Yet, the persistent monkey on my back is my mental health. I thought I had been managing everything this semester — and to a point, I was — but spring break brought everything to a crashing halt. A visit to San Jose on Monday that week triggered a panic attack, leaving me absolutely drained for the next few days. As I always do, I tried to bring the situation under control by reaching out to friends. Unfortunately, in this particular case, doing so did more harm than good.

Content warning: Discussion of sexual assault under the "Continue Reading »"

I arrived back in Berkeley on Tuesday, and for the rest of the day and the next two days, I tried to recover from the panic attack. Things were not going well: I couldn't focus, I couldn't work, and I wasn't taking care of myself. On Friday, I decided that I could not handle things on my own, so I reached out to a friend that I had met last semester. We had had two classes together, and by the end of the semester, had talked extensively about our mental health experiences, his being arguably worse than mine. Him having been to an outpatient program, I decided that he was someone I could trust and go to for mental health support.

After contacting him and going through the generic list of mental health check-ins (breathe, drink water, etc.) he suggested it was a nice day and I could go take a walk outside. Unfortunately, my social anxiety was also awful that day, so I couldn't leave the house by myself. He asked if it would help if he went with me, and I agreed to give it a try. We walked around the neighborhood and ended up drinking smoothies on Memorial Glade around 4pm, talking about life. However, as it was spring break, none of the facilities on campus were open, so I had to go back to his apartment to use the bathroom. We talked for a while, then realized that I hadn't eaten all day, so we went to a nearby restaurant. After dinner, around 9pm, it was getting pretty dark, so he offered to walk me back to my apartment. When we arrived there, he asked if I wanted to hang out a bit longer and watch a movie or two. After the movies, it was around 2am, and he asked if he could stay over as it was much too late to walk around Berkeley alone.

And from there, I'm not sure what happened. I clearly remember saying no, multiple times, rather forcefully. I remember telling him that my pants were staying on. But at some point, around 4am, I must have said yes. I'm not sure why I did it. I might have been worn out; I might have been still feeling the effects of my panic attack and decided to do it to self harm; I might have considered any other number of options. But I somehow said yes. And I woke up the next morning feeling tired and confused. I made breakfast. He tried to convince me to go with him back to his apartment. I asked if he was asking me because he wanted to fuck me again, or if he was genuinely concerned for my mental health. He said he was genuinely concerned for my mental health. I went back to sleep. He left.

Later I texted my best friend, who also knows this guy and didn't like him much. I told her I hooked up with him, and after her response, said, "Happy April Fools!" Later that evening, I called her, telling her it wasn't an April Fools joke after all, but god, I wish it were.

In the days following, I tried to process. At first I didn't think it affected me much. I tried to rationalize it to myself, saying it was a bad hookup, or it was a learning experience. Of course it was a learning experience — I learned that I need to be more comfortable saying no — but as time went by, the more I realized what had happened was absolutely not okay. It was confusing, because it was not my perceived definition of sexual assault. But undeniably, there was a lack of genuine consent. Coerced consent is not consent. Wanting to make out or cuddle is not consent. Consent must be clearly and enthusiastically given, and that was not the case in this instance. Thus, definitionally, it was a crime.

I didn't want to report it, but I knew I needed help. Taking my friends' advice, I arranged an appointment with a confidential counseling service on campus. I went in thinking all I needed was to discuss the logistics of the situation and arrange for accommodations, but when I talked to the counselor, I broke down crying. I thought I knew better than that, that I had the power to prevent something like this from happening to me, but it still happened. She said that regardless of how I felt about the issue of consent, in short, a friend who offered support for my mental health and wellbeing took advantage of my vulnerable state to get what he wanted. That in and of itself, was a gross violation of trust, even without considering a lack of consent or lack of protection. It was unacceptable on the mental health front, the consent front, and a physical health front.

I thought I could handle the fallout. To some degree, dealing with trauma from my parents had built up a sense of resilience, that I was capable of managing my mental health no matter how bad it got. But this case has been an entirely new experience, one that I don't know how to deal with. As I struggle to rebuild my mental health at this time and focus on self-care, I find myself not knowing what to do at all, feeling like I'm just existing day to day. I'm lucky that I am able to connect with friends who understand the situation and can connect me with resources. I'm also appalled that as I share my experience, I find that so many of my friends have gone through something similar.

Frustratingly, talking to people has not been enough. The only way this is going to get better is with time, a lot of it, and I don't have time at this point in the semester, with finals rapidly approaching and work to catch up on. I just want to survive this semester — that is, to stay alive and get decent grades. After that, I'll move in to my new place, fly out to D.C., and come back for a fresh start in the fall. I'll do the best I can, and I know that everything will be okay, but in the meantime I feel awful. I want to get better, but I don't know what to do this time around. ◊

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