Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Therapy #1: Revisiting the past

I am sitting in an Au Bon Pain located in the hospital where I attend graduate school. I had class 45 minutes ago, but this is as far as I made it. I have been an emotional wreck these past 2 weeks and have been missing classes left and right. I've got to get myself under control.

My husband moved to NYC, as he couldn't find work here once he finished graduate school. I'll join him when I graduate in May. The people in my program are much younger. And very innocent. A lot of talk about church. Sometimes I think it amplifies the emptiness in me. The feeling that I am carrying around some dirty secret. That I, myself, am somehow dirty. I can't shake the feeling that I am dirty and worthless, which just makes me angrier with myself.

It's been 9 years. It's time to get over this. Seriously, worse things could happen. Worse things do happen. I have been given so many wonderful opportunities in life, and a lot of people have real problems. People are starving. People get cancer. People are born with severe disabilities. But why do I feel so terrible? It's as if my emotions are further proof that I am a bad person.

Get over yourself, Melanie. Time to move on with your life.

I thought I had. At least until 2 weeks ago when a little internet research led me to confront what I had been hiding from.

When I first moved here and started seeing my therapist, I briefly went through my "sophomore year event," as I tend to refer to it. I told her that I had dealt with it, put it behind me, chapter closed. I did not see the point of hammering it to death.

I wanted to focus on other issues that I saw as the problem. My struggle to set boundaries with people. My extremely low self-esteem. My difficulties with concentration and time management. My unrealistic need to please my Southern parents, restore their confidence and approval of me. Never understanding that these aspects of my self had anything to do with what happened sophomore year. I have been seeing my current therapist for the past two years, and she has respected my wish and only goes there when I bring it up.

Whenever I used to bring it up, it was usually in relation to my parents' response. How everyone in my family attributed my problems to my "chemicals being off." This has been the explanation for my behavior for years. Behavior ranging from talking back to my parents as teenager to more serious things, like when I called them my sophomore year of school crying, saying that I was sorry but I just couldn't stay at school anymore. I couldn't exactly find fault with their assumption in all instances, especially not sophomore year.

A few weeks after "my event," I was "voluntarily" (more on that later) admitted to the psychiatric ward. A few weeks following the psychiatric ward, I was back in class to start my second semester at my new school. Just as quickly, I was packing up my stuff and heading back to my hometown in Alabama to take some time off and "heal."

Heal from what though?

I had been diagnosed as bipolar. Secondary diagnoses included alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and anger management difficulties. No one ever mentioned post-traumatic stress syndrome.

No one until my current therapist. My free therapist that I am seeing through my graduate program. The therapist who I assume is only a few years older than me.

Not the $280 per hour, award-winning, nationally recognized psychiatrist that I was seeing for the 5 years following the event. The one that prescribed me Depakote, Anabuse, Ativan, Well-Butrin, Zyprexa, and Risperdal to manage my "psychiatric problems." The psychiatric problems that led to my sophomore year event. The psychiatric problems that I was told were chronic and would require me to take medication for the rest of my - a point I was reminded of every time I came in complaining that my mind was numb, that I couldn't read anymore.

Had it not been for my faulty genetics, something inherently wrong with me, none of this would have happened. This is my fault.

If I had a dime for every time that thought passed through my mind, I would be one rich lady. By the way, I do not have bipolar disorder.

Anyway, just recently I decided to look into post-traumatic syndrome a little more. I really don't know what sparked me to do it. After all, my current therapist had mentioned it a while ago. Maybe somewhere deep down I knew it was going to open a can of worms I wasn't sure I was ready to expose.

I was SHOCKED to read about PTSD and rape. Relieved. Saddened. Angry. I'm still figuring out how I feel actually.

I wasn't physically and brutally attacked by a stranger, but I read that others like me experienced PTSD.  Girls who had been raped by a friend or boyfriend. Girls like me who had struggled to label their experience. Girls who felt terrible, paranoid, unsafe, crazy because of something that had happened. Something they felt that they were responsible for. Something they felt shouldn't be such a big deal, but was completely disrupting their life. Something that didn't seem to warrant the label "rape."

I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was as if I had written the article myself. It would have been wonderful to have been directed to these resources immediately following the event, but it was wonderful to read that I am not alone in my experience. I am not crazy. Or selfish. Perhaps I am normal.

I have been on an emotional roller coaster ever since. I cry, then feel better. But. I. still. feel. so. lonely. And I am so shocked by how raw my emotions are surrounding this. Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday. But one thing I've noticed that's definitely better is I'm not as panicky as I was during the first two years following the event. I used to do anything to avoid men, especially groups of men. And that's definitely better. Baby steps, right?

When I met with my therapist yesterday (we meet every other week), I let her know that I am ready to start talking about what happened sophomore year. I am ready to really start dealing with this. I am going to put this behind me. Close this chapter once and for all.

It was a hard session, but I felt somewhat better afterwards. The only problem is that last night I started feeling like I was being ridiculous. That it was silly for me to get so upset about something that happened so long ago. I am almost 30 years old now. I am married. It seems silly and immature to allow something from so long ago control my life. Control my emotions. I am too old to miss classes because of emotional turmoil. A large part of me wants to bury it all over again. I am a little confused about how to address these issues and functionally carry out my day, but I am hopeful that I am doing the right thing. Because Lord knows burying it hasn't gotten me to a better place. Maybe this is the start to self-acceptance and a new beginning. I sure hope so.


  1. You have come a long way in 2 1/2 months. I am proud of you.

    Please stay away from the alcohol and other "substances". That stuff it so bad for the body and you are far too kind of a person to fall into all of that stuff. (((HUG)))

  2. "You have come a long way in 2 1/2 months. I am proud of you."

    Thank you so much, Jaime. That is really nice to hear because it certainly does not feel like it! I should revisit these initial posts more often to track the changes.

    As far as the substances go, there is a lot in my medical records from that time in my life that is not entirely accurate and very misleading. As far as drugs and substances go, I'm actually quite straight-laced (despite what it probably looks like). I obviously abused alcohol in college (what enabled my perpetrator to carry out his assault), but I still to this day do not think my behavior warranted the labels "alcoholic" and "substance abuse" as my behavior did not differ from any of my peers. Please don't take this as me justifying my behavior, I just don't think it was deviant given the culture at my school and in my social group.

    "Please stay away from the alcohol and other "substances". That stuff it so bad for the body and you are far too kind of a person to fall into all of that stuff." - Thank you so much, Jaime :-)

  3. I was reading some of my old posts and it gave me the idea to read yours. It does evoke a different feeling to read them now than it did back then.

    Drunk or not, he had no right. Drunk or not, he did wrong, not you. I know you already know that.

  4. Thank you, Jaime. Still always nice to hear from someone else.