As I mentioned in my post yesterday, part of what triggered my most recent weeks-long depressive episode was the realization that I had been lying to myself about experiencing another sexual assault. I am going to talk about some of the fallout from that, in terms of my mental health and how that actually ties into my politics and my identification as a feminist. Which in turn, ties into the process of how I came to identify as a woman. Funny how component parts of our identities are still so interrelated. Almost as if we are complete and complex beings.
Obviously, for those of you who feel you need a content warning for in-depth discussions and analysis of emotional and mental trauma as a result of sexual abuse in various forms, this is it.
At the time I went on this date last year, I had been actively dating around for a while and had experienced quite a string of unsatisfying dates and intimate encounters. This man and I had met on a dating website and been on a few dates. This one, I was actually interested in taking things to a physical level and invited him to my place to watch a movie. As the movie progressed and things started to get physical, I was at first a willing participant, but I became uncomfortable with how things kept progressing and tried to stop, both by pushing back physically and vocalizing my displeasure. It didn’t stop. He didn’t stay for the end of the movie. I felt violated by what had just occurred. I felt used and discarded and also relieved that he hadn’t stayed for the end of the movie, which I finished watching by myself. He texted me a little while later to say that he wasn’t always like that and was just tired. I texted back something along the lines of “it’s okay, everyone has off days”. I cried myself to sleep.
Sounds like a fairly common scenario, right? It is, and if anyone else had told me that story, I would have displayed righteous feminist outrage at him, the patriarchy and the toxic masculinity that allows men to feel entitled to gratification by women’s bodies. I was too close to the situation though, and I was already in a slow sort of down-slide (I had been off medication for a while and that’s a different story). I was entirely overwhelmed with life and on the edge of a breakdown. I did what I have been known to do – I pretended it didn’t happen. I wrote it off as another “bad date” and disabled my dating site profiles.
So, that’s largely situational. Instead of dissecting how this (looking back) affected me while I was in denial, I’m going to jump right to the mental and emotional fallout of the past month.
As is typical for me, I started to isolate myself. I played lots of video games (sometimes its Netflix or reading, just whatever takes my mind off my life). I turned down a bunch of social engagements and made all sorts of excuses not to do things. I fled from the office at lunch, which to avoid people but was also partly to eat tons of junk and binge in as much anonymity as a corner of a busy food in the downtown of a pretty small city would allow. I binged at home. I neglected basic house chores like taking out the trash. I didn’t buy groceries, instead I did take-out and microwaved pizza pockets and pop-tarts. This lead to over-spending my budget and poking at the house of cards that is my financial health. I developed a serious case of what I call the “fuck its”.
Let’s talk over the next few posts about the thought patterns behind that type of behaviour, because I think that for a lot of people – especially neurotypical people – that it’s pretty easy to write some of that off to laziness and making excuses for not taking care of myself properly.
It ties into a broader picture of self-worth. Let’s start with the binging, because that’s the kick-off to the things that followed. I eat for comfort. It’s a problem that many people struggle with regardless of other mental health conditions. So the first few meals were a fall back into old patterns. Since I was also avoiding people, I stopped going to the gym. We know where this is going, right? I felt guilty about eating trash and not working it off, so I ate more trash. Which led to more social isolation because I don’t like to binge in front of other people. Led to weight gain and pants that have become tight. Then the thought occurred to me that since I am constantly assured that I am a reasonably attractive woman, if I put on a whole ton of weight I could make myself unattractive. This is known as defensive weight and some experts suggest that as many as 40% of morbidly obese women have history of sexual abuse. There is also some suggestion that some anorexia and bulimia sufferers have similar history with abuse and a desire to make themselves unattractive (Fiona Apple might be one such case study).
After this idea that if I make myself unattractive, I won’t be assaulted again, followed the idea that if I make myself unattractive no one will love me and I will die alone and …and… and… There’s a strange sort of sick logic to this line of reasoning. But even knowing that the thinking is flawed doesn’t always stop the cyclical nature of the thinking that leads into “I must have deserved this, because I am unworthy of love”. It’s a long dig from a rock-bottom of self-blame so we’ll start carving those steps next time.