7 Self-Care Tips for Sexual Assault Survivors

woman holding #METOO sign

In the two weeks since news broke about allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, more than 40 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. Like any time a high-profile sexual violence case comes to light — Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, R. Kelly — the conversation about sexual assault lasts for weeks, many times with survivors bearing the burden of the discussion.

So is the case with the viral #MeToo hashtag — based on a grassroots campaign started by activist Tarana Burke. It went viral after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that people who had been abused or assaulted should post “Me too” in their status. The campaign caught like wildfire, with CNN reporting that Twitter has seen more than 1 million uses of the hashtag and many more on Facebook, creating an outpouring of assault stories for public consumption. Continue reading 7 Self-Care Tips for Sexual Assault Survivors

The Psychology Behind Success and Failure

light bulb broken lit on table

Need a little inspiration? Inc has a nice list of quotes to inspire success. I’ll just share with you the top three:

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston S. Churchill

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” — Herman Melville

“The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.” — Colin R. Davis

Notice anything these have in common?

All three involve success and failure. There’s a reason for this, and it’s the key behind the psychology of success and failure. Continue reading The Psychology Behind Success and Failure

How Pop Culture Impacts Mental Health Treatment

abandoned asylum hallway

Asylums. Insulin shock therapy. Metrazol shock therapy. Electric shock treatment. All miracle cures for mental illness, right? If you read the newspaper in the 1940s, you might think so.

While reporting on the “high standard of psychiatric care” at new facilities at the Hillside Hospital in Queens, NY, in October 1941, The New York Times wrote, “The hospital has pioneered in the use of insulin and metrazol, and also in the electric shock treatment, which has proved useful in shortening the average stay of patients.”

“The electric treatment, they say, at least is not unpleasant, so the patient may be more inclined to cooperate with the physician in future treatments,” said The New York Times in 1940.

If you think these treatments sound more like a horror film, there’s a reason. Continue reading How Pop Culture Impacts Mental Health Treatment

What Is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

cut bandage with "HELP" written on it

I remember the day I started self-injuring. It was January my senior year of high school. I was being sexually abused by a teacher and eventually I just snapped — I couldn’t handle anymore. When I got home that day, I grabbed a red-handled paring knife from the kitchen and slashed shallow cuts into my upper left arm until I counted 100. I needed some way to prove I had control of my body, to express the hard emotions I was feeling.

The relief from the pain, confusion, and distress was instant — it immediately calmed the chaos in my mind. Once I started, it was hard to stop. And so I found myself at 21 self-injuring to manage the hearings after reporting my abusive teacher. I was still self-injuring at 28 when I did an interview about my experience with perpetrators; grooming process of victims, and at 30 when I began processing 15 years worth of trauma. And finally, after 13 years of self-injuring, I was finally able to stop.

Through all of it, self-injury served as my friend, my relief, my secret sanctuary — but it also complicated my ability to cope with difficult emotions and to connect with other people. The damage is criss-crossed all over my arms in scars, messages of deep hurt, but also survival. Self-injury is both savior and monster, a complex way to deal with overwhelming emotions. Continue reading What Is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

Who Bears The Mental Health Burden For Discussing Sexual Violence?

sexual violence survivor with stop written on hand

She was asking for it.

Boys will be boys.

What was she expecting dressed like that?

I’d bet you already guessed the topic these often-repeated phrases refer to — sexual violence.

Story after story on sexual assault, incest, rape, and abuse are written by survivors, explaining their situation ad nauseam to men and not letting them off the hook with “boys will be boys.” That, no, an unconscious drunk woman was not “asking for it,” and she was certainly not capable of giving consent to a sexual encounter. That wearing a revealing outfit also does not mean a woman was “looking for attention.” That “20 minutes of action” indeed merits steep criminal charges because a survivor’s life is invariably and monumentally altered by sexual violence — often for a lifetime.

Continue reading Who Bears The Mental Health Burden For Discussing Sexual Violence?

What Is Gaslighting?

man holding gaslight dark background

The details are still a little hazy. A girl was staying at my apartment for two weeks. I had initially met her online, and we talked everyday for months before I agreed to let her stay with me while she was visiting my city. I volunteered to be her tour guide. This turned out to be a mistake.

The visit got off to a rocky start when she constantly told me I was too quiet and I needed to talk more. She started blaming me for other things too. Her allergy to my cats. That she couldn’t find the apartment keys I had left with her. That I wasn’t taking her to see enough of the sites. In the back of my mind, I didn’t think all of this was my fault, but I kept apologizing and trying my hardest to accommodate anyway. I wanted her to like me.

Waking up one day, I’d definitely had too much to drink the night before. But not so much I couldn’t remember what happened. Right? This is when the girl told me I had supposedly locked her in the bathroom the night before, not letting her out and terrorizing her. What? Continue reading What Is Gaslighting?

Why Mental Health Is A Feminist Issue

woman fist female gender tattoo illustration pink background

When I told several people in my life I would be writing about feminism and mental health, they didn’t understand. “Why is mental health a feminist issue?” they asked. So let’s talk about that F-word, feminism.

To review, per bell hooks, an acclaimed feminist theorist, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” — for everyone.

The feminist movement has worked to earn women the right to vote, the ability to seek careers, and to make decisions about their reproductive rights, for example. Feminism endures, however, because it’s much more than that. The feminist movement also works to incorporate an intersectional understanding of identity by including race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, class, and age into its politics.

So where does mental health fit into the picture? Continue reading Why Mental Health Is A Feminist Issue

7 Tips For Dating A Survivor of Sexual Abuse or Assault

couple in bed holding each other tenderly

As a sexual abuse survivor, dating terrifies me. Abuse taught me that a relationship meant losing all of my agency and performing sexual acts I didn’t want to — “no” wasn’t an option. Subsequent relationships have been mixed at best, from the partner who got mad when I froze during sex, to the dates when I could barely squeak out what my job title is because I was so petrified.

Survivors like me are not rare, especially considering the statistics. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, including both male and female victims. This means at some point in your dating life, odds are you will encounter a survivor.

“If we’re going to be dating, and if we’re going to be dating a lot, we’re going to run into someone who probably is a sexual assault survivor,” says Cynthia Stocker, a licensed clinical social worker with more than 30 years of experience. “It’s really pretty common.”

Dating as a survivor often brings out traumatic memories, sensations, and emotions because of past experiences. When a current partner is empathetic, educated, and understanding, however, that can make dating easier to manage for both parties.

With that in mind, here are seven tips for dating a survivor. Continue reading 7 Tips For Dating A Survivor of Sexual Abuse or Assault

The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

lobotomy brain diagram

Mental health treatment today is no walk in the park — from insurance companies denying coverage, to a lasting stigma, to the fact that the many of the most severely mentally ill among us to their own devices on the streets or relegated to prison. It’s an understatement to say that there is work left to be done. Yet, the inhumane history of mental health treatment reminds us how far we have already come.

Asylums

While terrifying mental health remedies can be traced back to prehistoric times, it’s the dawn of the asylum era in the mid-1700s that marks a period of some of the most inhumane mental health treatments. This is when asylums themselves became notorious warehouses for the mentally ill.

“The purpose of the earliest mental institutions was neither treatment nor cure, but rather the enforced segregation of inmates from society,” writes Jeffrey A. Lieberman in Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. “The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.” Continue reading The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

The Stories PTSD Tells Me

woman on floor next to shower white towel

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others.

Images flash back through my mind.

I am locked in a dark office in the corner of another locked room during a free class period of the high school day. I’m balanced precariously on the edge of a desk with my legs wrapped around his body, the bulge in his pants gyrating in the crook between my legs. My mind wanders and eventually lands on my aching muscles, my trembling arms and legs. They’re not going to hold much longer.

He is standing fully clothed, his usual beat-up brown loafers planted on the floor. I smell his Cheer-washed dress shirt and Dial soap-scrubbed skin. His Docker’s are hemmed a couple inches too short. He is 43. I am 17. Those loafers rise and fall off the floor with every thrust of his crotch into me, the friction of fabric on fabric a barely noticeable sensation. All my attention focuses on my awkward position on this desk — my muscles ache and burn in protest.

He grinds away, oblivious in ecstasy, his face turned upwards, making those moaning sounds. Finally, my body overrides my mental willpower to stay upright and my muscles collapse. I start to fall off the desk, headed toward the floor, before he catches me and props me back on the desk.

Other memories follow. Continue reading The Stories PTSD Tells Me