Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –-Henry David Thoreau
Hey everyone, and welcome to my column about mental health, trauma, healing, and the load of bleh that comes with all of that. I’d like to note that for the past year and a half, I have been telling myself every day that there are a lot of perks too, not just the bleh; things like building resilience, inner strength, self-understanding, empathy, etc. Whether I believe this to be true–and think that it is all worth it–depends on the day.
*Trigger Warning: This article includes non-graphic discussions of sexual assault and its aftermath*
Let me tell you a little about myself. I go by Anna Livia or AL. Though I am still a freshman credits-wise, I call myself a sophomore since this is my second school year here–I took a semester off in Spring 2014 because of, as you can probably guess, mental health reasons.
Starting in high school, I have had what my psychiatrists call “a tendency towards depression.” However, mental health became particularly difficult last spring as I began to feel the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I decided to take time off to focus solely on my well-being. What was the “T” that caused all of this? When I was 13, I was sexually assaulted by a very close friend of mine, my older brother, on the night of Christmas Eve, 2008. Particularly since my biological parents got divorced, I have always been the bridge holding my family together. For this reason, I felt that there was no way I could share this news. I kept my mouth shut and my denial strong. My brother and I remained close, despite the confusion and the terror that I didn’t let myself express or even feel.
The status quo shifted in 2013 when my girlfriend at the time convinced me to tell my parents what had happened five years prior. As brutal as PTSD can be on a daily basis, it is nothing compared to the pain of telling your parents that one of their children sexually assaulted the other, and that you had been pretending nothing was wrong for half a decade. Over the past year and a half since that conversation, mental health has been at the forefront of my experience every single day. On the days I try to ignore it–or worse yet, try to stuff it back into the box where it dwelled for those five years–it only comes back to bite me.
Just to be clear: no, I am not writing this column because I want to publically journal about my pain every week. Rather, I am writing it because I know that there are so many others on this campus and in this world who feel some ever-present heartache–even if it looks different from mine. However, I have found it difficult to find solace in this fact that I am not alone when there is very little community around mental health anywhere, even at Swarthmore.
When I walk around campus, people seem to oscillate between happy grins and stressed slumps. From the outside looking in, these two extremes appear to be the only two options. But what about the middle grounds? The emotions on entirely different axes? These complexities are not absent from the student body, they are just rarely shared. And, while complexities exist with all types of emotions, they are particularly glossed over when discussing negative emotions.
Pain is difficult to watch and hard to express, but the less it is talked about, the more alone we each feel. And if there is one thing that I have learned from my six years as a trauma victim and survivor, it is that pain must be shared.
In sum, here are a few concrete goals that I want to accomplish through this column:
I want to start and witness more discussions about mental health, trauma, and healing.
I want to be as transparent as possible with my pain and to encourage others to try this very scary and very rewarding experience themselves.
I want to start a community in which pain is heard in conjunction with happiness and hopes. I want this community to begin to shape conversations on the Swarthmore campus.
Think that this broken-hearted dreamer and a few of you can build this castle in the air?
Have any questions or comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy of Hillary Eggers.