“Before and After” (1/3). Acrylic on board. 1ft x 1ft.
Two years ago today, I was violently attacked by a man who followed me home at night while I was traveling alone. He repeatedly punched me, bashed my head against brick walls and cement ground, and choked me until I was unconscious for an estimated 30–45 minutes. I was left with head trauma, a bad neck sprain, and a spinal cord injury. I now have post-concussive syndrome, epilepsy, neuro-ocular issues, (poor depth perception, convergent vision, and eye tracking) a weakened left side of my body, shooting headaches, migraines, aggravated nausea, and coordination issues. Symptoms fluctuate in intensity and frequency but these are the most common issues I deal with all at the hands of a man who walked away with 10 extra American dollars’ worth of money to his name, at most.
I had saved my money to live abroad for six months but I was robbed of five of those months. This happened in the courtyard of the apartment I was renting, and the police’s attempt to find him was summarized in a laughter-ridden “you think he was only 17?”.
When I first returned home, I deluded myself into believing I was the same person I always was. I even went on a few dates, which meant I was alone with new men. But at my core I was so angry I would have blackout rages where I couldn’t remember what I said, did, or understand the repercussions of my actions.
My painting is meant to capture the rage and turmoil that comes from having experienced a violent trauma. The bright patterning represents that while environments may appear bright, and joyous, there are still countless people who anonymously suffer the trauma of violent assaults once their bruises heal. It also symbolizes how post-assault rage and the memories of violence assert themselves through the memories of myself pre-assault, and they color how I perceive the world today. Below the surface, violent attacks against women amount to a global pandemic, and we carry that burden with us.
We live in a time where self-care is a huge part of our social media dialogue, “how-to” culture, and is an even bigger part of our capitalist consumption (creams, teas, masks, spa days etc). Self-care is sold to and preached at us from all angles, and while self-care is a critically important ritual to have, sometimes the very best someone can do still renders them unable to take proper care of themself at all.
Sometimes it is hard to put your socks on or brush your teeth just once a day. Sometimes it is hard to feed yourself a meal, or get leashes on your dogs, let alone walk them ten minutes to see their friends at the dog park. Sometimes you are doing the absolute best you possibly can and you cannot detach yourself from the bed you’ve become bound too, or even recognize words on a page. Sometimes just the thought of cooking or replying to a text will require an effort great enough to make you cry. We don’t talk enough about how this can be very normal and oftentimes makes up a majority part of the healing process.
We naturally look for stories with positive endings, or narratives that speak about how we have grown from darkness, or ones where the author reassures us that everything turned out well in the end. While these stories may be honest, true, and powerful examples of human resilience they can also set someone who’s experiencing PTSD from an assault up to feel as though they are recovering the wrong way if most of their days are filled with suffering in the process. It should be said that some things do in fact beat you down and keep you there to a certain level throughout your life. Sometimes we can not rise from the ashes, but we can learn how to live with them instead. We are not resilient, brave, or strong because of an assault but because they were always a part of our nature, and it is okay to feel neither strong, brave, nor resilient as we heal.
For me, some of my worst times looked like me literally feeling as though I had two selves, one that was based on the old me, that loved my dogs and recognized my home, and one that was immobilized from the assault and ordered me to stay inside all day.
For the first few months after the attack, I drank myself into a stupor most days, stayed up all night, and wrote one dark joke and vignette after another until I amassed a 60 page, single-spaced document, as some sort of attempt to re-experience my reality.
I’ve also experienced speech delays*, memory lapses, deafness, and blurred vision at the hands of depression alone. (*Note: speech delays are also a result of my mild expressive aphasia caused by my TBI, which can also affect processing others’ speech and reading)
I had four solid months of anxiety-induced grand mal seizures that occurred up to three times a day daily.
I have also had psychotic breaks where I believed I was in imminent danger because someone or something was planning to kill me.
Currently, I live with aggressive agoraphobia which has at times meant I was unable to leave my bedroom. Now I leave my apartment with an exposure therapist/aid to go distances as short as two blocks to help me pick up my medications, buy groceries, go on the subway, or travel even a block from my apartment when it is dark outside. I am also a patient at an intensive outpatient program for survivors and people struggling with PTSD and severe mood disorders.
I share these personal experiences not for pity but rather to show what recovery from an assault can look like from the inside, and to hopefully connect with someone else in need who may be struggling in isolation from their assault trauma. Most of my days these past two years have been plagued with previously unfathomable isolation, loneliness, rage, anxiety, and depression. While we all strive to live our best lives possible, free of isolation, loneliness, rage, anxiety, and depression, these difficulties deserve just as much credit as any progress made or personal milestone deserves space.
I want anyone reading this who has experienced a traumatic, violent assault or situation to know that their many difficult days are normal and should be approached by others with a sincere lack of judgment, pressure, or advice. You are not alone in thinking the bad days will never end when they feel inescapable. These thoughts are not only okay, but can be a critical part of the healing process.
If anyone is reading this who knows of someone in their life who is recovering from a violent assault, be there for them! Don’t hide behind not being certain of what to do or say in their presence. Simply reach out and treat them exactly as you’ve always treated them, because it is substantially more difficult for most survivors to ask for help.
I aspire and plan to be an advocate for assault survivors and people struggling with serious agoraphobia in a greater capacity someday soon. In the meantime, I want to share that suffering should not be a source of internalized shame because, even its darkest forms, emotional pain and suffering should be normalized and free of embarrassment. We’ve already been through enough without having to wonder if we are healing “the right way”. We are always doing the best that we can, and sometimes that means time for our ideal self-care routines are paused for the time being. It’s a process.
If anyone ever needs someone to talk to about their experiences with assault and/or violence, my door is enthusiastically wide-open to any and all, in any capacity you need.
Note: I do not mean to offend anyone, as I am writing from my own experience post-assault. Thank you.