Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

As I reflect back on the past year and a half or so, I think about the various stages I went through, I think about the beginning stages of being desperate for everything to “be okay.”

I think of how much work I put in to trying not only to appear happy in front of other people, but also to force myself to be happy too.

I would be crying myself to sleep every night, but I would be making lists during the day of reasons to be thankful to remind myself, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. My life is actually good. It’s cool. It’s good. My life is good. I have a good life.”

I tried not only to remind myself of this, but also to do it publicly. I made this instagram post in March in about how wildly happy I was – but I did it through tears. “I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy.” I told myself (and to some extent, the world), even as I was wildly unhappy.

Even when we talk about my individual one-on-one reactions with people, a lot of time, I wasn’t giving the full story.

A lot of people afterward told me something felt “off,” but they didn’t know what.

I talked to some of my friends about how much I was affected by this guy refusing to speak to me [in the 30 days of silence following the second assault]. And everyone understands that it would be frustrating to have someone you talk to multiple times a day all of a sudden not talking to you anymore. Everyone understands the idea that you wouldn’t want someone to be so angry with you that they refuse to talk to you. Everyone also understands that I, specifically, as Aurora, can take it kind of hard if I’ve really upset someone, and it might bother me more than an average person.

But no one could understand the level of distracted-ness and despair I was feeling. “Okay, so you made somebody angry with just a lil’ social media post. You accidentally overstepped their boundary. Nobody got hurt. I’m sure they’ll talk to you. It’s really not that big of a deal, Aurora.”

Because, with the information they had, it wasn’t. They didn’t know what was really going on. They didn’t know the horror that had happened the last time I’d been with him – that I’d been assaulted and was crying myself to sleep every night, thinking a resolution would help.

Sometimes I even mentioned something slight, as the tiniest signal for help in the world. But it’d be lumped in with, “Ugh, yeah, men are awful, aren’t they?” And even though I’m a grown adult who speaks the language of the people I was with – I couldn’t bring myself to just talk in real terms of what was really happening.

So, some people close to me noticed some weird-ness, but didn’t know what to do with it. Some people not close to me perhaps didn’t notice any. I don’t know that I notice an external difference between my instagram post where I was desperately trying to be happy vs. the ones where I actually am.

I didn’t get help until one of my closest friends who’s known me for a while sat me down, and was just like, “Seriously, Aurora, what is going on? This is not the you I know. There is something – some part I am missing.” And he kept asking questions until he got to the root of the issue, and he convinced me to call a helpline. And he showed a lot of patience. And he was a giant fulcrum of help.

But how do we know? How do we know when something is really wrong vs. when someone is just a little off?

I don’t know the answer. I just know that it is surreal to remember how hard I was trying to keep it all together when all of this happened, and how hard I was trying to paint this facade of okay-ness. (And how only one person noticed enough/did enough/(or maybe felt comfortable enough) to make sure I got on the path of getting the help I needed)

And for a while my facade worked (at least kind of)! I could see a scenario where people could keep it up better for me and for longer. So, how do we know when they’re in trouble?

Monday, October 30th, 2017

[Another post on recovery *dance/present-y move*]

So, I’ve talked at length about dealing with PTSD… For instance, what it’s been like, and how it’s felt like it’s eroded some of my relationships. And I’ve made some giant strides recently, which has been awesome. But even in the midst of my giant strides, I still don’t go to everything possible. I still turn down certain get togethers or what have you.

I still sometimes sit at home or sleep in rull good, because I’m just exhausted, or I’m just not feeling being around people.

And I have become so very sensitive to any behavior that isn’t “Aurora,” or that isn’t “normal.” If it reeks of sadness, or depression, or a trauma response, it feels like *sirens blaring* RED ALERT!. RED. A-LERT. Something’s wrong! You’re not healing well enough or fast enough or something enough. (Gaaaaaah!)

But like… As much as we all think/(know, hopefully?) that I’m this adventurous person wanting to soak up life and take the world by storm… I still am just a normal human being. I have stayed home before. I have been tired before. I have wanted to be alone sometimes before. These aren’t utterly new things I’ve never ever ever experienced.

Normal human mortals have a range of feelings, and sometimes those feelings include exhausted/sad/just not feeling so hot.

So, I do still want to keep an eye on my behavior, and try not to become a complete and total hermit. But, at the same time, I don’t have to be “on” or whatever every single moment of every single day. I want to get back into the normal range of this stuff – but it’s good to remember there is indeed a range to be in. Emotions aren’t just smashed up against the ceiling of constant energy/happiness/extraverted-ness the whole entire time.

(Basically – life’s an orchestral album, chock full o’ range, not a punk rock album after a potentially iffy mastering session… Did you like that music engineering joke at the end? No? Just me? Okay, cool, nbd. :-))

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

*music notes (talk singing/dancing/finger guns)* Another post comparing mental and physical health */end music notes*

Sometimes I’m driving myself crazy with what’s in my head vs. what isn’t. Like, mental illness is real (obviously). And if you had a broken ankle, basically nobody would ask you to walk on it. So, it’d be weird to ask you to “walk” on your “broken brain.”

But it feels like people do that kind of a lot. “Oh, come on. Get back in the world. It’s not a big deal, etc.”

And I appreciate the sentiment. But sometimes I don’t feel ready.

Trauma is real. PTSD is real. Brains are complicated. And sometimes it’s more than just an attitude shift. I’ve been working very hard to learn about tools and grounding techniques and how to actually go back out in the world – and enjoy myself, and also hopefully have the people around me enjoy me/themselves.

And now to what I mean in the title of this post…

When I was in the hospital a whole bunch for my heart stuff, for the most part, it’s in my chart that I’m enthusiastic and doing really well and all that jazz. For the nearly-a-year span of all the doctor visits and surgeries and everything, I do well in procedures, I heal quickly. It’s all good.

But it is also in my chart that I took a little longer than expected to recover from open-heart surgery. It talks about how I’m a young woman capable of doing more, whose attitude after open heart-surgery seems to be slowing her down a little.

I don’t know if I’d finally just gotten exhausted; or if the doctor was overestimating my ability, or underestimating my pain; or maybe I was overestimating my pain, or underestimating my ability.

And I think sometimes when you’ve had a lot of physical issues, you can have a little fear that holds you back for a bit (which is something I dealt with a bit during recovery from that). Whatever it was, there were a few days immediately following open-heart surgery that I didn’t do everything I could do….(I didn’t sit up quite as fast as they thought I would, or walk, etc.) (In the end, I don’t think it matters much, as I have obviously made a full recovery.)

Now, even if my attitude had been perfect, there was only so much I could do. When I finally got to do stairs for the first time before I left the hospital – my attitude had apparently made the shift at this point because – once I got to the top of the landing, I excitedly asked if I could do more. And the nurse was all, “No, no, no! Not today.”

They want you to improve daily, but they won’t even allow you to go too hard, because doctors are smart, and they have a gauge on what might re-injure you. And so everybody on your team does their best  to find that sweet spot, of doing enough work to markedly move forward at an okay pace, but not re-injure yourself to a point where you’re in recovery forever or worse.

And to me, mental health is kind of the same, I think. Yes, there is an attitude component. But I don’t think it’s everything.

When I was having nightmares every night and so many more panic attacks, and just a lot of various issues, that wasn’t just a problem with a “bad attitude.” That was like my brain chemistry having been changed.

Certain things are supposed to potentially help people with PTSD, so whether I do those things (exercise, being outside/getting vitamin D, etc.) or not may have to do with my attitude. But I also don’t think that it means I must go out at every opportunity, and stay at things/events for the full possible amount of time and all that stuff… Baby steps might be fine.

If I lock myself in a dark room for the rest of my life and say, “I can’t do anything because I have PTSD,” that’s an attitude thing. If I regularly go to therapy, and gauge what I can and can’t handle right now, with an eye toward full recovery, but understanding it doesn’t always happen so fast, that’s just being realistic (to me, anyway).

I think there were certain times where I would force myself to try to go out and do oh so much, because I “need to be better/normal right now!” And, I think, overall, it was much more painful and anxiety-inducing (and kind of money-wasting) than it really needed to be.

I wouldn’t run a 5k on a broken ankle. So, I don’t need to be doing a mental marathon on a broken brain.

Trying to find that balance has been pretty darn exceptionally hard for me. But I think it’s been helpful for me to remember that it’s not only hard when it’s a mental health thing. It was hard to find that balance on a physical health thing as well.

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Picking up with the idea from my last post –

Not only do all these definitions of words I’ve known for basically all my life not have to change based on one outlier. I also don’t have to change all my behavior based on him either.

I think I may have talked about this in some previous posts… But there are totally innocuous things that scare me more than they used to.

For instance, I am sometimes weirdly afraid of being nice. One of the (multiple) reasons for that is because I didn’t realize I was in like a death match for power or something. I thought I could just be nice to someone in my life I cared about.
But if I dared say something nice, or do something nice, it’s like we were in a broken video game. Instead of everyone’s power supply getting bigger (because I feel good for… e.g. getting a sick person snacks, and then he feels good for being thought of) and everybody wins, his green bar of power gets stronger and stronger and for some reason, mine depletes.

He would use those as “examples” or “evidence” when he’d start telling me how “I chased him, because I’ve never chased a woman in my life. I’ve never had to. It was yooooooou who wanted me. [muaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha]” He would always be trying to exert power over me.

And it wasn’t just that. Sometimes he’d make me feel bad for thing I shouldn’t feel bad about. If I’d be a little polite or nice, he’d get on me… “why would you say thanks for breakfast? Your croissant was $3.” And he’d roll his eyes and get almost annoyed that I was grateful.

And it wouldn’t just be a statement. He’d want me to explain why I’d dare say thanks for a “cheap” thing or whatever.

What? I said “thanks for breakfast,” and now it feels like I’m testifying in a court of law because it wasn’t a “nice” enough breakfast to say thanks for? It. was. exhausting.

And/or I’d be made fun of for being nice. At first, it was seemingly fun teasing, but like everything else with him, it eventually turned into just teeeeearing me down. I could not do anything right – and that included being “too nice” to people in the world around us.

AND niceness is sort of what got me in trouble in the first place. I ignored so many red flags. I wanted to “see the good.” If he did something mean to me, I’d try to figure out what I could do to be even nicer… “If I’m just nicer he’ll be nicer to me.” (And I know that’s the scared behavior of someone who’s been abused more so than it is just “niceness.”) But still. Niceness has almost seemed scary.

And it has been AMAZING to get back into the real normal world where I don’t have to write a dissertation if I’d like to just say “thanks” when someone buys me a drink or something small. It’s SO nice to be able to just be nice again and not be on edge about it.

I have a friend who jokes that someday I’m gonna die by becoming someone’s lamp… I’m gonna trust some stranger, and I’m gonna be murdered, and the murderer will stretch out my skin and I’ll be someone’s lamp. [Kind of a dark joke, huh? haha!]

Anyway, my stance on it has always been sort of, “Well, I’d rather be a lamp than a grumpalicious sad person.”

And, I will admit (obviously), I’m not a lamp. I’m a human being typing to you right now. But it feels like sexual assault guy might as well have stretched my brain over a lamp! It felt so tortuous to be around him. And after going through that, I think there was definitely a part of me that just cried in my room and was like, “This feels teeeeeerrible. I don’t want to be a lamp! I don’t want to be a lamp!” (I guess I always imagined I wouldn’t have to feel the torture of being the lamp.) But. I like living out loud. And I like meeting people. And I like being nice. And I think I’m finally working back to the idea that I’d rather be a lamp than a grumpalicious sad person.

I mean, I’d rather just be a nice person who has a good life and doesn’t become a lamp!

But, while niceness, and sincerity, and empathy seemed to hurt me (a LOT – a lot, a lot) with him, they have also enriched my life. And while I’m going out more in the world now and interacting with people, it’s definitely this weird thing of [be nice, like I’m used to, have a shooting pain of “Wait, be careful!” and then have a calming thought of “you’re okay, you’re okay.”]

He is the outlier. He was the one who treated me unlike anything that’s ever been even close to acceptable. He’s the story that’s off. He’s not the norm. So, I don’t have to change myself to fit his world. I’ve lived in the world for many years before him (and hopefully many after as well). The world is not his. There was no winning with him. It did not matter what you did. I couldn’t find a way to be perfect enough. Maybe someone else could. I couldn’t. But I don’t have to relive “how could I act now to make that unhappen?!” It can’t unhappen. There is no special way that I can act now to make it unhappen. So, I might as well go back to joy and rainbows and butterflies. My world, my personality, my heart doesn’t have to change because of him. Nothing of mine has to change because of him.

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Picking up from yesterday –

Sometimes I just want to do a sketch. Or a love song. Or a little love story. Or whatever. And I’m not going to throw out everything I’ve ever written, and cut off possibilities for anything I ever could write just because I think someone might try to compare my abusive relationship to whatever silly future story I write.

[And sometimes, I just wanna watch a sketch, or listen to a love song, or enjoy a movie… And I’m not gonna take those opportunities away from myself either. I can watch a silly relationship, I can watch adjacent things happen, I can enjoy that Key & Peele sketch about miscommunication – and so many other sketches and sitcoms and stuff, without any of it having to be about him, and/or without my feelings about the stuff I’m watching having anything to do with him or what he did to me.]

…And if I’m worried about his voice specifically as the ghost on my shoulder trying to normalize what he did – he would always try to normalize what he did.

It doesn’t matter what I write or say or do. He would always argue that he’s super respectful toward women. (I lived through that conversation a billion times, no matter which way I went about it.)

And I can’t be having that argument with a freaking ghost! (Why would you argue with a ghost?!)

And even if I did argue with that ghost (’cause I have!), I have to know that that ghost is gonna argue the same thing no matter what. I can’t change my behavior and my brain to accommodate a stubborn ghost! (I really shouldn’t be arguing with him in the first place, tbh)

Basically, the definitions of things don’t have to change. I don’t have to jump or have an internal gasp at the words “miscommunication,” “man,” “dating,” “sex,” “sleep,” “breakfast,” “spending the night,” etc.

I am not always defending myself. I am not always talking about what happened to me. I can just have a conversation about those normal things, (…period). I had put a comma there, like I needed to say something else, or add a qualifier. But I don’t need one. I can just have a conversation about those normal things.

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Picking up from yesterday [if you didn’t read it, I was basically just saying life doesn’t have to be tragedy now, it can still be full of comedy… elaborating…] –

I feel like there are some things I used to laugh about that started to seem a little unfunny to me over the past year and half or two years or so – one specific one that I can think of is “miscommunications.” Those can be reeeeally funny. (Three’s Company ran for 8 years and 174 episodes, after all!) And I’ve laughed a seemingly uncountable number of times at this Key and Peele sketch. (Has that or has that not happened to all of us?) I even wrote one of my audition songs for BMI about miscommunication! I obviously thought it was funny enough to write about then!

But in the last two years or so, to some extent, most often, I’ve been avoiding nearly any subject that sort of even tangentially has to do with sexual assault guy. For one thing, I dunno, everything feels like it’s just one half step away from getting so out of hand, or dangerous. I saw how fast “little miscommunications” turned into this abusive gaslight-y rabbit hole… But it doesn’t have to be that way. (And it shouldn’t be…. And it hasn’t been for most of my life. (That’s something I have to remind myself of over and over…(and over).)) So… most likely it won’t always, or often, be that way in the future either.

For another thing, I guess there’s a slight part of me that worries that someday I’m gonna write some sketch, some story, some song, some something that has to do with some “silly” relationship issue, and it’s gonna very teenily resemble something that happened between me and sexual assault guy, and then somebody will saying something like, “ah, so that wasn’t a big deal after all,” or just he himself, will poof, pop his head right around some magical corner and say, “See?! You wrote a sketch about [miscommunication, or someone mansplaining, or someone who doesn’t listen, or any of the other sort of, kind of-iiiiiish adjacent behaviors to the abuse he inflicted on me.]. Guess it’s all totally 100% normal and wasn’t abuse, and was all fine. Everything is fine!”

But one thing I feel like I have to keep in mind is not. every. single. thing. I ever do/say/write about/talk about from this point in my life forward is a commentary about abuse, or assault, or my abusive relationship with sexual assault guy. I’ve gone through a lot of trauma therapy with the hope that this all won’t define me as a person, and I don’t expect it to define me as a writer either.

So, I think I will generally stay true to how I’ve always been – which is that I will probably, for the most part, not really talk about romantic relationships a ton in public. They weren’t things I tried to talk about publicly, or focus my work on before, and I don’t see that changing now…

BUT. That doesn’t mean I will never write about a romantic relationship. I have before (multiple times)! I do sometimes still, and I probably will in the future.

(Even my hero whom I want to emulate (Michael Jackson), whom I look up to in large part for using his platform and singing about a ton of different things and sang the gamut of things from Heal the World to Black or White, to Jam, to Little Susie, to Tabloid Junkie, to Scream, to Earth Song, and soooooo many more still had In The Closet, Remember the Time, You Rock My World, The Way You Make Feel, and plenty of other songs about romance and/or sex and dating and blah blah blah.

Relationships and all that jazz is part of life! And it feels nearly impossible to avoid talking about that stuff completely, especially if you wanna write and perform things (like I do). Heck, even as an editor, I’ve had to have a million conversations about sex and/or relationships in my various jobs, in which I edit things that have to do with that stuff… You might be able to write you own stuff without sex/relationships in it (if you’re writing by yourself), but when you’re part of someone else’s show, you’re part of it.
It’s. part. of. life….

But all that has nothing to do with me and sexual assault guy. And if I write a normal non-abusive heterosexual couple, or if I talk about silly dating stories at a bar, or if I write a sketch about a “funny” miscommunication (or if I still laugh at that Key and Peele sketch)… that all has nothing to do with him either.

And I’ll finish this out tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

And it doesn’t all have to be about me.
And it doesn’t all have to be about him.

(Wild concept, huh? That the whole world doesn’t revolve around me and also, not every single thing for the rest of my life has to be about sexual assault guy.)

[I’m not actually 100% super sure I know what I’m trying to say in this post. So, if it’s not making sense, or meandering too much for you, check out part 2 tomorrow! :-)]

One of the things I’ve talked about kind of a lot here is how he’s not “just some asshole,” and this wasn’t just like, “normal dating pains.”

I don’t reeeeeeally like to talk about dating and those types of relationships all that much in general, in life – especially publicly (aside from all this crazy business, eesh! …But I mean, check out anything on my blog from when it started to January of 2016, before I was assaulted… I don’t know that you’ll find anything on dating, and if you do, I bet it’s very, very little over 4 years).
Anyway. Whether it’s my favorite subject, it still comes up sometimes organically. There are still twitter threads and stuff that are supposed to be funny, in which you talk about your most disastrous dating experience. Or, you know, sometimes you’re just having a conversation with someone and dating (or things in that vein) comes up.

And I have now  become afraid/annoyed/a-something like, “Oh, well I can’t tell a ‘funny’ story. Or, I can’t ever talk about a time where a guy was a little aloof or ‘didn’t listen’ or was sort of ‘manspain-y’ or whatever, because somehow it will undercut what happened to me.”

But nuance exists. (And, just, side note, to me, it’s really not even that nuanced a difference between “somebody kinda zoned out, or forgot my birthday, or whatever vs someone who refused to get off me as I cried and cried underneath them, while telling them how uncomfortable they were making me.)

Anyway, back to the more breezy paragraph I was trying to do – “nuance” exists. And romance/dating is weird. I’m be allowed to say that my “worst date story” is a time when [my pants ripped down the back. (That didn’t actually happen, but I can’t actually think of a super good one)… But anyway…]
I could say something silly and dumb because when people ask those things at game nights or comedy nights or whatever, it’s not a court of law where you’re under oath to give a very specific and literal answer of your “worst.”

They’re asking for just a funny story. I don’t have to be like, “oh, the time the dude was exceptionally controlling, and manipulative, and then raped me, and then literally laughed in my face when I talked to him about it later.”
That’s not a funny game night story. That’s for therapy (or a serious night, or a conversation with a good friend, or a panel about assault, etc…).

I mean, maybe if you’re a specific type of amazing super smart comedian who can spin that into jokes, good on you! I guess it could be for a silly night (since anything can be!), but it doesn’t have to be.

(And I definitely have yet to figure out how to mine a ton jokes and hilarity from it… I wish I’d found that angle on it. I have’t yet. I might not ever. It might become less painful for me, but I don’t know that it will ever become “funny,” or some kind of “hilarious story.”
I’m not sure I’ll be able to find lots of pockets of humor in it… Some of my comedian friends have told hilarious jokes when we have talked about it… So, the humor is indeed in there somewhere. But it might not be intrinsically in there for me… Anyway…)

Also, I feel like there are some things I used to laugh about that started to seem a little unfunny to me over the past year and half or two years or so.

And this is what I’ll pick up with tomorrow.