I am haunted by a sickening anxiety and I have been most my life. I try to shake it and I fail. I try to stare it down and it stares right back. I try to reason with it, and it laughs at me. As life would have it, the anxiety has slowly deepened and grown over the years. It is worst at night, lying in bed, in the dark, listening for sounds that might give away the position of the person I’m sure is creeping through the house to harm me. It is terrible when there are shadows nearby, wondering what unseen spot they may be waiting in. It has gotten to the point where lying breathless in bed, too many times, unsure I would even be able to hear anyone come into the house because of the blood pounding in my ears, that I decided I had to do something about it. I spoke with a psychiatrist about anxiety. She asked if it could be related to anything from my past and I told her that I was molested by a stranger in the dark in my own bed as a young girl. I knew this. I thought with awareness that it wouldn’t affect me badly. She told me that emotional habits learned through a traumatic experience can lie dormant for years before some stressful episode triggers them back to the surface, in explanation of why my anxiety grew stronger and stronger as an adult until I couldn’t bear the thumping heart and sleepless nights anymore.
I spent too many nights safety pinning my top sheet to my bottom sheet, piling up all my stuffed animals and squeezing myself against the wall so my bed would look empty, pulling my curtain so no sliver of window could possibly show me, and holding my breath so I wouldn’t give myself away by making noise. I did this too many nights, and the emotional habit that I built up doing so now torments me as an adult.
I am haunted by a sickening anxiety and no matter how aware of it I try to be, I can’t seem to back it down. The psychiatrist told me that one way of breaking the anxiety pattern is through reliving the experience through story telling. Perhaps I should have set up counselling immediately, but I didn’t. I feel I have already relived it a thousand times in my own head. But maybe that’s not good enough. Maybe she’s right. Maybe Kindra is right. Maybe sharing my story is what I need to deal with my anxiety.
I am a young girl, maybe 12. I wake up because I can feel something. There is something rubbing my crotch. It is strong. Too strong. What is happening? I open my eyes. There is someone in my room, next to my bed. But it’s dark. Who is that?! Did he speak? He is touching me! He has his hand under the sheets and he’s touching me. This isn’t ok. I know it’s not ok. What am I supposed to do? What do I do? He is moving his hand up to the top of my pyjama pants. He’s picking at the top of my pyjama pants with his fingers, trying to lift them up and put his hand under. He gets his fingers under the top and starts moving them down. “Stop” I say. It’s all I can think of to say. I had a self defense class at my school that taught us what to do if we’re ever sexually abused. They said to say “stop”, say stop as much as you can. My mind says stop stop stop stop stop. He does stop. But then he’s moving his hand up, across my chest, trying to get his hand under my pyjama top. “Stop!” I say again. He does. Did he grab my chest? Rub my chest? I can hardly store memories in this state. My body is electric with fear and confusion. And it’s so dark. Who is it?! He leans down to my face “Giz a kiss” he says. His breath is disgusting. His lips are wet and they smell foul. He makes contact with my face but I turn it away. Did I push him? I told the cops the next day that I did, but I don’t remember telling them that, and I can’t remember if I pushed him now or not. I said “go away”. And he stopped. He stood up, he turned, and he slowly left the room. I heard my beaded curtain jingle as he left. I didn’t move. I didn’t dare move. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t dare breath. I listened for the back door closing. It did. I didn’t move. The self defense class told me that the most important thing I could possibly ever do other than to say stop was to tell someone what was happening. I have to tell someone. I thought. My mind was playing broken records from the self defence class. It was all I could think. All my brain had capacity for. Say stop. Tell someone what is happening. Say stop. Tell someone what is happening. Say stop. Tell someone what is happening. But I never thought this would happen to me! This just happened to me?! Say stop. Tell someone what is happening. Say stop. Tell someone what is happening. I don’t know how long I lay there, but I finally moved, crept to the door, listened and listened, heard nothing, and ran to my parents’ bedroom as quietly and quickly as I could. “Mum”. “Yes” she’s awake in an instant. “There was a man in my room”. “Fuck!” the bedsheets go flying and my parents are up. My life will never be the same.
They never find him, the man that disappeared back into the night. The house wakes up and my brothers stand sentinel at the back door. The police are called and come to question us. But they never find him, the man that made my bedroom the most dangerous place in the world. The man that took my sleep, my rest. My parents promised me that he would never be able to come back, but I lay there anyway, holding a button that would sound an alarm in my parents’ room as I fell asleep every night, pressing it just when I got scared and wanted my parents, safety pinning the sheets together, piling up my stuffed animals, and squeezing my tiny body against the wall so my bed would look empty.
I did this so many times it became habit and memory disappeared in my shame, engulfed in a ‘this never happened I don’t want anyone to know this ever happened” sort of terror. For years I wondered why I always woke up at the same time in the middle of the night. For years I wondered why I had so much trouble falling asleep. For years I thought I was just anxiety ridden, unlovable, a stress case, until the memories came back in a flood of tears one night. And then for years I thought, ok that happened, that’s ok. For years I thought I’m so lucky it wasn’t worse. For years I thought I know this happened so it can’t hurt my anymore… but, fuck, was I wrong. Now, I’m in the years of trying to face my anxieties. The pounding blood that rings in my ears when I lie down in bed, or walk through a dark night. Maybe through sharing my story I can finally grasp my anxiety and level it with reality. Understand truly, and know truly, what risk I take on simply by going to sleep each night. Maybe through sharing I can turn my bedroom into a haven again, a safe and comfortable warm place.
I am Jenny Oliver.
I am a Brave Babe. I love and accept myself.