Our stories overlapped in so many ways, and when I got home I read a memoir that could have been my own. Much like it could merge with that of so many other women. I’m the girl who was raped. I’m the girl who has cancer. I’m the girl who lost a child. I’m the girl with bipolar disorder. I’m the girl who was abused. I’m THAT girl.
Although this is a story about a brutal rape, it wasn’t so much the details of the event that unravelled me, but rather the aftermath that I understood all too well. The subtle nuances of PTSD that play with your instincts and emotions like a cat with a panicked mouse. The way people change how they look at you. How the picture of your soul suddenly has parts erased from it, leaving blank spaces where there were once pieces of you.
When a warrior returns victoriously from battle, perhaps with a severed arm or leg, he is hardly seen as a victim. He is certainly not merely a survivor. He DEFEATED the enemy. He is a hero. Yet, when a girl is raped and comes home a soul amputee, she is labelled a victim, or worse, a survivor. No…a survivor can be compared to a person who passes out from smoke inhalation, is rescued by a fireman, and then lives to tell the tale of how she survived the flames. A girl who swipes a panga across her rapist’s arm, shuts out the experience in the moment so that she doesn’t break, and then waits for hours tied up with her friend on rocks at the edge of the breaking ocean, screaming for help when she hears someone nearby – that is not just a survivor. That is a fucking warrior.
When someone pushes through suicidal thoughts and chooses to live, day after day after day, it is not the same as being in an accident and surviving with only a scratch. That is fighting through a war-zone.
I’m the girl. I’m that girl. But I’m no victim.
After the trauma, followed by the ongoing battle with depression, anxiety, PTSD…we limp through our days because it’s like we came home with one leg of our soul severed off entirely. We are expected to just bounce back and walk normally, go to counselling and grow a new leg, or put it behind us and glue on a bottled prosthetic of little white pills named Fluoxetine.
We can decorate the crutches all we want to make ourselves seem pretty on the outside again, but my god, we’re still missing a freaking leg. We have coffee with a friend, and in that moment we forget. We look just like everyone else sipping our cappuccino. But when we stand up, we turn back into “that girl.” At some point people see it – and that’s exactly the problem – they see the missing leg. They no longer see US.
Michelle’s book was perhaps one of the best I’ve read in my life – and you know how many books I read in a week. It wasn’t just the story, the fact she articulated how I felt, or the brilliant way she wrote. I think it’s more about how it made me feel.
Not as the girl who has bipolar disorder, the girl who was raped, the girl who was abused, the girl with a leg ripped off.
As me. Michelle.
You know what, yes… we can never be the same after what happened. There are those pieces that are erased, and no matter how much we colour them in with new versions of ourselves, they will always look different to the “Michelles” before. We can start a blog, write a book, join a group, hold hands with fellow amputees – but it won’t help us create meaning from what happened to us. We will, however, create meaning with our lives IN SPITE of it.
The way we heal and grow stronger as the years go by is by surrounding ourselves with the people who truly SEE us. The ones that don’t treat us any differently by throwing us into the Special Olympics of life, because we’re thought to be too fragile or broken for anything more. When we are seen past the labels and for who we are – a different girl to the one we were before, but in many ways still the same. The people who get to know the sides of us that are new, and then makes them feel just as special as the ones we used to have, help us walk a little more gracefully with our missing parts.
I’m the girl who is rebuilding her life with the broken bones of her soul from rock bottom (as Michelle so aptly says, it’s a slippery motherfucker). Now I know someone else, with not only the same name, but holy shit, she’s climbing off the same rock. I don’t see the girl who was raped. I see a brilliant writer, apparently clumsy on her own feet with a touch of sarcastic wit, and a strong woman fighting the stigma with me.
We’ll win this three-legged race, Michelle. Tied to the giggling special friends we have, who still have two of their own and are willing to share, even if they trip and fall along the way with us. And I bet we’ll have a whole lot of fun too. By simply being our new selves.