TRIGGER WARNINGS: Abuse, bullying, victim blaming, gaslighting, suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse
I stepped onto campus with a bigger smile in my heart than on my face.
I was free.
I grew up in an eternally abusive situation. It was all I had ever known.
I wanted to run away since I was six. I decided to stay, to wait it out, to do well in school and get into a good college. Once I escaped to college, I would never come back. I would be free. I would be able to make something of myself. I knew I was smart enough. But was I strong enough?
Staying in an abusive situation has nothing to do with strength. I had that wrong. I have my own preoccupation and disordered thinking about strength, but that’s for another post.
I grew up facing every kind of abuse that exists. Verbal. Emotional. Physical. Sexual. Economic.
I had no self esteem. I’d never been allowed to develop it.
One of my favorite days is the day that I received my acceptance letter to both my top colleges. I told myself I would soon be free. I had counted down the days since I was a kid, rough estimates of course, since at eight years old I couldn’t possibly know the move-in date.
I arrived to move-in with very little. But I felt like I had everything. I had my freedom. I had my room keys. I had my future. And I could leave my past behind, right?
18 years of constant abuse will have an effect on mental health. Most people experience the fight/flight response for a few seconds to a few hours. I was in it for eighteen years. This suppressed my symptoms for the most part.
Soon after arriving to college, I started to feel safe. I let my guard down, little by little. My symptoms began to show themselves. I have more mental illnesses than I do fingers. I started having panic attacks where I would hyperventilate until I passed out. I had nightmares every single night, waking from them constantly, waking at 2 am sweating and shaking until the panic attack overtook me enough that I passed out. I didn’t understand living in a dorm. I was raised in a house where toilet paper was rationed out, where doors could not be locked, where privacy did not exist. This misunderstanding of social norms and acceptable behavior cause a lot of issues with my hallmates.
It did not go well.
Doors began to be shut and locked when I walked down the hall. The bathroom would empty when I walked in. No one would talk to me. No one would even look at me. I didn’t understand why.
I had mentioned at the first hall meeting, on the first night, that I had Autism. I said that I didn’t understand social norms. That if I did something wrong or inappropriate, to tell me what I did, how it came across, and what to do next time. Yelling will trigger me, as will being mean about it. But people thought it was on purpose. People said later that they had tried to talk to me about it but that I would roll my eyes at them. I don’t remember any conversations like that, but if it was vague at all, I would not have realized what they meant anyway. I can’t control my facial expressions very well, and if I rolled my eyes, I didn’t even realize it.
Later people said it was because they didn’t want to have a conflict or confrontation. But what they did instead was bully me.
I’m still hearing things about it, over a year later. That so-and-so thought I looked like a cancer patient after I buzzed my hair. That someone else thought I was faking the panic attacks. That such-and-such thought I talked about the abuse too much. That I needed to get over myself.
These people don’t understand what they did to me. I moved out of the dorm because of how toxic the environment became. I moved out of the dorm to escape their glares and their silences and their locked doors. I moved out of the dorm because they made me want to die. And I did. I wanted to die.
I had two friends on that hall. My roommate, and a friend who is now a best friend, who still supports and helps me to this day. They kept me alive, and they didn’t even know. My roommate had no clue that it was that bad, that my main reason to stay was the fear of having her be the one to find me. I’ve been the one to find a friend before. I could never do that to her. She and my best friend gave me hope, supported me, let me talk out the abuse and unravel and made me feel safe.
The night I moved into my new dorm, they helped me. I was having a very bad panic attack, due to my nightlights not being bright enough, and the darkness triggering me. At one point, I was barely conscious, my former roommate was sitting on the bed with me holding me to her and stroking my hair. I couldn’t move or speak yet, they didn’t know I could hear them. But I heard them. She was saying that she was worried about me rooming by myself, that she didn’t know if I would be safe, that I might get worse.
I’ve never felt so loved.
I made a promise to a friend of mine a long time ago. I promised to her that I would never ever ever take my own life. I intend to keep that promise. And I reaffirmed that promise that night, as I half-sat and half-lay against my roommate’s torso, feeling her breathing and the vibration of her speaking, as my best friend ran to her room to get a nightlight for me to use until I could buy another. I could never take my life. I could never make these people grieve for me. I could never put them through what I’ve been through.
To the people on my hall last year, who bullied and outcast me to the point of me wanting to take my life, I forgive you. I get that we were all stressed out. I get that you didn’t understand that I didn’t understand. You weren’t trained to deal with someone like me. But you should make an effort to learn. You aren’t bad people, but what you did was wrong, and how you dealt with the conflict was very wrong. You hurt me. What you did was not okay. Please learn from it.
To my friends who continue to support me and love me, I love you guys. I love you guys so so much. You saved my life without even knowing it. You make me feel safe and supported and have helped me through so much. You help me get through the bad days and laugh with me on the good ones. You work constantly to be wary of my triggers, to better understand me, to make sure I am safe. You spent countless hours comforting me during panic attacks. You taught me how to trust. You showed me what love is. You protect me when I need it, and support me when I can fight the battle myself. I came with a lot of emotional baggage, and you’ve continued to help me unload it, to throw out what doesn’t serve me, to help me carry what I can’t process yet. I love you so so much.