Learning To Love Myself
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
I often surprise people when I tell them I have depression; I have a big personality and I’m constantly making stupid jokes and laughing at myself. What my own experiences have taught me is that everyone has a story and you cannot always tell what people are going through. I have spent the last five years battling depression and I have often felt as though I am losing. But I would not take it away if I could. I would rather use my experiences to help others than pretend they never happened.
The beginning of my struggle with mental health came on a rainy December night in grade 11. I went to a house party and, given that I was 16-years-old, I did not know how to handle alcohol quite yet. As had happened many other times before, I drank too much and began to feel sick. However, this time was much worse. The events of the night are hazy and the last clear memory I have is making the ill-advised decision to play beer pong using vodka instead of beer. A boy I had a crush on, who was much more sober than I was, started showing interest in me and kissed me at the party. Later that night, nearly unconscious, he took advantage of me. This guy I had known for years, someone I liked and trusted, brought me to an alleyway, had sex with me while I was unable move, and left me puking alone on the cold pavement where I passed out for several hours. I was eventually found by the police after my mom had reported me missing.
This situation immediately confused me and I did not know if what had happened was okay or not. On the one hand, I knew that I did not want to have sex with the boy, but the only definition I knew of rape was that it was when a stranger jumps out of the bushes at you and attacks you violently. For that reason, I didn’t think that what had happened to me was rape. So I tried to think about if I would have consented to sex with him if I had not been so drunk. The answer to that was a resounding no. What I’m sure the boy did not know was that he had taken my virginity that night. No matter how hard I tried to blame myself for what happened, I knew that there was no possible situation in which I would have consented to losing my virginity in that manner. I confided in friend and she showed me the legal definition of “rape” and it was clear that it applied. It was so hard for me to use that word to describe what happened because I felt like what happened to me was in some way inferior to the experiences of other rape victims. I didn’t want to be a rape victim, I didn’t want that to define me or the situation, but I didn’t have a choice.
As I was struggling to accept this fact, the story of what happened that night began to spread. However, it was not the story of a sober guy who had taken advantage of an extremely inebriated girl. Rather, it was the story of a slutty girl that had sex with a guy in an alleyway. People I had never met spread this story about me and even people who saw the condition I was in that night did not see what was wrong with the situation. I felt disgusted and embarrassed and I just wanted the whole thing to go away. I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t report anything to the police - I just wanted to pretend like it never happened. Though I do not think this event alone caused my depression, I definitely think it was the trigger.
In the weeks following that night, I noticed my mood change drastically. I didn’t feel excited about anything anymore, I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror or being alone with my thoughts. Having my virginity taken from me in such a way gave me a skewed view of sex and I lost all value for myself. I felt completely numb and emotionless, so I started cutting myself just to feel something. My best friend was going through severe depression at the same time and we couldn’t help ourselves, let alone each other, but she was the only one who understood. After a few months, my parents began to catch on to my self harming. Despite my best efforts to explain to them how I was feeling, they assured me it was a faze that I would grow out of. So for the next three years I tried to ignore how I was feeling, wishing that I would one day wake up and snap out of it.
The rest of high school was miserable, but I suffered in silence believing that what I was going through wasn’t at all significant. Things deteriorated in my first year of university when I moved out of my house to live on campus at UBC. With no one to oversee my actions, I let my depression take over my life. I would stay up until 4 in the morning watching TV, afraid of feeling completely alone. Then I would sleep until the late afternoon and miss all of my classes. I failed three courses that year and was put on academic probation. I loved a lot of what I was learning, but I physically could not get out of bed most days or motivate myself to study. I was so sick of feeling this way that I felt like my life was worthless and would never improve. Worst of all, I still had no explanation for how I was feeling. Luckily I made it to the end of first year, because that was when I met a person that started to turn things around.
I started dating a guy, let’s call him “J”, in April of my first year of university. It took less than a month for me to fall completely in love with him. He came along when I didn’t love myself and made it his mission to fix that. In the beginning of our relationship, I would cringe when he complimented me and I would get uncomfortable when he did nice things for me. I had never had a guy treat me that way without some ulterior motive. He exemplified everything I wanted to be; he was mature yet childishly funny, he was self-assured without being cocky, and he was driven to achieve the most he possibly could in life. Not only did he help me love myself again, but his influence made me a better person. Even though he didn’t always understand what I was going through mentally, he listened and he didn’t let me make excuses to keep living the way I was.
In my second year of university, I started seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with clinical depression. It was so comforting to know that there was a reason for what I was feeling. After initial hesitation, I started taking anti-depressants and I soon felt like my mind was clear again. The medication wasn’t a magical fix for all my problems, but they helped me get out of bed in the morning and start feeling hopeful again. With J’s support, I started making positive changes in my life. I started doing much better in school and my average at the end of second year was 20% higher than in first year. I started exercising regularly and caring for myself. I don’t know what I would have done had I not met J, I really needed someone to give me the love I didn’t have for myself and to push me to be better.
I am now in my third year of university and I have come a long way. My grades have continued to improve, I spent five months on exchange in Europe, I’ve become closer with my family, and I’ve made friends that are always there to pick me up when I’m down. But I cannot confidently say that I have “beat” mental illness; I still have a lot of work to do. My most recent struggle has been the end of my two-year relationship with J. It made me realize how much I leaned on him for support and that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was on my own. Going through the breakup also made me realize how I can use depression as an excuse for things that I need to take responsibility for. I made some big mistakes that I cannot blame anyone else for and I hid behind depression. Unfortunately it took losing the person I loved the most to make these realizations. Going forward, I am trying to find ways to strengthen myself. I’m going to stop making excuses and make the changes I need to make. This includes being honest, being kind, working to my full potential in school and beyond, staying away from alcohol or other substances that impair my logic, treating myself and my body with respect, and not being afraid of asking for help. Instead of forcing myself to love who I am right now, I’m going to try and make myself into a person I could never hate.
I would like to urge anyone who has been sexually assaulted to remember that they are a victim and to talk to someone. I wish I had told my parents or a professional what had happened to me sooner because it gave a huge insight into how I felt after. It took me years to connect my depression with being raped, but everything has made much more sense since. Though it was a boyfriend that helped me, everyone has someone that loves them and will listen - whether it is a parent, sibling, friend, etc. The important thing to do is to talk candidly, do not hold anything back, and ask for help when you need it. It’s important to remember that you are loveable and that it must start with yourself. Whether it’s an internal struggle or changes that need to be made in your life, the goal should always be to love yourself.
About The Author:
The author of this blog is a University of British Columbia student who would prefer to remain anonymous.