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Letter to the Editor: Stigma of depression, rape difficult to navigate

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Editor’s note: The author’s name is being withheld to protect her privacy.

I fell out of love with a rapist when I was 17.

His mother called me on my flip phone and asked if there was somebody else. I said no. She asked if I was cheating on him. I said no. She asked if I thought I was too good for him. I cried.

We had met when I was even younger at 13. As a depressed teen, the sympathy he showed made me certain he was my soul mate, and when he told me about the pain he was feeling, I wanted to help and thought that love was a substitute for a doctor.

I kept quiet when he flushed his anti-depressants. I kept quiet when he told me he was seeing demons. I kept quiet when the abuse started. And I kept quiet the first time I tried to leave him and he told me he would kill himself and it would be all my fault.

The following years were filled with food runs that would end at the park with his refusal to take me home until I paid for dinner with a blow job. They were filled with constant pleas of “I don’t want to do that” met with responses like, “I think you do.” They were filled with flowery words about how he was the only friend I needed; how if cutting made me feel better, I should do it; how if I didn’t please him sexually, I would make God angry.

As a young girl, I thought he knew best and I thought I deserved it. He was older, he went to church more than me, he said he had all the answers. I didn’t know that I was being raped. When he forced himself on me and I cried, I didn’t think it counted because his penis never entered my vagina and because he said that God wanted people who loved each other to be together.

It has been almost five years since I escaped the physical and mental abuse, and I am still not OK. I came to Ohio State a trembling 18-year-old, afraid of the men who followed me across the Oval trying to get my number, of the men who catcalled at me on High Street and the ones who approached me in the Union and got aggressive when I said, “No thank you.” There were times when I ended up puking in the restroom from the terror caused by these people who had no idea where I had been.

I couldn’t handle being around men I didn’t know. I tried to relate to other women, but I found myself anxious and feeling incredibly disconnected. I didn’t want to talk about relationships, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of any social gathering.

I stopped going to classes and fell further and further into depression. My parents yelled at me for being lazy because I spent so much time in my room and constantly asked if I was depressed, sighing about the cost of therapy and medication. They didn’t know what happened, and hearing them talk about mental illness as an inconvenience made me feel I couldn’t tell them.

Depression is awfully stigmatized, and so is being a rape victim. No matter where I go or what I do, I am acutely aware of people watching me, and the thought always lurks in the back of my mind, “If someone I knew raped me, what is protecting me from these strangers?”

Maybe these are the thoughts of a paranoid rape victim or a depressed girl looking for empathy. It’s probably a little of both. But I don’t feel like it’s fair that I live this way, afraid to ask for help and afraid of my friends and family.

There have been days where I have wanted to pour out the sickness and explain to the people I have loved why I disappeared, but I don’t think the world is ready.

Someday I want to be able to sit next to the boy on the bus that uses the same laundry detergent my rapist did and not have to hold my breath.

I don’t want to be scared to tell people I tried therapy, and I don’t want to be scared to tell them why. It’s not because I’m not strong enough, but because as the world currently is, I feel they will not understand.

And the very saddest thing to me is that my experiences are not unique.

But I want all that to change.

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