Most people would probably agree that they are very different now than they were at eighteen. I definitely am, in some ways this is a good thing – I no longer wear play-suits from Wild Pair (RIP) and can afford a nicer bottle of wine than a 3L goon.
While I’ve gained many positive things in the last five years (a degree, a job in the field, opportunity to travel) not all of my gains have been positive. I have hands-down experienced more anxiety, sadness and insecurity in the last five years than I ever had in the 18 years before it.
Several unpleasant rapid-fire experiences with predatory men in the last couple of years have severely affected my trust and fear response on the whole. I’ve had people who were supposed to love and protect me, hurt and belittle me and I’ve had people leave or distance themselves who were my security.
While I used to laugh or shrug off the sleazy or pushy advances of men in bars trying to persuade us girls to come round for a drink, I now feel genuine fear and all I want is for them to leave. I’ll watch with eagle eyes if I see a guy hitting on an uninterested girl, “is she okay?” “do I need to help her?” “Is he a predator?” Where most people are seeing a common interaction, I’m seeing a sexual assault waiting to happen.
Obviously this warped view on reality has led to me becoming a big ball of stress and see danger everywhere.
Where I used to let things go or give people the doubt I now often feel ultra-sensitive to any perceived slight or character flaw, reading in to things too much and becoming easily upset.
Constantly on the look out for people taking advantage of me, I ask myself:
“Is this person someone I can trust?”
Some other fun things in the mix are now the constant expectation that people are out to take advantage of me or do me wrong. I often get lonely and scared when alone but experience fear and anxiety when it comes to actually seeing friends or attending social events.
This has put strains on my relationships, made me difficult to be around at times and insecure that I myself am no-one if not validated by someone else. I’m easy to panic, I’m easy to cry and I find it difficult to be alone. None of these were true of the girl I knew five years ago. My best friend has often commented she never saw me cry for the first 2 years of our friendship, now it’s probably daily.
I find bittersweet comfort in the fact that these lived experiences and feelings are in no way unique to me as a woman. While my body can feel like my enemy (heart pounding at the smallest thing, startled by loud sounds, constant crying) what it’s really doing is trying to protect me.
I didn’t see those threatening figures before and look what happened, why would it not become hyper-vigilant now?
I’m not asking for pity, or anything really. I’m writing this for anyone who has ever felt alone in these thoughts or experiences that you’re not. It happens to a disproportionate number of us, and it takes time to heal.
This piece is also a testament to try and understand and appreciate the protection my mind and body have put up, while simultaneously putting them to bed.