Not just another, "Woe is me".
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
- Cassidy Kerr
“I think I’m dying.”
“What? What are you talking about? Where are you?”
“I don’t even know. In the north end of the city, I think. I don’t even remember driving here. That’s what I mean—I don’t remember. I left my house at 7:00 and now it’s 9:30 and I’m fucking freaking out. I’m really fucking scared.”
“You’re not dying. You’re traumatized. You need help, Cass. Counselling, at least. Please, just do it.”
I was sitting in my car in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. It was a weeknight in October of 2013. I’d been struggling with debilitating anxiety since I’d moved to Regina that summer after my high school graduation, but I consistently sloughed it off. I’d always maintained the appearance of someone who was unbothered and laid back to the point that even I believed it. When those sickening, incapacitating waves of worry gutted me, I’d repress it. That wasn’t me, and I needed to “get over it”. I was that friend who was vulgar, obnoxious, probably drank too much, laughed the loudest, and only ever moved forward. I wasn’t anxious. That didn’t fit my character, so I didn’t allow it.
Finally, though, on that night, I left my condo to go for a drive. I’d been feeling that hot, heart-pounding feeling all day, and my one way to cope was to drive. I remember looking at the time as I turned on to our street—7:08 PM—and stopping at the next red light. Then it was 9:39 PM and I was in the north end of the city in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. I was completely calm. I checked the time again on my phone. 9:40 PM. I checked my texts. No sent messages, only unopened received texts and notifications.
I started to panic and attributed my past feelings of anxiety and the loss of time I’d just experienced to a brain tumour or some sort of sickness. I called my best friend, who was attending university in Winnipeg. She shot it to me straight, as she always did: “You’re not dying. You’re traumatized.” For the first time in our then 15-year friendship, I didn’t just hear what she said about my childhood and past traumas. I felt it. I remember hanging up and completely breaking down in my car. “I’m so fucked up. I’m so fucked up. I’m so fucked up,” I said to myself, over and over, until I drove myself back home. I booked a counselling appointment the next day.
Being asked to talk about my “journey” is difficult for me. I consider myself extremely privileged and I fear that discussing my life experiences will be interpreted as a “woe is me” story. I mentioned this to my first counsellor when she asked what had brought me in and where I wanted to start our conversation. I remember feeling like I had to justify why I was there at all. I was a fucking wreck but, I assured her that, I was totally okay and functioning pretty well (a big-time lie), I just had some childhood stuff to process. She stared at me and didn’t say anything for a few seconds.
“Just so you know, Cassidy,” she said, “You’re allowed to feel devastated and heartbroken over the shitty things that have happened to you. So, are you going to feel that or should we pretend you’re here for fun?”
Eventually, I was seeing my counsellor every two weeks. I was learning how to process repressed memories and working on emotional regulation skills, but I still felt unsettled. I’d spend days home from class to lie in bed and either feel absolutely nothing or cry my face off—and then get up like nothing had happened and go out with my friends and, essentially, get into trouble. I’d go out three to four nights a week, drink to the point I’d black out and/or throw up the entire next day, and have consistent casual sex. In my mind, I was doing what was “typical” of my age group. We were young university students with no regard for any sort of boundaries. I did have fun, and I don’t regret the things I did at 19, 20 and 21, but looking back now, I see that those were my ways of distracting from the bigger problems that I refused to even think of acknowledging. Acceptance in any form fuelled me, so I took what I could get. I couldn’t accept who I was and all the shit that I carried with me, but if my friends, my hookups, and strangers that I met could, then maybe I wasn’t as fucked up as I thought I was.
By October of 2014, a year after what my counsellor had explained was a “blackout” (not the same as my Pump Roadhouse blackouts that I was also experiencing at the time), I was going through the motions. I was getting “somewhere”: I was working, attending university full time, seeing my counsellor, maintaining a social life, and spending most days completely depressed. I couldn’t understand what the fuck was wrong with me. One night, my best friend and I went out to a popular Regina nightclub over Thanksgiving weekend. At the beginning of the night, we ran into two guys that we didn’t know. They seemed nice enough. Normal, friendly. We chatted a bit, and then went our separate ways for the rest of the night. At the end of the night, we decided to leave with them. We went back to their place and I slept in one of the bedrooms with one of the two friends. I woke up in the morning to somebody who was not the person I went to sleep with sexually assaulting me. Sparing the details, I elbowed him, as hard as I could, in his chest. He flinched and stopped for a moment.
“Fucking stop it,” I said. He was about to continue assaulting me, and I elbowed him again. “Stop.” He stood up and stared down at me.
“You don’t want me?” he said in a quiet voice, incredulously.
“I said stop.”
I could feel my entire body shaking, like I’d never been so cold in my life. He shook his head and walked out of the room. I jumped up and got dressed and ran out to the living room where my best friend was asleep on the couch. I woke her up and told her we had to leave. From behind me, I heard him.
“Do you guys need a ride?” I looked over my shoulder at him. I didn’t even know his name, but he’d just helped himself to the most vulnerable part of me without a shred of consent, and now he was calmly offering us a ride. I didn’t respond and we ran out of the apartment building and on to the street. We ran until we found a cab and sat in silence until we arrived at my condo. My best friend had to go back to Winnipeg, and I spent the entire day in bed. I’d had a year of learned coping skills, emotional regulation, and different therapies for past traumas. I had no fucking idea how to cope with new trauma, and no idea where to start.
I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was in high school, but I chose to repress that (much like everything else in my life) and figured I was “fine”. I’d clearly been suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression throughout university, but my sexual assault triggered my first experience with suicidal thoughts. In December of 2014, right before finals, I was in a night class studying criminal justice. The chapter we moved on to dealt with sexual assault, perpetrators, and victims. I lasted all of five minutes before I grabbed my things and walked out.
Driving home that night on the ring road, I pulled over before my exit because I was worried I’d drive my car into oncoming traffic. I pulled my shit together and made it home in one piece. I stopped going out but tried to keep up with my friends as best I could, so I did a lot of designated driving. One night in mid- January of 2015, I was waiting outside a bar in Regina to drive my friends home. After half an hour when they hadn’t come out or answered their phones, I decided to go inside and try to find them. As I was walking towards the dance floor, he was there, walking towards me. I froze, and as he passed me, he said, “Next time, I’ll fucking kill you,” and kept walking. It happened so fast that to this day I still wonder if it was real. I ran out to my car and waited for my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that something else had happened.
By the end of January, I was having nightmares about the man who’d assaulted me regularly—that he was hiding in my house, waiting for me at work or sitting beside me in my classes. So, I stopped sleeping, and I dropped out of university. One night when I was sitting awake, I went to my balcony to get some air. I looked down into our parking lot and thought, “If I jump, I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit anymore.” Just as soon as I’d thought it, I turned around, walked back to my room, and dismissed the thought as a symptom of being overtired.
But, by the end of January when I’d dropped out of university and caught myself actively researching ways to end my life, I finally felt so fucking furious at what I’d become and the control I’d let him have over my life. I’d always been independent to a fault, headstrong, stubborn, and persevered as if there was no other option. Like fuck would I allow someone who didn’t even know my name to be the reason I lost my education, my career, and my life. The next day I asked my doctor to refer me to a psychiatrist and booked myself in with a new counsellor.
My counsellor was another incredible support in my life that I so desperately needed. She knew about my sexual assault, but never pressured me to open up about it. She consistently circled back to the facts. I didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t my fault. Sexual assault isn’t about desire—it’s about power and control. As much as I knew she was right, I still struggled with what she was saying. I’d push back on everything she told me. “I should’ve” this or “I could’ve” that. I didn’t want to burden anybody, and I was alive. I twisted my experience, like I always did, into a “could’ve been worse” scenario. One session, she finally shot it to me straight.
“Okay, so let’s do this. You’re 6, or 7, or 8 again. Think about your most painful memory. What could you have done to make that situation stop or change?” I thought about it for around a minute. I needed an answer. I was so pissed off I couldn’t come up with one.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I was just a kid,” I said. She said nothing back and let that sit with me for a few moments.
“Exactly. You were just a kid.” We looked at each other and I knew what was coming next.
“Think about your best friend or the person you love most in the world coming to you, and telling you that they went through exactly what you went through. Do you tell them they “should have” or “could have” done something different?”
“Fuck no.” It came out of my mouth so fast, and at that point I couldn’t stop. “I’d do anything for them. What could they have done?” My counsellor smiled at me and I realized what I’d said.
“You are not a burden. You need to open up to your friends, Cassidy. They’re dying for you to let them in. You can’t keep trying to do life alone. Look where it’s gotten you trying to do it all. Are you happy?”
Later that week I went over to see two of my best friends at their place to tell them what was going on in my head. They both knew about my sexual assault and were checking up on me every single day since I’d told them, but they had no idea that I was barely making it through the day – or that he’d let me know that “next time” he’d “fucking kill me”. We all sat on my friend’s bed and I totally lost it in front of somebody for the first time since I was 19 and I’d had my “blackout”. I completely unloaded. I couldn’t stop.
“Fuck, you guys, I’m scared. I’m scared of him, obviously, but I’m scared of myself. I’m not me. You guys know me. This isn’t me, sitting here crying. Like, this isn’t me. This isn’t us.”
“This is us for right now because we’re going to be there for you, whatever that looks like. Also, I’ll fucking kill him first,” one of my friends responded. The following weekend, she was at the same bar he frequented, found out who he was, walked up to him, one-punched him to the floor, and turned to the bouncer rushing towards her.
“He raped my best friend,” she said, point blank. The bouncer held up his hands and then nodded towards the back door.
“You did your job,” he told her, and she walked out. Just recently, in 2019, I found out that the man who’d sexually assaulted me had done the same thing to at least one more woman in the exact same way he’d assaulted me. She went forward to the police to press charges, and he hasn’t been able to be located since.
Over the next year, I went through a painful amount of growth. I’d stuck with the same counsellor, but cycled through psychiatrists who I felt didn’t “hear” me: they’d write me a prescription for antidepressants and send me off. When I’d come back multiple times to say the medication wasn’t working for me, they’d prescribed a new one. During that time, I had to work my ass off to re-establish who I was. I found it extremely difficult to be my own person and have an identity that wasn’t “trauma related”. I knew what I stood for, who and what was important to me, my goals and my aspirations and who I wanted to be. I’d get going on a good path, feel hopeful about my current, future, and past self, and then be knocked on my ass so hard that I couldn’t eat, shower, or work for weeks at a time.
In May of 2016 I once again lost all composure and the managers at my workplace told me to take a week off to take care of myself. By the end of July 2016 I’d made the decision in small increments that the only way out of this consistent pattern was to take my own life. I wasn’t sad, or heartbroken, or hopeless. I was exhausted. I was so fucking drained from having to work so hard to do easy shit, like get out of bed. I was tired of turning up at my counsellor’s and psychiatrist’s office to say the same thing: “I just don’t really feel anything. I have no motivation to even open my eyes in the morning. And I promise, I’m really trying.” And I was really trying. I was tired of feeling like a burden to everybody in my life. I didn’t want to be the friend everyone had to check in on and not ask, “How’s it going?” but “How are you doing?” My friends and family didn’t deserve that version of me that I couldn’t shake. I remember coming to work one day and saying to one of my best friends and coworkers, “I’m scared this will always be my life.” I was at a point where I’d rather die than keep pushing for another day, just to experience that day and be miserable.
My 22nd birthday was coming up, and I’d decided I should be around for it. I didn’t want my friends and family to have to face a milestone like that so quickly. I told my best friends that I didn’t want to do anything for my birthday and that I’d made no plans, but they surprised me and made plans for me instead. So there I was, sitting in a cab with one of my best friends and my brother, and putting on my typical “show” when we pulled up to one of the clubs in Regina. I felt so heavy with hopelessness and wanted to go home more than anything, but I just ordered doubles instead. I walked straight to the bathroom and sat in one of the stalls. I kept thinking back to the night that I’d blacked out three years ago, and how I felt like I’d made so much progress since then, but there I was in the bathroom, holding back tears. The past three years had felt like nothing but two steps forward, five steps back. I was 22 years old and disgustingly jaded and cynical—what the fuck more did I have to do? I turned my head and noticed a word scratched so small into the bathroom wall I could hardly see it.
I knew that it was likely done by some 20-something for a VSCO picture to look aesthetically pleasing for their feed. But I stared at that until my friends came into the bathroom looking for me. That one word stayed in my head for the next week. Almost. It resonated with me to a point that it probably shouldn’t have, but I felt it on a visceral level: I was always an “almost”. Almost in control vs. almost on the edge. Almost there vs. almost gone.
That same week, I got a phone call for a referral with a new psychiatrist. I decided to go meet her, even though my past experiences had made me very sceptical. I sat down across from her and she asked me to start from the beginning, so I did. I told her about everything: my childhood, my traumas, my sexual assault, my depression, my previous plans to take my life, how I was feeling, what I wasn’t feeling. She responded by pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a straight line across it.
“This is what we call a baseline, for a “typical” person. They get sad,” she said as she drew a dip below baseline, “but they come back up to baseline. They get happy or excited,” she continued as she drew a hump above baseline, “and then they come back. Likely throughout your entire life, you’ve never been at a typical baseline.” She drew another straight line right below the baseline. “This is your baseline. You’re missing the chemicals that keep you at a typical functioning baseline. Even when you experience happiness, you’re basically reaching someone else’s “typical” baseline. This isn’t something that’s in your head or that you can control. This is what we call major depressive disorder.” I stayed in her office for over an hour and a half, and by the end of our first appointment she’d set me up for trauma therapy and put me on two other therapeutic program waitlists. She prescribed two separate medications and told me that I needed to use them together, which explained why my past medications had never worked. My next appointment was two weeks from that day, and she told me she’d be calling to check in on me. She not only kept her word. She saved my life.
The next year and a half, I coasted. I was happy, successful, and thriving. I had my low days and depressive episodes, but I learned that these experiences were just a part of major depressive disorder. I developed coping techniques and reached out to my psychiatrist often. I finally didn’t feel afraid to admit that I was not capable of navigating my mental illness on my own, and I found myself being honest to everybody in my life about what I needed and what I was going through. I was ready to face the truth about who I was and accept it. I was okay with it changing me.
Then I had a depressive episode that landed me in the hospital. It was the summer of 2018, and I felt everything in my life fading into the background and becoming distant. I told one of my best friends, very openly and honestly, that I was afraid I would hurt myself if I didn’t get immediate help. She pulled up a crisis phone number, and by the next day I was admitted into an intensive two-week program at the General Hospital. When I was discharged, I genuinely felt safe for the first time in years. I felt powerful for the first time since I’d been sexually assaulted. I realized that I’d thought I was “powerful” because I was independent, persistent, and had persevered for all of my life up until that point. But, when asked to openly share what had brought me to the mental health program, I came to understand that true power is being able to share your truth and your experiences, and being compassionate with yourself in the process. That same power grows when you’re able to create your own boundaries and respect yourself enough to implement them. When you treat yourself and those you come across with empathy, you’re powerful in a way that doesn’t only benefit you, but nurtures that same power in those around you.
Although I know that I’ve gone through a ton of growth and change over the past six years, I’ve found myself realizing that I’ve also stayed the same: I’m still the “wild card” friend (who probably drinks too much), I’m enormously independent, I’m vocal and honest about my thoughts and opinions, and I’m empathetic almost to a fault. What has changed is realizing I can be all of these things, and still struggle. I can be independent and still say, “Can somebody fucking help me because I actually think I might die otherwise”. I can be soft and compassionate and still apply boundaries in my relationships to put myself and my mental health first. I can be strong and resilient and still feel weak and overwhelmed. I can take all the necessary steps to manage my mental illness and still live with often debilitating depression. I can be a sexual assault survivor with specific triggers and still have and enjoy sex.
I’ve found so frequently that as a society we feel comfortable with the unknown as long as we can put it into a box. We generally see a “problem” and want to fix it, either to stroke our own ego or out of genuine concern. In my experience, it’s far easier to accept those we want in our lives for who they are, what they’ve been through, and let them know, “I’ve got you.” We’re all going through so much bullshit every day. Life can be, as the saying goes, a total bitch. We live in a time where a positive mindset has become the cure for almost anything, and I view that as damaging. Humanizing our experiences—instead of wishing they didn’t happen to us or “positive- thinking” them away—will connect us to each other more deeply than telling a depressed or traumatized friend, “It’ll get better” or “Have you tried (blank)?” Maybe it won’t get better for a day, or a week, or a month, and that’s fucking okay. Sometimes, all you need is to be validated and to have someone say, “I am so fucking sorry this is happening to you. You must feel so horrible. What do you need from me? I’m here to help you.”
None of us are perfect, as much as we aspire to be. We have insecurities and flaws that we consider weaknesses, but what if that’s what people admire the most about us? If we don’t express them, we’ll never know. What I’ve come to understand is that we don’t need or have to change those things, but we can choose who we share them with. I was privileged to have a support system of friends, family, and professionals to guide me through my trauma and experiences. I know that not everyone is so lucky. Which is why we all have to be brave: those who need to ask for help and those who are in a position to offer it. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was to fight for the life I know I deserved when all I wanted to do was die. And I’m pretty fucking happy about that.