How It Went Down, Or: As I Remember It: Two Separate Things Became One Thing.

Preamble

I was diagnosed bipolar in February of 2013, after months of first being in a manic state, before moving into a period of rapid cycling. I had no sense of how dangerous it was because I have lived this way my whole life and have had to deal with this type of emotional storm many times before, since I was around 12. I white-knuckled the storm. They are quite literally anguish, but I would calculate it out, saying to myself in, say, November: “Okay, this will pass by around May.” (I understood the time-table of these things. I was always right, almost to the day.)

I’ve written before about the initial diagnosis and treatment, designed to stabilize me, and it did, but it was brutal, and difficult, and a full-time job. My mother came and stayed with me because I couldn’t do it by myself my nerves were so completely shattered. A lot of my writing work had to take a back seat in 2013, which was tough because the mania had been so damn productive (the best part of mania), but I just had to let that go. 2012 (with all its greatness, and it was quite often great) scared the shit out of me. I’ve been scared before, though. 2009 scared me. 2002 scared me. 1998 scared me. I have lots of experience. But the storms had progressed in intensity, and each one left me weaker than the last. I was never bouncing back.

I wanted to write about these two separate things – that happened on the same day in 2015 – and how they became one thing in my mind because it was the first time I had some sort of “episode” post-diagnosis and so it was really the first time that I actually had some distance to be able to see what it is that I did and HOW it was that I did it. I couldn’t see it in the middle of the whole thing, but I saw it about a week later, which is some sort of record for me. I don’t write often about these types of struggles but when I DO, I always get a lot of nice emails from people who either get it or sympathize.

So here is an archaeological dig involving:

thing1-and-thing2

… and how I ended up processing them as the same exact thing. My reaction seemed quite appropriate to me, considering the circumstances, but then my doctors (two of them) intervened, told me I was hypomanic (my response was along the lines of, “Give me a fucking break”), and they tried to help me un-collapse the two events that had magnified in size to one single building of the Brutalist Architecture school. Like, that’s how SOLID my interpretation felt.

One doctor said, “Anyone would be upset after what happened. Your reaction is not inappropriate, but these two separate things are not the same thing.” “No, they ARE the same thing.” “Sweetheart, they are not.” My doctor calls me “sweetheart.” Sometimes “darling.” In his Italian accent. I paced in the lobby of the building where I work, a gigantic echoing space, hissing at him on the phone, as I tried to explain to him – as I tried to make him see – that how I interpreted this thing was real and how DARE he take that from me. Dragons don’t die without a fight, y’all. It’s never fun to be told that your mind is not processing REALITY correctly.

I did not want to go to the hospital, especially not over something so silly (a date gone … bizarrely … awry), but I had been crying for 5 straight days at that point. Straight. Morning till night. 5 days. But I had cried for 19 straight days in July of 2009. 5 days? Please. Piece of cake. I didn’t understand why the doctors were concerned. But whatever, I worked with my cognitive person to think my way out of the Vice I had constructed for myself, something that would have been inconceivable to me pre-diagnosis. That’s the problem with an illness that is in your own mind. 1. It is very very difficult to describe the experience of it. and 2. It feels so real when you’re in it that you may very well fight like a tiger to hold onto your interpretation because if you let go of it, THEN where will you be? Nobody WANTS to be nuts. There are a couple of things I wrote here on my site in the summer/fall of 2009 that are so hair-raising for me to read now that I have been tempted to take them down. So far, I’ve let them stand.

Virginia Heffernan wrote a beautiful essay about her depression in which she describes constructing a series of rituals that she called “The Pillars”, and these pillars were the only things that controlled her life:

I also talked that way to my friends, who told me that I sounded “abstract”. Sometimes I thought they were right, and so I briskly invented an antidote, the Pillars – a rote series of activities designed to ground me like a middle-school curriculum: exercise, travel, religion, dates, art/music, job. Robotically, I went to the gym, to church, to the Met, to parties, to Seattle. I tried to confine my schedule exclusively to the Pillars – checking them off like a tourist – to keep myself from meandering or morbid thinking.

I didn’t do The Pillars, but I did erect something called The Triangle in my mind, a rigid and Euclidean formula within which I understood my own life. I thought The Triangle was brilliant and I told all my friends about it. I felt that the Triangle’s angularly-connected lines gave me great freedom and it also provided blinding INSIGHT into how Things Really Were. The Triangle gave me rules of engagement. It was an Isosceles triangle, too (very important) so keeping each “line” equal was difficult (impossible) but it set the standard. I could not see how unforgiving it was, I could not see how STINGY it was. As a matter of fact, at the time I thought the Triangle was freeing. The post I wrote describing The Triangle is one of those hair-raising posts I mentioned before. I was so – forgive me – fucking CRAZY when I wrote it. I wish people understood mental illness better. You’re not, like, “out of your mind.” Or huddled in a corner not able to speak. You are often completely lucid. Everything is clear as CRYSTAL. You see connections other people cannot. And sometimes, you know what? You’re right. But clarity like that is its own kind of madness, because there is no “give” in your understanding of life. The Triangle had NO “give.” How are you supposed to live life within the confines of a Triangle? Jeez Louise. (Incidentally, the “triangle” has become a kind of joke among my group of friends. I told a couple of my really good friends that if I ever started talking about the Triangle again, to tell me to knock it off. Of course, because my friends are who they are, now when I say something even mildly introspective, one of them will murmur, “Triangle.” Or I’ll post a deep quote on my FB page, and my friend Luisa will leave a one-word comment: “Triangle.” What would I do without these people?)

So what happened last year during that week when I cried for 5 days was that the Triangle re-erected itself in all its terrible perfection, and it was the perfect structure on which to hang my interpretation. It was as intricate and deadly and simple as an atom bomb.

If all of the below sounds like I was “making a mountain out of a mole hill,” what can I say. You are the one who needs to read this the most. People pay lip service to wanting to understand and sympathize with mental illness, but then knee-jerk judge how, well, bonkers it looks and sounds in reality.

Let’s move on to the archaeological dig.

The First Thing

In 2014, I went to the Bloomsday celebration I’ve been going to for over 10 years. It’s a joyous and raucous event, with the same people attending every year. We drink beer, sit at picnic tables, and listen to people get up and read from the book. I read from the book. My friend Therese reads. Everyone reads. The writer Colum McCann has been the emcee from the beginning, and he’s awesome. It’s a blast. At this particular event, I found myself sitting at a table with Therese (my regular Bloomsday friend) and two other guys. What a relief it is to hang out with people who understand this obsession. I found myself having a lot of fun being social with people I don’t know, which never happens. And at some point, when I was talking with one of them – a guy I had not met before, not familiar to me from other Bloomsday gatherings – I suddenly realized – like a dim message from a star on the other side of the galaxy- “Huh. I find this man attractive.” It wasn’t a huge deal, just a momentary recognition that I felt attraction, and it had been a while, and wow, that was kind of fun. The next day he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Click Accept.

I then did not think about him again for an entire year. I was wretchedly sick for a lot of 2015, with an ailment that I had had surgery for 5 years before, but it sprang up again. (I now have it handled for good.) The ailment made my physical life HELL, and so Bloomsday came around again and I decided I couldn’t go, I was too sick. I was very upset. I haven’t missed one Bloomsday celebration there since it started, it’s this weird little thing I do every year, an event feeds my soul/mind/heart, connects me to my Dad, my PEOPLE, and I love seeing all of those crazy people once a year. But I could barely walk. So bah humbug, I didn’t go. I lay in bed with a water bottle on my stomach and felt sorry for myself.

I woke up the next morning to a FB message from that guy: “Where were you yesterday?” We had never corresponded before. When I decided to not go to Bloomsday, he did not enter my mind once. I was thinking about Therese, and Colum and Joe, the “regulars”. His message surprised me. If I had gone, and he hadn’t been there, never in a million years would I have messaged him asking him why he hadn’t gone. I wouldn’t have even noticed, probably, since his presence there in 2014 had been an anomaly (as far as I knew). I told him I had been sick, asked him how the day was. He told me some funny stories. He had given a talk on Joyce at the New York Public Library, too. I asked if he read from the book at the Bloomsday celebration. He said he did. I asked him what section. He told me. I told him I loved that section. He said he did too. (We were online at the same time.) And so then began a FB message conversation that lasted the entire day, before we moved it to email, and then finally to text. He was the last person I “talked” to that night, when he texted me “Good night” at 10 p.m. It was very bizarre, and I kept waiting for it to stop, but he kept coming back. So what the hell, sure, I’ll FB message with you all day. He told me he liked my writing. So, okay, so that meant he had somehow been paying attention to me on FB and the links to my stuff I put up there. He said he wanted to be on my mailing list. I told him I didn’t have a mailing list and did he think I should get one? He said he didn’t have one either. But he wanted to “keep track” of me. He was very persistent, he had started it, so he kept the conversation going. It was a humorous conversation. Elvis Costello came up. I told him I loved that Elvis, but I loved “the other Elvis” more. He said, “I gathered.”

At some point, again like a dim message from a far away star, I realized – shamefully late into the process – that he was trying to ask me out. At one point he said, “We might have to become, like, y’know, friends.” I told him I thought that would be good. I mean, it seemed like a no-brainer from the moment I met him at Bloomsday. He was clearly “my kind.” Then began this weird thing where now I realize he was feeling me out. “Do you like to eat?” “Do you drink coffee?” I didn’t understand what he was saying. Of course I eat. Yes, I drink coffee. What the hell. He said something like, “Do you like to eat or drink coffee with other people?” It’s so obvious now, but although I am very smart in some areas, I am very slow in others. He said, “Are you in the city this weekend?” I finally realized: “Oh. He’s asking me out. That’s what’s happening. Duh. And he probably thinks I’m playing hard-to-get, when actually, no, I’m just dense.” Had he been looking forward to seeing me at Bloomsday and then bummed I wasn’t there? That had to be it, right? I couldn’t picture it though because if I had gone to Bloomsday the day before he wouldn’t have entered my mind at all. Anyway, this is so granular I feel like it’s a Diary Friday entry. I was going to see a John Wayne movie at MoMA that Friday, and I was so excited about it, so I figured what the hell, and I told him what I was doing on Friday, and would he like to join me? Put this man out of his “Do you like to eat/drink” misery-nonsense. He said immediately, “Yes, let’s do that.” And then he bombarded me with the details of his schedule so we could figure out a time to meet up. Then we moved it to email, then we moved it to text, and we joked about how we barely remembered what the other person looked like, so maybe we should show up both carrying fruit baskets so we could recognize each other. Dumb. But fun.

I headed to MoMA. He had texted me a couple of times that afternoon – first to tell me he might be late, and then to give me a blow-by-blow update of his progress from Long Island into the city. It was funny, and also weirdly thoughtful. “Okay, so now I’m waiting on the train platform.” “Okay so now I’m boarding the train.” Dude, stop. I got to MoMA and stood outside the theatre, scanning every face for the one I vaguely remembered from last year. Still, though, he walked right by me, and I didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t recognize me. He texted me from inside the theatre: “I’m here. Where are you.” I walked into the theatre and looked around. It was the big theatre, and there were a lot of people there, and I didn’t even know what I was looking for except a head of wild black hair. I finally just said his name loudly into the void, and of course everybody turned around in that sacred-silent space, but then I saw his face, looking back at me, sitting a few rows down. Of course, that’s what he looks like, I remember now. He started laughing because I had yelled his name into a movie theatre and the whole thing was absurd. The movie was in 3D, by the way, which made it all even more ridiculous, such a fun light-hearted thing to do with someone. At certain points during the movie, we’d glance at each other, and I’d see this Joyce-symposium-literature-professor-guy grinning at me wearing 3D glasses and I’d burst into laughter. It was fun.

Afterwards, we went out for a couple of beers at a nearby bar, and as we walked there he was asking me questions about my life, and each time I answered, he would say something like, “Oh, that’s right …”, or nod, showing that I was saying something he already knew. But how on earth could he know any of it? I gave him a look and he admitted, “Yes. I have been reading up on you.” It was funny. (I should have done the same thing with him! CLEARLY.) I wondered, panic-struck, what the hell I had put up on my site in the last couple of days … was there anything overtly insane? But really what I felt was safe when he said that, because I pictured him at his laptop, clicking around my site, and reading my bio … and so I felt like, Well. Whatever is going on with him, he’s at least interested in me – like, me, out here in the world, not some other damn thing that has to do with HIM. (This is a residue of the run-ins with sociopath users I’ve had, ever since my Dad died. My radar has been WAY off.) He was curious about me. That made me feel safe. (The feeling of safety ended up becoming the major Red Flag in my post-event Triangular analysis.)

It was a cool and beautiful night, the bar was open to the street, and we sat in the window, drinking beers and talking. We talked a lot about our writing and what we wanted to happen with it, in our own spheres. He had things he wanted to work on. I asked him what those were. He told me. He told me about his job. I asked him what the best part of the job was. He thought about it and gave a really cool answer, very interesting and thought-provoking. A curious and open and thoughtful man. Eventually he said, “Okay, so you’ve asked enough questions about me. Let’s do you now.” Again, the feeling of safety. He was aware of how I was tilting the conversation his way (I was being polite, sure, but I also was truly curious. I knew nothing about him.) – and so he course-corrected for us, not wanting to just sit there and talk about himself for our entire night. Good man. So then we talked about me for a while. He asked me questions. I told him what I wanted to be doing. At one point I said that I wanted to get gigs on my own merit, not just so that some site could have “a vagina on the masthead” and he could not stop laughing. He said, “I’ve always wanted a vagina on my masthead.” “I mean, why wouldn’t you. I get it.” You know, whatever, none of this was world-shaking, but I felt safe and in my own element – which was very strange to me, and notable, especially since I didn’t know this person, and two days before I had barely known he existed.

When I spoke, he leaned forward, really listening. Sometimes I busted him looking at my mouth as I spoke. I’m not an idiot. I know what this means. Then, in a flash, the event changed … somehow. It started with a pantomime-symphony of body language from him. This kind of stuff can really only be picked up on by a movie camera, and it loses a lot in the translation into words. I could mimic it perfectly, to show you what I saw, but I’ll give it a shot describing it. After a night of relaxed body language, him lounging in the seat next to me in the theatre, leaning over to whisper in my ear, or leaning across the table at me … he got suddenly awkward, looking at me in this weird kind of hesitant way. Like he had something to say. It wasn’t in reaction to anything I said, or not that I remember. The awkwardness looked like: he straightened up a little bit, but there was an aimlessness in his movement too, and one of his hands went to his shirt pocket, where his cell phone was. He didn’t take the phone out, but it was this involuntary gesture, almost like the cell phone had summoned him from the pocket. And he looked embarrassed. I have no idea what was going on with him, but I have no insecurity about what I SAW. I spent 20 years as an actress. I know body language. I must have looked confused at his behavior/gesture, which – in my memory came out of nowhere – and he said, by way of explanation: “My kid and my … baby-mama … are out of town for the weekend.” Which came from out of nowhere, it was not in reply to anything I said.

I should have Googled him before the date, that’s for sure! Or at least trolled his FB photo albums. I have no idea what look flashed across my face, although I’m sure there was something there, and then I adjusted, with the swiftness brought about only by long experience. The situation I THOUGHT I was in was clearly NOT the situation I was ACTUALLY in, and … judging from the awkwardness and the look of embarrassment … he knew it too. Maybe he realized that I seemed to think it was a date when – from his perspective – it hadn’t been a date at all, although that doesn’t strike me as correct. Maybe he had no idea what he was doing. I also highly doubt that. This guy isn’t a kid. We’re the same age. REGARDLESS. I couldn’t help it. I gave him a look and said, “So Mom’s out of town, huh.” The comment landed like the lead balloon it was meant to be. He laughed a little bit, but didn’t say anything in reply. It was all weirdly awkward. Was I creating the awkwardness? But he started it with his awkward behavior! Inside I was thinking, Sheila, a quick Google search would probably have told you all of this. I also was thinking: Baby mama? What the hell is THAT? It was (in my mind) kind of a distancing term, so maybe he was just trying to take the edge off the awkwardness, or … to somehow … downgrade her in importance? A friend of mine said, “They may not even be together. They may just have the kid together. You have no way of knowing.” No. I don’t.

Clearly I had misunderstood something. Or he had misunderstood something. Or maybe he was “feeling me out” for a hookup while Mom was out of town. I don’t know. I didn’t care. I was done with him from that second forward. Wiping my hands briskly of the entire event, which had been so random anyway.

The swiftness with which I wrote him off drove my friends – male and female – crazy when I told them about it later. “Why didn’t you just say ‘Dude, are you married? Are you single? What are we doing here? We are on a date, you do realize that, don’t you? And might I remind you that you started it. You pursued me. So what’s your deal?” I know. I should have. But I didn’t. Listen, you’re the sum of your experiences, and I’m the sum of mine. Besides, as I realized when I looked back on it, the way the initial interaction went down … if you wanted to split hairs, technically I was the one who asked him out. He hemmed and hawed, I guessed what he wanted, and then cut to the chase. So … plausible deniability? Oh whatever. Too intricate.

Two last memories remain of this “first thing”:

Because I was ready to leave from the second he said the word “baby-mama”, the conversation sort of dragged, and it was clear we were both about to go our separate ways. Then came another symphonic pantomime from him. He paused, and gave me this look, a sort of assessing squint across the table, it had some intent … or question … in it I couldn’t locate or name. He was considering whether or not to continue, that’s what it looked like. Then he said, “Do you smoke?” He wanted to go out on the sidewalk and have a cigarette with me. But the look he gave me … the look seemed to signify something else. Cigarettes = Bad. Cigarettes = Naughty. Cigarettes = Something We Shouldn’t Be Doing. In other words, I felt that it was a sexual moment. There was the potential of sex there in that moment. I’m not a naive young thing. I know the look. His look was throwing a line out there, saying, “You wanna be bad? Naughty?” Honey, do not start what you can’t finish. You have no idea who you’re dealing with. There will be a vagina on your masthead in a matter of half an hour if you don’t watch your step. It could have been totally what it was on the surface: him not knowing if I smoked, and wondering if I would judge him for smoking, wanting to smoke with me, maybe to take the edge off of the weirdness that had just come about with his pantomime gesture towards his cell phone filled with other obligations. But honestly, I do not think so. I am rarely wrong about Sex Stuff. It’s practically a superpower.

I just knew that if I said “Yes” to his offer and we went out and had a cigarette on the sidewalk, that cigarette would lead to a couple more drinks and that would lead to … some kind of a clinch. I could feel that progression in the air and I could see it on his face. Believe me, I wanted to say, “Oh, what the hell, why not,” but instead I said, “No, I don’t smoke.”

We got up and left the bar. I was about to head a block West to turn down 8th Avenue to get my bus, and he was about to head East to pick up whatever subway he needed. He said, a propos of nothing, “Hey, my band is playing a party down in Coney Island tomorrow night. Do you want to come?” By that point, I was irritated so my inner response was: Do I look like that big a “mark”, pal? You’re asking me out AGAIN? Maybe he’s clueless. Maybe I am. Both are equally possible. I clearly was missing SOMEthing that was going on. I said, without thinking beforehand, “No, I don’t think I will be doing that,” and my tone was gentle and thoughtful, although I didn’t plan it that way. It was a funny “line-reading,” I have to say, and he laughed in surprise, seemingly at the openness of my language, that I hadn’t made up some excuse or softened the blow. I didn’t say it in a mean way. The mood was awkward but still pretty open and relatively good-natured. It’s not like he led me on and lied to me for half a year like my last relationship. It’s not like he informed me of the existence of baby-mama-child the morning after we fucked. As far as I was concerned, no harm no foul, although irritating. I had invested barely 24 hours in this thing. And I was going to the John Wayne movie anyway, so it’s not like I wasted a night. We hugged goodbye, saying, “Had a great time, thanks, see ya later!”

I turned away from him and now we are moving into …

The Second Thing

… which happened 45 seconds later.

This was literally what I did AS I turned from him. If he had been looking at me, he would have seen this:

giphy

I wasn’t hurt. I was irritated as HELL. I put my ear-buds in and blasted Metallica as I stalked across the block towards 8th Avenue. I was laughing I was so irritated, shaking my head. “That was so fucking stupid. What was that.” I didn’t have time to deeply question what had happened before the “second thing” went down, but later, I thought, “Wait … did he ask me out? Is he a philanderer? But if he was a philanderer, then why did he TELL me about his family being out of town in such an awkward way?” Maybe it was as simple as he didn’t think it was a date. But then why get awkward when referencing his family life if he didn’t perceive it as a date? What’s to be awkward about in that scenario, if we’re just going out as friends? The worst explanation was: I had completely misinterpreted his “do you eat/drink with other people” charade, and that I had somehow behaved like a fool and he saw that I was a fool and was trying to ward me off. But … but … he texted me the whole damn day and into the night, with jokes and banter and “I’m going to be 20.3 minutes late” texts … Is it possible to misinterpret that?

But all of that came later. I had no time for anything beyond the Judge Judy eye-roll, and the opening strains of “Master of Puppets” before the “second thing” was upon me.

There’s now a bike-lane on most streets in New York, with a little buffer-zone outside of it, where cars park or idle their engines. Most of these are town cars, waiting for people to come out of the restaurants. I don’t walk in the bike path, but I do walk in that buffer zone, skirting the cars. I walk there because I avoid the crowds on the sidewalk. Or I did walk there. I don’t walk there anymore. And I would suggest to all women to avoid that buffer zone as well. Or at least be on high alert as you walk by all of those waiting cars.

45 seconds after I left my date, just as I approached 8th Avenue, a man leapt from out of nowhere – from between two of the town cars – and pounced on me, grabbing hold of both of my breasts with both of his hands, squeezing so hard I had finger-print bruises on my breasts the next day, and whipping me around – by my breasts – screaming in my face, “NICE TITTIES, BITCH, NICE TITTIES.” It was a crowded street. It was only 9:30, 10 o’clock. It all happened so fast that my reaction was totally instinctual, and immediate. The self-defense training my cop friends gave to me in my 20s kicked in (and I’ve used those techniques a couple of times. This is not my first time at this particular rodeo). I started screaming and flailing around, trying to get his hands off me, screaming, “GET OFF ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER” (I believe those were my exact words, and my diction was impeccable so there would be no mistaking my intent), and he kept screaming “NICE TITTIES, BITCH” and I flung out my fist wildly – going for his eyes (like my cop friend told me to: “Girls always go for the nuts. Don’t go for the nuts. Go for the eyes.”) – but my fist missed and I punched his throat instead. I was screaming the whole time. Nobody came over to help me. It probably only lasted about 10 seconds so there wasn’t time. If I hadn’t made a scene, Lord knows what would have happened. Girls, #1 rule: Make a scene. Your life depends on it. I made a scene – just like I was supposed to do, just like my cop friends drilled into my head, to attract attention. And whaddya know, still nobody helped me – but the most important thing was that the message to my attacker was clear: If you continue to attack me, I will fight the entire time, and do you really want to put yourself through something like that? When I punched him in the throat, I heard a quick gurgle-grunt sound from him, and he let me go, and I staggered away from him, screaming back at him, “YOU MOTHERFUCKER,” once more for good measure.

The sidewalk was crowded with people. Nobody came over to me to ask if I was all right. But that didn’t occur to me at the time as some outrageous awful thing. Probably because, hell, obviously I didn’t NEED any help. I just punched him and he stopped attacking me. “Uhm, yeah, that woman has it covered, I think.”

I will not be believed but Scout’s Honor, after he let go of me, I put my ear-buds back in, and – as I stalked down the blocks towards the bus station – my mind immediately went back to: “What the fuck was that date all about …” (When I told my friends this, they howled with laughter. Some stranger just flung you around the street by your breasts and the first thing you think of when you get away is, “Wow, that was a weird date I just had, huh?” All I can do is tell the truth.) The attack was just a blip on the radar screen, and DEFINITELY not the weirdest thing that happened to me that night. The weirdest thing was the date and the awkward-pantomime towards the cell phone that I still couldn’t quite parse. A friend of mine asked if I went to report the attack to the police. Huh? I said, “Of course not.” I didn’t even have a sense that it was this horrible thing that had happened. I was walking away from the date – I was attacked – and then I took the bus home, still running in my mind the last 24 hours and wondering if I had mis-read the FB messages and texts, and what the hell had just gone down. On the date. Not on 8th Avenue.

My date and I were still so close – geographically – that as he walked to his subway after our date he probably could have heard – dimly – some woman screaming “GET OFF ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER” from the next Avenue over. That’s how close in time/space the two events were.

The Two Things Became One Thing

In the days that followed I did notice, shall we say, that my date had not texted me saying “Had a great time” or any of the other niceties. After all that “we should be friends” business. Something weird had definitely gone down at the end of our time together, but I couldn’t say what it was. At all. It very well may have been me, although I think we co-created the weirdness. Action, equal re-action. Very quickly, in the couple days after, I thought, “Jesus, though, imagine if he hadn’t told me about the kid and the baby-mama.” I knew what would have happened then. I would have texted him the next day: “Had a great time! Want to do it again?” And he most probably would have … iced me, or ghosted me. Or maybe not, maybe he would have been like, “We just have a kid together. We’re not in a relationship. I felt awkward and didn’t know how to say that. Can we try it again?” That is an EQUAL possibility, but it didn’t occur to me until much later. I felt grateful that he DID, through his awkwardness, tell me of his situation because, inadvertently, he spared me the humiliation of trying to reach out, and him having to turn me down, or say “Sorry, I think you misinterpreted me … I’m not available.” If he had done THAT, he would have felt my Wrath. So in a way he spared us both that. Fine, so it was just this weird 24 hours where my phone was buzzing with his texts, and now afterwards … crickets … and so okay, chalk it up to weird, move on.

Literally, nothing came into my mind about the violence of the attack that came 45 seconds after I left that guy’s side.

When it finally returned, about 4 or 5 days after the whole thing, it returned with a vengeance, but it didn’t return as its own event, it returned as a SYMBOL that EXPLAINED the date, and CONTEXTUALIZED what had happened, it was a Message from the Universe about My Place In It.

I had felt safe with my date, for a variety of reasons. He was attentive, he was a good listener, and he seemed interested in me and what I was about. All of this was true. I don’t think any of that was a lie, or a trick, or anything else. (We are still friends on FB and we Like each other’s posts, and it’s all fine and in its proper place.) And so I – who never feel safe – ever ever ever – felt safe. That’s why I noticed it. (“Oh, he’s asking me about me …” Men who only talk about themselves and don’t even THINK to say “So how about you?” are my #1 Turn-Off.) Safety on this level does not mean anything significant like, “Finally. Here is The One.” I am far past any of that. I didn’t attach any romantic significance to it, or at least not further down the line than that particular moment sitting across the table from him. He was working on that date, as all Good Men should do, just like I was working, although it wasn’t work like drudgery-work, just work like being-a-good-social-person-with-manners work: making conversation, talking, asking questions about the other person, listening, making jokes, even going a little bit deep. All of this takes work, and we both were doing it, and so we had a good time. This is how it should go. So. When I say safety on this particular level, that’s what I mean. And I don’t question any of this, Cellphone-In-Pocket-Pantomime notwithstanding. I had a very good time with him. That remains.

But safety also has a larger meaning, with huge significance and potential treachery for me. So what happened was that one sense of safety – the momentary – bled into another sense of safety – the permanent/assumed/buffer-zone/net-underneath, like a small creek pouring into a huge rushing river of associations. That’s where the boundaries get messy. Romantic couple relationships provide a certain measure of safety. I’m not talking about physical safety (although once the mania started ratcheting up, it became about physical safety too: If I had been walking with him – or with any man-partner-mate – I would never have been attacked. This is reality.). I’m just talking about: You are part of a duo, you are not alone. You have someone to back you up, run interference, bounce ideas off of, cheerlead, or even just distract you with jokes, mundane tasks, sex, and stupid fights about nothing. Not to mention societal acceptance – which I never really cared about (pursuing acting knocks that right out of you), but it must be there on some level. So, in general, I have a sense that nothing is safe, and I have to stand guard for myself. Be vigilant. Always. Nobody else is looking out for me. I was thrown to the wolves young. I was in therapy for 7 years and that bitch never clocked the cycles and so I was sentenced to another 10, 15 years, without a diagnosis. I got worse under her care. I am a LETHAL companion to myself at my worst. I am not safe in my own company. You see why safety is a huge deal to me. The only relationships I’ve had with men that were good and caring – with Michael and with him – gave me a BUFFER, not just between me and the world, but between me and my own lethal-ness. I remember saying some tremendously insane thing once, and Michael said, “Babe. No. That’s not what’s happening. At all.” And I trusted him and he said it with love so I listened to him, and his simple words sort of shuffled the experience around, making it smaller, and I was able to move OVER the abyss where normally I would have fallen. That process takes much longer when I am by myself.

So even though my sense of safety during a conversation with this guy was a small thing and not meaningful in a Long-term “This is The One” Relationship way, just a feeling of having a nice time and being comfortable with him, it all kind of poured into one container in my mind, labeled: Safety(TM), or The Lack of It In Your Life. Exhibit A: Nice Titties Man on 8th Avenue.

So. If I can clock the progression:

I had a delayed reaction to the assault. It took about 4 days for me to even remember it. Or consider that I might need to do some processing about what had happened. It flat out did not exist for me.

But when I finally did take a second to go, “Wait a second … member THAT? What was THAT?” it instantly became looped in with the date-gone-awry. The two separate things operated like mercury, racing to be at one with the other, and I could do nothing to stop it. I had no sense that it was anything to BE stopped because it was just so OBVIOUS that one thing had led to another. Later, when I was talking to one of my doctors, she said she was hearing “victim-blaming” language, but she wasn’t getting me, she wasn’t getting what I was saying, the larger issue of it, the whole Triangle of it. Honestly, all she was trying to do was have me snap out of the belief that the two things were the same thing and that somehow the date had led to what happened next. And okay, that’s totally valid. But once the train leaves the station, it takes an act of enormous willpower – buffered by support – to slow all that shit down. I was incapable of it.

If I had to write it down – and that’s the task I’ve given myself – here are how my thoughts went, once I remembered the attack:

You thought you were safe. Silly you. You are not safe. You were deluded in thinking you were safe, even for the couple of hours you were with that guy. You are not safe at all, and to REMIND you of that, here is an attacker, literally 45 seconds after you walked away from your date. You see? Yes, if you were walking with your date, if the date had continued and you two were walking together on the same route, you never would have been attacked. But how many times do we (we? I guess it was The Universe, it was definitely a chorus of taunts) have to remind you that safety of that kind is not for you and never will be? You still don’t get it? It used to be that we’d give you months of time to realize you were not safe. But we’re sick of it, so now we’re gonna throw it in your face 45 seconds later.

Sheila, admit it. The thought had crossed your mind that any date carries a possibility that there might be a little boob-touching at the end of it, if things go well. Well, don’t you see that YOU GOT YOUR WISH. You cannot deny that your boobs were, indeed, touched that night, can you? Yes, you have bruise-handprints on your tits from that touch, but you didn’t specify it should be a GENTLE touch. Hahahahaha, you asked for something and we gave it to you. It’s a pretty funny joke, isn’t it.

You want to be touched. Well, here’s a touch, bitch. Don’t say we never give you what you want.

You think you’re safe? You think for one second you were safe on that date? You are worth nothing to him. You ARE nothing. He was just trolling for a hookup. He had no interest in you. Not really. Your desire for safety makes you WEAK. Your desire for safety SCREWS WITH YOUR RADAR, don’t you KNOW that? STOP looking for safety. Never ever lull yourself into a state of relaxation. And if you DO, we will make sure you pay a price for it.

He offered safety for a couple of hours and then withdrew it. And look what happened. What would it feel like to have had BACKUP during the attack? What would it be like to have backup, support? I will never know what that is like, I am on my own. I am on my own. Not like this is news, I KNOW I am on my own, and I do fine on my own, and I’ve had to fight men off me before, but the date somehow opened up another possibility – and then immediately shut off that possibility – so much so that I had to punch some stranger in the throat less than a block away … and so now all I feel is how vulnerable I am. Not emotionally, but physically.

Safety is not possible. It’s not for you. It’s not for you. How many times do we have to teach you this? Why do you still not get it? Don’t you understand by now that we will KILL you in order for you to finally get it?

That’s what it was like inside my head. For 5 straight days. I was beside myself. I cried from morning till night. I fell into bed exhausted. I woke up like this:

For 5 days. I called no one. I told no one. I thought I was being really silly, actually, and was embarrassed at my CLEAR over-reaction. I thought it was a silly thing to get so worked up over, both the date AND the assault. I was embarrassed by the whole thing, but it hit me so hard and so all-of-a-sudden that I didn’t have time to erect any defenses. I floundered for days. I was scared to leave my apartment because I thought I might be killed, that something was out to get me. I made serious promises to never allow myself to feel safe again. That that was a dumb dumb thing, to look forward to going on a date, to curling my hair, to having a good time. Dummy dumb dumb. Look what happened. I had a therapy session already scheduled, and showed up in this state. I was so far gone that I could not be talked out of my interpretation. I fought hard for it. It was 100% real. “THIS is what I get for feeling safe.” The train was so far out of the station that she called in the Big Guns, and that’s when I had the hissing conversation with the Head Honcho in the lobby where I worked. The Head Honcho had also put me on drugs a month before, and I said to him, “CLEARLY THEY’RE NOT WORKING.”

Both doctors said basically the same thing to me.

“Sheila, any person – with or without a bipolar diagnosis – would be upset and traumatized by such a series of events.” “This is a delayed reaction to the assault and that’s very common.” “The date with that guy did not lead directly to the assault. The assault was a completely random event, and horrible, but one did not CREATE the other.” “You did NOTHING. You asked for NONE of this. You have NOTHING to do with why ANY of this happened.”

I still didn’t believe a word they said to me. It all sounded like bullshit. The way they talked, I was just some victim or something. They were avoiding the Grander Truth that I had glimpsed. But their words did somehow create a speed bump, and I could actually feel the Brutalist edifice crack open a bit, and some other kind of clarity become possible. And then it was possible to actually talk about the assault, and the adrenaline that comes about because of something like that. Even me saying I shouldn’t have walked where I was walking when it happened got the “Don’t victim-blame” response, and I rolled my eyes. I am taking responsibility for my part in it. If I had been on the sidewalk with everyone else, he couldn’t have reached me. Come on. But whatever, okay, I won’t talk that way anymore if it’s not helping.

Somehow, somehow, I got back on track but it took me about a month. Both doctors told me I should have called them immediately, to recognize the signs of a gigantic cycle ratcheting up. But to me, it wasn’t a “cycle.” It was just the most valid reaction to what had happened. They spoke to me like I was not getting it: “If you cry for 24 hours straight, call us immediately even if you feel like crying for 24 hours is normal.” I was like, Okay, fine, if you think that’s not normal, then okay, I’ll call you next time.

What On Earth Have We Learned From All of This?

Jack-squat.

To be honest, the two separate things still are (somewhat) one thing in my mind. I still feel that they are most probably connected. (Triangle.) But I’ll trust the people in my life – the doctors and friends and family – who insist that the two events have nothing to do with each other.

Then again, it’s also possible that I have misunderstood and misinterpreted this whole entire thing.

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104 Responses to How It Went Down, Or: As I Remember It: Two Separate Things Became One Thing.

  1. Deborah Hymes says:

    {{ HUGS }}

    It’s going to take me a bit to process this and then circle back. But I don’t want to leave this amazing post just hanging out there without a response in the meantime. I love that you wrote all this down. I love that you’ve put it out there. And I thank you.

    Deborah <3

    • Deborah Hymes says:

      Sheila, I agree with you that the two events were related. It seems so clear, yes? That’s not to say that one was caused by the other.

      Doesn’t the sequence of events remind you of Jung’s thinking around synchronicity? He defined it as an “acausal connecting principle” between events.

      The story is that Jung had a hyper-rational patient who was at an impasse in her treatment, as her logic wouldn’t allow for the assimilation of unconscious information. One night she dreamed of a golden scarab. As she recounted her dream to Jung, an insect began knocking at the window — which turned out to be a golden scarab. Even aside from the timing, the species was not native to that climate. So not merely coincidence, but synchronicity.

      When seemingly unconnected events occur simultaneously, yet feel profound in their proximity to one another, then the events rise above a simple coincidence and become synchronous. In fact, the two events are considered significant precisely because they are acausal. The very fact that both events occurred simultaneously, while “factually” unrelated, is specifically why they were noteworthy.

      What’s “true” isn’t an absolute. Truth can be synchronistic, rather than causal; emotional rather than factual; quantum rather than linear. For you, the two events together reveal an emotional truth. So there is indeed a truth in the connection.

      I don’t think “I’m not physically safe” is necessarily the end of the logic. Your perspective on that particular truth may continue to evolve. But wherever you end up with it, there are two things that are clear to me:

      1) Your sense that the two events are deeply connected is A truth and cannot be discounted or dismissed simply because that truth doesn’t fall within the limitations of “factual.”

      2) Our understanding of the quantum nature of reality is very much in its infancy. To simply dismiss the possibility of quantum entanglement — and god-knows-what-else — as “magical thinking” simply because we don’t currently know as much as we will in the future, is no different than Galileo being forced to recant his “belief” that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

      Oh, and then there’s the third thing: The woman abides. ;)

      • sheila says:

        Debbie – yes, the connections between the two events seemed (and still seem) unavoidable. I think if there had been even just 24 hours between the two events I might not have had such a strong reaction. The attack seemed to ANSWER the disappointment of the date, the withdrawal of the safety I felt at that table with him.

        I am very intrigued by Jung’s theories on synchronicity and I know that it is a universal experience … those “coincidences” that come up. You can write them off as “wow, what a coincidence” and sometimes that seems appropriate. Like, you think of a song, and then hear it on the radio a short time later.

        The problem – for me – is the meaning that I make out of it. Or not just that, but that the meaning then leads me to decisions and choices (usually self-destructive) – or to creating something as deadly as the Triangle. “Okay, life is chaotic and random, so let me construct a Triangle so that I avoid the abyss.”

        and that’s what (I believe) my docs sensed me doing. Also that I felt I was being PUNISHED for feeling safe on the date, for being excited about him, for having fun.

        In other words, that the Universe is a malevolent force.

        This is the kind of thinking that cannot be allowed to gain a foothold in my life and I know that that’s how I was speaking to them – “This is what I get … when will I learn my lesson … LOOK WHAT HAPPENED when I was stupid enough to relax for 2 seconds …”

        That’s what they were trying to combat.

        But I still believe – as you beautifully say here – that A Truth was revealed – a painful truth – one I did not want revealed, a Truth I have learnt before – like: “Oh, you again??” – and I have yet to put a positive spin on it with a chirpy, “At least you put yourself out there!” “Taking risks is good!”

        No. Not from where I’m standing.

        So it’s still a bit tangled, and I still – when I think about it – feel like the attack was a punishment for the date – or an illumination of the LIE that safety is …

        I mean, I don’t think about this too much. It was last year, and honestly it dissipated within a month or so – it’s not throbbing in my soul like a wound or anything like that – haha. It’s close to the surface now because I just wrote about it, but pretty quickly it shuffled down into its proper size – which was life-size – a series of random events – weird and connected – but not “meaning” any one thing in particular.

        Thanks for taking the time to craft such a thoughtful response! I appreciate it!

  2. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, I knew from reading that something had happened last year, but it was never clear to me what it was. I thought it was physical, so I went back and read some of your stuff, and it’s there in the writing. Treatment is hard. I know. But it is so much better than no treatment. Sometimes I torture myself thinking about being this way in 1650. I cannot even fathom. It may be a cliche, but I do thank you for this.

    • sheila says:

      Melissa – Thanks.

      // I knew from reading that something had happened last year //

      ? Really? Well, a lot happened last year – and most of it was awesome! – it was a great year – I bounced back pretty quick, all things considered. It all started to seem extremely dream-like very soon after. And there were parts of it that were funny – and still strike me as funny – even the fact that these two things happened one on top of the other has a comedic element to it.

      and yeah, if I were alive in 1650 … well, I wouldn’t be alive. I’d be dead. Or in chains in a dungeon somewhere. Or perhaps burned at the stake.

      Thanks for reading and commenting – as always. I appreciate it.

  3. DeAnna says:

    I wrote, deleted and rewrote a ton of comments but I guess I’ll just say that I adore you and I wish I could start a charity to disarm all those explosives in that minefield inside our heads. I’ll be the Princess Diana of our minds!

    Love you!

  4. Anne says:

    Dear dear Sheila, this kind of post is so amazing. For one thing, even people who think of themselves as relatively ok are subject to magical thinking. So there is a continuum, and I for one can relate. Also, this helps me understand a friend of mine who has been struggling through a very rough time, who is reluctant to talk about the thoughts of hers that go into this range. And since I saw her earlier this year I have wondered over and over what her subjective experience has been like. So thanks for the insight. (Not that it’s the same, of course, but ballpark.)

    I almost want to tell a bit of her story, because it has a sexual assault angle, too. It’s almost like violence against women is a factor in the ailments they have! But I’d have to disguise it pretty thoroughly. And anyway this may not be the time or place. But thanks again.

    • sheila says:

      Anne – so interesting (and sad) about your friend. I saw a couple of your tweets and I assume that they were a continuation of your comment here. Fascinating: the connections one makes … sometimes making connections is good. People who NEVER make connections … I don’t know, they’re missing something in life. Some level of engagement escapes them. But then there’s the bad/dangerous making connections …

      If you’re vulnerable (physically, emotionally – I consider my illness a physical illness – it’s just easier to deal with that way) – then connections provide a framework, a way to “make sense” of the information flooding in at you. It’s so easy to then make the leap that one thing is connected to another, and The Universe has a message just for you, and that if you could just get close enough you could see the Pattern underlying the whole thing …

      It’s kind of like the eternal appeal of Conspiracy Theories. Not just the desire to see beneath the surface, but the belief that there is a pattern in the first place.

      Thanks, as always, Anne – I always love to hear from you. I hope your friend is doing okay.

      • Anne says:

        I’m up late – having just written up my thoughts on The Girls. I felt compelled to deal with it at length! (It’s my pinned tweet right now.) I got a bit frustrated trying to read the book, because I lost it in my cluttered house for several days, and then attacked it again once I tidied up and located it.

        I did write about my friend, but then took it down. It’s not really my story to tell. Although, god, I’ve been thinking about it so much since I saw her. I think she’s basically ok now, and she definitely recognized that something was wrong and it seemed to be contained to those couple of weeks. But it shook her. I really do wonder about the guy. Gives me chills thinking about him.

        I am glad you have such good people looking after you and helping you.

        • sheila says:

          I read your Girls piece, Anne – really interesting!!

          I loved a lot of the writing – but found it frustrating too – the more I think about it, the more I feel that way about it. I feel like it skated off the surface of its own potential – like there was so much more going on there and it felt to me like the writer tiptoed away from it. (The biggest thing for me was Suzanne pushing Evie out of the car. Nope. Didn’t buy it. and not just because Susan Atkins would never have done that – although the 1-to-1 connection with the Manson case was also a problem for me. I wish she had invented more, and not stuck to the personalities in the Manson clan.)

          It was good to hear your thoughts on it.

  5. Abigail says:

    Sheila, I think you have been very brave in writing about your experiences. It can be a pretty rough world out there and you have gone through a lot. It sounds as if you have a strong network of friends and family and I hope they are a strength and comfort. I have come to really enjoy your writing over the last few years and look forward to plenty more. Hang in there!

  6. Elliott says:

    This is a compelling piece of writing. I especially like the contrast between the idiosyncratic way the things placed themselves in your consciousness and the clarity with which you recalled thing one, and especially the crux of it, where the guy changes before your eyes.

    It definitely sounds like a night that would have shaken anyone.

    • sheila says:

      Elliott – thank you for the perspective that the night would have shaken anyone. I still need to hear stuff like that.

      // especially the crux of it, where the guy changes before your eyes. //

      He really did. It was amazing.

  7. Stevie says:

    I don’t see how it’s so wrong to put those two things together. They happened to you, two big things, two HUGE things, one after the other, so why wouldn’t you draw a conclusion that somehow they were related, or at least spoke to you about something similar? Related in the sense that you saw that they were related, two random occurrences but both playing in the same world of perceived safety, perceived security, versus real safety, real security. And you had an epiphany. And that epiphany was devastating. I get that. I get how you would come to a conclusion that emotional risk and physical risk are on a continuum. You were at emotional risk with the date/maybe date/frisson of attraction. You were at physical risk with the vile attack. Is it worth leaving the house when you could be subjected to emotional risk or physical risk? Maybe for a week afterward, no, it’s not worth it. Then the psychological safety net starts rebuilding itself, and there is a sense that everything we do has a level of risk, it’s all a cost-benefit analysis, it’s all a gamble. It’s a gamble to leave the house, it’s a gamble to stay home, it’s a gamble to reach out to somebody emotionally, it’s a gamble to be in close proximity to strangers. In order for us to carry on, to move forward, to move… we risk. And we take a risk when we correlate, when we make connections, when we think things through, when we try to see the bigger picture, when we try to put our experiences into perspective. Funny, my friend calls it triangulation. You are a person of enormous complexity and enormous insight. I recognize that and celebrate it. I thank God for it. When you have a perception that is different from how others might perceive things, I love it. I exalt in it! The last thing in the world I want you to experience is any kind of suffering. But suffering is the reality. I love you beyond measure. I treasure you. I see you. Xxx Stevie

    • sheila says:

      Stevie – I love you. You’re the best!!

      Triangulation – really?? See, I was onto something – I knew it!!

      I agree with all you say here. and it was a “devastating epiphany” – one that I feel I have already learned far too many times. Like: can’t I learn something ELSE? Like safety can last for more than 4 hours??

      But that’s neither here nor there. I was trying to deal with the situation – and they were the same thing – and so I tried to contextualize it – or the way my brain works, I just was trying to put it all together and DEAL with it.

      I will never be a Zen-like “it is what it is” person (thank goodness) and I try to be honest about reality and what it throws at me. I think my docs were mainly concerned at the malevolence I was sensing in the Universe – that it was out to get me expressly. That me allowing myself to feel safe had somehow brought on the attack. A to B. And because that feeling was very real to me – I was making decisions based on it. They just wanted me to step back a tiny bit – and deal with each separate thing separately. Okay, date gone weird. Not your fault. He gave you every reason to believe he was single, and that it was a date. You are not an idiot for believing in that. He is also not a Satanic Manipulative User. Who knows what was happening with him, whatever it was, it was not your fault. Check. It was not your fault that you were attacked, even considering where you were walking. And the attack was random, and had nothing to do with the fact that you allowed yourself to have a good time with that guy. Check.

      This is what they kept saying to me over and over. And I can see their point. I really can.

      But I still can see my point. Honestly, I try not to think about it too much, because I can still feel the Triangle waiting for me. So I just move on. It happened. It sucked. I’m still alive. None of it is my fault. I’m human. Shit happens.

      hahahaha

      But thank you for your friendship and for putting this out there. xoxoxo

  8. blue girl says:

    Hey Sheila, in the middle of reading this, I wanted to take your hand and go for a walk together. You are not alone, although I know it feels that way so much of the time, and I can relate to that. Reaching out with love.

  9. mutecypher says:

    “Master of Puppets” here. “Enter Sandman” for . this

    If you ever start to think the universe is like the scientists in Clockwork Orange, only it’s using Metallica instead of Ludwig van to teach a horrorshow lesson.. please recognize the false generalization.

    Crappy joke aside, love you.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process. It must be a scary thing to have such a powerful instrument betray you. You are an extraordinary person to fight through this. I’m glad you have help. And I’m glad you share this with us. Bless you.

    • sheila says:

      Well, I listen to Metallica – on average – every day. So I think anything that happens – any time – would have a Metallica song attached to it!

      and thanks!

  10. Maureen says:

    Oh Sheila! I’m so sorry you had to go through this. What a terrible night.

    As an outsider, reading about what to me, what was quite obviously a date-the fact you felt connected to him, felt secure-then to have the rug pulled out from under you-that would throw anyone for a loop. THEN to be assaulted, in a horrible way-no wonder you cried for days. You had a really awful experience, and you seem to be someone who shoulders through these kind of things, that would bring other people to their knees. This was a really shitty thing to happen to you.

    I would love to kick both those guys in the nuts, because they both suck. The date guy gave you every signal that he was interested and single. I’ve been out of the dating scene for a long time, but even to me-as out of practice as I am-he was clearly expressing more than a “friendly vibe”.

    I take vicarious pleasure that you punched that other guy in the throat, and I am sad no one came to help you. How far removed from human empathy have we come?

    You are so valued by all your readers-you bring us so much pleasure with your insights and your hard work. I know I am not alone in wishing you all the best, and a “plague on both their houses” for the men who so disrespected you that night.

    • sheila says:

      Maureen – thank you so much! It’s actually very helpful to hear people’s outside perspective on these things, because it’s still all rather confusing to me, especially the date part. I mean, I don’t lie awake at nights wondering about it – I just assume that he thought it was platonic, or at least innocent(ish) – realized at some point during the night that he wanted to bang me, and then tried to extricate himself, awkwardly, from that. (And for that, I actually thank him. Other guys would have just gone right ahead with the Banging Pursuit.) Anyway, but yeah, in the moment I felt like: “Wow, we both have so mis-read this thing, and I have no idea what is happening … and I cannot WAIT to get away from him.” (Little did I know what was waiting for me the second I left his side.)

      In re: the attack: It honestly could not have lasted more than 15 seconds. But yeah, really crowded sidewalk. Nobody came to help.

      Lame, New Yorkers. LAME.

      Thank you for all your nice words!!

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and about Thing One: In writing this down, I did realize that – even though he started it – with feeling me out “do you drink coffee with other people?” – it was actually ME who “asked him out.” I was the one who took the lead and invited him to something because I could feel he wanted to do it but wasn’t. So he never expressly asked me out, even though he was working his way up to it, hinting at it.

      He knew what he was doing. I’m not saying he was a User, that’s not helpful for me to think like that – makes me into a victim – but he knew that this was a date-like proposition – that he wanted to see me – he knew he probably shouldn’t be doing it – but he hinted, and then I saved the day by “finishing his sentence.”

      It’s all so clear NOW but at the time I just thought he was shy.

    • Debra Thomas says:

      Thank you so much for this. It’s exactly like how I feel.

  11. Brooke A. L. says:

    Oh, Sheila O’Malley, there’s so much to say and to think about here. Namely, what did I read online before I found SOM? I loved this bit: I finally realized: “Oh. He’s asking me out. That’s what’s happening. Duh. And he probably thinks I’m playing hard-to-get, when actually, no, I’m just dense.” I’m just dense! Love that. I say “dense” all the time. Such a funny word.

    I have suffered from something like mental illness/emotional trauma/rarest personality/avoidant personality type, etc etc since I was four, so none of this seems strange to me. Not in quite the same boat as you, but I definitely get the thought process you have around these events which are, to put it mildly, utterly bizarre. I had intended to read this tomorrow but I started and couldn’t stop. I will be cranky and tired tomorrow, but it was sure worth it.

    I am so glad you are on the planet, Sheila. You are just exceptional. Never stop writing. We need you! Big hugs and lots of love from T.O.

    • sheila says:

      Brooke – thank you so much! You are so sweet – and not at all “dense” (ha. I love that word.)

      It’s helpful to hear that other people would have had a hard time processing the night as well – it really does – because I thought I was over-reacting, and still – at a certain level – I think that.

      Thanks again. And hang in there!

  12. Jessie says:

    Thank you so much for this Sheila. Even sharing something so personal your gifts for analysis via storytelling shine through. This was funny and interesting and harrowing in equal measure, which is saying something considering how awful the experience must have been.

    This is not the way my brain works, but these processes — or elements of them, or something close to them, under different diagnosis* — are a big part of the brains of several people very dear to me — well, including yourself! The pattern-making, the connections that confirm narratives particularly around events that carry meanings of loss, safety, and self-worth. Like the event is the evidence is the conclusion. I often find myself mystified or almost ambushed by the behind the scenes connections made. Every time I get a bit more insight into it I am grateful. So thanks again! And I’m so glad you have people around you that you trust to unhook some of these connections.

    *It seems to me (and I may well be wrong) that a couple of years ago you were hesitant to use the specific word bipolar so if your usage today is meaningful to you in some positive way then I’m glad for that too!

    • sheila says:

      Jessie – yes, I did not name my diagnosis when I first wrote about it. I didn’t want the label attached to me – people think they understand bipolar when they don’t, or they … I don’t know … But finally I decided, “Oh, who the hell CARES.” :)

      Your perspective on watching this go down in people you love is fascinating and so illuminating!!

      // The pattern-making, the connections that confirm narratives particularly around events that carry meanings of loss, safety, and self-worth. Like the event is the evidence is the conclusion. //

      This is really really astute.

      It was a “connection that confirmed a narrative” around loss, loneliness and safety. LAND MINES. That then EXPLODED. That’s exactly what happened – the narrative was confirmed. Danger Will Robinson. And that’s what my docs were trying to combat – not trying to minimize the two events and the impact on me – but how much I was using those two things (not consciously) to confirm this horrifying stingy and self-destructive narrative that said, “This is all you can expect from life, Sheila. Give it up already.”

      Thank you so much, Jessie – for reading and commenting.

  13. Sheila!
    I felt too, as some comments above, compelled to write right away when I would usually take a little time to get thoughts together and be a little more coherent but I couldn’t let this just go by.
    I felt so much varying emotions from, “Oh Goody! It’s an essay by Sheila, my favorite posts, I’m settling in! to “Oh, this is intense, to laughing OUT LOUD, this is hilarious! To feeling heavily slammed, holy shit… to Oh NO, those fuckers! To feeling informed about something I don’t know much about. Well, I might put those two incidents together too. That’s why I would hesitate to write, to not say something stupid. It’s like if I said to a clinically depressed person, “I know, I get the blues all the time” No, that’s not it. So I’m also learning something.
    And all along the writing IS so fine but how can I just say brightly “thank you for the great writing!” But it is. And I thank you.

    • sheila says:

      Regina – ha … I’m so glad you found some of it funny. When I told it later to my friends, it did come out as a gigantic comedy routine. “You are not going to beLIEVE the night I just had.” My friend Allison basically fell off the armchair when I got to the attack. Seeing things as funny is definitely one very healthy way to survive. Denial? I’m a BIG FAN.

      // Well, I might put those two incidents together too. //

      I really need to hear these things. Thank you!!

      It was such a crazy night. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Concussion Time.

  14. Lesley says:

    First, about you. I celebrate your rigorous candor and bravery and intellect and analytical skills and of course your indomitable presence in your writing and your life. And I hope things are going relatively smoothly for you at present, both physically and emotionally.

    In life’s rich banquet I have a differently loaded but also very full plate. One cluster of recurrent thoughts/fears is around how I can possibly hope to ever ride herd on all of it, get day-to-day life under control sufficiently to free up enough time and energy to actually do significant work writing and somehow, serving other people. And bringing in some income, while we’re at it. One of my minefields is surveying the wreckage of the battlefield that my life appears to be in my more vulnerable and discouraged moments and thinking, There is just no way, the best I can manage is keeping just my head above the swirling waters—abandon all hopes, goals, ambitions. I am grateful that this was long ago unmasked as not some Grand Truth but a huge misread. But then I look to others who are also grappling with really tough stuff and still managing to have lives that are meaningful, productive, and driven by love. So I’m adding you to my reference list of strong, resilient, vibrant, women who abide. And I thank you for your honest life and writing.

    Last, I am just so sorry for what happened to you that night—you were a total heroine in fighting that asshole off. I hate what it left you with, what it precipitated, the suffering it caused you. I hate that these assaults, physical and otherwise, are random, that there is no pattern in which we can find rational explanation and therefore a way to avoid them. I hate that there isn’t a limit on the number of challenges one person has to face, that a bell doesn’t ring and after that we’ve satisied our deductible and can get through the rest of our lives (or at least a fucking year) with no fresh horrors. Since that’s not possible the next best thing is not feeling uniquely doomed and alone. Thank you for reminding me that neither of us are either of those things.

    • Deborah Hymes says:

      //So I’m adding you to my reference list of strong, resilient, vibrant, women who abide.//

      Ah, I love this — “The woman abides.” Such a perfect motto for Sheila, on so many levels. =))

    • sheila says:

      // One cluster of recurrent thoughts/fears is around how I can possibly hope to ever ride herd on all of it, get day-to-day life under control sufficiently to free up enough time and energy to actually do significant work writing and somehow, serving other people. //

      Oh, Lesley. I am your fellow-traveler in this. I so so get it. It is so anxiety-provoking – the sands running out of the hourglass – but there’s so much to handle on a day to day basis … will I ever catch up? I so understand this.

      // There is just no way, the best I can manage is keeping just my head above the swirling waters—abandon all hopes, goals, ambitions. I am grateful that this was long ago unmasked as not some Grand Truth but a huge misread. //

      Boy oh boy. Grand Truths being misread. It’s amazing how we do this to ourselves – I am so so glad this was unmasked for you. I am so glad that the Truth was revealed as not a Truth at all.

      And about the attack, here’s the funny thing:

      In the aftermath, once the storm had passed, I found myself thinking far more about the date than the attack. I got over the attack super quick. I wondered if I was in denial, or … what the hell, Sheila? I’ve had many scary experiences with men before, so it’s not like I was horrified that this could happen … but seriously: how could I bounce back so quickly, and why would the silly DATE remain in my head for a longer time?

      I came to the conclusion that in the date I felt confusion and like I had questions and like I had no idea what just happened. I almost wanted to reach out and say, “Uhm, what just happened?” to him. (Of course I didn’t.) I wished that I had said something to him at the time – even something as simple as – “Oh … okay … I thought this was a date … ” Just to ADDRESS what I was feeling and thinking and give it voice. I need to be better at that. My fight-or-flight kicked in, and when the “safety” left, I shut down and wrote him off and couldn’t get away from him quickly enough. Fair enough – but I still wished I had said at least SOMEthing – because I deserved to say something, and my experience at that table was as valid as his, and why didn’t I feel like I deserved to voice any of that? I couldn’t own the fact that it CLEARLY was a date. I definitely would have been well within my “rights” to say something at the time. But I didn’t. So the event lingered in my head a bit longer.

      But with the attack? I had ZERO confusion, and whatever I felt about it – I had expressed in the moment while punching his throat. I left NOTHING on the table there. Fear, rage, action: it all happened in the moment. I didn’t cringe, I didn’t let him make me feel like a victim, I let him know he was going to have a hell of a time going further with whatever he wanted to do, and I was proud of myself for how I handled it.

      So there was nothing left on the table – whereas I left a lot of stuff unsaid at the end of the date. I got over the attack almost instantly.

      so that’s a weird thing, but definitely something I thought about at the time.

  15. Dan Leo says:

    Thanks for this, Sheila. It reminded me of one time I saw an obviously crazy man accosting a young woman on the street. I went over, got between him and her with my arm out at the guy, keeping him away, and we walked like that for a block and a half, the crazy guy babbling away and trying to grab the girl the whole time, and me pushing him away. Finally we saw a cab and stopped it, she got in the cab, almost hysterical by now because the crazy guy just wouldn’t quit. The crazy man even started to run after the cab as it drove away. Then I walked home…life is crazy sometimes.

    • Deborah Hymes says:

      <3

    • sheila says:

      Dan –

      1. There are so many uses of the word “crazy” in your comment! I know you don’t mean anything by it, just pointing it out … gently. :)

      2. Good for you for helping that woman!! I’m sure she will remember you ALWAYS for that. We need to be good neighbors to each other.

      • Dan Leo says:

        I was still thinking about that young woman tonight, wondering what ever happened with her, and hoping she wasn’t too traumatized by the incident – I never saw her again…and then of course there was that “disturbed” guy, who I’m sure had no idea what he was doing, another lost soul…I hadn’t thought about that incident in years until I read your amazing essay. Sadly there was also that phenomenon of every one else on the street seeming to be oblivious to what was going on, just as I’m sure there have been plenty of times I’ve been oblivious or too preoccupied with my own head to be bothered with what’s going on around me…Anyway, again, your essay is amazing, and I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since Farran turned me on to it.

        • sheila says:

          In my experience – even here in New York – the way nobody helped me on this particular occasion is an anomaly. I honestly think it was because the attack happened so quickly and was over so quickly and I got myself away all on my own.

          Speaking of which: Colum McCann – the novelist – who runs the Bloomsday celebration I attend – was at an event in New Haven, maybe a book reading – and a man was getting aggressive with a woman, I think outside the hotel, and McCann stepped in and the guy beat McCann so badly he ended up in the hospital. He recovered (I saw McCann at this past Bloomsday) … but he was a bold soul to step in and try to diffuse a volatile situation and got the crap beat out of him for it.

          I’m bummed because i really liked walking in that little buffer zone where nobody else walks, outside of the crush of the sidewalk. Yet another thing ruined!!

  16. Sarah says:

    Damn, woman. I totally get it. Like, I’m fairly certain that if the same events had happened to me in that order, I would have felt and thought the exact same things as you did, with the same supporting arguments/circular logic/internal Greek chorus, etc. Maybe the ONLY difference would’ve been a small but strident voice deep inside my head insisting the two events were totally unrelated and God Sarah, why are you torturing yourself like this?, etc. etc.

    That said, I definitely would’ve needed a stern talking-to from my therapist because I never listen to the tiny voice of reason that still speaks up inside me, even though she is roundly ignored in favor of despair and anguish, although this happens less and less the older I get. So I understand the hell you went through, and it is like reading someone you’ve never met writing about your own private thoughts and feelings (hi Chuck from Supernatural!), and all this is to say that I admire the hell out of you and wish nothing but good things for you for the rest of your life.

    • sheila says:

      Sarah – Thank you so much!! Ah, Chuck from Supernatural. What would we do without Supernatural as a reference point? I would be LOST. I was going to bring up Sam with Lucifer in his head … because that’s honestly what the illness feels like – especially in a circumstance like this … and why that whole “arc” was so awesome/upsetting for me. I wanted to go: THAT IS WHAT IT IS LIKE. And how Sam pressed the scar in his hand. To me, I was like: “That’s the Triangle. That’s how the Triangle worked. Until … it didn’t work anymore …”

      Okay, moving on.

      // Like, I’m fairly certain that if the same events had happened to me in that order, I would have felt and thought the exact same things as you did, with the same supporting arguments/circular logic/internal Greek chorus, etc. //

      It is so helpful to hear that so many other people would have had a similar reaction!! Circular logic – internal Greek chorus – hahahaha Oh man, those two things just suuuuuuck.

      You describe your thought processes and how these things operate very very well. How there is a battle of voices going on. I so get this.

      I so appreciate you reading and I so appreciate your comment!!

  17. Kristen says:

    This is small, I know, but I am thinking good thoughts for you, Sheila. I do so often. Brave Sheila. Brave, brave Sheila.

  18. Desirae says:

    Oh boy, do I recognize myself in your reaction to this series of events. I don’t have bipolar but I do have massive (and probably clinical) anxiety, and I’ve created preemptive catastrophes in just the same way, where everything was linked, and it’s a giant pattern that was telling me something, and of course that something was TERRIBLE. And it would never change, so I needed to be smarter and harder and never expect anything good to happen.

    But when I look back later, from the position of distance and time, I was trying to link tennis rackets to grilled cheese sandwiches.

    It’s tough. It is very tough to stop thinking that way. Because it feels like a kind of armor, and maybe in a limited way it is. The key word being ‘limited’.

    • sheila says:

      // where everything was linked, and it’s a giant pattern that was telling me something, and of course that something was TERRIBLE. //

      God, I know, right?? I am so sorry about your anxiety!

      Why can’t our brains reveal Grand Truths and Patterns that are BEAUTIFUL, as opposed to TERRIBLE?

      // I was trying to link tennis rackets to grilled cheese sandwiches. //

      hahahahaha I am sorry to laugh but I so get this!!

      Hang in there.

  19. Jay G says:

    Sheila,

    I don’t think I’ve commented for years, since I went overseas, but I feel compelled to now. I have had multiple people close to me with various psychiatric diagnoses, including bipolar disorder. And of course I see a lot of patients with such diagnoses as well. I’ve noticed that the hardest things for people, especially with bipolar, are to consistently be able to recognize their periods of deleterious thinking and to continue in treatment. It seems that you are currently doing well on both of these fronts. I’m glad you have found good health care providers who finally gave you the correct diagnosis and actually seem concerned for your well being.
    One thing that clearly isn’t negatively affected by any of this is your writing. I think you are the best, most interesting writer I’ve ever read. No shit.
    The assault you described in this post really is maddening. Obviously that it happened at all, but what the hell is the matter with the other people that were around? Why didn’t anybody help you and beat the guy senseless? I don’t understand. Anyway, I’m glad you had been taught something about how to defend yourself. A throat strike can be just as good as an eye gouge, so nice job! I’m a little perturbed by the fact that you have had to defend yourself on more than one occasion. Again, I don’t understand what the hell is wrong with people that would cause them to accost a woman. I hope this is the last time you have to use your fighting skills.
    Take care, Sheila, and try your best to allow others to be there for you, especially during those tines when you are most certain that you don’t need any help.

    • Deborah Hymes says:

      //One thing that clearly isn’t negatively affected by any of this is your writing. I think you are the best, most interesting writer I’ve ever read. No shit.//

      //Try your best to allow others to be there for you, especially during those tines when you are most certain that you don’t need any help.//

      Exactly this.

    • sheila says:

      Jay!!! So good to hear from you! You know, you come into my mind from time to time, and I’ll wonder how you are doing. I think the last time we corresponded you were in … Iraq? Or Afghanistan – I can’t remember. A long time ago! I hope you are doing well. I always enjoyed your comments here and your perspective.

      Thanks for your comment on my writing. It really means a lot.

      and yes, my doctors are great. They put up with a lot but they’re so used to it that nothing fazes them. I’ve gotten so much better and been more productive ever since they started caring for me. I was afraid they’d try to make me less intense or something, or try to calm me down, or make me be like everybody else. But they just help me to think things through because CLEARLY I need it.

      // what the hell is the matter with the other people that were around? //

      I’m with you on this. The sidewalk was crowded. Yes, it was over in a flash because I fought back – but … I don’t know, it was extremely lame that nobody helped, or came over to me afterwards to ask if I was okay.

      A “throat strike” – so that’s what I did!! Like a ninja. I will remember that for future use. And yeah, my cop friends in my 20s were so concerned because I strolled around at night going to parties wearing corsets and combat boots. They did not judge – at ALL – not once did they say, “Maybe you shouldn’t dress like that.” (If they had, they would not have been my friends.) Instead, they (there were 2 of them) were like, “Okay, so you dress like Courtney Love, and so here are some tips on what to do when guys are assholes to you.” And then we would practice the moves. I am very grateful to them – they were awesome and the advice was so practical. At LEAST gives you a sense of agency in your life, that there are things you can do that (might) work, that have been shown to work. Stuff you wouldn’t think of – like an “eye gouge” – because people protect their eyes and that protection is totally involuntary. EVERYONE is vulnerable about their eyeballs.

      It’s really good to hear from you – and your comment is very kind.

      • Jay G says:

        Sheila,

        Yes, good memory, it was Iraq. I didn’t get blown up so there is that. It was an interesting experience.
        I’m doing fairly well. Lots of life stuff since then, some really good and some really, really bad, hard stuff. I won’t go into it here, but overall, things are pretty positive. The best thing is that I have a seven yr old son. He is the greatest! I love him beyond measure. He is worth it even though I have to still interact with his mother because of him. It can intermittently be maddening. Sigh.
        The comment regarding your writing is completely deserved. I would say you have a gift, but I imagine being a great writer requires hard work so I don’t want to minimize that.
        When I read your stuff, it’s like a participatory experience. Really amazing. I think Bowden did that with Blackhawk Down and Junger with The Perfect Storm. It’s like you can feel, hear, taste everything that is being described. On top of that talent, you seem a true intellect with an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. Your posts on the founding fathers and history in general are some of my favorites. I’ve benefitted from you being a voracious reader. Thanks for sharing the way you do.
        So, would you term the guy that grabbed you and the people that didn’t do anything about it “jagoffs”? If I remember correctly from really old posts, that is a favorite descriptor of yours. Hahaha.
        Take care.

        • sheila says:

          Jay –

          Jagoff! Yes. My favorite. Even better is “jag” – not to be confused with the JAG Corps. “He’s such a jag.” It’s so descriptive and dismissive. The closest to what the term really means is “douchebag”, another favorite. The people who didn’t help were definitely jagoffs – but the guy who attacked me goes way way beyond that. More like “evil prick” or, better yet, “A Representative of Everything That is Wrong With This World And I Hope He is Unhappy With His Sorry Pathetic Little Life Where Clearly No Woman Has Ever Allowed Him to Touch Her Boobs Voluntarily.”

          // I didn’t get blown up so there is that. // This is always good news.

          Very sorry to hear about the bad hard stuff. I am glad to hear there is much that is good to counteract.

          Congratulations on becoming a dad! // I have to still interact with his mother because of him. // Oh dear. Life is never perfect. Still: happy for you.

          Writing, I guess, is hard work but I do it every day so it just feels like something that keeps my insane. I am currently working on a big essay for Criterion – my third thing for them – and those – things I write for outside people, for pay, with deadlines – those feel like hard work. It’s a different experience than writing here.

          Mark Bowden! My brother practically had a panic attack reading Blackhawk Down on the NY Subway – it was super crowded, and the book is so visceral – you are so on the ground with those guys (my cousin was there, not sure if I ever told you that – not out there in the city on that day, but there in Somalia on the base) – that he suddenly couldn’t breathe. I’ve been meaning to read it again, actually.

          And oh, the good old days of writing about history and the Founders! Now that is something I really miss, but I just don’t have time for it anymore. It sure brought a lot of interesting people to my site – yourself included.

          Really good to hear from you!

        • sheila says:

          Holy shit, Jay, 20 minutes after I wrote my comment to you – this link showed up on my FB newsfeed.

          https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160916/bridgeport/word-jagoff-finally-makes-oxford-english-dictionary

          !!!!

  20. TinaD says:

    Sheila:
    Did either of the shrinks talk about the biochemical effects of adrenaline on the amygdala? When you were attacked, the amygdala recorded and kept a sort of low-res picture of the setting and events surrounding the trauma. The amygdala isn’t conceptual, so it doesn’t distinguish between relevant and irrelevant factors, it just tapes them all for your forebrain to sort out the risks and causes later. (This is the essence of PTSD and probably what you cried about for a week.) So it actually makes sense biologically that you would conflate the two events. It also makes sense that you would spin out on the topic of safety. New York is a city that requires a certain amount of magical thinking to live in; to ever leave home, you have to assume you are going to be safe, even though risk assessment is impossible because you are surrounded by 8 million people who are unknown quantities. So you were attacked in the middle of a coping strategy, a necessary bit of self delusion; it fractured and you had to take time and cement it back together. (It is a little like that moment of betrayal when, after years of thinking locking doors prevents intruders, you come home and discover a burglar cut the glass out of the window.) It is sad that people are almost universally crappy; it is sad that we feel like the only way to cope is to manage and watch and curtail ourselves.. There are medications that can help short-term when the feeling is acute, but shrinks don’t like them because maintenance meds are so much more profitable… Hope you are well, in any case.

    • sheila says:

      TinaD – Fascinating! Yes, they both talked to me about all of this – although not in quite so technical terms. It’s very interesting, though – thank you!

      // It also makes sense that you would spin out on the topic of safety. New York is a city that requires a certain amount of magical thinking to live in; to ever leave home, you have to assume you are going to be safe, even though risk assessment is impossible because you are surrounded by 8 million people who are unknown quantities. So you were attacked in the middle of a coping strategy, a necessary bit of self delusion; it fractured and you had to take time and cement it back together. //

      Tina – we do not know each other, but I have to say that this explanation is very meaningful to me, and it means a lot that you would talk the time to think about what happened to me – a stranger – and write that out. It makes a lot of sense the way you say it. Honestly, it really helps to know that my reaction had a (somewhat) physical basis – I have to constantly be reminded of that – and that goes for my illness too (which I think of as physical – it’s just more helpful for me that way.)

      My docs aren’t shrinks – or I wouldn’t classify them as such. One is a mood disorder specialist – one of the best in the country – whose holistic approach drove me (even more) nuts at the beginning but had gigantic cumulative effects – and the other is a therapist of the CBT school who is also a nutritionist, who works in tandem with the mood guy. Their treatment is very targeted, and they actually understand bipolar – unlike a lot of therapists and shrinks (the main shrink I went to put me on antidepressants which is so dangerous for people with a bipolar diagnosis that honestly it’s yet another example of how I’m lucky to be alive.) “Talk therapy” and “psychotherapy” are (somewhat) useless for my diagnosis – now there may be some people who find it helpful. I don’t. I am so anti-therapy that in my first meeting with the CBT woman, I said, “Gotta be honest. I think all of you people are running a RACKET and I am here against my will.” She barely blinked an eye. hahaha “I understand that totally.” But she (and CBT) has been amazing. Effective, tough, and very very goal-oriented. CBT – plus the sleep-program my mood guy put me on – was one of the reasons I was able to stabilize so quickly (that and the fact that I had no addictions – very rare for an undiagnosed person like myself.)

      I will most probably be in treatment for the rest of my life. I’m not crazy about the idea, but I cannot process things by myself. Not sure I ever will be able to.

      I am doing really well! Thank you! The after-effects of this stupid one night wore off very quickly – about a month – and now, honestly, I can see some of the humor in it. I mean, it’s almost too ridiculous. I could not make this shit up if I tried!!

  21. Dear Sheila,
    I can’t really add to all that’s already been said, but it was so painful listening to that voice in your head, hearing you lacerate yourself like that, I just wanted to reach out to you and throw out another lifeline of love and support.

    And while yes, you would have been safer with a man by your side to scare off the cowardly creep who attacked you, you fought back, called him out for the motherfucker he was, and MADE yourself safe. Please don’t forget that.

    I’m also wondering — and this may make no sense — if the reason that, even after the vicious attack, you were still puzzling over the “date,” is because things that press on your head and heart somehow dominate what happens in the real, “physical” world, even when what happens is so violent. As I said, that may make no sense so please forgive me if it’s dumb or presumptuous.

    But mostly I just wanted to reach out and say how sorry I am that this happened to you and to send love and kind wishes your way.

    Also if you stayed Facebook friends with that “date” guy, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Are you sure you’re Irish? You seem to be missing the “grudge” gene….

    • sheila says:

      Janet – thank you so much! (My mother’s maiden name is Sullivan! :)

      I definitely am proud of how I fought back in the attack. I hope he was sorry he picked me to grab. Or who knows, maybe he chuckled evilly. Not my problem!!

      // because things that press on your head and heart somehow dominate what happens in the real, “physical” world, even when what happens is so violent. //

      Interesting … I’m not sure! Maybe because I found the date-problem far more interesting than the attack, which was more just annoying and freaked me out? I had an experience on an empty subway platform in Chicago that was far more terrifying than the attack here in the post – I almost fainted from terror, I remember my knees giving way – I didn’t feel that at ALL with this guy because I was too busy trying to scratch his eyes out.

      I don’t know the answer!!

      // Are you sure you’re Irish? You seem to be missing the “grudge” gene…. //

      hahaha!!!

      I know, I know. I thought about Unfriending. But then time passed and I didn’t, and so I decided to just forget about it. and he’s not trying to reach out to me, or texting me at 1 in the morning. His boundaries are good.

      I’ll surely see him again – we run in the same circles. So I figured, Okay, let’s not have ONE MORE person I don’t want to run into in New York! :) I won’t ever go out one on one with him again though! I’m not that much of a fool!

      Thank you so much for the support and the nice words.

      I so appreciate everyone in this thread – thank you!!

  22. You write so well: You write about the personal and do so objectively and analytically, and the result is always enlightening.

    I am not bipolar, but I once had an experience with clinical depression and anxiety that this post reminds me of. I was apparently infertile and trying not to think about it and then the Russians invaded Afghanistan and I went nuts. No sleep for weeks, so tense that my muscles were screaming, lurked around drug stores waiting for the newspapers to come out with the next horrifying headline, just nuts, waiting for the white light of annihilation. To me the two issues were one, and I was so afraid (for about 4-5 weeks) that I didn’t have the nerve to ask anyone if they felt the same way, because although I was absolutely positive there was a connection, I feared finding out that I was right. Which made no sense, but you know what I mean. I was like what’s her name in The Group, the girl who ended up falling out of a window in Boston while plane-spotting for German invaders. The whole episode is, as you know, hilarious only in retrospect. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    So I must assume that you have grappled with times just this terrible, over and over again, and I am amazed and grateful that you can write about them–and about everything else under the sun–as brilliantly as you do. I’m not crazy about blogs and about personal writing in general (I always wonder why people don’t just use fiction to deal with this stuff), but I never miss your posts. Thanks, Sheila.

    • sheila says:

      Oh my God, Jincy – infertility and Russia/Afghanistan – my God, it makes so much sense! How awful and terrifying! and yes: hilarious only in retrospect. Maybe in those times when we’re vulnerable – a word I don’t really like – maybe “open” is better? – and then something ELSE happens – our systems go into overload trying to make sense of it. My brain has certainly done that on more than one occasion.

      and you know how I feel about your writing, Jincy … To hear your kind words mean so much. Seriously!

      I dealt with the majority of this stuff in my script, actually – which I totally made up. It was so much FUN. and now – a couple years later – I’m seeing so much of what I was going through IN it – which I wasn’t consciously trying to get out or deal with or anything. I just couldn’t write about my own life, so I did that instead. Now I can see that it’s really about grief about my Dad’s death – even though there are no parents in it, no fathers, no death even – it has nothing to do with family … but that’s where it came from. I wasn’t trying to do that, of course. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and have felt that yourself.

      Thanks for everything, Jincy!

  23. Debra Thomas says:

    The date is interesting.
    The jag is having a misereble life.
    Your reaction to the jag was badass in my opinion.
    Isn’t it weird to be invisible? I’ve had that happen to me. It’s really a weird feeling.
    I’m at the point were I have nothing but gratitude about getting to be in therapy.
    Thanks for writing this.

    • sheila says:

      I’m not sure I felt invisible – I felt totally exposed! But yeah – the attack seemed to happen in this weird void where it was just me and him. (The “jag.”)

      I am so glad to hear “jag” thrown around in this thread!

      and I am happy to hear therapy is helping you!!

  24. Todd Restler says:

    Miller: A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconciousness.

    Otto: You eat a lot of acid, Miller, back in the hippie days?

    Miller: I’ll give you another instance: you know how everybody’s into weirdness right now?…

    – Repo Man, 1984

    Of COURSE the two things are related because they both happened to YOU, one after the other.

    I have nothing more to add other than I always root for you and your health and well-being. Your writing is exceptional, and I feel lucky to be a “regular” on your blog. Be well Sheila.

    • sheila says:

      // suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. //

      hahahahaha

      That’s exactly right!

      Thanks, Todd!

  25. Todd Restler says:

    Everything you need to know about life is in the movies. I truly believe that. My brain works like that of Brian Benben’s character in the first few seasons of Dream On, where he constantly has movie scenes and quotes pop up in his head, providing a Greek chorus on his life.

  26. Todd Restler says:

    Well, sometimes! Mine is Woody, yours is Bergman lol

  27. Patricia says:

    I have a somewhat different take on your experience. I have a diagnosis of PTSD…complex PTSD to be exact stemming from multiple childhood traumas. I was first diagnosed in 1995. A few weeks ago I attended a friend’s performance in a small club in the West Village. I had been suffering with a UTI. I had been working late and was tired and uncomfortable as a result. The performance was in the smallest stage room in the basement…narrow and dank room. But hey, I was there for my friend! The waiter was incredibly rude. He wasn’t happy with my single self among the groups of people. He sat me in a horrible location with a kindergarten-size table and round wooden chair. He then ignored me. There was no self-service. I enjoyed seeing my friend perform but had to leave after the first set. My body ached and I had an hour commute home. I kept thinking about the rude waiter, wondering why he was so shitty toward me. I had planned to eat and drink (in addition to paying the cover) but things didn’t work out that way. I put in my ear buds and tried to lose myself in reggae. When I finally got to the boat, I propped my legs up on the empty bench with my sandal-clad feet hanging over the edge. A well-dressed man about 60 something sat a foot way from my feet. He asked me a question about the fastest way to get somewhere after the boat ride. I took out my buds (unenthusiastically; making it clear I was just being polite). Before I knew it, he slipped my shoe off and began giving me a foot massage! Long story short…I tend to dissociate when upset/triggered. Obviously, I wasn’t fully dissociated but this guy sensed my ‘awayness’ and zeroed in. Perverts pick their targets. It isn’t always random. It can happen in a flash. They see someone/sense someone with their guard down and go for it. I don’t feel like a victim but I know my history and when ‘triggered’ I have to be vigilant and stay aware. I hadn’t done that…I kept replaying what happened at my friend’s show/ feeling bad I didn’t stay for the second set/ wishing I’d been more assertive with the dumb waiter/ etc. while trying to drown out the angst with music. The foot nut acted.

    • sheila says:

      Patricia – ugh, I’m so sorry this happened to you! I am enraged about foot massage man on your behalf – truly awful.

      I’ve had similar moments in my life – where I’m vulnerable for some reason and a predator senses it. That’s why I attracted two sociopaths in a row after my dad’s death, when in the past I’ve always had boyfriends who were very nice to me. I was so rattled and disoriented that I attracted the wrong/bad element to me.

      I don’t think this story I told in the post is one of those moments though. I was attacked because I was in arm’s reach.

      Thanks for your comment – and best of luck to you!!

  28. Karen says:

    Sheila,
    I came to your site looking for something about LM Montgomery’s writings, and read a number of posts because I was so impressed by your candid, well expressed insights (including self-insights!). Then, wham! this post- thanks for sharing. I hope writing has helped you continue to process, and please keep fighting that negative narrative you have in your head!

    I love this and it is so sadly true. you can see it in little things as well as big ones. why is it that most visual hallucinations are of things like giant spiders, instead of furry pink elephants dancing? why do Rorschach blots usually look like murder victims and not flowers? why do the voices in one’s head so often say things like “you are worthless,” and so seldom “write that book, you are the one who can do it!” I think one reason may be…our brains prioritize short term survival first and foremost. Finding negative patterns is more urgent because we need to recognize and avoid danger. Most likely this tendency is accentuated the more often we perceive danger (“real” or not). Unfortunately some short term survival strategies can be detrimental to a person in the longer term, especially to happiness; we need to tame them lest they destroy us.

    Another thought: no human being’s perception is infallible. This is a really bitter thing to acknowledge to oneself and always has to be tempered a little lest we despair of knowing anything. Our senses and our thoughts are a pretty good approximation of “reality” but sometimes we are wrong, even when we know we are right.

    this is when it helps to have some outside perception and information from generally reliable (not, haha, perfectly reliable, no such thing…) sources. I see you doing this with your doc and therapist, which is fantastic. It’s a little like this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_G._Jansky_Very_Large_Array

    best wishes,
    K

    • sheila says:

      Karen – oh my gosh, from LMM Montgomery to this!! You have an amazing ability to segue and I so much appreciate you reading and commenting!

      // our brains prioritize short term survival first and foremost. Finding negative patterns is more urgent because we need to recognize and avoid danger. //

      I have thought a LOT about this.

      Cognitive Behavior Therapy is so effective with my diagnosis (as opposed to regular talk therapy – which made me worse) because it acknowledges this, and understands this – not so much on an emotional level, but physical. Our brains are wired a certain way for a reason. Recognizing and reacting to threats is one of our most important skills as animals. If there is a kink in the wiring – as with a soldier returning from war with PTSD – it is because that primal thing in the brain that can recognize threats is on overdrive.

      So the thing the human race has needed in order to survive as a human race – the ability to recognize/avoid/deal with threats – can be detrimental, harmful. And I suppose some people are just more resilient than others. I mean, I’ve seen it. Some people’s brains are more vulnerable, susceptible, resilient … there are people with horrifyingly traumatic backgrounds who have NOT been impaired forever by it. and why is that?? There’s no real answer, but it is clear that this is so.

      CBT works with the pathways of the brain – thoughts can be re-directed – not by talking about your childhood, but by training yourself to THINK in different patterns, which then create new patterns in the brain, and etc. It’s rigorous, difficult, and all the rest – and half the time I hate it – but I have to admit it’s effective.

      Getting a “large array” (ha! Love it!) is essential. You can only see what you are able to see. Man, though, it feels real when you’re in it – it feels like The Truth!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  29. Karen says:

    somehow when I quoted you those bits of my comment got snipped out!
    It was
    //Why can’t our brains reveal Grand Truths and Patterns that are BEAUTIFUL, as opposed to TERRIBLE?//

    and
    //I was so far gone that I could not be talked out of my interpretation. I fought hard for it. It was 100% real. //

    sorry!
    K

  30. Clary says:

    Hi Sheila
    It took me 2 days to read all the piece. 2 days!! I wanted to understand every word, and guess what’s not written but, you know, the undercurrent.
    2 events can be related in one’s mind, chidren memories are often like that, one doesn’t remember what was before or after or simultaneous.
    In the end I can’t help, I don’t know how, but I want just to accompany you. I could make white chocolate blondies for you, and make you a cup of good coffee with milk. And look at your old picture albums and discover what you have become from that child from the past. What a life.
    Hugs.

  31. Natalie says:

    Oh, Sheila. I am so sorry you went through this, and I’m glad you’re okay. I am also in awe of your badassery – in the way you fought back against your attacker, in the way you listened to your intuition that something was off with that guy, in the way you have fought back against your own faulty thoughts, and in your honesty and openness in writing about these things.

    I only know bipolar disorder from the outside, but I know depression and anxiety quite well from all sides, and I’ve had similar conversations – both inside my head and with actual other people – to the one you described. I thought the people who tried to convince me otherwise were full of shit, too. Literally the only thing that got through to me was when one of my closest friends looked me in the eye and said, “If our roles were reversed right now, would you be saying these things to me?” It stopped me in my tracks. This was years before facebook and instagram and inspirational “talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend” memes. It’s my go-to response to clients who are stuck in that faulty interpretation loop. It doesn’t have to be just a role reversal. It can be a friend or family member or a child they love, or themselves as a child. It does usually work long enough to break through the cycle, though.

    And the victim-blaming – again, I get where you’re coming from. I also know that the “if I had only . . .” game can spiral on endlessly, too. So, fine. Maybe if you’d been on the sidewalk with everyone else (not left your drink unattended/not let that guy you just met walk you to your dorm/etc, etc) this wouldn’t have happened. That’s valid. So, again, if it was your best friend or sister or niece this had happened to, would you tell her that she didn’t have the right to be off the sidewalk? That she didn’t have the right to be in the space she was in and expect to be safe? That because she stepped off the sidewalk, she deserved to be attacked? (Some of my clients will continue to try to argue about why it’s different for them at that point, but that’s okay. I’ll have pierced through their logic enough to let it percolate for a while.)

    //I thought I was being really silly, actually, and was embarrassed at my CLEAR over-reaction. I thought it was a silly thing to get so worked up over//

    I have been in the mental health field for a decade and a half now, and I STILL struggle with that. I got to meet Jason Segel last week (which was amazing) and hear him speak about his new children’s book, and he made a point that I loved when he was speaking about how the problem with how we react to children when they’re scared (which is, typically, to say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of”), is that even though that may very well be true, those fears are still very real to the child, and that’s completely valid. I think we internalize those messages we get as kids (there’s nothing to be scared of, don’t cry, calm down, it’s okay) and we stop seeking help with our negative emotions because we assume our feelings will be minimized instead of validated. This is even worse when we recognize that the basis for our feelings is irrational. The people who do the minimizing usually have the best of intentions and do genuinely want to make us feel better, but what we really need is not “you’ll be okay,” but, “I can see that you feel really scared right now, what can I do to help you feel safe?”

    I also just want to say thank you for how you write about mental illness and your experiences with therapy. Any conversation helps to reduce the stigma, and your writing here in particular is very evocative of what the actual lived experience of bipolar disorder is like, not to mention being a testament to the fact that you are not your diagnosis and it certainly hasn’t stopped you from achieving great things. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • sheila says:

      Natalie – Thank you so much for weighing in with your perspective. Seriously: it’s so helpful.

      // Literally the only thing that got through to me was when one of my closest friends looked me in the eye and said, “If our roles were reversed right now, would you be saying these things to me?” It stopped me in my tracks. //

      Wow!! I love this friend of yours – what a comment. It just stopped me in my tracks too.

      By the time I told anybody what had happened – it was already so far gone in my mind that I was past being open to any other kind of interpretation. I was in The Triangle, baby!! But I love the thought that this type of response has been helpful to you in working with clients – and it’s a good way to kind of step outside the madness (the Triangle) to see just how HARD someone is being on themselves. And being that hard on yourself makes it worse, of course, but it’s also just so unnecessary – it’s a faulty interpretation, like you say.

      // That because she stepped off the sidewalk, she deserved to be attacked? //

      Thank you, Natalie. I mean it.

      From my standpoint – saying “I was in arm’s reach” was a way to NOT feel like a victim – I don’t know, maybe it’s the word “victim” I don’t like!! Who likes it, I suppose, right? There’s a reason people say “survivor” instead of “victim” and I totally understand that! In my warped thinking in the week following – I didn’t deserve to be attacked because I was walking in that empty lane – I deserved to be attacked because I had allowed myself to feel safe on my date, and had curled my hair, and gotten excited about him. I mean, it sounds so silly now, writing it out, but that’s what it felt like.

      And so then it all became the same thing, and I “got what I deserved,” etc.

      But your point is VERY well-taken, and comes from a standpoint of experience – I can tell you hear this kind of thing a lot. :)

      It’s a tiny leap from “I was in arm’s reach” to “I deserved what I got because I walked in that empty lane.” I didn’t really make that leap, but the leap I did make was equally awful! I knew that I had SOMEthing to do with what had happened.

      In re: your second to last paragraph:

      Wow, Jason Segel! I did not know he had written a children’s book. I love this man!! It’s amazing how the “minimizing” conversation works, isn’t it – and how much we internalize this stuff, probably from our earliest memories. Minimizing is often really good advice – or a healthy perspective – maybe not “minimizing” but making something manageable (I just reviewed a documentary about sexual assault and online bullying in high school that made me see red). So someone says, “Hey, what you’re afraid of is really not that big a deal.” Depending on who says it and how it’s said … it can be really good advice or really cruel advice.

      I did something called Project Adventure in high school – a kind of Outward Bound for kids – and I had to do so many things I was terrified of. I’m afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling, and I had to really conquer so many of those fears in the challenges – and my great gym teacher was encouraging but also really tough on me – in a good way. “You can do this, Sheila. You can do this.” Not that I wasn’t right to be afraid, but that this was a fear I could face and conquer.

      Or like the two boyfriends I mentioned at the end of the post – both of them were able to “talk me down” – and the second guy wasn’t even particularly sensitive about it. He’s the only man I ever felt safe with. Because he knew me, and he wasn’t afraid of anything, and he wasn’t about to walk out the door because I was “difficult” or “too much.” But he NEVER “bought into” my logic if he thought my logic was faulty. He’d tell me straight up: “No. That’s not what happened. You have it all wrong. What REALLY happened was …”

      It sounds super-annoying the way I’m writing it, but I trusted him – he earned my trust – and so I listened to him. He could “snap me” out of things.

      // not to mention being a testament to the fact that you are not your diagnosis and it certainly hasn’t stopped you from achieving great things. //

      You are so kind! Thank you!!!

      This year has been so busy with freelance work. I am dying to get back onto the SPN train, because I miss you all, and I miss writing about that show! But I so appreciate your presence here, whenever you show up!

      Thanks again!

      • Lyrie says:

        Sheila: it’s not the same as the in-depth recaps, but hey: season 12 is on its way!:)

        • sheila says:

          Thank goodness!!

          I’m … scared? Yet hopeful? And needy as hell.

          • Lyrie says:

            Yeah, very scared also. I am still angry about the end of last season, honestly.:) But I WANT TO BELIEVE!!

          • sheila says:

            I love that Chuck makes an appearance upthread.

            SPN = helpful to contextualize most life experiences.

          • Lyrie says:

            Haha, right? Sometimes I want to explain things to people and I am so annoyed if they don’t know SPN. I feel it would be so much easier to go: “See the last image of Dean in The Purge? THAT.” No other explanation needed, right?:)

          • sheila says:

            I have spent entire YEARS in the state DW is in that last shot of The Purge! I feel you!!

            At least we all have found each other because, yes, nobody else I know watches that damn thing.

          • Natalie says:

            //I am still angry about the end of last season, honestly.:) But I WANT TO BELIEVE!!//

            I second this!!!

          • sheila says:

            I recently re-watched the second half of Season 11, one episode after the other, and it is astonishing how it goes off the rails.

            The good news is that everyone involved clearly knows it. Hopefully they have their shit together.

            Plus Rick Springfield. I live in hope.

      • Natalie says:

        //but I trusted him – he earned my trust – and so I listened to him. He could “snap me” out of things.//

        That trust makes all the difference in the world. You make a great point that the “you’re being ridiculous, knock it off” response definitely has its place! The trick is knowing which to use when. With a client I am usually going to err on the side of caution, but with friends and family members I have both dished out and been on the receiving end of some tough love responses that were totally appropriate for the situation :-)

        I might be splitting hairs here, but I think minimizing emotions and making them manageable are actually two distinct things. Minimizing is dismissive and patronizing – it’s saying what you feel isn’t valid and you shouldn’t feel it. (Don’t get me started on shoulds, lol.) Making it manageable is always my ultimate goal. It’s saying that what you feel is valid and you have a right to feel it, and you have the ability to move past it. Your gym teacher reminds me of my niece’s karate teacher. I loved watching her lessons and belt tests because he was the perfect mix of tough and supportive.

        //I mean, it sounds so silly now, writing it out, but that’s what it felt like.//

        That’s just it, though, I completely get your logic! It doesn’t sound silly at all – but that also doesn’t make it true. (Sorry for getting the details mixed up – I wrote my response a couple days after I read your post.) I would still probably use the same response. (I also probably would have brought up black and white thinking with your Triangle – you don’t have to tell me, of course, but I am curious if that came up in your therapy in the aftermath of this.)

        I also think the goal is always to transition from “victim” to “survivor,” and I think a lot of people just want to skip the “victim” part, but how can you call yourself a survivor if you haven’t been hurt by someone or something that was beyond your control? Have you watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, by any chance? I think this is one of the overarching themes of the show. Kimmy doesn’t want pity for what she’s been through, she doesn’t want to be a “victim,” and she sees herself (justifiably) as a survivor, but that leaves her with all this unresolved trauma that comes out in unexpected ways. There is also, incidentally, a scene in the second season in which Tina Fey plays a therapist that made me want to jump up and clap. Mostly, her character is played for laughs and does terrible, unethical things, but this one two minute scene is EXACTLY what good therapy looks like.

        //Wow!! I love this friend of yours – what a comment. It just stopped me in my tracks too.//

        She is an incredible person! I am lucky to have her in my life!

        And yes, Jason Segel is awesome, and he was so articulate and smart and charming and funny. He’s actually written 3 children’s books, which I only knew because he did this talk and book signing at a local bookstore here. I took my niece, and he could not have been nicer – greeted everyone by name (and introduced himself, which was both hilarious and kind of adorable) and shook our hands. It was a pretty cool experience!

        • sheila says:

          Natalie – so much here to respond to! Thank you so much, I love these conversations.

          It’s funny: I just spent the last 4 days hanging out with my 2 nieces and my nephew. Ages 7 to 2. There were various meltdowns that occurred, gigantic nervous breakdowns because … all the ridiculous things that kids melt down about. Some more valid than others. If you fall backwards off the couch onto the floor – well, that is terrifying. If you want a smoothie and you are told you can’t have one – well, you can cry all you want, but I’m still not going to give you a smoothie, so why don’t you go out and finish up that game of soccer you were playing in the backyard? It was this constant mix of validation and redirection … the feelings are always real. They are allowed to have feelings about everything, even the tragic Lack of Smoothies in their lives.

          So basically I hear what you are saying in re: the word “minimize” – there’s something insulting about “minimizing” because what it does is says: “You are silly for being upset about such and such.” Which is clearly not helpful. Or … damaging. I am sure that I have internalized much “minimizing” stuff from my well-meaning parents … I was always an intense and tragically-inclined child, and they were always trying to get me to lighten up, or calm down. They were worried about me. (For good reason, it turns out!) But the message I got was: “You are over-reacting.” So I have a HUGE inclination to go towards the scornful “My God, you are over-reacting” attitude towards myself.

          One of the things that was so good in the way my docs handled this whole thing with the date/assault – was saying, “Uhm … this would upset anyone. You are not over-reacting.”

          and, you know, I’m not sure I talked much about the Triangle to my docs. I can’t remember. They know me so well now that they can clock when my language starts getting creepy and absolute … which is definitely what happened in the aftermath of this experience. “Well. This is what I get for allowing myself to crush on this guy for 24 hours. NEVER. AGAIN.”

          You know, I have not seen Kimmy Schmidt and everyone raves about it to me – I love everyone involved – and it sounds like such an interesting premise.

  32. Lyrie says:

    I totally understand why people don’t want to be considered ‘victims.’ There is a notion of helplessness that is almost condescending attached to the term, and it might be why we don’t want to use it too much. “I’m not a poor, little, helpless damsel in distress, for fuck’s sake!” I know I used to think about it that way. There might also be the idea that if you’re a victim, somehow, you let it happen to you, for one reason or another, even if just because you’re a poor, little, helpless thing? – let’s not kid ourselves: if we blame ourselves when we are victims, it is also because we live in a society where victim-blaming, to some degree or another, is the norm.

    BUT: I do use the word victim now. Those who know me know I am rarely a poor, little, helpless thing. I use that word, because if I am the victim, it means there was a perpetrator. And so it means that, no, I did not ask for it in any way. It means it is (for instance) the boobs-grabbing asshole’s fault ONLY. I use that word deliberately now in the hope it contributes to NOT blame the person who was wronged, because of how I use that word. Just because I was a victim at one time in my life, in one situation, is not a comment on who I am. It just means something happened.

    I totally get the word ‘survivor,’ and why people would prefer it. Just talking about my own, very subjective feeling, here: I have lived several things of which I could be considered a survivor. But it just seems so overdramatic to me! In my mind, my reaction is always: “Survivor? Puh-LEASE, like THAT could have killed me?”

    I am not judging any choice in any way here, all of this is very subjective. I just wanted to offer a different point of view on the notion of victim, because I feel it helps take it easier when people call you that – and be more gentle with ourselves, which, in my case, I really need, when something shitty happens.

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – I like this!! I think, yeah, the word “victim” then somehow connotes – “Oh you poor thing …” when, come on, I punched the guy in the throat. (Not to judge people who don’t do that, or who can’t get a punch in, or whatever!! I was lucky he didn’t pin my arms behind me!)

      But the way you describe it creates a sense of freedom around the word – that it’s momentary, and not a definition of who you are for all time – Yes: This happened to me. Some bad person did this to me. I had nothing to do with it.

      And COSIGN on “survivor”: // But it just seems so overdramatic to me! In my mind, my reaction is always: “Survivor? Puh-LEASE, like THAT could have killed me?” //

      I feel just the same way.

      The whole conversation about the whole damn word “victim” was PART of why I resisted my doctors’ interpretation because I thought they were kind of blowing it out of proportion and trying to coddle me, or make me feel weak. hahaha What a muddle!!

      Thank you for this other point of view! Always welcome!!

      • sheila says:

        and I don’t want to sound like I judge the way other people make sense of their own bad experiences!

        • Lyrie says:

          I know, me neither – and I don’t think you do!
          We know that there’s a whole range of reactions and all are valid because that’s what you CAN do at that moment.

          • sheila says:

            Totally agree:

            The only thing I would really add is kind of bossy but I think its important!!: I think self-defense courses should be mandatory for girls. Start ’em young.

            I think sometimes the focus on the “scariness” of what is “out there” has a detrimental effect on young women. Or I’ve seen it in young friends who are in college or their 20s. For example: there’s the “teach men not to rape, not how to avoid rape …” I’ve seen this all over my friends’ FB pages – especially since the Brock Turner thing (a huge deal in the States right now). This “stop focusing on how girls can avoid rape and start teaching boys not to rape” is TOTALLY valid and there has to be a big conversation about consent and respect.

            BUT if you add “also girls have to learn how to defend themselves” – as I’ve done sometimes on these FB posts – often these young women will come back with: “I shouldn’t HAVE to defend myself.” This is anecdotal – based only on my interactions – but I think it’s a very foolish and naive attitude.

            As long as the world is dangerous – and face reality, it is dangerous – then even a couple of tips can save your life. Or at least make you feel stronger, and not just terrified about what is waiting for you out there.

            The most important thing my cop friends taught me is:

            “Make a huge fucking scene. Let them know you’re going to be a big problem. Rapists want willing victims, and look for prey. Don’t ever let them move you to a Point B. Girls don’t get raped or die at Point A, usually. They get raped and die at Point B.”

            Chilling. But I never forgot it.

            and self-defense takes practice. Girls are socialized to be polite and ingratiating. You have to break that conditioning.

          • Lyrie says:

            Agreed!

            I do believe that the way boys are socialized is at the heart of the problem and needs to change if we want real change. But that will take a long time. In the meantime, we also need to change the way girls are socialized. Considering the two as mutually exclusive when they should work hand in hand seems particularly dumb to me.
            “Boys, don’t rape. Also, if you try, know that you will get your jaw broken/get punched in the throat.”
            Seems pretty efficient to me.:)

            I took a self-defense class for women only – which I think is great. It was a two day class, and the first day was spent enumerating all the scary, potentially dangerous things in the world, and how to be fucking paranoid. I was so pissed! We know, already, we ARE scared, everything, from fairy tales to movies to your grandma tell us to be scared. The second day was spend on actual techniques. It seemed so counter-productive to me to do it that way. And you’re right, not enough emphasis was put on not being afraid to make a scene. We were supposed to yell, but the only two women who actually did it were… the theatre students!

            So yeah, let’s teach young girls they have the right to do whatever it takes to defend themselves, including be foolish, ugly, loud, etc.

    • Natalie says:

      I LOVE your interpretation here, Lyrie!

      //it is also because we live in a society where victim-blaming, to some degree or another, is the norm.//

      Yes! So true! And so infuriating. I understand why we do it – we all want to believe that we have the control that will keep these things from happening to us, so when we see them happen to other people, we think, “that couldn’t happen to me, because I haven’t done anything to deserve it, I wonder what they did wrong.” And it’s awful, because it ends up being such an isolating experience for the person who has had something bad happen to them.

      • Lyrie says:

        I had never thought about it that way, very interesting input, Natalie, thanks! I had only seen the fact that we do it because that’s what is done, so we do it, etc… It is so hard to deconstruct what you have no idea is going on. And yes, it is awful. The same day we had that conversation I read a text which talked about – among other things – how the relationship between abusers and the person they abused is treated by the Anishinaabe (an Indigenous people in Ontario), and it made me cry bitter – and hopeful – tears.

        • sheila says:

          Lyrie –

          // how the relationship between abusers and the person they abused is treated by the Anishinaabe (an Indigenous people in Ontario), and it made me cry bitter – and hopeful – tears. //

          I am so curious about this – is there an article where I can read about this?

      • sheila says:

        // such an isolating experience for the person who has had something bad happen to them. //

        So true. And it puts ALL the “blame” on the woman who didn’t fight back enough, didn’t follow the rules, didn’t blah blah blah … There was this whole disgusting thing in the States recently – last couple of years – where some right-wing Senator was trying to redefine the legal definition of rape to include the word “forcible” – meaning; if there are no bruises, then it couldn’t be rape. If a woman isn’t beaten to a pulp, then she has no valid claim. Which then … I mean, it’s such a dangerous way of thinking. What IS it with these people?

        I think some of the resistance I see in my young college-age friends to dealing with their own safety (“I shouldn’t have to … I should be safe everywhere”) is a reaction to the victim-blaming that goes on. Totally valid. I still think they’re being foolish. Who the hell is EVER “safe everywhere”? Never in the history of the planet has that ever been true.

        and there are situations where you could do everything “right” and still get attacked, because the world is a capricious and unpredictable place and other human beings are not to be trusted.

        If the guy who attacked me was just a tiny bit crazier – he could have knocked me over the head with a tire iron – or easily overpowered me – and dragged me into the waiting town car. Even if I had punched him in the throat. Even if I had followed the teachings of my cop friends. But in order for him to do that – he would have to be a very rare kind of psycho, who is willing to make that kind of scene, on a crowded sidewalk.

  33. melissa says:

    Sheila- sending you an internet hug, because mental illness sucks. Depression and anxiety here! Woo!

    I think about how the human brain is optimized for finding patterns. Taking bits of data from various sources and connecting them, trying to make sense of the universe. Most of the time, it works to our advantage – it’s a definite evolutionary plus. Creative people, intelligent people – in them finding patterns is both intensified and highly trained. There are failures – we see faces in the fronts of cars, pictures in clouds, etc. These are minor, and harmless. BUT. It really sucks when the very thing that helps us be human, that we use for creativity and exploration and innovation comes around and bites us in the ass. When something goes haywire and sabotages our brains from within.

    I’m SO glad you’re getting help. The world is a brighter place with you in it. Thank you for sharing. HUGS.

    • sheila says:

      Thank you so much, Melissa!!

      Very true in re: pattern-finding and how that can be turned against us.

      Best of luck to you in living with your illness too!!

  34. Beth says:

    Coming to this late. Got to it from your end-of-year writing roundup. I can definitely relate, especially to the belief that there’s a causal relationship between one’s thoughts and feelings and life events. What’s tricky about that is that sometimes there is, and we’re taught plenty in our culture that success and security is the result of “positive thinking” etc. I too have long believed in a relationship between my thoughts and the outcomes of events — namely that if I looked forward to or allowed myself to enjoy a thing too much it would be “taken away” somehow. I even recognize the “we” voice that was talking to you. I am glad you had people there for you to fight back against that voice…in my experience, that voice is the enemy, even as it tells you that in some twisted way it’s looking out for you.

    • sheila says:

      Beth – thank you so much!

      // I too have long believed in a relationship between my thoughts and the outcomes of events — namely that if I looked forward to or allowed myself to enjoy a thing too much it would be “taken away” somehow. //

      Ugh. I know this. And the “we” voice is just awful – I get very tired combatting it since it is just so persistent.

      Thank you so much for reading!

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