Sometimes I spend days wishing I could make the memories go away. I wish I could take a time machine back. I wish I could force it out of my mind. But the truth is, it’s there, and I can’t make the truth of my past go away, no matter how much I want to. What happened is a simple fact. Nothing can change that. It is my life.
If I could send a message in a bottle to the scared little girl I was when I was 15, I would send her this list of four lies and why she must never believe them:
ONE: “This was your fault.”
You didn’t ask to be hurt. You didn’t ‘walk right into it.’ You weren’t wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, being annoying, acting stuck-up. You weren’t too trusting. You weren’t too kind, too mean, too quiet, or too loud.
People want to blame the victims of awful things because they want to believe in a just world. They want to believe there’s an order to this planet: that bad things happen to bad people, good things happen to good people, and that’s that. I understand. Wouldn’t that be a comforting thing to believe?
Our culture relies on this. In order to reconcile the way oppressed people are treated with their idea of a just world, people think, “Oh, well, she must have said something awful, to deserve getting hit.” People think, “Oh, well, he must’ve been doing something threatening, if the cops stopped him in the first place.” It’s what happens when the truth is put into conflict with what seems right. And this myth is so pervasive, so all-consuming, that even the victims themselves start to believe in it. “Oh, well,” I find myself thinking, before I can stop, “I should’ve run away. I should’ve screamed. I must’ve wanted it to go that way after all.”
But here’s the truth: Bad people get really rich. Good people get cancer. Horrible, terrible things happen to people who’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it. I can’t fix it, and I can’t make it make sense.
All we can do is try to be kind. All we can give each other is a fair chance. Someday I’d like to see that our culture has changed— that when someone’s pushed down, our first thought isn’t, “Gee, should’ve looked where she was going,” it’s, “Hey, do you need a hand getting up?”
TWO: “You shouldn’t be so hung up on this— it’s all in your head.”
The brain controls every function of life. It isn’t “just in your head.” It’s in your head. Don’t treat psychic injuries like they don’t need time and care to heal, just like physical injuries. Don’t let anyone tell you to “just get over it.” Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing this for attention.
First, the accusation is ridiculous on its face, because it’s perfectly normal to want attention when you are hurt. It’s also normal to want to be alone when you are hurt. It’s normal to react. It’s normal to not be okay all the time. It’s normal to feel like you will never be okay.
And second, I have never met a single person who was truly “just doing it for the attention.”
If something’s happened to you, and you are in pain, you deserve to get the support and care required to manage this pain. The best option is to see a mental health professional— but you don’t need an official diagnosis of PTSD to understand that you are struggling with traumatic events.
THREE: “Nobody will understand. Nobody will care.”
I had a friend in sixth grade named Casey. She said odd things sometimes. She didn’t talk like someone who was ten years old last year— she talked like she was pushing fifty-five and divorced, with a lifetime of regrets. Or maybe like a 28-year-old New York ex-socialite reminiscing about her days pounding the dance floor and paying PAs under the table to fetch her more MDMA.
“Casey, you already had your first kiss?”
"I was a slutty kid," she said, and our lunch table laughed.
“Casey, how many boyfriends have you had?”
"I was a little whore,” she said once, then repeatedly. It became one of those facts you learn about someone vaguely and then never examine. I knew she’d been around with boys— or a boy, somehow. I knew she didn’t like to be touched. I knew these things, and I never asked about them. Years passed. We stayed friends, and I forgot about those jokes.
Then when we were sixteen she told me. More details than I’ll give you here.
"I was raped,” she said, “But I don’t remember how much."
"There’s stuff I don’t remember either," I said, knowing it didn’t compare, knowing it could never be enough, "I'm so sorry."
Sometimes life’s a shit boat, and it feels like nothing’s ever gone right. And sometimes the only comfort you have is the fact that other people are also in your awful situation. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll make them feel a little less alone.
People will understand. Once you open up to them, an uncomfortable amount of your friends and peers might open up to you.
You are hurt. You are scared. You are furious. All of this might be true. But as much as I hate to write it, because I wish the world were a different place— you must not think for a second that you are alone.
FOUR: “You are going to feel this wrecked forever.”
Nothing lasts forever. You’ll learn to stop doing things that make you feel worse. You’ll figure out what makes it a little better— therapy, friendship, fury, forgiveness.
You’ll blink and it’ll be three years later, and you’ll have weeks when it almost snaps your bones. You’ll want to drink. You’ll wake up in a sticky, nervous sweat from a nightmare that’s all hands. Your brain will replay it without cue, like a curse. Dread will fill you in slow spoonfuls.
And then you will have your weeks, more of them each year, when you only think of it in passing, and you’ll finally feel nothing. You’ll never be glad it happened, never. But some days....it won’t even cross your mind.
Ruby Walker is an 18-year-old college student, lesbian, activist, artist and writer. Ruby lives in Austin, Texas, and is currently studying art and creative writing at Trinity University in San Antonio. Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen is the only book on teenage mental health actually written by a teenager. To learn more, visit https://rubywalker.com