[Content note: rape, sexual assault exams, almost nothing else. ]
The organization I volunteer for is excellent and highly recommended. However, statements below should be taken as from me, not from them.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve specified where I know that there is state-to-state variation and I’m speaking for Massachusetts

On the good days it looks like this:

I get a call from the woman supervising my shift. She’s on the same line as the SANE nurses who administer the rape kits. When they get paged to go to a hospital, we do too.
I pick up my bag (pamphlets, a binder of resources, phone chargers, fidgets, notebook, pen), head to whichever hospital called in.
The SANE and I arrive at nearly the same time—she isn’t tied up on another case.
The client is in a private room with a door that closes.
The nurses have been kind to the survivor.
Someone has told them what’s going on, who will be arriving.
We spend four hours or less going through the kit.
The client is alone or with someone who cares for them, who thinks this is worth doing and they are brave for doing it.
They have a place to go home to afterwards.
They have eaten that day.

Not all days are good days.

In Massachusetts, you do not need to have reported your rape/assault to the police to have evidence collected. This is not the case in all states, and not the case in adjoining states, necessitating that we ask survivors where their residence is located.

Some reasons I think the MA model is superior: it allows people in abusive situations to go into the hospital, document evidence of a rape, and then after leaving the abusive situation, involve the police. If you’re in fear for your life, or the lives of loved ones, this can be safer.

Rape kits, which are technically known as sexual assault evidence collection kits, are identical for everyone 12 and up—that is, they contain the same (in MA) sixteen steps of evidence collection.

Importantly, (in MA) anyone of any age can decline any step. A twelve year old can say they would prefer not to have any oral swabs taken and that’s that. Informed consent is gathered from the survivor, not the parent, in all cases over the age of 12. (I’m specifying there because I don’t interact with under-12s, and don’t know how it works).

I expected to find the children the hardest, but this has been surprisingly untrue. People—nurses, doctors, technicians have been around children. They often have children at home, or in their extended family. There are very few* circumstances in which these people can be persuaded that children deserved to be assaulted or aren’t interested in being helped.

This is not usually how people—nurses, doctors, technicians—feel about people who are homeless, or people who have abused drugs, especially if those people have been in the emergency room before.

The last time I walked home from a hospital after a case, I got catcalled. This happens maybe a third of the time—it’s usually late, I’m usually dressed up, the hospitals are downtown. This doesn’t make me feel better about the state of the world.

Home. I smell of hospital. All my clothes—no exceptions—go in the wash. Hot shower. Scrub. Soft clothes. I call in to the woman who sent my out, my supervisor. I talk her through the case—where I was, where the assault took place, how many assailants, what kind of assault, was the client safe, how did I feel, what staff were involved, how did they treat the client. I say the things, the details I don’t want my partner, my friends to have in their head. Sometimes I tell the same story twice, three times, repeating ’til the initial horror and revulsion has bled out.

I am pretty sure if you can’t forget the stories, you can’t live with this job. I do not remember the names, and this is a conscious choice. I call in the referrals (counseling, legal, case assistance) and put a penny in a jar and go back to my life: a party, a book, sleep, people who have never left bruises on my wrists, face, legs.

There are too many pennies.

This is a good summary of the steps of a rape kit.

*Sadly, exceptions in the case of teens who went to parties.

Insane in Sane Places

I live in a tiny wonderful bubble where it’s (1) pretty unusual not to have a mental illness (2) public knowledge that I have an eating disorder. It’s a bubble where I am left out of conversations about diets and nutrition, where my figure goes unremarked upon, and I’m not the only one.

Work is not in that bubble.

It’s the first job since I started treatment where I kept an eating disorder from everybody, and I’ve fiercely protected that independence. (Independence? That’s what it felt like, and what I promised myself it would be.)

It was teaching a class on nutrition. How to eat healthily.
I’ve never followed any of the advice I gave—I am, after all, a cautionary tale in eating—but I will be endlessly proud of my rules for the lecture.

I will not discuss ‘bad’ foods and ‘good’ foods.

I will not shame.

I will not discuss weight loss as the sole goal for food consumption.

It was walking into a conversation about anorexia and how strange it was that teen girls do that. The crawling duality of being expected to theorize dispassionately for curious strangers about what makes crazy people do that. I walked back out again. I had forgotten…something in the other room.

It was five-thousand discussions about weight loss I stepped out of. A handful of ones I didn’t (that was a bad decision).

It was exclamations of how ‘good’ I was each time I refused offers of baked treats. The stupid bubble of happy feelings that rose up each time I heard it.

I’ve just almost done it—I’m talking with clients about what it means as my term at the agency ends, saying goodbyes, counting time in weeks.

But it was also eating my lunch in peace each day. Nobody policed whether or not I was eating ‘enough’. I wasn’t making people worried each time I refused food. People accepted ‘no thank you, I’m not hungry’.

I declined an offer for a going-away party this week (it means cake, see?).

It wasn’t appropriate to share, and this I know. Little practical gain for me, lots of guilt and uncertainty and worry for them.

But I miss my bubble.

Gratitude, In Research

“Gratitude is the positive emotion one feels when another person has intentionally given, or attempted to give, one something of value.” (McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001)

It drives prosocial behavior—actions that increase the net well-being of a group—even more than just being in a good mood does (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006). It also occasionally prompts research that offers this analysis:

As predicted, a planned contrast revealed that participants in the gratitude condition felt more grateful (M 5 3.08, SD 5 1.08) than did those in the amusement (M 5 2.72, SD 5 1.09) and neutral (M 5 2.52, SD 5 0.84) conditions, F(1, 102) 5 4.54, prep 5 .88, d 5 0.52.2 Similarly, those in the amusement condition felt more amused (M 5 3.58, SD 5 1.20) than did those in the gratitude (M 5 2.52, SD 5 0.99) and neutral (M 5 2.40, SD 5 1.14) conditions.

But it’s driven by intention; we’ll be more grateful to those who intended to help us than those who accidentally improved our lives. Here, intent is fucking magic. ….Or at least, it is for the 126 men who predicted that they’d be more grateful to an intentional benefactor after reading short stories about being helped. Sometimes we settle for approximations of answers, as produced by psychology students. (Tesser, Gatewood, Driver, 1968)

And gratitude is protective; a thankful disposition is negatively correlated with depression: the more grateful you are, the less likely you are to exhibit subclinical or clinical levels of depression. But gratitude exhibits odd relationships: it shows no relation to level of anxiety. Recognizing good in your life might make you anxious for the future, or comfortable that you’ve achieved The Good Life. (Watkins, et al., 2003)

Some of us signal gratitude by reciprocating when someone has been thoughtful:

Although much of the early empirical work focused on gratitude as a mechanism for exchanging costly benefits (one could call this an economic perspective), recent evidence suggests that gratitude often serves a broader social function, namely, promoting relationships with responsive others. We recently demonstrated that the two most robust predictors of gratitude were the perception that the benefactor was being responsive to the needs and wishes of the recipient (i.e., thoughtful), and liking the benefit. (Algoe & Haidt, 2009)

And some of us express our gratitude by writing blog posts about the research of our emotions on Thanksgiving.

So today, I am grateful for Jesse and Miri and Robby and Chana and Mitch. For whimsy and foot massages and open access journals. For libraries (and books I can download for free)and hot water and candles. For late nights lost in good conversation and quiet early mornings. For watching extraordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. For curiosities and joyous occasions, and the people who share will share theirs with me.

Recovery Mutterings

1. I actually really just want that salad, without the large GUILT FREE sticker on it (see also: guilt free brownies, guilt free fruit cups (?!?!), guilt free kale chips, guilt free hummus). Remembering and then retroactively feeling bad for all the apparently GUILT CONTAINING salad is not a good road.

2. Find me a major holiday that does not involve food. I dare you. The trifecta of conversations about sweets, overeating, and diets that is Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas? Oof.

3. “I would like to go on a date with you. One that does not involve planning or eating food together.”

4. That thing which is memorizing the location of mirrors in every new location so that you can avoid them. My college has an unavoidable mirror in the women’s bathroom on the third floor, an avoidable mirror in the bathroom on the fourth. There is one path through the gym locker room that avoids all three (three!) mirrors.

5. Doctors offices. About a year and a half ago I sliced up my hand, deeply enough that I was concerned about the nerves for my left pointer and middle fingers. I also have a fairly strong phobia of injury and injection. In between passing out and attempting to find my insurance information for the doctor (I’d moved that day, everything was in a mess of boxes) I remember one continuous thought: what if they need to know my weight? What if they have to weigh me? I alternately promised myself that I wouldn’t beg them to avoid putting me on a scale and swore that I would just tell them: I had an eating disorder. Please don’t weigh me. I fought for that past tense.

6. I have met all but one of my partners during periods of anorexia or flirting with it. Someday I will believe this is not what caused the initial attraction.

7. Someday I will wear pants again/stop avoiding jobs that have a dress code including pants/stop giving up activities that can’t be done in skirts/sprawl/lounge with abandon

8. Someday I will be okay with the things are not going to happen someday.

9. Someday.

“The wounded woman gets called a stereotype, and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.” -Leslie Jamison, A Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain

Growing Aches & Pains

I went to the gym today. I am this particular kind of sore—achy unevenly from an elliptical that wasn’t quite equally greased, sore in strange places from the leg press with the stuck seat-adjuster—for the first time in nearly a year.

Nine months ago, I banned myself from gyms without exceptions. Item 348 in a long list of stuff I’ve loved and given up because it made my mental illness that much more persistent. It, and several other concurrent changes, were good decisions.* They preceded the best nine months I’d had in eight years.

I stopped having that euphoric walk home after I’d exhausted my whole body. (I also stopped having to sit on benches because I was too dizzy or faint to walk the whole way)

I started having itchy/anxious feelings at night when my energy level spiked—I holdover from years of evening ballet rehearsals. (I also stopped having days of crawling, shaky panics because I couldn’t bear to be in my body but the gym was closed.)

I started needing to take long walks to burn off the jitters from the day. (I also stopped actively hurting my body…it’s quite hard to obsessively walk.)

Of course, when you write it out like that, it’s obviously worth it, right? But I missed the routine. After-school dance classes starting in first grade turned into ballet rehearsals six days a week, gave way to funky smelling gyms until I was good and sore and tired. And finally, a few weeks ago, I decided I might be well enough to give it a try again.

*yes, confounds, I know. Unfortunately, this case study used poor methodology due to time constraints.

Room in Recovery

Related: A Week

[Content Note: Discussion of eating disorders, some of which might make recovery harder. I don’t actually endorse the feelings here as ones I want to have.] 

I remember when I first started following other people writing about eating disorders how shocked I was that they prided themselves on not being in recovery. They seemed to not want to hit ‘recovered’, and I could not understand. I thought of recovered as necessarily good, a picture in my head of resetting the clock and going back to ‘normal’. And oh god, did I want ‘normal’.

I had friends who had recovered from OCD, depression, anxiety. Their lives were unquestionably better for it. Even a little bit of recovering, a little bit less depression, anxiety that wasn’t quite so debilitating, was wonderful. I wanted that. I expected that.

But I don’t think that’s what most of us get, recovering from an eating disorder. Of course, there’s little things: having more energy, fewer dark circles under my eyes. Less distress at the prospect of picking out clothes in the morning. But on the whole? Eating enough food means beating back the brain demons that think it makes me repulsive, horrible. It means spending willpower to remember that yes, you will eat lunch today. It means deciding to be more stressed and less happy because I’ve forced some bit of myself to remember that depriving isn’t good for me.

This isn’t part of the recovery narrative you hear, right? The part where you decide to pick “less happy, more healthy” over and over?

I want there to be space for hating recovery. For clawing at it with your fingernails, for wishing you hadn’t, for being less happy as a result. For putting on a brave smile to encourage others because it’s wrong (even as it’s also right) to say aloud that sometimes the only way you tolerate recovery is by viewing it as a challenge that will make others happy. And you love challenges.

I want there to be space to discuss the hard questions. The ones that sound like “If I eat, I’ll be too anxious about it to study for this exam. Which matters more?” and “Do I tell him that the things he likes about my body are the same things that make me cry?”

Recovery can look like this too.

A Gladiator Model of Successful Relationships

[Previously on Facebook, I was convinced to cross-post here.]

Prompted by discussions elsewhere, I notice that people often define ‘successful’ relationships as those that last into marriage or are truncated by non-feelings-related circumstances. In some sort of gladiator system, successful is a mantle only for the last standing relationship one is in.

And…I wonder if this is causing some of the relationship concerns I frequently hear. Things aren‘t abusive or mean or antagonistic, so [person] feels bad for wanting to leave a relationship. Or the other person isn’t a Bad Person, so they have a hard time justifying breaking up. (See versions here and here and here.)

It seems to be a huge success (that we don’t acknowledge) for a relationship to end because you don’t think you’re compatible, or because someone realized their needs weren’t or couldn’t be met. One of my most successful relationships ever involved dating for three years -> almost getting married -> breaking up and becoming friends. Endings like “getting married and not being happy” would have been FAR less pleasant. And along the way I learned things like communicating about my feelings and fighting kindly and that pumpkin-peanut soup will be a huge messy tasteless glop that makes you sad.

Of course, many relationships that end have unhappiness, and I don’t want to create situations where people feel pressure to only describe past partners in glowing terms, or to sugarcoat bad relationships. But it seems like we lose a good deal of reflection on learning and changing and growing when we predicate ‘success’ of a relationship on it not ending.