A few years ago I came across a CS Lewis quote: “To love is to be vulnerable.” I hated that quote. I hated that he was right.
Being open with people is something I’ve always struggled with. I kept anything even remotely controversial or stigma-filled under wraps. Bisexuality, the fact that I was Muslim up until recently, depression, sexual assault, domestic abuse… All of it was very carefully hidden to all but the most trustworthy.
All of that began to change three years ago.
I’m deathly afraid of being misunderstood. I don’t want people to think I’m confused because I’m bisexual. I don’t want people to think I’m a terrorist because I was Muslim. I don’t want people to think I was weak because I had depression. I don’t want people to think I’m dramatic when I tell them about sexual assault. I don’t want people to think my mom is weak and my dad is a monster because he was abusive towards her. I want them to see me as I am and not make assumptions.
Telling someone what I’ve been through is hard enough on it own. But because of those fears of being misunderstood, I have an extra layer to worry about: educating them. As I tell people about my past experiences, I’ve felt the need to dispel stereotypes as I go. I’m glad to have the opportunity to teach people more about these issues, but those conversations can be tough. Knowing that I will be telling my story and educating someone at the same time can deter me from talking in the first place. It’s emotionally straining and stressful.
So what changed?
My parents divorced in late high school. The stress of it sent me into a depression for about a year. Thank god that was all. I knew that talking about it would help me, but I didn’t feel safe going to very many people. However, every time I told my story, it got easier. I saw the value in sharing my story but only did it with people who I trusted immensely. In addition, confiding in a friend about depression is how I gained a valuable ally who helped me through it. Without him, I have no doubt that I would have depression to this day.
Fast forward two years and I realized that I was a survivor of sexual assault. Now, when it comes to tragedy in my life, I know that burying it will only make things worse in the long run. My preferred method has always been to attack things head on and prevent problems from developing. It’s tough, but I’d rather have a few hard years than have to spend years in therapy undoing problems that could have been prevented with some hard work.
I spent about six months dealing with things on my own and trying to come to grips with it. It turned out to be harder than I anticipated, so I realized that I’d have to start talking about it…. ugh! One of the first things I did (much to my surprise) was to essentially go public on my campus. I told my story at Take Back the Night (remind me to write about that sometime, okay?).
Around that time I also started dating A, who is still the single most important person in my support system to this day. One thing that really stood out to me when I started getting to know him is that he’s very open. Seeing the value in that more than ever, I decided to do the same. It’s been a slow process as I’m still very calculated about who I tell my story to, but I’m still telling my story much more often than I used to. I also tell my friends about my triggers. Shoot, I even talked about being a survivor in an admissions interview.
I don’t think I’ll ever go public, but telling people around me what I’ve been through has been immensely helpful. It’s cathartic. I can go to them for help when I need it. They’ll understand me better. It brings us closer. They learn more about sexual assault, etc…. Opening up is scary. There will always be risk involved. It’ll always be a little scary. But I’ve had so many positive experiences with opening up that I now think that vulnerability has more pros than cons.
Thank you for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.