When I was a child, horror movies were my ABSOLUTE favorite! I remember being in 4th grade, having a sleepover for my birthday, and forcing everyone to watch the Exorcist. Naturally, they were mortified. I was living my best life! The scarier, the better. To that point, though, I have never actually been afraid of a movie in my entire life. That was probably because I never truly absorbed what was going on in these films; meaning, I was young and the scenarios I was watching, the portrayed fears, or the underlying themes did not resonate at that time in my life.
Now that I am an adult, I cannot tell you the last true horror movie that I watched. Get Out, maybe? Is that even technically classified as horror? Anyway… I can probably blame that on my husband. We have been together since I was 21 years old and he has always vehemently refused to watch scary movies. It has irritated me, but I am starting to realize that it might have been for the best!
As we grow and develop, our impulsivity decreases (well, for most of us that is) and our sense of reason heightens. We are able to recognize good vs bad, moral vs immoral, risky vs protective, etc. Essentially, we are able to think things through! This change in cognition - along with lack of exposure over recent years - can be applied to how my thoughts pertaining to scary movies have shifted. When I was a child, the majority of the scenes did not have any relation to me or my life. The idea of a demonic presence did not make me ponder what that would really look like. Strangers psychologically and physically tormenting individuals in the middle of nowhere was not something I worried about (and I even spent my entire life going up north to a cottage on a secluded lane in Cheboygan, Michigan!) Someone dismembering and eating human body parts… disgusting… but that was just a shock and awe factor in a film. All in all, the gravity of the situations that these movies were showing me never really impacted me as they would today.
Today, I have life experience. Today, I cry at the drop of a hat. Today, I have to refrain from watching the news because my heart breaks into a million pieces over, and over, and over, and over… Today, I have real empathy. Today, when I see trailers for most scary movies, I get disturbed. Some still appear thrilling and I get the itch, begging my husband, “Come onnnnn! Let’s go seeee that one!! Pleaseeeeeeee…” But I had a situation occur today that made me realize exactly why I stay away from the majority of things that do not make me feel positive, healthy, or happy. Obviously, there are some bad things that we cannot avoid or just simply must endure. But I have really been trying to be conscious of refusing to engage in media, activities, relationships, etc. that make me feel uncomfortable, disappointed, confused, or depressed. Again, not always possible… but when it is… I choose filling my life with joy.
I broke that rule today. I let myself down. I opened an article that I knew, I definitely knew, was going to crush me. It was going to exacerbate my anxiety, make me ‘hate everyone’ for the time being, and leave me with so many overwhelming concerns. The online story was shared on Facebook. It detailed a woman’s survival, following a brutal attack and attempted murder in the Dominican Republic, while vacationing with her husband and another couple. I will not share all of the details, because that is her story to tell. However, I can say that I was impressed by how brave she was for speaking publicly, after such a traumatic, life-altering event.
Now, I will get back to what I detailed above… the anxiety… the horror! When I read her words, portraying the incident, I literally felt like I was there. I started to suffocate. Shear panic took over my entire body. I caught myself reading faster, faster, faster, because I wanted it to end… then to imagine actually being her!? It was a powerful piece - but it hurt me in the moment; it hurt me for her; it hurt me for women. She made reference, in the particular article that I read, about women not being able to walk alone. In some of her own words, she stated that she did not like having to say it that way, but that ultimately, sadly, it is true.
Let me also mention that she does say multiple times that this incident was not her fault… she did not intend to victim blame by her statement at all… she was essentially expressing how unfair and dangerous the world is.
After reading her story, uneasy and all, I had to go see a few patients at one of the locations I work out of. When my first patient arrived, there were a few people in the building. When I was walking him out, I realized the front door was locked and I was the only person left. This is not uncommon. Cool… I unlocked the door for him and left it open for my next patient. He should be arriving in a few minutes anyway, so I will just walk back to my office and finish some paperwork. I turn around… and there stands a man that I have never seen. My heart immediately jumps, but I quickly realize he is mopping the floor. I think to myself, ‘Oh… okay. Why have I never seen him before, though? That is weird… Anyway… just say hello…’ I attempt to make direct eye contact, because I am very serious about that, but he refuses. He turns his body away from me and puts his head towards the ground. I politely say “Hello!” to him, but he gives me a very short, stern “Hi” in return.
I go to my office and my patient walks in a few minutes later. We have an amazing session, working through a lot of issues and developing a short-term action plan until our next appointment. I walk him to the door - it’s unlocked (remember, I had unlocked it because I had to let my other patient out and wait for this patient to arrive). The gentleman, the person I have never seen in the building while consistently working alone during early mornings and later evenings, is no longer in sight. Again, I think, ‘Odd… but is it? Just lock the door and get out of here finally.’ I lock the front door. I walk back to my office and in my typical fashion decide that I am incapable of leaving that building until my progress note is completed and my billing is submitted. Don’t ask - that is a whole other blog post worth of information (haha!).
My mind starts racing! Hypervigilance? BEYOND! I am hearing odd noises. I am sweating. My heart is beating out of my chest. Catastophric thought patterns are my ONLY thought patterns. My head cannot get away from that man with the mop! ‘WHY have I never seen him before? Why was he so uncomfortable with making eye contact with me? Is he gone? Did he just walk out the front door or does he have a key fob like I do and use the back entrance? Wait, the front door was locked until I unlocked it… so he MUST have a key fob. WHY have I never seen him before?’ I recognize, even in that moment, that there are two things in play here: the residual effects of reading that article before work (secondary trauma) and my true intuition/understanding of when I feel uneasy or threatened.
My thoughts got so dark; I mean, SO dark. I called my husband, thinking that IF that man was still around and had ill intent then my being on the phone would disrupt his plan. Then my thoughts led to my history of watching crime shows and documentaries where I have learned that I actually should not be on the phone because it is lessening my senses to threats around me. I hang up. I text my husband my concerns. I call him again, because the fear is intensifying. He doesn’t answer. He had already planned to meet me after work a couple of miles from the office, so he was probably getting in the car. My stomach drops. ‘I am dead. Fight or flight… what do you in this situation? You knew you felt uncomfortable… why didn’t you leave right AWAY!? You did this to yourself now. You could have left, but chose to think this would not happen to you. Now, you’re going to be sexually assaulted, kidnapped maybe, but definitely murdered… Unless you can fight him off. Can you? Where is he going to attack you? Is he by the back exit? Is he waiting in a car in the parking lot so he can grab you when you least expect it. No… he is in here… wtffffff…..’ My husband calls me back. I detail that I am leaving RIGHT NOW because I feel SO afraid. He is confused. I do not normally get this way, according to him. I am gasping every few seconds, as I turn around or look in the direction of one of the pitch black offices, because I am so totally freaked out and on edge that everything is perceived as a threat. I literally asked my husband if it was dark outside already, because I wanted to determine if outside was going to be as terrifying as inside this building. ‘Babe… it is 7pm… it is totally light out…’ he says it in a continued confused tone, as if implying, ‘Are you serious right now?’ He doesn’t get it.
I make him talk to me on the phone until I get into my car and lock the doors. At this point, nowhere is safe and everyone is trying to murder or sexually assault me. Once I hang up, I still do not feel at ease. I am still concerned about my physical safety, however, the psychological warfare that I just experienced is the most painful. It is indescribable (other than the words above… but you get my point).
‘Why did I read that article? (Because you have to… you are an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and violence against women… you enjoy reading their stories and applauding them for their bravery.) Why did some individual mopping the floor put my system on such high alert? (It was not just the article… trust yourself… look, you stayed to write that progress note trying to avoid your intuition and then literally felt as though your life was in danger… you then started beating yourself up for assuming that something so atrocious would never happen to you… why would you be so lucky?) Why did my husband not understand how severe my fear was or where it was stemming from? (Because you essentially never show any form of weakness and then you have to also take into account that he is a man; on average, men do not experience these fears or realities.)
The horror of being a woman. The survivor in that article that I read before work was right! We cannot walk alone. We cannot let our guard down. We will never experience lives that do not consist of threats to our safety or well-being… because we are women…
I stood there. Whether hypervigilant due to that article or not… I stood there! I felt I had something to prove. I convinced myself, despite my knowledge and the work that I do on a regular basis, I literally convinced myself to stand in fear because I wanted to “prove” that something like “that” would never happen to me. Thankfully, it didn’t. But WTF?
I honestly have no closing to this blog. I was emotionally, psychologically, physically …. professionally, systemically, politically … every “lly” you can think of… I was DRAINED, after the events of today. I guess to tie it all together, here are a few thoughts and some questions:
I am glad that I choose to refrain from watching horror movies these days. They are way too real and can be way too damaging to my psyche.
Are we (women) living the real horror movie?
Do I have to be afraid to be a woman? Is that silly to even ask?
How do we, as women, stand strong and fight against victim blaming/sexism, while also being comfortable to make a statement like the survivor in that article, i.e. we cannot walk alone - we just can’t?
Violence is real… it is so real. It does not discriminate against anyone.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is not in any way stating that men do not experience trauma, violence, sexual assault, etc. It is strictly speaking from a woman’s point of view and from my personal experience(s).