I do want to preface this newsletter with a trigger warning. I am going to be discussing some topics surrounding sexual assault and rape, which may be triggering to survivors: Please read with care.
I’ve been wanting to write this one for a while, but never felt fully prepared to write it. I also was very much in my head about who the heck would even want to read this.. But I do feel it’s an important topic, especially when it surrounds mental health and the overall causes of burnout.
I don’t feel like it’s a shock to anyone, but if a person experiences trauma, it significantly affects their mental state. How that person handles the aftermath of that trauma or any future stress, is deeply impacted. To put it plainly, a person won’t be able to handle stress or conflict the same way they did prior to the traumatic event.
Recovering from these experiences also takes a lot of work – mentally, physically and emotionally.. Therefore, survivors can sadly become a victim of burnout much sooner and way easier than the average person.
I’m about to get real vulnerable with you, so if that ain’t your thing, no worries! You can find the exit by pushing the back button or by locating the giant ‘X’ to close out your web-browser.
Back in 2015, I was raped by a complete stranger. I won’t go into detail, but basically I was out with some friends and on my walk home, was approached by a man on a bike. The next morning I was so disoriented and confused, but felt the need to carry on with my daily routines. So I showed up to my office and attempted to continue onward with my work-week. My co-worker happened to notice my change in behaviour and asked me what was wrong. She was also my best friend, so I felt comfortable confiding in her. After I told her what had happened, she insisted we go to the nearest women’s clinic to get tested and encouraged me to consider speaking to the police. I was so out of it, I couldn’t even use my brain to think of doing these things for myself.
The clinic was able to collect DNA and the cops located some fingerprints and after an extended (and honestly kind of horrific) interrogation, they provided me with a private detective to ensure this person wouldn’t attempt to come back to my neighbourhood again.
All of that said, they never caught the person.
Now, I am going somewhere with this, believe me. I’m sharing it so I can set you up for what happened afterwards.
As I mentioned, I immediately went to work the next day. I didn’t take any time off, even in the weeks that followed. I really, really, really regret that decision. I wish so badly that I took a couple weeks to myself and that I sought better urgent help. The women’s clinic I went to provided me with free therapy, but it was with a student and all they had me do was make magazine collages, and it didn’t actually help me process anything.
I felt too anxious to step away from my daily tasks and the projects I was working on. There were so many deadlines, that I couldn’t push pause on my work and come back to it at a later time. Some people prefer to dive deeper into their work as a distraction or as a coping mechanism – I, however, dove in because I felt like I didn’t have a choice.
I don’t think I ever fully recovered from that experience either. Years after that, I had PTSD, especially when it came to men on bikes. Even to this day, if a man is riding a bike on a sidewalk near me, I tense up immediately... I also realized my ability to handle stress after that, changed drastically. Any time something got frustrating or stressful, my fuse was short. I didn’t have the capacity or patience to handle it in the same way that I used to. But of course, I continued to try.
All of this to say, I attempted to maintain my extensive workload after dealing with a pretty traumatic event. It led me down a bumpy road where I gained weight, took on more than I could handle and ignored my self-care needs.
Eventually, I found a great therapist who years later, helped me identify that my job maybe wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I of course really struggled with this initially, because my career felt like it was such a big part of my identity. But once I realized that I owed it to myself to find out who I was outside of work, that’s when things started to shift.
I’m doing much better now and I’m in a really healthy headspace, especially when it comes to work/life balance. It’s a space that provides me with autonomy and doesn’t make me feel like I’m just existing to work.
I will say, however, that this past October marked the 7th year of my survival.. And it was the first time the date came and went, and I didn’t even think twice about it. I feel like I've finally hit a point where I’ve coped with what happened and I’m doing really well!
Burnout after trauma is unfortunately inevitable when working a stressful job. And it sucks, but we carry the weight of these events with us for the rest of our lives. I think that’s the part I struggle with the most, if I’m being totally honest.. It’s that this stranger will continue to live their life as if nothing had happened. Where I, on the other hand, will forever be affected by his actions. Trauma and the aftermath of it, affects absolutely everything, such as how we handle stress, how we speak to people and how we trust others.. The list goes on.
For anyone else who has experienced trauma and is attempting to continue living their life “normally”, there really isn’t a way to do that. We have to learn how to find a “new normal”. There also isn’t a linear way to do that either, we have to find what works for us. Thankfully, there are a numerous amount of resources available to us now more than ever, which is helpful.
It takes time and a lot of reflection, but I think the best thing we can do is be kind and gentle with ourselves. The path to recovery doesn’t happen by burning ourselves out further, it happens by giving ourselves the space and grace to heal.
Writing this was extremely therapeutic for me and I encourage any other survivors to treat themselves with kindness and compassion. And if you ever need anyone to talk to, my inbox is always open.
Also, below are some accessible resources:
Thank you for being here and thank you for reading.
Dondrea, thanks sharing your experience and ongoing recovery. With the help of an excellent therapist, my wife found "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing" (EMDR) effective and illuminating. What began as a former music sup's journal has morphed into an expanded perspective. Kudos.