Recognizing the Experiences of People Who Identify as Mentally Ill Within the #MeToo Movement

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Crumpled paper in the shape of a head rests on a wood surface. The paper making up the brain is fragmented.

This blog post is part of a series in partnership with the Disability Visibility Project® to bring attention to the omission of disability from larger conversations taking place within the #MeToo Movement.

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and mental illness.

A seismic shift has taken place in the world of many sexual assault victims: their experiences no longer feel like dirty little secrets that must be hidden from view.  The “#MeToo” movement has become a powerful tool for women (and men) of sound mind to come forward and share their trauma. And society, by and large, has been extremely supportive.  But I can’t help wondering if the same support would exist for those victims who are not necessarily of sound mind?

I am mentally ill. I have been under a psychiatrist’s care since age twelve. I was raped at fourteen. The former makes the latter twice as hard.

First there’s the intensified paranoia. I was already having issues with feeling unsafe before the assault – I would obsessively check the locks of my home. After the rape, I had to check them multiple times, convinced something terrible would happen if I didn’t. My hallucinations became more violent — and uncomfortably sexual for a young teenager. My depression increased tenfold. My medications didn’t seem to help the same way they did before. But this wasn’t the worst part — the worst part was the forgetting.

Officially, it’s called retrograde amnesia. I stuffed the whole memory deep inside of me and didn’t remember again for eight years. And then I remembered all at once. The fear, the pain, the blood. And I wished nothing more than to forget again.

When a woman is raped, there are already questions about whether or not she is telling the truth. It’s one of the hardest things any survivor is up against. When she is mentally ill, skepticism increases. And if that mentally ill girl and has only just recently remembered her assault, it’s almost a joke. I could have made it up for attention – need for attention is part and parcel of my bipolar disorder. I could have hallucinated the whole memory – I’ve hallucinated many things before. It could be a delusion from my paranoia.

There’s simply too many factors at play for anyone to take at face value — even me. Repressed memories can be notoriously unreliable. I can’t accuse my rapist by name because I might have remembered it wrong. I can’t ruin a man’s life over a memory that may not be real.  I understand that. I understand all of the doubts and concerns. I get it – the story is too complicated. It is too easy for me to be lying or misremembering.

But it happened. I know in my heart that this happened. I was sexually assaulted. It is not a hallucination — I remember too many details. I’ve just remembered them too late.

There’s a giant asterisk next to my #MeToo story. Sometimes I feel as if it doesn’t belong. It’s too messy and would be sullying the cause in some way. Everyone else’s stories are solid and credible. The #MeToo movement doesn’t need some crazy girl coming in and muddying the waters. But what if the crazy girl is telling the truth?

There really is no answer. I will never be able to confront or seek justice from my attacker. There is always that tiny sliver of doubt in my mind. What if I am wrong? The consequences are too great to risk.

But I’m still glad to have remembered. It has helped me understand myself and my behaviors. And I can only hope that sharing my remembering may help other mentally ill people who have experienced sexual assault to realize they are not alone. For, while the stigma rape victims carry may be lessening, the stigma of mental illness still remains. The fear of speaking out is strong. But all stories need to be heard. Maybe the messy ones most of all.

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