Michaela van Nierop continues her series on overcoming rape. In this article, she speaks about suffering from depression and the difficulties of putting the night of the rape behind her. She has learnt to be patient and compassionate towards herself and others who experience depression.
I recently marked the third (17th August) anniversary of the day I was raped, a story that I previously shared on spotlight.africa. A big thing that came up for me, and has come up many many times in the past, is the feeling that I should be over it by now. I should be stronger; I shouldn’t have an increase in anxiety; I shouldn’t slide into depressive episodes; I shouldn’t want to drown all my thoughts and feelings and/or numbness in a bottle of wine.
It just feels like after three years of therapy, three years of crying, three years of dealing with this rubbish, I should be getting better. It’s a dangerous space to get stuck in. The problem is that I then begin to feel depressed about the fact that I am depressed. I have hit my head on that wall several times, and in this article I hope to give some insight into how I’ve dealt with it.
Getting to December
After I was raped in August of 2016, my main goal was to get to December. The week after spring break, in which I had told my parents about the rape, I went back to varsity to write two tests and submit an assignment in the same week. I remember being in tears on the phone with my mom trying to complete the assignment, but feeling completely overwhelmed.
My mom told me that it was okay and that I must just do what I could; if it was too much I could always go home and repeat first year. At those words, my spine stiffened, and I remember thinking to myself that I was NOT, on top of everything else, repeating first year.
I can’t remember very much about that semester, but I know that I did everything I could to pass, and keep myself sane. I struggled a lot. My grades and social life suffered.
The problem was that when I made it to December, nothing had really changed. I was still numb with depression and processing the effects of the rape on my life.
One day at a time
I panicked a little bit. December was the month that I had no varsity obligations and I was supposed to start feeling better and more like myself.
Except that I didn’t. And the expectation that I had put on myself, made that depression much worse. I spent a lot of time being irritated with myself for not feeling better. After a while, I accepted that this was going to take time.
That acceptance didn’t stop me from continuously trying to put time limits on myself. I have to say what can make it worse is knowing what other people expect of you. You never want to disappoint them. Or perhaps these were the expectations I was constantly putting on myself.
You don’t know how to tell them that in a depressive episode, you cannot urge yourself out of bed until 1pm. You eat maybe one meal a day, because you know have to eat. In my case, I know I have always set higher expectations of myself than anyone else did. I know several little tricks that can help me through depressive episodes, but usually it’s a matter of waiting for it to pass. Sometimes I like to compare depression to having the flu. When you have the flu, there are basic things that you need to do to take care of yourself, but because you are unwell they become extremely difficult… things like showering, eating and drinking enough, sometimes not being able to sleep or sleeping a lot.
In the same way, during a depressive episode, I find it easier to just break my day down into trying to achieve a few small, basic tasks to take care of myself. If I need to sleep, I try to allow myself the time. I personally find that having company helps a lot. Just having someone nearby who knows what state I am in who I can chat to or just sit next to and work.
The best part of this analogy is that it reminds me to give myself some grace. When you have the flu, you don’t expect yourself to be able to exercise, cook, and manage all your responsibilities in the same way you would as when you are healthy. You also cannot will yourself better. You just need to spend some time taking care of yourself.
Depression and anxiety have taught me empathy and sympathy towards people. You cannot always reach what you initially thought you could. It taught me to accept disappointments, and how to handle crises.