Chapter Eight – Battlefield of Perfectionism

There are times when I honestly feel the root of mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc. is the overwhelming need to be perfect. Perfection can mean different things to different people, and I will even go out on a limb and say that not all perfectionists crave perfection in every aspect of their lives (raises hand and looks around the room for validation). I have only really wanted to be perfect in those tasks and deeds at which I excelled at naturally. I wanted to be the best soccer player on the field, the smartest kid in the class, the best writer in college, and the best employee at my job. I managed to make it all the way to college feeling pretty perfect about my accomplishments, and had zero doubt in my mind that whatever I wanted in life was mine for the taking. I had never really failed before. I had never allowed myself to even entertain the idea of failing because I am a Harrell and Harrells don’t fail. We piss excellence, kick ass and take names, exude grace and confidence in everything we do. But we damn sure do not fail. Sounds ridiculous to me now, but these were the phrases used to govern my life and I never had a reason to believe otherwise. And then adulthood happened.

I dropped out of law school, moved to the other side of the country, and began working for the first time in my life. Ever. And it was horrible…but I always felt it would be temporary because I piss excellence and there was no way that I was going to stay in my rut for one day longer than necessary. This too would pass, etc. And even though I hated my job, I wanted to be the best at it to prepare myself for the day I would get the opportunity to take my perfection and apply it to something I was passionate about – something I truly loved so that I could become even *more* perfect that I was before. It was a brass ring that I chased year after year, job after job, city after city, but I was never ever ever happy. I blamed myself for my failures while holding those people who were doing *better* than myself up on a resentful pedestal, even if it was just a facade. I was jealous of their facade and the fact that they even had the ability to pretend that everything was perfect, because on an almost daily basis I just could not get my shit together enough to pretend I was as perfect as I longed to be professionally or personally.

The need, the almost obsession, to be at a certain level of your own imagination can be soul-crushing and immobilizing at the same time. The older you get and the more divorced from your dreams that you become, you make sacrifices and excuses for why you aren’t happy and even start to think that tolerance for your situation is a decent substitute, at least in the interim. I am guilty of that on an almost daily basis. The industry that I managed to land in after four years of college and a year of law school was something that I looked down on. I felt it was beneath me in almost every capacity. I did not think the people with whom I worked or who worked *for* me were beneath me, but I hated the industry I was in with such passion that it became the ruler with which I measured my own failings. And I resented the shit out of myself. I hated that I did not have an immediately identifiable passion to pursue on the side which would deliver me from my hell of mediocrity. I HATED most of my bosses who I felt were intellectually inferior to me, and more than a few of them had the emotional intelligence of a scorpion. I felt trapped by bills and responsibilities and a lifestyle to which I was accustomed. And all of these feelings of failure and rage and resentment built up inside of me year after year after year, becoming more pronounced with each passing birthday or major milestone in the life of a friend or loved one.

With these feelings came an extreme bout of anxiety and moderate depression. More anxiety than depression for me, but my perfectionist mentality made me shun asking for help and I turned my nose up at medicating the problem. I didn’t need a pill to make my life suck less, I needed to click my heels three times and land in the career of my dreams. Only then, when I was making the money I wanted in the field that I was perfectly suited to be in, would I allow myself to consider what comes next. Only once I was perfect would I concentrate on my health, traveling, dating, or on increasing my volunteer presence in my community. How could I go help out the disenfranchised when *EYE* was suffering too?!

I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t going out with friends. Mama loved herself about a bottle of Chardonnay each evening before bedtime. I was suffering from blinding migraines, tightness in my chest, an irregular heartbeat, and my hands were going numb. And the more my anxiety manifested itself in the physical and the more doctor’s appointments I went to in order to confirm that I wasn’t actually dying, the more shit my boss gave me (in my head) for leaving work early or taking the day off. He never actually said anything to me, but I was convinced that he was judging me and doubting my commitment to my job (that I hated) and plotting on a way to get rid of me (scorpion) before I had a chance to liberate myself from Hell and move on to my destiny!! I just had no idea what that “something” actually was, how to find out, how to afford making any major life changes while living in one of the most expensive cities in America and maintaining my autonomy. You know…the pesky little details. Sometimes life makes those decisions for you, and that temporary loss of control is exhilarating and horrifying at the same time. Perfectionist = control freak.

I cling so desperately to the idea of perfection because with that perfect life would come the illusion of stability (IT IS ALL AN ILLUSION!!!). This yearning for perfection, and as an extension my desire for stability, has made me operate from a place of fear for a very long time. I would rather be miserable with a secure source of income than take a step back (emotionally and financially), look deep inside myself to discover who I am without a job title behind my name or other people’s expectations having a predominant place in my head, discover what I am truly supposed to be doing with myself, and figure out how to make my days on this planet extraordinary and satisfying. And allllll of this added up over time gives you the glorious mess of an imperfect human being that I am today.

In my short 35 years on this planet, I have experienced a lot. I have had some amazing good times, but have also suffered some soul-snatching losses and defeats. Consistently I have been carrying guilt and pain and the burdens of imperfection for many, many years. I have measured my reality against my own expectations for my life, found myself lacking, and then consistently beat myself up emotionally for it. I fight a paralyzing fear of worthlessness on a daily basis while still being expected to show up and excel at whatever is in front of me when all I want to do is scream and cry and fade into the shadows if my star can’t shine as brightly as I feel it is meant to. And what I feel is not unique to just myself. These overwhelming feelings haunt the minds and hearts of millions of people in this country each day, but we are just now getting comfortable talking about and trying to normalize how we as humans process our emotions.

There are so many people out there fighting an all-out war on a daily basis, and their number one opponent on the battlefield is themselves. Some people think that depressed people or people suffering from anxiety are always the people who are “emo” dressed in black, sitting alone crying all the time, or who are just down-in-the-dumps. If that is all they care to understand about mental health issues, then it’s easy to ignore the symptoms in themselves or in the people they love. If a person is sad they are depressed, but if a person comes to work every day and can tell a funny joke or smile in a picture for Instagram then they are OK, right? Then they act shocked when that person takes their own life or otherwise hurts themselves with addiction or mutilation, saying things like “they were always so happy,” or “I guess you never know what’s going on with a person.” So as a parting gift for reading this post, I am going to try and post some words of wisdom for all parties so that there can be understanding, self-love, and compassion moving forward.

To my fellow perfectionists or anyone suffering from depression or anxiety my advice is the one I give myself on a daily basis: Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being whatever you think your version of perfect or accomplished or gifted or blessed looks like, and try really hard to think of the people and experiences that bring you joy. Try and find peace there so that you can navigate around the noise in your own head and come out on the other side with a clarity and renewed sense of direction and purpose so you aren’t frozen in place forever. And speak with a professional if you aren’t comfortable speaking with close friends or family. An objective opinion is often helpful for showing you that while you are valid in not being content with where you are, you do have the power to change your circumstances. And if for some reason you cannot immediately change your circumstances, it might give you the strength to change you attitude about them. Perfectionism is the driving force of greatness! Do not apologize for having a high opinion of yourself and what you are meant to accomplish! But find peace in accepting where you are in this present moment, and use those experiences as tools to add to your arsenal so that when your time arrives you are a force of nature that cannot be stopped. Remind people why storms are named after people and leave your mark on the world in a way where people will speak about you with admiration for your talents and your compassion for others fighting the same battles that tried to take you out.

To my readers who do not suffer from mental illness I say the following: Do not dismiss the feelings of someone who is literally fighting themselves for their life simply because you do not understand the burden that they carry. It is not your job to give them “tough love” or remind them that there are people who are worse off than them in the world to try and provide perspective. That shit does NOT work, and they will close off the part of themselves that they allowed to become vulnerable until the cancer destroys them from the inside. Remind them they are loved and valuable and encourage them to follow their passions (or in my case, discover what their passions are), but then don’t follow it up with some patronizing sentiment that is really designed to make you feel better for helping them rather than actually being of any real assistance to the person in need. Remind them that where they are right now is a stepping stone that they can pick up and add to their personal or professional foundations to make themselves stronger for whatever is coming their way next. But do not make them feel weak for baring their souls to someone with whom they felt comfortable enough to let their walls down. Be kind. Encourage forgiveness of self. Love them for who they are right now, not for who you or they think they will become. And if you are truly scared for their health and safety, do not rest until you have gotten them the professional help they need. You would rather they be upset with you for a few months or years than cry over their absence if the burden got too heavy for them to carry by themselves.

Love yourself. Love each other. Tomorrow is a better day.



Chapter Seven – When is Karma a curse and when is your curse a blessing?

Hello CTT family! I hope everyone is gearing up to have a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend! Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the true meaning of the holiday before diving into BBQ’s and swimming pools, because we wouldn’t have what we have today if it weren’t for the sacrifices of the brave men and women of our military.

Well now that *that* has been covered, onto today’s topic at hand – when the hell is something your Karma or when is it your blessing? Can something bad that happened to you be the Karmic bitchslap of when you did someone dirty, but also turn around and become your biggest blessing?

This isn’t a long and deep post today, this was literally a thought I had this morning while cooking breakfast. They say when God closes a door that he opens a window, but is it God *and* Karma if that door actually hits you in the ass on the way out? If you are currently suffering and it’s darkest before your dawn, how does the Universe balance out lifting you back onto your feet with the rage you feel knowing someone else is delighting in your misery? Do you lessen your blessings and prolong your curse if you’re waiting for Karma to slap the taste out of their mouth too?

I have had a lot going on lately and I am sure when I have come through the other side I will share it with you all, but for now these are the questions that I need answers to at this present time.

Ok that note I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe weekend! Catch up soon!


Chapter Six – All Racists Can Catch It With Me – Period

Hello my Cheaper Than Therapy familia! It’s been a while, and you all have been missed! It’s been more than a month since my last post, but there has been so much going on lately that today I decided to stop pretending to be productive at work (I kid! I kid!), and jot down a few thoughts that have been floating around in my head for the past couple of days.

This post is going to be a bit of a departure for me – I’m not reflecting on a past trauma or imagining ways that I can inspire the masses with a “learning to love myself” soliloquy while draping myself figuratively in a giant afghan of love while holding a hot cup of comfort tea. Nope. It truly only has one meaning behind it, and there should be no room whatsoever for misunderstanding or miscommunication. I am putting all racists/sympathizers/white nationalists on notice that 2018 is the Year of the Troll. I have come to poke the bear, agitate the hive, and laugh at your cyber hissy fits with a mirth generated in my spirit by my ancestors who have come before me. Generational Petty. Ancestral Reads for the Gods. This won’t be like what the trumpsters try and do whenever their Cheeto-In-Chief tweets something godawful and they are forced to spin it and talk about what he “really meant to say.” In all truth, it will be *exactly* like what tr__p actually posts himself – exactly what I mean in the exact tone that I mean it. No muss. No fuss. No confusion.

GREAT NEWS EVERYONE! Equality has finally been achieved in 2018 y’all!! But before you get excited, understand what this equality actually means to you and possibly the people you love the most. In being an equal-opportunity troll, that means that you, your spouse, your mother, father, brother, sister, kids (yea, I’ll come for your kids), cousins, priest/pastor/bishop/deacon, Meemaw, Pawpaw, etc. are all equal in my beautiful brown eyes. Congrats! This equality comes in the form of me reading for absolute FILTH anyone who I deem to be a racist or racist sympathizer.

Due to the wonderful invention that is the Internet, I am bombarded with the absolute WORST in the people I thought I knew and loved or who I was close with growing up. I continuously see self-righteous people using false statistics (WRONG!) or political commentary laced with dog-whistle racist vernacular (FAKE NEWS!!) to make themselves feel good and justified for feeling the way that they do because they are tired of being “politically correct.” When I was growing up we just called being respectful of people who were different from us “not being an asshole,” but whatevs…#FirstAmendmentRights #WWJD

Here is a list of the people with whom I am done being “politically correct”, and to whom all of the shade available in the Amazon Rainforest will be thrown for each and every stupid, backwoods, ignorant, tone-deaf racist comment that I see come across my timeline. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, these are just the people I have encountered in the past 24-48 hours so they are fresh on my mind. I ain’t mad fam. I ain’t mad at all. I’m just done. At this point you are encouraging or living in willful ignorance, and it is not my ministry to keep being your Knee-grow interpreter. I am not going to do for you what human decency, a love of Christ, or at least a Google search can do for you. I’m done with all of that. Now I troll. Hard. And then laugh. And then block you. Got it? Ahem. The following individuals can CATCH THESE INTERNET HANDS without warning and at any time:

  • All those people who think that “such and such wouldn’t even be on the news/be a hero/ if he wasn’t A BLACK PERSON.”
  • The people who think that Chicago is the baseline for how all of Black behavior/culture should be measured. Full. Stop. You sound stupid. And racist as fcuk. There have always been resources on the ground trying to stop the violence in the affected communities, but the people doing good in the community never make the national news because Blacks uplifting other Blacks isn’t sexy television. And whenever something good just so happens to make the news, you have douchebags like the people listed in bullet point #1 who have to try and tear it all apart. #ThanksObama #ObamaWasNotThePresidentOfChicago #TrumpAbolishedMyBrothersKeeperDayOneInOffice #DoYouFeelStupidYet?
    • Question – Have y’all held town halls on how to stop angry white men from shooting up concerts/churches/schools/theaters/restaurants yet? Holla at me when you do and we can have an actual conversation, but until then STFU.
  • The people who are spewing #BlueLivesMatter (not a real thing) or #AllLivesMatter (duh! but ours are the ones currently being extinguished unjustly) all over my timeline, but never ever ever have anything to say against the homicides of unarmed people of color because “they should have complied.” How many times have the police cameras shown people in full compliance or even with their backs to the cops and they are still shot like rabid animals with absolutely no remorse. None. An unlawful arrest is just that – unlawful. And the human body will automatically tense up when being attacked, especially if you have your hands cuffed behind your back. Seriously. And just for shits, imagine the righteous indignation you would feel if you were unjustly approached by the police/kicked out of Starbucks/harassed at a golf course where you are a dang member. Try and imagine the people in these videos as being someone you love or at least the same color as someone you love. Can you honestly say that the excessive violence is always justified? Do you honestly not think that a deeper melanin hue is *not* inherently viewed as a weapon in and of itself? Are we still telling ourselves these lies to make ourselves feel better about our predisposed views on race?
  • People who move into communities of color and then want to complain about said community and call the police to impose the kind of change they wish to see. I’m looking at *you* Gentrifiers. You moved to Harlem, Linda. Washington, D.C. used to be nicknamed “Chocolate City,” Susan. There are communities of color a rich history and a proud culture all across the country, and if you want to move there and become part of the narrative then nobody will stop you. But if you come in and immediately try and change everything that made those communities beloved and unique, then you have crossed the dang line. #ThatsRacist
  • The people talking about how the Black family is falling apart, but take no responsibility for the Prison Industrial Complex, the failed and blatantly racist “War on Drugs,” the systematic imprisonment of minorities for non-violent offenses when whites would get treatment or community service, support of for-profit prisons, a lack of proper educational opportunities/facilities in minority communities, no access to feminine healthcare/birth control, etc. It is all inter-connected and we have been trying to tell you this for years…
  • To the people who start every single discussion with, “I’m not a racist, but…” You are a racist. Idiot.
  • To absolutely anyone who quotes the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify your ridiculously biased views on Black America. Have you guys ever even read any of his writings or listened to any of his speeches besides “I Have A Dream”? It will shake you to your core and show you that you really don’t know who he was at all.
  • To anyone with a Black friend who refuses to listen to us when we try and explain to you our daily interactions with microaggressions. What are microaggressions? They are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” How do you choose not to understand that decades of exposure to these microaggressions can be just as harmful as seeing a cross burned in your yard or being called a nigger by your friends or their family? You are a shitty friend.
  • If you, or anyone you know, still tells racist jokes and then thinks that we are “being too sensitive” when we tell you that your shit is raggedy. You are some of my least favorite humans, and my backlash will be swift and personal.
  • If you dismiss old people’s racism as being ok because Meemaw or Peepaw are old and “set in their ways.” You understand that actually makes them worse people in my eyes? How did they manage to live through all of the advancements from Civil Rights Movement and still come out on the wrong side of history 50 years later? FOH man. Eff your Meemaw and Peepaw with their old racist behinds.

Some people wonder why I go so hard online for my people, and I do not understand what is there not to understand? Why on earth would I just sit here and ignore provocative posts from people who are in my extended circle or try and use kid gloves to gently try and ease them out of their prejudiced ways? Since when did the burden fall on me and my community to make others feel better and less threatened by the ever-forward surge in demanding equality and equity and peace and respect? That ship sailed, sunk, and will never be seen or heard from again. Y’all are going to get *this* version forever and ever so either get on board or get to steppin’.

Carry on, be great, and be good to each other. Stop trying to justify viewpoints that reduce a strong and proud people to the images which are portrayed in the media simply to make yourselves feel morally or culturally superior. I’ll be forced to bitch-slap you with some real history lessons (you know, the ones they don’t teach in school because history is written by the conquerors), and then I will troll you until your eyeball starts to twitch and your mouth goes dry from cursing me out through your computer. And I won’t give a single, solitary, curly-haired fcuk about it. Peace out, racial intolerant MOFOs. Your antiquated mentalities might have gotten this train-wreck of a “president” elected in a wave of post-Obama blacklash, but its time has passed and we are going to move forward together as a progressive nation whether you like it or not.

**sets off fireworks in the colors of the Pan-African flag while throwing up the “X” for Wakanda and singing “Left Every Voice And Sing aka the Black National Anthem**


Chapter Five – What do you say when you feel you have nothing to say…

It’s been a couple of months since I last logged into my Cheaper Than Therapy blog, and that’s because honestly and truly I felt I didn’t have anything to talk about. Of course there were things going on in my life – some meaningful, some benign, some random nonsense that i thought was funny – I just did not feel that it would matter to anyone else but me. I called it Writer’s Block, but it was more paralyzing than that. It was the sincere feeling that nothing I wanted to discuss was important at all. Period. I mean, not every post is going to be profound and deeply introspective. Sometimes I just wanted to log in, write some stuff, then go on with my day. But then I would feel guilty at the idea of wasting everyone’s time reading my nonsensical dribble or for using the blog as a personal site to vent my frustrations, so I would do nothing. Write nothing. Create nothing.

I would sit at home staring at my laptop closed on my dining room table, and then pour myself another class of Cabernet and absorb the latest news cycle with a tightness in my chest. I would sit and brood over future uncertainties, both personal and professional, and have to do deep breathing exercises to stop my anxiety attacks before they took over my entire body. I would suffer from migraines and spend my evenings or days off on the couch in the dark not really sure how to stop them from happening in the first place and freaking out about the frequency of my headaches. And after about a month or so of forgiving myself out of my weekly posts and suffering from the physical manifestations of inward psychological torment, it occurred to me that maybe I don’t *not* have anything to say after all.  That maybe I was feeling a little bit bluer than what could be considered ‘normal’ and I was slipping into a full-on depressive episode coupled with crippling anxiety attacks. That maybe I should try and get some help to snap out of it before I become paralyzed in other areas of my life and it becomes even harder to pull myself out of the darkness. I needed to see my general practitioner and I needed to speak with my therapist. Immediately.

Mental health is a very hot-button topic today, but in the Black community there is still a heavy stigma and shame surrounding the matter. We expect more from ourselves, from our psyche, than we should and it is not fair for us to do so. We put so much pressure on ourselves to always have our shyt together, and then beat the hell out of ourselves and each other when the facade slips. When the person behind the curtain peeks their head out, and we are faced with our own shortcomings or those of someone we know. It makes us uncomfortable as fcuk and nobody likes to feel uncomfortable.

I have suffered from anxiety ever since I was around four years old and it is physically and emotionally exhausting to deal with on a daily basis. I don’t feel like I should have to hide that part of myself all the time just to pretend that there aren’t days where I feel like I am falling apart. To make myself or someone else more comfortable with my faux perverted and distorted image of reality. My anxiety attacks as a child used to give me stomach pains, migraines, vivid nightmares, and a feeling of hopelessness that no child or adult should ever have to endure. Now as an adult it still does all of the above to me, but now you can throw in being anxious about going out to certain places or with certain people, not succeeding to my standards in my career, never getting married, never having children, not being sure if I even want children, where will I live in the next 12 months, etc. I do not typically call my friends or family during these episodes because I don’t want to drag them into my negativity shit-show, and I have always reacted very negatively when someone tried to tell me ‘everything is going to be alright’ when there is no way to fcuking know that for sure (sorry Mommy…). I have been experiencing all the fun of the anxiety from my youth, but now with fun adult-sized problems and consequences. Whoop! Whoop!!

Now take that anxiety, top it with just a dollop of mild depression for good measure, and you have the headspace in which I have been existing over these past few months. I tried seeing my psychologist, but he couldn’t squeeze me in on a day when I was feeling particularly anxious so I don’t think I will be going back to him. He answers his phone in session anyway, and I deserve more than that for my copay of $70 for 50 minutes. I tried making an appointment with a psychiatrist after my primary care physician suggested that I might need mild anti-anxiety meds so that I stop putting so much pressure on my heart, but the doctor he recommended does not take insurance and told me that psychiatry in Miami is mostly a cash-only business. I have no cash and lost my motivation to research the matter for myself any further, so I never got the help that I really needed. All the while I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into my anxiety hole, but did not feel like there was anyone who could help me other than myself so I said nothing. I did nothing. I wrote nothing.

I still feel that way today, but I am attempting to pull myself out of whatever headspace I have been occupying by my own self-determination. I am one of the lucky ones who can do that. I am not a danger to myself or others, I can still function normally on a day-to-day basis without medication, and I have a strong support system for the times that I choose to reach out for help. My asking for help never sounds like asking for help, but those who know me really *know* me, and always make time for their friend when called on.

There might be someone reading this now who feels the way I have felt. The way I am feeling right now. I am really not great at pep talks, but I will say that allowing yourself to slip deeper and deeper into your anxiety or depression will not make anything better. Your problems tend to magnify the longer you focus on them and can paralyze you into inaction where you look up and months have gone by without anything getting resolved. Each day is precious – we have no time to waste making sure that we are emotionally and psychologically healthy and fit to take on the challenges life throws our way.

I offer no advice or parting words of wisdom on this post. I named this blog Cheaper Than Therapy because I was hoping that somehow sharing my insecurities and shortcomings and traumas through writing would reap the same benefits as visiting a mental health professional. There are days where that is more true than not, and other days where I am almost embarrassed by the hubris of it all. Sometimes talking to someone with a bunch of letters after their name is EXACTLY what you need, and if that is your truth then you should never feel one moment of shame about it. Other days allowing your friends to bear witness to your vulnerability will help remind you of how strong you really are, and give you a safe place to not have to be strong if only for a moment. And that is fine too.

Do what you need to do to be ok. Never apologize for needing time to yourself. My dear friend told me just yesterday that it is imperative that I put MYSELF first in whatever I do, or I will have nothing to give anyone else when called upon to do so. This is advice I will take immediately, as it is also advice that I give other friends of mine fighting similar battles as myself. Taking the advice that you know you should take can be one of the hardest things you do, but do it anyway. Like the old adage says, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who do mind don’t matter.” I believe that was from Dr. Seuss. Very smart man indeed.

And once you recognize that you are spiraling down a dark path, forgive yourself for failing at pretending to be normal (there is no such thing) and then allow yourself to move through your feelings. Recognize what is real and what is a manifestation of your anxiety/depression. Confront it, don’t hide from it! Put action behind actionable items, and let go of the shyt you can’t do anything about. Recognize your triggers and try avoiding them if possible. Let your friends and/or family members know what is going on with you, but only when or if you think they will be a source of support and strength during your darker days. Try and eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. This is just good advice period, but when you’re busy freaking out about everything else at least you don’t have to feel guilty for eating a gazillion calories in the process. And know that it will pass. It always does. And that should give you just a moment of peace in the midst of your storm.




Chapter Five: Black and White-ish

It seems like everywhere you turn these days there’s another male politician/actor/entrepreneur/singer/journalist being accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Some people are surprised by the names coming out of the darkness. Some people are screaming that due process hasn’t been done before these men of power lose their jobs. Others are, of course, attempting to impugn the characters of women who have come forward, especially if they felt their grievances haven’t been aired in a timely-enough manner. Besides waking up every day to see if this sham of a president has started World War Z yet, we all flock to Facebook or whatever ‘news’ source we rely on in the morning while in the bathroom to see who else went down in flames overnight. Who else are we boycotting/trolling/mad at today? What did he do? Who did he do it to? How long ago was it done? Do we try and counter the not-so-good from the past with the good works they’ve done since then? And do I really have to sort through all of these emotions before I have had my first cup of coffee?

I also see people getting taken apart for saying harassment and assault fall along a spectrum, and that you shouldn’t necessarily lump one group of men with the other. People who are rapists or who have exposed themselves to women in the workplace aren’t the same as the guy who grabs your hand walking down the street to get your attention or who makes a gross comment about the sway of your hips as you walk past him on the sidewalk. People come out with pitchforks whenever they hear this comment made! If a man says it, then he is complicit. If a woman says it, she’s a femi-nazi or self-loathing or something else altogether. My counter to that argument from the woman’s perspective, is that she herself has likely been harassed and/or assaulted and has compartmentalized these experiences into their own little boxes of misery. She has put her entire life’s worth of being made to feel powerless in one way or another on her own sliding scale of gross behavior so that she is able to push forward and continue with the business of living her own life. Not letting what happened to her keep her from being successful both emotionally and financially, whilst also burying deep in the back of her mind the knowledge that with each passing day she loses any credibility if she chooses to bring her assailants to justice – if she even knew his name in the first place. She is aware that people will think that if she speaks up at work against the Water Cooler Flirt, people will think she is being too emotional and that they can’t even speak to her without offending her and making her run to HR. That she only thought his comments were inappropriate because she wasn’t attracted to him, but if it had been Copy Room Dude instead of Water Cooler Flirt she would have blushed like a little school girl virgin and loved the attention. I’ve recently seen talking heads on cable news saying that all of these complaints are ruining company Christmas parties, and grown men as asking if they can even say someone looks nice or is wearing a pretty outfit without it causing a complete scandal in the office. Will telling Susan you like her new haircut lead to Ted losing his job? Stay tuned for next week’s episode of “Can You Seriously Not Tell The Difference Between Harassment and a Compliment?” for the answer!

Now. By this point in my post you’ve probably formed an opinion about why I feel the way I do. You either agree with me or are perched atop your moral high horse (who is black and white in color), and you feel justified in thinking about just how WRONG I am on this subject. You cannot fathom how I could think that sexual assault and harassment can be, and sometimes must be, looked at on a sliding scale of unacceptable, and you probably feel good about that opinion. You have decided I am either seriously misguided or a self-loathing, pick me, these-women-should-have-said-something-sooner person. You’ve decided I am not mad enough at the men who are being accused, and feel that because I have given any room for grey space at all that I am essentially victim-blaming, even without saying the actual words. For me, very few things in life are black and white, and I say there are degrees of unacceptable behavior that must be addressed and reacted to accordingly. I shall provide examples for people who are sitting there reading with a furrowed brow already forming their responses to how wrong my views are on this matter. To them, I say to indulge me a bit while I walk you through some of the most painful parts of my life, and if you still don’t understand where I am coming from…well I honestly don’t care if you understand where I am coming from because my views on this as a survivor are pretty set in stone for my own self-preservation.

I am, and will always self-identify as a survivor of sexual assault. I am also a woman who endures sexual harassment on an almost daily basis from complete strangers who feel entitled to my body and my time. Given that I am both of these things at the same time, and I definitely was affected on a greater level by my assault rather than any subsequent harassment I faced, I rank my personal traumas on a sliding scale. I have to wake up every day remembering what happened to me, and live with the idea that instead of calling the police or  fighting back, my dignity got dismantled right in front of my face and I did nothing to stop it. Let’s share some examples, shall we?

I went home with a friend from college for the weekend during my freshman year of school. I remember my mom telling me stories of the fun she had going home with friends during college, and I was so proud of myself for getting on that train to Baltimore that day. I am a nervous person by nature and going so far from school felt like such an adult thing to do since even in college I would call my parents and tell them where I was going and who I was with, just in case I came up missing in DC. That city scared me up until the day I left it, and I haven’t been back to Baltimore at all since this incident. But I digress…After arriving in Baltimore, the plan for the evening was to go hang out at her friend’s house. That was cool with me since I was never a person who enjoyed clubs, and I envisioned sitting around with wine and conversation just like when my friends and I would hang out. I could never have imagined how different my life would become after that night. How different I, myself, would become.

Instead of a group of her friends hanging out at home, we went to some guy’s house who she was sleeping with and he had a roommate. It was weird, like being set up for a blind date and not knowing it was happening, but I tried to be cool about the situation like I hang out in strange men’s homes all the time. No big deal…all the while I sat there stiff as a board because if this had been a date I already knew this guy wouldn’t be anyone I would be interested in. He had just recently gotten out of jail, seemed more than a little rough around the edges for my personal taste, and something about his energy seemed…off. I was not comfortable being around him because I think he thought I had been brought there *for* him, and that was clearly not the case.

We sat around talking and I was watching the clock getting more and more over the situation with each passing minute. Just when I was hoping we would be leaving soon, my friend and her dude disappeared into the back room and the music was turned on. Clearly I knew I was stuck there for a while. This was before Uber and I didn’t know where I was to call a cab and leave, so I sat there and waited.

The guy could tell I was nervous, and told me not to worry. That we were just going to chill and watch some TV until our friends were done, and that I didn’t need to be in the corner sitting stiff as a board. He offered to bring me something to drink, and I naively accepted. I asked for water and he brought me wine. I was thirsty and my mouth was so dry that I took a sip. One sip was all it took for me to know he had put something in it. I kept pretending to drink to throw him off, and all the while I noticed the movie on the TV had been replaced with a porno where the actress had a similar shape and skin color as myself. I also noticed in between blinks which were lasting longer and longer that we were no longer the only two people in the room. He had called over a group of his friends, and they were all standing over me. I never took more than one sip of the drugged drink, so I didn’t black out, but I was definitely not coherent and I was also paralyzed by fear. The man are all watching the porno and talking to me about doing to me what they saw the woman doing on screen, and I kept trying to find my voice to scream for my friend in the back. Neither my voice nor my legs would work. It was at that point when I was surrounded on all sides of the bar stool I was sitting on, the stool was picked up with me on it, and I realized I was being carried off to the other bedroom. I had to think fast. When we got near the bathroom I pretended I was going to vomit and rolled off the chair. I locked the door just in time, but the group of men were trying to beat the door down. I made violent vomiting sounds to throw them off and ran the shower to drown out the phone call I made to my cousin Craig for help. I had my phone tucked in my bra, but even after calling him I couldn’t tell him where I was or how to come find me. I was helpless and alone and terrified.

The pounding at the door stopped, and eventually the roommate opened the door by picking the lock. I was on the floor by the toilet, curled up in a ball crying, and he suddenly became kind again. I knew it was an act and I played along because I didn’t know the angle, but I was still trapped in the bathroom. He told me it was safe to come out, that he sent his friends away, and that he was sorry if they scared me. I tried yelling for my friend again, but the music was just too loud for her to hear me and I wasn’t getting past this guy to bang on the door. I looked at the front door, but I had never been in an area like this before and somehow being outside was more terrifying than staying inside because of the trees, darkness, and isolation.

It was in this moment where the friend laid his cards on the table and gave me the kind of choice I pray nobody reading this ever has to make in their lives. As a ‘thank you’ for not letting his group of friends run a train on me, he was expecting me to show him some gratitude for being such an upstanding guy. And I got to choose how I thanked him. I could thank him with my mouth or I could thank him with what was between my legs. But he made it very clear that gratitude would be shown or those men would be called back over. So I made my decision, was stripped naked by a man for the first time in my life, and lost a little bit of myself that I’ll never get back that night. It was the single most horrific evening in my life, and my very first sexual encounter of any kind. I put that experience in a box and buried it. I told my friend what happened, she confronted him, he denied it, she believed him, friendship over. She even gave him my number so he could check up on me and ask if I wanted to see him again. I hate her to this day. I feel like I hate her more than I hate him, but even as I write these words I have a hard time articulating why that is. All of these emotions and memories live in a box at one end of my spectrum.

After I take the brief moment every single day to relive one of the most horrific instances of my life, I then have to prepare myself to have fortitude against every single man I will encounter that day who will touch me without asking, make lewd comments about the shape of my posterior and what they imagine they could do with it, or demand I give them my number even after I tell them I’m involved with someone.

I have to prepare for any rejection I give to be met with violence, because I have endured violence in the past. I have been followed down the street being screamed at by a man I would not speak to while walking alone. I have had a man drive in reverse down a one-way street to try and get my number, then when I told him I wasn’t interest he threw a glass bottle at me, called me ‘fat’, then drove off as I stood there in complete shock of how close that bottle came to breaking the front of my face. Elevators? I want to stand in a back corner so that wandering hands don’t touch my behind and then get blamed on it being crowded. Construction sites? Terrifying. The gas station? I’ve been getting proposed to at the pump since I was 12 years old. Men can be so goddamn disgusting towards little children, it makes my stomach turn.

In addition to daily, run-of-the-mill harassment, I have been violated by people with whom I shared an intimate relationship. I have had partners lie about putting on a condom. I have had partners pull the condom off during sex. These are both instances of rape. In that very moment the act becomes non-consensual if I never agreed to having sex without protection, but who has ever gone to the police with this complaint? I just recently learned they even gave this behavior a cute little name – Stealthing. Sounds like something a superhero would do or a private detective, not a person who just exposed your body to STI’s and an unwanted pregnancy just so he can enjoy the moment more without a latex barrier.

Even a man I had been dating for months allowed friends of his to drug me at his house and take pictures and videos of me in various stages of undress. I was then blamed for not being able to hold my liquor and acting out of control around his friends. I can only pray nothing else happened while I was blacked out because I have many hours that I cannot account for from that night. I found out the truth a few weeks later because his roommate let slip at dinner that they had intentionally gotten me intoxicated and doped up as part of a hazing process to join their friendship group. And he was so bold that he admitted this while we were having dinner with my mother present. I didn’t say anything. I did not confront either my boyfriend or his roommate in that moment. I just stopped eating, gathered my mother who was holding her knife like she was about to do some serious jail time if I didn’t get her out of there immediately, and I left. Sadly, just as in college, I did not report him to the police because I was embarrassed and knew I couldn’t prove what happened all those many weeks later. Plus he was well-respected and admired in the community, and I knew it would be my word against his. I just froze the memory, put it away as a lesson learned, and kept moving forward. Again. I wish that I hadn’t, but I did, and now for me it is too late to say anything.

The perversion of Rape Culture is that it does not only extend to outward manifestations of violence towards women. And in this area, there are none who are without blame. We all have to own the mess we’ve created. We must own every ‘boys will be boy’ comment that took personal responsibility from the child for his bad behavior because those lessons and exceptions have followed him into adulthood. For every time we made not being raped the responsibility of the woman and not the man, we as a society must own it. For every time a woman felt she had to lie about having a man or being gay or anything else besides simply not wanting to give a random stranger her phone number, we must own that. Teaching little girls that little boys hit them or are cruel to them because they have a crush. Not teaching little boys how to communicate feelings and intentions with genuine emotions and not simply forgiving their hyper-aggression towards women because ‘boys don’t cry’. By being told we are being ‘too sensitive’ if we actually *do* speak up about behavior we found offensive, especially in the workplace. By allowing ourselves to be slut-shamed for not being a virgin or for dating multiple people at a time. By feeling that we owe anyone an explanation for our bedroom behavior so that we aren’t viewed as a whore. By allowing any dialogue at all that does not cement the phrase ‘NO MEANS NO’ and the fear of prosecution, persecution, and penalization into the minds of each and every man and woman out there to make it known that the days of victims fading quietly into the background are done. Until we made pedophilia as much a deplorable crime to some people as being homosexual or wearing a mini-skirt at a bar on a Saturday night (I’m looking at YOU, Alabama). Until we make it where women and men feel empowered to speak up, come out of the shadows, ruin the lives of those who ruined theirs, and make society itself a caustic and hostile environment for these behaviors, we must all sit back and allow the victims to come forward with their stories. And we must allow them to put their trauma on whatever scale they need it to be on to help them cope and live their lives with the dignity they deserve.

I will continue to keep certain actions compartmentalized and view assault on a gradient because that is *my* coping mechanism. I am deeply affected by it all, but the pervert who got handsy in the elevator isn’t the same monster who raped me. He could be that monster to someone else, but I cannot take responsibility for every hypothetical worst-case scenario out there or I will lose my mind. While I agree that embarrassment and punishment should happen to anyone who abused their authority to dehumanize a female colleague, I just can’t put a cat-caller and date rapist in the same category. I cannot say the person who took a stupid and vulgar picture pretending to grab a woman’s breasts is the same as the person who took a drunk girl into the alley and raped her behind a dumpster. I cannot punish the douche-bag boss who said I looked ‘exotic’ the same way that someone should be punished for exposing themselves and ejaculating in front of a subordinate as a show of force. Those men are different to me. They could be monsters to someone else, and everyone else will compartmentalize these behaviors differently based on their experiences, but for me they are not the same.

We are all responsible. We are responsible for the men being raised feeling entitled to a woman’s time and body. We are responsible for the women who forgive and ignore it. And we are responsible for media and entertainment that project women’s bodies as being used at the discretion of whoever can overpower her mentally or physically. We are all responsible. And we should also acknowledge that everyone’s trauma will feel different to someone else. That people who react on a sliding scale of awful aren’t trying to be complacent and aren’t condoning the behavior, but we are saving our reserves of outrage for the charges that most reflect the worst moments in our lives. Trauma is not black and white. People are not black and white. Life is not black and white. Therefore my personal logic dictates that outrage cannot be black and white either. And it isn’t. And my views on this will remain unchanged forever, or until the parts of me that have been broken and damaged are made clean and whole again.