In this week’s episode of Voices of Your Village, I got raw and vulnerable about my experience with anxiety as a rape survivor. After I was raped, I became stuck in a cycle of fear. My anxiety consumed me. Years later, with a wonderful support system, and with the help of therapy, I feel like I am thriving and no longer living in fear.
An integral part of working through my anxiety was learning to identify triggers. Triggers are things that the brain associates with something else, things that bring back the traumatic experience. My triggers were basements, walking downstairs, button-down jeans, and being alone in a room with a male. Things like having a male massage therapist, or feeling trapped under the needles of an acupuncture appointment would trigger me. Those situations had the potential to send me into a full-blown anxiety spiral, but identifying that these were triggers was the first step in stopping that spiral.
I worked with several therapists over the course of several years to not only identify my triggers but to work through them. And part of that was recognizing that the triggers will always be there. And the potential for another sexual assault, or other types of trauma will always be there. We cannot control everything that happens to us. There was nothing I could have done differently to prevent myself from being raped. I didn’t cause it. And I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen again. And relinquishing that perceived control was incredibly freeing for me. It allowed me to stop focusing on self-preservation and start focusing on coping strategies for when I felt the fear and anxiety.
Recognizing when I’m triggered and how that feels in my body is important. Once I realize that I am feeling anxiety in my body I know that I need to tap into my coping strategies. These include mantras (phrases that help me feel safe), breathwork, and essential oils. Breathing helps bring us out of our emotional brain and into our rational brain. That is where we can act with choice. I remind myself that I am safe. And with these strategies, I can feel my body begin to calm. And I can face my trigger without being consumed by the fear.
I am not anti-medication. I think that if medication helps you get through a particularly tough time, that’s awesome. I do think that to really address anxiety and work past it, you need to work with a professional and find the root cause. You don’t just have to live with it. You have to put work in, but it gets better. You can do this.