I had a panic attack for the first time in a while.
I saw the faces who assaulted me several years ago.
"Again? How miserable"
A subway in Tokyo.
I cannot take several train lines after the incident. I also feel scared to get close to several stations.
A subway line runs along the place where the assailants had lived. An area where I used to live at the time of the incident. No matter how many new scapes are created and how different it becomes, it is the same for me. It is a terrifying place where I cannot come close.
I cannot do anything about it, so I somehow feel sorry for the city and the people who live there. When friends who do not know about the incident ask me to go to places along the subway line or nearby there, I have to suggest other options or refuse the offer. I am sad and frustrated to do so, but it is the best strategy to protect myself.
Even though I try the ways written above, I have a moment when I see "people like them" in a crowded train or city. I mistake total strangers for them. Similar height, tone of voice, and facial features. Once the brain recognizes the resemblance, an eager runaway catches me.
I have tried and now have some coping methods, such as having a drink or applying hand cream and refreshing myself with its scent to calm down.
However, even though I can cope with these methods, sometimes I have a flashback when I almost fall asleep at night. How persistent and heinous is my trauma?
There were many times on sales calls in my previous job when I had to take the subway line or get to the stations where I did not want to come close to.
You might think, "Ask for help from others then."
No, it is not like that; I will not be relieved just because I let other people know.
"She is a woman who is easily targeted."
"She is foxy for using femininity and does not have a passion for her job." I do not want to let people perceive me like the above.
Many workplaces are already biased against women.
Also, too much consideration is misplaced kindness. Someone's care in vain gives me the impression that they think they have to protect someone pathetic like me even though I just want to live like everyone else. I get the sense that I have to be a victim forever and that I should not recover.
For example, imagine when you ask others if you can take a menstrual leave.
If you have not experienced menstruation, imagine you are the boss who gives permission.
First of all, only a few people are willing to talk about their period fatigue. This is the first challenge.
There might be times when you try to tell people about it, but you would not receive the kind of response that you expect, and they might be disappointed in you for some reason or have negative images of you somehow.
On the other hand, you would be tired if they were too protective and told you, " Are you okay? You can go to the hospital. Would you like me to talk to your senior workers to take over your tasks during a tough time? " For a brief moment, you would think, “No, that’s fine. If necessary, I can ask them myself, and there are still things I can do.”
Exactly like the above.
Therefore, I carefully choose who I let know about the incident.
It is the same as menstruation; it is hard to imagine without experiencing it, but honestly, I use a tremendous amount of energy to talk about it. After I talk about it with someone new, I want to take a bath and use a special face mask sheet that I do not usually use, and then eat ice cream before I go to bed. I would be mentally exhausted and need to indulge myself that much because otherwise, I cannot do anything the next day.
What will they say, and how will they react after they listen to my story? It feels miserable to be betrayed when their reaction is different from my expectation. But I will be hurt if they react just as I expected because I feel apologetic that it seems like I burdened them.
Of course, I appreciate them for listening to me, and I am glad to be with such friends. At the same time, however, I feel as though I force someone to carry my burden and sad memory when they did not need to.
That is why I have swallowed my fear as much as I can.
I cannot ask my friends to let me go on the escalator first all the time because men standing behind me makes me scared.
I cannot request them that I want to take a seat or stand near the door to immediately get out if something happens on the train.
I cannot ask them to exchange seats because a man over there resembles one of the assailants and makes me fearful.
I do not want them to think my condition is that serious.
The fear I swallow like this probably emerges as a panic attack.
Although I do not know how to live with these small fears in everyday life, I want to try to share them because people will not understand my emotions without verbalizing them.
I want to let people know through writing, which is the most comfortable way for me, that it is scary no matter how many years have passed, and I go up and down spiral stairs that lead from my trauma to recovery.
I cannot be a representation of all people who have traumatic experiences. But I am happy if my posts combined with others’ posts become something that helps everyone imagine the feelings of traumatized individuals.
I hope we can create a common understanding of people around us naturally knowing how to avoid triggering our fear when they see we have trauma.
It is like avoiding putting stuff on braille blocks because it causes trouble for blind people, giving a seat on the train when you see a key chain for a pregnant woman, and letting people who want to rest because of menstruation take a day off without saying anything.
When someone shares with you that they were sexually assaulted in the past, I appreciate you imagine that the survivors have something or somewhere scary.
If you can create a safe space with them and they let you know what makes them scared, you have done enough.
People around us do not need to protect us from fear, but if they could imagine that something makes us fearful, we could naturally step forward more quickly and keep our heads up.
Written by Kiana
Translated by Naomi Koizumi
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Ren Ono