The Reclaim Project is an initiative to help sexual violence survivors to feel comfortable in their skin again. We're partnering up with photographers to provide these photo sessions in the hopes that we can help to portray female bodies as belonging to actual human beings, instead of objects. We'll be sharing lots of these sessions over time, each one paired with a statement from the survivor about how their experiences have shaped their body image, mental health, and view of their sexuality. Click here if you're a survivor interested in setting up a session, or here if you're a photographer who'd like to participate!
"PTSD does not have one definitive symptom. For me, there are symptoms that are noticeable - flashbacks, triggers, panic attacks-- but there are other symptoms that are less easy to pin down. My fear of men, my aversion toward doctors, my fear of even the word “rape…” My body dysmorphia (and eventually the eating disorder), my nightmares, and even my simple, day-to-day struggle to keep my experience out of my mind. Even my initiative and focus has suffered because of what happened to me. I get tired of my therapist's’ questions-- “Would you consider self-harm? Are you feeling suicidal?” - as though I have control of the thoughts that go in and out of my head.
The truth is, the anger, guilt, fear, anxiety, and depression has been a part of my everyday life. For a long time, these feelings clouded my mind to the point where it kept me from living. I stopped enjoying things: my students’ laughter, which usually brought such joy to my heart, was now tinged with a nagging worry that what happened to me might someday happen to them.
It took a near death experience while driving to finally accept that what had happened to me had affected my brain. I knew I needed a help, but for a long time after that I wasn’t sure what that help would look like. At first, my doctors convinced me to start antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, but after taking them, I didn’t feel like myself. My mother said she noticed my light go out. Now, I was depressed and anxious and numb. The meds only took took the bite out of the pain, only the edge. So next I tried self-medicating, mostly with sleep, but occasionally with liquor.
Some nights I would pass out drunk. But even this was not the solution I was looking for, because all it would take was a stray comment or a stranger's lingering gaze and I would be right back into the spiral of flashbacks and depression.
My next round of “self-medication” seemed more healthy; at least at first. I poured myself into teaching students who need me. I spend my free time volunteering at a humane society taking care of stray animals. I exercised as a way to keep the anxiety at bay. I decided not to allow myself time to slow down. But sometimes, I fear that my constant activity is because I am afraid of my own mind. This was never more evident than when my exercise regiment put me in shin splints from one too many long runs. By that point I had lost 30 unhealthy pounds and alienated a number of close friends. In my fervor to keep my experience from costing me anything else in my life, I ended up losing more than I gained.
Years later, I am still trying to find the right mix of medication that will help me get my life on track.
I am on anti-psychotics and feeling better, but the real truth is that medication isn’t a solution to the systemic problem of rape. My pills will never fix what happened to me, any more than they will erase anyone’s trauma or pain. But they are a tool - a tool that I am unashamed to say will help me get through to the next day. I will keep working and moving forward. I will keep trying to find balance in my life. Someday, I know I will learn to accept my own way of grieving and growing, and not need medication anymore."