Dear Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Me Too.

Trigger warning: sexual assault and violence.

“But nothing actually happened to her. It was just an attempt.”

I stood in front of the television in the living room, hearing my eight-four-year-old grandfather speak these words with such impersonality. The screen blurred. The rest of his speech hit my eardrums and registered as the muffled dialogue of an audience awaiting the movie to begin at the theater. The film began.

Standing projected on the screen of my mind: an image of me, nineteen years old, commuting over an hour to my community college. Tired after an hour and a half commute and a three hour night class, I stand waiting at the Downtown Berkeley BART station. The black display in neon red letters reads: “DUBLN/PLSTN…13 MIN” and I slouch over slightly, defeated at the anticipated wait time. The commute home—including the wait, the train ride, and the car ride home—equates to approximately an hour and a half, door to door.

I decide to stand despite the weight of my schoolbooks in my backpack, insisting on standing instead of sitting next to strangers on a concrete bench that has likely been pissed on more than once. I remember reading an article somewhere about BART seats having trace amounts of feces and cocaine on every seat, no matter the efforts of the maintenance employees. I do not sit on the benches.

A man approaches me. He is asking me a question, I presume. I take a singular headphone out, prepared to give him directions, let him know which train to catch. The Downtown Berkeley stop has a characteristically disorienting way about it, as both sides are insufficiently labelled and look nearly identical in seemingly endless brick. I prepare to tell him which way to Richmond, which way to San Francisco. The San Francisco trains do not run at this time of night.

“You’re beautiful,” he says.

“Thank you.” I try to put my headphone back in. Take the compliment as a compliment and leave the compliment there. If I am nice, he cannot be angry. If I am nice, he cannot be angry. He cannot be angry. He cannot be angry, right?

“What’s your name?”

I reply with a name that is not mine. I fidget with the neckline of my T-shirt and zip up my coat to the collar to hide the nameplate necklace that reads, “CORI” in script. He makes a canned response that’s supposed to impress me about how beautiful my fake name is. I am not impressed, but rather, increasingly anxious. I immediately forget what fake name I am using, and consider the fact that I am trapped in an underground tunnel with a strange man who is definitely not asking for directions. I do not know what he is asking for, but then again, I do. I just want to go home.

A glance up at the screen, neon blood lettering, informing me that the train is nine minutes away. My options quickly whittle themselves down to, “Just be pleasant with him and make sure people can see you.” I actually walk and take a seat in between a man and a woman who are seated at opposite corners on the concrete bench. I do not consider the urine, the traces of cocaine, or human feces. I sit between the two people. This man continues speaking to me. He sits between me and the woman.

I do not remember the conversation. I recall glancing at red lettering, seeing numbers, praying that the train would appear faster than numbers dictate and that I would slip into the train-car gracefully, anonymously with the name that is not mine, and be on my way home.

The conversation was like dismantling a bomb, but time moved in the opposite fashion. When you’re dismantling a bomb, you pray for more time and less wires, but in this case I needed more wires, more routes of conversation, more lies, and infinitely less time than the lettering scrolling down the digital boards. His eyes were red like an animal photographed in the dark. Bloodshot. The lettering mimicked it. I do not remember his face, but his look is burned into my mind—a look not belonging to a person. A desecrate expression set out make graves, but not to kill.

Hold your breath. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. I remember a self-defense class in high school, mandatory only for the sophomore girls. Something about the palm of your hand, their nose, a bone lodging itself into their brain, leaving them defenseless or dead—allowing for your escape. I examine the woman seated on his other side. She is on the phone, but I see that she is not actually on the phone. She is speaking into a dead receiver. She makes conversation with herself, mumbling small-talk too quickly for an actual person to reply. A defense mechanism I am all too familiar with. Talk to yourself on the phone and pretend it’s another—pretend it’s a man. The presence of man, imaginary or not, is still more powerful than the actual presence of a woman. They do not teach these things in self-defense classes.

The train is two minutes away, which means it is perfectly reasonable to stand up and wait for the train at the designated yellow platforms, according to BART etiquette. I am relieved. The train is approaching—safety is coming.

“Where are you going?” he asks as the sound of the Dublin/Pleasanton train echoes through the tunnel. I am familiar with the echo and anticipate its arrival in approximately ninety seconds.

“Castro Valley,” I lie about my stop.

“No.” He mutters a name that is not mine, whatever fake name I had given before.

He grabs me. I feel his nails in my forearm through my long-sleeve shirt and coat. He moves his grip down to my wrist and presses tightly, beginning to dislocate my wrist. I hear the train approaching and assume someone will notice this man grabbing me—but people begin boarding the train without questioning him. I begin to yell.

At this point—the memory becomes a dream—a nightmare. A nightmare in which you yell and yell and yell and no one can hear you. It is hazy and foggy and I can only see open doors of the train leading back to safety and my home. I turn back to the man, faceless in memory, and continue yelling and dragging his large body in the threshold of the train-car as he tried to drag me out. No one does anything, despite my yelling, my clear physical struggle of my post-anorexia body pulling a large grown man away from me. I cross the threshold, his grip still firm, higher and tighter around my arm as he attempts to pull me back into the the station. The sound for the door closing dings and he jumps in, solidifying my fears, and I immediately gain a sense of absolute terror that drives me to push him on the chest using my opposite forearm back into the station while keeping most of my body inside the train-car. The door closes on my palm. I slip it out quickly and he is trapped behind the glass and metal of the car. I take a seat and no one asks any questions, despite the many seated passengers who witnessed me shoving a strange man off of me with all of my might while yelling for help.

Because “nothing actually happened,” I never reported it. Even though he had approached me, made advances at me without consent, grabbed me without consent, and began to use physical violence—I considered my experience so much less serious than what other people had gone through, so I told absolutely no one. And then I “forgot about it.”

What I thought that I had forgotten about turned into a period of agoraphobia that sent me to a psychiatrist’s office for almost two years. It turned into skipping seventeen out of thirty-two lectures in a semester for a single class. It turned into me contemplating how I could use a vintage metal lunchbox and a Hydroflask as a self-defense weapon if necessary. It turned into not listening to music so I could stay aware of my surroundings but keeping my headphones in my ears to avoid unwanted advances. It turned into silence. A dark, brewing silence—tea left to steep for too long on the counter. Bitter and cold. Silence.

“But nothing actually happened to her. It was just an attempt.”

I transported back into the moment with my grandfather. Suddenly something burst within me. That man’s face was still fuzzy but the pressure on my wrist was palpable. I yelled. I screamed an experience to my grandfather that I had never uttered before—an event that was so extremely repressed and blurred into the edges of my psyche that I did not even believe that it belonged to me. He asked why I never reported it. I said I was afraid. I ran up the stairs.

I did not feel valid enough in that attempted violence to report it, so I never did. And now, as I sit with these testimonies fresh in my mind, and the numerous allegations now coming out against brett kavanaugh, I wonder if that blurred face of a man had gone from grabbing me at that Downtown Berkeley BART station and had gone to some other place to grab another girl—

And then it wasn’t an attempt anymore.

Just because “nothing actually happened” doesn’t mean that the intention of violence was not there. And then, there was probably a future manifestation of violence that met some sick and twisted patriarchal criteria of validity.

And statistically, that girl still wouldn’t have reported it.

Without Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony today, this memory would have remained repressed in the depths of my subconscious forever, unless something even more threatening had brought it out. Without Dr. Blasey, I do not think I would have felt valid in my own experience with intended sexual violence. Without Dr. Blasey, we would probably have a second supreme court justice who does not stand for justice at all. (I’m looking at you, clarence thomas).

I am jealous of the men who can comfortably fall asleep on public transportation. I am jealous of the men who do not have to look into compact mirrors or selfie cameras or car mirrors or reflections or shadows to make sure no one is following them home. I am jealous of the men who can listen to music instead of a creeping, threatening silence to make sure that no one is breathing down their neck or making kissy noises or audibly obscene gestures at them. I am jealous of the men who can walk down a street in basic clothes and not have words thrown at them like bullets from a sawed-off shotgun. I am jealous of the men who consider safety a given.

If the unhonorable brett kavanaugh gets his seat on the supreme court, you can catch me and every other single woman who has been giving fake names chaining themselves to white house fences like Alice Paul in 1917, because after one-hundred-one years, we’re still in gendered purgatory.

On Life-Path Reevaluation: Flowers Grow in Shit and Dirt

On Valentine’s Day of 2018, I had a doctor’s appointment with the eating disorder specialists at UCSF. It wasn’t my first visit to these doctors; it was my third week of an intensive, ultra-monitored recovery program. I had been forced to start it in late January, after I went for a routine physical, and my primary care doctor found that I was at risk for cardiac arrest due to a relapse of my anorexia. 

I took a Lyft to UCSF from my South San Francisco apartment, somewhat embarrassed to tell the driver that my drop-off was the hospital. I stepped out of the car, walked into the lobby, and took the elevator up to the second floor. Looking up into the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, I saw my drawn face, the circles under my sinking eyes, and I remembered when I was allowed to take the stairs up to the second floor of buildings, instead of being forced by a group of doctors to take the elevator because my heart had grown so weak. A short elevator ride, but by the time the doors opened and spat me out, I started crying, thinking to myself: How did I get here? 

A brief moment of clarity—crying in an elevator of a hospital. 

I thought about the progression from the previous July to that February: how many times a day I’d weigh myself; how many times I’d debate eating a piece of dry toast; how many times I’d measure out carrots by the gram; how many times I’d pinched my arms, legs, and stomach during a lecture, eventually tuning out the professor because I had been thinking about how much I regretted that half-portion of low-fat vegetable soup three nights before. 

Who am I, when did I lose sight of who am I, and how did this happen?

During recovery, I dove into my art to attempt to rid myself of the deep-seated pain in my gut (both emotional and physical pain)—writing songs, personal essays, fiction, prose poems—and I remembered that this is what I live for. I do not live to look beautiful. (And I do not live to look sick). I do not live to count calories. I do not live to obsess over being in control. I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

Silence, shrinking, fragility, conformity, fear—these are things I openly reject. And as I created my art and shared with my peers, regaining that sense of intrinsic purpose, I realized that the life I was living was a life that was inherently intertwined with values that I reject. In turn, my very actions were contradictory to everything about my identity. Then, over the course of the past six months, came an equally difficult and equally easy reevaluation that inspired me to begin writing a memoir, share my mental health journey with others, get in touch with my spiritual side, and move back to the east coast to pursue my passions and be with my family. 

Growth often comes from pain. Flowers grow in shit and dirt. Reevaluation of your actions and the life that you are living is necessary for growth. 

Remember your passions. Keep a list of them. What grounds you? What makes you feel intrinsically motivated (try not to consider money, fame, recognition, etc.)? What makes you feel like you put meaning into your life and into others’ lives? These passions can be as “small” as writing letters to your loved ones, or as big as fighting for universal accessibility for people with disabilities. 

From that list, look at what you value. Is it justice, family, spirituality, honesty, communication? Values are completely based on the individual and nearly limitless. Write this list below the list of your passions. 

Now, take a look at these lists collectively. Why are you passionate about painting? Why are you passionate about gardening? Why are you passionate about education? Why do you value family? Why do you value authenticity? These answers are your intentions. 

This next step is often the hardest and the most painful, but remember the physical growing pains you felt in your shins during middle school. The same thing happens mentally and emotionally when you reevaluate. Think about the life you are currently living. Where are you passions and values in your life right now? Are they fully apparent, sort of hinted at, or have they shrunken down and disappeared completely? Are you intentionally living your life? 

Upon those answers, you can make informed decisions to make changes that you need in order to feel fulfilled and avoid mental/emotional/physical/spiritual exhaustion. With this exercise, you can restore your sense of agency and can feel grounded and validated in any further actions you make to keep you on your true, meaningful life-path. 

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No, I Don’t Want to Go to Yoga: The Problem with Mental Health Advice from Neurotypicals

My mother, a neurotypical, swears by her weekly yin yoga classes to preserve her sanity. She drives to the yoga studio, a cute remodeled two-story home on a sweet little side-street downtown, and climbs a flight of stairs to an airy room with large wood-paneled floors and flow-y white curtains that Stevie Nicks would alter into a dress during the Belladonna era. She comes home weekly smiling, claiming she feels like she “just got a massage—so relaxed!” 

After months of constant “Try Yoga” propaganda from my mother and my brother (another neurotypical who is a proponent of daily meditation), I acquiesced and joined my mother for an hour long yoga class. 

I arrived, sat down in a circle with a bunch of white people who chanted words in a language I was willing to bet they could not identify, and realized–I am having a panic attack at yoga. 

Attending yoga felt like going to the dentist. I stared up at the blank white ceiling, unsure of what to do with my eyes (I become anxious when I close them in public), and I imagined the ceiling cracking from the ceiling, falling on me, thus killing me. A man with a bun strolled around the circle, playing a cover of an Ed Sheeran song on an acoustic guitar. I fantasized about an unfortunate, untimely death throughout the class. 

I couldn’t do some of the moves. Uncoordinated and in a panic, I squinted at the teacher in the middle of the circle, moving gracefully, and too quickly for me to imitate. I knew that the poses would be difficult for me—it was my first class after all—but once the teacher came up to me and touched me without permission (a total of three times), I realized once and for all that maybe yoga wasn’t for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the state of my body, my fat legs, my unshaved armpits. I couldn’t close my eyes. The teacher put an aromatherapy sack of some bead-shaped foam on my eyes. Claustrophobic, I fantasized about my death again. 

I struggle with a multitude of mental illnesses, including but not limited to bipolar disorder ii, generalized anxiety disorder, anorexia, and borderline personality disorder. Sometimes I feel like I am the personification of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I have gone to therapy for over half a decade with three separate therapists, tried EMDR therapy for my phobias and anxiety, tried SSRIs and mood-stabilizers and beta-blockers and benzodiazepines, received treatment from a specialized hospital for eating disorders (where I experienced a gross level of misogyny and stigma in the professional medical field firsthand)–and I am still mentally ill.

I don’t expect to be cured. Like any chronic illness, it’s about management and coping. 

Professional mental health treatment feels like a shot in the dark. The patient—basically a guinea pig—tries nearly any method suggested by their medical professional to feel better, frequently resulting in the patient feeling disappointed and exhausted from the lengthy trial-and-error process. The management of any chronic illness is a long journey. It is difficult to feel better. Sometimes I wake up and I’m not in the mood to interact with other people or even go outside—let alone go to a yoga class (where I’m touched without consent and forced to close my eyes and feel insecure about my body, its shape, and its movements).

The problem does not lie in the suggestion of yoga itself. It lies in the way that yoga, meditation, and other zen-like activities are suggested by neurotypicals who do not acknowledge other options for people who struggle with mental health, like therapy or psychiatry. These forms of mental illness management are rarely suggested by people who do not personally experience mental illnesses themselves. 

Why don’t neurotypicals recommend therapy or psychiatry, but recommend yoga, mediation, exercise, fermented foods, taking allergy tests, cutting out gluten, cutting out diary, cutting out red meat, etc., etc.? Why don’t we talk about receiving professional help for mental illness? 

When someone suggests yoga, meditation, changing diet, etc., it reduces the mental illness into a brief mood of sadness, a fleeting feeling of worry, a moment of insecurity. My mental illnesses are more than just feeling “unhappy” or “worried” or “insecure.” They’re overwhelming, chronic, systemic states of being—often with mental, emotional, and physical symptoms—that make me feel like I’m actually dying. Chest tightening, shortness of breath, heaviness of limbs, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, muscle tension and discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite—these symptoms have to be managed, and it takes much more than yoga classes to do so. 

Maybe we’re talking about yoga because we’re uncomfortable talking about mental health. But our discomfort is destructive. Because we’re not talking about professional help and/or medical help, many people feel ashamed to receive it or even ask for it. Some people don’t even know their options, as so many healthcare programs in the United States do not cover therapy, psychiatry, etc. 

This past winter, I looked for months to find a program to get into for my eating disorder. I looked throughout the entire Bay Area (an extremely populated and relatively wealthy area) for outpatient programs, medical specialists, nutritionists, specialized therapists, and specialized psychiatrists. Programs were either not covered by insurance, or there were waitlists, or I had to travel over an hour to get to the program. Eventually, I gave up, and a few weeks after giving up on the search, my heart rate hit a dangerously low level that required medical monitoring, which opened the door for me to receive help. 

But does it have to get to a life-threatening level before help becomes accessible? 

Neurotypicals—if you want to be an ally and a mental health advocate, stop talking about yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. As positive as your intentions are, it’s more than yoga. Start talking about professional and medical help, accessibility, affordability, and better healthcare. Start having conversations that make some people uncomfortable. Vote for government officials that support more comprehensive, more affordable, and more accessible healthcare that encompasses mental health. It’s more than yoga. Start advocating.