“I like you” is what he said, a grown 35 year old. It took some time to register but I brushed it off as being friendly and not predatory. Little did I know he would try to make a move on me.
I had just gotten home from an exhausting 3 hour SAT study session and was ready to take a long nap before it struck me. It was Friday, I had piano lessons. Shortly after my realization, he appeared at my door. Normally, I’d jump at the thought of playing the piano but today I was overly exhausted causing me to be extremely irritable when he started inching towards me in the middle of the lesson, invading my personal space. He placed his hand on my back. I questioned it at first, but my brain told me to brush it off so I did. A few minutes later he stopped the lesson by saying, “I need to tell you something but you have to promise you won’t tell anyone.” Obviously, I didn’t expect the next words to come out of his mouth, but they did: “I like you as more than a student.” I froze. What the hell was I supposed to say to that? Deciding to act on my lack of a response, he eagerly felt his way down my back. At this point, I was beyond uncomfortable, I was repulsed. The more I inched away from him, the closer he got. My patience was running low as he proceeded to touch me and grope me in inappropriate places. He brought his face closer to mine and that's when something in me snapped. I immediately stood up and just stared at him. On his face was a smile so creepy it could have starred in a horror movie all on its own.
We aren’t taught in school what to do when a man twice your age touches you in places you aren’t supposed to be touched. We didn’t grow up knowing how to defend ourselves. We don’t know how to take care of ourselves and how to care for our mental health when something like this happens. I mean nothing really happened to me right why should I care about it?
Although I wasn’t acknowledging what was happening to me, everyone around me saw me slipping. My grades were dropping and I didn’t have the motivation to get out of bed in the mornings or even make an effort in school. It took me a while to see what I was turning into and it scared me. I wasn’t used to disregarding school and sleeping all day, but I had completely done a 180. I was unrecognizable when I looked at myself in the mirror and I saw a shell of who I used to be. I found myself not motivated enough to study for a math test, one of my favorite classes, or even leave the house on weekends.
Picking myself back up was a long and tiring journey. It’s as if I could see the light at the end of the tunnel but no matter how much I ran towards it, it never got closer. Getting diagnosed with depression was one of the most challenging things to happen to me. It’s as if a simple word changed my life completely. Slowly, I learnt more about my diagnosis. It wasn’t permanent, I could change how I looked at life. Depression was just a hormonal imbalance in my brain. Life didn’t have to be gray and blurry, it could be colorful and clear. Day by day, things started to look up for me. The thing people don’t tell you about depression is that you’re not always sad. You could be happy for an entire week and then just have two days where you shut down completely.
Developing as a person can be hard for people. It’s a concept most aren’t used to because they’re accustomed to the lifestyle they’ve lived with all their lives. Building a building consists of a strong foundation and a steady skeleton from the ground up to the sky. Building your mental health back up is sort of the same. You have the strong foundation from previous experiences but you have to create the skeleton. The problem is though that sometimes building that skeleton means you fail a lot. Not everything happens in one try, it fails and you have to keep trying. Becoming happy and the girl I was before the incident took the same failures and successes as building a building. You have to fail, you can’t do everything successfully every time and that’s a hard lesson to learn for most. You’re not always going to have good days in your cycle of depression, you’re going to have to have your highs and lows in order to achieve your goal.
Most people think the process of recovering from a traumatic event is a straight line, but that’s hardly ever the case. You have to make sure you have supportive people around you bringing you back up to how you were before. For me, that was hard because my family is a conservative South Asian family. We don’t admit that things like sexual assault have happened to us. It’s basically a lot of piling underneath the rug and hoping nobody notices. The more we tried to hide what happened to me, the more it was harder for me to accept that I would move on. These kinds of things were what broke down my skeleton and brought it back to the ground with only the foundation.
Although it took me so long to recover from a series of mental health issues, I came back much stronger. It took me a lot of courage speaking out about this and those closest to me support me in every way I can. Since last March, I’ve become the woman I’ve envisioned in the mirror for so long. My public speaking skills have developed to such an extent where I feel confident walking in front of a large crowd and delivering my message. I have done what I can to support initiatives to end sexual assault all over the country and the world. The more I develop, the more I learn what it is to be me. I know that not everyone can be perfect which may be cliche, but it’s also something I didn’t fully understand until recently. We all have our ups and downs and we all go through the rollercoaster of life.
I now know how much life truly means to me. Although I still have my downs, I continue to look straight through the tunnel. No matter how much you think it isn’t there, the light will always be glowing bright, signaling you to come forward. As long as I have hope for myself to develop into a confident woman, the light will continue to shine bright at the end of my tunnel.