More people than ever are seeking mental health treatment. However, the negative stigma around mental health care remains prevalent. The devaluation of dialogue surrounding certain topics may discourage people from seeking social & professional support.
To encourage open discussions on mental health issues, our Mental Health Advocate Interns conducted a series of interviews featuring a diverse group of college students. By sharing their stories rooted in courage & perseverance, we aim to illuminate the pivotal role therapy plays in promoting behaviors that help to combat mental health challenges.
Storytelling often initiates the emotional healing process in an individual & inspires others to speak out. Initially asking for help can feel shameful & scary – it requires true strength & bravery. Although each person’s journey is unique, we’re able to cultivate connections through shared experiences.
This post contains content related to PTSD, sexual assault, and child abuse. While our objective is to provide a safe space for people to share stories honestly, we acknowledge that some may experience adverse reactions. If this post begins to upset you, please stop reading & seek support.
Interview #1: Sexual Abuse & PTSD
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversationGlenn Close
How would you identify yourself in terms of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, etc.?
Asian American Cis Female.
What mental health challenges have you faced that you’d like to share?
When I was between the ages of 2 and 8, approximately, some of it I’m too young to remember, I was sexually abused by 2 of my male cousins. Most of what happened was blocked from my memory for years until I became a teenager. Presently, the PTSD from that part of my life has led to a lot of day to day anxiety in my life, but more so I am frequently triggered into having panic attacks during intercourse or relevant interactions I have with others.
How do you think your identities (sexuality, gender, race, socioeconomic status, disability, culture, etc.) have affected your journey with mental health?
I think being a female has compounded the fear of not being safe during sexual encounters. A trigger for me is to feel as if I am being abused or raped when this is not the case. Media today is so filled with stories of women being stalked, attacked, or abused that this fear becomes reasonable and justified.
What’s helped you during times of distress? For example, friends or family who support you, mantras/self-care routines to follow, therapists, etc?
I only recently began telling the people I was intimate with about my abuse as it became a necessity for me to explain why I would have panic attacks in the middle of sex and that it was not, in any way, my partner’s fault. So far I have told only 2 people in full and 2 people part of my history of abuse. The first time I spoke aloud about what had happened was the hardest because it validated for me that it was real – what had happened to me. I could no longer hold it as a personal unreachable memory. But in a similar way, the validation led me to confront what had happened and recognize that I was a victim who deserved help and healing. In addition, having another person accept what happened to me as real trauma and listen and care during panic attacks was helpful. I recently started therapy a couple of months ago and went through EMDR for PTSD and the results were life-changing as cliche as it sounds. I am able to look back at what happened in my past, accept that it happened, but no longer view it as a part of me that weighs me down. During panic attacks, I will also attempt to change the negative voice in my head to a positive one with mantras along the lines of, ‘I am not worthless, I deserve love, I am strong, I am resilient.‘
The first time I spoke aloud about what had happened was the hardest, because it validated for me that it was real what had happened to me.
What do you appreciate that people close to you have done in those times of distress? Is there anything you wish they did differently?
The best thing one of my partners has done when I am in the middle of a panic attack is to pace his breathing while holding me tight so that I can match my breathing to his and slow down my heart and head. I also appreciate when people are open to talking about what happened and why I might feel the way I do because in a way it normalizes my experiences and makes them feel less dramatic or less like something to be afraid to talk about. Another partner I have been with would often make things about him when I was amidst a panic attack and this would nearly make things worse. I would end up comforting him rather than being comforted by him when I most needed it. Further, I would feel worse for making him feel bad when it was something I had no control over. I didn’t want him blaming himself for my trauma as it felt like that wasn’t his place to do so or responsibility to take on.
If you’ve received therapy, what was your process when finding a therapist & booking your first session?
I pretty simply looked up therapists nearby who specialized in my areas of PTSD/anxiety/sexual abuse, as well as therapy techniques that I had researched to be helpful for such mental health challenges. I found people who looked kind under those categories and I connected most with the introduction that my current therapist had written so I scheduled a phone consultation with her. This consultation was free and it was for both of us to decide if we were a good match for each other. Then, I booked my first session at the end of that consultation because she felt she would be able to provide me the kind of therapy and guidance I was looking for. I think something that’s important to keep in mind when considering a therapist is that the match goes both ways. The therapist should believe their training and area of expertise are suited for you as much as you should feel that their methods are suited for your goals with therapy.
Did you use insurance to cover therapy? If so, how?
I have Kaiser insurance and Kaiser doesn’t cover anything that isn’t Kaiser, unfortunately. The closest Kaiser is 45 minutes from where I live and having to travel this far to therapy would likely add more stress to my life than prevent it. My parents graciously pay for my therapy out of pocket and my therapist works with me to provide me detailed billing statements of all my sessions so that my parents are able to deduct them from taxes. I recognize I’m lucky my family has the financial stability to afford therapy.
Did you participate in a specific type of therapy (CBT, Talking Therapy (CCT), EMDR, etc)? If so, do you think it was effective?
I participated in EMDR. I think this was the true turning point for my step to getting through the PTSD. I had 3 intensive sessions that were twice as long as my typical sessions. EMDR showed me how powerful my own mind was over how I interacted with my trauma. It may seem hard to conceptualize the impact at first, but I recommend it to anyone I know who is experiencing PTSD.
What have you learned from therapy? How has it helped you?
Similar to the last question, I learned how capable my mind is over what I have gone through and how I can move from what happened to me. Therapy also validated that what happened to me was real and my body’s reactions to what happened to me are normal. I feel like a big part of my mindset prior to therapy was that I didn’t deserve to feel so anxious or distraught because others had gone through worse and therapy has made me felt understood and capable.
I learned how capable my mind is over what I have gone through and how I can move from what happened to me.
Would you recommend therapy & other mental health care services?
I would recommend therapy to everyone who has access to it.
What message would you like to share with others facing similar challenges?
I think the biggest message to anyone considering therapy is to keep trying. A lot of people I know have tried therapy and felt dejected and turned off from it because their therapist was not a good match. Just as all friends are different, all therapists will be different too and it’s rare that the first one you speak to will be a good match for you. But there are likely dozens of therapists in your area and when there aren’t, there are many services online now that provide therapists remotely. There will be a therapist or therapy service out there that has what you need and understands the intersectionality of your identity and what you have gone through. The struggle of trying out different services is worth the benefit of the right kind of therapy in the end.
Just as all friends are different, all therapists will be different too and it’s rare that the first one you speak to will be a good match for you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
I think opening the discussion about therapy and everyone’s personal therapy experience will normalize what we all have gone through and encourage the idea that therapy is okay and truly for everyone who desires therapy.
We commend you for your dedication to prioritizing mental health & for sharing this part of your journey. Together we work to silence the stigma & triumph over trauma.
Anyone affected by sexual assault, whether it happened to you or someone you care about, can find support on the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can also visit online.rainn.org to receive support via confidential online chat.
Acacia’s mission is to provide college students a safe, supportive space in which they receive quality and consistent mental health care that is highly accessible, affordable, specialized, and culturally sensitive. Visit our website to learn more & to begin your journey with us!
Interview conducted by Maggie Yao & Molly Delzio, Mental Health Advocate Interns at Acacia Isla Vista
Composed by Danielle Sharkey, Acacia Marketing