As my college career comes to an end, so must my work with sexual assault survivors. I thought I'd feel guilty, but all I feel now is thoroughly relieved.
I was sexually assaulted twice in my last month of high school and then again around six months later whilst starting my freshman year in college.
Through my amazing, supportive college community, I was able to recover from my assaults and PTSD. Departments like the Counseling Center, Title IX, and Student Legal Services are truly the only reason I made it through these last five years alive. Without them, I wholeheartedly believe these events would have gotten the better of me.
I was able to attend individual and group counseling to discuss my problems, connect with other survivors and address my PTSD symptoms. Title IX ensured my complete safety once I finally mustered up the courage to report one of my attackers. Student Legal Services educated me on my situation, both mine and the accused rights' and gave me a realistic understanding of what reporting the attacker to authorities would entail.
My case and recovery lasted around two years. Although it was one of the toughest times of my life, I am inexplicably lucky to have ended up at the university that I did and meet the people who made that whole process bearable.
Naturally, my initial instinct with my sobering new amount of sanity was to immediately try and spread some of that peace to survivors who may not have been so far along in that journey.
It started on a very small level, writing a spoken-word poem for an event during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. The empowerment I gained back from that experience was incalculable, and the thought that I could make a difference for other survivors was liberating.
The next year, I was able to join the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Planning Committee and helped make the very event that allowed me to feel so much more control over my life into a reality.
However, the event certainly did not go off without a hitch, and by the end of that school year, I was full of a fierce determination to redeem myself the next year.
In the fall semester to come, I was given the great honor of being chosen as the Chair of the Committee. I felt like I had conquered the world.
Reality hit after the very first Committee meeting.
The knowledge that this work would affect so many people in such a major way completely overshadowed my consideration of the planning process itself. The practical side of things quickly became a nightmare, and I had put myself right in the center of it.
I quickly realized that I had practically no authority because of my age and lack of experience. I had expected to learn so much along the way, but there was no established training for someone in this position, and my peers were painfully aware of that fact.
Every moment I spent fruitlessly working on my duties I felt like a failure. It seemed not only like I squandered my chance to redeem myself from the event the year before, but that I would let all of my fellow survivors down with my ineptitude. These thoughts quickly made me extremely depressed, causing me to start on medication for mental health for the first time in my life, despite having conquered PTSD without it.
The end of that school year couldn't come fast enough, and I wrapped up one of my worst semesters at Sam Houston State besides the one containing the assault and case themselves.
As I recovered from that stress and the strain it had taken on my mental health, I dreaded the next April to come.
I never considered even for a second that I wouldn't be involved in its planning. There were no external pressures to participate on the Committee again, but because of my continued engagement with it, it felt like a given. It had become an expectation from everyone around and from myself, too.
Over the past few months, when I looked forward to what will be my last Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Sam, that all-enveloping worry overshadowed all else; yet, it still seemed like a guarantee. Despite the effect the month always had on my mental health, I didn't even question whether or not I would undergo it again.
I thought to myself, "This is my thing, right? How can I live with myself if I'm not a part of the cause that brought me so much relief at my rock bottom?" Or else, "I've survived them before, I can do it one last time."
But the dread got worse to the point where I'd make myself sick with it. Nothing else seemed to matter except the looming threat of this commitment.
My anxieties about it were obvious, so my support system who had always been there from the very beginning were the ones to remind me to put myself first.
This week I resigned from the position, forfeiting the responsibilities that came with it.
As bad as it may seem, my relief is out of this world. While I'll always be passionate about the issue and won't ever silence my support for survivors, I chose myself and my mental health this time around.
I'll never forget some of the stories I've heard, the people I worked with and the thanks I've received. To this day, one of my best moments was hearing "I really needed that" after wrapping up an event, cause at one point, I was in their exact same shoes.
The sexual assault survivor group taught us how valuable banding together could be for recovery, so my heart will always be full from the pain, hope, and relief I witnessed working with some of the most resilient people I'll ever meet. I am so grateful these people trusted me at one of their most vulnerable times in life. More than that, I'll always take pride in what I did accomplish and how far I've come professionally and personally.
I am going to chase that feeling after graduation—how couldn't I after how life changing this whole experience has been for me?
But for now, I'm letting myself be just a little bit selfish before I'm pushed into the lawless jungle that is the adult world, and my sanity has never appreciated it more.