Today’s guest writer, August Pfizenmayer, appeared on this blog in the past–she wrote a post about her experience of being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder while her partner at the time was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. If you haven’t read “A Neurochemical Romance,” yet, I urge you to do so. It is beautifully written, candid, and an extremely important contribution to the mental illness discussion.
Today, August returns during Sexual Assault Awareness Month on Betty’s Battleground to discuss a different aspect of being in a relationship with someone who has PTSD from sexual assault. That relationship has now ended (amicably, I’m told), and she is here to talk about some of the difficulties she experienced dating a male survivor of sexual assault, and how to overcome them.
If you follow my blog, you know that I enjoy posting perspectives that differ from mine. Which is not to say August’s differs wholly from mine–I’m actually planning to write another post with a similar general theme myself. But one thing I feel I should note is that I have a slightly different perspective (not just from August, but from many people) about our responsibility to the people we love who have mental illnesses.
While I agree that having a mental illness does not give you a free pass to act like an ass, I don’t think we have an inherent right to walk away from people because they are struggling, or because we find their symptoms difficult. I do think we have a right to walk away if someone is abusive, and serial cheating counts–as do other emotionally and physically abusive behaviors. But I wanted to note that I don’t fully agree with some of the statements she makes in this piece, though I do value her opinion and agree with much of it–and certainly believe she has a right to share it.
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media manager. A story about her life with schizophrenia has been published in the next volume of The i’Mpossible Project. It is available for pre-order and will be in stores November 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and her personal blog.
Self-Care While Dating A Sexual Assault Survivor
by August Pfizenmayer
When my ex-boyfriend (current boyfriend at the time) told me that he was raped, I held him. He cried, and I comforted. It was like that for a while. We were together for three years, and I grew accustomed to the crying fits. I expected the sadness. I even expected the anger. Anger at the person who raped him. Anger at his parents for doubting him when he finally built up the courage to tell them. Anger at society for telling him “men can’t get raped.” What I did not expect was anger at ME, misdirected anger.
When Dating A Sexual Assault Survivor, You Need To Take Care Of Yourself, Too
Even though it was not my fault that he got raped, I was the closest person to my ex-boyfriend when we were together. I was the person that he interacted with on a daily basis. And so, I became the victim of his anger. It was not intentional. I knew that then, and I know that now. There are many posts on how to take care of a sexual assault survivor, as there should be. However, I want to focus on how to take care of yourself when dating a male sexual assault survivor because it is something I don’t see addressed often.
When something bad happens to someone, sometimes they don’t know how to deal with the pain, so they take it out on others. This is what happened in my relationship. My ex-boyfriend didn’t mean to take his pain out on me, but the fact is he did. I wish I had put my foot down sooner. I wish I was had told him he couldn’t treat me badly just because of his trauma. I let things slide. Cheating was one of the main things I kept sweeping under the rug because I knew that hyperssexuality can occur after someone is raped. Letting things slide only made things worse, though. Just because someone is hurting doesn’t make it okay to hurt others.
Having A Mental Illness Is Not An Excuse For Bad Behavior
Do not let your partner manipulate you or use their trauma as an excuse for bad behavior. For example, I have schizoaffective disorder. One of the symptoms of my illness is delusions of persecution. Sometimes I get defensive for no reason and think someone is attacking me when they actually aren’t. Just because I can’t help this doesn’t mean it’s not hard to deal with when I become hostile for seemingly no reason. Most of the time, my ex-boyfriend was understanding and calmed me down. But sometimes, understandably, my delusions were hard for my partner to deal with. When things became too much, he needed alone time, so I would give him his space even if I was frustrated. I would go to visit my sister or go to the library for a little while.
Having a mental illness and/or dealing with trauma is not an excuse for bad behavior. I can’t help having schizoaffective disorder, but if my symptoms are hurting others, it is my responsibility to work on them. My friends and family have the right to tell me when they need a break. Some people can’t handle my symptoms at all, though. They can’t handle me. And they have the right to walk away, just as I had the right to walk away from my ex-boyfriend when he kept hurting me.
You Are Allowed To Walk Away If Someone’s Symptoms Overwhelm You
That is something that people tend to forget: not being able to handle the symptoms of my mental illness is a valid reason for not wanting to be with me. For example, my ex-boyfriend also has bipolar disorder. Sometimes we would have depressive episodes at the same time and encourage each other to make bad decisions. If he had broken up with me because my mood disorder interacted badly with his, then that would’ve been okay. It hurts, sure, to know that something I can’t really change much is the reason someone may leave me, and my first instinct is to be angry and say that it’s wrong. But it’s not. Sometimes you love someone, but you aren’t good for each other.
As a mentally ill individual, all I can do is work on myself, apologizing when my actions hurt others and being conscientious of how the symptoms of my illness, such as panic attacks, affect those around me. Having a mental illness or experiencing trauma doesn’t give anyone a free pass to treat the people around them badly.
Doing Research Can Help You Understand Your Loved One Who Has Been Assaulted
Educating yourself is also an important part of dating a sexual assault survivor. Knowing what your partner is dealing with will not only make it easier to help them, but it will help you understand some of their actions.
For example, when I would get in bed at night, my ex-boyfriend would pull all his limbs inward, almost cringing. He seemed to want to have nothing to do with me, but only when I first got into bed, and I had no idea why. Was he disgusted of me? Was he scared of me? When he told me that he was raped, it all made sense. A bed was not a safe place for him. It was the place where he was violated in the worst way. He had developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and it made it hard for him to relax and feel safe at night in bed, even with his girlfriend. I would not have known this if I had not done some research online.
Self Care Is Crucial
The main thing to remember is to take care of yourself. When you love someone and they are hurting, you may feel inclined to put your own needs aside. Make sure you’re not slacking on self-care. When you take care of yourself, you can take better care of your partner.