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Panic Attack in the Library

To change things up a bit, I have decided to share a poem I wrote during my senior year of high school, recounting an experience I had a few months after I was raped.

Please beware of TW/CW regarding rape, panic attacks, and general anxiety.


My high school began holding mandatory classes on sexual assault, abuse, domestic violence, and similar topics through the Dee Norton training program during the spring semester of my senior year. For once, the generally right-leaning, fucked up private school I attended did something positive to help the student body. While their health classes may be a joke and the administration might care more about money than about their students, the school finally did something right to prevent assault. I'm still not convinced this new program wasn't pushed forward because of my experience and many discussions with the guidance counselor and other teachers about my trauma, if that's what it took to instill such a program, then so be it. No one deserves the feelings of shame associated with rape. I only hope students actually take the program seriously.


Naturally, these classes paved the way for many panic attacks and fear in the supposed safety of a classroom setting. Having experienced sexual assault around Halloween, the education program forced me to revisit an event I tried so desperately to ignore. Sitting in the same room as the man who violated me and being forced to relieve that trauma only worsened my internalized guilt; but I was too afraid of giving him the validation of my own fear to leave the room, even if it meant reliving my own trauma. The facade of normalcy allowed me to continue living as if nothing had changed. But, as I later learned, suppression only leads to worse problems in the future.


While these training sessions were harmful to my own mental health, I must emphasize the importance of having these conversations about sexual trauma in school settings. In order to fight the extremely prevalent problem within our society, we must destigmatize rape and educate our children on the topic. It might have been too late for me, but I know that these classes will help another person down the line. We cannot be afraid to discuss these seemingly scary topics; otherwise, nothing will change. Don't tell girls what not to wear, teach boys how not to act.


For more information on sexual assault, domestic violence, or other forms of violence, please visit deenortoncenter.org or rainn.org. Or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline if you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault: 1-800-656-4673. You are not alone.


 

Panic Attack in the Library


We’re herded into the library,

one-hundred and six of us crammed into the room,

the walls shrinking as we fumble through the doorway

turning this refuge of mine into a version of hell,

a clash of pubescent bodies.

Chit-chat slows and a police officer begins to talk ––

“one in five women are raped” he says.

My heart beats faster,

and I can feel the hungry eyes glancing my way,

the whispers breathing down my neck,

waiting for me to panic, to run, to respond.

A singular tear slides down my cheek.


I see you.

I know the panic in your eyes;

your back hunched over to hide from

the internalized fear of a potential trial,

of being labeled “rapist.”

I should feel powerful,

But instead I feel ashamed.

guilty.

alone.

My tears fall faster now.

I cannot get out of this room.

I cannot give them the validation they seek.


“She’s making it all up”

“attention seeking whore”

“fucking cunt”

“she deserved it”

“shouldn’t have worn that skirt”

“she sent him nudes!”

I hear their whispers.

I feel their glares.

Time slows to a standstill.

The speech is over and

everyone rushes out in a frenzy.

I cannot move ––

paralyzed by my own guilt.

A friend walks to my side,

leads me out of the room.


I’m now on the bathroom floor,

Hidden behind a stall door,

sobbing into my hands,

hyperventilating.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

My limbs shake under the weight of my own thoughts,

My demons overwhelm me.

There’s a paper bag over my mouth now.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

My head moves to my knees,

rocking slowly. These demons won’t go away.

The school counselor is beside me.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Someone's telling me to breathe,

holding my hand and rubbing my back.

A girl walks in.

She is politely asked to leave.

I can feel her pity.

Fuck I’ve missed second period.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I manage to calm myself momentarily,

and they walk me to the counselor’s office.

I fall asleep on a chair.

A temporary relief from the burden of guilt

that overwhelms my existence.

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