At 22-years-old record label manager with siren-red dyed hair, I was attacked at knifepoint outside my New York City apartment door by a stranger and bound, blindfolded and brutally raped for hours by someone I didn’t know. While some might view such events as occurring “from above,” my mind was fully present as my focus was solely on staying alive during each momentous experience; thus my memory stores every detail vividly in its entirety.
My life used to be one of hope and wonder, intoxicated with love, art, music and possibility — until police stormed into our home as an investigation site and removed us all as witnesses for prosecution. Since that day I had lost everything — roof over my head, job security, friends, family members independence security — most notably myself.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family and being subjected to physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse from infancy through my teenage years caused me to develop an anxiety disorder early. After being subjected to sexual rape however, my anxiety increased drastically: every city block brought with it people, crowds, noise, silence, heat stores subways – everything felt like an imminent threat and my mind and body constantly on edge – I didn’t feel safe within my home either as my mind and body were in an endless state of fight-or-flight; later I would learn about complex-PTSD which was also part of my identity as it had become part of me too!
My life had become in danger due to threats of murder from a rapist whom I called on several occasions for protection and was later identified in the media reports about our case. Whoever this person might be could be any one among over 8 million strangers living here waiting out their promise to kill me.
My doctors told me I wouldn’t pass out from an anxiety disorder. One morning while traveling to work, however, a wave of fear struck like an unstoppable tsunami: cold sweat broke out on my forehead while vision blurred; when I arrived at my stop at which point paramedics arrived and transported me directly to emergency. Once there they diagnosed a run-of-the-mill panic attack despite no support, medications or resources being offered by my provider – something similar to when being hunted by an abusive sexual predator would happen at any momentary pause from an anxiety attack like this could ever again happen at any moment from then on!
My psychologist prescribed anti-anxiety medication, yet this wasn’t enough to stop three-day panic attacks that rendered me incapacitated enough not to leave bed for three consecutive days. Each day felt like torture. My pain and sadness were hidden through overworking, alcohol abuse, food deprivation, staying busy with non-available relationships and creating art. Although I saw several mental health professionals over time, none ever mentioned depression as an option for relief. My understanding was that sadness was normal for me to feel, yet my job was to conceal it. Even as terrifying and misunderstood as anxiety disorders can be, there was still a distinct stigma and shame around sadness – not many people want to associate with or date someone who’s always sad. When discussing rape survivorship I was often told to focus on moving past it quickly in order to become a successful survivor – never once suggesting I take time out for self-healing first — or what this looked like for me personally.
No matter if I was with friends or alone at home, I often experienced feelings of dread and heartache. Since becoming a sexual assault advocate, it was much easier for me to focus on other survivors rather than my own pain or health issues – this gave my suffering purpose; but it often left me feeling bereft – like someone had put me on an invisible boat and taken me far away from myself; Rape had made me into someone unrecognizable to myself.
As someone suffering from severe body dysmorphia, eating was an uphill struggle for me. At times I would skip meals altogether or not finish them; my friends would joke “If we can’t find Marnie, she may have passed.” As an anorexic who shopped exclusively in kid’s clothing sections, the compliments I received while anorexic became heartbreakingly embarrassing to remember now.
After nearly 10 years since being attacked, my attacker was identified thanks to a state initiative to reexamine rape kits before their 10-year statute of limitations expired. Within weeks he was caught, and we went to trial a year later. Although grateful that the case had been solved, revisiting my past would strain both my physical and mental health — as well as relationships. By that point in time I was in a serious relationship, lived in an apartment I called home, had an amazing job that fulfilled me, while anxiety, sadness spells and body issues had improved somewhat from what they had been before my initial attack.
As I had done throughout my sullen days, I took the same approach to my trial: push it down, overextend myself and ignore what my body told me to do. Although the rapist was found guilty and sentenced, his sentencing only temporarily reduced some of my health issues; family and friends expected more. “It’s over!” they would exclaim; “he can’t hurt you now!” In reality, however, its effects only made things worse as my isolation deepened further and its false hope led me down a path that made further isolation worse; its unwelcome guests within never left either.
Years later, after moving to Los Angeles and getting married and then divorced, I focused on my needs. I prioritized self-care through yoga, meditation and running practices which helped strengthen me while simultaneously deepening my sadness. Why wasn’t there happiness when the sun warmed my shoulders while hiking up to the Hollywood sign or swimming in the Pacific Ocean – dreamy days that still had clouds hanging above.
My then-husband suggested I attend a 12-step meeting when I became distressed over someone else’s drug use, and it opened my mind to gentler and spiritual ways of managing life and prioritizing my needs. By joining, the program showed me gentler spiritual ways of approaching everyday challenges while meeting them head on; instead of forcing through life’s parts meant to heal me faster, instead leaning in to community support and practicing radical honesty – not forgetting nurturing my inner child while finding an EMDR therapist for therapy purposes!
Talking about my depression was like taking a leap off a cliff without any safety net in sight, fearful that people would perceive me as less capable, further isolating me from friends, family, and peers. Since no doctor had diagnosed my depression it made it even harder to accept. During the pandemic some “happy” friends came forward publicly on social media about being hiding it for years; reaching out to them, we discussed shared experiences as well as ways we could support each other.
Even though the experience will always remain part of my identity, it no longer defines me. After more than 20 years I finally found effective therapy and healing methods that reduced its hold over me. There’s no escaping its fallout or recovering from it completely; just as each case is unique. Everyone heals differently. My focus as an advocate, writer, and public speaker is giving survivors of rape the space and support needed for them to heal with grace, empathy and understanding. Women should feel less pressure to downplay their experiences and are encouraged to seek appropriate diagnoses and treatments that work for them. Today, I turn to writing, yoga, gratitude practices, and other creative outlets like writing to release any unwanted emotions. In doing this, I’ve gained clarity regarding my mental wellness while simultaneously learning to self-soothe and love myself better.