Some years of your life you look back on and think about how they flew by. The experiences you had, the chances that brought opportunities to your doorstep, some years you reflect on and warmly reminiscence about how everything came together in a blink of an eye.
2022 was not one of those years for me. If I had to classify this year, it would probably be the sort that you study in history class and think, “thank f— I wasn’t alive through that.” The kind where too much keeps happening and a singular bad event set off a series of rather unfortunate events. In the same way eventful periods of history have too many things happening at once, my life decided to repeat this macroscopic trend.
When I started the year, I had just barely made it through a particularly rough and vulnerable meeting. My confidence was shaken by doing poorly in a class, and I was so lost at what the expectations were for my research, only the constant pressure that I needed to be doing more. As the weeks went by, I was thrown into the turbulent waves of communication. Sometimes I would be doing the right things: submitting to a conference, reading about the field. In periods like that, it felt like I was finally getting my footing. But just as soon as I felt a chance at comfort, I would once again be swept off my feet by another wave, that I actually was a terrible researcher. That the papers I was told to read, it was dumb of me to read them and I would never be able to do something as novel and meaningful as the authors. That the applications I was interested in, despite there being significant interest in in my own department, were worthless and derivative. I was so desperate to do all the right things, to say the right things, to anticipate what was expected of me that it consumed everything.
When we talk about abusive relationships, I think outsiders often question why the victims don’t recognize the patterns, why they don’t recognize the abuse. But I would argue that the reason for this is because there simply isn’t time. You aren’t reflecting on the abuse that is happening to you as it happens. You are hyper vigilant to prevent the next problem your abuser will have. And that’s the issue, there are always more problems. Even when things appear fine, you are on high alert because things so quickly flip for almost no reason.
The phrase gaslighting has become very trendy as of recent, and I think people like to imagine it as synonymous with lying. That gaslighting is somehow an appropriate word to use when you catch someone in a lie. In my opinion, the true clinical meaning of gaslighting is much more insidious. It’s not that you can tell someone is lying and feel confident about challenging them with the term gaslighting. It’s that you can’t tell at all. It’s that you begin to question if you’re being too harsh on your abuser. It’s a culture of inadequate reporting resources that immediately ask you why you didn’t say or do anything, rather than recognize there could be more dark behavior at play. It’s people that say to you that your communication is at fault, that nobody actually acts the way your abuser does, you must be immature and be misrepresenting a two way street. But when you’re being gaslit, it doesn’t matter how good your communication is. It doesn’t matter if you confidently enter a meeting and feel like you know what’s up and what’s down. The rhetorical frameworks of productive communication are meaningless, and seeking accountability or clarity from your abuser is worthless. Because the reality of the matter is that they will do anything and say anything to avoid blame for their behavior.
I started writing this blogpost while at a conference in December. Many of the people there had connections to my abuser. I wondered what they knew. I wondered if they judge me as well. That’s the thing when you’re gaslit for long periods of time, the paranoia doesn’t leave. On one of the slower days of the conference, I took the afternoon off and went on a 15 mile run. It was the longest run that I’ve been on in months since Bubba’s. Running has become the only time that I feel in charge. It’s just me and my body, a tool that I know I can rely on. Any obstacles I see, I know I can navigate around them. For the first time in days, the sun warms my face and I feel alive. The abuse of the past becomes smaller as I focus on the blue sky and the beautiful coastline.
In a year where my professional life was such a source of discomfort, running has truly been one of the only things that has pulled me through. This year has been the first year I ran a 50 mile race! And my first 100 mile race and super successful backyard performance. When I first learned about ultras, I remember being so impressed by the fortitude it takes to run so long. But after the shitshow that was everything else, running was the only easy equation.
I’ve had the chance to make lots of cool running friends, for which I am completely elated about! They don’t know what’s gone on in my life and it feels like a needed break to enter a reality where I am just a runner and nothing else. My coach has been amazing, and while I was getting my shit rocked, it was so nice to just have a base plan I could follow and then actually be rewarded when I listened to it. It was so important to have this constant reminder of community and of self-efficacy.
Leaving an abusive situation, trying to walk the road to recovery in a system that continues to willfully ignore the ongoing abuse from the perpetrator, trying to rebuild confidence in a field while not being allowed to talk about how your whole career has been shaded by an abuser. This whole year has felt quite long.
Moving on has been hard, especially when I feel so wronged by so many colleagues that I see on a near daily basis. But unlike other traumatic incidents in my life, where I’ve felt isolated and forced myself to be excessively self-reliant, this time is different. This time I’ve been given the grace by my partner, my friends, and my therapist to be vulnerable. I am incredibly grateful for all the support I’ve received this year: the countless times friends have stopped by my desk on a rough day to give me a hug, all the people that listened to me rant during the Summer That Should Not Be Spoken Of, the immense empathy and patience my partner has given me through everything.
In the past, the main way I coped with trauma was that I just had to be more independent. If I could just do everything by myself, (perfectly and the first time of course), then I would never be a victim ever again. But life doesn’t work that way. People need community and help to survive, it’s not natural or healthy to try to do everything alone. I’m not a lesser person for admitting I’ve been hurt or need help to get through something. And unlike the past, where I felt that I couldn’t express these feelings, I’m finally at a point in my life where I have a support system I feel comfortable on relying on. While I will never ever ever think what happened to me this year was okay, I am immensely grateful for the people that stuck by me through all of it. I am proud of myself for not letting this abuse break or define me. Looking forward to 2023, for the first time in years, I don’t really have any clear resolutions for the coming year. For now, it feels like enough to say that I’ve made it here. Moving forward, growing, healing.