Why Must I Be Silenced? by Annalissa Crisostomo

Why must I be silenced?
As if my vagina makes me a secondary citizen
As if I am not a distinct citizen of the world but solely bearer of its children
As if my place in this world is in the home
As If i couldn’t make it in this world alone
As if the outside world is more dangerous than what my feminine Self has seen before
And yet,
However masculine some of my qualities, I am further silenced even more
Opportunity does not knock but closes the door sometimes for strong women

My vision for equal pay and equal consideration
is too grande a concept to fit
My command for respect
Is somehow a threat to the Ego in ways that too many are afraid to admit
My request for attention
Is just that ..
a call for attention
Despite my call to attention to the fact that it is my mind that is worthy of mention
Not my body
Why must I be silenced by my body?

Why must I be silenced by my body when “No” means “No”?
As if the word itself means something different
As if it’s definition changes when I utter it
As if it does not hold weight but turns into a “Yes” when I succumb to him
As if my message is not clear
As if fear can drive it away
As if “No” is a sexual move I make
Opportunity does not knock for those that refuse to play the game

Why must I be silenced?
As if describing what it means to be a woman only concerns me
As if my words will always hurt me
As if my tongue like a sharp knife, draws blood from the concept of ‘Man’
As if I am attacking Him rather than supporting Him
As if my voice only exists in relation to him
As if finding mine silences yours
Opportunity does not knock for those that wish to question our system of doors

My cry to be heard is perceived as loud rather than necessary
It is not welcomed within this realm of silence
My opinions are conceived as invalid and selfish
they are not considered within this realm of soundness
My justifications are worldly and compassionate
they do not exist within the realm of structural boundedness
Why must I be silenced by my feminine voice?

Why must I be silenced by my feminine voice?
As if there is something wrong with being emotional
As if emotions have no place within this world of patriarchy
As if only Reason rather than Feeling could dictate truth
As if being a woman provides me with no Reason to discuss matters with you
As if i cannot participate in provoking thought
For a woman like me, Opportunity simply does not knock

Apparently my demands for Humanism are too much for ManKind
as if I am only calling for the change of the one Kind, that is ‘Man’
It was never in the plan for us to question the plan
It was never intended for women to fall under the mindset of “can”
I was conditioned to believe that I “can’t”
Can’t win
Can’t compete
Can’t follow the pursuit of “Me”
Can’t speak unless spoken to
Can’t exist amongst the likes of you
I was conditioned to believe that I can’t
Just because…
Just because I am not a man
I am a woman.. .
and so I am silenced.


“Bitter Survival”

In elementary school, the teacher asks us what we did over the summer.
Flashback to days alone with my mother, chased by butcher knives for having long hair, hiding in a closet with pounding outside the door, and being locked in the dark basement.
I told her I played outside.
In high school, the teacher asks us of our earliest memory.
Flashback to my mother holding me by my throat and dangling me over the stairwell, the garage door closing on my leg, and my scar itches.
I told her it was being read to in a library.
In university, people ask me if I miss home.
Home was a place of terror and walking on eggshells. Home was a place of being yelled at and beaten because someone else had a bad day. Home was the hell I clawed my way out of to get to where I am now. Home is the scar I wear on my heart, the damage I carry with me.
I do not miss home.
but I tell them I was always an independent person anyways, and I call every once in a while.
I lived two lives, and I am a bitter survivor of both.

“I was, I am, I realize”

So many lessons I have learned have been upon reflection of what I have done, what has been done to me and furthermore what I must do in response to people, situations and Self-realization.

I was 14 years old when I was raped by a 23 year old man who took my virginity at a small party. It was when I told someone that same night and they didn’t believe me that I realized my voice had only just begun to embark in a lifetime of resistance against being silenced as a woman.

I was 20 years old when a man stalked me on my school campus, asking everyone I knew where I lived and where to find me. It was when I had to start taking new routes to class that I realized my path would often be dictated by the actions of my male counterparts.

I was 22 years old when a man got out of his car to chase me down the street at 7pm near my school and in my neighbourhood. It was the moment I glanced down at my clothes and wished I had not worn shorts that day that I had realized I had been conditioned to self-inflict blame for my lack of precaution and impure clothing choice.

I was 23 years old when a close friend of mine took advantage of me one drunken night after an event in a house I once called a home. It was when I was slut-shamed for drinking too much that I realized I never really had as many allies as I had thought.

I was 24 years old when I found out that the legal system could not serve me justice. It is only now as a 26 year old woman that I am able to come to terms with the injustices that I have been dealt with. Often still I wonder whether I was to blame. Often still I am triggered by nonchalant rape jokes and insinuations of assault. Often I still deal with unwanted advanced like when a bus driver told me a few years ago that he wished to get me drunk because he would ”love to take advantage of me”.

I had prayed for death many times in my 26 years and only once had tried to bring such prayers into fruition. Now I still struggle not only with myself but with my past. I was in so many ways too masculine and at the same time too feminine to be a “homie”. I was not aggressive, I was a bitch. I was not empathetic, I was too sensitive. I was not an ally, I was their competition. I was not a friend, I was a piece of ass.

I was a victim, but now I am a survivor.

Submission about Cancer by Kristi

On December 19th, 2017 my grandmother Sharon lost her battle with cancer. Over the years of her life she struggled with skin cancer, biopsy after biopsy. Then, she struggled with colon cancer. She had it surgically removed and was told she was cancer free, but unfortunately she wasn’t. When she had colon cancer it had metastasized into her liver and her doctors had missed it. When we got the diagnosis it was really difficult on my mother and I. A lot started changing really quickly. There was never enough time to be there for her, to take care of her properly. Her chemotherapy gave her thrush – and because of it she refused to eat or drink and she had to go to the hospital twice because she had diabetic episodes. It was so scary, she seemed like she had been through a stroke. She dropped a lot of weight then from the combination of chemotherapy and not eating. She was really unwell and it was really hard. With everything else going on in my life and my moms life it was hard to take care of eachother as a family.

Her liver cancer took her really quickly. I believe she was diagnosed in March-ish, started her chemo, then was taken off her chemo because it was too volitile for her. In October/November she was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time. In the beginning she still had a personality, still talked, could move around. It was alright, things looked okay. But within the matter of about two weeks she went downhill. She was sleeping a lot, was disoriented, in pain; in short, she was miserable. It made me not want to go see her, I was afraid honestly. And then at the beginning of December my mom told me that she was being moved to hospice and made comfortable. She stayed there for maybe a week or two before she passed away. But it wasn’t really her. When she came to every once and awhile she’d tell me “I’ll be dead by the time you come back”. And sure enough, she passed. On Monday I went to get a tattoo that she always wanted to get together and I was going to go visit her that evening, but something came up and i said I would see her tomorrowOn Tuesday morning I woke up to my mom on the edge of my bed telling me that my grandma had passed. I didn’t cry, I still don’t feel like I’ve cried enough. My mom, my brother and I got in the car and went to the hospice to say goodbye to her body. My mother hugged her, kissed her and said goodbye. My brother touched her hand. I couldn’t touch her, I couldn’t look at her. The nurses had left her eyes open and it was literally haunting. I missed out on a goodbye because I was scared. I really regret it.

Yesterday we finally had her celebration of life and it was beautiful. So many friends came, and there was so many family members too. A family friend read a speech that I wrote, and I still barely cried. Maybe it’s just not real to me yet? Who knows. At the end of the day I still felt like it wasn’t enough to do her justice. She was a shining light to EVERYONE, never missed anyone’s birthdays or anniversaries, she missed nothing. She was always thinking of others.

Cancer took away the woman who helped raise me, and helped me to be who I am today. It was a long painful fight for her, and on some level I’m happy she’s finished fighting.


We asked our supporters 7 questions about mental health and got 15 respondents.
This is what they had to say about mental health awareness.

1: How does mental health affect your life?


I’m almost 60. My father took his life when I was 23. I think about it every day. (H.H)

It affects me as I look to support family members, including my mother and other close relative. It also affects me via my own mind, with triggers I need to be mindful of daily so I don’t unnecessarily enter a panicked delusion or depressive state. It affects me as I strive to look at positives and appreciate when I am feeling healthier, not just negatively. (KB Harwood)

My sister is suicidal. She has borderline personality disorder and severe depression. She is the kindest most loving soul in the world and i’m constantly praying she’ll survive another day and be able to see the light that everyone sees in her.

I have anxiety and I have been working through it for years. Personal/ self confidence issues, family problems, it surrounds me

I don’t particularly struggle with it personally. I have some anxiety and frustrations, but I’d call them pretty typical. I’m a grad student so it comes with the territory. However I have a lot of close friends and relatives who struggle with. Some of which I don’t speak with anymore because of how much mental health has changed them as people. I’ve had relationships end because of mental health, when I couldn’t be the support someone needed. (Mike Cox)

It affects several of my friends and family members.

Starting a really difficult job and making sure to keep my mental wellness in tact (Michelle)

It affects me everyday. I struggle with two mental illnesses (MDD and GAD)

Mental health affects my own personal life through anxiety, as well as many people around me (family, friends)

I’ve seen many of my friends experience various mental health difficulties and have been their ally throughout their ups and downs. (Trisha)

My mental health determines how, when, and why I do the things I do. It can be the deciding factor between whether I eat or not. (Jamie)

Mental health has run my life without me even knowing it for years. I have struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, and Dissociative Disorder for as long as I can remember. Because we had never learned about mental health issues growing up, I had no idea that I was suffering from them until I got to university. Mental health also affects my loved ones, many of which are still too proud to admit that they are struggling to begin with.

Diagnosed with anxiety and depression Working with those affected by mental illness (Deanna)

Greatly (Alex Knight)

Mental health is being able to recognize your strengths, your weaknesses, your cognitive patterns, your moments of confusion, hope, doubt, inspiration. It’s knowing when you’re not okay and seeking the right people and tools—but it’s also being okay with not being okay all the time.


2: What does mental health mean to you?


I suppose it means to me any emotional struggle that makes your life more difficult (H.H)

I think “mental health” as become synonymous with “mental illness” over the years, but that’s simply not true. Mental health means everything; health, sickness, scares, and average days. (KB Harwood)

Living day to day with struggle or love

Mental health means the general wellbeing of yourself and others. Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing . Mental health is not just about the diagnoses, it’s about a general understanding of oneself

It means being in control of your emotions and feelings, and them not being in control of you. There is more to it than that obviously. But without writing you an essay, that’s what I would chalk it up to. (Mike Cox)

It means having the ability to remain resilient in times of stress and being able to ask for help when you need it.

A piece of over all wellness for a person (Michelle)

It’s very important to me. I know I need to take care of it.

Mental health to me is completely different than mental illness. I think a lot of people get these confused. Mental health is over-all well-being, meaning physical, social, psychological, emotional, mental, and so on. Mental illness, on the other hand, is the absence of one or more of these.

Mental health affects absolutely every aspect of your life. If your mental wellbeing is low, your physical, emotional, etc. wellbeing will also be affected. (Trisha)

Mental health is so important because if people know about it or not, everyone suffers from mental health issues. (Jamie)

Mental health does not define a person, or even a group of people. To me, mental health is a weight dragging down the individual affected by the issue, and their surrounding loved ones who want nothing more than to see the individual overcome it.

The illness or lack there of in an individuals brain Something that can be helped with the right supports (Deanna)

Mental health means uncontrollable emotions and miss understanding with everyone (Alex Knight)

Mental health is not distinct from physical health–they’re intricately intertwined, and both deserve equal care and attention. Mental health is not always sadness or mania or polarity or madness–it is not black-and-white. Mental health is not just a phase.


3: What are misconceptions about mental health?


That everyone with it was born with it, that no-one is born with it (H.H)

That anxiety and depression affect everyone the same. That people with Cluster A disorders (schizotypal, paranoid) aren’t rational or capable of seeing the world through a valuable perspective. That any kind of illness can offer no complexities with some positive attributes (e.g. paranoia has sometimes saved lives, as much as it has negatively impacted them; borderline often makes people more empathetic). (KB Harwood)

People dont always understand how it feels; and its difficult to understand without going through it. People are trying and its a disease. Its hard to cure and survive.

People are easy to judge those with mental health issues. People feel that they can’t talk about their feelings and this creates stigma. Mental health is more than just the diagnoses people get. Being mentally stable and healthy is about the whole person

Some misconceptions are that people have a choice. That people wake up and make the conscious decision to be angry or anxious or depressed. It’s not the case. Mental illness gets treated like a stubbed toe sometimes. People expect you to just “walk it off” (not actually) but to just be “not anxious” or sad or whatever it is. It’s not as easy as just making the decision to change your mental health. (Mike Cox)

That people with mental health struggles are dangerous.

Can’t see it so it doesn’t exist, serial killers are dealing with mental health, if you’re depressed- you want to die (Michelle)

That it’s not important. That it’s not as important as physical health.

Misconceptions about mental health are that it is the same as mental illness; that is looks the same for every person; that it is only achieved through the absence of symptoms.

That you can just “get over it”. Changing your frame of mind or diet will not cure mental health problem. There are so many more. (Trisha)

That it doesnt matter.. isnt important.. can be controlled.. and is fully understood. Nope. (Jamie)

  1. People make their issues up for attention
  2. Mental health is not as important as your physical health
  3. People with mental health issues should be feared
  4. People struggling with mental health issues are better off being secluded from the rest of society
  5. Mental health issues will go away on their own


That it isn’t real That it is a made up thing that people can just “get over” (Deanna)

That’s one is “damaged”, “out of control”, a hazard or “troubled” (Alex Knight)


4: What are ways/resources that have helped you with mental health?


Keeping the family ties, talking openly and supporting each other, talking to teachers when I was young, talking to friends, support group (H.H)

Counselling and access to physicians with adequate knowledge of mental health concerns! I can’t stress enough the importance of doctors who take mental health seriously and are happy/willing to try to get low-income people into free or low-cost programming. Narcotics Anonymous is also great because it’s therapeutic to hear you’re not alone, even years after taking your last round with the substance(s) that cause you pain. (KB Harwood)

Personally im struggling just to fully grasp how people survive it. Its best to say everything even if people dont fully understand.

Yoga, hot Epson salt baths, massages, meditation and medication

I really like audio books. I spent a year off between undergrad and grad school, and honestly I found that the lack of school work and things to do really took a toll on me. It gave me the opportunity to overthink. So i decided to fill my spare time with books, and self paced learning. Audio books were good for bus rides, walking to school, and just downtime in general. Keeping busy is my best defence. (Mike Cox)

Therapy, sports, spending time with loved ones.

Self care, relationships (friendships, family, professional), having somewhere to vent, running, journaling (Michelle)

Counselling, self care

Friends and family, online resources such as The Storyteller and other outlets, writing, online researching, being within communities of people who have similar experiences, books.

Empathy and compassion (Trisha)

The storyteller 😉 (Jamie)

When I begin feeling an anxiety attack coming on, I immediately watch a YouTube video or a show on Netflix to distract myself from the invasive thoughts. While it does not help long-term, distracting myself helps with the day-to-day management. I rely a lot on my friends for support when I am feeling particularly troubled. I have a fantastic support system between my friends and boyfriend, and sometimes just having them tell me off-topic stories helps calm me down.

Therapy, talking with friends and family, Education (Deanna)

Medication, great support from friends and family (Alex Knight)

Reaching out for to family and friends is usually my first step. I’ve also been had the privilege of having professional help since I was young. Recently medication has been a big part of my coping strategy as well, which was frightening at first, but I’ve been fortunate enough to reap its benefits.


5: How can society better address mental health needs?


Start with training for teachers and awareness in schools the more we see on social media the more people will not feel ashamed to talk (H.H)

Believe people. Believe people when they say sexism affects them. Believe people when they say racism does. Believe stories of homophobia, transphobia, and classism. Don’t rush to judge people. Don’t underestimate or undervalue the power of words and everyday kindness. Find effective solutions to poverty and homelessness. LISTEN TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLES ON HOW THEY NEED TO BE SUPPORTED. Eurocentric solutions can be harmful to everyone! (KB Harwood)

Love people even when they push you away and be fearless in listening because some things can be terrifying but if you’re brave enough to listen maybe you can help

Talking about it

They can pay more attention. Catch it early, maybe in school as children? I know a lot of things go on behind the scenes that can be traumatizing for kids. Encouraging people to discuss their feelings at early ages, and genuinely listening to someone really helps. The world just needs to be nicer more caring people. We just need to reach out to other people and pay attention to the people we care about. Sometimes I find that when I’m having a bad day, all i need is someone to talk to. I feel like when i have something on my mind and i can’t express it to someone, i might explode. And if you hold it in long enough it can change you. I’ve seen it happen. Society also needs to stop downplaying it. Times have changed. People are caught in the passed where poor mental health was something to be ashamed of. Sorry this probably wasn’t very helpful (Mike Cox)

By decreasing stigma and getting people to be more comfortable talking about their struggles.

Not just having a conversation and putting it into practice (ex in the work force and taking personal days, changing how people “prove mental health”), providing flexible responsive resources to complex needs, changing narratives in media (movies, tv), better education (learning coping strategies, understanding mental health in schools without having to actively take courses) (Michelle)

More services, less expensive services. More conversation

Creating more discussion around real-life stories of mental illness; creating more accessible and timely services for ALL populations; looking at more at-risk groups and how to better serve them (Indigenous, homeless, LGBTQ+)

Understanding mental health recovery is not a one size fits all treatment – it may look different for everyone and that is OKAY. (Trisha)

Breaking stigmas, creating more safe places both online and in physical space, being considerate in the word choices and actions people do everyday, and being sensitive. A workplace law would help if there was one in place that allowed people to take mental health days off. (Jamie)

Mental health needs will only receive the attention they deserve when society stops stigmatizing them. By simply opening the conversation sharing our stories of struggle and triumph, the stigma will begin to fade. As a society, we need to ensure that our youth understand these disorders and their ramifications, and stop discriminating against those who struggle with mental health issues.

Not treating it like it is something that someone can just “get over” treating it like any other illness Offering low cost supports (Deanna)

In a school or work environment, mental health days shouldn’t result in proof or ridicule (Alex Knight)

Offer more safe, affordable, and sustainable programs, initiatives and healthcare services that specifically target mental health needs. Recognize that not everyone deals with mental health the same, and understanding that particular individuals, communities, and cultures require different approaches. Empathize. Listen. Learn.


6: How do current approaches to mental health awareness and treatment marginalize and/or empower certain communities?


Whiteness is often centered in mental health advocacy, even when its not explicitly said (which it often isn’t). The media and police services routinely paint people of colour (Indigenous and/or Black men/masculine presenting people especially) as criminals when they are in crisis, whereas White people are often framed as sick. When they aren’t and the worst happens, protesting and raising awareness of their deaths/loss of life is seen as mental health, but when Black Lives Matter and Indigenous activists do it, it’s seen as “controversial” or “aggressive”. A lot of us need to examine our own biases and look into whether our mental health advocacy and activism are even considerate, let alone inclusive. (KB Harwood)

Its nice to see some change but in all honesty people arent doing enough to care for people with mental health

Mental health in Western ideals is focused on medication. This may help but it is not the way to completely help individuals. The more people talk about it and share their stories, the more open the discussion becomes and the more empowered people become. I think that people are becoming more empowered as we open the discussion flood gates. It helps to know you’re not alone

By thinking of them as a separate group when really it affects everyone in some way.

Intersectional approaches… bell let’s talk opens up conversation to people who have never felt like they’ve had a voice… (Michelle)

A lot of them are expensive so they marginalize the poor

Many stories about mental illness stigmatize certain groups, while others focus only on white or Westernized interpretations of what mental health and mental illness is. This differs between certain groups and communities, and therefore treatment and what works for certain people differs as well.

The medical model tends to criminalize black men especially, as well as indigenous peoples. More violent means are used against POC who experience mental health difficulties. (Trisha)

While sharing our stories of struggle on social media warrants praise from others, it is important to consider how members of minority groups are persecuted for having the same struggled. While a white person might be praised for attempting to overcome their struggle with alcoholism, society looks down upon an indigenous individual on that same journey. We are fortunate in North America that the conversation about mental health issues has developed over the past decade, however there are third world countries where the conversation does not yet have a place in society.

The high cost of good support and good treatment leaves low income individuals without means to access treatment (Deanna)

It gives people an understanding of what the people around them are going through (Alex Knight)

Even within the “mental health” umbrella, certain abilities, behaviours, and “disorders” are deemed more socially acceptable. Extreme outward signs of mental struggle are uncomfortable, messy, and vulnerable. Communities who are statistically more affected by such struggles remain marginalized in part for these reasons, often a result of societal, biological, and/or economic powers outside of their control. And without sustainable, accessible and safe medical and professional support that can be made sufficiently available to all, the socioeconomic gap only widens.


7: What are ways you can support mental health initiatives in 2018?


Be vocal, it’s all about the talk…at least it can start there (H.H)

Be good to yourself and your loved ones. Be open to hearing your perspective may be unintentionally harmful. Be open to learning new ways of coping. If you feel comfortable doing so, volunteer with a peer support line (i.e. where you listen and stay knowledgeable of community resources). Listen twice as much as you speak, but never let your stories of marginalization and/or mental health be silenced. Support your family, friends, loved ones, and community members who share different intersections with mental health than yourself in the ways that work for them (e.g. race, class, gender). Don’t just show up on Bell Let’s Talk, but be mindful of your own limitations- there’s nothing wrong with having boundaries for your own health and safety. (KB Harwood)

Be there. Be present. Listen. Watch videos on mental health. And understand not everyone thinks the way you do.

Bell let’s talk is a great initiative and by reaching out to others who may need support

I can be more sensitive about things I say. I will be volunteering in my community, giving those in need some attention that they seek and deserve. (Mike Cox)

Be open minded and mindful about what other people may have gone through.

Being respectful empathic and supportive to those in your life that struggle and help Maintain wellness, contribute to conversations beyond let’s talk day… challenging those terms and attitudes in your personal life about mental health (ex someone being awful to someone and calling it out) (Michelle)

Talking about it more!

Being more involved; doing more research; doing more training; becoming an advocate for marginalized groups; creating discussion with marginalized groups.

Number one: support those in your life who experience mental health difficulties. Show them empathy, compassion, and encouragement. You never know how much that can help. Continuing this conversation even after Bell Let’s Talk day is over. Donating time and money to causes you believe in. (Trisha)

More storytelling and more listening. (Jamie)

The best way to get involved in mental health initiatives is to first focus on mending yourself. In doing so, you might come across a few organizations that aid in the mental health issues that you are facing that you particularly enjoy, and you can then volunteer to assist that program once you are ready. You might find solace in yoga, meditation, programs run through your university, programs run through your local gym, etc. And, if you still cannot find a method of mending that you would endorse, the Storyteller is always a good place to start!

Working side by side with individuals with mental health issues to talk about the issues they face and work with them one on one Donating time and any other resources available to help those with mental health issues (Deanna)

Continue promoting awareness campaigns more than once a year (Alex Knight)

Participate in your local and/or digital communities. Listen and empathize when those around you are struggling, even if they don’t say it. Keep the conversation going. If you’re fortunate enough to do so, spend your time with and money on facilities that directly benefit the communities around you. But most importantly and before all else, support, take care, and love your own mental, physical, intellectual, and spiritual health.

My cervix & my brain — Anonymous submission about traumatic medical procedures

It was a Monday morning. My mom was cleaning out boxes from when I was young. She had stacks and stacks full of everything from Sesame Street plush baby toys to my high school graduation cap. She wanted to clear out some space. I was carefully sorting through the memories I wanted to keep. I found the first painting I ever did. An old poetry medal. My Happy Meal toy collection of Winnie The Pooh characters. I wanted to keep them all. 

I was carefully minding the clock because my doctors appointment was at quarter to twelve. I had a long overdue pap smear that needed to be done a.s.a.p. When the time came close, I put down the Nightmare Before Christmas slippers torn on the soles, and I left.

I checked in and sat in the practitioners waiting room. The nurse came out and called me. When I went in, she already had the plastic speculum ready for me. She confirmed that it was a repeat pap, and I shook my head. But when I stopped shaking my head, the rest of my body didn’t stop. I started bawling like a child. I said I wanted to talk to her about my gynecologist appointment. She looked very concerned, her hands dropped to her lap, and she turned her whole body to me and said “What happened?” I had to tell her even though it hurt my stomach.

I remember I got to his office early in the morning for my biopsy. I had two bad pap tests before this and he was here to give me answers and comfort that everything was going to be normal again. When he came into room, I had my gown on and was sitting on the crinkly sheets of paper. He drew a diagram of my cervix and told me everything he was going to do. First, a repeat pap test because he didn’t trust the nurse. Then, a biopsy of the areas that looked abnormal. Then I will be free to go. He kept referring to my abnormal cervix cells as “HPV”. I stopped him. “My nurse told me that abnormal cells could be anything — bacteria, yeast, menstrual cells…” “Nurses are there to nurse you,” he said, “and just that.” I started tearing up. I could NOT have HPV. I was terrified. When he turned to me, he took out a long metal speculum. Not like the plastic ones I was used too. When he put it inside of me, I started bleeding right away. I was in so much pain that my eyes began watering. He took a long q-tip and rammed it inside of me. When he took it out, it was covered in blood. This was not a pap I have done before. I told him I wasn’t feeling well, and he said that was normal.

After the swab, he prepared for the biopsy. The part where he would literally take a chunk of my insides and put them in a plastic bottle with fluids in them to be shipped away to a lab. My body was still rejecting the metal in my body, so he took the flat of his palm and shoved it in. I was holding back screams. He warned me that the biopsy would hurt. A bit. But it hurt, a lot. I began crying as he was doing it, and when I looked down the bottle he was holding had three chunks of skin in it, and was full of bright red blood. He told me he didn’t see enough, so he had to go deeper in. A cervical pap. This was deeper inside, he said, and warned me of cramping during the swab. After all was said and done, he took off his gloves and washed his hands. The metal speculum was still inside me and I was crying and began going in and out of consciousness. He reached over, slid out the metal, and my legs collapsed. The weight of my legs falling almost threw me over the edge of the hospital bed. I was so out of it, that all I remember was him telling me to lift up as he kept replacing the crinkly sheets beneath me. I bled through 5 sheets before he decided to fold a bunch up and led me hold them against myself. A nurse came in and brought me water and a maxi pad. I felt like I had undergone some sort of surgery. I was in so much pain and the bed looked like a Saw film. When I finally had the go-ahead to leave, I got into my car and cried for 20 minutes before I started driving. Something did not feel right. I got home and cried again into my dog’s belly. And continued bleeding and cramping up for a week.

My nurse looked confused and disgusted. She asked immediately, “was there another body in the room? A nurse?” “No,” I replied. She looked at her computer for a second, and assured me that this pap would be a lot easier. No blood or pain. No crying. We got it over with, and then she let me get dress. When I sat back down she said she saw the holes in my cervix from where he took the biopsy. She said it was cauterized, which meant he burned it to stop the bleeding. Which would have caused the pain. But this would have been something he should have told me. She wanted me to send in a formal letter to the gyno board. “I want you to sort of air out what happened, but I also want you to do it for you.” For me? “It has been 6 months and you still seem haunted by it. I want you to send the letter, and if you still don’t feel well about it, I want you to come in. I think you might have some post traumatic stress that you need to leave with us.” PTSD? From a vaginal screening? That would be one cause I never, ever heard of. “You haven’t stopped crying,” she said, “and we can help you.” I suddenly felt like the pain I had and the feelings of insecurity and vulnerability I have been holding on to were valid. Real. She was the first medical professional to ever show me compassion. She made me think about my thoughts, and pointed out that I did not have to feel weak or scared. She was the first women to ever empower me about my body and my choices. She told me that I should have kicked him in the chest.  I’ve always felt vulnerable about my sexual organs. I never wanted to speak up about them, because I knew nothing about them or how they should work or why they do what they do. I wouldn’t know the difference between a right gynecologist appointment and a wrong one — but I do know it should not make a difference who is in or not in the room. There should only be one right way. And even if he did the correct procedure, there are polite, gentle, and sensitive methods and manners needed in that setting that were brutally disregarded. But now I understand my body knows when something isn’t right.

I hope anyone who has spurts of weakness and fear, or random outbursts of tears and panic understand that it is okay to feel that way, but not okay to stay that way. We do not choose the experiences that stay with us. Please reach out. You will be heard.

Have you submitted a story before?

Now you have a chance to have it published in a book we are creating called “Safe Haven”. We are really excited about it and really want you to be too. It is a cool opportunity to have your stories in a whole new kind of accessible medium. Though we are accepting NEW submissions, we are really in love with our older submissions. We have some amazing, well-written, heartfelt posts on here. And we want them included.

To have your previously submitted story in the book simply send carolinianpublishing@gmail.com an email with your name, a link to the story, whether you want it anonymous or not and we will send you back the contract (nothing scary!).

Thank you storytellers.