☆ February 1, 2017
Back in December, I was talking with a friend about being stalked. It came up naturally in the midst of our conversation, I can’t remember how or why. I was stalked throughout the summer and early fall of 2010, and have felt “over it” for years. At some point in 2011, I actually felt bad for the guy, because he was suffering from mental illness and the court system totally failed us both. (To this day, I hold enormous anger toward the courts, for two reasons: 1) he was found guilty, convicted of stalking, and was allowed to walk out the courthouse door the very next day; and 2) the psychologist who administered the required mental evaluation declared his condition “beyond the scope of my expertise,” yet no other eval was done by a more experienced person, no treatment plan was offered or even discussed, and the whole issue – which was the crux of the larger issue – was completely ignored by the judge, the county attorney, and his court-appointed attorney.) When I found I had empathy for the person who stalked me for months, who harassed me daily, who eventually showed up with a loaded gun, I declared myself Over It, Zeroed Out, Free.
Back to the conversation in December with my friend: I mentioned that prior to his arrest, the man who stalked me sent me dozens of emails every single day, sometimes 50 a day – and the moment those words left my mouth, I stopped short. I couldn’t finish my sentence. It was like I was thrown into that cliche movie montage when all past events join together in one flash when everything clicks.
THIS is my email problem. This is the source, the genesis. This is proof that, in fact, I’ve never gotten over it.
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know about my email problem. I’ve written about it a number of times, I’ve tried to brainstorm various ways to get a handle on it. I haven’t been able to keep up with email since Charlie went viral back in 2007, and while that unanswerable volume was a source of guilt, it never caused panic and anxiety. It was simply an issue of time. I still enjoyed reading email and answering what email I could.
While I was being stalked, email was the primary, daily, method of assault, and checking email became a source of panic. Dread. Physical tension. It’s never gone away. Now, like then, when I check email I feel my heart beat higher and faster. Sometimes I mentally shut down, and, for hours or sometimes days, can’t click on the emails that come in. All this time, I have thought my email anxiety, and the incompetence that anxiety caused, was my failure. All these years, I believed it was an area of life in which I sucked and couldn’t improve, no matter how hard I tried. Now I realize this is the f*cked up way that f*cked up experience damaged me. How it has affected me on a daily basis ever since, how it has affected my business and my ability to do my work. It’s been seven years, and I still can’t look at email without my autonomic nervous system activating a panic response. Until my random December epiphany, I never put it together, never identified the timeline when the task of email shifted from “too many to keep up” to “if I touch this I might die.” All this time, it was my psyche having a reaction in my body – a total and complete rejection of email – in order to protect myself.
This issue of protection is multilayered. There’s the obvious part of becoming conditioned to fear new messages, of not wanting to see what came in, of bracing myself for the awful and the disturbing every single time I sat down to check email. But it’s so much more than that.
In the series I wrote on stalking, the first installment of which I posted the day after his sentencing, I shared a lot of details. But I didn’t share everything, because I didn’t know if it was over. I didn’t mention that a friend who worked at Google put some code on my blog to track his IP address and activity, and that the man who stalked me had been visiting my blog over 100 times a day. That works out to every five minutes for ten hours a day, every day until he was arrested. I didn’t mention that I had knives stashed everywhere, indoors and outside, including a huge chef’s knife I kept in my shower (I had no escape route from my shower, what if he showed up when I was in the shower?). And the bigger part of this issue of protection is not wanting to bring this on myself ever again. This makes me cry as I type. Because the man who stalked me was a regular commenter on The Daily Coyote. I recognized his name, as I do with all regular commenters. He wrote me a totally normal email in the early summer of 2010, and I responded. And then all hell broke loose.
I wrote back. I wrote back. Might I have saved myself the misery if I hadn’t written back? If I hadn’t responded? For another woman, the thought that haunts might be I walked home alone or I didn’t want to be rude or I had that drink or I trusted him. Even though the violence we suffer is never our fault, where else do you put the focus – by which I mean, how else do you protect yourself from that day forward – when you can’t trust others not to harm you?
This epiphany left me reeling. It was illuminating, and also depressing, and it made me really sad for myself and really, really angry for all the women who endure violence or assault or harassment, because violence against women is still, so often, minimized by men – “twenty minutes of action.” Yet, this is the aftermath. I have been affected every single day since 2010 and, as I wrote back then, I got the shrapnel version! I was mentally tortured for months, but I wasn’t hit, I wasn’t raped.
Along with the shock and the anger and the sadness that came with this epiphany, I also felt thrilled. Downright giddy. Because now that I had determined the true root of my email problem, I knew I could fix it with EMDR.
The first time I did EMDR was after my apartment building in San Francisco burned down, which also happened to be my greatest lifelong fear. I woke one night, at 3AM, to the sound of my neighbor’s screams. Flames were everywhere. I called 911 but wasn’t the first to do so. I ran out of the building barefoot, and to get out of the building I had to run past windows that were exploding from the flames. Two buildings were destroyed and two of my neighbors died that night. Afterward, the smell of smoke – even the scent of a distant barbecue – would send me into full-body panic-mode. Two sessions of EMDR cured that; I love the aroma of wood smoke in the winter air, and am typing through a haze of smudge smoke right now.
The second time I did EMDR was after being invited to give the commencement address at CSU. I wasn’t about to turn down such an honor, yet public speaking happened to be my second greatest lifelong fear. Three sessions of EMDR (plus daily meditation and tons of practice), and I rocked that speech.
I love EMDR is because it works fast. It’s like being in a dream. It’s often described as entering the REM state while being awake. And it works in spite of yourself.
I’ve done two sessions of EMDR for this, and have one more scheduled, and things are different. I still can’t keep up with the volume of email I receive. I still prefer to compose longhand than on a keyboard. But the fear is gone. The anxiety is gone. I don’t want to hide anymore.
Click HERE to find EMDR practitioners near you. Many offer a sliding scale.