To be honest, anxiety has been kicking my butt the last two weeks. I deal with minor anxiety off and on a daily basis, but it normally is pretty well controlled other then that. Confession: I’ve had more panic attacks in the last two weeks then I’ve had probably in the last six months.
It all started when I got a text from my husband asking me to meet him at the trolley stop with the car. A man that he didn’t give change to at the trolley station near his work had been harassing and threatening him, then followed him onto the trolley with another man. Living in the city, we are used to panhandlers and people that are probably suffering from some form of mental illness behaving erratically. But this situation freaked my husband out, so I was freaked out too. He got off at the stop across from the police station and the guy and the friend he had picked up didn’t follow him (thankfully).
The whole situation was unsettling, though. We live in a rougher section of the city and although no one has ever bothered me physically, I have experienced a lot of general street harassment as a woman. I take the bus three times a week to my college class from a corner that is frequented by panhandlers and men with nothing better to do then stand around and make comments. The first time I stood on that corner after the incident I had a panic attack and had to walk home and get the car to drive to class.
Taking public transportation never really bothered me before. I mean there was always stinky people and people that were talking to themselves, but in the city it is less expensive then driving and eliminates the challenge of having to find and pay for parking. Admittedly the comments I sometimes got while walking to or waiting for the bus to come bothered me, but I was able to ignore them for the most part. Or at least just get pissed instead of being anxious.
One of the most incredibly frustrating things about anxiety is that it tends to balloon out of control. So now I am feeling anxious any time I leave the house without my husband. I had anxiety in the grocery store last week, which I might add is in the suburbs and doesn’t have anything more threatening to me then the shear volume of food temptations. I have had to force myself to leave the house on multiple occasions, even though I have been driving instead of taking the bus.
Now I am facing the common dilemma that anyone that struggles with anxiety has: do I push myself to do the things that make me uncomfortable so I can move past them or do I take care of myself by not putting myself into situations that I am not equipped to handle right now?
Take a peek into my journal entry from last week:
I am disappointing myself lately. I wish that I was stronger and not as affected by the things around me. It is the dilemma I always end up with: do I push myself over the hump or recognize my limitations? There is so much guilt when I’m not doing something that I should or am supposed to be doing. Is self- care pushing past the “I don’t wannas!” or cutting yourself more slack? I know that self-care isn’t always solely doing what you want to do. Sometimes it is doing something because you know that you will feel better afterwards. But part of it is also being kind you yourself. How can you effectively balance those two things?
Of course, I know that I have an anxiety disorder. That I shouldn’t be beating myself up for experiencing anxiety. But it is incredibly difficult not to be pissed off at my brain and body for reacting in the way they do to things sometimes.
But then it occurred to me that perhaps who I should be pissed at is those men that are making those comments, threatening others, and making them feel afraid. I feel like my husband experienced a little that day of what many women feel like every day. And it is not isolated to women that have anxiety disorders. It is a problem that is causing anxiety on a daily basis for many women.
A study done by Hollaback! and Cornell University in 2014 found that 72% of the American women surveyed start taking a different form of transportation due to harassment. Apparently I’m not alone.
I was recently told by a friend that she was followed by not one, but two different cars with a man driving during one walk to the train station. She won’t take that walk anymore. I have been groped before. Other women have had men expose themselves or rub up against them. A friend and I were verbally harassed by a group of young men who were blocking the entrance gate to our college. Most women have been catcalled or verbally harassed in some way, from a “Smile, girl.” to vulgar comments about their appearance.
That same study found that ill effects of street harassment included anger, anxiety, and fear, and in some cases, long term effects such as depression and low self esteem. On one hand I’m glad I’m not alone in what I’m feeling, but honestly the statistics make me sick to my stomach.
Statistics that include women leaving jobs, missing or being late to work and school, moving, not participating in social outings or going out at night, and carrying weapons all because of harassment they have experienced.
I’ll be writing more about street harassment in the future, but for now I’d love to hear from you:
Have you ever experienced street harassment? How has it affected your daily life?