By Ania Magliano.
Trigger warning: sexual assault/rape
I have survived three incidents of sexual assault. Two sexual assaults and one rape, to be precise. I guess I don’t really believe the phrase ‘good things come in groups of three’ any more. Bad things do as well. And normal things, like a pack of onions. It’s a dumb phrase (no offence).
Lots of things have helped me survive these experiences. I’m in therapy, I’m on medication and I even do Thai Boxing now. However, since lockdown started, I’ve been thinking about the unique relationship that I have with stand-up specifically as a result of my trauma.
A common way the brain learns to cope with the trauma of sexual violence is through dissociation. The best way I can describe it is ‘an “out of body” experience where someone feels detached from reality’, which is coincidentally also the way Google describes it. I dissociate a lot. I didn’t realise until a counsellor suggested to me that feeling like I was floating above myself during intimate and/or stressful situations may be a defense mechanism, rather than #JustGirlyThings.
Knowing you’re dissociating doesn’t help much, either. Often I notice, and then get annoyed that I’m dissociating. Then I get annoyed at that. Then the person I’m with notices, and gets annoyed, like when the Hot Priest in Fleabag notices Fleabag looking into the camera. Except instead of a Hot Priest, it’s an Average Person and instead of looking into the camera, I’m looking into the void.
There’s one time I never dissociate, though. And that’s when I perform stand up. I think it’s because it requires the level of concentration that one might need for, like, a high intensity sporting event. But it’s better than sport because I don’t have to move and I’m the centre of attention.
Stand up makes me want to be in the moment. I want to be with the audience, and listen to them, and be genuinely ‘there’ when I talk to them. Also, if I’m not in the moment, I’m way more likely to die on my A-hole. And as if I need that on top of all the trauma! It’s almost like a form of meditation, I guess; like mindfulness, except for arrogant people. But I’m sure I can be forgiven for wanting to have my say when my voice and demands have been ignored a few times in the past.
I’m missing stand-up for many reasons, but this is one of the biggest. I miss coming off stage with barely any knowledge of what I’ve said because I’ve been so connected to the moment. It’s weird how you can miss something that you don’t actually really remember. God I’m complex.
I’ve found isolation very challenging in terms of managing my trauma. There’s a lot of time to think, and to dissociate, no matter how many podcasts you plug your brain with. But I am managing. I speak to my therapist on Skype, and I take my medication and I do All The Things the Nice Illustrations on Instagram tell me to do. But sometimes I still feel sad, and lonely, and detached.
Living with trauma is really, really hard work. Some days it jumps out and punches you in the gut, leaving you doubled over and bruised. No amount of Thai Boxing training is going to stop that. Some days it settles in, curled up as a weight around your ankles. Some days it isn’t there at all.
Trauma gains power through its ability to make you feel alone. To make you feel like no one will ever understand what you’ve been through, and like you can’t talk about what happened to you. And it doesn’t help when the law does that as well. Which, more often than not, it does.
At the moment, I can’t seek comfort through stand-up. But I can seek comfort through acknowledging my trauma, and talking about my experiences. And hopefully, letting other people know they’re not alone, even if they’re isolated. I would give anything for this piece to not resonate with anyone. That would be incredible. But I know it won’t be the case.
We all manage our trauma in different ways. And it may feel harder than ever to deal with, now that time feels mutated and stretches out before us without any sense of ‘normality’ on the horizon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t unite over the most important fact: we survived. And we will continue to. And we will do more than survive. We will thrive, flourish and tell our stories. And I, for one, will continue to be fucking hilarious.
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