Talking About What Hurts


Words by Melissa Wert // Images by Megan Fuss Photography

Editor's Note: This topic can be sensitive in nature and may not be suitable for all readers.

Rape. It's one of those words that feels dirty in your mouth. R-A-P-E. It took me years to accept that taste and the heaviness of those four letters. For a long time I used every substitute term I could think of to avoid applying the term rape to myself - assault, abuse, violation, force. Somehow those words brought a (tiny) bit less shame than admitting to others the truth: in the span of four years, I had been raped twice.

It took me less time to get comfortable with the term suicide attempt survivor. It turns out there are less substitutable terms to use for that phrase to help soften the blow, and while for a long time I told myself I had unintentionally overdosed, I soon faced the fact through therapy that there was nothing unintentional about it. Either I tried to kill myself, or I didn't. And I did.

Eleven years later, when I thought I had worked through it all and was above mental illness – wham! Postpartum depression. It hit me and it hit me hard.

Hi. My name is Melissa, and I am a survivor of rape.
Hi again. My name is Melissa, and I am a survivor of a suicide attempt.
Hi. Still me. Still Melissa. And I am a survivor of postpartum depression.

Now, maybe you hear that and think I've been dealt a crap hand in life, but I'd argue just the opposite. I live a damn good, love-filled life, and through those experiences I've learned exactly who I am. And who I'm not. I've learned what I stand for. And what I won't put up with. And I've learned exactly what I'm meant to do while my two feet are planted firmly on Earth.

My greatest lesson from all of this? Talk about what hurts you. Talk to yourself. Talk to a therapist. Talk to your mom or your partner or your best friend. Talk to your dog. If you're comfortable, share your story with others who might also be hurting from an unfair hand in life. Share with others whom you have no idea are hurting from an unfair hand in life. Because that is where the real magic in healing lies.

It took me five years to tell someone I was raped. I told a few people about my suicide attempt immediately afterwards, but their reactions were so adverse I only told one or two people over the next ten years. Postpartum depression? It took me a year after my son was born to admit it (perhaps even to myself). My silence was due to guilt. Fear. Shame. Regret. Thinking that I could have prevented it. Thinking I could have done better. Thinking I could be better. Because I wasn't good enough to have these things not happen to me. But here's the secret. I was good enough. I am good enough. I am enough. And you are, too. Each one of us is more than enough.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it? After my suicide attempt I - the poster child of achievement and hard work - quit college (twice), convinced I was destined to be nothing. I dated bad guy after bad guy, convinced I didn't deserve anyone better, and two of them raped me - only sealing my thoughts that I was worth nothing. I moved back home and didn't crawl out of bed for days at a time. Every time I would start to get a glimpse of my old self back, my mind would sink me further back into its black hole. I was sure I would never make it out. I was sure I was worth nothing.

But then something happened - my heart took over. A dear friend suffered a loss from suicide, and it awakened something in me. I shared with her my experience, and I learned quickly that sharing the really, really, devastatingly hard things in life can create connection and understanding. Later, a friend shared that she was completing an American Foundation of Suicide Prevention's 5K, and I asked to join her. I publicly shared my story for the first time while asking people to fork over their money to support the cause. People donated, which was amazing, but even more amazing was the amount of people that came out of the woodwork thanking me for sharing my story. Some of them related. Some of them had lived it, too. Some of them were absolutely shocked to learn that about me. But everyone was supportive, and my story helped a few of them come to terms with their own situations. That was the fuel I needed to keep talking. I wasn't nothing. My words, and my heart, were something.

Soon after, I found the courage to open up about my rape experiences. I later talked freely about my postpartum depression, and eventually repurposed my company to help women specifically connect with their loved ones during these difficult, there-are-no-words times. And I kept talking. I just keep talking about it - about all of it - because you never know who is listening, and you never know who needs to hear your words. Because your words, and your heart, are something. And let me tell you, let me tell you a thousand times over - sharing your story can help to heal your heart and your mind, too.

What am I? I am a survivor of a suicide attempt, rape, and postpartum depression. But that's not who I am. I am a woman - a mother, wife, daughter, sister, business owner, friend - who owes understanding her life's purpose to those three events. I know that I am here to help women connect with each other and to support each other and to talk to each other about the things no one talks about, the things that no one has the words for. I'm here to give them the words.

And that's all because I shared my own words. I hope one day you'll share yours, too.

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When it comes to the challenging moments in life, Melissa Wert believes you should always be able to get to the heart of the matter, without losing the heart of the matter. She is the co-founder of Print Therapy, a stationery company that marries hand-painted watercolor designs with emotionally honest and heartfelt sentiments. She is happiest hanging at home trying to illicit giggles and dance moves from her sweet boy.