Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It is also the month that I was raped by a stranger nine years ago while walking home.

I’m 29 now, and I’m happy about where I am and where I’m going. I’m creating art that I care about, I love my job and I’m surrounded by friends and family who make me laugh every day. I even published a graphic novel, which was a dream I’ve had since high school.

But for a significant amount of time after the rape, flashbacks and panic attacks kept my heart pounding day and night. My brain spun in painful circles to imagine ways I could have prevented the attack. When I wasn’t shaking with adrenaline and shame, I was in zombie mode, drained of all desire to draw, go to class or even get out of bed. Every day was miserable. When therapists and loved ones said I would be happy again one day, I didn’t see how that could be true.

This April, I offer a letter to my 20-year-old self and anyone who is suffering after a rape or assault. No matter your gender, age or how your pain and healing are manifesting, I hope these words bring comfort. If you read this letter and know someone who might need it — today or in the future — please pass it along.

This year, I’m no longer trying to be a ‘new me’ — I want to be happy with who I am

A desire to change needs to come out of a place of love for yourself, not self-loathing

I can’t fix the global waste problem, but here are small steps I am taking to be more sustainable

Individual efforts may seem trivial, but don’t get discouraged

I dared to go gray — and have felt both shame and pride

In the end, the awkward transition was worth it