Every so often, something happens that shakes the running community to the core. This summer, the story of Mollie Tibbetts is causing an uproar of emotion across the country. Being a woman in the United States is dangerous. It has been years since I have felt comfortable running without the accompaniment of another person or a weapon. I try as hard as possible to avoid running in the dark – and as the days get shorter, my running window narrows. Women everywhere are forced to alter hundreds of aspects of their daily living in order to feel safe in a world that is not designed to protect them; carry mace in your purse, travel in pairs, run inside on a treadmill, wear special nail polish that can detect if someone drugged your drink, etc. Society has been forced to create extreme measures to keep women ‘safer’ instead of holding offenders accountable for their actions.
The news of Mollie Tibbetts comes at a particularly difficult time for me. About four weeks ago, my neighbor broke into my home while I was in it. I cannot adequately express what if feels like to find someone climbing into your living room window while inside, home alone, completely unsuspecting. Since this occurred, I have been living in an exhausting heightened sense of awareness. I have trouble sleeping, I don’t feel comfortable going outside to mow my lawn or work in my garden, and I have a hard time not obsessing over “what if” situations. Sadly, this is not the first time someone has broken into my home. My home in Grand Rapids was broken into when I lived there years ago. As a therapist, I am well aware of what compounding trauma can do to a person.
So what does a therapist do when they are suffering PTSD? I practice what I preach – I attend therapy now. Despite working full-time with health insurance, my therapy co-pay is still $40 per session. I am paying $40 each week to try to regain some sense of safety and normalcy within my home. Yes, my mental health is worth $40, but it is ridiculous that the victim continues to pay for the actions of the offender. Our world is not designed to prevent danger – it is designed for us to adjust to and prepare for potential threats. Just look at all the things women are expected to purchase in order to feel safe – mace, knives, whistles, alarm systems, it goes on.
I feel like this break-in is the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back,’ if you will. As a 30-year-old female, the daily sensations of not feeling safe are draining. Comments, catcalls, unwanted touching, obnoxious stares, and being mistreated are the norm for women. These tiny moments of everyday add up over time. They are enough to make us feel insecure within our surroundings. And then something catastrophic takes place – Mollie Tibbetts being killed while running or someone breaking into my home – that confirms our worst fears: we are not safe.
There is so much more to be said on this subject, but I’ll end on a positive note. My PTSD has not stopped me from running, despite the way it screams “this is not safe!” as I lace up my running shoes. Thousands of women are sharing their stories and continue to log the miles in Mollie’s honor. The running community is resilient and we will continue to run for Mollie and victimized women everywhere.