How To TipToe Around Depression

 

  1. Pick out your clothes the night before because mornings take too much effort. Change your mind two or three times while lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come. The next morning, try on every outfit you own that fits the occasion. Be happy with none of them. Wear the last outfit you try on because you are now running late.
  2. Set more alarms than is necessary for the morning: one which is the ideal time to get up, and one which is the last possible minute needed to get ready and just make it out the door in time. Hit snooze on all of them. Because, once again, mornings take too much effort.
  3. Decide one morning you don’t need to wear make-up because you’re beautiful anyway. Take a selfie to document the occasion. Freak out because your nose looks bigger than you remember it being. Contemplate getting a nose job. Talk yourself out of it because it’s permanent, and the finality of using a sticker is enough to stress you out.
  4. Breathe in. Hold it. Count to five. Breathe out, trying to slow your racing heart, which is only outpaced by your racing thoughts.
  5. Get bangs that cover your eyebrows. There are more important things to be worried about (i.e., everything) than doing your eyebrows.
  6. Write down everything that happens on anything you can find: receipts in your wallet, iPhone notes, random scraps of paper found in the deepest recesses of your over-sized purse. Remember what it’s like to feel on your darkest days. Live to feel these things again.
  7. Take pictures of every beautiful thing you see: sunrises and sunsets; flowers and gardens; fields and clouds; coffee and food. Don’t let anybody take away your joy by reducing you to a stereotype—you are anything but.
  8. Wake up in the middle of the night needing to pee. Put it off until you can’t hold it any longer. You stumble half-asleep down the hall, past the stairs, avoiding looking down. You’re not scared of the dark. You’ve come to accept it; it’s the unknown human-like shadows that freak you out. When you wash your hands, avoid looking in the mirror above the sink. You don’t necessarily believe those ghost stories, but you’d rather not find out. At 3 am, when you’re not fully awake, you look like a ghost of yourself anyway.
  9. Walk through your local cemetery. Take note of the gravestones: the startings and the endings; the oldests and the youngests; the epitaphs and the ones that say nothing. Wonder what yours will say—not in a macabre way, but in a “will I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish” way. Make up stories of those buried there (it’s a different form of people-watching, something you love to do). Your grandfather’s been dead for 10 and a half years. He’s been buried for a few months less than that. You haven’t yet visited his grave—you don’t handle death well.
  10. Eat freely. Love deeply. Remember what it was like when you deprived yourself of food and love.
  11. Dream big. Don’t be afraid to fail. Being a Bills’ fan has helped you learn how to deal with disappointment.
  12. Become an English major. Worry that you ruined your life because “it’s not a practical degree.” Tell people you’re not a practical person. You follow your heart and not your head. You see the world in shades of grey, not black and white.
  13. Lie in bed at night thinking about every possible outcome to every possible scenario so you’re not surprised when they happen. Write dialogue for possible conversations in your head. That way, when you do work up the courage to speak, you don’t make a fool of yourself.
  14. Remember words are your most powerful tool and weapon.
  15. Give names to your intrusive thoughts. Call them out when they fill your head with stupid ideas: “No, Fred. I will NOT drive headfirst into this tree.” “Shut up, Gertrude. I know there are about 20 Advil in my hand right now, but I only need two.” You are too busy trying to live to listen to those that drag you down.
  16. Remember you are not a walking billboard for depression. You are so much more than one word. You are smart, funny, kind, musical, and children and animals seem to like you. So, in the grand scheme of things, you can’t be that bad.
  17. Sleep with headphones playing nothing in. The crickets outside your window have been extra noisy lately. Depression needs silence to sleep. You’ve discovered that after so many years of co-habitation, you do too.
  18. Set your alarm for the quietest setting you can. You are a light sleeper. Maybe if you can get ready and leave the house quickly and quietly, depression will stay sleeping. If it wakes up, it will chase you. It’s like a dog, but unlike a dog, there’s nothing cute about any of this.
  19. When you are struggling, call it out. Give it a name. Say, “Yes. I have Depression. But I am not Depression. I am a human who is living with it. I am strong. I am a fighter. I will not give up.”
  20. If all this fails, try again tomorrow.

Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

One of my classmates died this week.

I’m still trying to figure out how to process this sudden, heart-wrenching loss. It’s hit me pretty hard—harder than I thought it would because we weren’t particularly close. Once upon a time, sure; maybe in Elementary school–when there are approximately 35 kids in your fifth grade class, everybody tends to be at least semi-friends with everybody else. And then Middle School happens, and suddenly you are introduced to 400-and-something other kids your age, and the relationships between the original 35 become weaker and weaker because there are new people, new relationships. So the semi-friendship between him and I became non-existent.

But then High school happened. And I began to see more of him because we were in the same classes. Our “once-weres” became our “are nows.”

From Kindergarten to BC Calc our Senior Year of High School, I knew him. For thirteen years of schooling, plus the four years since: seventeen years he’s been somebody that’s orbited around the edge of my world.

So, no, we weren’t close. But, I guess when you’ve known someone for seventeen years of your life, losing that someone can be painful.

That someone’s name is Jack. And let me tell you, he was one of the smartest, yet, most humble people I’ve ever known.

Even in Kindergarten, I knew he was probably one of, if not, THE, smartest person in the class. He was the pudgy kid with glasses, with a big brain and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He asked all the right questions, and never made any one feel stupid for not knowing something. He helped those who needed help, and he worked with those who didn’t need help. And it was always a race to see if anyone could finish their classwork before Jack did. When you did, you felt like the second smartest person in the room. (I don’t know if he ever knew people raced him to complete their work, but I like to imagine he did, and that maybe he sometimes let people win—that’s the kind of person he was.)

And as he matured, he grew into his pudge, but his big brain and insatiable hunger never disappeared. I remember so many classes in High school where he would get into mini debates with teachers about themes in the books we were reading in English, the ethics of an idea in Economics, what really caused an event in History, or even the best way to solve a problem in Calculus.

Speaking of calculus, he was probably the biggest reason I passed that class because when I would tell him I didn’t understand a problem, he would explain it to me in a simpler way.

He pushed everybody around him to be better, to work harder, to never grow tired of learning. He was always good for a laugh, a witty comment, encouragement, and a simpler explanation.

He was the most intellectually curious person I’ve ever meet. And everybody knew he was going to do great things with his life, and he did. He did so many wonderful things in the time he was here on earth.

It’s painful to know that there are so many things he’ll never get to accomplish, and my world’s been a little bit darker these last few days, as are so many other worlds as well I am sure. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been some light. My Facebook has been flooded with tributes to Jack by so many people who knew him: family, high school classmates, college classmates, people he’d met along the way. And it’s been amazing to see that the Jack to one person was the same Jack to another person; despite the relationship, he treated everybody the same way. The people who knew him better than I have so many of the same thoughts about him. He was so true to himself. He was humble. He made sure others were encouraged in difficult time. He helped others understand difficult things.

Death is difficult to understand.

Death is cruel because the world keeps on spinning even in the midst of tragedy. In a heartbeat, so many people’s lives are changed, but the world doesn’t stop. Death is cruel because it’s universal. It happens to everybody, and it’s not fair.

Grief has this way of making us nostalgic for memories we thought we had forgotten. It has a way of making us nostalgic for the people and places of our past.

When I heard the news, I went back through all my old Elementary school yearbooks, reminiscing on the good times and the bad times, wanting so much to relive—in a way—what once was, wondering what the relationships of the original 35 would be like now if our lives had played out differently.

But grief also has a way of making us nostalgic for the future. It has this way of making us do things differently—how am I going to live now that this has occurred? Am I going to live life differently? Can I do it long-term?

I don’t know any of the answers to so many questions. But I’m going to keep asking them anyway.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that questions are the way to learn more about this world.

I think we all have to ask more questions like Jack did because the only way to change the world is by learning about it.

The only way we can change our lives is by dreaming big and following our dreams.

Jack followed his dreams. He would want everybody (even those he didn’t know) to follow theirs.

 

 

 

 

Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

Six Years and Losing Control

Today marks six years since I last self-harmed. But, if I’m 100% honest, which is what I want to do on this blog, that’s not entirely true. Six years ago was the last time I pressed a sharp object to my skin so hard it drew blood. Six years ago was the last time a sharp object was pressed to my skin so hard that, when I lifted it away, the mark left behind scarred. There have been nights since then, not many of them, but nights that come around once in a great while where I feel every emotion at once, and yet still feel so numb.

And I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But imagine this: imagine being burned so bad that every nerve is exposed, and because every nerve is exposed, you feel everything—the changes in temperature, the air pushing against your body, just everything, you feel it all—your body feels so much pain that it shuts down.

That’s how I feel on those once-in-a-great-while nights. Those are the nights when there is so much emotion flooding through my body I can’t focus on anything else: the emotional pain trumps all. So, I need a controlled release—a way of drawing out the pain in a way I can control, not too much, not too little, not too fast, not too slow.  A paperclip rubbed back and forth on the skin a few times does the trick, leaving a scratch raised and red behind which lasts no more than an hour.

And I’m not proud of that, but it’s the only way I know how to control my pain. I can’t control what I feel emotionally, but I can control how I feel physically—what I do to myself. So, it’s been six years since I last self-harmed deep enough to draw blood, but I don’t want to remember forever how long it’s been.

I want to let myself forget—how long it’s been since I was raped, how long it’s been since I tried to kill myself, how long it’s been since I stopped self-harming, how long it’s been since I started eating again. I don’t want to live my life in terms of anniversaries of my past when I know the anniversaries of my future are so much better. I want to let myself forget so I can rejoice in what tomorrow has to offer me without placing it in the context of my past, without forgetting my past.

I’m never going to forget my past, but I want to stop living in terms of it. My past has made me who I am today, and it’s who I am today that will have a bearing on who I am tomorrow. What happened to me in my past matters simply because it happened to me. It’s part of my story, but it’s not the most important part of my life—it’s not the most interesting thing about me. Sometimes I treat my past like it’s the most important thing.

I have more to offer this world than my retellings of what happened to me. Sometimes I think people will only like me because of what happened to me, even though I know that’s not true.

So I want to forget. I want to stop framing my present in terms of my past, but forgetting means letting go, means losing control. And I’ve fought so hard to control what I can because for so long I had none.

I had no control over what happened to me in a school bathroom. I got control by not telling anybody what happened.

I had no control over the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t worth anything. I got control by counting calories, by starving myself.

I had no control over the way I felt nothing, nothing at all. I got control by cutting myself open.

I had no control over my body when I tried to kill myself. I got control by fighting like hell to survive, to live.

I didn’t have a lot of control over my past, and I have very little control over what may happen in the future, but I can control who I am now—what I remember.

This all sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. But I’ve fought so hard to remember the dates where I started healing because I want to remember how far I’ve come when the going gets tough, when I feel defeated, when my intrusive thoughts return.

I want to remember what I’ve been through without being tied to anniversaries because when I think it’s been “six years since I last self-harmed,” I think “it’s been six years, and I’ve only come this far. It’s been this many years, and I haven’t done this.”

I don’t want to think about what I haven’t yet accomplished. I want to think about what I still have yet to accomplish. I have big goals, big dreams, big hopes that seem so far away. And I know that thinking in terms of the past isn’t going to get me there.

I know I have to let go and Let God, as they say.

But letting go and letting God requires a level of trust that I’m not sure I have. I think I might, I maybe do, but I want to be sure.

Yes, there’s always room for doubt, doubt is good. But the last time I doubted God, I almost died—almost killed myself. However, I’m going to trust God anyway because he saved me when I couldn’t save myself.

I’m going to let Jesus take the wheel, even though I’m terrified of giving up control (although I might still backseat drive from time to time. Hey, I’m only human).

So, Jesus, take me. Take me as I am. I’ve been broken into pieces and put back together, but there are still a few cracks left to be filled.

I’m giving up. I’m giving everything I am to you. I don’t know if I trust you completely,yet. But I’m trying my best.

Do with me what you will.

I don’t care where you stand on gun legislation or LGBTA rights.

Dear Orlando,

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say in response to the mass shooting that occurred in your city, but how am I supposed to figure out what to say when I can’t even make sense of what happened? How can I figure out what to say when there are communities in mourning—not just within your city, but within our country, within our world? How can I figure out what to say when all the major issues in our country are so divisive, when we can’t even have a civil discussion about the issues events like this bring up? How can I figure out what to say when the two major political parties can’t agree on anything—even when it comes down to the value of human life and how to save it—when their candidates are using this tragedy to advance their own campaigns, draw attention to their own successes?

I’ve been trying to think about what to say, mulling Saturday’s events over in my head all day Sunday and most of day, letting my thoughts fester like an open wound, feeling the pain—both my own and second hand pain from the communities affected by this: both the LGBTA and Muslim communities. And after all this time of reflection and thinking, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what I want to say; I’m not sure that I have the right words.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are no right words. Maybe there are just words, opinions really, that are either harmful or good. I’m all for supporting opinions and free speech—after all, it is our right as Americans to say what we think, and because of this right, I posted what I thought last night on Facebook:

response

After sleeping on it (which didn’t actually happen because I was too busy mulling things over to actually sleep), I’m standing by what I said, but I’m also going to add to and clarify things.

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you—both to your city and the LGBTA and Muslim communities. I’m sorry we live in a world where this keeps happening, i.e., Terrorist attacks. I’m sorry we live in a country where this keeps happening, i.e., mass shootings. I’m sorry we live in a country where certain groups are targeted based on race, sexuality, or religion. And I know that we are not the only country where things like this happen. I know that, but, as a US citizen and a citizen of the world, I am concerned with where we are headed.

Second of all, Radical Islam is our enemy. But so is Radical Christianity. So is Radical anything. The very definition of the word “Radical” proves this to be true. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Radical is” a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are foreign born. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church. And yes, statistically in the United States, most of what have been labeled ‘Terrorist Attacks’ have been carried out by Muslim extremists. But there have been other attacks in our recent history that have not been labeled Terrorism that fit the bill. (the Charleston church shooting comes to mind, attacks carried out by a young Christian, white supremacist Male.)

Third of all, this was more than just an act of Terrorism. This was a Hate crime against the LGBTA community, which happened to be committed by a US born citizen who became a Radical Muslim. The attack was planned; the venue was not. He had a hatred of gay people, or at least an aversion to them—an animosity so great he decided to act. It was a terror attack and a hate crime all wrapped into one horrific event. Which makes this whole thing more confusing. 

There’s nothing black or white about any of this. It’s more than just liberals vs conservatives, republicans vs democrats, Muslims vs Christians, the Western World vs the Middle Eastern World, guns vs no guns. This whole thing is a big mess of a murky grey color.

Which means there are no easy answers. And we as a nation, as a world have to be ok with that. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands than ISIS, Terrorism, and gun violence.

Our biggest problem lies in the rhetoric of our First Amendment right—the freedom of speech. We are each entitled to our own opinion, but over the years our opinions have become so divisive, so polarizing, so stuck.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having opinions; the problem begins when our opinions led to people, actual HUMAN BEINGS being killed.

We have, as a society, become so headstrong, so defensive, we can’t engage in civil discourse about the most pressing issues of our time. We can’t see the “other sides” side of things. Perhaps, most importantly, when it comes to arguing issues, each side isn’t even arguing about the same thing—each overarching issue has many different points, and each side is arguing a different point, which means no discussion can happen.

And this lack of discussion is widening the gap between “us” and “them,” driving a wedge between both sides of an issue. Which leads me back to where the problem really lies: our “us vs them” mentality.

By referring to those who are as “us” and to those who aren’t as “them,” we are doing a disservice to those who are different—we are isolating them, ostracizing them, making them afraid to live their lives.  After 9/11, attacks against Muslims in the US rose, rising again after the Paris attacks. Attacks against the LGBTA community are also prevalent in today’s culture.

“Us vs Them” is dangerous, creating divisions, Grand Canyon sized rifts and wedges between populations of the world—wedges which really allows ISIS to be the most effective. Westerners aren’t the only people affected by ISIS; Muslims in the Middle East are affected more than the Western Countries are (I googled it for you). ISIS capitalizes on the rift between Western Christians and Muslims because our tendency in the West is to loop all Muslims in the “Terrorist until Proven otherwise Category,” which allows ISIS to swoop in and save the day for the Western Muslim. (Picture a street kid who is bullied joining a gang for protection and a sense of identity.)

So, no, there are no easy answers. No, I do not have any of the hard answers. Nor do I have any suggestions on how to change policy because at 21, I am too young to even know where to begin. But at 21, I am old enough to see that we have to do something because I’ve seen enough violence to last a lifetime.

I don’t even know how to begin to enact the change as a world on the macro level. But on the micro level, the change begins with me. And it begins with my words.

As an English major and a writer, I have learned to be very careful with the words I use when writing—I try my hardest not to use words that will isolate my reader. As a Christian, I am even more so—because there is no “us and them” in the eyes of God. There is only us; We the people; we the Children of God.

So, no. Now is not the time for frivolous arguments that will get nowhere—you can only beat the dead horse so many times with the same useless stick.

No, I do not care, nor do I want to hear about your opinions about guns and the LGBTA and Muslim communities today. Our opinions have caused so much hurt already. Now is the time for unity.

And to those who are hurting today: my friends in the LGBTA who are afraid to hold hands with the person you love in public, who are afraid to come out to you family and friend; my friends in the Muslim community who are now afraid to leave your house, I want to say I am sorry.

I’m sorry for everything.

And I know words can only do so much. But I want you to know that you are my neighbor.

We are one People; one body.

Sometimes we forget that we are not the only victims. The same things we suffer from, you do, too.

I will try not to forget anymore.

And I am going to try my hardest to help you in any way I can, even if that means reaching out, being a friend to those who are different from me. If there’s one thing my life has taught me, it’s that those who are different from us are the ones we can learn the most from.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

This Same God

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.”

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes and over again.

They don’t tell you how much it’s going to affect you if it happens to you. Nobody tells you how you’ll start to see hollowed out memories, a broken down shell of a body, a ghost of the person you used to be. They don’t tell you how it will affect everything about you—the way you move, the way you talk, the way you act, the way you are, who you are (you never really liked yourself anyway, so really it’s a blessing, because it gives you an actual physical reason to change who you are).

Nobody tells you any of this, but they do tell you how to prevent it, though. Thank goodness for that because 1 in 5 women will be raped in their life, so clearly teaching women how not to get raped is clearly working.

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.” Trust me when I say that’s the last thing you want to do when you are being violated in the worst way.

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes over and over again—a reminder of one more thing I’d have to change about myself to try and forget, to try and stop it from ever happening again.

It wouldn’t be that hard. The depression had already taken the sparkle out of my eyes. All I had to do was hide them behind glasses I didn’t need and not make eye contact with anyone. Ever.

He sat behind me in English class, which became the class I began to dread. Every day he touched my hair, said he loved the way it smelled.

When we were in that bathroom on that day in the middle of May, he couldn’t stop touching it, smelling it. So I cut it. And when it got long, I cut it again.

His locker was next to mine. He stood at his every day, waiting for me to open mine. Slamming it shut, his hand would briefly touch mine. “Your skin’s so soft,” he would say.

On that day, he couldn’t stop touching me. His fingers leaving bruises behind on my skin as he moved from my neck down. (I couldn’t wear turtlenecks or scarves for the longest time). He made me touch him, and four of his closest friends.

….

I don’t know how you get over that, how you get rid of those memories. So I shut down, became numb. I started cutting in places I was touched to create new sensations (because the sharp pain was better than the memory of a touch of a finger, scars were better than bruises). My legs, stomach, and wrist became a garden of crisscrossed lines marking the way back from where I’d been.

I started starving myself, not because I cared how I looked, but because I didn’t. I didn’t mind the dark circles under my sunken eyes, the cold skin, the way I lost my sparkle. I wanted there to be less of me that remembered what it felt like to not have control over my own body.

I ceased to exist in the way I used to, and I didn’t know how to find my way back to who I used to be. So I thought it would be better if I just ceased to exist entirely, if I ceased to be.

Six years later, I’m still here. And if the question is, “why did you get a second chance when so many others do not?” the answer is, I don’t know. Life is made up of too many questions and not enough answers.

But here’s what I do know.

I do know that I am healing.

I’ve started eating again. I’ve gained the weight back, and then some. But that’s ok, because I’ve come to learn I’m beautiful.

(Almost) six years after cutting for the last time, the crisscrossed lines are almost gone. Only a faint few remain, reminding me of where I’ve been, how strong I am.

Eight years after being raped, the memories of what happened to me is still enough to tie my stomachs up in knots, but I don’t panic when I see him anymore. I don’t run away. I don’t hide.

I’ve started wearing my hair long(er) again. I love wearing scarves. I’m learning to look people in the eyes again.  Speaking of eyes, I’ve begun to notice the sparkle returning to my eyes. And when I see it, I take a picture because I need to be reminded of the beauty in life.

And I’ve relearned about the cleansing power of blood, how I’ve been washed clean, not by the blood that poured from my skin as I cut myself open, but by the blood spilled from the Man who died so I could live, the Man who became “ugly” so I could be beautiful.

So, I don’t know why I was raped, but I do know that I am thankful.

I’m thankful not for the act done for me, but thankful for what I’ve learned along the way. I’m thankful for how much stronger I am now.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the way God has brought people into my life to encourage me and support me, and for the way he has provided me with people and opportunities I can do the same with.

Because, yes, some days are hard, some days it’s hard to breathe; it’s hard to get out of bed. But everyday God reminds me of how beautiful this life is, and when I look at the lines on my palm, I am reminded that the same God who created nature, took the time to hand-stitch me together, and that is enough to get me through the day.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.

 

Rape Joke

“Hey, did you hear the one about the girl who got raped?”

The punchline is that she was 13 years old.

The punchline is that he slammed her locker shut every day because he liked her.

The punchline is that when he asked her out, she said, “No.”

The punchline is that he decided to take matters into his own hands, along with the hands of four of his closest friends, to show her what she would be missing.

After it was over, the punchline tried not to make eye contact with her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tried to clean herself off and hide the bruises shaped like hands and teeth as best as she could. She exited the bathroom, walked down the hall of the deserted middle school, opened her locker (half expecting it to be slammed shut immediately, and when it wasn’t, breathed a sigh of relief). She exited the building, lonely footsteps echoing behind her, got into her dad’s car, and pretended it didn’t happen—everything was fine.

The rape joke is that he sat behind her in English class. His breath on her neck was the only thing she could focus on, making it very hard to concentrate on whatever work of art they read that last month of class, especially that first one: that poem by Emily Dickinson, “My life is like a loaded gun.” 7 years later, she thought it would be fun to take an Emily Dickinson class. She’d be fine. And she was, until that poem when she found herself transported back to that moment.

The rape joke is that her professor asked her what she thought it was a metaphor for. She didn’t know how to say she thought about all the memories this poem brought back, how it could be a metaphor for all of that. “I think it’s just about a loaded gun,” she said.

The rape joke is the way he didn’t threaten her, at least not really. He just said, “no one will believe you.”

The rape joke is that earlier that year, she was taught in Health class how to not get raped. Fat lot of good that lesson did her: she wasn’t drunk; she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes; she wasn’t outside, at night, alone.

The rape joke is that his locker was right next to hers because life likes cruel irony and alphabetical order is the most convenient way to organize everybody (a terrible thing really), and he still slammed her locker shut every day.

The rape joke is that on the last day of school, when they both opened their lockers at the same time, he didn’t slam hers shut. Instead, he whispered in her ear, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” And then he dared to smirk: an insult to injury, really. Maybe if you had, people would believe me when I’m ready to tell, when I’m ready to stop pretending this didn’t happen, she thought to herself. Which is a terrible thing to think, but when you’re 13, you sometimes think terrible things.

The rape joke is that the first time she told somebody who wasn’t a close friend or family, they responded, “Don’t feel bad. It could’ve happened to anybody.” Translation: Lucky her; close call, everyone else who’s last name is similar.

The rape joke is that a few years later, she had to break up with her boyfriend because of this joke. Because every time he put his arm around her, she was transported back to that bathroom. And even though he knew what had happened, he didn’t understand she needed space. But she blamed herself really for believing she could be loved in the first place.

For the longest time, she thought she was going crazy. And she was.

No offense.

No offense (that it happened to her).

No offense (that she buried the pain so deep, it took cutting her skin open to feel anything).

No offense (that the words said would echo in her mind for years to come: Bitch. Slut. You’ll never be loved. You don’t have to cut hard enough to leave a scar in order to draw blood).

No offense (that she went crazy, that it took her years to find her voice again but eventually she found it when she started writing about monsters and darkness, caves and loneliness).

No offense (it took a long time for her to forgive).

No offense (it’s just a joke).

The punchline is that she’s not the only one this has happened to. Among her acquaintance group, she knows of at least six others. That number grows every year, standing in solidarity, alone together.

The punchline is that she knows guys this has happened to. Nobody believes them, either.

The punchline is that we have to feel pain to become stronger, but does it have to hurt this bad?

The punchline is that our past doesn’t define us, but it does help make us who we are today.

But no offense.

The rape joke is funny because the punchline is me.

The punchline is at least I was pretty enough for it happen to me, but then how come sometimes it makes me feel so ugly?

The punchline is that this joke doesn’t define who I am.

“Come on. Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

If it’s just a joke, shouldn’t I be laughing?

It took me years to really truly laugh again.

I’m finally laughing again.

But not at this because nothing about this is funny, especially when it happens to you.

 So, yeah. I’ve heard the one about the Girl who got raped.

Have you? 

Towers and Earthquakes

Here’s the thing: we spend so much of our lives building an identity–a tower of self that is our foundation, what we base our whole life on–that when life begins to chip away at it, we begin to feel lost and confused.

I remember being younger and building my identity around people in my life, mostly friends, sometimes family. The problem with building your identity around others is that it’s permeable–there are cracks in the foundation, allowing water to get in, eroding away the tower brick by brick, piece by piece.

I left Elementary school with a reasonably adequate sense of self. I thought I knew who I was, what I was doing because when you’re one of the big kids in the school, you think you’re unstoppable, and maybe you are.

But then you’re not. You go from being the kid who’s gone around the block a few times to being the new kid in school. And it’s not the moving up of schools that bothers you because you’ve accepted that growing up and getting older is a part of life.

The problem is that you’re now a small fish in a big sea–you don’t know where you fit, where you belong, who your friends are. Something happens to people in Middle School–everybody is trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, and figure out where they fit. And everybody starts doing this at the same time, creating an upset in the social balance, causing hierarchies to form.

The massive upheaval of self-identity causes bullying to start. You try not to let it get to you. You try not to let the names they call you, the things they say to you influence your life. But they do.

And they did for me, too.

They began to chip away at my tower of identity bit by bit; it began to crumble, but because of the foundation, no matter how shaky it was, I wasn’t really scared of it falling.

But then it did.

When I was in eighth grade, I was raped. And it changed everything. It took everything. It took away the foundation I had spent 13 years building. It took away everything I thought I was. It took away my ability to say “No.” because if one guy asked me out, I rejected him, and this happened, what’s to stop it from happening again.

Being raped was like an earthquake–you’ve all seen the images: the violent tremors, the collapsing buildings, the swirling dust, the weakening skeletons still standing.

Being raped was a lot like that: quick and violent, and when the dust settled, all that was left was a shell of who I once was, who I wanted to be.

When it was all over, I was depressed and broken, lost and confused. I felt as though God had abandoned me.And I didn’t tell anybody. When it was all over, I cleaned myself up, covered the bruises as best I could, and carried on with my life as if nothing had happened.

The pain I was feeling was too intense; it hurt too much–I shut down. Becoming numb was easier than feeling, especially when the voices started, repeating over and over and over the events of that day, the words said I wanted so badly to forget: Slut. Bitch. No one will ever love you. You’re worthless.

I was depressed for so long, so numb that I had forgotten how to feel anything at all. That was when the cutting started. I wanted to feel something, anything. The pain reminded me I was alive, and it became addicting. Even that soon became not enough.Soon the self-harm escalated to self-loathing, subtly over time. One day, I woke up and couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a full meal. The roaring of my stomach quickly drowned out the voices in my head.

I needed to grasp on to something, so I grasped on to the thought that maybe this would end someday, because even the idea of death is better than grasping on nothing.

Then, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired; boy, was I tired. I let my guard down, stopped trying to shut out the voices in my head. I just wanted peace.

I don’t remember swallowing the pills, but I remember throwing them up. It came after a moment of peace and a whisper: You’ll be ok.

And I was, but not right away. Because I didn’t get help, because, I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I didn’t want to be seen as weak. So I pretended nothing had happened.

Then I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so tired of feeling alone, so I started telling people my story. I got help. And it’s been a long, long process.

I don’t know where it ends, or who I will be when I get there, but I know it will be beautiful.

Where I am right now is beautiful.

I’ve started rebuilding myself piece by piece, bit by bit. And here I am today. My foundation is stronger now because it’s built on the assurance that I am a child of God, no matter how angry I once was at Him, He never left my side. He brought me back. He rescued me from me.

My identity is no longer founded on others, and I’m stronger now.

I am beautiful now.