Forged Through Fire and Baptized With Water

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

As my pastor and friend lifted my submerged head out of the water while saying those words, I felt an immediate need to run. Run away. Run out of there. Too many people were staring at me, and now they all knew my secret. But, he touched my arm and said, “Wait, I need to pray for you.”

And as he prayed, and I heard his voice crack for the second or third time in the last three minutes, I felt the weight I carried with me for so long become just a little bit lighter.

Yesterday, I was baptized. And I had to share my testimony, or why I wanted to be baptized. And in that minute that I shared, my voice trying not to break, and the tears trying so hard to escape, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. You see, readers of my blog and friends, you know my story: you know how much I’ve struggled over the past few years, especially over the last few months; you know about me being raped and all the struggles and stigma that have come with it.

But, so many people in my church family were hearing this for the first time:

I’m suicidal. And I tried for so long to ignore that part of me. But, in July, my life fell apart, and the trauma of being raped came rushing back, and I started having panic attacks so vicious, I was no longer passively suicidal. I became actively suicidal. And I can’t ignore that part of me any longer; I have to let it have its voice. All I can do is make the part of me that wants to live, that loves life and laughter, louder. I’m going to therapy twice a week and I’m taking meds, and I’m being open and vulnerable. And I’ve finally realized that I’m not traveling this road alone. I’m reclaiming my identity, reclaiming my story. Because I’m not just a victim and a survivor. I’m a Child of God, and all I can do is say “Here I am God. I’m broken, and hopeless, and shattered. Do with me as you will.” This is me, letting go and letting God do the rest. Because I’ve finally realized that I don’t have to do this on my own. I am a Child of God.

And then I shared my story with a group of college students last night, college students that have hurts and pain so deep that I can feel it as they walk into the room, college students I care for and love deeply, college students I so desperately want to know that they’re not alone.

Yesterday, I was baptized with water because I’ve been forged through fire. I’ve fought the voices in my head every day. There have been so many times when I’ve almost lost that fight, but at the last second, something always pulls me back.

And, as I explained to the students last night, that voice is God. He’s the calming voice that whispers in my ear during the middle of the storm “You’ll be ok.”

And yes, sometimes I have doubts that God is real and that God is love, but at the same time, I know he is real. Because if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. If he wasn’t real, then I have no hope.

But here’s the thing: here’s why I was baptized yesterday. I have hope. Sometimes the hope is clouded by the darkness and the storm, but I know it’s still there, waiting for me when the clouds pass and the rains stop.

I know that this blog post skips around and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sometimes the voices in my head don’t make a lot of sense either. Today, while I was in therapy, Brandon and I discussed how I’ve been emotionally over the past few days.

If I may be honest with you, I replied, Which is why I’m here. I’ve not been doing well. Yesterday I experienced some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced. Because yes, I was baptized and I reaffirmed the hope I have, but at the same time, after the service, so many people came up to me and started telling me their stories. And my heart broke for them. And then I shared my story with the college kids and I started reliving it. So last night, I didn’t sleep a wink because I was too scared to close my eyes.

And then I said this: Yesterday was the first time I’ve said the words “I was raped” out loud to a significant group of people. And it is terrifying.

It’s terrifying to have your baggage out there, to have this label that you’ve tried for so long to hide. Because writing about it is one thing, but speaking about it is a whole other monster.

A year ago, I would have been able to talk about it. No problem.

But, right now, I can’t. But I want to. I want so desperately to say “Hey. This is what happened to me. I want to be able to say they did this and this and this and this and this, but I’m ok.”

But the truth is: today, I’m not ok. And that’s ok.

Today, I couldn’t even make it through a therapy session without becoming super suicidal–so suicidal I had to sit in the parking lot in my car for fifteen minutes before I felt even a little bit comfortable to drive.

I can’t hold my truth in forever. And over the last nine months, I’ve let it out piece by piece, but somedays it’s so hard. Being vulnerable is painful and it makes me feel things so intense, I become suicidal because I’ve never dealt with emotional pain well. I started self-harming because the emotional pain hurt so much, and it’s easier to deal with physical pain than emotional pain.

One day, I’ll be able to stand up and say my whole truth and nothing but the truth without it making me want to die.

But right now, I can’t. Right now, I’m in the middle of working through my demons and my trauma, and until I work through it completely, it’s going to hurt.

Because here’s the thing: I’m speaking my truth more than I have ever before, but I’m also hurting more than I ever have before. And some days it’s so hard for me to stay alive because the pain I feel seems like too much. But I share anyway. Because sharing and being open and vulnerable is the only way I know how to stay alive.

One day, the pain will be more of a dull ache than a mighty roar.

And I want to live to see that day.

I want to live to see the day when I can stand up in front of a large crowd of strangers and tell my story without wanting to drive into a tree.

I’m not there yet. And that’s ok. Because the battle I’ve been fighting over the last nine months, is a different battle than the one I’ve been fighting for the last nine years. It’s a harder battle.

But it gets harder before it gets better.

I’m living for the better.

Because, yes, I was baptized. But that didn’t fix me. That didn’t heal me. It just made the hope I have a little bit louder, the light on the horizon a little bit brighter, the voice of God a little bit stronger.

And right now, all I have is hope.

Hope, Prozac, faith, family, and friends.

I was forged through fire, baptized with water, and I am loved by a God who can calm the storm.

And even if the storm is in full swing right now, the waves are calm just often enough for there to be that whispering voice in my ear, the heartbeat that proves I’m alive You’ll be ok.

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“I Talk to God, But the Sky is Empty.”

-Sylvia Plath

How many times have I thought that? How many times have I laid awake at night crying out to God, wondering if He hears my screams, wondering if He feels my pain? Because as much as I believe in the divine goodness and divine power of God, there are days when I doubt His existence. There are days when I wonder If God truly exists, why do I feel this way? Why was I raped? Why do I want to die even though I want so badly to live, even though I’m fighting so hard, trying everything I can to survive? 

I was a Bible Quizzer. I have entire books of the New Testament memorized. But I’m also suicidal.

And sometimes, it’s hard for me to reconcile the two together: How can I be a Christian and also be suicidal?

How can I believe in a God who loved me so much, He died for me, but also want to die?

How can I believe in eternal life, but also have days where I struggle to stay alive?

If you’re the lady who stopped me on my way in to work this morning, I can’t be both–I can’t be suicidal and a Christian (at least not a good one). For people like her, I can’t have a strong faith if I want to die because people who love God with their whole heart, who trust God completely to take care of them “shall want for nothing.”

But this is where the disconnect, for me, happens: there are two parts to who I am. There’s the traumatized, suicidal part, and then there’s the I’m-in-love-with-life part. And every day, these parts are at war, trying to one-up each other, trying to talk over each other, trying to be heard more clearly over the noise.

Imagine a room full of Italians.

That’s what it’s like inside my brain. And for so long, I tried to silence the suicidal part. (To quote Achmed the Dead Terrorist: Silence. I Kill You.) Because that’s what I thought I had to do. I thought I had to because “Christians aren’t suicidal. Christians value life. Depression is a lack of faith.”

Read your Bible more.

Pray more.

Focus on yourself less.

I didn’t think I could be a Christian and be suicidal (to be perfectly honest, some days, I still don’t).

So, I would go to church and sing the songs. I would shake hands with my neighbor in the pew next to me. I would pretend I was fine, going through the motions because I thought being an authentic Christian meant I had to be inauthentic to who I was–I had to deny a part of myself that was becoming louder and louder.

I would listen to the Christian radio stations and prominent Christian preachers who said: Suicide is a choice.

But to me, it never felt like that.

To me, suicide was never a choice; it was a lack of choice. To me, it’s always been a moment: a moment where there’s action or inaction, and you’re not sure which is worse. You’re on autopilot and nothing can switch it off.

To me, it’s still a moment: the pain I’m feeling right now is greater than any hope I have left.

Which brings me back to the whole point of this: If suicide is the moment when the pain you’re feeling is greater than the hope you have left, can Christians–the ones who have the greatest Hope–be suicidal? Or are they inauthentic? Are they suicidal because of a lack of faith?

Do I have a lack of faith?

It’s a thought that I’ve been wrestling with a lot, especially since the New Year. (Can someone say “New Year. New Me.”?)

Sometimes I’m so sure that I feel this way because my faith is lacking. Because if I was a stronger Christian, if I read my Bible more, if I prayed more, if I really and truly loved God with my whole heart, I’d want to live.

True Christians are happy people who value life.

 

I don’t believe that. I can’t believe that.

Because the people that illustrate Christ’s love best to me are those who are broken and hurting just like I am. Because they’re the ones who sit with the outcasts, who welcome the outsiders, who associate with the “unclean.”

Can I be suicidal and a Christian?

Some say no.

I say yes.

 

On the cross, Jesus cried out “My God; my God, why have you forsaken me?” Sometimes, that’s how I feel: abandoned, alone, destined to live in darkness forever.

And then, sometimes, I feel God’s presence closer than I have ever felt it: on the night I attempted suicide, on the nights I almost drive into trees, on the nights when I feel the pain and hurt and numbness inside me is too much to bear.

He whispers: You’ll be ok.

Because, yes. Faith can move mountains. Faith can make the lame walk, the blind see. Faith can heal leprosy and stop bleeding that’s lasted 12 years.

But, faith can also get me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Faith can help you walk on water.

And faith can help you stay alive just a little longer.

It’s certainly helped me (but so has medication and therapy and a whole lot of friends).

Mind over matter? Not so much.

Faith and Prozac? Definitely.

I talk to God, but the Sky is empty,” Yes, Sylvia. But sometimes, it whispers back: I am. I am. I am.

And that gives me just enough strength to keep going. Because living when you’re suicidal is a miracle in itself.

And God is found in the miracles.

20 Hours in the Psych ER: 6 Months Later

“Get off me! Get off me! Get off me!” The words echoed down the hall of the Psych ER as they brought in a teenager, restrained against the gurney, screaming for his life. It was just over six months ago. It was a Tuesday at 5:30 am. I remember it vividly.

The only clock on the floor, the only sign that time was passing, was right through the double-paned windows to the left of the borrowed bed from upstairs (there were no beds available in the actual psych ward, so everybody was camped out in the ER; by the time I got there on Monday at 5:00 pm, there were people that had been around for two days. So, they had to bring up beds because they ran out of couches and chairs). My “bed” was right by the Nurses’ station because I watched the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and the Lions (surprise: the Giants lost). After the game was over, I was too mentally exhausted to even think about moving so I stayed put, pulling two chairs together to make a makeshift semblance of comfort, of home. Eventually, they brought one of those reclining hospital chairs for me to use, hoping I could get some sleep.

I didn’t sleep. Not until my dad left.

That’s when the screaming started, and I was jolted awake from the semi-deep sleep I was in, having a flashback to the day I, too, said those words: different circumstances, but same terror.

I mean, if you’re going to have a flashback, the best place to do it is the Psych ER because there, the guy who’s been there three days already will come sit next to you because he wants you to feel safe, because he noticed the tears streaming down your face when the nurse asked you what was wrong and you said “He just wants to go home.”

Because we all want to go home.

I want to go home, I say as I’m sitting on my couch writing this. Home is where we feel safe. And the truth is, I haven’t felt safe anywhere in who knows how long. And I want to feel safe, and I want to be strong without coming across as weak. I don’t want people to view me as weak, which really is just a sense of pride. But I’m not proud of who I am.

Because, sometimes, I’m ashamed when I tell people how much I’m hurting, how much I’m struggling.

And I wish I could accurately explain to you how much I’m struggling, how much I’m hurting, how much I’m remembering. There are days when I go up to church, even if I’m not working that day, simply because I don’t want to be alone–I shouldn’t be alone, and it’s one of the places I can go where I know there are people around, people who know me and love me and know what I’m going through, but who care for me anyway.

And I don’t know how to describe to you what a blessing that is because right now, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling so many things (my therapist likes to call these “Crisis Moments” where the feelings I’m feeling are disproportionate for the moment), and the tears I’ve been holding in all day can’t be held in any longer.

And I’m ashamed.

This isn’t how I want to be.

I’ll worry about any one else, but I don’t want people to worry about me: I don’t want to be a burden because all I’ve wanted to do my whole life was lighten people’s load, make their lives easier. When my youngest cousin was in diapers, I’d be the one to change them simply because I didn’t want anyone else to be inconvenienced.

I don’t want to be an inconvenience.

And people graciously put up with me (and sometimes I’m not sure why).

And I wrote a blog post last night (and so many people read it, more than I was expecting), and I thought it was the hardest one I’ve ever written, but it wasn’t. This one is.

This one is because there are so many things I want to say, but  I don’t know how. This one is because I want so badly for there to be a future tense in my life, but I’m not even sure right now if I’ll always make it to tomorrow.

Because just over six months ago, I drove myself to the Psych ER. I parked in the parking garage, had a twenty-minute panic attack in my car, and then spent five minutes trying to convince myself not to jump off the side of the parking garage.  And since then, so much has happened: I started therapy, got put on meds, was diagnosed with PTSD after finally opening up to my new therapist. I’ve had panic attacks at the gym so bad that I’ve become actively suicidal, and, my brain, in order to protect me, made me sit down on a bench until it gave me the “All-clear.”

And if you asked me last night if I’d be writing this today, I’d have told you “no.” Because I thought for sure I’d be dead.

Because here’s the thing about suicide that so many people get wrong: it’s not a choice. There’s no thought, no plan; there’s only action.

When the psychiatrist asked me that Tuesday morning after spending 16 hours waiting to be seen if I ever had a plan, I said “No.” Because that’s the truth.

I’ve had moments.

Just moments.

Moments where I’m feeling everything at once: panic and empty and sadness and shame and guilt. And it’s all too much.

Moments that last hours: where my body’s telling me one thing and my mind’s telling me another.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes suicide is thought out. Sometimes people do have a plan: they have a time and a date and the how scribbled somewhere in the calendar of their minds.

But for me, someone who’s always tried to plan so carefully, someone who always looks at her calendar because she feels like she’s forgetting something, there’s no plan: just a moment.

A pivotal moment: a crisis moment. When the sum of my feelings is greater than the sum of my mental willpower. A moment when there’s action or inaction and I can’t always be sure which is better.

And that’s what scares me the most. Because logically I know that this is not the answer and that life is beautiful and that there are brighter days ahead and so on and so forth and what not, but there’s nothing logical about any of this.

And I’m hurting, even as I sit here writing this, my mind is a million places at once: trying to convince me that I’d be better off dead, planning for my future, working on the next great American novel, wondering what I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow (probably grilled cheese in case you’re wondering). But despite all this distraction, there’s still this dominant feeling inside, a pain so great that’s crying out “DO YOU SEE ME NOW?!?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I’M HURTING? HOW MUCH I WANT TO BE DEAD.”

And it’s terrifying and exhausting: I don’t want to be dead. Kaleigh does not want to die. But the part that isn’t me: the part that’s traumatized, and as a result is suicidal, wants to die, and unfortunately, sometimes that part is louder and stronger and harder to fight.

And that’s where I was last night, where I’ve been so many nights in the last six months. I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it.

(And this is the part where I say I’m glad I don’t own a gun. Because on the nights like that, where emotions take over and impulsivity reigns, where the suicidal portion of me takes over, a gun would make everything easier. Because I took pills: I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I survived.)

I survived. And now I have to be.

I am.

I’m learning to just “be.”

Be in the moment: feel what I’m feeling. Validate what I use to invalidate. Identify what I’m feeling but not let it control me. Learn how to survive the crisis moment to get to a better life moment.

Be.

Finding happiness in the little moments; finding hope in the dark ones. Shining light on the darkest parts of myself to create a future tense.

Because as much as I want to be alive, there’s a part of me that doesn’t.

And I can’t silence her because her voice is just as valid as mine.

But I can live with her: and that’s the biggest irony of this whole thing: I have to learn to live with the parts of myself that don’t want to live.

Finding existence in the face of death.

And six months later, that’s all I’m trying to do.

Continue reading: Flight Risk: 20 Hours in the Psych ER

I Have No Interest in Doing a TED Talk With You.

“Wait, let me explain,” you said as you grabbed my arm in the store the other day.

I’ve seen you many times in the last few years because while all your counterparts have moved away, you still live in the town we grew up in.

And I thought I was over it. I thought I was because I’ve looked you in the eyes and told you that I forgive you, I’ve helped you pick up things that I caused you to drop when I quite literally ran into you, I’ve stood in front of you in the checkout line as I told you what God’s done in my life.

I thought I was over it. I thought I was.

But I’m not–all these years I’ve been repressing and it’s been festering. And all it took (and I say all in the most sarcastic way possible because it’s not a small problem; it’s a huge problem) was being sexually harassed every day for three months for the problem that I’ve been ignoring to explode.

So, no. I’m not interested in what you have to say. I don’t care for your explanations and your smack-in-the-face apologies. Your you wouldn’t have PTSD if you had just killed yourself like we wanted explanations for your you started it because you wouldn’t go out with me behavior.

And you are absolutely mistaken if you think I’m going to do a TED talk with you. I know this one woman did this one time, and maybe she’s a far better person than I. I can put up with you: I can see you in the store and be fine. Heck, I can even sort of stand to see you in my church like I did a few months ago (although, secretly on the inside, I’m glad you haven’t come back).  But, I have no interest in hearing your side. At least not right now.

“Wait, let me explain.”

No, let me explain.

Let me explain how much what you and your “friends” did to me ten years ago has impacted my life. (And I use the term “Friends” lightly because from what I saw throughout high school is that after what you did to me, you five never talked to each other again. A guilty conscience is easier to bear alone.)

Let me explain in no uncertain terms how much I’m hurting right now because I thought I was fine. And then my therapist said, “Actually, you’re traumatized, but one part of you tried so hard to block it, and the other part of you remembered all of it.”

And he was right: I am traumatized. Because even as I sit here writing this, I feel like I’m about to break. I’m trying to keep the tears inside my eyes at least until I finish this. Because it’s really hard to write when all you want to do is cry, when all you’d rather do is break.

Because I am traumatized to the point of being suicidal, and the biggest problem with this right now is that anytime I get triggered in any way (That is, as soon as I’m reminded of what you did to me), I want to drive into a tree.

Which means, right now, my therapist won’t let me go to the gym. Because every time I go, especially by myself, I end up sitting on a bench for an hour or two solely so I won’t get behind the wheel of my car. I shouldn’t have to protect myself from myself.

So, I’m not interested in your explanation, in your you’re making mountains out of molehills because I am not.

I haven’t slept through the night in who knows how long because I keep having nightmares about school bathrooms and dripping faucets and hands all over my body. About bite marks and being choked. About things in my mouth and words in my ear and things in my body that no was unable to stop.

And I am fighting so hard to be ok. I’m fighting so hard to prove you wrong, to rewrite the definition you gave me.

I’m not interested in your explanation because the truth is, for so long, I blamed it on myself. Sometimes I still do.

If only I..

If only I..

If only I..

And the truth is: it’s been a week since I self-harmed (the second time I stopped. The first time was seven years ago, but then the shit hit the fan). Because I would cut myself open in the places you touched me when I felt your hands on my body because physical pain has always been easier for me to deal with than emotional pain.

And the truth is: I’m hurting. I’m broken.

And I don’t want to be. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to keep being reminded of my past: I don’t want to have to worry that some guy touching my hand will send me into a panic. I don’t want to have to worry that some guy in the store looking at me for too long will make me want to drive into a tree. I don’t want to have to worry that I’ll have a panic attack in the waiting room as I’m waiting for therapy because some guy on the phone has a voice that sounds like yours.

But that’s where I am right now: simultaneously living in the past and present, unable to look to the future because I’m not sure I’m going to make it that far.

Because I feel broken and dirty, discarded and used.

And here’s where the disconnect is between reality and what I perceive to be true: none of the sentence above is true. But that’s how I feel.

That’s how you made me feel.

I’m not interested in your can I send you flowers because I remember what it was like explanation because I’ve tried for so many years to forget.

But all I did was repress, and now the dam has burst, and I’m sitting here writing this alone, feeling everything, wanting to feel none of it. Because sometimes I’d rather be dead than feel how I’m feeling in this moment (which is why I’m in group therapy right now: to learn how to manage this moment of emotion long enough to work through the larger issue at hand). And the larger issue at hand is how you caused me to view myself.

Because the way I view myself is broken and ugly and worth very little, completely unlovable and unredeemable.

And I know that’s not true because I have a God who’s made me so much more. Who died so that my red could become white. Who loves me so much He literally bore it all for me.

But, here’s the thing: I sent a text to one of my best friends tonight, the one who about two months ago started going to the gym with me so I wouldn’t have to go alone. I asked her “when I’m ready to go to the gym again, would you want to go with me?”

She replied: “Absolutely! Is that even a question?”

It shouldn’t be a question, but it is.

It is because sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world because of what happened to me. Sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world for telling people when I’m hurting. Sometimes people have made me feel like the worst person in the world for the way they responded when I told them I was hurting.

And here’s the thing: I’m trying so hard. So hard.

But I am so tired. Because the truth is, right now, I can’t go out in public without being reminded of what’s happened to me. And maybe someday, it won’t hurt. But right now, right now in this very moment, it does.

And I’m not interested in your you were better off dead explanations because the truth is: I’m not. Because I’m not scared to tell my story, to tell what you did to me. I’m not scared to tell people that I have PTSD, and as a result have Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and am suicidal.

You don’t scare me. You hurt me in profound and deep ways. In ways that I’m going to be working through for a while.

What scares me is people thinking that they have to walk through life alone. What scares me is people not reaching out, not asking for help. What scares me is that somedays, I see myself heading back that direction.

And I’m so so so thankful for the people in my life that won’t let me do that. I’m so so so thankful for those people that say, “Hey. Let’s go get lunch.” I’m so thankful for the ones who don’t let me isolate myself, who won’t let me hold everything in.

Because they, they’re the ones whose explanations I want the most. They’re the ones whose your not a terrible person for feeling this way reminders are the ones that are helping me.

And one day, my past won’t define me. Because I am so much more than what you did to me.

(But right now, in this moment, it hurts so much.)

We Don’t Talk About PTSD, But I Need To.

“You have PTSD, Kaleigh. You’ve probably had it for a while, but being sexually harassed every day over the summer definitely made it worse, brought the trauma of being raped back to the forefront of your mind. And now you have to process all these things that you’ve repressed for so long.” That’s basically what my therapist told me yesterday, as I sat crying in his office after replaying for him the harassment I faced every day this summer (I’m not going to replay that here; I’ve written blog posts about it.

My first thought was: I can’t have PTSD. I’ve never been to war. Other people have it worse.

But then, as I texted two of my very best friends, they said what I knew all along: We’ve known for a while.

I’ve known for a while. When I went to the Psych ER, the Psychiatrist who saw me before I was discharged said: I think you have it, but I don’t know you well enough to make an official diagnosis.

Well, yesterday, I got the official diagnosis. And my world turned upside down, or, actually, right-side up because now my whole life, especially the last 8 months make so much sense.

You see, back in July, I had a flashback at the gym. One minute, I was on the treadmill; the next minute, I was back in eighth grade in the school bathroom, pleading with five guys to get off me.

And it spiraled from there: multiple calls to the suicide hotline, trying to drive into trees, panic attacks at work or at the gym, nightmares and flashbacks.

It got to the point where I couldn’t go to the gym alone without having a panic attack so bad, I became actively suicidal. (Which, apparently, is another symptom of PTSD.) Most times, they were so bad, I had to sit on the bench in the hall because I knew if I got behind the wheel, I’d drive full speed into a tree.

I had to protect myself from myself.

One night, back in late October, I got so suicidal while at the gym, that I disassociated–some how I lost two hours, but it felt like 15 minutes.

And lately, it’s gotten worse.

Lately, my anxiety’s been so high, and I’m on high alert 24/7. I’m triggered more often than I’m not (I know that “triggered” means different things to different people, but let me tell you what it means in the mental health world: it means something that reminds me of my trauma. Sometimes, it’s little things: cologne or a sound. But, it’s also other things: some guy looked at me for too long in the store the other day and all of a sudden, I was suicidal. It explains why I freak out any tome someone walks up behind me. And it may sound ridiculous–and I mean, it sort of does. But here’s the thing: I’m traumatized.)

I’m traumatized more than I let myself believe. And now I have to validate my trauma. I have to say “yes, maybe some people have been through worse, but I’ve been through shit, too. And it’s affected me in profound and deep ways. I can’t invalidate myself anymore.”

I can’t invalidate myself anymore. I can’t just hold everything back. I can’t pretend to be ok. Because I’m not.

I’m not ok, and yesterday, my world was shattered. Because I now have a label, a diagnosis. But also, everything makes sense:

Now I know why being around certain people strikes fear in my heart. I know why sometimes I can’t sleep at night. I understand the Major Depression, the increased Generalized Anxiety, the increased suicidal desires when I have bad panic attacks.

I understand.

But what does this mean?

It means more intense therapy more often. It means I have to do individual therapy every week instead of every two (that’s coupled with the group therapy every week). It means learning what triggers me, what causes me to flashback (even on some unconscious level) to my trauma: certain voices, certain personalities, certain noises.

Also, it means that right now, I cant go to the gym. My friend started going with me a few months back because my panic attacks were so bad. But the fear of being around a lot of guys is way too much for my fragile mind to handle.

Besides, since I can’t cut off contact from humans completely, I have to limit the bad, which means I nix the gym.

Because it’s not just at the gym: it’s at Wegmans. It’s at work. It’s watching certain TV shows.

Some guy stood by the desk for a while having a conversation with one of the Pastors, and I started having a panic attack–something about him reminded me of something I’d rather forget. And I couldn’t handle that.

I can’t stop things like that from happening. I can’t stop myself from panicking every time a dad takes a pick-up-their-child ticket from my outstretched hand. I can’t stop myself from going to Wegmans.

But I can stop going to the gym.

And I’m trying to control what I can. Heal what I can. Feel what I can.

Because right now, I’m feeling so many things, which I suppose is better than feeling nothing.

But right now, 99% of the time, I want to die.

And I’m working through it. Little by little. Trying to take it one step at a time, one breathe at a time, one hour at a time.

I have PTSD, and it sucks, and I’m really really struggling right now.

But there’s so much more to me than 4 little letters.

And there are a whole lot of people out there who have said “hey, we love you and support you, and we’ll help you in any way we can.”

Because right now those 4 letters feel so heavy, but my community makes me strong.

The Monster Under the Covers: PTSD

You look traumatized, my therapist said to me as we walked into his office this afternoon. What happened?

There was this guy on the phone behind me in the waiting room, and his voice–the timbre, the vibrato, the words he used–reminded me of someone I’d much rather forget. And I had a flashback and now I’m panicky, which isn’t anything new recently because I’ve been panicked for three weeks straight practically, I answered not at all calmly.

Why?

I finally opened up about being sexually harassed every day for three months this summer. Oh, yeah, you won’t find that in Kerry’s notes, I interjected as he flipped through the notes he inherited from my former therapist who’s on maternity leave. I never told her, and I only told her about being raped because it was in the notes she inherited from the psychiatrist who saw me when I went to the ER.

He responded: I’ve noticed that you’re more willing to open up in our sessions, and in Kerry’s notes she continually mentions that you’re “holding something back.” And you keep mentioning that the people who feel safest with, the people you share the most with, are, for the most part, male. Why don’t you open up as much to females?

Because, I replied, they’re the ones who bullied me growing up. And even though I was traumatized by guys, the emotional pain of being bullied, for some reason is too much for me to open up to girls as easily. The trauma of what guys have done is physical, emotional, and mental, but physical pain is easier to deal with than emotional pain, which is why I started self-harming.

– – –

Can we talk about the sexual harassment? Because everything you’re telling me right now, explains a lot. 

I sat in silence for a while, as tears started streaming down my face, and the panic started to return.

I was terrified all the time, every time I walked into that warehouse, I started to feel nauseous, knowing that they were out there, behind piles of exhibits, driving around forklifts, watching me. They would watch me walk up the stairs to the print shop, leer at me with their eyes. They would smirk at me every time we passed them each other in the all-too-narrow hall. They’d sneak up behind me, which they knew I didn’t like, touch me on my shoulder, smell my hair (I cut six inches off my hair in August for precisely this reason). They would look me up and down, starting at the top, working their way down, slowly taking in every part of me, and then they’d say, “Nice,” as they licked their lips. And they made crude comments, and told me the same joke every day: “What did the bosses say when the intern told them she was raped by the warehouse guys? Nothing, they didn’t believe her.”

And they made very specific threats about being raped and about nobody knowing or caring. Then, one of my last weeks there, I spent most of the week at their other warehouse in the city, and the workers there didn’t know I spoke Spanish, so they were more brazen, more bold, more specific, and I remember everything they said, every threat, every joke. And then I remember one day being alone in the office with one of the warehouse guys, and as I came out of the bathroom, as I was still out of view of the one security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, smirking as he said, “I’ve never disappointed a slut.”

And I can’t tell you how many days I had panic attacks at work, where one of the would sneak up on me, and then I would go to the bathroom where I would hear guys’ voices in the hall outside, and I would have flashbacks to that school bathroom in eighth grade when those five guys raped me, and literally, right there, in that bathroom during the middle of the workday, I’d want to kill myself: my suicidal urges soared out of control.

This is where I stopped because I saw the look on his face: I’ve seen it many times–sadness and pain.

And he said, Kaleigh, you have PTSD.

It’s not new information, not really. I mean, I thought maybe I did. Some of my friends thought I did. It was hinted around by the Psychiatrist in the ER, but to have someone actually say it was like a slap in the face.

You’re traumatized. I see it in your face during group every time one of the maintenance guys drops something. I see the panic in your eyes anytime someone walks behind you, and when there are people sitting behind you in group–especially guys, you keep looking directly at the door, as if you want to bolt out of there. And now it all makes sense: why this past week at group you were more comfortable and open–1. There were no guys there, and 2. no one was behind you. It makes sense why your suicidal urges rise when your anxiety is high.

He’s right you know, which I suppose is why I’m going to therapy in the first place: I’m traumatized. And I’ve accepted what’s happened in my life, but now I’m trying to deal with it, heal from it, move past it.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to kill myself everytime a guy looks at me wrong in the store. I don’t want to panic when I go to the gym by myself. I don’t want to keep being triggered by certain brands of cologne, certain voices, certain personalities, and I certainly don’t want to be triggered by the President of the United States and the news.

But, right now, I am. And my anxiety is high, but more than that, my panic is high, and with the panic and the triggers comes suicidal urges that I’m trying so hard to keep in check, to maintain control of.

Because I want to be in control: I want to be able to say “Yes, this guy touched my hand when he took the pick-up-your-child ticket from me, but it’s ok. You don’t have to panic, and the terror you feel is not going to kill you.”

Because right now, I’m struggling to be in control, and sometimes the terror I feel is so great that I’m actually afraid it’s going to kill me. I couldn’t even sit in the waiting room before therapy today without freaking out because some guy I didn’t know was talking on the phone.

But, here I am, and I’m trying to do my best, trying to carpe the diem: panic and all because, yes, I’m hurting and overall, I’m not doing well at all, but I’m not going to let any of that stop me from living my life.

As I left his office today, my therapist told me: I admire the way you keep facing your fears, running headlong into life because so many people would retreat if they were in your shoes.

I used to, I replied. I used to. I used to hide within myself, keeping my pain to myself because someone else always had it worse, but then one day, after I texted someone that I had a panic attack at work, he came and sat next to me on the bench at the gym that evening, and he softly said, “Kaleigh, are you ok?”

And I found the strength to say no, I found the strength to be honest.  And I haven’t stopped since.

An Open Letter to Those Who Are (and Aren’t) In My Group

I see you.

We had Group today: Distress Tolerance, where we’re learning how to handle our emotions in times of crisis.

Last week, one of you came in crying and couldn’t stay. Today, you were back and shared openly. And I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you because I know what it’s like to break down in public and not be able to face your fears. But I also know what it’s like to be able to look those demons in the eye the next time and say, “I’m not afraid of you.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that sometimes the best motivator for getting out of bed and carpeing the diems is just a blatant desire for revenge–to show the voices in your head that they’re wrong; they don’t control your life, they don’t define you.

I get that. That’s the only reason I got out of bed today, and yesterday, and the day before.

I see you.

I see you and all your pain: you put 15 people with depression, anxiety, and suicidial tendencies in the same room, and you’re bound to have at least one person who’s a feelings sponge–who absorbs the feelings of those around them, who carries other’s feelings and their own feelings around. I think there are a few of us in this group.

I am one of them.

When you share, I understand you completely.

When you cry, I want to cry too.

When you panic, I panic.

And as I looked around the room today, my heart broke. Because I saw a bunch of hurting people, who are trying their best to navigate this life in whatever way they can, who are in this group because they really and truly want to get better, to learn how to deal with their pain differently–nay, they don’t only want to deal, they want to learn how to feel.

I see you.

I looked around the room, and I saw beauty–not in the Mental illness and the struggles–but in the sheer strength of everyone around me, in the healing, in the sheer resolve to get better, and the sheer stubbornness to not let our demons defeat us.

Because the strongest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever done is ask for help, to be vulnerable and honest with everyone on the parts of my life I’ve tried to hide for so long.

And I applaud you for making it this far because I understand. I understand all of it: the pain, the shame, the struggle to stay alive. I even understand the guilt.

What I really want you to know, all of you to know, is that you’re not alone in this. Do not go about life alone. Ask for help. Let people in. Let people see you–all of you (even the dark parts you’re afraid to shine light on). We are meant for community.

Let your community love you.

Let me love you.

Because I see you.

I see you rocking back and forth in your chair, chewing on your fingernails, rubbing your scarred wrist.

And all I want to do is cry with you and for myself because that’s where I am right now in my life.

I’m hurting and broken, and I am trying so hard to take care of myself.

Last week, I finally opened up about the sexual harassment I dealt with every day over the summer. And right now, my anxiety’s through the roof, and Sunday night, I self-harmed again because just trying to deal with everything: all the pain and the hurt and the terror I feel sometimes is too overwhelming.

And I’m sorry for that.

I’m sorry to all my friends and family who are willing to fight for me (and fight people for me) because sometimes, it’s so hard to fight for myself.

I’ve spent most nights for the last 12 days wrapped up tightly in a blanket, rocking back and forth because the panic and terror I feel is so great, nothing else calms me down.

I didn’t leave my house at all on Tuesday, and I only left on Wednesday because of a family lunch and then I had to lead a 20-somethings gathering at my church. I left my house today because, well, because of the blatant desire I have for revenge agaisnt my demons. And, to be honest, I’m surprised I have any fingernails left at all. I’m surprised I have any skin left at all on my face: because that’s how I’ve always dealt with anxiety–picking at scabs until they bleed. I’ve done it since I was a child–self-harm before I knew the name. I’ve started doing it again: it’s like a security blanket when I feel alone.

And when I actually cannot calm myself down, and I want to actually self-harm, I run my thumb across the scars on my wrist–reminding me how far I’ve come, what I’ve survived.

Because we’ve come so far.

And we’re learning to cope.

How was your week, Brandon asked us during sharing time today.

I volunteered to go first (which I only did because 1. It’s only our second week, but it’s my 10th in group. I’ve done this before. And 2. I could sense all of your uncomfortability, and my fear of sharing is trumped only by everybody else’s. Other’s problems have always trumped my own).

Let’s see. Monday, I had a panic attack in Wegmans because there were too many choices of cottage cheese.

Thursday, I emailed a friend apologizing for the bridges I burned a few months ago, and then I screwed it up a few days later by pouring my heart out again.

So, as you can tell by the cottage cheese anecdote, my anxiety has been really high and so have my suicidal thoughts (anxiety and suicidal thoughts are harder to fight than depression and suicidal thoughts, because unlike when I’m depressed and suicidal, anxiety actually gives me the energy to follow through).

And then when Brandon asked me how I dealt with the cottage cheese dilemma and the feelings they produced, I simply replied, “I called my mother.”

There’s no shame in that.

There’s no shame in asking for help. Because none of us are meant to do this alone.

None of us should have to.

And if you feel like you don’t have a support system, let me be that person. Let me be the person you call at 3am when you feel like your world is about to collapse. Because I understand. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have someone willing to be that person.

I am willing.

I see you.

I understand you.

I’m right there with you: feeling things I don’t want to feel, dealing with things I wish I could forget, trying my best to make my way through life, fighting everyday to stay alive.

And I’m so so proud of you.

I know that this is just the beginning for me, for you, for all of us.

I see your darkness. I see your broken. But I also see your beautiful.

Here’s The Part Where I Reclaim my Identity

“I was watching some home movies today because I returned home this afternoon after having lunch with Bekah; I sat on the couch and was paralyzed by fear and hopelessness and despair. And the particular movie I popped in started at me learning to walk and ended sometime after Hannah was born.

Anyway.. I dont really know why I started watching home movies, because I haven’t watched them in years, but I think I wanted to find the video of me doing the hand signals the refs use in football.

Anyway… tangent once again. I also may have watched them because I feel lost. I don’t know who I am or where I’m going. Because right now, I’m just the freak who gets to the gym, and just sits in her car for an hour crying because all she wants to do is die, even though she doesn’t actually want to die. She just wants the pain to stop.

I have to hope that somewhere inside me is the little girl I saw on camera today: the blue-eyed, curly-haired, ornery thing who, after being told that dinner was going to be soon, snuck a box of animal crackers into the living room anyway; who, after being caught, just grinned a mischeveous grin at the camera.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl who, despite not saying much, laughed a lot, danced a lot, and when she fell down, she got back up.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl, who, after being asked if she’d be a good flower girl at her aunt’s wedding, shook her head “no,” and then shrieked in laughter.

I have to hope that someday I’ll find myself again.

Because if you asked me at age 8 what I would be by now, I would have said: doctor teacher lawyer president [no commas because I wanted to be everything]. I never in a million years would have said: fighting to stay alive.

And I have to hope this pain that I’m feeling, this brokenness that I still don’t believe can be fixed, will be used for something great.

Because when you fall, you have to get back up again. Even if it hurts so much.” – Me, to a friend, October 6, 2017

(that above is the number 1 reason why I don’t text a lot of people: I tend to ramble, and then I end up writing essays on platforms that should be short and sweet.)

Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot of blog posts. I’ve written blog posts about (almost) driving into trees, about spending 20 hours in the Psych ER, about panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, about my doubts when it comes to my faith, about not knowing if I’d still be attending the church I grew up in, about mental breakdowns and finding God, and, just yesterday, about sexual harassment and being raped.

(I’m not going to link to any of these. They can all be found on the right-hand column of my blog.)

Over the last few months, I’ve met so many wonderful people: new pastors and their families, college students and their friendships, new therapists and their ability to help me make sense of everything that I’ve tried to ignore for so long.

Over the last few months, I’ve been real and raw and honest and vulnerable with everyone I’ve had conversations with, not just with those I feel comfortable and safe with. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone so many times, but I’m learning how to find comfort in the uncomfortable spaces. I’ve learned to be ok with not being ok, with exposing my brokenness, with shedding a light on my dark places, with telling people “Hey, I’m really struggling to stay alive today, and I haven’t really slept in a while, and I feel like my heart’s going to pound out of my chest, and I’d really rather be anywhere but here right now. But the world hasn’t stopped turning. The sun came up, and I am here.”

I’ve gotten up in front of my church and said, “If you asked me a few months ago if I’d still be attending this church, I would have said no. Because I felt like I didn’t belong…”

I’ve gotten up in front of college students and said, “I was raped, and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell them to their face that I forgive them…”

And the thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that there are so many people out there who struggle with the same things I do–who have anxiety and depression, who have been raped and harassed, who have doubts and strong faith. I’m not alone with what I’m feeling. I don’t have to carry this burden alone.

There are people out there who love and support me, who encourage me and walk alongside me when I can’t do any of that for myself.

And there are people out there who will do the same for you.

Here’s what I need to tell you, friends, I’m still struggling just as much as I was five, four, three, even two months ago. I still find it hard to stay alive. I still panic every time I go to the gym by myself (I’m so thankful for the friend who decided that that was no good and started to make me go to the gym with her). I have panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and some nights I can’t sleep.

And I’m hurting in profound and deep ways.

But here’s the thing: it’s different than it was when I started this agonizing journey of healing back in July. Because back then, I was Nobody. I had no idea who I was; I couldn’t find myself past the haze of depression and anxiety. I relied too heavily on other people, wanting them to give me an identity: “Writer Girl; Gringa; Bitch; Slut; A Burden.”

I didn’t know who I was (sort of like the way those guys who harassed me every day never knew my name). I was a generic avatar in a sea of faces, changing who I was to fit the definition those people around me gave me. I didn’t stand up for myself, couldn’t stand up for myself because for nine years I was pretending–an actor cast as myself in my own life.

I was lost and alone and self-destructing.

Until I wasn’t.

And I don’t know when it happened or how it happened or why it happened. But somehow, over the last month and a half, I’ve found myself again. I have this confidence I didn’t know I had.

There’s a power in vulnerability, and sharing my struggles and doubts out loud, not just on paper, has allowed me to find a voice that I didn’t know existed beyond the words I splatter on a page.

And for that, I am thankful. I’m thankful for those who started me on this journey, who encouraged me to get help, who were a listening ear when I was wandering alone in the desert.

I’m thankful for those I’ve met since: who have loved me and supported me and have even encouraged my vulnerability–who appreciate my rawness and real truth, even if it is painful.

Because yes, it’s painful. And this depression and anxiety sometimes seem like they’re going to consume me alive (because between Sunday morning and Monday night, I had four panic attacks).

But, I know who I am now. I’m no longer a stranger living in someone else’s house. I am home, and it’s easier to weather the storm in your own house.

Because for so long I defined myself as:

victim.

depressed.

anxious.

scarred.

broken.

ugly.

But, God. Man, oh, man. He has done some truly powerful things in my life. He hasn’t healed me, far from it. (because I’m going to therapy and I’m taking my medication, but I’m still struggling. Even today, as I sat in group therapy with a bunch of other people who are feeling a bunch of different things, and I absorbed all their feelings, and all I wanted to do in that moment was run out of the room and jump off the top floor of the parking garage, which luckily my fear of being the freak who ran out of the room stopped me, and 2) the parking garage is on the other side of the hospital and I hate running).

But He’s written me a different definition, a different story.

survivor.

alive.

prepared.

stitched together.

strong.

beautiful.

Here’s where I reclaim my identity, reclaim my story.

Here’s where I tell my rapists and those who harassed me, who told me I’d be better off dead: look how far I’ve come. How strong I am.

Here’s where I rewrite my life.

I fall down. I get back up.

I crack jokes and laugh until I cry.

And my depression and anxiety and everything else will not stop me.

Because I, I, am known by a God who called the stars by name, who holds the planets in His hand, and has whispered my name over and over and over again:

Kaleigh, you’ll be ok.”

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

“Mira a esa hermosa gringa. No te gustaría que fuera nuestra jefa? Lo que me gustaria hacer a ella.”

Oh my god. They don’t know I speak Spanish.

. . .

I don’t know how to describe to you the terror I felt every time I walked into that warehouse; how hard it was for me to concentrate on all the technical writing I had to do, knowing that there were guys on the other side of the building waiting for me to walk through those doors to meet with their foreman.

I don’t know how to describe to you the way my skin crawled when their eyes followed me, the way I would be sent into a near panic anytime one of them walked within five feet of my desk on the way to the HR office, how one of them would “accidentally” brush up against me as we passed each other in the hall, smirking as he looked me up and down.

I don’t know how to describe to you how excited I was to start this job: not only was I using my English degree, but I was also using my background in technology and engineering. This job was going to open so many doors for me to advance in this field.

It opened doors alright: to Psych ERS and panic attacks. To almost driving into trees and flashbacks. To therapy and medication.

. . .

It started out innocently at first: passing glances as I walked into the warehouse, whispering amongst themselves. And then, like the way one falls in love: slowly and then all at once, it escalated: leering as I walked up the stairs in the warehouse to the print shop, making crude jokes, and non-specific threats (well, actually, they were very specific threats. And I’m not going to repeat what they said here, but I can guarantee you whatever you’re thinking, they probably said).

But I will tell you one of their jokes, one of their very favorites: What did the bosses do when the intern told them that some warehouse guys raped her? Nothing because they didn’t believe her.

Yes, yes. Very funny. See the spleen through the split in my side? I’m rolling on the floor laughing over here.

Everything they said, I believed. And it terrified me–as someone who was raped, but more importantly as one of the only females who worked for this company. Anytime I was alone in the warehouse–because my breaks did not line up with theirs–I wondered, is this going to be the time?

And it escalated and escalated, and they got bolder and bolder, and they got more and more crude and terrifying.

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or defend myself, choosing instead to use humor to deflect their unwanted advances:

Do you want to get coffee sometime? I don’t like coffee.

Do you want to get together some Sunday and watch the Bills’ game? Why, so you can disappoint me, too?

And when I spent a week at one of the other warehouses, the Hispanic workers were the boldest, most arrogant, talking amongst themselves right outside my “borrowed from a boss they haven’t replaced” office, not knowing that I understood every word of the Spanish they spoke.

And then one day,  at 4:45, it was just me and the ringleader in the office, as everybody else had gone home, as I exited the bathroom, away from the view of the lone security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, and then winked and said, “I’ve never disappointed a woman ever.” And then walked out, leaving me alone to finish the last 15 minutes of my shift.

That was the least productive 15 minutes of my life, let me tell you.

I never knew any of their names. They never knew mine, which is the way I wanted it. They referred to me as “Writer Girl;” I gave them nicknames–Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber; and Senor Mirador (translation: Mr. Watcher). Nameless avatars in a crowded world; my way of keeping my identity a secret, maybe they won’t be able to track me down.

Because as long as they called me, “Hey, Writer Girl,” I could continue to exist as Kaleigh. I could continue to pretend that everything they said was meant for someone else–someone who wasn’t me.

But, the irony lies in the way I viewed myself: I felt like somehow, I deserved everything they said, all the unwanted touches, all of the crude jokes and innuendos.

I felt like I was two people: Me and not me. My sense of self had been so damaged by the years of hurt, by being raped, and now by this, that I felt like I deserved to feel like a terrible person. I felt like I was a terrible person.

And I just became so depressed and so anxious and so terrified of everybody, including myself. And the worst person to be scared of is yourself.

I was so scared of losing control, of losing my mind. I stopped eating again. I started cutting again.

I let those men say whatever they wanted to say; I took it. I didn’t want to make ripples, didn’t want to upset anyone, didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

I preferred being harassed every day to standing up for myself, demanding to be heard.

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

I don’t know how to complete this post. Do I wish I handled things differently? Yes.

Do I wish I reported it sooner? Yes, yes I do. Because I did report it, but it only ended up being about a week before I left that job. Too little; too late (but that’s sort of how I feel about myself. Like, maybe I waited too long to get help for my anxiety and depression).

Did the constant everyday harassment lead me to have that fateful panic attack at the gym in July, which lead me to where I am now? You bet your butt it did.

And now, here I am. Taking medication for the depression and anxiety I didn’t get help for because I didn’t let myself ask, couldn’t admit to myself how much I was hurting.

Here I am: going to group therapy every week, and individual therapy every 10-14 days. Here I am: still struggling with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks and depression and anxiety, having panic attacks everytime I go to the gym by myself because I don’t trust a single guy I see there.

Here I am: working at the church I grew up in, at a place that makes me feel safe and confident and encourages me, with people that support me through my brokenness.

Here I am: on Monday, every time a father signed out their child when their hand touched mine as I handed him the “a-ok to pick up your child” ticket, my anxiety would start to rise, little mini panic attacks every five minutes.

Here I am: talking about something I never ever thought I would talk about it.

But that’s what I’m trying to do right now:: be honest and vulnerable, despite how much it hurts. Because one thing I’ve learned over this long process of healing is that it has to hurt before it gets better.

And I’m hurting so much, but if you don’t think I won’t continue to carpe the diem as many days as I can, you’re wrong. I won’t let my fears and struggles stop me.

Because despite all the pain, despite all the hurt, despite my doubts and insecurities, there are people who never left my side, people who have encouraged me along the way, and for them, I am so so thankful.

I’m still struggling as much as I was three, four, even five months ago. But it’s a different kind of struggling. Because a few months ago, I didn’t know who I was–“Not Me” was struggling while not having an identity. Today, I know who I am.
 
It’s easier to struggle in your own house than it is in a stranger’s.
Here I am: I am home.

It Was Good: Finding God in a Mental Breakdown

 

It’s fascinating, my therapist said as he looked over my emotional diary cards on Monday afternoon. You either feel everything all at once, or you feel nothing at all. There are lots of 4s and 5s and there are lots of 0s and 1s, but they never exist on the same day. Except for Thursday. What happened Thursday?

Thursday? Thursday, I didn’t know how to bridge that gap, to fill that uncomfortable silence with the even more uncomfortable words: I had a mental breakdown.

You see, the problem is, I finally answered, with me, it’s all or nothing: yes or no. And I know that the world isn’t black and white, and life is really like 5,000 shades of grey, but my emotional scale is binary. I feel everything or I feel nothing. I absorb the feelings of everyone around me. I carry my own pain and everybody else’s, and I don’t know how to stop. I need to learn emotional regulation: how to adjust to my surroundings, slowly and deliberately, like a boat entering a lock on the Erie Canal, and water gets pumped in or sucked out accordingly. But I can’t do that. I don’t know how to remove myself from someone else’s pain: to positively disassociate myself from their feelings and their experience, to be empathetic but not carry their burden. And on Thursday, the tower I’ve been building during this healing process just collapsed, like a Jenga Tower, the wrong block was removed at the wrong time. The levees broke and New Orleans flooded all over again.

What started it? He asked me, with concern in his eyes, because not two minutes before we were laughing at a stupid joke I made (apparently, I use humor to hide how much pain I’m in. But, whatever, I didn’t ask his opinion).

Everything started it, and nothing started it. It started because I got home on Thursday from being an introvert in an extroverted world, and the cars were not in the order they needed to be for Friday morning. And that was enough; that was enough to send me into a tailspin. That was enough to leave me shaking before I could turn off the car engine. That was enough to just. . . just. . .

When I say everything started it and nothing started it, I mean exactly that. Having a mental breakdown over the cars being out of order seems ridiculous to some, impossible to most. But, that was the last straw in a series of straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back (and by camel, I mean my sanity).

You see, there have been many days lately where I’ve felt like I’m barely holding it together, like at any moment I could just start crying wherever I am, like at any moment people are going to start throwing stones at the glass house that I live in and shatter everything I’ve tried so hard to build. The more I’m vulnerable to try and save myself, the more I hurt. It has to hurt before it gets better.

And I know that there’s a power in vulnerability: in airing out our hurts to make way for healing. But at the same time, if I don’t expose it, I don’t feel it. And to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure all the emotional pain I’ve felt over the last few months has been worth it. Is the healing I’m going to get worth the pain and suffering at the moment?

I’ve always had this problem when it comes to emotional pain—I think a lot of us do in different ways—I’d rather deal with physical pain than emotional pain. Slap a Band-Aid on it; grab an ice pack; pop an Advil, and I’m good to go. Sit down and talk about my past and my hurt, and feel the pain and hurt? Yuck. No thanks.

I’d much rather slice open my skin than deal with being raped, than deal with feeling nothing, than deal with feeling everything.

I did. Sometimes, I still do.

So, you had a mental breakdown, Kaleigh. What does that mean?

Simple. It means my system crashed. Normally before your computer dies, it starts slowing down and giving you the loading circle of death.

My brain’s been giving me that for a while: panic attacks every time I stepped foot in the gym by myself, suicidal thoughts while I was lying in bed at night, telling me to drive into a tree every time I got behind the wheel. You know, normal things.

And then Thursday, well, actually starting Wednesday, my brain overheated: too much stimulus going on all at once, not enough time to process it all—too much being extroverted for this introvert to handle.

And just the thought of having someone be inconvenienced Friday morning because they had to move my car was enough to push my sensitive soul over the edge.

The memories of being raped came flooding back, the memories of the night I attempted suicide came flooding back, every mean thing people said to me, all the hurt and pain came rushing in. And there’s no doubt in my mind that if my dad hadn’t gotten out of bed after I called him from the driveway, if he hadn’t met me at the top of the stairs, hadn’t stopped me before I could enter my room, hadn’t asked me “why are you crying?” I would have killed myself.

And that’s the honest truth. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve had to call the suicide hotline. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve been lying in bed wondering if I’m going to make it through. But Thursday night, I had a plan, and my mind was only focused on one thing, and I can’t tell you how scary that hour was. I can’t tell you how scary and emotionally draining that hour of sobbing and screaming was. It was complete inner turmoil, a civil war deluge of real-life bullets when the only thing I had to protect myself was a plastic spoon and a metal trashcan lid.

Because in that moment, it wasn’t just about the car: it was about everything and nothing, and I wanted nothing more than to die. I wanted to die. And I would have died if I hadn’t felt my father’s arms around me, rubbing my back, rubbing my head, if I hadn’t put my head on his shoulder and cried out all the pain I’ve been keeping inside for the last nine years of my life.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

There’s a beauty in this, a parallelism really. There’s nothing beautiful about a mental breakdown; the beauty lies in the after: the rising from the devastation, the flowers from the ashes. Because in the moment that I felt so helpless, alone, and weak, God reminded me of how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been, how strong I am, how much He loves me.

He’s brought me through my hardest days. He’s shown me the power of forgiveness. The power of love. He reminds me that in my doubt, my faith isn’t any less. There is hope even if I can’t see the light.

Sometimes, you just need a good mental breakdown, I joked to one of my pastors earlier today as I was chilling like a villain in his office.

You look better, more refreshed. He answered, which is a weird thing to say to someone who’s just had a mental breakdown, but it’s true.

It is true.

I do feel better. And it’s hard to describe how I feel better because it’s not really mentally or emotionally or even physically. Because the truth is, I’m still exhausted. I’m still finding it so hard to make it through a day alive, finding it hard to keep on keeping on.

But, also, in a way, I’m not as tired. I’ve found rest I haven’t had in three months. The mental breakdown did a hard reset of my system: I still have bugs in my programming that I’m trying to decode, but I now have a newfound strength to try to decipher everything. I have a newfound strength to keep on fighting. I have new life.

Because here’s the thing: I cried out My God, My God why have you forsaken me? And he whispered right back, I’m here. I’ve always been here.

I felt my father’s arms around me, and it was good.