A Rose By Any Other Name

How did you get all those scars?” is not a question you want to be asked by a three-year old. But it happened. To me. Today. I panicked.

Because how do you tell a preschooler, who still believes in magic and Santa Claus, life can be cruel? How do you tell a child there was a point in your life where you hated yourself so much, you wanted to die? You must choose your words carefully. You must pretend you are walking on glass.

I wanted to tell him:

I hide in the shadows, because in the right light, scars on my wrists become visible. And these darkened lines on my wrists are only the worst of what I’ve done to myself, because the rest of the lines of self-abuse are practically gone. Because when I cut myself, I never cut in the exact same place twice, and I only cut deep enough to draw blood, not deep enough to scar: blood reminds me that I am alive, and that’s all I wanted to feel. And I couldn’t have scars, because if I wasn’t beautiful without scars, how could I be beautiful with scars?

But that doesn’t mean my struggle is any less real. Because, once upon a time I had hundreds of self-inflicted cuts well-hidden beneath my clothing. My upper arms, abdomen, and upper legs constantly stung, and when they healed, I made them again. Because I thought I deserved the pain. I wear my scars proudly, but I still hide them. They serve as a reminder of where I’ve been, but I’m still afraid people won’t accept them. And I want to be loved.

And I fear that if people know that I used to trace the names my attackers called me into my skin, that’s how people would view me. And I can’t be viewed that way, so I hid those too.

And every place I cut was for a different reason. My arms: because I’m not strong enough. My abdomen: because I’m not skinny enough, and that’s where unwanted hands were. My legs: because I couldn’t run away from unwanted advances. And since I couldn’t admit I was sexually assaulted, how could I admit I was harming myself? 

But, there came a point when I needed people to know something was wrong. And I was never very good at asking for help, so I cut in places where people would see, and I cut deeper. The razor eventually traveled down my arm, towards my wrists, and I purposefully made the cuts on my legs look like I accidentally cut myself shaving. I needed help, but I couldn’t ask. Because strong people don’t ask for help, or so I thought, and I had been weak for far too long.

Even after the help came, I carried a paperclip in my pocket, because I was addicted to the sensation of metal running up my arm. That paperclip was like my security blanket, and I used it for far too long. And eventually, I gave that up too. And now I’m here, living my life, with only a few well-concealed scars remaining. But sometimes, the urge to revert back to old ways is great, so I use ice instead.

But, you can’t say that to a child. So, instead I told him:

“When I was younger, I was clumsy. I tripped and fell a lot, and sometimes I got cut. This scar on my hand is from when I tripped and grabbed onto a thorn bush. One of the thorns cut my hand.”

This answer satisfied him.

And it satisfies me.

Because even roses have thorns, and I want to be a rose.

Someday, I’ll be a rose.

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Questions You Can’t Ask Me

WAIT! Stop reading right now. If you haven’t read my post, “Things You Don’t Get to Say to Someone with Mental Illness,” read it before proceeding by clicking here.

Have you finished reading it?

Yes? OK, you may continue.

I’ve always been curious about the world, and I’ve always asked questions. In fact, according to my parents, my first words were “How’s it work?” So, it’s not hard to understand why I believe that asking well-­thought out, somewhat unusual questions is one of the best ways to get to know someone.

However, if you plan on getting to know me anytime in the near future, here are a few questions you cannot ask me.

1)      What is your favorite video game?

Because I want to be able to say something cool like Halo or something. But I’ve only played Halo once with a friend, and I did pretty well. But then I wanted to play by myself, and it was going well until I got to this part where very suspenseful music was being played. I just couldn’t handle it, so I freaked out and quite playing.

 

But I like PacMan. Pacman’s good.

 

2)      You’re an English Major? Are you going to teach? What are you going to do with it?

Yes, I am an English Major, but I am not planning on teaching (at least not right now). I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, because there are so many things to do, and I don’t think I am ready to decide right now what I could possibly be doing for the rest of my life. Because I didn’t think I’d make it this far, and right now the world seems so vast and the future so foreboding. And right now, I’m just trying to figure out how to use what I’ve been through to help others.

 

I’m writing a book.

 

3)      How are you doing? (or similarly, How you doing kid?)

Right now, I’m not doing much of anything except trying to survive. Some days I use up all my energy getting out of bed in the morning because the ground looks pretty shaky, and sometimes it takes everything to believe that I will be ok. Those are the days when I know I won’t be able to get along with people, so I hide away in my room. But really, this is pretty normal for people like me. So a better question to ask me would be…

 

4)      How’s it going?

It’s going. Because life moves quickly but also so slowly, and I move right along with it. Although sometimes it seems as though I’m moving in slow motion, because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, and I’m just trying to figure it out. So I’m going with the flow and also against the flow, because if society is going to tell me that I’m not beautiful, I’m going to prove them wrong, because my battle proves otherwise.

 

5)      Can I see your scars?

No, you cannot. Over the years, I have learned to wear my scars boldly, because they are a reminder of where I’ve been. And they serve as hope for the future. And I’ve had too many people make fun of me because of my scars. Self-harm is not a joke. It is not funny, and it is not something you should make fun of to get a laugh out of people. It’s a serious problem. It’s not ok to diminish the severity of this issue by taking pictures of fake blood in the shape of a heart or whatever because you think it’s beautiful. Because let me tell you, every time I cut into my skin I felt a little bit less beautiful, and I hated myself a little more, and I’ve spent the last three years trying to undo it. IT’S NOT OK. It’s horrible when you get to that point when you feel self-harm is the only way to feel pain. It’s horrible when you become addicted. And I hope I never walk that path again, but every day the struggle is real. It’s not a joke. And it’s not ok to use my scars or anybody else’s as a joke or an example of what not to do. Everybody deals with pain differently. Don’t make anybody hate themselves more than they already do.

 

So no, you cannot see my scars, because while you may think they’re beautiful, I don’t. I do my best to hide them, because all I want is to feel beautiful.

 

6)      How are you feeling?

I don’t know how I’m feeling. I’m feeling happy and sad and sometimes nothing at all. And I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be cautiously happy and overwhelmingly sad. I’d give anything to not feel this way—my left kidney because I only need one, part of my liver because it’s the only organ that regenerates, my lungs because I feel like I’m drowning, my heart because I doubt anybody could ever love me, and if I still had my appendix, I’d probably give that too.

 

So really, I’m feeling everything and nothing, but most of all I’m feeling terrified. Because life is unpredictable, and I don’t know if I can deal with anymore hurtful suprises, and I’m trying to make sense of this chaos, because out of chaos comes beauty, but when I look in the mirror all I see is ugly.

 

Please don’t ask me these questions, because I don’t have coherent answers. All I know is that I’m trying, and therefore, no one can criticize me.

Letter to My Grandfather

Dear Grandfather,

I should probably start this letter again, because I never called you “Grandfather.” I called you, “Boppa.” But, I am a firm believer deleting when writing is a bad omen. It’s better to keep the bad sentence and work around it, to make the rest of the piece beautiful. It’s symbolism for the past. I can’t change my past, but I can learn from it, and make my life beautiful. I learned symbolism from my other Grandfather (Boppa). And I believe life is full of symbols, which is why my brain speaks in metaphor, and why I write.

Your death was the event that sparked my writing. The first thing I wrote was a song, which was probably mediocre at best, but I know you would have thought it was beautiful. I found the music score when I was looking through my piano music a few days ago. And then I found the lyrics not too long after. You always did enjoy listening to your family make music. When we would come down and visit, I would play the piano. I heard you tell my Grandmother, “Listen to how beautifully I play the piano,” as if in that moment, your fingers were no longer bent from years of battling Rheumatoid Arthritis, and you could do anything—even do something small like play the piano.

I spent years trying to make myself seem smaller. There came a point in my life when I didn’t think I could stand up, because the weight of the world seemed too heavy for my shoulders to carry, and my spine didn’t seem strong enough. There came a point in my life when I forgot what your voice sounded like, but in that moment when my back was so bent that my stomach met my knees in agony, I heard “listen to how beautifully I play the piano,” and my spine became a little bit straighter.

When you died, I was only in 6th grade, so I didn’t really understand, and some days, I still don’t. But I think about death a lot now. I think about my death and how much easier it would be to die, because then I wouldn’t have to spend every day fighting battles I don’t feel equipped for. I think about the future, and how one day, my cousins and I will be the older generations. And when I’m lying in bed, thinking about that, the world seems so vast, because I don’t know how to exist in a world where my Grandparents and Parents don’t. That’s how I know I won’t handle death well.

I don’t handle life well either. There are many days when I’d rather stay in bed than face the day, because I’m too exhausted to fight any battles. I’d rather walk through life with my fists crossed in front of my face ready to protect myself, than to walk through life with hands open, palms up, ready to catch whatever life drops in my lap. But I’m learning that’s no way to live, so I’m working on changing that mindset.

I’m trying to be a member of society, but right now the future seems so intimidating, which is why sometimes I need quiet. In that quiet I hear, “Listen to how beautifully I play the piano.” My spine straightens up, because I can do anything.

You taught me what true strength is. You taught me with the right attitude, anything is possible.

I can do anything.

I’ve never been good at endings, in life and in my writing, which is why it’s been so hard for me to move on. But here goes nothing. 

I love you. I miss you. I hope Heaven is treating you well. I hope your sense of humor is being put to good use, because if you and God are not telling each other jokes, then I’m disappointed.

I’ll see you someday, but until then, I’ll be listening for your voice.

What You Don’t Get to Say to People With Mental Illness

They say to write what you know, and if that’s true, here’s what you don’t get to say to us.

1)      Snap out of it. If I could snap out of it, I wouldn’t be here right now in this moment. Yes, I know everyone feels sadness at some point in their life, but in my case “at some point in their life” translates to “every freakin’ day,” or a hopeless pit of despair where it’s so dark, I’ve forgotten what light looks like. And I know everyone feels anxious, but that’s not the same as having an anxiety attack, which is best described as: “a terrifying lightning storm of despair, self-hatred, and the absolute certainty of my immediate death.”

 

2)      You don’t look depressed or conversely, you look depressed. Thank you, really I appreciate it. Thank you for letting me know I can’t be sad, because I don’t look sad. Conversely, thank you for letting me know you can see my sadness. I appreciate knowing that it must be real now.

 

 

3)      You must have asked for it somehow, or you must have done something wrong to be depressed. I asked for a pony, but all I got was this lousy feeling of impending doom. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

4)      What’s wrong?  I don’t know what’s wrong. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be here, right now, in this moment. Yes, it’s true that a particular event sparked what would eventually become known as Depression, but right here, right now, in this moment, everything’s wrong and nothing’s wrong, and I’m still trying to figure out how that can be. (You can ask me what’s wrong, but don’t expect a coherent answer).

 

 

5)      Stop focusing on the bad stuff. Thanks, now I feel horrible about myself, because I’ve tried this many times. I’ve listed out all the good stuff about life, but it hasn’t worked so far. And right now, I’m not feeling very hopeful, because the Evening News begins with “Good Evening,” and then proceeds to list off all the reasons why it isn’t. And yes, they usually conclude with a little “bright spot” showing that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel, but this tunnel isn’t getting any smaller, and I’m not getting any closer, and really, right now, the light bulb is rather dim. I think it needs to be changed. And you know it’s bad when a listed side effect of anti-depressants is: increased suicidal thoughts. I’m sorry, but isn’t that why we started taking this little happy pill to begin with: to make us just happy enough so we weren’t thinking about suicide all the time?

 

6)      Just pray about it. I have witnessed the power of prayer, but prayer can’t fix everything, and you’re making me believe that I don’t have enough faith. Are you implying that the way I feel somehow equates to my lack of faith? Because if so, let me explain to you that my faith is quite intact. Because it takes a lot of faith for me to get out of bed in the morning, to believe that the ground won’t fail beneath my feet. I have enough faith for the both of us.

 

7)      Being busy will help distract you. Ignoring an issue, doesn’t make it go away. I’ve discovered this when I ignore homework.

 

8)      Sleeping all the time isn’t healthy. Maybe not, but it’s the only escape I get from my feelings. If I could sleep for a week straight, I would. Because sometimes I have too much pain to be awake for. Sleeping is like death, without the commitment, because I know one day, I will be temporarily happy, and I want to be awake to see it.

 

9)      You’re doing this for attention. This is literally the worst thing to do for attention. If I wanted attention, I would wear a clown costume as I was riding a unicycle while juggling. It’s much easier. And that way, the stares and whispers would be because of something good.

 

10)   I understand. No you don’t. The only way you’d understand is if you have the same feelings I do.

 

Instead of saying those, try doing these instead:

1)      Sincerely listening to what we have to say. Let us vent. It’s healthy for both parties involved, because when you need someone to vent to, I’ll be there.

 

2)      Talk to us like we are normal people. Treating us like we are different is no good. Invite us to do things. We are the same person we were before, but we are just dealing with an issue less visible than a broken arm. We are not broken.

 

3)      Tell us that you still love us, and that you support us.

 

4)      Learn about the problem we are dealing with. Talk to other people you know who are struggling so you know better how to help us.

 

5)      Ask us what we need or how you can help. Even if that means sitting next to us so we are not alone.

 

 

Remember: You cannot cure us, but you can help make our lives more enjoyable.

 

see also: “What Doesn’t Kill You”  “You’re Better Off Dead

 

 

Letter to Who I Was

Dear 13 Year Old Me,

Right now, you are in pain. Right now, you are trying to understand how people can be so cruel. The ground beneath your feet was ripped out from under you so quickly, it will take five years to process and begin to heal. And it will be a long five years.

When you’re 13, the world seems so vast, but it never really gets any smaller. It just gets more manageable, because right now, you feel so alone. But one day, not too far from now, you will meet people who have walked paths parallel to the one you walk. You will meet people who understand exactly what you mean when you say, I feel numb. I don’t feel alive, even though right now, you have no idea what I’m saying.

Because one day, not too far from now, you will look in the mirror, hate what you see, and you will become so consumed with self-hate you will be unable to feel anything else. In that moment, you will find sweet release in a razor. As the warm blood trickles down your skin, you will cry, because for the first time in a long time, you will feel something.

Right now, you’re wrestling with the concept of God, because you blame yourself, but you’re mad at God. But I need you to remember faith is believing in what you cannot see. Because down the road you will reach a canyon, and you won’t know how to cross, and life will seem so daunting. That is not the time to test gravity. In that moment, when you find your parachute at the bottom of the pill bottle, you will hear a voice—not much louder than the whispering of the wind, but still a voice. Instantly, you will understand what faith means.

When you’re 13 and getting ready to start High School, people will tell you it’s the best time of your life. Don’t believe them. High School is horrible if you’re even the slightest bit not normal, because the world is full of the wrong kinds of people. When it comes time to graduate, you will be ready. You will want to say, “Master has given Dobby a diploma. Dobby is free.” Don’t.

Because when you’re 17 and ready to leave High School behind, College doesn’t seem so bad. And it’s not, but it also is.

You will meet people who will make you hate yourself. You will meet people who inspire you. You will meet people who make you want to be a better person.

You will learn more about yourself. You will learn how to manage your time. You will learn that every place is a bed if you try hard enough. You will also learn people who drink decaf coffee are not to be trusted.

13 year old me, don’t forget you’re beautiful. There will come a day when you cannot believe that anymore because society tells you otherwise. But there will come another day, 5 years from now, when you realize that if society’s idea of beauty is being thin, you want nothing to do with it.

13 year old me, don’t forget about the scripture you’ve learned, because one day you will forget how to form a prayer. And the scripture combined with the book of Help Me, Jesus will be the only reminder that you have that you are the Child of the King.

Right now, you have nothing figured out, and that’s ok. 5 years from now, you will have just a little bit more to just enough figured out. But you will have found your purpose.

So I just want to tell you to keep your head up. Because one day you will realize this life is beautiful. One day you will know what you want to do with your life. You will know how to make a difference.

Love,

Your 18 year old self, AKA, who you are now

 

 

 

 

I Press On

When I tell people I’m a Bible Quizzer, they give me a strange look. I know they’re imagining me sitting in a room, taking a test on a book about a guy who’s been dead and alive again for 2,000 years, and they’re probably imagining me to be crazier than I already am. So when I have the audacity to tell them “Bible Quizzing is a sport,” they have to bite their tongue and hold themselves back to keep from screaming “off with her head.”

And I want to tell them:

Life is a sport. You can play for the good guy or the bad guy. And I chose the good. And while your sport has you running around in circles chasing a ball, my sport has me learning how to think about a question, synthesize an answer, and respond in 20 seconds, which is faster than most people can say the alphabet backwards. And while you’re learning how to increase your time off the starting blocks, I’m learning how to sit on a chair just right, because I can’t be too heavy or too light. Because when the correct time is nigh, I need to flinch, have the fastest reaction time in getting my Gluteus Maximus off a ridiculously tiny rectangular pad, all so my light can shine next to number 1, which is really code for “I can jump faster than you.”

It’s like Physical Effort, “My Legs Are Sore”, Jeopardy.

And I was probably most likely not even close to nowhere near the best Quizzer ever, but I can still find my way around scripture, because I know where to find God. And I’ve quoted the book of Help Me, Jesus so many times that it’s verses are tattooed on my lips because I once forgot the name of the one who saved me when I couldn’t save myself.

So I may be able to tell you where a passage of scripture is found, and maybe if you’re lucky, I can even complete the verse. But probably not.

Because we all can’t win the Alpha and Omega Trophy, but we all can win people for the Alpha and Omega. And isn’t that what this about anyway? It’s more than just memorizing the location of words on a page in the precise order they are presented in order to hopefully answer some questions about who, what, where, when, why, how much God loves us. Because I know the answer to that question. It’s about taking what you’ve learned, applying it to your life, and using it over the long haul. It’s about planting the seed and watching the garden grow, which is incredibly cliché, I know, but if the shoe fits, wear it.
Trust me, competition is fun (because I’m the girl who flips the Monopoly Board), But winning isn’t everything.

And there’s something beautiful in this brother and sisterhood, close knit family. Because I wanted to quit so many times since the day I forgot how to get out of bed, but I kept coming back for more. Because I have this thirst that cannot be quenched by any water from this earth.

There is something inspiring in the faces of victory and the faces of defeat. And I want to be a part of inspiration. There’s something inspiring in the encouragement given after wins, losses, good tries, good quizzes. Everybody needs encouragement sometimes. There’s something powerful in the way opponents during a quiz become best friends after hands are shaken. Because when our world is shaken, we all need someone to lean on.

So even though last year I upgraded my ticket from “Quizzer” to “Coach,” I want to tell you this: no matter how many times you are beaten by the same team/ person over and over again, never give up. One day, you will be triumphant (even if that means sitting back and waiting until they move on to bigger and better divisions). The same is true with life.

So don’t you dare tell me Bible Quizzing is not a sport because it’s trained me for what lies ahead. It’s formed me into the person I am today. It’s taught me life is pretty much impossible without a great group of friends, and I have the best. It’s taught me that even though big groups make me uncomfortable, I can be myself and people will still love me.

So when I forget how to get out of bed, when my lips forget how to form a prayer, when I want to pack my bags and leave, I remember the scripture I have stored in my heart, and I remember you.

Yes, I am a Bible Quizzer. But I’m also a fighter. I’m a warrior, and I’m a runner.

Because every day I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.