Sitting in his office with tears streaming down my face, he sat there patiently waiting for an answer to the question he asked five minutes before: What’s your reason for being alive?
This is not the blog post I started out writing, I had 1000 words done on a different one, but what I’ve learned since I’ve started writing is that sometimes the story we think we want to tell is not actually the story we need to tell.
And I was going to tell you about when I was raped and found out I was pregnant. And what it was like buying a pregnancy test at 13, knowing it would be positive before I even finished peeing, what it was like for me to walk across the parking lot and across the street to my house, hearing my backpack stuffed full of contraband mocking me every time it hit my back with each step: shame, shame, shame.
And I was going to tell you all of that: the thoughts of a thirteen-year-old who got pregnant and then lost the baby; but instead, I’m writing this. These are words I need to say because I’m trying to move past the shame and guilt I’ve been feeling for the last ten years.
To the baby I never had:
I hope you can forgive me for saying this, but my life is better without you in it. Not that I wouldn’t have loved you if you had been born because I absolutely would have. But I wasn’t ready to have you: I was too young, too naïve, too childlike to be an adult. I grew up in 15 minutes, and I was terrified to bring you into a world where your mother went from being a child to an adult in less time than it takes to watch an episode of FRIENDS or to take a quick power nap.
I hope you can forgive me for keeping you a secret for the last ten years because I’m trying so hard to forgive myself. You see, I’ve been running from you for the last ten years. Running so hard and so fast in the darkness of shame and guilt, I’ve quite literally wanted to drive into trees and jump off parking garages and swallow pills by the handful to try to get rid of the pain.
I hope you can forgive me even more for what I’m going to say next: I would love to say that those thoughts started after I lost you, but to move forward with my life, I cannot. I must be honest: they only intensified after I lost you. The first time I wished a car driving down the side of the road would hit me as I was walking was when I was walking back from the store after buying the pregnancy test I didn’t need because I knew you already existed, were already real. And it hurts me to say that. Because when there’s going to be a new life in the world, people should rejoice. But I felt like my life was over because I was at the age when what should have been sacred was taboo.
I would have loved you. And sometimes the fact that you existed for a brief moment before you didn’t hurts more than the circumstances surrounding your existence. Because the truth of the matter is that I feel like a failure because I lost you. Women are supposed to have babies, but sometimes I forget that I wasn’t yet a woman; I was still a girl, a kid, a baby. And sometimes the shame and guilt I carry for losing you is stronger than the joy I feel that I’m alive.
I feel like a failure because I couldn’t keep you alive.
And I would have loved you.
And I hope you can forgive me for not knowing who your father is: there are five choices, and I have it narrowed down to three viable ones, but every time I replay the events of that day over and over and over in my head, it hurts a little bit more. I can’t keep doing it.
I was raped. But I would have loved you.
I would have loved feeling you kick, feeling your life grow within me. I would have loved hearing your first cry, seeing your first breath, watching you smile, seeing all the milestones that happen as children grow up. I would have loved watching you grow up alongside me. And I miss the fact that I’m never going to see them. Of all the what if’s I need to let go of, this is certainly the hardest.
Because what if:
Would you have light eyes and dark hair like your momma? Would you be left-handed and nonathletic and super punny? Would you be musical? Would you be happy and healthy and laugh a lot?
Would you have loved me as much as I love you?
The truth of the matter is: I do love you.
I love you even though I barely knew you, even though I kept you a secret for so many years.
I love you, and sometimes I find you in the laughter and the new life that comes with each spring. And right now, that is enough.
I love you, but I lost you, which makes Mother’s Day hard. And every year on the date that you were conceived, the guilt and shame I feel become stronger because every year I’m reminded of how old you’d be, how much of life you are missing.
I feel like a failure because I couldn’t protect you. So I try to make up for it by caring for everybody I meet, helping to make their days a little brighter because this life is so beautiful, even on the hard days.
And there are hard days. So many hard days.
But I like to think you’d be proud of me: for how far I’ve come over the last nine months, for finally admitting that I need help, that I can’t do this alone, for learning how to let people in, for accepting people’s love.
Hopefully, someday you’ll have siblings, and I’ll tell them all about you. I’ll let my life be an open book, so they know they don’t have to do life alone. My biggest fear in life is being alone. I’m terrified of being hated, so I don’t let people in, but that also means I can’t be loved. I don’t want that to be there biggest fear.
I want them to know that I’ll love and support them no matter what. That there’s nothing too shameful that’ll make me stop loving them.
They’ll love you the way your family, my family, would have loved you.
And I won’t hide my past from them because I’ve hidden it for so long, and it almost killed me. And I want to live.
I wanted you to live, even if I was 13.
Even if there are school shootings more often than there should be.
Even if this life is so so hard and there’s evil and rape and division.
Even if my fear of letting people know that I got pregnant at 13 caused me to keep you a secret for 10 years.
Even if I know that my life is better right now because I lost you.
And I know that doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t make sense to me because the shame and guilt I have hidden behind for years made me want to die.
But now I want to live.
So this is for you: my life is for you; my future is for you. Because even though I only knew about you for two weeks before I lost you, I’ll carry you with me the rest of my life.
I will do great things because I am your mother, and I’m stronger now because of you.
And I hope, eventually, I’ll be able to forgive myself for losing you before you even had the chance to be.
I am your mother, your mama, your protector until the end, and you will be my baby until the day I see you in God’s arms because I know your life is better there than it could have ever been on earth.
“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he said as he slammed my locker shut on the last day of eighth grade, just like he had done every day before.
The truth is: I was going to wait to post this. I was going to wait to post it until May 19th, 2018. 10 years to the day after I was raped in a school bathroom by some guys I thought were my friends.
But in all actuality, the truth is: I never wanted to post this, never wanted this story to get out. I wanted to keep it under lock and key in a trunk, buried away under the deep recesses of my memory, never to be open. Because people can’t hurt you if they don’t know you, can’t hate you if you don’t let them in. People can’t love you if you don’t let them in.
And I’m terrified of being loved.
Because the truth is, as much as I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years trying to outrun my past, trying to forget it, there’s a part of my story that I never wanted to admit, too painful even for myself. What happened in that bathroom is one thing: I relive that every day with flashbacks and triggers and panic attacks and random encounters at Dick’s Sporting Goods. And I’m almost to the point where I can say, “This is what happened to me. This is what they did. But I’m stronger now.”
“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he smirked at me, his hazel eyes and nicotine breath forever seared into my mind. But what he didn’t know, what I’ve spent the last 10 years trying so hard to outrun, the secret that’s literally killing me is this:
Just a few days before the last day of eighth grade, just over a month after being raped, I had a miscarriage.
I had a miscarriage, and I feel ashamed:
ashamed that it happened; ashamed that I’m sometimes glad it did.
ashamed that I wonder what my life would be like if the baby had been born; ashamed that I think my life is better right now.
ashamed that I was 13 years old and terrified to tell my parents, my entire church community what happened because how would they respond?
ashamed that I was 13 years old and secretly glad that I lost the baby because I didn’t want to face the stigma of being a pregnant teenager, especially in the church.
ashamed that at 23, I’m still worried about what my church would have thought 10 years ago if I had shown up to Sunday morning worship pregnant, the whispers, the stares, the shunning. What happened? Are you going to put it up for adoption? This could ruin your life you know.
ashamed that at 23, I still feel ashamed for feeling guilt and shame over things that aren’t my fault.
And I’ve gone over the “what if”s in my head over and over and over again. What if
And now that the cat’s out of the bag, I feel as though I have to apologize:
Sorry for telling you; sorry for not.
Sorry for feeling guilty; sorry for knowing it’s not my fault.
Sorry for feeling shame; sorry for knowing that I’ve come so far.
Sorry for letting you in; sorry for feeling like a burden.
Sorry for regretting not jumping off the side of the parking garage that Monday back in September when I drove myself to the ER (because there are days when I regret that, and then feel guilty for regretting it).
I apologize a lot because I’m scared of living, scared of taking up space, scared of breathing.
I know how fragile this life can be, and I know how delicate the line between life and death because I walk it every day.
And maybe, if I apologize enough, invalidate myself enough, my impact on the world will be lesser, the crater I leave behind won’t be as great: a great void narrowing instead of expanding.
People can’t miss you if you don’t let them in. People can’t miss you if you never existed in the first place: invalidate yourself into oblivion.
I’ve come so far in the last nine months, the last four months specifically since beginning work with my current therapist.
And what we’re working on is Radical Acceptance: it is what it is.
My life is what it is. My past is what it is. My future will be what it will be. This moment is filled with me typing this post, backspacing again and again, trying to get these words right. Maybe lessen the blow because, after all, words do hurt, despite what that childhood adage might say.
And last month, I got baptized, signifying that I was ready to let go and let God. I was going to give up control, give up my story, give up my past, and let God work in my life, through my life, in spite of my life.
But, I’m stubborn. And I’m scared:
scared of living.
scared of loving.
scared of being loved.
scared of giving up control because I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way back out.
I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years of my life just surviving: moment by moment; too scared of the future to even plan for one.
But I want to live. I want to thrive. And holding on to these secrets, the parts of me I’m sure will scare people away if they knew, the parts of me I deem unlovable or too ugly or too broken are literally killing me.
“You want to drive into trees a lot,” the full weight of these secrets are on the gas pedal, and I’m not strong enough to pull them off.
Because that’s the thing about secrets: they weigh a lot more than the truth, and they’re harder to carry over the distance of life.
Many friends make light work.
And all I can do is shine a light on my broken parts, reveal them for what they are, for who I am. Because take me or leave me, I can’t keep apologizing for who I am.
(I’ll probably still say sorry a lot and continue to invalidate myself because trying to dig through 10 years worth of garbage to move what I know to be true from my head to my heart is a long process, painful, sometimes unending process.)
“You inspire me,” my therapist, Brandon, said to me today. “Do you realize how strong you are? That you have a purpose in life?
Because I don’t look at you and see your baggage. I see a young woman with a bright future who’s trying her best to navigate the storms of this life, who’s trying to process her past and move forward, who’s fighting so hard to stay here, who loves deeply and cares fully and feels wholeheartedly, who’s unabashedly wholehearted: who gets up in front of people and says: This is me. This is what I’ve been through. This is how I’ve been hurt. But I still get up in the morning and try my best to get through the day.
And to me, that is inspiring.”
This is real. This is raw.
This is me.
Love me, hate me, pray for me, complain about me. It doesn’t matter.
Nothing you say to me can be worse than what the voices in my head say to me on the daily, but I’m working on it.
I’m working on so many things.
And right now, what I’m working on is this: fully illuminating my past so that it can be a light for my future.
I can’t hide in the dark forever.
I can’t be scared to live, to exist, to breathe, to take up space.
I’m here. I’ve been hurt deeply and profoundly, and sometimes I feel so unworthy of love.
But I’m not going to stop living.
stop being who I am.
Because I don’t want to run from my past for another ten years.
because a) I have asthma and can’t run very far for very long. and b) simply surviving is so very unfulfilling.
So I’m sorry.
But I’m also not.
I can’t spend the rest of my life dodging trees while running from my past.
This is me: jumping fully in, ready to admit that I was raped and lost a baby, and sometimes I feel 100% at fault.
This is me: starting to recognize that I’m worthy of love.
Sorry it took me so long to catch up.
Don’t you do it. Don’t you dare make that joke.
Dang it. He knew the joke I was about to make–the morbid joke with death as a punchline. But, you see, that’s the way I’ve always dealt with my pain: holding my breaking facade together with Plaster of Smile; laughing instead of crying; invalidating how I truly feel in the darkness by making a light out of the whole situation.
That’s the kind of person I am, the kind of family I live in–finding humor in the darkness. We cracked jokes at my grandfather’s funeral. And I’ve just sort of adopted that way of thinking, adapting it to fit my ever-growing body over time because it’s grown a lot over the last few years.
I no longer have the eating disorder that ravaged my body for five years, and I haven’t been to the gym for a few months on the orders of my therapist, so I’ve been learning how to manage the weight with what I have.
I’ve also been learning how to manage the wait with what I have. Because right now, I’m in the in-between phase: the “Look how far I’ve come but look how far I still have to go” phase. The kind of phase where people ask me You’re not healed yet? It’s been years.
Technically, yes. It has been years. It’s been almost ten, in fact. Ten years since the initial trauma. Ten years since being raped. Ten years since the voices in my head became theirs and not mine. But it’s also been ten years of repressing and ignoring. Ten years of shame and guilt. Ten years of you’re not worth enough to take up people’s time.
In reality, it’s only been about nine months. And extra fact: it’s only been the last three-ish months that really count. Because it’s really only been the last three-ish months where the stars have aligned in my favor, where people have come into my life at the right time to make the burden I carry just a little bit lighter.
It’s frustrating, Brandon said to me in therapy on Monday, you’re using all these skills you’ve learned to get better, but you still don’t view yourself as worth it.
I fill spaces with I’m sorry. Apologizing for existing, apologizing for opening up, apologizing for taking up space in a crowded world.
And I know I need to stop: need to stop invalidating myself, need to stop apologizing, need to stop thinking I’m too much–too broken to be fixed, too much of a mess to be useful–and simultaneously not enough–not good enough, not worth enough, not enough to be taking up the space I’m taking.
You need to stop apologizing. Don’t be sorry. You’re family, and we’re here for you.
I know. I’m sorry.
Today was 62 degrees and sunny. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be warmer. Yesterday it snowed. That’s just the way life is right now.
It’s 62 degrees and sunny, but I still wanted to die, not actively, just passively. Because, yes, there is a difference. Because here’s the thing: I want to be here in the world with the sunshine and the flowers and the laughter, but most days, I don’t feel worth being in the world, like somehow the world would be better off without me because I don’t add much.
And I know that the voices in my head–the voices that are not my own, the ones of the guys who raped me, who called me worthless and unlovable, and bitch and slut, the one of my ex who told me I should have completed it after he found out I tried to kill myself.
I told the guy that I wouldn’t go out with him. So it’s my fault.
He was angry because he doesn’t like talking about feelings, not since his parents divorced. So it’s my fault– I know that these voices are lies because somehow I found enough strength to reach out with all the faith I had left to one person who urged me to get help: the right move but the wrong life preserver.
It’s 62 degrees and sunny, but I’m tired of people telling me to “buck up” “find the bright side in all of this” “find the silver lining.” Because it could have snowed today. It snowed yesterday, and then three hours later, it was 52.
Yes, I’m happy to be alive and all that jazz. But there are moments, brief fleeting moments when I regret not jumping off that parking garage back in September. But those are just that: moments. That’s all life is: a string of moments held together by hope. Hope that the darkness won’t last forever, hope that the next moment will be better than the last, hope that even if it’s not, I have the tools I need to survive.
Because sometimes I feel like I’m not strong enough to survive the moment I’m in, so I reach out, looking for a hand that can pull me up just long enough for me to catch my breath. And I hope you do that too.
Sometimes I have to be reminded over and over and over again that I’m not a burden. That I deserve to be here. That hear is something people are willing to do. Because everybody’s pain and sorrow and grief and hurt and whatever feeling they may be feeling deserves to be heard, deserves to be seen. And most of the time, I invalidate mine. But I’m working on it; doing the best I can with what I have, trying to make it from moment to moment.
I want to be here, and I want you to be here, too.
I want to help carry your burdens, even if sometimes I feel guilty for letting people help to carry my own.
It’s 62 degrees today and I have hope because it’s easier to just be when it’s sunny. And being is beautiful.
And breathing is beautiful. And laughing is beautiful. And doing all of these things when it’s -10 and snowy, when it’s darker than night inside your head is especially beautiful.
Believing in hope when hope seems hopeless is the reason I am here. Because people believed in me and hope when I couldn’t.
Because despite my past, despite the shame and guilt I carry, despite the feelings of inadequacy I spew with I’m sorry, there are people who still love me and support me, who encourage me on in my weak moments.
And to me, that’s more beautiful than any day that’s 62 and sunny.
“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.
“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:
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.
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.”
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.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.
It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.
We all need people.
Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.
And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.
And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.
And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.
And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.
And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.
And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.
And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.
And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.
And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.
And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.
And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.
And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.
And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.
And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.
And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.
And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.
We like to go through life pretending we’re fine, that everything’s all good and dandy. I do, too. When people ask me how I’m doing, I quickly reply “Fine” because I hope they won’t poke and prod at the facade that I’ve spent so long trying to build. I mean, sure, I’ll make a Facebook post about something I’m struggling with, or whatever, but that’s nothing: I’m still hiding behind this persona of someone who likes to pretend she has it all together.
The truth is, I don’t. The truth is that on Friday I had THE worst panic attack/flashback I’ve ever had in my life. The truth is that it’s still going on, and I don’t know how to make it stop. Because the thing about adulthood is that I can’t just curl up into a ball, wrap a blanket tight around me, and stay in bed all day. I have to go to work. I have to carpe diem and all that jazz.
And it hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts because I don’t want to feel broken. It hurts because all I want to do is be happy and smiley and be someone that people fall in love with. Who could ever love someone who’s broken?
But right now, all I want to do die, not like actually, but I just.. I have this feeling. This uncontrollable panic, this unappeasable dread. I wrote a blog post a few months ago in which I describe my rape. I’m going to tell it again in part here (you can read the full version here). I’m going to tell it again because this is what I felt happening on Friday. This is why I’m still feeling the lingering effects, why my heart is still trying to escape through my ears, and why my stomach is stuck in my throat.
The first time it happened was a Monday at 4pm in a school bathroom. The second time it happened was a Friday at 6:45 in a college workout room. The first time it happened, I was just leaving the bathroom stall and had expected my locker to be slammed shut not two minutes before. The second time it happened, I was just about to finish my workout, trying to convince myself that I could stick it out a little while longer.
I was already on edge.
The first time it happened, I hadn’t seen them walk in. I heard the door open, but I thought it was just a teacher. The second time it happened, I saw them walk in. I heard the door click after they swiped their IDs, and I could see them when they walked in.
The first time it happened, I was standing at the bathroom sink, washing my hands, when they snuck up behind me and grabbed me, putting a hand over my mouth before I could even muffle out a “No.” The second time it happened, I was lying on an exercise mat, doing my ab workout, when it started to sneak up on me, wrapping me in my past before I could ground myself in the present.
The first time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, so the drip drip drip of the bathroom sink that I didn’t have time to turn off became the ocean waves, and the nose plugging until I opened my mouth to gasp for air–which is what they wanted, an open mouth–became me drowning. The second time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I powered through. I hopped on the treadmill and tried to outrun the memories that were closing in faster, which is what they wanted anyway–for me to remember forever.
The first time it happened, there were 10 hands, 5 tongues, too many teeth, and 5 I-didn’t-want-them-anywhere-near-me. The second time it happened, it was just me, alone in the hall, surrounded by echoes of memories.
The first time it happened, I was 13, almost 14. The second time it happened, I was 23, just barely 23.
I can tell you so many things about the first time it happened: who they were, what I was wearing, what they smelled like, how long it lasted.
- It doesn’t matter who they were, but I’ve learned to say their names.
- A hoodie and a pair of jeans.
- They smelled like sweat and sawdust and orange juice.
- It lasted 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
I can tell you so many things about the second time (because that’s what it feels like. It feels like it happened a second time, and I wish I knew why): who I was, what I was wearing, what it smelled like, how long it lasted:
- It doesn’t matter who I was, but it matters who I am right now, even if I don’t know who I am. Maybe they were right when they told me I was a bitch, a slut, and called me worthless. I’m hurting, and I wish I wasn’t.
- Workout leggings, a sports bra, and a smelly tank top.
- I smelled like sweat and sawdust and peaches.
- It lasted an hour and a half, but the first 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds. And I guess, technically, it’s still going.
I can tell you that the first one ended with me getting off the bathroom floor, cleaning myself off, and not telling anyone for a year. I can tell you that the second one ended with me collapsing onto a bench, pacing back and forth, and finally telling someone about half an hour in.
I can tell you that the first one lead to self-harm and an eating disorder. I can tell you that the second one lead to finger-nail shaped crescents in my right arm and this feeling of nausea that won’t subside.
I can tell you that for all the things I remember about the first one, there are some I don’t remember. I hope I never do.
I can tell you that the panic attack/flashback I had was full of the worst possible I can’t remembers.
I can tell you that on Friday, I’m so glad I ran into a friend who was willing to walk with me to the locker room, willing to sit with me and talk with me until I was calm enough to go home.
Because I can tell you that on Friday just walking down the hall towards the locker room that reminds me of a bathroom was enough for me to feel like I was going to throw up and pass out.
The last blog post ended with me talking about forgiveness, and healing, and how God loves me, and I’m beautiful and strong and worthy of being loved.
I can tell you that this one does not. This one ends with me being unsure if I am actually healing. This one ends with me still feeling nauseous and panicky, and maybe I can’t forgive them quite yet, and maybe I’m not beautiful or strong or worthy of being loved. Because I definitely don’t feel very strong right now, and I must definitely don’t love myself. This ends with me feeling oh-so-very weak.
But maybe that’s ok. Maybe it is.
Right now, all I can take are baby steps. Yesterday, I spent the same amount of time at the gym as I normally do, except I spent 45 minutes trying to convince myself that I could walk up those stairs I felt closing in on me on Friday; I spent 10 minutes working out before it all became too much, and then I spent 20 more minutes convincing myself I could walk back to the locker room.
Tonight, I did the same thing over again: except I only spent 30 minutes trying to convince myself; I spent 20 minutes working out, and I spent 20 minutes sitting in the rain, hoping there would be a rainbow.
And I waited and waited and waited, and there was a rainbow.
And then I cried, because I’m in a tough spot right now: the thunderstorms are coming in, and they’re bringing an overwhelming flood.
But God. God creates rainbows.
I don’t have a rainbow right now. But I do have baby-steps. And I hope to the God who loves me and has provided me with the best friends, that that is enough.
To be honest, I’ve thought about what I was going to say in this letter for a while now, and I’m still not quite sure that I have the right words. But that’s the thing about words: context is everything; you take them out of a context they were meant for and place them in another, and they make no sense, or they change the meaning of the new context. If you do this enough times, the words become useless—displacing and relocating until the original meaning is lost. Right now, you’re probably hearing a lot of words from family and friends, some you may be even saying to yourself. Don’t take these words out of context. Your friends and family are probably telling you that they love you. Don’t turn these words into an “I love you but….”
You may be feeling a lot of feelings right along with these words: anger, sadness, shame, maybe even some guilt.
Everything you are feeling right now is valid. Every emotion you have and don’t have is valid. Somedays you might be feeling everything at once, and some days you might be feeling nothing at all—you might not know which one is worse, neither do I.
I don’t know your story. I don’t know what led you to attempt suicide. I don’t know if it was a genetic predisposition, or a single event, or a series of events that culminated in this one cataclysmic moment in your life. Whatever happened, your past is valid. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Don’t let anybody take the pain you might be feeling away from you to assign it to themselves. You are grieving. You are hurting. They, too, may be grieving and hurting, but this is not about them. This is about you. To take the focus away from you is to invalidate the pain you are feeling. Let the emotions roll over you like waves, take them as they come, one at a time. That’s all we can do: focus on one moment at a time.
I’m writing this letter; I’m telling you all of this because I understand. I understand what it’s like to be on the front lines of this very real battle. I understand what it’s like to feel as though giving up is your only option. I understand because seven years ago, I, too, tried to kill myself.
Seven years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I’m still trying to recover. I’m still wrestling with tough feelings and intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. Sometimes I still wonder why I survived when so many others do not, maybe you’re wondering that too. Maybe you’re wondering what you did to deserve all this pain. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, for every answer I don’t have, I have a million more questions.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned in the last seven years, time goes on. Time goes on, but I still live my life in terms of anniversaries: I focus on how long it’s been since the events in my past because that way I don’t have to focus on the future. The future terrifies me simply because it’s unknown. I live in terms of anniversaries because they’re set in stone. I know what’s happened in my life, but I don’t know what’s going to. And that terrifies me.
I look to the past because it helps me gauge how far I’ve come: I’ve survived x,y,z, and today I did a,b,c.
I don’t know where you are in your healing journey, or even if you have begun healing yet. I am going to tell you that the journey ahead of you is going to be long and hard. I tell you this not to scare you, but to remind you that you are a survivor. You are strong. You can do this. And you need to have faith in something—I don’t know if it’s God, or if you wonder if God’s abandon you. I wondered that too for a long time. For me, the only thing I could believe in for a long time was gravity. I had faith that the ground would stand firm beneath my feet, holding me up when I was too weak to stand. Then, only then, was I able to reclaim my faith in a higher power.
Believe in something. It’s the only way you’re going to get through this.
I’m not going to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem because to do so would be to deny the truth that sometimes this pain doesn’t go away. I’m also not going to tell you to stay here because there are people that love you. If love were enough, the world would be different.
I’m telling you that depression will come in cycles—high tides and low tides. Somedays it’ll feel like you’re floating on air, like you’re weightless, you can do anything. Somedays it’ll feel like your chest is collapsing because the weight of the world is too much to bear. Have faith that this too shall pass.
Somedays it might seem that you’re living in at the South Pole, where the sun doesn’t rise for months at a time. But, even there, there are months where the sun doesn’t set. Have faith that in the darkest times, there will be light again. If you ever need to be reminded of this, look outside at the darkest night. Sometimes the only way to see stars is to have darkness.
I am telling you to stay here because right now you are walking through a valley, but when you start climbing up the other side, when you reach the top of the mountain, the view is so beautiful.
I’m telling you to live for the little things. Find what makes you happy and do it. Read, write, dance in the rain, pet every animal you come across, listen to that music, eat that cupcake, go see that animated movie. Sometimes we are so focused on the road ahead of us we forget to live in the moment. Sometimes we are so focused on the here and now we forget that it’s not forever.
I don’t know if this letter has helped or hurt or really if it’s made any sense at all. But I’m going to end with this personal story:
The summer after my freshman year at college, I went to Guatemala with a group of students. One day, we went to a multi-story mall. A smaller group of students and I, while exploring, went to one of the upper levels of the parking garage. As I went and stood next to the barrier and looked around and over to the ground, I thought that I was going to feel the urge to jump. I always had before, which is why I tend to avoid heights. But in that moment, as the sun was beginning to set and the horizon was turning to hazy dusk, I felt this sense of calm and peace rush over me, if only for a moment. That’s how I know I was beginning to heal.
A few days later, we were serving dinner in the Guatemala City dump. A teammate and I climbed onto the top of the bus and looked around. As I looked over the dilapidated, rundown metal shanties in front of me, I caught sight of the mountains in the distance. In that moment, I was reminded that beauty and brokenness can live right alongside each other. Out of brokenness comes beauty.
You are beautiful.
Love, your friend,