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?
“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.
“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.
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’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.
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
“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.
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.
“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.
Those of you who have read my blog over the past few months, or even the past few years, know that this is a place where I am open and honest because sometimes I have a hard time doing that in real-life. But lately, I’ve tried this new approach where I’m open and honest, telling people my real truths–the truths I tried for so long to hide–engaging in the tough conversations where I’m raw, exposing my broken and hurting soul to those around me.
You see, four months ago, I ended up driving myself to the Psych ER because all I wanted to do was die. I saw the exit sign on the road directly in front of me, blinking green as in “GO.” And I wanted so badly to take it: the road not taken.
I didn’t take the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. Instead, I took the road that lead me to get help–a road that has been filled with panic attacks and flashbacks and broken relationships and great new ones. It’s a road that took me to the parking garage of the hospital I was born in, where I promptly had a 25-minute long panic attack in my car and then stood looking out over the concrete wall, trying to convince myself not to jump five floors down.
It’s a road that has lead me to where I am now: trying my best.
I’m trying my best. I’m going to group therapy once a week and individual therapy every 10-14 days. I was put on medication for the depression and the anxiety and the panic and the suicidal thoughts, and when the first medication made me too tired during the day to function if taken at night and too nauseous to eat if taken in the morning, I got put on another, and I haven’t really slept in a week, so I have a medication for that, too–and if I have a panic attack, it helps with those also–it’s a kill two birds with one stone type of deal. Which is helpful because I’m big on multitasking.
But the medication and the double therapy and the heart-to-heart raw moments haven’t fixed me. If anything, it’s made me more aware of my pain and the demons I battle. It has to hurt before it gets better. And I am trying my best to get better, or at least make all of this more manageable.
But, I have to be honest, friends, there are days when I wake up, and the first thought that comes screaming into my head with a screeching halt is: Are you kidding me with this? I woke up again? I have to keep living? And then I instantly feel ashamed for thinking that thought because there are so many people out there who didn’t get a second chance, and I should be grateful for this life I’ve been given.
I am. I am. I am. I am grateful. But I’m also living with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes I’m at the gym and sit on a bench for longer than I actually worked out because my thoughts are so bad, I don’t trust myself to drive. And sometimes, I think to myself I wish someone would just shoot me. Or, I wish someone would come up behind me and slit my throat. Because then I could die without being blamed.
I wish I knew how to explain to all of you that I don’t actually want to die, I just want relief: relief from the voices screaming in my head that I am not good enough; relief from the pain and the tears and the sleepless nights; relief from the panic that sets in; relief from what’s going on inside my head. Because mental illnesses are so exhausting, and I’m so very tired.
. . .
I got an email yesterday from someone who was referred to my blog by a friend of theirs asking me how I can still believe in a loving God despite all that’s happened to me.
I responded: for the longest time, I didn’t. All the way through high school and into college, I doubted. But, if anything, these last six months have made my faith stronger. You see, if God wasn’t real, I wouldn’t be here right now. The night I attempted suicide, He saved me from myself. I never ever would have found the strength to ask for help, to be so honest and open and raw and real about what’s been going on in my life these last few months if I didn’t have faith. Believing in hope when all seems hopeless takes tremendous faith. I believe in God because He’s strong when I am weak. I believe in God because He helps me through the days when I can stand. He holds it together when I feel like I’m going to fall apart.
That’s why I believe–why I still believe that God is good–despite, or maybe in spite of, my brokenness.
I believe because I have no choice. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for the battles I’ve faced. My doubt has made my faith stronger. My struggles have made hope that much more beautiful.
You see, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for what I’ve been through–if I wasn’t raped, if I didn’t develop an eating disorder and start to self-harm, if I didn’t live with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (But don’t you dare quote “Everything happens for a reason” to me because I will not let you diminish how terrible and hurtful what happened to me was.)
You see, I was hurt by the church and Christianity in general. I don’t think it was on purpose, or that they even knew they were doing it. But I grew up being told, and subsequently believing, that good Christians lead good lives. Good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. If I prayed, God would grant me what I asked.
So when bad things happened, I believed it was my fault. I wondered what I did wrong? Was I a bad Christian? Did I not pray enough, read my Bible enough, love God enough? Did God not love me enough?
Being raped shattered me, and when I tried to pick up the pieces, I had nothing to hold them together with. If I didn’t have God, I didn’t have anything. So, I entered into a relationship I definitely should not have been in–one that was emotionally abusive (probably on both sides), one that gave me panic attacks over and over and over again because I just didn’t want to be touched, ok? Didn’t want to be poked in the sides, and definitely didn’t want to be snuck up on from behind. And because I no longer believed God loved me, I tried to frame my identity around those around me–putting all my eggs in very holey baskets, instead of the Holy Basket. For so long, I had no idea who I was.
Sometimes, I still don’t. But I’m trying my best to figure it out. I’m learning to deal with my thoughts and feelings, not push them aside. Because for so long, I kept everything pushed down and bottled up, not letting myself feel the hurt and the pain, not allowing myself to feel, deal, and heal. Until six months ago when I reached my breaking point, culminating in a flashback at the gym (Notice how everything happens at the gym? Maybe I should stop going).
I’m going to be honest, guys. These last few months have been the toughest of my life–filled with panic attacks and sleepless nights and countless thoughts of ending it all.
But, here’s the thing: I’ve also cracked more jokes in the last few months than I have in my entire life. Sometimes I may not feel like there’s a lot of hope, but I know there is as long as I’m still laughing.
If you can’t laugh at where you are in life, it’s like you’ve admitted that there’s no hope of anything getting better. And I refuse to believe that life won’t get better.
I’ll never be normal. I’ll probably never not struggle with Major Depression, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. But I have hope. So much hope.
Because life is about embracing the crazy, embracing your weakness, giving a name to the darkest parts of yourself. I’ve done that, and I’m letting God–with the help of therapy and medication–help me manage the rest.
Because my faith is stronger now than it ever was, than it ever has been. It has to be if I want to keep living. And I do. I do want to keep living. Because life is so beautiful and laughter is so precious and there are so many wonderful conversations out there to have.
And I want to see a Christianity where we can have the tough conversations. I want to see a Church where we can share our stories, shed light on our dark, dreary places because things left in the dark dreary places tend to be ruined. And I don’t want people to feel ruined.
Because sometimes I do. Somedays I feel ruined. Somedays I feel like there’s no hope. But I want everybody to know that there is always that whisper in the back of my head, the whisper that comes on my hardest nights, that carries me through the tough places: You are my Child, and you’ll be ok. I’ve got this.
I want a Christianity that isn’t perfect because life isn’t perfect. I want a Church that isn’t afraid to be real and raw and honest. Because I have to be in order to carpe each diem. I have to be to survive.
And I think we all occasionally need to be reminded that there are people out there who understand our dark places. We need those willing to help us shed some light: to feel, to deal, to heal.
I have a hard time getting out of bed. To a point, I think all of us have days like that: days when it’s rainy and damp and chilly; days when we’re so tired because sleep didn’t come easily, if at all. And I don’t want to diminish those days because I never want to invalidate anyone else’s feelings, invalidate other people’s bad days.
My “hard to get out of bed” days are my every day. Every day it’s hard for me to get out bed: the weight of the world and the weight of my pain are too heavy; the fear of “if I get out of bed, I will die” is too high.
One of these feelings is new, relatively speaking. The other one has been my lifelong companion, a friend I didn’t ask for. One that’s moved in, crashed on my couch, invaded my personal space, crowded me out, made me feel like a stranger in my own home. This is anxiety: the constant feeling that I’m going to be late for an appointment I didn’t even make, the impending due date for a major project for a class I’m not even taking, hearing the Imperial March but never running into Darth Vader, discovering a bomb and hearing the beeping get faster and faster and faster but it never exploding. All the time. 24/7.
I’ve always felt this way. I never realized that it was abnormal. I always thought everybody felt this way: so unsure of themselves, feeling like they were going to throw up every time they opened their mouth to speak in class, unable to make eye contact whenever talking to someone, never wanting to meet someone new because “what if they get to know me and then they discover that they don’t like me?,” wanting to find the nearest exit every time they are in a room with more than five people.
I don’t want to say that my anxiety controlled my life when I was younger. But, it did. I was so unsure of myself that I didn’t want to take up people’s time. So, I didn’t talk to people, didn’t ask family members to play games with me, tried to make myself as invisible as I possibly could. And, on the days when I was super stressed, when I had actual tests and was afraid to go to school because of the bullies, I would pick at scabs until they bled. Scarring my body before I even knew what self-harm was.
Growing up in the church, I was always told that God was an all-knowing, ever-loving God. He so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son and so on and so forth. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs; He knows the number of hairs on our head; He knows us inside and out, and He has a plan for our lives.
I was also told that He would never give us more than we can bear. And if we read our Bibles enough, pray enough, are a good enough Christian, He’ll protect us from the bad. Bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people. If I really, truly loved Him with my whole heart, if I surrendered everything over to Him, He would protect me from the evil in the world.
And I believed it.
Then one day when I was in eighth grade, I was raped in a school bathroom. When you’re 13 years old and already so unsure of yourself, what they tell you becomes what you believe: slut, worthless, unlovable, ugly. Those four words have been on repeat in my head, and sometimes, at the worst moments, I relive those 15 minutes over and over and over again.
And because of the anxiety I had carried with me for years, I didn’t tell anyone: I was scared, didn’t want to be blamed, just wanted desperately to be loved, didn’t want anyone to know that I was now dirty. I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, grabbed my backpack, climbed into my dad’s car, and kept silent for a year of running into them in the hallways every day, having one of them breathe down my neck as they sat behind me in class, having my stomach do somersaults everytime they smirked at me.
And sometime in that year, I met a new companion: Depression. He moved in and with him, the doubt came too.
Was I not a good enough Christian? Did I not love God enough? Did God not love me enough? Was there even a God? Because if there is a God, how can He allow things like this to happen?
Sometimes depression is sadness. Sometimes it’s anger or despair or hopelessness. Sometimes it’s complete numbness. And that’s what I was: numb. For three or four years, I felt nothing. Yes, there were occasional moments of happiness and laughter, sadness and tears. But that’s all they were: moments, beautiful but fleeting.
And because I wasn’t feeling anything, I started self-harming. Physical pain was better than emotional numbness. And then, when that wasn’t enough, I stopped eating. We all want to feel in control of our lives, and I could control the number of calories I ate. So I did. I restriced and restriced and restriced because I wasn’t deserving. I didn’t deserve to eat.
I tried to erase the parts of myself I didn’t like, tried to erase the feeling of their hands on my body. I tried to make myself someone worthy of love despite the continual fighting off the demons in my head who were telling me otherwise.
And then one February night during my Sophomore Year of High School, I stopped fighting. For one second, I stopped fighting the voices in my head. I was oh so tired.
I could use a million metaphors to describe what happened next, but this isn’t Star Wars: there’s no “metaphors be with you” to lessen what I’m about to say:
That was the night I attempted suicide. I wrote a note, swallowed pills, laid in bed, and then watched the snow falling outside my window sparkle in the moonlight. When I think back to this night, there’s a disconnect in my brain: because on one hand, it was beautiful: the fluffy snow sparkling in the moonlight. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing beautiful about feeling like there’s no hope, there’s no way out.
In the next moment, as I’m able to quiet my racing thoughts, there was a still quiet voice in my ear, “You’ll be ok.”
And that was enough. In that moment, that was all I needed.
I found that suicide note a few years ago, tucked away in a polka dot notebook I forgot I had. I would like to say that after reading it, ripping it up, and throwing it out the window as I drove down the expressway, I never wrote another one, but that would be a lie.
I’ve written more than I can count. In the last three months alone, I’ve written at least 15 on the nights that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the storm. But, after the storm subsides, when the winds calm down, and the waters recede, I delete them from my phone, erasing the words I’m so ashamed of writing.
Being raped shattered me, as it would anyone. And nine years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces. Nine years later, I’m still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me.
I’m 23 years old now, but not much has changed: I’m still so unsure of myself; I invalidate my own feelings to make room for other people’s; I don’t want to take up people’s time; I’m still learning how to ask for help.
Somedays I still self-harm. I have flashbacks and panic attacks, mostly at the gym because there are too many guys that I don’t trust, and not enough people that I do. Two months ago, I almost drove into a tree. On purpose. Because sometimes I’m still convinced I don’t deserve to be here. One month ago, I drove myself to the ER because instead of writing a manual on using Skype for Business, the only words on the screen in front of me were: I want to die. I need to die.
Somedays, I use up all my faith when I get out of bed and trust that the floor won’t collapse beneath my feet.
And I want you guys to know two things: 1. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know: most days, I feel like I want to die. But, I know that I actually do not want to die. And 2. that you can’t fix this. There’s nothing you can do to take all this pain away. But, if you rephrase the question “What can I do (to fix this)?” to “What do you need?,” the number of things you can do skyrockets from zero to so many: I need a hug. I need prayer and support and encouragement and love. I need people to sit there with me as I’m trying to work through what I’m feeling in that moment. I need people to listen to what’s going on in my head. I need people to let me feel what I’m feeling and not get frustrated. Because, trust me, no one’s more frustrated than me.
I’m frustrated because I should be better. It’s been nine years, and in those nine years, I’ve felt nothing; I’ve felt anger; I’ve forgiven, and I’ve tried to move on. I’ve been hurt and harassed and there are stories that I’m not ready to tell. I went to Guatemala and led a young girl to a God that I wasn’t even sure I believed in at the time.
And why haven’t I left? Why haven’t I walked away? The truth is, I have. For so long I was angry at God for letting this happen to me. For abandoning me. For leaving me for a younger, prettier, less broken model.
But, here’s the thing: so many times over the years I have been reminded of God’s grace, of His goodness, of the love He has for me. On the night I attempted suicide, He whispered, “You’ll be ok.” He snapped me out of it as my car was heading for a tree. He gave me the strength to ask for help, to drive to the ER even though I was terrified, because I was terrified.
Right now, I’m oh so weak. But God, He’s strong enough for the both of us. He’s carried me through things I wouldn’t have made it through on my own.
And even though I have so many questions: Why did this happen? Why did I survive when so many people do not? What on earth kind of plan do you have for my life? Does beauty really come from ashes?, I know that there are things that my finite brain can’t even begin to comprehend.
Sometimes, all we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves, and turn the rest over.
My name’s Kaleigh, and I have Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Major Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal thoughts, and I’m letting God do the rest.
Because that’s all I can do–all any of us can do. Because I can’t fix this. You can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. They can make it more manageable, but that’s it.
Only God can fix this. And I’ve come to accept the fact that maybe it won’t fix this in the way I want Him to. Maybe depression and anxiety and the memories will always be a part of my life. He knows what He’s doing and the plans He has for my life. I still struggle with guilt and shame and the feeling that everything that’s happened in my life is somehow my fault. But, sometimes, every once in a while, He’ll fill me with this sense of peace, a reminder that He’s got this, even when I have no faith, when I feel hopeless, when I’ve lost sight of the light.
Last Sunday, I woke up and my anxiety was through the roof. I felt out of place, uncomfortable, a stranger in my own body. I got up, went to Sunday School, and went to Church, trying to maintain normalcy when all I wanted to do was die. As the last song was ending and the closing prayer was started, I collapsed in my pew and started sobbing. And then, somehow, I don’t quite remember how, I ended up at the prayer rail, still sobbing because God reminded me in that moment that He’s taken my guilt and shame; He reminded me that I’m worthy; there’s no one too broken or dirty. And when I finally stopped crying, when I finally found the strength to stand up and turn around, there were a whole bunch of people surrounding me with open arms and tears in their eyes, reminding me that I’m not alone in this. None of us are alone in life.
So, yes, somedays are hard. Most days are hard. But on those days where I can’t get out of bed, where my faith seems too small, where I’m afraid that despite my best attempts at self-preservation, my suicidal thoughts will win out, where the depression and anxiety seem like too much to bear; on those days, I look at the lines on my hand.
They remind me that the same God who created the stars in the sky, the falling snow, the sunrises and sunsets, the rainbows, and the color-changing leaves of autumn stitched me together piece by piece.
And sometimes, that is enough.
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.