It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

I was four the first time I saw a dead body. It was my great aunt. My great uncle picked me up at her open-casket funeral, placed his hand on her arm, looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said: “She’s in Heaven now.”

Do suicides go to heaven?

Heaven. I learned that Heaven is a place people go when their bodies are cold; they look slightly different: like at any moment they could come back alive—suspended animation—toeing the line between there and not there. Like at any moment they could start breathing again.

Breathing again. Am I ever going to learn how to breathe again?

Every funeral I’ve been to since, the passage of time has been spent counting the number of breaths not taken for every breath I took. Wondering how it would feel if I too had a crest-fallen chest.

Why won’t they breathe? Why can’t I breathe?

Trauma has this way of sneaking up on you, camouflaged in the shadows of okayness. One minute you’re laughing and smiling and singing in the shower. The next minute it feels like a tree is being pulled out of your chest, unaided

by sedation, burning, screaming, God take the pain away.

Is this what drowning feels like?

It’s easier to believe God doesn’t exist when you’ve experienced hurt or pain. It’s almost easier to believe God doesn’t exist. Because if He did exist, if an ever-loving God exists in an imperfect world, why, why do bad things happen? Why does He allow bad things to happen? Why?

You’re moving forward. Stepping out of your shame, owning your story, living your story.

But maybe those are the wrong questions to ask. Maybe it’s not why do bad things happen? Maybe it’s what do I do when these bad things happen? Maybe it’s how do I move forward? What is my purpose within all this?

You know, somewhere deep down, I feel like this is all my fault. Somewhere, deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be alive.

You see, trauma sucks. And sometimes, I still blame myself for all that has happened in my life. I feel like, maybe, if I had done something different, none of this would have happened: I wouldn’t have been raped, gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, had a mental breakdown.

How can I want to die but still be doing everything I can to live?

If none of that had happened, I might not have been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Depression. Things I’ve struggled with my whole life but made worse by life—chemical imbalances exacerbated by circumstances. I would have spent my whole life wanting to die without ever getting the help to fight it.

It’s ok not to be ok.

I’m learning how to be ok with not always being ok. Trauma is not a prerequisite for mental illness. I had one long before the trauma, and I’ll have one long after the trauma is worked through. But it doesn’t define me. I am more than my past, more than my present, more than the battle raging inside my head.

I am suicidal. And for so long I tried to hide that, until I couldn’t any more. I just have to make the part of me that wants to live louder.

I thought being baptized was going to fix me. It did not. It just gave the negative voice in my head I call Gertrude more fodder: you aren’t worthy of being a child of God. You’re a terrible person who will never get to Heaven because of what happened to you.

Do suicides go to heaven?

Could my purpose be to write about God and mental illness? Because there’s still a taboo about not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not having faith enough. Do you know how many Bible verses I quote throughout the day just to keep me going? How each day is one continuous “God help me” prayer? How much faith it requires for me just to put one step in front of the other?

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

It’s so hard to live when every fiber in your body is telling you to die, every memory in your brain is telling you that God made a mistake. But God didn’t make mistakes—He doesn’t make mistakes. Every day I choose hope, but hope really isn’t a choice any more than your heart beating is a choice. Hope is inherent in all of us: our body tries so hard to keep us alive. Our wounds heal themselves; our cells regenerate; our DNA multiplies and divides to keep us living. Having hope is easy. What’s not easy is stepping out of shame into hope.

Do suicides go to heaven?

What about all those people who keep on living even when they want to die? I spent so much time wanting to die, I forgot how to live.

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Dear Child,

This is an assignment long overdue, and I apologize for that. What do you say to a 4-year-old child when the 24-year-old adult doesn’t know what to say to herself?

I’ve been told to write this letter many times, to validate you, to make you heard because for so long you thought you had to be quiet, not take up space, not ask for help.

The only way to navigate life was to do it alone.

And you did it alone. For 19 years, you struggled quietly, sobbed behind closed doors, let yourself waste away until you were just a hollowed-out shell where your purpose used to be.

But sweet, beautiful, little girl, who laughed at life and stole animal crackers off the snack cart before dinner, you were never meant to walk this path alone.

Little girl with big blue eyes opened in wonder at the world, your teary eyes were never meant to cower in the dark.

You see, life. Life. Life is alive.

What to say about life except that it’s alive, ever changing, fluid. What’s true one day is not always true the next.

And what’s true is that one day, you’ll be hurt, and you’ll be hurt some more.

But sweet, sweet child, it’s not your fault. And the years of pent-up emotions blocked by numb feelings aren’t your fault either.

You adapted because you wanted to survive.

And survive you did. You made it this far. Farther than you thought you would. Farther then you hoped you would. Farther than you dreamed you would.

Right now, you’re 4-years-old, and some days you wake up and wonder why you’re alive. Sometimes you forget to look both ways before you cross the street. Sometimes you don’t want to get close to the edge because you want to jump.

Sweet girl, I hear you. I see you. I validate you.

One day, you’ll be 24, and you’ll be sitting in your therapist’s office crying because you don’t want to be here. Alive. Breathing. Above ground.

You’ll dare cars to hit you. Hit me. Hit me. Hit me. (There’s a reason you’re not allowed to make dead jokes.) You’ll hold the extra pills in your hand, hesitating before you put them back.

But. You are worth it. Your therapist reminds you of this as you sob in his office. He’ll whisper it through tears as you break down, letting the years of hurt and pain wash over you.

You’ll hear it from your adopted big bro over and over and over as you’re the first one to leave events to protect yourself from trees.

You’ll hear it from within. Because there’s a part of you that wants to thrive, not just survive.

Child, you are worth it. Despite what people will tell you years from now. Despite what the hands tracing your body on the bus tell you in a year. Despite the whispers in your ear 9 years later in a school bathroom. Despite the emptiness in your stomach where a baby should have been.

Child, you are worth it despite all that. Because that doesn’t define you.

It hurts and healing sucks.

And I still don’t know which way healing’s going to go, what it’s going to look like: is it gonna be some bright light, weight lifted, crying because we’re free? Probably not.

It’ll probably be acceptance: radical, life changing acceptance.

Child, I hear your sobs in the night. I see your tears in the locker room mirrors. I see the moments you look in your eyes and don’t recognize me looking back. I hear your whispered no’s. I hear your silent prayer for God to take you in the night.

I hear you. I see you. I’m validating you.

I feel the ache in your heart to be loved, to feel understood, to feel wanted.

Child, you are all those things.

All those things and so much more.

Child. You have a future brighter than gold. You care about others, and one day, you’ll even laugh again (trust me, on this. You’ll be a big punster).

Child. Life will be hard.

Child. Life will be beautiful.

Child. Life will be tears of sadness and laughter.

Child. Life. Life will be.

Breathe.

You. You will be.

I Can’t Talk About It

I admire your ability to be vulnerable. That takes a strength that a lot of people don’t have are words that have been said to me a lot lately—by people who go to my church, by my therapist, by my Facebook friends and social media followers.

I’ve been more publicly vulnerable in the last month than I have in the last 23 years of my life combined. I’ve been privately vulnerable—sharing my struggles with only a few friends and anyone who reads my blog. But it’s a different kind of vulnerable: a “let-me-carefully-choose-my-words” kind of vulnerable, a “let-me-open-up-to-those-who-are-close-to-me” kind of vulnerable. The kind of vulnerable I’ve been lately is a “let-me-be-honest-and-raw-with-you-though-I-just-met-you” sort of vulnerable. It’s the sort of vulnerable that causes me to speak from my heart, speak my truth; it’s the sort of vulnerable that makes others uncomfortable.

And I’m ok with that. I’m learning to live in that space between comfort and uneasiness. I’m learning to find comfort in the uncomfortable. I think sometimes, we all need to learn how to find rest in the hard places where the hard truths can be spoken, where people can live their realness: imperfections, struggles, brokenness and all.

This is the kind of vulnerability that I’ve been living for the last six months. You see, six months ago, my mental health took a turn for the worst: nine years of repressed feelings, nine years of depression, twenty-three years of anxiety came to a head during a panic attack at the gym. And I’m not going to rehash that here because I’ve written about that a few times already. But that was when I decided I needed to be completely, 100% honest about what’s going on in my life, about needing more help than I could give myself, about not being able to do it all on my own: needing to feel, deal, and heal.

This is the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to get up in front of my church on Wednesday and tell people that I’ve known my whole life:

If you asked me three months ago if I’d still be attending this church, I would have told you no. Because I didn’t feel like this was a place where I could be open and honest. Because sometimes I sit in the pews and don’t believe a single word that I’m singing. Somedays, I don’t believe in God. Because it’s hard to reconcile the God I grew up hearing with the brokenness in this world, with my own brokenness. I need to know that this is a place where I can discuss the hard things, discuss the hard questions. I need to know this is a place where I can express my doubt and say, hey, I’m struggling with depression and anxiety, and I need to know that’s ok. I need to know that I’m not alone in this. We all need to know this. And sometimes I feel like this is a place where I can’t do that. Sometimes, I walk in here, see all these faces, and still feel so alone.

This is the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to speak in front of a group of twenty five college students and say:

I was raped in eighth grade, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done was forgive them. And not just tell myself that I forgive them, but to actually tell them to their faces that I forgive them, and not just because it’s what God wanted me to do, but because it was actually something that I needed to do. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was look the ones who hurt me in their eyes and say, “hey, you hurt me. But God saved me. And I still love you because God loves me enough to die for me, and I’m so underserving. SO very very undeserving of his love, but I want you to know that He loves you, too, and I forgive you. I forgive you because I need to, because I want to, because I’m ready to. And I hope someday, God does in your life what He’s done in mine. It’s a powerful thing.

It’s the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to post these photos on Facebook on Thursday, which are me, approximately two minutes after having a Mental Breakdown, which is what this post is really about.

 

I posted those photos with the following description: Ugly truth time: this is me tonight–this is what it looks like after you have a breakdown, after you come home after therapy and then double-booked meetings. This is what it looks like after you spend one night baring your soul to your church body about how alone you feel, and then spend the next night trying so hard to keep it together as you gather with fellow 20-somethings asking the hard questions. This is what it looks like after you spend so much energy trying to hold it all together, and then being pushed over the edge by the cars not being in the right order in the driveway, and having your dad ask you, “are you ok? Are you really crying over this?” is enough to make the tears come. Because it might seem silly, but it’s not just one thing, it’s everything.

This is depression and anxiety. And maybe I’ll get backlash for this post. But I don’t care. Social media wants smiling girls with flawless skin. But they get me with red eyes and smeared makeup. This is me and my struggles: real and raw and unfiltered. Six months ago, I had a breakdown at the gym because trying to hide nine years worth of pain and hurt finally broke the dam. And now I have to live my truth, even if it makes others uncomfortable. This is my life: it’s not perfect. It’s messy and painful and sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

My name’s Kaleigh. I’m 23. I was raped. I struggle everyday with depression and anxiety. And right now, the suicidal thoughts are worse than they’ve ever been. But I’m not giving up because I have faith and hope and trust that life will become more manageable. I have a God of John 11:35 who wept, who cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And his faith is strong enough for the both of us.

And I wasn’t really ready to talk about what happened on Thursday, and in a way, I’m still not. But, here’s the thing: today marks eight years since I attempted suicide. Eight years since I survived. Eight years since I got a second-chance. But that’s not an accomplishment. That’s really nothing to cheer over because to be honest, it’s not the last time I’ve thought about it, not the last time I’ve had pills in hand ready to end it all.

As I was hanging in my pastor’s office the other day, I made a joke about how I haven’t really slept in three months. And he simply responded, “Kaleigh, I don’t know how you keep on keeping on.”

The truth is, I don’t know either.

I don’t know because it’d be so much easier if I just… didn’t.

Which brings me to Thursday.

And I don’t really know how to tell you what happened, but I’m going to do my best because I’m trying my best to survive.

I don’t know when it started: if it started at group therapy, or the car ride to church for double-booked meetings, or if it was during the twenty-somethings gathering that I attended after my first meeting. But somewhere along the line, the panic set in. The worst panic I ever felt, and I wish I could describe to you what it felt like. But imagine this: you’re sitting in a warm room and then someone opens the door to the outside where it’s freezing and windy and snowy. The warmth has now been sucked out suddenly, and in its place is frigid, icy air.

And that’s sort of what it felt like: all the warmth I was expecting to find didn’t exist. I felt so empty. So close to tears. So full of anger and sadness and fear. And that’s the problem with my life right now: I feel either everything all at once or nothing at all.

Except on Thursday: I felt nothing and everything, like a Black Hole sucking out all my joy and a geyser spewing out every possible feeling ever.

And then I got home, and I found that I was the last one home, which meant my car was now in the back, even though I was going to be the last one to leave home on Friday. And that for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I called my dad from the driveway and asked “Where do I park?” I tried to disguise the tears in my eyes. And after I hung up the phone, I started shaking uncontrollably because it’s all a disaster, everything’s a disaster. After a few minutes of sitting in my driveway, I was finally able to turn off the car and walk inside, and when I ran into my dad at the top of the stairs and he asked me, “Where did you park?” I fell apart.

I started sobbing uncontrollably. And in between tears and sobs, I managed to choke out, Behind Hannah, but she has to leave before me so someone’s going to have to move my car, and this whole thing is just inconvenient.

But it was more than just the cars; it was more than just me being an inconvenience. It was about everything and anything. Because the cars being out of order was just the catalyst that caused the dams and levees to break and the city of New Orleans to flood all over again.

Because I just kept repeating, the cars are out of order, and someone’s going to be inconvenienced. But what I meant was:

I was raped—because in that moment, all those memories came flooding back.

I wish I had a gun—because in that moment, all the suicidal thoughts I’ve ever felt came rushing back and all I really wanted to do was die.

I feel so alone—because nobody can ever really truly understand what I feel.

I feel everything I’ve ever felt, and it’s so hard to keep on keeping on.

In that moment, all the pain and hurt I’ve been hiding for years came flooding back, all of the things I’ve talked about in therapy, all the hurt I’ve kept inside came rushing back.

In that moment, I felt the most suicidal I’ve ever felt—even on the night I attempted suicide, I didn’t feel like this. So done. So tired. So weak.

I felt anxious and empty and alone and I just kept sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. And I know that I didn’t really do I great job of describing the complete mental anguish I was in, the complete emotional turmoil that had inundated me, and I hope that none of you ever feel the way I felt for that hour. Because being attacked from every side by your whole entire mind is the worst.

And then I slept for thirteen hours. And then I slept most of Friday. And today’s Monday, and I’m still trying to make sense of all of this: what happened on Thursday? Because it was the scariest hour of my life, and I’m terrified of feeling that way again.

Because depression is a bitch. And honestly, I’m really struggling. Honestly and truly, and I’m on medication and doing therapy but every day is still so hard. Every day I get out of bed is a miracle. And that’s what I want to celebrate—not what happened eight years ago.

I want to celebrate the every day. The “I got out of bed” today. The “I woke up breathing” today. Because somehow, I’m still here.

I’m still here, and maybe somedays I have a hard time believing that God exists, and that’s ok. Because on the days where I doubt, on the days where I use up all my faith just getting out of bed, I keep on going. Because God’s faith is big enough for the both of us.

And I’m going to keep being open and honest and real and raw and vulnerable. I’m going to do what I need to do to survive, nay, to thrive.

And I thank all of you for allowing me to be this way, for encouraging me to do so, for not giving up on me, even if I sometimes feel like giving up on myself.

Because God saved me eight years ago; He saved me on Thursday; He saves me everyday. And sometimes, I don’t know how to talk about it–any of it. But here’s the thing: maybe I don’t always have to have the right words; maybe speaking from the heart is enough.

 

And Jesus Wept

I was sitting in the first row of the choir loft of the sanctuary today, listening as my pastor prayed for peace of mind and hope and strength. And when he concluded, as my mind started to wander, and my thoughts started to get the better of me, he interrupted me, thankfully, by asking, “Out of all the thousands of Bible verses you have memorized, which is your favorite?”

Instantly, I panicked. My mind went blank. All the verses I have cataloged in the back of my brain by reference and topic instantly were sucked out of their storage containers by the cosmic vacuum that proves that the universe has a sense of humor. I could not remember a single Bible verse.

I eventually settled on Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” And then I added, I also love Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly realms.” 

But now, as a few hours have passed since my caught-off-guard moment, and all the Bible verses have reorganized themselves in my brain, I have a better answer: Ephesians 6:7 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”

I’m kidding; I’m kidding, sort of.

John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, states simply: Jesus wept. 

And for me, this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. You see, sometimes I think I’m alone in my pain–nobody understands how I feel; nobody will love me if they find out how hard it is for me to stay alive.

But, you see, Jesus does. Jesus understands how I feel; He loves me despite what’s happened to me, despite the battle raging inside of me. And He loves you, too.

I share my story because I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I feel sometimes. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their shame. I don’t want people to feel like nobody could ever understand what they’re going through.

As I’ve been open and honest about my story, especially how hard these last few months have been, I’ve noticed something: I have become the support system for other people. I have friends who message me when they’re having a panic attack because I understand what it’s like. I have friends who tell me “Hey, I was raped, too.” I have friends who tell me that they have also lived with depression for a while but have kept it to themselves for fear of being judged.

And here’s the thing, guys. I love every minute of it. I love every minute of hearing other people’s stories and having those people in my life who are brave enough to reach out. Because it’s taken me this long to figure out that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Maybe I can’t stop my own panic attacks or pull myself out of the darkest nights, but if I can be there for others, you bet your bottom dollar that I will be.

Here’s the thing: this week has been harder than most. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week, and I feel like I’m failing. Tonight at the gym, instead of sitting on the bench for five or ten minutes to collect my thoughts, I had to sit there for nearly an hour, blaring music, trying to drown out the world. And on the way home, I had to pull over because I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes; right now, life is so hard, and sometimes I feel so alone and like nobody understands.

But here’s the thing: God does. He weeps right along with me. In the moments when the panic sets in, He walks me through it. And during the nights when I’m not sure I’m going to live to see the sun, He wraps me up in His arms and carries me through the darkness.

I used to think that I was a terrible Christian because I was raped, because I have depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, because I sometimes still struggle with self-harm and battle an eating disorder that I thought I recovered from a long time ago.

I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. On the nights when I’m so tired, I can only let out a whisper of a prayer, God hears me. He has not forsaken me.

And one day, He’ll redeem me.

Because life is so so tough right now, but I have faith in the hope that I hold onto during the darkest nights.

I am a Child of God, and Jesus wept.

I’m Here

Friends, I call you friends because if you’re reading this, that’s what you are, many of you know my story; many of you have been on this journey with me for a long time. For those of you who don’t know my story or are relatively new to this blog, welcome. This is a place where I’m open and honest about my life and its struggles–from dealing with the aftermath of being raped, to battling an eating disorder and self-harm, to fighting suicidal urges and nine-year-old depression and lifelong anxiety.

I’m being honest once again. I’m not doing well, friends. I wish I could say I was. I wish I had better news. But these last six months have been hands down the hardest time of my life, the biggest battle, and there are many nights when I’m lying in bed absolutely 100% convinced that I’m not going to make it to see the sun rise. And I don’t want to feel this way. Sometimes I’m ashamed that I feel this way. Sometimes, I even feel guilty for feeling this way after surviving a suicide attempt, like I should be happy that I’m alive when so many other people do not get a second chance.

And I am happy. I’m so so grateful because there are still so many things I want to do with my life. But here’s the thing about Depression and Anxiety and Mental Illness in general: it doesn’t care about second chances and gratefulness and the love and support you have around you. It can hit anyone at any time. Girls carry pepper spray to protect themselves from creepy guys in the night. We carry guns and pocket knives for our own protection. But how do we protect ourselves from ourselves? How do we protect ourselves from the power of our own thoughts?

For so long, I tried to block them out: you’re worthless. You’re better off dead. No one wants you here. No one will ever love you. But the more I tried to block them out, the stronger and louder they became. It’s kind of like when you get a song stuck in your head, and the more you try to ignore it, the more it gets stuck. Or like when you’re lying in bed at night trying to sleep, and the instant you’re about to fall into complete and total relaxation, your mind decides that that’s a great time to start singing “The Ants Go Marching One by One,” and you try to fight it, but by the time you get to The Ants Go Marching 543 by 543, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to use the rhyme “the little stopped to climb a tree” one more time.

It’s like that.

And the problem with trying to block them out is that one day, you’ll be too tired. You won’t be able to block them out anymore, and then they’ll be overpowering. That’s happened to me exactly twice in my life: once on the night I attempted suicide almost eight years ago, and once on a Friday night at the gym about six months ago; the difference between these two times is that this time, they haven’t let up. It’s been six straight months of this feeling that I’m not going to make it out of this. It’s been six straight months of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had, full-blown depression, and straight-up panic attacks.

Back in September, I drove myself to the Emergency Room because I wanted to die. And since that afternoon, I’ve fought over and over and over again to stay alive.

I want nothing more than to be here, guys. I want nothing more to live a full life and to die in my sleep at the ripe age of old. I want nothing more than to be fixed–wholly and completely. But here’s the thing I’ve learned: this isn’t fixable. The therapy I go to and the medication I take isn’t going to fix how I feel. They’ll make it more manageable, and they’ll make the ground underneath my feet a little bit firmer, but there’s no magician on the other side of the rabbit hole of my thoughts waiting to pull me out of his hat and say, “Tada–You’re healed.”

But there is God. And there is hope. And every day I’m reminded of all of that.

And despite how hard all of this has been–feeling everything and nothing and hopelessness and hopefulness and wanting to die and fighting to live–I still show up. I show up to the gym and work and Bible Quizzing and family gatherings and church and all my scheduled therapy sessions–both individual and group. I show up to laughter and tears and music and writing and coffee with friends. I show up to life even if life doesn’t show up to me. I show up to feel, even if I can’t feel anything. I show up, despite the fact that most days, I have to stop myself from crying in public. I fight like hell to survive even though somedays the feeling that I’d be better off dead is so strong.

So, yes, these past six months have been the worst. And I don’t know when they’ll get better. And most days I’m not doing well. But I’m trying my best.

Because life is so so beautiful. There’s beauty in sunsets and sunrises and freshly fallen snow and laughter and sadness and happiness and tears. And I have hope, this indescribable “I can do all things” kind of hope that I try so hard to hold on to when everything within me is telling me to give up.

As he walked into work today, my pastor asked me how I was doing. And I replied, Honestly, not that well. Last night was hard and today is hard, but I am here.

What I didn’t say was that I was barely holding it together–I’m barely holding it together, guys.

But I am here. And I’m trying my best.

And I am thankful for that.

 

 

 

Here’s to the Ones Who Try So Hard

One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.

One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.

You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.

You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.

You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.

You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.

It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.

You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.

And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.

And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.

When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.

The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.

A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.

And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.

And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.

Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.

Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.

Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.

Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.

 

 

Six Years and Losing Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do with me what you will.

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

Dear Orlando,

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

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

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

response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry for everything.

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

We are one People; one body.

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

I will try not to forget anymore.

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

 

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

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve already done ill.

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

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

There’s a Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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