It Was Good: Finding God in a Mental Breakdown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did. Sometimes, I still do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is true.

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

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

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

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

 

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Suicide In the Snowy Moonlight

Seven years ago–February 12, 2010–was a day much like today: it was dark, dreary, and cold. Forecasters were calling for snow, and a thin layer of fog blanketed the sky, creating a palpable sense of heaviness and uneasiness. A perfect storm was brewing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the day I tried to die.

For some people, the thought of someone actively trying to kill themselves is unfathomable–it goes against ever innate response in the human body. Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive, and, most of the time, doctors try to prolong life as long as possible. But sometimes our body’s will to survive can be overpowered by the brain: mind over matter, as some people would say.

For some people, their suicide is carefully planned: the day, the hour, the method are all accounted for; arrangements are made; goodbyes are said. For some people, like me, it’s sudden, unplanned, a split second decision (or lack thereof), a brief moment of your brain saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” a moment where your brain turns off.

Those of you who know me, know my story. Those of you who don’t, reading any of my blog posts will fill you in on the events that lead up to my suicide attempt. This post is not the place.

This post is about the moments right before, during, right after, and years later. This post is me, trying to make sense of everything, seven years later.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the events leading up to and the moments immediately following my suicide attempt. Trying to recall them is like trying to remember the one movie you saw once a long time ago, and when you try to describe it to your friends you’re like, “You know that one movie with that one scene where such-and-such a thing happens,” and you start to get frustrated because you can see what happened but you can’t quite put it into words. It’s kind of like that. Or it’s kind of like the time you knock yourself out when you go sledding with your Youth Group and get a concussion: you can remember being at the top of the hill and then being back at the top of the hill, but everything in between is kind of fuzzy.

I don’t remember writing the note, swallowing the pills, or even how many I took. I can’t even tell you how long I laid there before I threw the pills back up. Time has a way of being distorted: some moments seem like forever, and some seem like no time at all. It’s like that time I was raped, and it felt like I was lying there for hours, but in reality, it only took fifteen minutes.

I don’t remember how long I laid on my bed. But I remember watching the snow fall outside my window; the moon was bright that night, casting shadows of falling snow on the opposite wall. I remember feeling so heavy and so tired that I closed my eyes. I remember being jolted awake by a quiet whispering voice, like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day. “You’ll be ok.” (if I ever get a tattoo, that will be the one.)

I remember throwing up the pills, shoving the letter I wrote into one of my many notebooks, and then not telling anybody what happened for a while. If I pretended it never happened, maybe I would just forget that it ever did.

But the thing about secrets is that keeping them is so hard–they’re hard to carry.

Eventually, they start bubbling up to the surface, threatening to pour out of your mouth at the wrong times. I remember the first person I told, and then the second. I remember sitting down in the teen room at my church with my Youth Pastor and a youth leader telling my parents, with the snow lightly falling outside.

I remember the look on my parents’ faces; my dad pulling me into a bear hug, squeezing me tight as if he never wanted to let me go.

I remember telling my friends and then my Youth Group (some of the relationships have never been the same but I’ve also made so many new ones). And now I’m sitting here, telling random people on the internet, although if you’re reading this, we can be friends, too.

I remember the years since that day: the good times and the bad. The healing and the step-backs.

For all the things I don’t remember, there are a million things that I do, whether I want to or not.

I have more questions than I have answers: Why did I get a second chance when so many others do not? Why did this happen? What was the point of all this? 

Sometimes the guilt I feel for surviving when so many others do not makes it hard to get out of bed. Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve a second chance; maybe I’ll mess it up, but sometimes, I’m ever so grateful.

It’s been seven years since that night, and I’m trying to make the most of every moment. I have faith that God has a marvelous plan for my future, one that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I try to remember my past because it makes me grateful for the moments I’ve been given, the moments yet to come.

A few years ago, I found the suicide note. I ripped it up and threw it out the car window while I was driving, watching the pieces of who I once was blow around in the wind.

It’s been seven years, and the scar on my wrist (that I don’t remember cutting) from that night is not really a scar anymore. It’s more of a faint line of lighter skin among skin that’s slightly darker: light in the darkness, reminding me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

It’s supposed to snow tonight. And I hope there’s a moon. Something about the way that the moonlight reflects off the snow making the night seem brighter than it should be is so beautiful.

I live for the beauty, and I hope the world is more beautiful with me in it because I know it is with you.

 

 

 

 

Black Holes and the Light That Escapes

There’s this idea about Suicide: that it’s a choice; that it’s selfish. I’ve never seen it that way.

We all make choices every day. We choose what clothes to wear; what to eat for breakfast; what route to take to work (depending on if we’re late or not); what to have for dinner; what to fill our evening spare time with; what time to go to bed.

Our body’s natural instinct is life–it fights like hell to keep us alive. It’s the Fight or Flight Response in dangerous situations. It’s why you can’t manually strangle yourself because as soon as you pass out, your lungs will start breathing again.  It’s why our lungs burn after holding our breath for too long as we dive down to the bottom of the pool.

In people like me, who suffer from Depression, or in those who suffer from similar mental illnesses, there is sometimes a disconnect between our body and our minds. Our bodies work so hard to keep us alive while our minds are trying to convince us that death is better.

Depression is like a black hole–so thick and dense and gravity filled that no light, no anything can escape. I have days like that: days when it’s easier to lie in bed, when the weight of the expectations placed on me by myself and others is so heavy I feel like it’s compressing my chest, when the gravity of my past is heavier than my hopes for the future. On days like that, my mind is playing a tug-of-war game with my body. My mind wins for a while, but then my body kicks in–helping me put one foot in front of the other, shoveling food into my mouth, even though I tell myself I don’t deserve it; helping me get dressed, pulling one arm through my shirt and then the other; helping me get out of the house; making me exercise, because even though I don’t want to do it, it’ll help me in the long run; helping me do all the things I enjoy because maybe they’ll make me happy again.

Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive. But on those days where my body is doing all the work and my mind is working so hard against it, I feel like a zombie, like I’m going through the motions. I’m physically present, but not all there–like a stranger me watching myself on TV. My body does all the work while my mind is dead weight.

On the night I attempted suicide, my body was on auto-pilot. It’s like it was tired from fighting my mind every day, it just gave up. The time between going to bed and throwing the pills up is almost a complete blur. I remember bits and pieces: writing the note, swallowing the pills, the voice whispering, “You’ll be ok.” but it’s like I wasn’t in control. I was like a zombie being sucked in by a black hole, doomed to never escape, to be sucked in and pulled apart atom by atom. But then something–God, my inner instinct to survive, whatever you want to call it–kicked in.

Scientists don’t know a lot about black holes.Theoretical physicists posit that they may be able to be used for time travel–that if you can travel through one fast enough that you may be able to travel to the past or maybe even the future.

Some nights when the darkness is bad, I find myself being transported back to that school bathroom. I’m transported back to when I was raped–feeling them touch my body all over again, hearing the words they whispered into my ear Slut, bitch, worthless.  Sometimes I’m transported back, and I’m watching it unfold like it’s not happening to me, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it, which is worse.

The mornings after these dark nights, I look in the mirror and the dark circles under my hollowed out eyes remind me of someone else, who I was years ago when I was too far gone to ask for help.

Dark holes are too dark to be physically seen, but scientists know where they are by the way they affect the space around them.

I know that depression and mental illness is real because of the way it makes me feel: empty, alone, worthless.

On the good days, the intrusive thoughts are hypotheticals: what if I? What if I drove into a tree? What if I jumped from this balcony? What if I swallowed all these pills that fell into my hand? What if I cut myself using this razor? These are the at least I’m still alive days.

On the bad days, the intrusive thoughts are commands: do this. Sometimes they’re dares. Drive into a tree (you won’t). Jump (you won’t). Swallow these pills (it’ll be fun). Cut yourself (it’ll feel good). These are the zombie days.

On the really good days, there are no intrusive thoughts. On the really good days, I am productive and happy and free. These are the few and far between days.

For every one thing scientists know about black holes, there are a million things they don’t know.

My biggest question is: do they end? Or do they just go on forever, ad infinitum, to inifinity and beyond?

I like to imagine that at some point instead of being all black and dense and gravity filled, that they change to light and sparse and zero gravity. And instead of being sucked in and ripped apart, you float and are put back together. Order to the chaos. Restortation to the destruction. Yang to the Yin.

Even if the possibility of that is slim to none, I like to believe it’s true because I know that darkness isn’t all there is.

Because I used to think that my fear of heights was because I was afraid of falling. Then one day I realized it’s because I am afraid of jumping.

And when the intrusive thoughts come back, and I’m tempted to just jump, I’m reminded of the time I went to the mall in Guatemala, and as I looked down from the sixth floor parking structure, I realized that I didn’t want to jump. I live for that feeling again.

I stopped swimming and taking baths because I was afraid of drowning, but I now trust my body to keep me alive.

I know that darkness is just the absence of light, and on my darkest days I look at the stars, because on the darkest, clearest of days, a single candle can be spotted 30 miles away (if the earth was flat).

I have hope that on the other side of black holes, flashes the most spectacular light.

How To TipToe Around Depression

 

  1. Pick out your clothes the night before because mornings take too much effort. Change your mind two or three times while lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come. The next morning, try on every outfit you own that fits the occasion. Be happy with none of them. Wear the last outfit you try on because you are now running late.
  2. Set more alarms than is necessary for the morning: one which is the ideal time to get up, and one which is the last possible minute needed to get ready and just make it out the door in time. Hit snooze on all of them. Because, once again, mornings take too much effort.
  3. Decide one morning you don’t need to wear make-up because you’re beautiful anyway. Take a selfie to document the occasion. Freak out because your nose looks bigger than you remember it being. Contemplate getting a nose job. Talk yourself out of it because it’s permanent, and the finality of using a sticker is enough to stress you out.
  4. Breathe in. Hold it. Count to five. Breathe out, trying to slow your racing heart, which is only outpaced by your racing thoughts.
  5. Get bangs that cover your eyebrows. There are more important things to be worried about (i.e., everything) than doing your eyebrows.
  6. Write down everything that happens on anything you can find: receipts in your wallet, iPhone notes, random scraps of paper found in the deepest recesses of your over-sized purse. Remember what it’s like to feel on your darkest days. Live to feel these things again.
  7. Take pictures of every beautiful thing you see: sunrises and sunsets; flowers and gardens; fields and clouds; coffee and food. Don’t let anybody take away your joy by reducing you to a stereotype—you are anything but.
  8. Wake up in the middle of the night needing to pee. Put it off until you can’t hold it any longer. You stumble half-asleep down the hall, past the stairs, avoiding looking down. You’re not scared of the dark. You’ve come to accept it; it’s the unknown human-like shadows that freak you out. When you wash your hands, avoid looking in the mirror above the sink. You don’t necessarily believe those ghost stories, but you’d rather not find out. At 3 am, when you’re not fully awake, you look like a ghost of yourself anyway.
  9. Walk through your local cemetery. Take note of the gravestones: the startings and the endings; the oldests and the youngests; the epitaphs and the ones that say nothing. Wonder what yours will say—not in a macabre way, but in a “will I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish” way. Make up stories of those buried there (it’s a different form of people-watching, something you love to do). Your grandfather’s been dead for 10 and a half years. He’s been buried for a few months less than that. You haven’t yet visited his grave—you don’t handle death well.
  10. Eat freely. Love deeply. Remember what it was like when you deprived yourself of food and love.
  11. Dream big. Don’t be afraid to fail. Being a Bills’ fan has helped you learn how to deal with disappointment.
  12. Become an English major. Worry that you ruined your life because “it’s not a practical degree.” Tell people you’re not a practical person. You follow your heart and not your head. You see the world in shades of grey, not black and white.
  13. Lie in bed at night thinking about every possible outcome to every possible scenario so you’re not surprised when they happen. Write dialogue for possible conversations in your head. That way, when you do work up the courage to speak, you don’t make a fool of yourself.
  14. Remember words are your most powerful tool and weapon.
  15. Give names to your intrusive thoughts. Call them out when they fill your head with stupid ideas: “No, Fred. I will NOT drive headfirst into this tree.” “Shut up, Gertrude. I know there are about 20 Advil in my hand right now, but I only need two.” You are too busy trying to live to listen to those that drag you down.
  16. Remember you are not a walking billboard for depression. You are so much more than one word. You are smart, funny, kind, musical, and children and animals seem to like you. So, in the grand scheme of things, you can’t be that bad.
  17. Sleep with headphones playing nothing in. The crickets outside your window have been extra noisy lately. Depression needs silence to sleep. You’ve discovered that after so many years of co-habitation, you do too.
  18. Set your alarm for the quietest setting you can. You are a light sleeper. Maybe if you can get ready and leave the house quickly and quietly, depression will stay sleeping. If it wakes up, it will chase you. It’s like a dog, but unlike a dog, there’s nothing cute about any of this.
  19. When you are struggling, call it out. Give it a name. Say, “Yes. I have Depression. But I am not Depression. I am a human who is living with it. I am strong. I am a fighter. I will not give up.”
  20. If all this fails, try again tomorrow.

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.

 

Rape Joke

“Hey, did you hear the one about the girl who got raped?”

The punchline is that she was 13 years old.

The punchline is that he slammed her locker shut every day because he liked her.

The punchline is that when he asked her out, she said, “No.”

The punchline is that he decided to take matters into his own hands, along with the hands of four of his closest friends, to show her what she would be missing.

After it was over, the punchline tried not to make eye contact with her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tried to clean herself off and hide the bruises shaped like hands and teeth as best as she could. She exited the bathroom, walked down the hall of the deserted middle school, opened her locker (half expecting it to be slammed shut immediately, and when it wasn’t, breathed a sigh of relief). She exited the building, lonely footsteps echoing behind her, got into her dad’s car, and pretended it didn’t happen—everything was fine.

The rape joke is that he sat behind her in English class. His breath on her neck was the only thing she could focus on, making it very hard to concentrate on whatever work of art they read that last month of class, especially that first one: that poem by Emily Dickinson, “My life is like a loaded gun.” 7 years later, she thought it would be fun to take an Emily Dickinson class. She’d be fine. And she was, until that poem when she found herself transported back to that moment.

The rape joke is that her professor asked her what she thought it was a metaphor for. She didn’t know how to say she thought about all the memories this poem brought back, how it could be a metaphor for all of that. “I think it’s just about a loaded gun,” she said.

The rape joke is the way he didn’t threaten her, at least not really. He just said, “no one will believe you.”

The rape joke is that earlier that year, she was taught in Health class how to not get raped. Fat lot of good that lesson did her: she wasn’t drunk; she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes; she wasn’t outside, at night, alone.

The rape joke is that his locker was right next to hers because life likes cruel irony and alphabetical order is the most convenient way to organize everybody (a terrible thing really), and he still slammed her locker shut every day.

The rape joke is that on the last day of school, when they both opened their lockers at the same time, he didn’t slam hers shut. Instead, he whispered in her ear, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” And then he dared to smirk: an insult to injury, really. Maybe if you had, people would believe me when I’m ready to tell, when I’m ready to stop pretending this didn’t happen, she thought to herself. Which is a terrible thing to think, but when you’re 13, you sometimes think terrible things.

The rape joke is that the first time she told somebody who wasn’t a close friend or family, they responded, “Don’t feel bad. It could’ve happened to anybody.” Translation: Lucky her; close call, everyone else who’s last name is similar.

The rape joke is that a few years later, she had to break up with her boyfriend because of this joke. Because every time he put his arm around her, she was transported back to that bathroom. And even though he knew what had happened, he didn’t understand she needed space. But she blamed herself really for believing she could be loved in the first place.

For the longest time, she thought she was going crazy. And she was.

No offense.

No offense (that it happened to her).

No offense (that she buried the pain so deep, it took cutting her skin open to feel anything).

No offense (that the words said would echo in her mind for years to come: Bitch. Slut. You’ll never be loved. You don’t have to cut hard enough to leave a scar in order to draw blood).

No offense (that she went crazy, that it took her years to find her voice again but eventually she found it when she started writing about monsters and darkness, caves and loneliness).

No offense (it took a long time for her to forgive).

No offense (it’s just a joke).

The punchline is that she’s not the only one this has happened to. Among her acquaintance group, she knows of at least six others. That number grows every year, standing in solidarity, alone together.

The punchline is that she knows guys this has happened to. Nobody believes them, either.

The punchline is that we have to feel pain to become stronger, but does it have to hurt this bad?

The punchline is that our past doesn’t define us, but it does help make us who we are today.

But no offense.

The rape joke is funny because the punchline is me.

The punchline is at least I was pretty enough for it happen to me, but then how come sometimes it makes me feel so ugly?

The punchline is that this joke doesn’t define who I am.

“Come on. Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

If it’s just a joke, shouldn’t I be laughing?

It took me years to really truly laugh again.

I’m finally laughing again.

But not at this because nothing about this is funny, especially when it happens to you.

 So, yeah. I’ve heard the one about the Girl who got raped.

Have you? 

Letter to My Biggest Bully

This letter has been a long time coming—forgiveness has been a long time coming. And it’s not like I haven’t tried to forgive; I have.

I’ve forgiven others.

I’ve forgiven my rapists for what they did to me, for the years of pain and anguish they caused me, for changing the trajectory of my life.

I’ve forgiven God for the injustices I perceived He let happen to me, even though He did absolutely nothing wrong. But when you’re hurting, you need someone to blame.

I’ve forgiven the friends who walked away when I needed them the most, even though they had every right to, because when you’re depressed, you tend to sabotage relationships.

I’ve forgiven those who bullied me throughout Middle School and High School because someone has to. And in order to move forward, I have to step out of the past, even if that means never going to a High school reunion.

I’ve forgiven those who have caused me harm, who have hurt me mentally and physically. But I haven’t been able to forgive you, yet.

Until now.

I had forgiven everybody else, but I hadn’t been able to forgive my biggest bully: me.

I forgive you—I mean, me. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for allowing the opinions of others to become the way I defined you. I’m sorry for the way my voice began to echo and mirror what other’s said about you. It’s hard enough to ignore being called ugly, fat, unworthy if it’s someone else’s voice doing the calling, but when it’s your own voice that suddenly becomes your biggest nightmare, it’s next to impossible.

I’m sorry for silencing you. I’m sorry for making you feel like you couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t speak up about what you were going through and struggling with because every time you looked in the mirror, you said something mean about yourself. It’s hard to speak up when every though that sprints (and then trips and hangs around for a while) in your mind is harsh and cruel. You believe in Thumper’s mantra: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. And you couldn’t, so you didn’t, even if speaking up could’ve saved your life.

I’m sorry for making you hate your reflection. I’m sorry for making you feel unloved and unworthy and how all of that unworthiness translated into not eating. Now you’re stuck learning how to do all of that again, because once upon a time you ate too little, then too much, and now you have to learn how to find the perfect middle. Learning how to love yourself again is so hard, but I promise it will be so worth it.

I’m sorry for making you believe that your whole identity and lovability was definied by your attractiveness.

I’m sorry for allowing you to become some numb and full of hate that the only relief was found in a knife (or a razor, or scissors. Whatever was convenient).

I’m sorry for making you believe that you weren’t beautiful the way you were, and are, and will continue to be.

I’m sorry for becoming your worst enemy when you needed me to be your biggest advocate. I’m sorry for abandoning you, for causing you to lose yourself when you really needed to be found.

I’m sorry for the tears cried, the blood shed, the scars gained, the pounds lost. I’m sorry for trying to die.

I’m sorry for all of it.

But mostly I’m sorry for taking so long to realize how much I hurt you. I’m sorry for taking so long to apologize. I’m sorry for taking so long to forgive you.

It’s hard to forgive others, and it’s even harder to forgive yourself.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to say: I forgive you. (I forgive myself.)

Most of all, I’m ready to accept your apology. (I’m ready to accept my own apology.)

I’m ready to step into the future together: past me and present me. I’m ready to combine the two to prepare for future me. I’m ready to learn from my past mistakes and apply them to what I will encounter down the road on the journey ahead.

Because I don’t know where this future leads, but I am ready to take that journey—together.

Me of 2014, Here’s to You: A Year in Review

At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.

Dear Me of January 1, 2014,

In 2014, you will:

  • be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
  • experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
  • be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
  • receive an unexpected apology.
  • experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
  • deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
  • celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
  • rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
  • make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
  • be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
  • stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.

In 2014, you will:

  • realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
  • learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
  • learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
  • learn to appreciate the little things.
  • have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.

In 2014, you will:

  • come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
  • learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
  • learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
  • encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
  • call people out on their behavior.
  • realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
  • learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.

In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.

For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.

In 2015, you will:

  • graduate from college.
  • find a job.
  • learn to love yourself more.
  • ?

It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.

“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”

  • pray
  • hope
  • trust.

Sincerely,

The You of December 31, 2014.

Recovery- A Sonnet Sequence

  1. When in the mirror I myself do see,

The face is not one I recognize look-

ing back. It looks almost maybe like me,

at times. If not, my confidence is shook.

Pinpointing events like candles in wind.

On, off, flickering, blowing, out they go,

Innocence lost when they against me sinned:

My white to black to red is what I know.

My red to black to white turns back again.

A plague upon my soul has fallen now.

My skin has scars pinpointing where I’ve been.

My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

The sky is dark; the sun begins to frown.

As flowing water,redemption comes down.

  1.  As flowing water, redemption comes down,

and washing fears and tears away and make-

ing me as new. I desire that you take

away this weight. I don’t want to drown.

I want to live on earth and see it’s brown

and green. This universe has claimed some stake

in existence. I have to be awake.

So life can live, and I can claim my crown.

My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

A fire burned and turned me into dust.

The rain it came and brought me back to life.

A garden grew as I, despite the strife.

I choose to live and living well I must,

My past defineith not my fate I vow.

  1. My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

I shalt not give up even when the go-

ing toughens up. The wind may blow this bough,

I, however, will falleth not. I grow

and grow and grow for now. I cannot fail.

I shall not fail. I have to be awake.

My strength is growing. Faith will now prevail.

Believing gravity is, for my sake,

the only way my legs won’t fail me when

I wake. Because now’s not the time for drop-

ping, testing, fighting. Three stars out of ten.

My life has dealt this card. I have to stop

pinpointing events like candles in wind,

innocence lost when they against me sinned.

  1. Innocence lost when they against me sinned.

I tried to test gravity once. Instead,

I sproured wings and flew. Sometimes I bled

and bled. The scars my skin bears, like the wind,

remind my present where I’ve been. I sinned

against my body when I tried to shred

this skin given me. Sometimes words unsaid

can devour me alive. How unkind.

Somehow, despite everything tried by me,

I still will rise every morning, noon,

and night. It matters not I swear. How can

this be? I seem to have up there a fan:

alive despite all. I will smile soon

when in the mirror I mysef do see.