20 Hours in the Psych ER: 6 Months Later

“Get off me! Get off me! Get off me!” The words echoed down the hall of the Psych ER as they brought in a teenager, restrained against the gurney, screaming for his life. It was just over six months ago. It was a Tuesday at 5:30 am. I remember it vividly.

The only clock on the floor, the only sign that time was passing, was right through the double-paned windows to the left of the borrowed bed from upstairs (there were no beds available in the actual psych ward, so everybody was camped out in the ER; by the time I got there on Monday at 5:00 pm, there were people that had been around for two days. So, they had to bring up beds because they ran out of couches and chairs). My “bed” was right by the Nurses’ station because I watched the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and the Lions (surprise: the Giants lost). After the game was over, I was too mentally exhausted to even think about moving so I stayed put, pulling two chairs together to make a makeshift semblance of comfort, of home. Eventually, they brought one of those reclining hospital chairs for me to use, hoping I could get some sleep.

I didn’t sleep. Not until my dad left.

That’s when the screaming started, and I was jolted awake from the semi-deep sleep I was in, having a flashback to the day I, too, said those words: different circumstances, but same terror.

I mean, if you’re going to have a flashback, the best place to do it is the Psych ER because there, the guy who’s been there three days already will come sit next to you because he wants you to feel safe, because he noticed the tears streaming down your face when the nurse asked you what was wrong and you said “He just wants to go home.”

Because we all want to go home.

I want to go home, I say as I’m sitting on my couch writing this. Home is where we feel safe. And the truth is, I haven’t felt safe anywhere in who knows how long. And I want to feel safe, and I want to be strong without coming across as weak. I don’t want people to view me as weak, which really is just a sense of pride. But I’m not proud of who I am.

Because, sometimes, I’m ashamed when I tell people how much I’m hurting, how much I’m struggling.

And I wish I could accurately explain to you how much I’m struggling, how much I’m hurting, how much I’m remembering. There are days when I go up to church, even if I’m not working that day, simply because I don’t want to be alone–I shouldn’t be alone, and it’s one of the places I can go where I know there are people around, people who know me and love me and know what I’m going through, but who care for me anyway.

And I don’t know how to describe to you what a blessing that is because right now, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling so many things (my therapist likes to call these “Crisis Moments” where the feelings I’m feeling are disproportionate for the moment), and the tears I’ve been holding in all day can’t be held in any longer.

And I’m ashamed.

This isn’t how I want to be.

I’ll worry about any one else, but I don’t want people to worry about me: I don’t want to be a burden because all I’ve wanted to do my whole life was lighten people’s load, make their lives easier. When my youngest cousin was in diapers, I’d be the one to change them simply because I didn’t want anyone else to be inconvenienced.

I don’t want to be an inconvenience.

And people graciously put up with me (and sometimes I’m not sure why).

And I wrote a blog post last night (and so many people read it, more than I was expecting), and I thought it was the hardest one I’ve ever written, but it wasn’t. This one is.

This one is because there are so many things I want to say, but  I don’t know how. This one is because I want so badly for there to be a future tense in my life, but I’m not even sure right now if I’ll always make it to tomorrow.

Because just over six months ago, I drove myself to the Psych ER. I parked in the parking garage, had a twenty-minute panic attack in my car, and then spent five minutes trying to convince myself not to jump off the side of the parking garage.  And since then, so much has happened: I started therapy, got put on meds, was diagnosed with PTSD after finally opening up to my new therapist. I’ve had panic attacks at the gym so bad that I’ve become actively suicidal, and, my brain, in order to protect me, made me sit down on a bench until it gave me the “All-clear.”

And if you asked me last night if I’d be writing this today, I’d have told you “no.” Because I thought for sure I’d be dead.

Because here’s the thing about suicide that so many people get wrong: it’s not a choice. There’s no thought, no plan; there’s only action.

When the psychiatrist asked me that Tuesday morning after spending 16 hours waiting to be seen if I ever had a plan, I said “No.” Because that’s the truth.

I’ve had moments.

Just moments.

Moments where I’m feeling everything at once: panic and empty and sadness and shame and guilt. And it’s all too much.

Moments that last hours: where my body’s telling me one thing and my mind’s telling me another.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes suicide is thought out. Sometimes people do have a plan: they have a time and a date and the how scribbled somewhere in the calendar of their minds.

But for me, someone who’s always tried to plan so carefully, someone who always looks at her calendar because she feels like she’s forgetting something, there’s no plan: just a moment.

A pivotal moment: a crisis moment. When the sum of my feelings is greater than the sum of my mental willpower. A moment when there’s action or inaction and I can’t always be sure which is better.

And that’s what scares me the most. Because logically I know that this is not the answer and that life is beautiful and that there are brighter days ahead and so on and so forth and what not, but there’s nothing logical about any of this.

And I’m hurting, even as I sit here writing this, my mind is a million places at once: trying to convince me that I’d be better off dead, planning for my future, working on the next great American novel, wondering what I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow (probably grilled cheese in case you’re wondering). But despite all this distraction, there’s still this dominant feeling inside, a pain so great that’s crying out “DO YOU SEE ME NOW?!?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I’M HURTING? HOW MUCH I WANT TO BE DEAD.”

And it’s terrifying and exhausting: I don’t want to be dead. Kaleigh does not want to die. But the part that isn’t me: the part that’s traumatized, and as a result is suicidal, wants to die, and unfortunately, sometimes that part is louder and stronger and harder to fight.

And that’s where I was last night, where I’ve been so many nights in the last six months. I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it.

(And this is the part where I say I’m glad I don’t own a gun. Because on the nights like that, where emotions take over and impulsivity reigns, where the suicidal portion of me takes over, a gun would make everything easier. Because I took pills: I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I survived.)

I survived. And now I have to be.

I am.

I’m learning to just “be.”

Be in the moment: feel what I’m feeling. Validate what I use to invalidate. Identify what I’m feeling but not let it control me. Learn how to survive the crisis moment to get to a better life moment.

Be.

Finding happiness in the little moments; finding hope in the dark ones. Shining light on the darkest parts of myself to create a future tense.

Because as much as I want to be alive, there’s a part of me that doesn’t.

And I can’t silence her because her voice is just as valid as mine.

But I can live with her: and that’s the biggest irony of this whole thing: I have to learn to live with the parts of myself that don’t want to live.

Finding existence in the face of death.

And six months later, that’s all I’m trying to do.

Continue reading: Flight Risk: 20 Hours in the Psych ER

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We Don’t Talk About PTSD, But I Need To.

“You have PTSD, Kaleigh. You’ve probably had it for a while, but being sexually harassed every day over the summer definitely made it worse, brought the trauma of being raped back to the forefront of your mind. And now you have to process all these things that you’ve repressed for so long.” That’s basically what my therapist told me yesterday, as I sat crying in his office after replaying for him the harassment I faced every day this summer (I’m not going to replay that here; I’ve written blog posts about it.

My first thought was: I can’t have PTSD. I’ve never been to war. Other people have it worse.

But then, as I texted two of my very best friends, they said what I knew all along: We’ve known for a while.

I’ve known for a while. When I went to the Psych ER, the Psychiatrist who saw me before I was discharged said: I think you have it, but I don’t know you well enough to make an official diagnosis.

Well, yesterday, I got the official diagnosis. And my world turned upside down, or, actually, right-side up because now my whole life, especially the last 8 months make so much sense.

You see, back in July, I had a flashback at the gym. One minute, I was on the treadmill; the next minute, I was back in eighth grade in the school bathroom, pleading with five guys to get off me.

And it spiraled from there: multiple calls to the suicide hotline, trying to drive into trees, panic attacks at work or at the gym, nightmares and flashbacks.

It got to the point where I couldn’t go to the gym alone without having a panic attack so bad, I became actively suicidal. (Which, apparently, is another symptom of PTSD.) Most times, they were so bad, I had to sit on the bench in the hall because I knew if I got behind the wheel, I’d drive full speed into a tree.

I had to protect myself from myself.

One night, back in late October, I got so suicidal while at the gym, that I disassociated–some how I lost two hours, but it felt like 15 minutes.

And lately, it’s gotten worse.

Lately, my anxiety’s been so high, and I’m on high alert 24/7. I’m triggered more often than I’m not (I know that “triggered” means different things to different people, but let me tell you what it means in the mental health world: it means something that reminds me of my trauma. Sometimes, it’s little things: cologne or a sound. But, it’s also other things: some guy looked at me for too long in the store the other day and all of a sudden, I was suicidal. It explains why I freak out any tome someone walks up behind me. And it may sound ridiculous–and I mean, it sort of does. But here’s the thing: I’m traumatized.)

I’m traumatized more than I let myself believe. And now I have to validate my trauma. I have to say “yes, maybe some people have been through worse, but I’ve been through shit, too. And it’s affected me in profound and deep ways. I can’t invalidate myself anymore.”

I can’t invalidate myself anymore. I can’t just hold everything back. I can’t pretend to be ok. Because I’m not.

I’m not ok, and yesterday, my world was shattered. Because I now have a label, a diagnosis. But also, everything makes sense:

Now I know why being around certain people strikes fear in my heart. I know why sometimes I can’t sleep at night. I understand the Major Depression, the increased Generalized Anxiety, the increased suicidal desires when I have bad panic attacks.

I understand.

But what does this mean?

It means more intense therapy more often. It means I have to do individual therapy every week instead of every two (that’s coupled with the group therapy every week). It means learning what triggers me, what causes me to flashback (even on some unconscious level) to my trauma: certain voices, certain personalities, certain noises.

Also, it means that right now, I cant go to the gym. My friend started going with me a few months back because my panic attacks were so bad. But the fear of being around a lot of guys is way too much for my fragile mind to handle.

Besides, since I can’t cut off contact from humans completely, I have to limit the bad, which means I nix the gym.

Because it’s not just at the gym: it’s at Wegmans. It’s at work. It’s watching certain TV shows.

Some guy stood by the desk for a while having a conversation with one of the Pastors, and I started having a panic attack–something about him reminded me of something I’d rather forget. And I couldn’t handle that.

I can’t stop things like that from happening. I can’t stop myself from panicking every time a dad takes a pick-up-their-child ticket from my outstretched hand. I can’t stop myself from going to Wegmans.

But I can stop going to the gym.

And I’m trying to control what I can. Heal what I can. Feel what I can.

Because right now, I’m feeling so many things, which I suppose is better than feeling nothing.

But right now, 99% of the time, I want to die.

And I’m working through it. Little by little. Trying to take it one step at a time, one breathe at a time, one hour at a time.

I have PTSD, and it sucks, and I’m really really struggling right now.

But there’s so much more to me than 4 little letters.

And there are a whole lot of people out there who have said “hey, we love you and support you, and we’ll help you in any way we can.”

Because right now those 4 letters feel so heavy, but my community makes me strong.

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.

Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

One of my classmates died this week.

I’m still trying to figure out how to process this sudden, heart-wrenching loss. It’s hit me pretty hard—harder than I thought it would because we weren’t particularly close. Once upon a time, sure; maybe in Elementary school–when there are approximately 35 kids in your fifth grade class, everybody tends to be at least semi-friends with everybody else. And then Middle School happens, and suddenly you are introduced to 400-and-something other kids your age, and the relationships between the original 35 become weaker and weaker because there are new people, new relationships. So the semi-friendship between him and I became non-existent.

But then High school happened. And I began to see more of him because we were in the same classes. Our “once-weres” became our “are nows.”

From Kindergarten to BC Calc our Senior Year of High School, I knew him. For thirteen years of schooling, plus the four years since: seventeen years he’s been somebody that’s orbited around the edge of my world.

So, no, we weren’t close. But, I guess when you’ve known someone for seventeen years of your life, losing that someone can be painful.

That someone’s name is Jack. And let me tell you, he was one of the smartest, yet, most humble people I’ve ever known.

Even in Kindergarten, I knew he was probably one of, if not, THE, smartest person in the class. He was the pudgy kid with glasses, with a big brain and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He asked all the right questions, and never made any one feel stupid for not knowing something. He helped those who needed help, and he worked with those who didn’t need help. And it was always a race to see if anyone could finish their classwork before Jack did. When you did, you felt like the second smartest person in the room. (I don’t know if he ever knew people raced him to complete their work, but I like to imagine he did, and that maybe he sometimes let people win—that’s the kind of person he was.)

And as he matured, he grew into his pudge, but his big brain and insatiable hunger never disappeared. I remember so many classes in High school where he would get into mini debates with teachers about themes in the books we were reading in English, the ethics of an idea in Economics, what really caused an event in History, or even the best way to solve a problem in Calculus.

Speaking of calculus, he was probably the biggest reason I passed that class because when I would tell him I didn’t understand a problem, he would explain it to me in a simpler way.

He pushed everybody around him to be better, to work harder, to never grow tired of learning. He was always good for a laugh, a witty comment, encouragement, and a simpler explanation.

He was the most intellectually curious person I’ve ever meet. And everybody knew he was going to do great things with his life, and he did. He did so many wonderful things in the time he was here on earth.

It’s painful to know that there are so many things he’ll never get to accomplish, and my world’s been a little bit darker these last few days, as are so many other worlds as well I am sure. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been some light. My Facebook has been flooded with tributes to Jack by so many people who knew him: family, high school classmates, college classmates, people he’d met along the way. And it’s been amazing to see that the Jack to one person was the same Jack to another person; despite the relationship, he treated everybody the same way. The people who knew him better than I have so many of the same thoughts about him. He was so true to himself. He was humble. He made sure others were encouraged in difficult time. He helped others understand difficult things.

Death is difficult to understand.

Death is cruel because the world keeps on spinning even in the midst of tragedy. In a heartbeat, so many people’s lives are changed, but the world doesn’t stop. Death is cruel because it’s universal. It happens to everybody, and it’s not fair.

Grief has this way of making us nostalgic for memories we thought we had forgotten. It has a way of making us nostalgic for the people and places of our past.

When I heard the news, I went back through all my old Elementary school yearbooks, reminiscing on the good times and the bad times, wanting so much to relive—in a way—what once was, wondering what the relationships of the original 35 would be like now if our lives had played out differently.

But grief also has a way of making us nostalgic for the future. It has this way of making us do things differently—how am I going to live now that this has occurred? Am I going to live life differently? Can I do it long-term?

I don’t know any of the answers to so many questions. But I’m going to keep asking them anyway.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that questions are the way to learn more about this world.

I think we all have to ask more questions like Jack did because the only way to change the world is by learning about it.

The only way we can change our lives is by dreaming big and following our dreams.

Jack followed his dreams. He would want everybody (even those he didn’t know) to follow theirs.

 

 

 

 

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

Sunrise and Sunset: A Reflection on Six Years

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

My world’s not a quiet world. Within walking distance of my house there’s a grocery store, a drug store, five or six banks, a Target, a gas station, two churches, a Kmart, pizza places, coffee shops, and various other ways to spend money. Close your eyes, and you can hear the steady stream of traffic rushing past the house: horns honking, music pumping, mufflers that need fixing. It quiets down at nights sometimes, though (as long as the dogs don’t bark). I live in the “urban center” of my town—like living in the city without actually living in the city. I’ve gotten really good at tuning out the outside world.

My world’s not a quiet world. If it’s not the noise outside my house, it’s the noise inside my head. It’s the insecurities, the doubts, the past playing on repeat in my mind that are louder than whatever is going on outside. They’re impossible to turn off, hard to ignore, but eventually you learn how to cope. I’ve gotten really good at coping.

Here’s the thing: when I started working on this post a month ago, I wanted to give you a month’s worth of reasons not to kill yourself. Because when you’re depressed, life is just a series of days at a time: if I can get through this day and the next day and the next day, etc, eventually you’ll have a month. And then you repeat this step 12 times until you have a year, and then eventually, you’ll have a lifetime.

Who knows, maybe after more writing and rewriting, I’ll end up getting there.

But this is all I know right now: if I had my way six years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve struggled with guilt over the last six years, wondering why I got a second chance when so many others have not. And I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will.

I’m learning how to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.

My world’s not a quiet world. But this morning it was.

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

In the normally heavy traffic area, I was the only car. And through the mostly dark blue sky, streaks of cotton candy pink were beginning to emerge; the sun was beginning to shine through. As I sat there and took it all in: the way the drowsy sun illuminated the world under me, and the way the newly fell snow and icy rooftops dazzled and sparkled under the sun they reflected. As I waited for the light to turn green and marveled at the quiet beauty around me, a sense of calm came over me.

I thought to myself, “What a wonderful day to be alive.”

So, I don’t have a month’s worth of reasons to keep fighting, to keep breathing, to stay alive. I just have one: sunrise.

And I’m so grateful for the six additional years of sunrises and sunsets I have gotten to be a part of. Because nothing is better than realizing that the God who painted the beauty of dusk and dawn decided the world needed me too.

 

Continue Reading: Reasons to Keep Breathing

 

RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore

Eulogy for my Grandfather–9 years late

I remember where I was when I heard the news: I had just gotten home from a night at Youth Group, after a long afternoon of “Annie” rehersals. My parents sat the three of us down on their bed, and my Dad said, with tears in his eyes, “Boppa Guy died.”

I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of my lungs; my heart was pounding, and my eyes welled up with tears.

Your death hit me hard. I was in 6th grade, and at that point in my life, I didn’t know what fully death meant even though I had been to more funerals than weddings. Nobody so close to me had ever died before. All the deaths were such and such a person who had been “insert obscure relational title here.”

Your death was the first time somebody died that I had personally touched, whose voice I can remember clearly, whose laugh still rings in my ears. Your death was the first time a physical presence close to me had died.

Nine years later, I have come to understand what death literally means: a final cessation of all physical and mental activity. But nine years later, I have come to my own theories about death through my study of physics and my observations of how people interact with each other.

Yes, death is finite, unless you’re a Christian, in which case, death is temporary. But the finality of death is not important. What is important is what I’ve come to learn.

Physicists have this law called the “Law of Conservation of Energy,” which esentially states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it just is. The same amount of energy has existed since the universe has been created, and the same amount of energy will exist up until the moment the universe ceases to exist. The energy that exists today is the same energy that existed when George Washington walked this earth; it has just been transferred from one form to another over time: light, potential, kinetic, sound, etc.

This law walks hand-in-hand with my theory about death: a person dies when all of their energy has been transferred to other people (I’m not talking about physical energy that one can obtain from eating food. I’m talking about the energy that makes up the universe, the energy that a person is made up of: personality, beliefs, what some people call an “Aura”). For people who die young, either the have less energy to start out with or they transfer it more quickly. For people who die when they’re 116, they either start out with more energy or they transfer it more slowly over time.

I’ve come to discover that people start to resemble the people they hang out with the most, like how married couples begin to look alike, except my mannerisms begin to resemble the people I hang out with the most. My vocabularly has expanded and reshifted to mirror the vocabulary of the people I know the best. My personality changes depending on the group of people I’m hanging out with. This is the transfer of energy to which I am referring.

I don’t have any direct proof for any of this, of course. It’s all speculation based on observations and physics, but I’d like to believe that it’s true.

If it’s true, we have the potential to affect people generations from now, not just because of the laws we make, the legistlation we pass, how we leave the environment. But we also have the potential to impact people generations from now because of the transfer of energy. Theoretically, the energy you give off, the energy you transfer from one person to another could be vibrating and reverberating in the universe a hundred years from now, or at least, technically, in the gene pool of your descendants.

Physicists have also discovered that there are rays of light called photons that can pass through objects as they are drawn into the ground. I like to believe that all these particles that have bounced off people’s face, travelled through these people, on the way to their final distance (or where ever photons go) have had their paths forever changed because they came in contact with these people. I like to believe that the same photons that came in contact with Jesus have, at some point, come in contact with me, a legacy 2000 years in the making.

I have no proof of any of these, Grandpa. But it’s been nine years since you died, and sometimes the facial expressions my sister makes are expressions I swear I saw you make before. Sometimes I’ll make a joke, and my dad will say, “That was a Boppa Guy joke.” Your energy and the photons that came in contact with you are continuing to make an effort nine years later and will continue to make an impact generations from now.

It’s either physics or genetics, and I’d like to believe it’s a mixture of both. Genetics are powerful because a child can be the spitting image of a great-great-great grandparent they never met. But physics is powerful, too.

It’s the language of the universe, and I take comfort in language. So, I’m taking comfort in this theory about death.

Life is finite, and so is this eulogy. But I don’t know how to end this; I’ve never been good with endings. But I guess I’ll end with this:

Scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy, and they have found it accurate and consistent across space and time. Take comfort in that because God is the creator of space and time, and time is relative. Down here, on Earth, it’s been nine years. But in heaven, it’s been no time at all.

Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.