Forged Through Fire and Baptized With Water

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

As my pastor and friend lifted my submerged head out of the water while saying those words, I felt an immediate need to run. Run away. Run out of there. Too many people were staring at me, and now they all knew my secret. But, he touched my arm and said, “Wait, I need to pray for you.”

And as he prayed, and I heard his voice crack for the second or third time in the last three minutes, I felt the weight I carried with me for so long become just a little bit lighter.

Yesterday, I was baptized. And I had to share my testimony, or why I wanted to be baptized. And in that minute that I shared, my voice trying not to break, and the tears trying so hard to escape, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. You see, readers of my blog and friends, you know my story: you know how much I’ve struggled over the past few years, especially over the last few months; you know about me being raped and all the struggles and stigma that have come with it.

But, so many people in my church family were hearing this for the first time:

I’m suicidal. And I tried for so long to ignore that part of me. But, in July, my life fell apart, and the trauma of being raped came rushing back, and I started having panic attacks so vicious, I was no longer passively suicidal. I became actively suicidal. And I can’t ignore that part of me any longer; I have to let it have its voice. All I can do is make the part of me that wants to live, that loves life and laughter, louder. I’m going to therapy twice a week and I’m taking meds, and I’m being open and vulnerable. And I’ve finally realized that I’m not traveling this road alone. I’m reclaiming my identity, reclaiming my story. Because I’m not just a victim and a survivor. I’m a Child of God, and all I can do is say “Here I am God. I’m broken, and hopeless, and shattered. Do with me as you will.” This is me, letting go and letting God do the rest. Because I’ve finally realized that I don’t have to do this on my own. I am a Child of God.

And then I shared my story with a group of college students last night, college students that have hurts and pain so deep that I can feel it as they walk into the room, college students I care for and love deeply, college students I so desperately want to know that they’re not alone.

Yesterday, I was baptized with water because I’ve been forged through fire. I’ve fought the voices in my head every day. There have been so many times when I’ve almost lost that fight, but at the last second, something always pulls me back.

And, as I explained to the students last night, that voice is God. He’s the calming voice that whispers in my ear during the middle of the storm “You’ll be ok.”

And yes, sometimes I have doubts that God is real and that God is love, but at the same time, I know he is real. Because if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. If he wasn’t real, then I have no hope.

But here’s the thing: here’s why I was baptized yesterday. I have hope. Sometimes the hope is clouded by the darkness and the storm, but I know it’s still there, waiting for me when the clouds pass and the rains stop.

I know that this blog post skips around and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sometimes the voices in my head don’t make a lot of sense either. Today, while I was in therapy, Brandon and I discussed how I’ve been emotionally over the past few days.

If I may be honest with you, I replied, Which is why I’m here. I’ve not been doing well. Yesterday I experienced some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced. Because yes, I was baptized and I reaffirmed the hope I have, but at the same time, after the service, so many people came up to me and started telling me their stories. And my heart broke for them. And then I shared my story with the college kids and I started reliving it. So last night, I didn’t sleep a wink because I was too scared to close my eyes.

And then I said this: Yesterday was the first time I’ve said the words “I was raped” out loud to a significant group of people. And it is terrifying.

It’s terrifying to have your baggage out there, to have this label that you’ve tried for so long to hide. Because writing about it is one thing, but speaking about it is a whole other monster.

A year ago, I would have been able to talk about it. No problem.

But, right now, I can’t. But I want to. I want so desperately to say “Hey. This is what happened to me. I want to be able to say they did this and this and this and this and this, but I’m ok.”

But the truth is: today, I’m not ok. And that’s ok.

Today, I couldn’t even make it through a therapy session without becoming super suicidal–so suicidal I had to sit in the parking lot in my car for fifteen minutes before I felt even a little bit comfortable to drive.

I can’t hold my truth in forever. And over the last nine months, I’ve let it out piece by piece, but somedays it’s so hard. Being vulnerable is painful and it makes me feel things so intense, I become suicidal because I’ve never dealt with emotional pain well. I started self-harming because the emotional pain hurt so much, and it’s easier to deal with physical pain than emotional pain.

One day, I’ll be able to stand up and say my whole truth and nothing but the truth without it making me want to die.

But right now, I can’t. Right now, I’m in the middle of working through my demons and my trauma, and until I work through it completely, it’s going to hurt.

Because here’s the thing: I’m speaking my truth more than I have ever before, but I’m also hurting more than I ever have before. And some days it’s so hard for me to stay alive because the pain I feel seems like too much. But I share anyway. Because sharing and being open and vulnerable is the only way I know how to stay alive.

One day, the pain will be more of a dull ache than a mighty roar.

And I want to live to see that day.

I want to live to see the day when I can stand up in front of a large crowd of strangers and tell my story without wanting to drive into a tree.

I’m not there yet. And that’s ok. Because the battle I’ve been fighting over the last nine months, is a different battle than the one I’ve been fighting for the last nine years. It’s a harder battle.

But it gets harder before it gets better.

I’m living for the better.

Because, yes, I was baptized. But that didn’t fix me. That didn’t heal me. It just made the hope I have a little bit louder, the light on the horizon a little bit brighter, the voice of God a little bit stronger.

And right now, all I have is hope.

Hope, Prozac, faith, family, and friends.

I was forged through fire, baptized with water, and I am loved by a God who can calm the storm.

And even if the storm is in full swing right now, the waves are calm just often enough for there to be that whispering voice in my ear, the heartbeat that proves I’m alive You’ll be ok.

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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

Here’s The Part Where I Reclaim my Identity

“I was watching some home movies today because I returned home this afternoon after having lunch with Bekah; I sat on the couch and was paralyzed by fear and hopelessness and despair. And the particular movie I popped in started at me learning to walk and ended sometime after Hannah was born.

Anyway.. I dont really know why I started watching home movies, because I haven’t watched them in years, but I think I wanted to find the video of me doing the hand signals the refs use in football.

Anyway… tangent once again. I also may have watched them because I feel lost. I don’t know who I am or where I’m going. Because right now, I’m just the freak who gets to the gym, and just sits in her car for an hour crying because all she wants to do is die, even though she doesn’t actually want to die. She just wants the pain to stop.

I have to hope that somewhere inside me is the little girl I saw on camera today: the blue-eyed, curly-haired, ornery thing who, after being told that dinner was going to be soon, snuck a box of animal crackers into the living room anyway; who, after being caught, just grinned a mischeveous grin at the camera.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl who, despite not saying much, laughed a lot, danced a lot, and when she fell down, she got back up.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl, who, after being asked if she’d be a good flower girl at her aunt’s wedding, shook her head “no,” and then shrieked in laughter.

I have to hope that someday I’ll find myself again.

Because if you asked me at age 8 what I would be by now, I would have said: doctor teacher lawyer president [no commas because I wanted to be everything]. I never in a million years would have said: fighting to stay alive.

And I have to hope this pain that I’m feeling, this brokenness that I still don’t believe can be fixed, will be used for something great.

Because when you fall, you have to get back up again. Even if it hurts so much.” – Me, to a friend, October 6, 2017

(that above is the number 1 reason why I don’t text a lot of people: I tend to ramble, and then I end up writing essays on platforms that should be short and sweet.)

Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot of blog posts. I’ve written blog posts about (almost) driving into trees, about spending 20 hours in the Psych ER, about panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, about my doubts when it comes to my faith, about not knowing if I’d still be attending the church I grew up in, about mental breakdowns and finding God, and, just yesterday, about sexual harassment and being raped.

(I’m not going to link to any of these. They can all be found on the right-hand column of my blog.)

Over the last few months, I’ve met so many wonderful people: new pastors and their families, college students and their friendships, new therapists and their ability to help me make sense of everything that I’ve tried to ignore for so long.

Over the last few months, I’ve been real and raw and honest and vulnerable with everyone I’ve had conversations with, not just with those I feel comfortable and safe with. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone so many times, but I’m learning how to find comfort in the uncomfortable spaces. I’ve learned to be ok with not being ok, with exposing my brokenness, with shedding a light on my dark places, with telling people “Hey, I’m really struggling to stay alive today, and I haven’t really slept in a while, and I feel like my heart’s going to pound out of my chest, and I’d really rather be anywhere but here right now. But the world hasn’t stopped turning. The sun came up, and I am here.”

I’ve gotten up in front of my church and said, “If you asked me a few months ago if I’d still be attending this church, I would have said no. Because I felt like I didn’t belong…”

I’ve gotten up in front of college students and said, “I was raped, and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell them to their face that I forgive them…”

And the thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that there are so many people out there who struggle with the same things I do–who have anxiety and depression, who have been raped and harassed, who have doubts and strong faith. I’m not alone with what I’m feeling. I don’t have to carry this burden alone.

There are people out there who love and support me, who encourage me and walk alongside me when I can’t do any of that for myself.

And there are people out there who will do the same for you.

Here’s what I need to tell you, friends, I’m still struggling just as much as I was five, four, three, even two months ago. I still find it hard to stay alive. I still panic every time I go to the gym by myself (I’m so thankful for the friend who decided that that was no good and started to make me go to the gym with her). I have panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and some nights I can’t sleep.

And I’m hurting in profound and deep ways.

But here’s the thing: it’s different than it was when I started this agonizing journey of healing back in July. Because back then, I was Nobody. I had no idea who I was; I couldn’t find myself past the haze of depression and anxiety. I relied too heavily on other people, wanting them to give me an identity: “Writer Girl; Gringa; Bitch; Slut; A Burden.”

I didn’t know who I was (sort of like the way those guys who harassed me every day never knew my name). I was a generic avatar in a sea of faces, changing who I was to fit the definition those people around me gave me. I didn’t stand up for myself, couldn’t stand up for myself because for nine years I was pretending–an actor cast as myself in my own life.

I was lost and alone and self-destructing.

Until I wasn’t.

And I don’t know when it happened or how it happened or why it happened. But somehow, over the last month and a half, I’ve found myself again. I have this confidence I didn’t know I had.

There’s a power in vulnerability, and sharing my struggles and doubts out loud, not just on paper, has allowed me to find a voice that I didn’t know existed beyond the words I splatter on a page.

And for that, I am thankful. I’m thankful for those who started me on this journey, who encouraged me to get help, who were a listening ear when I was wandering alone in the desert.

I’m thankful for those I’ve met since: who have loved me and supported me and have even encouraged my vulnerability–who appreciate my rawness and real truth, even if it is painful.

Because yes, it’s painful. And this depression and anxiety sometimes seem like they’re going to consume me alive (because between Sunday morning and Monday night, I had four panic attacks).

But, I know who I am now. I’m no longer a stranger living in someone else’s house. I am home, and it’s easier to weather the storm in your own house.

Because for so long I defined myself as:

victim.

depressed.

anxious.

scarred.

broken.

ugly.

But, God. Man, oh, man. He has done some truly powerful things in my life. He hasn’t healed me, far from it. (because I’m going to therapy and I’m taking my medication, but I’m still struggling. Even today, as I sat in group therapy with a bunch of other people who are feeling a bunch of different things, and I absorbed all their feelings, and all I wanted to do in that moment was run out of the room and jump off the top floor of the parking garage, which luckily my fear of being the freak who ran out of the room stopped me, and 2) the parking garage is on the other side of the hospital and I hate running).

But He’s written me a different definition, a different story.

survivor.

alive.

prepared.

stitched together.

strong.

beautiful.

Here’s where I reclaim my identity, reclaim my story.

Here’s where I tell my rapists and those who harassed me, who told me I’d be better off dead: look how far I’ve come. How strong I am.

Here’s where I rewrite my life.

I fall down. I get back up.

I crack jokes and laugh until I cry.

And my depression and anxiety and everything else will not stop me.

Because I, I, am known by a God who called the stars by name, who holds the planets in His hand, and has whispered my name over and over and over again:

Kaleigh, you’ll be ok.”

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

“Mira a esa hermosa gringa. No te gustaría que fuera nuestra jefa? Lo que me gustaria hacer a ella.”

Oh my god. They don’t know I speak Spanish.

. . .

I don’t know how to describe to you the terror I felt every time I walked into that warehouse; how hard it was for me to concentrate on all the technical writing I had to do, knowing that there were guys on the other side of the building waiting for me to walk through those doors to meet with their foreman.

I don’t know how to describe to you the way my skin crawled when their eyes followed me, the way I would be sent into a near panic anytime one of them walked within five feet of my desk on the way to the HR office, how one of them would “accidentally” brush up against me as we passed each other in the hall, smirking as he looked me up and down.

I don’t know how to describe to you how excited I was to start this job: not only was I using my English degree, but I was also using my background in technology and engineering. This job was going to open so many doors for me to advance in this field.

It opened doors alright: to Psych ERS and panic attacks. To almost driving into trees and flashbacks. To therapy and medication.

. . .

It started out innocently at first: passing glances as I walked into the warehouse, whispering amongst themselves. And then, like the way one falls in love: slowly and then all at once, it escalated: leering as I walked up the stairs in the warehouse to the print shop, making crude jokes, and non-specific threats (well, actually, they were very specific threats. And I’m not going to repeat what they said here, but I can guarantee you whatever you’re thinking, they probably said).

But I will tell you one of their jokes, one of their very favorites: What did the bosses do when the intern told them that some warehouse guys raped her? Nothing because they didn’t believe her.

Yes, yes. Very funny. See the spleen through the split in my side? I’m rolling on the floor laughing over here.

Everything they said, I believed. And it terrified me–as someone who was raped, but more importantly as one of the only females who worked for this company. Anytime I was alone in the warehouse–because my breaks did not line up with theirs–I wondered, is this going to be the time?

And it escalated and escalated, and they got bolder and bolder, and they got more and more crude and terrifying.

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or defend myself, choosing instead to use humor to deflect their unwanted advances:

Do you want to get coffee sometime? I don’t like coffee.

Do you want to get together some Sunday and watch the Bills’ game? Why, so you can disappoint me, too?

And when I spent a week at one of the other warehouses, the Hispanic workers were the boldest, most arrogant, talking amongst themselves right outside my “borrowed from a boss they haven’t replaced” office, not knowing that I understood every word of the Spanish they spoke.

And then one day,  at 4:45, it was just me and the ringleader in the office, as everybody else had gone home, as I exited the bathroom, away from the view of the lone security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, and then winked and said, “I’ve never disappointed a woman ever.” And then walked out, leaving me alone to finish the last 15 minutes of my shift.

That was the least productive 15 minutes of my life, let me tell you.

I never knew any of their names. They never knew mine, which is the way I wanted it. They referred to me as “Writer Girl;” I gave them nicknames–Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber; and Senor Mirador (translation: Mr. Watcher). Nameless avatars in a crowded world; my way of keeping my identity a secret, maybe they won’t be able to track me down.

Because as long as they called me, “Hey, Writer Girl,” I could continue to exist as Kaleigh. I could continue to pretend that everything they said was meant for someone else–someone who wasn’t me.

But, the irony lies in the way I viewed myself: I felt like somehow, I deserved everything they said, all the unwanted touches, all of the crude jokes and innuendos.

I felt like I was two people: Me and not me. My sense of self had been so damaged by the years of hurt, by being raped, and now by this, that I felt like I deserved to feel like a terrible person. I felt like I was a terrible person.

And I just became so depressed and so anxious and so terrified of everybody, including myself. And the worst person to be scared of is yourself.

I was so scared of losing control, of losing my mind. I stopped eating again. I started cutting again.

I let those men say whatever they wanted to say; I took it. I didn’t want to make ripples, didn’t want to upset anyone, didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

I preferred being harassed every day to standing up for myself, demanding to be heard.

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

I don’t know how to complete this post. Do I wish I handled things differently? Yes.

Do I wish I reported it sooner? Yes, yes I do. Because I did report it, but it only ended up being about a week before I left that job. Too little; too late (but that’s sort of how I feel about myself. Like, maybe I waited too long to get help for my anxiety and depression).

Did the constant everyday harassment lead me to have that fateful panic attack at the gym in July, which lead me to where I am now? You bet your butt it did.

And now, here I am. Taking medication for the depression and anxiety I didn’t get help for because I didn’t let myself ask, couldn’t admit to myself how much I was hurting.

Here I am: going to group therapy every week, and individual therapy every 10-14 days. Here I am: still struggling with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks and depression and anxiety, having panic attacks everytime I go to the gym by myself because I don’t trust a single guy I see there.

Here I am: working at the church I grew up in, at a place that makes me feel safe and confident and encourages me, with people that support me through my brokenness.

Here I am: on Monday, every time a father signed out their child when their hand touched mine as I handed him the “a-ok to pick up your child” ticket, my anxiety would start to rise, little mini panic attacks every five minutes.

Here I am: talking about something I never ever thought I would talk about it.

But that’s what I’m trying to do right now:: be honest and vulnerable, despite how much it hurts. Because one thing I’ve learned over this long process of healing is that it has to hurt before it gets better.

And I’m hurting so much, but if you don’t think I won’t continue to carpe the diem as many days as I can, you’re wrong. I won’t let my fears and struggles stop me.

Because despite all the pain, despite all the hurt, despite my doubts and insecurities, there are people who never left my side, people who have encouraged me along the way, and for them, I am so so thankful.

I’m still struggling as much as I was three, four, even five months ago. But it’s a different kind of struggling. Because a few months ago, I didn’t know who I was–“Not Me” was struggling while not having an identity. Today, I know who I am.
 
It’s easier to struggle in your own house than it is in a stranger’s.
Here I am: I am home.

I Can’t Talk About It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is, I don’t know either.

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

Which brings me to Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

You of Little Faith

I have a hard time getting out of bed. To a point, I think all of us have days like that: days when it’s rainy and damp and chilly; days when we’re so tired because sleep didn’t come easily, if at all. And I don’t want to diminish those days because I never want to invalidate anyone else’s feelings, invalidate other people’s bad days.

My “hard to get out of bed” days are my every day. Every day it’s hard for me to get out bed: the weight of the world and the weight of my pain are too heavy; the fear of “if I get out of bed, I will die” is too high.

One of these feelings is new, relatively speaking. The other one has been my lifelong companion, a friend I didn’t ask for. One that’s moved in, crashed on my couch, invaded my personal space, crowded me out, made me feel like a stranger in my own home. This is anxiety: the constant feeling that I’m going to be late for an appointment I didn’t even make, the impending due date for a major project for a class I’m not even taking, hearing the Imperial March but never running into Darth Vader, discovering a bomb and hearing the beeping get faster and faster and faster but it never exploding. All the time. 24/7.

I’ve always felt this way. I never realized that it was abnormal. I always thought everybody felt this way: so unsure of themselves, feeling like they were going to throw up every time they opened their mouth to speak in class, unable to make eye contact whenever talking to someone, never wanting to meet someone new because “what if they get to know me and then they discover that they don’t like me?,” wanting to find the nearest exit every time they are in a room with more than five people.

I don’t want to say that my anxiety controlled my life when I was younger. But, it did. I was so unsure of myself that I didn’t want to take up people’s time. So, I didn’t talk to people, didn’t ask family members to play games with me, tried to make myself as invisible as I possibly could. And, on the days when I was super stressed, when I had actual tests and was afraid to go to school because of the bullies, I would pick at scabs until they bled. Scarring my body before I even knew what self-harm was.

Growing up in the church, I was always told that God was an all-knowing, ever-loving God. He so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son and so on and so forth. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs; He knows the number of hairs on our head; He knows us inside and out, and He has a plan for our lives.

I was also told that He would never give us more than we can bear. And if we read our Bibles enough, pray enough, are a good enough Christian, He’ll protect us from the bad. Bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people. If I really, truly loved Him with my whole heart, if I surrendered everything over to Him, He would protect me from the evil in the world.

And I believed it.

Then one day when I was in eighth grade, I was raped in a school bathroom. When you’re 13 years old and already so unsure of yourself, what they tell you becomes what you believe: slut, worthless, unlovable, ugly. Those four words have been on repeat in my head, and sometimes, at the worst moments, I relive those 15 minutes over and over and over again.

And because of the anxiety I had carried with me for years, I didn’t tell anyone: I was scared, didn’t want to be blamed, just wanted desperately to be loved, didn’t want anyone to know that I was now dirty. I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, grabbed my backpack, climbed into my dad’s car, and kept silent for a year of running into them in the hallways every day, having one of them breathe down my neck as they sat behind me in class, having my stomach do somersaults everytime they smirked at me.

And sometime in that year, I met a new companion: Depression. He moved in and with him, the doubt came too.

Was I not a good enough Christian? Did I not love God enough? Did God not love me enough? Was there even a God? Because if there is a God, how can He allow things like this to happen?

Sometimes depression is sadness. Sometimes it’s anger or despair or hopelessness. Sometimes it’s complete numbness. And that’s what I was: numb. For three or four years, I felt nothing. Yes, there were occasional moments of happiness and laughter, sadness and tears. But that’s all they were: moments, beautiful but fleeting.

And because I wasn’t feeling anything, I started self-harming. Physical pain was better than emotional numbness. And then, when that wasn’t enough, I stopped eating. We all want to feel in control of our lives, and I could control the number of calories I ate. So I did. I restriced and restriced and restriced because I wasn’t deserving. I didn’t deserve to eat.

I tried to erase the parts of myself I didn’t like, tried to erase the feeling of their hands on my body. I tried to make myself someone worthy of love despite the continual fighting off the demons in my head who were telling me otherwise.

And then one February night during my Sophomore Year of High School, I stopped fighting. For one second, I stopped fighting the voices in my head. I was oh so tired.

I could use a million metaphors to describe what happened next, but this isn’t Star Wars: there’s no “metaphors be with you” to lessen what I’m about to say:

That was the night I attempted suicide. I wrote a note, swallowed pills, laid in bed, and then watched the snow falling outside my window sparkle in the moonlight. When I think back to this night, there’s a disconnect in my brain: because on one hand, it was beautiful: the fluffy snow sparkling in the moonlight. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing beautiful about feeling like there’s no hope, there’s no way out.

In the next moment, as I’m able to quiet my racing thoughts, there was a still quiet voice in my ear, “You’ll be ok.” 

And that was enough. In that moment, that was all I needed.

I found that suicide note a few years ago, tucked away in a polka dot notebook I forgot I had. I would like to say that after reading it, ripping it up, and throwing it out the window as I drove down the expressway, I never wrote another one, but that would be a lie.

I’ve written more than I can count. In the last three months alone, I’ve written at least 15 on the nights that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the storm. But, after the storm subsides, when the winds calm down, and the waters recede, I delete them from my phone, erasing the words I’m so ashamed of writing.

Being raped shattered me, as it would anyone. And nine years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces. Nine years later, I’m still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me.

 

I’m 23 years old now, but not much has changed: I’m still so unsure of myself; I invalidate my own feelings to make room for other people’s; I don’t want to take up people’s time;  I’m still learning how to ask for help.

Somedays I still self-harm. I have flashbacks and panic attacks, mostly at the gym because there are too many guys that I don’t trust, and not enough people that I do. Two months ago, I almost drove into a tree. On purpose. Because sometimes I’m still convinced I don’t deserve to be here. One month ago, I drove myself to the ER because instead of writing a manual on using Skype for Business, the only words on the screen in front of me were: I want to die. I need to die. 

Somedays, I use up all my faith when I get out of bed and trust that the floor won’t collapse beneath my feet.

And I want you guys to know two things: 1. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know: most days, I feel like I want to die. But, I know that I actually do not want to die. And 2. that you can’t fix this. There’s nothing you can do to take all this pain away. But, if you rephrase the question “What can I do (to fix this)?” to “What do you need?,” the number of things you can do skyrockets from zero to so many: I need a hug. I need prayer and support and encouragement and love. I need people to sit there with me as I’m trying to work through what I’m feeling in that moment. I need people to listen to what’s going on in my head. I need people to let me feel what I’m feeling and not get frustrated. Because, trust me, no one’s more frustrated than me.

I’m frustrated because I should be better. It’s been nine years, and in those nine years, I’ve felt nothing; I’ve felt anger; I’ve forgiven, and I’ve tried to move on. I’ve been hurt and harassed and there are stories that I’m not ready to tell. I went to Guatemala and led a young girl to a God that I wasn’t even sure I believed in at the time.

And why haven’t I left? Why haven’t I walked away? The truth is, I have. For so long I was angry at God for letting this happen to me. For abandoning me. For leaving me for a younger, prettier, less broken model.

But, here’s the thing: so many times over the years I have been reminded of God’s grace, of His goodness, of the love He has for me. On the night I attempted suicide, He whispered, “You’ll be ok.” He snapped me out of it as my car was heading for a tree. He gave me the strength to ask for help, to drive to the ER even though I was terrified, because I was terrified.

Right now, I’m oh so weak. But God, He’s strong enough for the both of us. He’s carried me through things I wouldn’t have made it through on my own.

And even though I have so many questions: Why did this happen? Why did I survive when so many people do not? What on earth kind of plan do you have for my life? Does beauty really come from ashes?, I know that there are things that my finite brain can’t even begin to comprehend.

Sometimes, all we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves, and turn the rest over.

My name’s Kaleigh, and I have Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Major Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal thoughts,  and I’m letting God do the rest.

Because that’s all I can do–all any of us can do. Because I can’t fix this. You can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. They can make it more manageable, but that’s it.

Only God can fix this. And I’ve come to accept the fact that maybe it won’t fix this in the way I want Him to. Maybe depression and anxiety and the memories will always be a part of my life. He knows what He’s doing and the plans He has for my life. I still struggle with guilt and shame and the feeling that everything that’s happened in my life is somehow my fault. But, sometimes, every once in a while, He’ll fill me with this sense of peace, a reminder that He’s got this, even when I have no faith, when I feel hopeless, when I’ve lost sight of the light.

Last Sunday, I woke up and my anxiety was through the roof. I felt out of place, uncomfortable, a stranger in my own body. I got up, went to Sunday School, and went to Church, trying to maintain normalcy when all I wanted to do was die. As the last song was ending and the closing prayer was started, I collapsed in my pew and started sobbing. And then, somehow, I don’t quite remember how, I ended up at the prayer rail, still sobbing because God reminded me in that moment that He’s taken my guilt and shame; He reminded me that I’m worthy; there’s no one too broken or dirty. And when I finally stopped crying, when I finally found the strength to stand up and turn around, there were a whole bunch of people surrounding me with open arms and tears in their eyes, reminding me that I’m not alone in this. None of us are alone in life.

So, yes, somedays are hard. Most days are hard. But on those days where I can’t get out of bed, where my faith seems too small, where I’m afraid that despite my best attempts at self-preservation, my suicidal thoughts will win out, where the depression and anxiety seem like too much to bear; on those days, I look at the lines on my hand.

They remind me that the same God who created the stars in the sky, the falling snow, the sunrises and sunsets, the rainbows, and the color-changing leaves of autumn stitched me together piece by piece.

And sometimes, that is enough.

And so I kept living

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.

It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.

We all need people.

Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.

And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.

And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.

And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.

And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.

And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.

And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.

And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.

And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.

And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.

And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.

And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.

And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.

And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.

And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.

And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.

 

SOS

When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who came in direct contact with the rays from the giant supernova created were instantly obliterated, turned to ash as the impact moved from the center out. The light and heat created were so intense, when the conditions were right, people-shaped shadows were traced into the surface they were standing on–photo-negative statues memorializing the exact moment disaster struck.

Sometimes I think trauma’s like that. We remember where we were the exact moment our world exploded. Sometimes we have statues, too, in the forms of scars: either physical or emotional or both.

But here’s the thing, sometimes trauma has the ability to produce healing, to cause us to come back stronger.

Today, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bustling cities. Today, plants are growing in Chernobyl, and animals are beginning to move back in–the circle of life is continuing.

Sometimes forests need to catch fire because that’s the only way to ensure they stay alive: because when they start to regrow, they come back bigger, stronger, more beautiful, and more full of life than they were before.

Beauty can come from ashes. We just have to give it time, allow ourselves to heal, allow ourselves to feel.


There are some stories that we don’t like to talk about, that hurt too much, that we can’t find the right words for.

I have so many stories that I’ve already told, stories that I kept hidden for years–stories that I kept locked away, hidden from sight. People can’t judge you if they don’t know. They can’t ask you “What were you wearing” if they don’t know you were raped. They can’t say, “But you don’t look depressed” if you don’t know that you have depression. They can’t say, “You’re too fat to have an eating disorder” if they don’t know that you haven’t eaten a meal in four years. They can’t say, “But your wrists don’t have any marks” if they don’t know you self-harm.

But that’s the thing about keeping everything bottled up inside: it eats you alive, rotting you from the inside out, until you don’t even know who you are anymore, until you’re too numb to think, to breathe, to live.

People like me, who think too much and feel too much, sometimes our thoughts threaten to eat us alive. Sometimes the voices in our head are too loud, drowning out what is true–that we are worthy, beautiful, deserving–with the lies told us in our past–we are worthless, ugly, undeserving.

I have this fear, I’m sure I’m not alone in this, that if I am vulnerable, people will hate me. I have this fear that if people really knew what was going on inside my head, the people that I love the most will leave me. That when the smoke clears, I’ll be the only one standing there.

And it’s a ridiculous thought because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the journey of this blog, it’s that being vulnerable does the exact opposite. Being vulnerable allows more people to walk alongside you, more people to help you fight your way the battle, more people to light up the maze. It brightens up other people’s mazes, too. It helps others realize that they are not alone.

It’s a ridiculous thought, I know, but I have lots of ridiculous thoughts (some more on the humorous side than the concerning). Depression makes me think irrationally. It’s planted a little goblin in my head that’s trying to be helpful, but, really, he’s doing the exact opposite: he takes away my happy thoughts with “what-ifs” and “what could have beens” and “what may bes.” It steals my happiness to focus on things I cannot change, and sometimes I don’t know how to make it stop.

So, I’m going to be vulnerable.

About a month ago, I wrote about the fact that I struggle with suicidal thoughts on the daily. I wrote about the fact that I almost drove into a tree on my way to the gym one night.

And I wish I could say that this story ends there, that all is fine and dandy, that I met a boy and we fell in love (hah. yeah, right), and we lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately, it does not. The story does not end there. You see, friends (and I’m calling you my friends because you are, and if we’re not, we should be), this last more than month has been the hardest period of my life. I’ve had more flashbacks and panic attacks than I care to admit. I’ve almost driven into trees. I’ve thought that everybody’s life would be better if I actually had driven into the tree. I’ve thought that people would hate me for telling them what’s going on inside my brain–I mean, who wants to hear all of the negative thoughts I have; the arguments I have with myself; the way I view myself?

And there’s no easy way to say this. Trust me, I’ve tried and I’ve tried. I’ve mulled it over and over. I’ve written and rewritten thousands of times in the last few days. So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I relapsed.

I’ve started self-harming again.

(it hurts, doesn’t it?)

I started self-harming because some days I feel too much: I feel anger and sadness and hope and joy and happiness all at the same time. I feel it with my whole being, and my body can’t take it (imagine having all your nerve endings exposed, feeling everything: the air moving around you, the gentle touch of the nurse trying to take care of you while your whole body is screaming in pain. So it shuts down).

I shut down. I became numb.

And I’m crying as I’m sitting here writing this because I am ashamed. I am ashamed because of my past and what I’ve been through. I am ashamed because of what was done to me and what I’ve done to myself. I am ashamed because, after seven years, I’m sitting here once again with two stinging red lines on my wrist.

I am ashamed because I know that this isn’t the answer: what I’m feeling can’t be fixed with band-aids.

I am ashamed because I’ve said the words “I’m ok” so many times that they don’t even sound like words anymore.

But, here’s the other side of this coin, guys. I have a God who is bigger than the shame I feel. This time, I’m asking for help. This time I won’t let myself suffer in silence for a year before I say anything. This time, I’m starting therapy, and I’m looking into medication, and all the things I should have done so many times before.

And I don’t know that this will be easy, none of this has been easy. But I like to think I’m a stronger person now than I was when this all started nine years ago.

But maybe I’m not; maybe I’ve just come to realize that I can’t do this all on my own.

Maybe I’ve come to realize that sometimes you need to let the pain hurt. I’m a writer, and I always try to have the words for everything (and when I don’t, I use metaphors), but this time I have no words to describe how much I hurt. How much pain I’m in, mentally, physically, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually.

I’ve come to realize that sometimes God/hope has this way of sneaking up on you. One minute, He feels so far away, and the next minute, you feel this gentle tap on your shoulder. And when you turn your head to look, you realize that He’s standing right behind you, arms open, ready to embrace you.

Sometimes when He feels so far away, it’s because you’re facing the wrong way. But He’s not gone; He’s dragging you through it, and when God does what He does–what He’s done over and over and over in my life: whispering to me, “You’ll be ok”– it’s enough to cause me to breakdown because I don’t feel worthy. I feel dirty. So dirty.

And I guess I don’t know where this post is going. I had a plan for it, but it’s gone off the rails (it happens, like the time I tried to write a blog post but it ended up turning into a five-page letter). Anyway…

Right now, it hurts, guys. My soul hurts. My mind hurts. My body hurts. And I’m ok with the fact that it hurts because it means that depression hasn’t won. That I am still alive.

Because I want so badly to be alive. I deserve to be here.

We all deserve to be here.

And sometimes, we need to not be afraid to ask for help.

Dear Anonymous

 

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You left me this comment on my most vulnerable blog yet–the post in which I describe, in detail, how you raped me. You left it nine years to the day that you raped me, and the problem is, I don’t know which one of you left it. I have my theories because I’ve been keeping tabs on all of you. A few years ago, I even messaged one of you saying I forgive you, to which you replied, “I’m sorry.”

Over the years, I’ve seen you in stores; I’ve watched you pop up into my Facebook feed as a mutual friend of ours comments on something you post; I’ve watched you pop into my life at the worst moments, and I’ve had many sleepless nights because of what you did.

But here’s the thing: I’m not bitter. I don’t hate you. I hope God works in your life the way God has worked in mine.

You see, for years I struggled with my self-worth. I struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder. But God stepped in and showed me how much I was worth. He’s rescued me. He saved me from myself when I attempted suicide, and He carries me when my depression gets so bad that I feel like I can’t move.

Two months ago, I saw one of you in Target, and by ‘saw’ I mean, “ran into,” literally. I ran into you so hard that you dropped everything you were holding. I stopped to help you pick it up, like God stopped to help me pick up the pieces of myself that you left on that bathroom floor nine years ago.

I hope one day you help someone else pick up their broken pieces. We’re all broken; we all need healing, and we all need those who can help us carry our burdens.

When I first got that comment, it didn’t bother me, but it chipped away at me over the hours before I went to bed that night. It resulted in a long, sleepless night filled with panic attacks and what ifsWhat if you find out where I live? What if you show up? What if it happens again? What if nobody ever loves me because of what you did to me?

And then, what if it doesn’t matter?

It doesn’t matter because I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m especially not scared of someone who can’t even post their name. I’m not scared because God loves me despite what I’ve been through, despite what will happen in my future. He loves me even if no one else ever will.

Two months ago, a few days after I ran into you in Target, a few days after I looked into your hazel eyes and memories came flooding back, and I felt like I was on that bathroom floor all over again, a few days after I wrote that blog post you felt the need to comment on, I was in church.

One minute, I was singing some songs, and the next instant, in the blink of an eye, I was sobbing at the prayer rail, my dad’s hand in mine. All the pain and shame and worthlessness I’ve felt over the years came flooding over me. In the next instant, it was all gone, and a voice said to me, “You’ll be ok. I’ve got this.” In that instant, an overwhelming peace came over me, and I sensed God in a way I hadn’t felt Him in years.

I wish I could describe that feeling better for you. I hope one day you can experience it. And I don’t know if you believe in God or even want anything to do with God, but I hope He moves in your life like He’s moved in mine.

I know one day you’ll see this, because I can block you on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but I know you still read my blog. You keep tabs on me like I keep tabs on you, sometimes.

Since you read my blog, dear anonymous, I hope you read this too: I forgive you, not because people told me to, but because I’m called to. I’m praying for you. I hope one day you’ll understand what love really means. I hope one day you’ll find God.

And I hope that one day, you’ll forgive yourself.

 

 

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve already done ill.

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

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