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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I Have No Interest in Doing a TED Talk With You.

“Wait, let me explain,” you said as you grabbed my arm in the store the other day.

I’ve seen you many times in the last few years because while all your counterparts have moved away, you still live in the town we grew up in.

And I thought I was over it. I thought I was because I’ve looked you in the eyes and told you that I forgive you, I’ve helped you pick up things that I caused you to drop when I quite literally ran into you, I’ve stood in front of you in the checkout line as I told you what God’s done in my life.

I thought I was over it. I thought I was.

But I’m not–all these years I’ve been repressing and it’s been festering. And all it took (and I say all in the most sarcastic way possible because it’s not a small problem; it’s a huge problem) was being sexually harassed every day for three months for the problem that I’ve been ignoring to explode.

So, no. I’m not interested in what you have to say. I don’t care for your explanations and your smack-in-the-face apologies. Your you wouldn’t have PTSD if you had just killed yourself like we wanted explanations for your you started it because you wouldn’t go out with me behavior.

And you are absolutely mistaken if you think I’m going to do a TED talk with you. I know this one woman did this one time, and maybe she’s a far better person than I. I can put up with you: I can see you in the store and be fine. Heck, I can even sort of stand to see you in my church like I did a few months ago (although, secretly on the inside, I’m glad you haven’t come back).  But, I have no interest in hearing your side. At least not right now.

“Wait, let me explain.”

No, let me explain.

Let me explain how much what you and your “friends” did to me ten years ago has impacted my life. (And I use the term “Friends” lightly because from what I saw throughout high school is that after what you did to me, you five never talked to each other again. A guilty conscience is easier to bear alone.)

Let me explain in no uncertain terms how much I’m hurting right now because I thought I was fine. And then my therapist said, “Actually, you’re traumatized, but one part of you tried so hard to block it, and the other part of you remembered all of it.”

And he was right: I am traumatized. Because even as I sit here writing this, I feel like I’m about to break. I’m trying to keep the tears inside my eyes at least until I finish this. Because it’s really hard to write when all you want to do is cry, when all you’d rather do is break.

Because I am traumatized to the point of being suicidal, and the biggest problem with this right now is that anytime I get triggered in any way (That is, as soon as I’m reminded of what you did to me), I want to drive into a tree.

Which means, right now, my therapist won’t let me go to the gym. Because every time I go, especially by myself, I end up sitting on a bench for an hour or two solely so I won’t get behind the wheel of my car. I shouldn’t have to protect myself from myself.

So, I’m not interested in your explanation, in your you’re making mountains out of molehills because I am not.

I haven’t slept through the night in who knows how long because I keep having nightmares about school bathrooms and dripping faucets and hands all over my body. About bite marks and being choked. About things in my mouth and words in my ear and things in my body that no was unable to stop.

And I am fighting so hard to be ok. I’m fighting so hard to prove you wrong, to rewrite the definition you gave me.

I’m not interested in your explanation because the truth is, for so long, I blamed it on myself. Sometimes I still do.

If only I..

If only I..

If only I..

And the truth is: it’s been a week since I self-harmed (the second time I stopped. The first time was seven years ago, but then the shit hit the fan). Because I would cut myself open in the places you touched me when I felt your hands on my body because physical pain has always been easier for me to deal with than emotional pain.

And the truth is: I’m hurting. I’m broken.

And I don’t want to be. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to keep being reminded of my past: I don’t want to have to worry that some guy touching my hand will send me into a panic. I don’t want to have to worry that some guy in the store looking at me for too long will make me want to drive into a tree. I don’t want to have to worry that I’ll have a panic attack in the waiting room as I’m waiting for therapy because some guy on the phone has a voice that sounds like yours.

But that’s where I am right now: simultaneously living in the past and present, unable to look to the future because I’m not sure I’m going to make it that far.

Because I feel broken and dirty, discarded and used.

And here’s where the disconnect is between reality and what I perceive to be true: none of the sentence above is true. But that’s how I feel.

That’s how you made me feel.

I’m not interested in your can I send you flowers because I remember what it was like explanation because I’ve tried for so many years to forget.

But all I did was repress, and now the dam has burst, and I’m sitting here writing this alone, feeling everything, wanting to feel none of it. Because sometimes I’d rather be dead than feel how I’m feeling in this moment (which is why I’m in group therapy right now: to learn how to manage this moment of emotion long enough to work through the larger issue at hand). And the larger issue at hand is how you caused me to view myself.

Because the way I view myself is broken and ugly and worth very little, completely unlovable and unredeemable.

And I know that’s not true because I have a God who’s made me so much more. Who died so that my red could become white. Who loves me so much He literally bore it all for me.

But, here’s the thing: I sent a text to one of my best friends tonight, the one who about two months ago started going to the gym with me so I wouldn’t have to go alone. I asked her “when I’m ready to go to the gym again, would you want to go with me?”

She replied: “Absolutely! Is that even a question?”

It shouldn’t be a question, but it is.

It is because sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world because of what happened to me. Sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world for telling people when I’m hurting. Sometimes people have made me feel like the worst person in the world for the way they responded when I told them I was hurting.

And here’s the thing: I’m trying so hard. So hard.

But I am so tired. Because the truth is, right now, I can’t go out in public without being reminded of what’s happened to me. And maybe someday, it won’t hurt. But right now, right now in this very moment, it does.

And I’m not interested in your you were better off dead explanations because the truth is: I’m not. Because I’m not scared to tell my story, to tell what you did to me. I’m not scared to tell people that I have PTSD, and as a result have Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and am suicidal.

You don’t scare me. You hurt me in profound and deep ways. In ways that I’m going to be working through for a while.

What scares me is people thinking that they have to walk through life alone. What scares me is people not reaching out, not asking for help. What scares me is that somedays, I see myself heading back that direction.

And I’m so so so thankful for the people in my life that won’t let me do that. I’m so so so thankful for those people that say, “Hey. Let’s go get lunch.” I’m so thankful for the ones who don’t let me isolate myself, who won’t let me hold everything in.

Because they, they’re the ones whose explanations I want the most. They’re the ones whose your not a terrible person for feeling this way reminders are the ones that are helping me.

And one day, my past won’t define me. Because I am so much more than what you did to me.

(But right now, in this moment, it hurts so much.)

The Monster Under the Covers: PTSD

You look traumatized, my therapist said to me as we walked into his office this afternoon. What happened?

There was this guy on the phone behind me in the waiting room, and his voice–the timbre, the vibrato, the words he used–reminded me of someone I’d much rather forget. And I had a flashback and now I’m panicky, which isn’t anything new recently because I’ve been panicked for three weeks straight practically, I answered not at all calmly.

Why?

I finally opened up about being sexually harassed every day for three months this summer. Oh, yeah, you won’t find that in Kerry’s notes, I interjected as he flipped through the notes he inherited from my former therapist who’s on maternity leave. I never told her, and I only told her about being raped because it was in the notes she inherited from the psychiatrist who saw me when I went to the ER.

He responded: I’ve noticed that you’re more willing to open up in our sessions, and in Kerry’s notes she continually mentions that you’re “holding something back.” And you keep mentioning that the people who feel safest with, the people you share the most with, are, for the most part, male. Why don’t you open up as much to females?

Because, I replied, they’re the ones who bullied me growing up. And even though I was traumatized by guys, the emotional pain of being bullied, for some reason is too much for me to open up to girls as easily. The trauma of what guys have done is physical, emotional, and mental, but physical pain is easier to deal with than emotional pain, which is why I started self-harming.

– – –

Can we talk about the sexual harassment? Because everything you’re telling me right now, explains a lot. 

I sat in silence for a while, as tears started streaming down my face, and the panic started to return.

I was terrified all the time, every time I walked into that warehouse, I started to feel nauseous, knowing that they were out there, behind piles of exhibits, driving around forklifts, watching me. They would watch me walk up the stairs to the print shop, leer at me with their eyes. They would smirk at me every time we passed them each other in the all-too-narrow hall. They’d sneak up behind me, which they knew I didn’t like, touch me on my shoulder, smell my hair (I cut six inches off my hair in August for precisely this reason). They would look me up and down, starting at the top, working their way down, slowly taking in every part of me, and then they’d say, “Nice,” as they licked their lips. And they made crude comments, and told me the same joke every day: “What did the bosses say when the intern told them she was raped by the warehouse guys? Nothing, they didn’t believe her.”

And they made very specific threats about being raped and about nobody knowing or caring. Then, one of my last weeks there, I spent most of the week at their other warehouse in the city, and the workers there didn’t know I spoke Spanish, so they were more brazen, more bold, more specific, and I remember everything they said, every threat, every joke. And then I remember one day being alone in the office with one of the warehouse guys, and as I came out of the bathroom, as I was still out of view of the one security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, smirking as he said, “I’ve never disappointed a slut.”

And I can’t tell you how many days I had panic attacks at work, where one of the would sneak up on me, and then I would go to the bathroom where I would hear guys’ voices in the hall outside, and I would have flashbacks to that school bathroom in eighth grade when those five guys raped me, and literally, right there, in that bathroom during the middle of the workday, I’d want to kill myself: my suicidal urges soared out of control.

This is where I stopped because I saw the look on his face: I’ve seen it many times–sadness and pain.

And he said, Kaleigh, you have PTSD.

It’s not new information, not really. I mean, I thought maybe I did. Some of my friends thought I did. It was hinted around by the Psychiatrist in the ER, but to have someone actually say it was like a slap in the face.

You’re traumatized. I see it in your face during group every time one of the maintenance guys drops something. I see the panic in your eyes anytime someone walks behind you, and when there are people sitting behind you in group–especially guys, you keep looking directly at the door, as if you want to bolt out of there. And now it all makes sense: why this past week at group you were more comfortable and open–1. There were no guys there, and 2. no one was behind you. It makes sense why your suicidal urges rise when your anxiety is high.

He’s right you know, which I suppose is why I’m going to therapy in the first place: I’m traumatized. And I’ve accepted what’s happened in my life, but now I’m trying to deal with it, heal from it, move past it.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to kill myself everytime a guy looks at me wrong in the store. I don’t want to panic when I go to the gym by myself. I don’t want to keep being triggered by certain brands of cologne, certain voices, certain personalities, and I certainly don’t want to be triggered by the President of the United States and the news.

But, right now, I am. And my anxiety is high, but more than that, my panic is high, and with the panic and the triggers comes suicidal urges that I’m trying so hard to keep in check, to maintain control of.

Because I want to be in control: I want to be able to say “Yes, this guy touched my hand when he took the pick-up-your-child ticket from me, but it’s ok. You don’t have to panic, and the terror you feel is not going to kill you.”

Because right now, I’m struggling to be in control, and sometimes the terror I feel is so great that I’m actually afraid it’s going to kill me. I couldn’t even sit in the waiting room before therapy today without freaking out because some guy I didn’t know was talking on the phone.

But, here I am, and I’m trying to do my best, trying to carpe the diem: panic and all because, yes, I’m hurting and overall, I’m not doing well at all, but I’m not going to let any of that stop me from living my life.

As I left his office today, my therapist told me: I admire the way you keep facing your fears, running headlong into life because so many people would retreat if they were in your shoes.

I used to, I replied. I used to. I used to hide within myself, keeping my pain to myself because someone else always had it worse, but then one day, after I texted someone that I had a panic attack at work, he came and sat next to me on the bench at the gym that evening, and he softly said, “Kaleigh, are you ok?”

And I found the strength to say no, I found the strength to be honest.  And I haven’t stopped since.

An Open Letter to Those Who Are (and Aren’t) In My Group

I see you.

We had Group today: Distress Tolerance, where we’re learning how to handle our emotions in times of crisis.

Last week, one of you came in crying and couldn’t stay. Today, you were back and shared openly. And I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you because I know what it’s like to break down in public and not be able to face your fears. But I also know what it’s like to be able to look those demons in the eye the next time and say, “I’m not afraid of you.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that sometimes the best motivator for getting out of bed and carpeing the diems is just a blatant desire for revenge–to show the voices in your head that they’re wrong; they don’t control your life, they don’t define you.

I get that. That’s the only reason I got out of bed today, and yesterday, and the day before.

I see you.

I see you and all your pain: you put 15 people with depression, anxiety, and suicidial tendencies in the same room, and you’re bound to have at least one person who’s a feelings sponge–who absorbs the feelings of those around them, who carries other’s feelings and their own feelings around. I think there are a few of us in this group.

I am one of them.

When you share, I understand you completely.

When you cry, I want to cry too.

When you panic, I panic.

And as I looked around the room today, my heart broke. Because I saw a bunch of hurting people, who are trying their best to navigate this life in whatever way they can, who are in this group because they really and truly want to get better, to learn how to deal with their pain differently–nay, they don’t only want to deal, they want to learn how to feel.

I see you.

I looked around the room, and I saw beauty–not in the Mental illness and the struggles–but in the sheer strength of everyone around me, in the healing, in the sheer resolve to get better, and the sheer stubbornness to not let our demons defeat us.

Because the strongest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever done is ask for help, to be vulnerable and honest with everyone on the parts of my life I’ve tried to hide for so long.

And I applaud you for making it this far because I understand. I understand all of it: the pain, the shame, the struggle to stay alive. I even understand the guilt.

What I really want you to know, all of you to know, is that you’re not alone in this. Do not go about life alone. Ask for help. Let people in. Let people see you–all of you (even the dark parts you’re afraid to shine light on). We are meant for community.

Let your community love you.

Let me love you.

Because I see you.

I see you rocking back and forth in your chair, chewing on your fingernails, rubbing your scarred wrist.

And all I want to do is cry with you and for myself because that’s where I am right now in my life.

I’m hurting and broken, and I am trying so hard to take care of myself.

Last week, I finally opened up about the sexual harassment I dealt with every day over the summer. And right now, my anxiety’s through the roof, and Sunday night, I self-harmed again because just trying to deal with everything: all the pain and the hurt and the terror I feel sometimes is too overwhelming.

And I’m sorry for that.

I’m sorry to all my friends and family who are willing to fight for me (and fight people for me) because sometimes, it’s so hard to fight for myself.

I’ve spent most nights for the last 12 days wrapped up tightly in a blanket, rocking back and forth because the panic and terror I feel is so great, nothing else calms me down.

I didn’t leave my house at all on Tuesday, and I only left on Wednesday because of a family lunch and then I had to lead a 20-somethings gathering at my church. I left my house today because, well, because of the blatant desire I have for revenge agaisnt my demons. And, to be honest, I’m surprised I have any fingernails left at all. I’m surprised I have any skin left at all on my face: because that’s how I’ve always dealt with anxiety–picking at scabs until they bleed. I’ve done it since I was a child–self-harm before I knew the name. I’ve started doing it again: it’s like a security blanket when I feel alone.

And when I actually cannot calm myself down, and I want to actually self-harm, I run my thumb across the scars on my wrist–reminding me how far I’ve come, what I’ve survived.

Because we’ve come so far.

And we’re learning to cope.

How was your week, Brandon asked us during sharing time today.

I volunteered to go first (which I only did because 1. It’s only our second week, but it’s my 10th in group. I’ve done this before. And 2. I could sense all of your uncomfortability, and my fear of sharing is trumped only by everybody else’s. Other’s problems have always trumped my own).

Let’s see. Monday, I had a panic attack in Wegmans because there were too many choices of cottage cheese.

Thursday, I emailed a friend apologizing for the bridges I burned a few months ago, and then I screwed it up a few days later by pouring my heart out again.

So, as you can tell by the cottage cheese anecdote, my anxiety has been really high and so have my suicidal thoughts (anxiety and suicidal thoughts are harder to fight than depression and suicidal thoughts, because unlike when I’m depressed and suicidal, anxiety actually gives me the energy to follow through).

And then when Brandon asked me how I dealt with the cottage cheese dilemma and the feelings they produced, I simply replied, “I called my mother.”

There’s no shame in that.

There’s no shame in asking for help. Because none of us are meant to do this alone.

None of us should have to.

And if you feel like you don’t have a support system, let me be that person. Let me be the person you call at 3am when you feel like your world is about to collapse. Because I understand. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have someone willing to be that person.

I am willing.

I see you.

I understand you.

I’m right there with you: feeling things I don’t want to feel, dealing with things I wish I could forget, trying my best to make my way through life, fighting everyday to stay alive.

And I’m so so proud of you.

I know that this is just the beginning for me, for you, for all of us.

I see your darkness. I see your broken. But I also see your beautiful.

“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.

It Was Good: Finding God in a Mental Breakdown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did. Sometimes, I still do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is true.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

My God, My God: Finding God in the Brokenness

I feel like my life has just fallen to shit, I said to one of my pastors, and  new found dear friend, over coffee this morning. I’m having a hard time even staying alive, and there are many days where I doubt God–his existence, his goodness, his unfailing love. For so long I’ve felt like I have to pretend that my life is perfect, that I don’t struggle every day with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. I felt like I had to pretend that I wasn’t raped and that I don’t struggle with doubt and my faith. Sometimes I feel that when I needed the church the most, it abandoned me. When I needed the love, support, and encouragement of people walking along beside me, they left me high and dry.

Is there room in the church for doubt? Is the church a safe space where we can ask the tough questions like: if God is real, why do bad things happen? If God loves me, why was I raped? In a culture where millennials and Gen Xes are leaving church at an alarming rate, many people have theories as to why this is an increasing trend. (If you don’t want to do a Google search, I have searched for you here.)

As a Gen X’er, with strong ties to the Millennials, I have my own theory, a theory that will be hard to hear for some people: young people are leaving the church because the church tries too hard to be perfect. We focus on the goodness of God and the power of God and the love of God, but at the same time, we fail to discuss the brokenness of the world. I mean, sure, we can mention the brokenness of the world outside: the homelessness in our community, the bombings in the Middle East, the Hurricanes in Puerto Rico. But we fail to acknowledge the broken people within our four walls.

It doesn’t happen to us, only them.

But it does happen to us. Bad things happen to Christians; Christians hurt; Christians doubt; Christians struggle to stay alive. I struggle with all these things. 

I’ve attended the same church for my entire life, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt like it was home–like it was a safe space where I could discuss the hard topics, share my brokenness, express my doubt.

And maybe part of the reason young people are leaving the church is because we are more connected to the world than we’ve ever been. With the advent of Social media and online news sources, we are more engaged in the world around us, with the people around us. It’s easy for us to hear about the shootings and the genocide, the bombings and the hate crimes. Social Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement are everywhere. We don’t have to search out the brokenness and the hurt; it finds us in way that it never used to.

We used to be so isolated from each other. Not anymore. Now our smart phones and laptops are constantly informing us about what’s happening in the world–the latest technology, the latest celebrity news, the latest School shooting. All of this information is at the tip of our fingers, and the church has lost touch with the younger generation.

We’re all hurting and broken people, but the younger generations are more eager to talk about their pain and struggles than the older generations, and the church hasn’t caught up. And it needs to because now, more than ever, there are people out there who are hurting, hungry to feel accepted, hungry to feel love, hungry to find a community where the formerly taboo is now openly discussed.

Right now, more than ever, need that.

Right now, need to know that I can walk into church on a Sunday morning and have it be ok if I breakdown.

Right now,need to know that I can pull someone aside, anyone aside, and say Hey, look. I’m really struggling today and could use some prayer, instead of just saying I’m fine. How are you?

Right now, need to know that I don’t have to pretend to be perfect. I don’t have to hide my struggles. I don’t have to hide the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that I was raped and I self-harmed. I don’t have to hide any of that.

Right now, need to know that it’s ok to share my past and not be judged, not be told to “Get over it,” not be told that I’m a bad Christian, or that how I am is not enough to be loved by God.

Right now, there are a whole bunch of people out there like me: born and raised in the church who are seriously wondering if the community and acceptance they’re searching for can actually be found with the people they worship together with on Sunday morning.

We are so desperate to find places where we feel like we belong. We are so desperate to find places where we can discuss the tough questions; where we have the freedom to openly doubt, openly question our faith; where we have the ability to love, to be encouraged, to grow.

How can we believe in God when there’s so much hurt and pain in the world? How can I believe in God when I’ve been hurt by the church?

I believe in God because I believe in his power, his love. He saved me from myself. And for every day that I’m convinced I’m not going to make it, somehow, I make it through.

But, I also believe in the human side of God.

Right now, that’s the side of God I need. I don’t need an all-powerful God through whom all things are possible.

I need the God of John 11:35 who wept. I need the God who cried out as He was being crucified “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Because that’s where I am in my life. Right now, I feel abandoned and forsaken and some days, I’m full of doubt.

But it’s ok–because Jesus felt those things, too. And I take comfort in that.

And I think the church needs to take comfort in that, too. Because, yes, God is perfect and all-loving and all-powerful, and it’s ok to praise Him. But there are people out there who need to hear about the human side of God.

Because Christians are human too. None of us are perfect. None of us should have to pretend to be.

And on my darkest nights, the ones where I’m not sure I’m going to make it to see the sun rise, I think about God crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I take comfort in the fact that Jesus weeps right along with me.

That’s why I believe in God in a broken world: He understands the broken; he sought out the broken. He loves us anyway.

Life Beyond: the Psych ER and My Faith

Those of you who have read my blog over the past few months, or even the past few years, know that this is a place where I am open and honest because sometimes I have a hard time doing that in real-life. But lately, I’ve tried this new approach where I’m open and honest, telling people my real truths–the truths I tried for so long to hide–engaging in the tough conversations where I’m raw, exposing my broken and hurting soul to those around me.

You see, four months ago, I ended up driving myself to the Psych ER because all I wanted to do was die. I saw the exit sign on the road directly in front of me, blinking green as in “GO.” And I wanted so badly to take it: the road not taken.

I didn’t take the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. Instead, I took the road that lead me to get help–a road that has been filled with panic attacks and flashbacks and broken relationships and great new ones. It’s a road that took me to the parking garage of the hospital I was born in, where I promptly had a 25-minute long panic attack in my car and then stood looking out over the concrete wall, trying to convince myself not to jump five floors down.

It’s a road that has lead me to where I am now: trying my best.

I’m trying my best. I’m going to group therapy once a week and individual therapy every 10-14 days. I was put on medication for the depression and the anxiety and the panic and the suicidal thoughts, and when the first medication made me too tired during the day to function if taken at night and too nauseous to eat if taken in the morning, I got put on another, and I haven’t really slept in a week, so I have a medication for that, too–and if I have a panic attack, it helps with those also–it’s a kill two birds with one stone type of deal. Which is helpful because I’m big on multitasking.

But the medication and the double therapy and the heart-to-heart raw moments haven’t fixed me. If anything, it’s made me more aware of my pain and the demons I battle. It has to hurt before it gets better. And I am trying my best to get better, or at least make all of this more manageable.

But, I have to be honest, friends, there are days when I wake up, and the first thought that comes screaming into my head with a screeching halt is: Are you kidding me with this? I woke up again? I have to keep living? And then I instantly feel ashamed for thinking that thought because there are so many people out there who didn’t get a second chance, and I should be grateful for this life I’ve been given.

I am. I am. I am. I am grateful. But I’m also living with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes I’m at the gym and sit on a bench for longer than I actually worked out because my thoughts are so bad, I don’t trust myself to drive. And sometimes, I think to myself I wish someone would just shoot me. Or, I wish someone would come up behind me and slit my throat. Because then I could die without being blamed.

I wish I knew how to explain to all of you that I don’t actually want to die, I just want relief: relief from the voices screaming in my head that I am not good enough; relief from the pain and the tears and the sleepless nights; relief from the panic that sets in; relief from what’s going on inside my head. Because mental illnesses are so exhausting, and I’m so very tired.

. . .

I got an email yesterday from someone who was referred to my blog by a friend of theirs asking me how I can still believe in a loving God despite all that’s happened to me.

I responded: for the longest time, I didn’t. All the way through high school and into college, I doubted. But, if anything, these last six months have made my faith stronger. You see, if God wasn’t real, I wouldn’t be here right now. The night I attempted suicide, He saved me from myself. I never ever would have found the strength to ask for help, to be so honest and open and raw and real about what’s been going on in my life these last few months if I didn’t have faith. Believing in hope when all seems hopeless takes tremendous faith. I believe in God because He’s strong when I am weak. I believe in God because He helps me through the days when I can stand. He holds it together when I feel like I’m going to fall apart.

That’s why I believe–why I still believe that God is good–despite, or maybe in spite of, my brokenness.

I believe because I have no choice. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for the battles I’ve faced. My doubt has made my faith stronger. My struggles have made hope that much more beautiful.

You see, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for what I’ve been through–if I wasn’t raped, if I didn’t develop an eating disorder and start to self-harm, if I didn’t live with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (But don’t you dare quote “Everything happens for a reason” to me because I will not let you diminish how terrible and hurtful what happened to me was.)

You see, I was hurt by the church and Christianity in general. I don’t think it was on purpose, or that they even knew they were doing it. But I grew up being told, and subsequently believing, that good Christians lead good lives. Good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. If I prayed, God would grant me what I asked.

So when bad things happened, I believed it was my fault. I wondered what I did wrong? Was I a bad Christian? Did I not pray enough, read my Bible enough, love God enough? Did God not love me enough?

Being raped shattered me, and when I tried to pick up the pieces, I had nothing to hold them together with. If I didn’t have God, I didn’t have anything. So, I entered into a relationship I definitely should not have been in–one that was emotionally abusive (probably on both sides), one that gave me panic attacks over and over and over again because I just didn’t want to be touched, ok? Didn’t want to be poked in the sides, and definitely didn’t want to be snuck up on from behind. And because I no longer believed God loved me, I tried to frame my identity around those around me–putting all my eggs in very holey baskets, instead of the Holy Basket. For so long, I had no idea who I was.

Sometimes, I still don’t. But I’m trying my best to figure it out. I’m learning to deal with my thoughts and feelings, not push them aside. Because for so long, I kept everything pushed down and bottled up, not letting myself feel the hurt and the pain, not allowing myself to feel, deal, and heal. Until six months ago when I reached my breaking point, culminating in a flashback at the gym (Notice how everything happens at the gym? Maybe I should stop going).

I’m going to be honest, guys. These last few months have been the toughest of my life–filled with panic attacks and sleepless nights and countless thoughts of ending it all.

But, here’s the thing: I’ve also cracked more jokes in the last few months than I have in my entire life. Sometimes I may not feel like there’s a lot of hope, but I know there is as long as I’m still laughing.

If you can’t laugh at where you are in life, it’s like you’ve admitted that there’s no hope of anything getting better. And I refuse to believe that life won’t get better.

I’ll never be normal. I’ll probably never not struggle with Major Depression, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. But I have hope. So much hope.

Because life is about embracing the crazy, embracing your weakness, giving a name to the darkest parts of yourself. I’ve done that, and I’m letting God–with the help of therapy and medication–help me manage the rest.

Because my faith is stronger now than it ever was, than it ever has been. It has to be if I want to keep living. And I do. I do want to keep living. Because life is so beautiful and laughter is so precious and there are so many wonderful conversations out there to have.

And I want to see a Christianity where we can have the tough conversations. I want to see a Church where we can share our stories, shed light on our dark, dreary places because things left in the dark dreary places tend to be ruined. And I don’t want people to feel ruined.

Because sometimes I do. Somedays I feel ruined. Somedays I feel like there’s no hope. But I want everybody to know that there is always that whisper in the back of my head, the whisper that comes on my hardest nights, that carries me through the tough places: You are my Child, and you’ll be ok. I’ve got this.

I want a Christianity that isn’t perfect because life isn’t perfect. I want a Church that isn’t afraid to be real and raw and honest. Because I have to be in order to carpe each diem. I have to be to survive.

And I think we all occasionally need to be reminded that there are people out there who understand our dark places. We need those willing to help us shed some light: to feel, to deal, to heal.

What I Wish I Could Say

Preface: I’ve been trying to write these thoughts down for a while now, but often times the hardest part of being a writer is trying to figure out how to best tell the story. And I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; I don’t know that there ever is a “best way” because, in the search for perfection, we all fall short. I’m telling it anyway because I have to. It’s a compulsion of mine: I want to be heard, and maybe with being heard I can give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses in general steal so much, and sometimes they steal our voices. And I refuse to let them steal mine. What is below are bits and pieces from conversations I have had with my therapist over the last few weeks, clipped together in a way that’s orderly and coherent–unlike what’s going on in my head, unlike my conversations with her. Therapy is wonderful on so many levels: it’s made me more observant of my own behaviors, allowed space for me to be self-reflective, to ask the tough questions. But it’s also made me feel worse because now I’m talking about what I’m feeling and the thoughts in my head instead of just ignoring them. And maybe, by sharing this, it will help someone else.

I went out and looked at the stars last night: climbing out of bed at one in the morning, a blanket wrapped around me as tightly as possible, tiptoeing down the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky spots, opening and closing the kitchen door as quietly as possible to avoid detection. I do this a lot: look at the stars, especially when I’m panicky, anxious, on edge. There’s a beauty about them, illuminating the sky to make it appears as though it’s 50 different shades of grey as they dance around the wispy clouds. Unfortunately, there’s too much light pollution where I live to get the full effect of their beauty, but it’s enough.

I do a lot of the other thing too: tiptoeing around, walking as close to walls as possible to avoid detection, making myself smaller–hoping to take up less space both physically and metaphorically. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, I’ll actually become invisible; invalidating myself and my feelings to hopefully leave fewer footprints behind.

It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact on the world. I do. But there’s this constant fear in the back of my head that I won’t make it out of this cycle; I’ve been down this spiral so many times, and maybe this is the time I won’t make it back up. So, maybe, if I pull away, stop talking to people, stop letting people in, they won’t be affected by my absence as much. Erasing myself from their lives because it’s harder to miss someone if they never existed in the first place.

I feel like people have given up on me–we can’t fix what’s going on, so we might as well not bother doing anything. Even though there are so many things people can do if they just ask the right question: what do you need?

But maybe it’s not other people who have given up on me; maybe it’s me who has given up on myself.

I’ve been broken for so long, been trying to pick up the pieces, and I keep dropping them. Maybe I think there’s no hope left for me because I’ve felt hopeless for so long. Because the anxiety and the depression keep coming back, and every time they come back, they become harder and harder to beat. And I’ve written so many suicide notes over the last four months, I’ve lost track. And I’m trying my hardest to stay alive; I’m doing all I can–going to the store, having coffee with friends, writing as much as I can, leaving my house, going to the gym–but this unbridled panic won’t go away. I can’t leave my house without my anxiety shooting sky high, can’t go to the gym or the store without having a panic attack, can’t have a panic attack without it being accompanied by suicidal urges.

But the point is that you’re trying to stay alive. Your sense of self-preservation is kicking in. 

But what if my self-preservation isn’t enough to stop the thoughts in my head from taking over? Like I can eat food and not self-harm and go to the gym, but what’s the point if I can barely make it through a workout without feeling like the world’s going to collapse around me? What’s the point if I don’t feel safe anywhere, not even in my own home or my own head? If I feel this hopeless right now when I’m doing everything right, what happens when something goes wrong?

You handle that when you get to that. One step at a time. 

My favorite mixed idiom to use is: I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. My brain has always raced to the finish, trying to think up every possible “what if” that could ever happen, trying to solve problems that probably won’t ever happen. I talk myself out of doing more things than I talk myself into doing. But the point is: I don’t feel safe. And maybe I should have given up a long time ago.

But you didn’t. You reached out. You got help. You checked yourself into the ER the last time you felt suicidal.

It wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t even the worst time recently. I’ve thought about checking myself in again. There have been nights, many nights, where I’ve thought I wouldn’t make it through, where I should’ve asked for help, and I didn’t. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, be a burden to anybody, which goes back to the walking as close to the walls as possible, not making eye contact. I don’t want them to see me the way I see myself.

How do you see yourself?

I feel like the worst person in the world. Even though I know it’s not true. I’m afraid to let people in, to tell them what’s going on in my life, the thoughts in my head because I don’t want them to hate me the way I hate myself. Which is ridiculous because I know that what’s going on in my head are lies and that if I keep things to myself, they will eat me alive. But I’m afraid people will give up on me because “I’m too far gone, too broken, not worth enough.”

I think those things about myself all the time, feeding off the lies told to me by the people who broke me. And I feel shame and guilt for thinking those things, for feeling like I deserved what happened to me, that it’s all my fault. Some of the time, I still feel shame and guilt for what happened to me.

I know it’s not my fault, and that nothing gone in my head is rational, but I don’t know how to tell people what I feel without sounding crazy. Maybe I am.

But maybe it’s the world that’s crazy, maybe it’s the world that’s broken, and maybe I just feel that chaos and brokenness more because I’m more sensitive: I feel what people around me feel. So not only do I feel what I’m feeling and my own hurt, but I feel what they’re feeling and carry their hurts with me. And that’s a lot of hurt for one person.

It is a lot of hurt for one person. So how do you deal?

 I don’t deal, not always. I used to block out what I was feeling until I became numb, and then I would self-harm to feel something, anything. Physical pain is easier to fix than emotional pain. And now I write, and sometimes I still self-harm. But I’m learning to deal.

After my dad left the ER, one of the other patients came and sat with me as I slept, not in a creepy way, but in a “We’re all in this together. Pretty girls with sad eyes shouldn’t be alone here.”

But maybe it’s more than pretty girls with sad eyes who shouldn’t be alone. Maybe none of us should be alone. We should know that we have people in our court supporting and encouraging us, praying for us and loving us.

And right now, I’m drowning. Trying to tread water as I keep my head above the waves, but I’m oh so tired. I’m oh so weak.

But you’re recognizing your weaknesses, and you’ve given a name to them.

That’s all any of us can do, really. And right now, I’m having panic attacks and suicidal urges, and I’m feeling hopeless and like I can’t find my way out, and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel these things, to admit that I’m struggling, to admit that my life isn’t perfect. And the only thing I can do is what I’m currently doing: trying to stay alive despite what the thoughts in my head are telling me, despite what I’m feeling.

Because sometimes, when my soul is heavy, when the depression and anxiety are too much, I look at the stars. The same God who painted the night sky in all of its shining glory created me, and that is enough.