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.

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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.

To the Friends and Family of Someone Living With Depression

I can’t tell you how many suicide notes I’ve written over the years. I mean, there was the first one on the night I actually attempted suicide seven and a half years ago. I found that one a few years ago tucked away in a polka dot notebook I had forgotten I had. After reading it, I took the letter with me as I went for a drive to clear my head; tearing it up and then throwing out the window as I drove, trying to leave my past in the past.

There have been others, too. My “In Case of Fire, Break Glass” safety net. When you live with suicidal thoughts, you’re always on edge, wondering if you’ll make it through this day; wondering if today is the day the demons you’re fighting take over and win.

It’s not that I want to be writing suicide notes. Trust me, there are a million other things I’d rather be writing. But it’s almost a compulsion, an obsession. It’s like if I don’t get the thoughts out of my head, they’ll eat me alive. I write them because I don’t want to have to use them. When the storm hits and the levees break and I’m not sure I can stay afloat, I write them–word by word, line by line, feeling by feeling–taking what I feel and trying to put it into words is the closest I’ll ever get to having a superpower. Then, when the storm passes, when the waters recede, and the sun begins to shine again, I delete them from my phone; I rip out the pages of the notebook; erasing evidence of the pain I was in; trying to leave the feelings of despair and hopelessness behind, trying to transition to happiness and joy.

But life isn’t black and white like that: if depression is black and joy is white, then I live in shades of gray because for every suicide note I’ve ever written, I’ve told at least 10 jokes. Because if writing is my way of staying afloat, telling jokes is my way of quite literally pulling myself out of the water. Also, I’m a Bills fan, and sometimes the only way to make it through a season of watching them pluck defeats from the jaws of victory is by making jokes.

Here’s the thing about life: it’s full of contradictions. Sadness and joy coexist at the same time, in the same soul. On some of my darkest days, I’ve laughed the most–like deep belly laugh, laugh so hard tears come out of my eyes, laugh so hard I throw my head back, hand on the neck, eyes basically closed. And it’s this sudden change from utter despair to joy that reminds me I am alive.

I’ve been having a hard time lately, many of you know this. You’ve read my blog posts, you’ve seen my Facebook statuses; you’ve been there with me in my hard moments.

So, here’s what I need you to know: there are days, many days when it’s hard for me to get out of bed, when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, and when I am standing and singing worship songs one minute and then collapsing and sobbing in my pew the next. These are also the days when I am reminded of happy moments. And these happy moments are enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other until they’re not. Because they’re just that: moments. Beautiful, but fleeting. If you combine enough of them together, sure, they can shine like the shine, illuminating the future standing in front of me.

But here’s also what I need you to know: I can’t build armor strong enough to protect me from what’s going on inside my head. And neither can you.

And it’s frustrating: for you and for me. It’s frustrating because you ask the question “What can I do?” but what you really mean is “What can I do to fix it?” And therein lies the problem.

You can’t fix this. I can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. All they can do is make what I’m dealing with more manageable. They can make the sunshine a little bit longer, stave off the darkness a little while longer, but they can’t erase it.

Neither can you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything. Because, yes, you can’t do anything–not in the way you want to.

But, if you ask the right question, you can still DO something.

“What do you need?”

What do I need? I need support and encouragement and love. I need hugs and laughter and to cry it out. I need someone to sit there with me while I work through it on my own. I need someone to listen while I talk it out. I need to know I have people in my court, on my side.

So, no. You can’t fix it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything.

Somedays I’m so weak and hurting and broken, I feel like death is the only way out. I know it isn’t. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know. I’m coming to understand that both of them are valid. I have to give each of these parts of me a voice. Let them say what they have to say.

The hardest part of life is admitting our weaknesses because we all want life to be perfect, and we try to portray it as such. I’ve come to realize that pretending life is perfect is doing a disservice to yourself. We have to be honest with ourselves and each other.

The hardest part of the last few months for me has been not ignoring what I’m feeling, telling people what’s going on in my head, being honest with you all about the struggles I’m facing. And yes, it’s been scary because people have gotten annoyed with me for sharing, frustrated because they see that I’m struggling and they feel helpless, and some have even told me that “Facebook is not the place to tell people what’s really going on.”

Maybe it’s not.

But I can’t hide behind a status. I believe in honesty.

I believe in recognizing our own weaknesses and giving the darkest parts of ourselves a name: depression, anxiety, PTSD.

And right now, I’m oh so very weak. But sometimes it’s in our weakest moments that we find the strength to reach out, to ask for help.

And I’m so glad I did.

 

Flight Risk (20 hours in the Psych ER)

 

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Monday, 5:15pm: “Hey, it’s me. I’m in the Emergency Room. I’m feeling suicidal. They sent me to Psych. I left work. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home,” I choked on the words between sobs while on the phone with my dad. This was not how I wanted to spend my Monday afternoon, or any afternoon really. How did I end up here?

Monday, 2:45pm: I look up from my notes I took during a training on Friday to read what I have typed. Only, instead of reading about how to use Skype for Business, the only words I see are the only words that have been going through my head for the last week: I want to die. I need to die. I want to die. I need to die.

“Well, shoot.” I think to myself, “That’s not good.

You see, this is how it starts, how it always starts: a nagging feeling that won’t go away; a thought on repeat in my head. And then I cycle downward: a roller coaster there’s no getting off of; a hole I can’t climb out of; a mountain I can’t climb.

This is how it starts, how it always starts: with me trying to talk myself off the metaphorical cliff before I metaphorically jump; trying to talk myself down before I do something drastic.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself down, how many times I’ve come so close, how many times I’ve thought I just want this to all be over.

But I can tell you this: it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to struggle with suicidal thoughts 98% of the time. It’s exhausting to feel like you don’t deserve to be here, don’t deserve help, don’t deserve the love and support that you get from the friends and family who surround you.

Sometimes it only takes one person who listens, who is somehow able to convince you that you do deserve to be here, you do deserve to get help, despite what all the voices in your head are telling you.

When you’ve been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts for as long as I have, you start to see the signs, read the writing on the wall if you will. And every time you enter that spiral, it gets harder and harder to get out, to talk yourself out of it.

And I have to tell you this, friends, I have to, even though it hurts: on Thursday, I was so so so close to ending it all, but somehow, by some sort of miracle, I was able to call the Suicide Hotline.

So, on Monday, when I felt myself entering the spiral, I knew that if I didn’t go to the ER, I would not make it out this time. It’s a terrifying thought process, guys, knowing that your life lies in your hands, or rather, legs, finding the strength to get yourself the help you deserve.

Because you do, guys. You do deserve the help.

But I’m also telling you that it’s not going to be easy, especially if you drive yourself.

It took me 25 minutes to get out of the car once I got to the hospital, and I was panicking each and every second of those 25 minutes: I cannot do this. I literally cannot do this. I’m not strong enough to do this. I could just jump right now; I’m literally almost on the top floor of the parking garage. It would be so so much easier.

Eventually, however, I made it out of my car and into the hospital. Eventually, I made it through the halls of the hospital I have been in so many times before: the hospital I was born in; the hospital I’ve visited family members in; the hospital I had my appendix out in. But this time, the hallways felt so much longer than they ever have before, and I felt like the walls were caving in around me. And when I made it to the ER doors, it took me another 15 minutes to walk through them: to remind myself that I deserve to be here, to get help, to get better. That I don’t deserve the bad things that happen in my life.

And here’s where it starts to get hard, not because I don’t remember what happened because I do. I remember everything. It gets hard because I don’t know how to tell you what I’m about to tell you. But I’m going to try because you all deserve to know. And maybe even my lack of words will be enough to help someone else.

I don’t know how to tell you that as I was sitting in the general ER next to the elevator that goes up to the Psych ED (or CPEP from here on out), I already felt dead. If you ask the tech who brought me up to the CPEP, she’d tell you that I had dead eyes–there was nothing behind them: no light, no life, no hope. When one of the ER nurses came to retake my heart rate, because having a panic attack while sitting in your car really messes it up, she said, “Poor thing. You look like a ghost.” I didn’t have the energy to tell her that I felt like a zombie: mostly dead, not really living, trying hard to fake my way through life.

I don’t know how to tell you that I wasn’t considered a flight risk because I drove myself, but I really wanted to be anywhere but there: gone, dead, home, whatever, anywhere but here. That my urge to run was greater than my urge to live. 

I don’t know how to tell you that the CPEP is the best place to have a flashback, and trust me, you’ll have many. There are only so many times you can hear Get off me. Get off me. Get off me. from someone being restrained before your own trauma catches up to you. And everything you’ve tried so hard to forget over the last nine years comes rushing back to you. If anybody understands how traumatic rape can be, it’s the ones who deal with the aftermath, the ones who see the broken, hurting people walk through their doors every day.

I don’t know how to tell you that I felt like I was 7 years old again, and for the first hour before my dad arrived, I’ve never felt so alone.

I don’t know how to tell you that I feel guilty for being “strong” enough to get help because I feel like it diminishes the strength of the people who didn’t.

I don’t know how to tell you about the guy who had been in the CPEP for three days because there where no beds upstairs, who, after my dad left at 4:30, sat next to me as I slept because no one should be alone here, especially not pretty girls with sad eyes.

I don’t know how to tell you about me waking up at 5:30am on Tuesday sobbing because of the teenager they brought in who was restrained, and when the nurse asked me what was wrong, all I could say was he’s scared and wants to go home. Because here’s the thing about that place: everyone there feels too much. Not only do we feel our own pain, but we feel each other’s. I felt their pain when they told me their stories, and they cried with me when I told them my story at 8:00am on Tuesday after being with them for 15 hours. I poured my heart out to strangers when I have a hard time telling people I know what’s happened. I told them everything: the rape, the self-harm, the eating disorder, the suicide attempt, the suicidal thoughts, the relapsing.

I don’t know how to tell you that you lose track of time because the only clock I could find was the one behind the locked doors of the nurse’s station. Everything’s locked. You can’t get in or out without a key. You’re physically trapped, which is fitting because every single person there feels trapped in their own mind.

I don’t know how to tell you that being there 18 hours before I saw a psychiatrist instead of the normal “get in, get out in 6 hours” probably changed the way this story goes, probably saved my life, probably is why I was discharged instead of held for 24, 48, 72 hours.

I don’t know how to tell you that I had a hard time yesterday adjusting to the “real world” after being in CPEP for 20 hours. That place began to feel like home, not so much because of the place itself, but because of the people. It’s like when you visit a foreign country and experiencing culture shock when you return back home. I miss the way the people made me feel: you know the warm feeling you get when you are around people you love. Because they understood my pain in a way that most people can’t. They reminded me that I’m not alone. They touched my life in a way that I can’t even describe, and I honestly really hope they’re doing better.

We’re all muddling through life, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are people out there who are hurting as much as you are, struggling right along with you.

I’m so so so glad to be alive. I finally feel like a whole person instead of a broken nothing. I feel alive. I feel happy, but life is still hard. I’m still struggling with so many things.

But I know now that help is not too far out of reach. I deserve to be here.

You deserve to be here, too.

 

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.

Flashbacks of Memories

We like to go through life pretending we’re fine, that everything’s all good and dandy. I do, too. When people ask me how I’m doing, I quickly reply “Fine” because I hope they won’t poke and prod at the facade that I’ve spent so long trying to build. I mean, sure, I’ll make a Facebook post about something I’m struggling with, or whatever, but that’s nothing: I’m still hiding behind this persona of someone who likes to pretend she has it all together.

The truth is, I don’t. The truth is that on Friday I had THE worst panic attack/flashback I’ve ever had in my life. The truth is that it’s still going on, and I don’t know how to make it stop. Because the thing about adulthood is that I can’t just curl up into a ball, wrap a blanket tight around me, and stay in bed all day. I have to go to work. I have to carpe diem and all that jazz.

And it hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts because I don’t want to feel broken. It hurts because all I want to do is be happy and smiley and be someone that people fall in love with. Who could ever love someone who’s broken?

But right now, all I want to do die, not like actually, but I just.. I have this feeling. This uncontrollable panic, this unappeasable dread. I wrote a blog post a few months ago in which I describe my rape. I’m going to tell it again in part here (you can read the full version here). I’m going to tell it again because this is what I felt happening on Friday. This is why I’m still feeling the lingering effects, why my heart is still trying to escape through my ears, and why my stomach is stuck in my throat.

The first time it happened was a Monday at 4pm in a school bathroom. The second time it happened was a Friday at 6:45 in a college workout room. The first time it happened, I was just leaving the bathroom stall and had expected my locker to be slammed shut not two minutes before. The second time it happened, I was just about to finish my workout, trying to convince myself that I could stick it out a little while longer.

I was already on edge.

The first time it happened, I hadn’t seen them walk in. I heard the door open, but I thought it was just a teacher. The second time it happened, I saw them walk in. I heard the door click after they swiped their IDs, and I could see them when they walked in.

The first time it happened, I was standing at the bathroom sink, washing my hands, when they snuck up behind me and grabbed me, putting a hand over my mouth before I could even muffle out a “No.” The second time it happened, I was lying on an exercise mat, doing my ab workout, when it started to sneak up on me, wrapping me in my past before I could ground myself in the present.

The first time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, so the drip drip drip of the bathroom sink that I didn’t have time to turn off became the ocean waves, and the nose plugging until I opened my mouth to gasp for air–which is what they wanted, an open mouth–became me drowning. The second time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I powered through. I hopped on the treadmill and tried to outrun the memories that were closing in faster, which is what they wanted anyway–for me to remember forever.

The first time it happened, there were 10 hands, 5 tongues, too many teeth, and 5 I-didn’t-want-them-anywhere-near-me. The second time it happened, it was just me, alone in the hall, surrounded by echoes of memories.

The first time it happened, I was 13, almost 14. The second time it happened, I was 23, just barely 23.

I can tell you so many things about the first time it happened: who they were, what I was wearing, what they smelled like, how long it lasted.

  1. It doesn’t matter who they were, but I’ve learned to say their names.
  2. A hoodie and a pair of jeans.
  3. They smelled like sweat and sawdust and orange juice.
  4. It lasted 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

I can tell you so many things about the second time (because that’s what it feels like. It feels like it happened a second time, and I wish I knew why): who I was, what I was wearing, what it smelled like, how long it lasted:

  1. It doesn’t matter who I was, but it matters who I am right now, even if I don’t know who I am. Maybe they were right when they told me I was a bitch, a slut, and called me worthless.  I’m hurting, and I wish I wasn’t.
  2. Workout leggings, a sports bra, and a smelly tank top.
  3. I smelled like sweat and sawdust and peaches.
  4. It lasted an hour and a half, but the first 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds. And I guess, technically, it’s still going. 

I can tell you that the first one ended with me getting off the bathroom floor, cleaning myself off, and not telling anyone for a year. I can tell you that the second one ended with me collapsing onto a bench, pacing back and forth, and finally telling someone about half an hour in.

I can tell you that the first one lead to self-harm and an eating disorder. I can tell you that the second one lead to finger-nail shaped crescents in my right arm and this feeling of nausea that won’t subside.

I can tell you that for all the things I remember about the first one, there are some I don’t remember. I hope I never do.

I can tell you that the panic attack/flashback I had was full of the worst possible I can’t remembers.

I can tell you that on Friday, I’m so glad I ran into a friend who was willing to walk with me to the locker room, willing to sit with me and talk with me until I was calm enough to go home.

Because I can tell you that on Friday just walking down the hall towards the locker room that reminds me of a bathroom was enough for me to feel like I was going to throw up and pass out.

The last blog post ended with me talking about forgiveness, and healing, and how God loves me, and I’m beautiful and strong and worthy of being loved.

I can tell you that this one does not. This one ends with me being unsure if I am actually healing. This one ends with me still feeling nauseous and panicky, and maybe I can’t forgive them quite yet, and maybe I’m not beautiful or strong or worthy of being loved. Because I definitely don’t feel very strong right now, and I must definitely don’t love myself. This ends with me feeling oh-so-very weak.

But maybe that’s ok. Maybe it is.

Right now, all I can take are baby steps. Yesterday, I spent the same amount of time at the gym as I normally do, except I spent 45 minutes trying to convince myself that I could walk up those stairs I felt closing in on me on Friday; I spent 10 minutes working out before it all became too much, and then I spent 20 more minutes convincing myself I could walk back to the locker room.

Tonight, I did the same thing over again: except I only spent 30 minutes trying to convince myself; I spent 20 minutes working out, and I spent 20 minutes sitting in the rain, hoping there would be a rainbow.

And I waited and waited and waited, and there was a rainbow.

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And then I cried, because I’m in a tough spot right now: the thunderstorms are coming in, and they’re bringing an overwhelming flood.

But God. God creates rainbows.

I don’t have a rainbow right now. But I do have baby-steps. And I hope to the God who loves me and has provided me with the best friends, that that is enough.

 

Letter to the One Who Attempted Suicide

Dear (Friend),

To be honest, I’ve thought about what I was going to say in this letter for a while now, and I’m still not quite sure that I have the right words. But that’s the thing about words: context is everything; you take them out of a context they were meant for and place them in another, and they make no sense, or they change the meaning of the new context. If you do this enough times, the words become useless—displacing and relocating until the original meaning is lost. Right now, you’re probably hearing a lot of words from family and friends, some you may be even saying to yourself. Don’t take these words out of context. Your friends and family are probably telling you that they love you. Don’t turn these words into an “I love you but….”

You may be feeling a lot of feelings right along with these words: anger, sadness, shame, maybe even some guilt.

Everything you are feeling right now is valid. Every emotion you have and don’t have is valid. Somedays you might be feeling everything at once, and some days you might be feeling nothing at all—you might not know which one is worse, neither do I.

I don’t know your story. I don’t know what led you to attempt suicide. I don’t know if it was a genetic predisposition, or a single event, or a series of events that culminated in this one cataclysmic moment in your life. Whatever happened, your past is valid. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Don’t let anybody take the pain you might be feeling away from you to assign it to themselves. You are grieving. You are hurting. They, too, may be grieving and hurting, but this is not about them. This is about you. To take the focus away from you is to invalidate the pain you are feeling. Let the emotions roll over you like waves, take them as they come, one at a time. That’s all we can do: focus on one moment at a time.

I’m writing this letter; I’m telling you all of this because I understand. I understand what it’s like to be on the front lines of this very real battle. I understand what it’s like to feel as though giving up is your only option. I understand because seven years ago, I, too, tried to kill myself.

Seven years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I’m still trying to recover. I’m still wrestling with tough feelings and intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. Sometimes I still wonder why I survived when so many others do not, maybe you’re wondering that too. Maybe you’re wondering what you did to deserve all this pain. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, for every answer I don’t have, I have a million more questions.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned in the last seven years, time goes on. Time goes on, but I still live my life in terms of anniversaries: I focus on how long it’s been since the events in my past because that way I don’t have to focus on the future. The future terrifies me simply because it’s unknown. I live in terms of anniversaries because they’re set in stone. I know what’s happened in my life, but I don’t know what’s going to. And that terrifies me.

I look to the past because it helps me gauge how far I’ve come: I’ve survived x,y,z, and today I did a,b,c.

I don’t know where you are in your healing journey, or even if you have begun healing yet. I am going to tell you that the journey ahead of you is going to be long and hard. I tell you this not to scare you, but to remind you that you are a survivor. You are strong. You can do this. And you need to have faith in something—I don’t know if it’s God, or if you wonder if God’s abandon you. I wondered that too for a long time. For me, the only thing I could believe in for a long time was gravity. I had faith that the ground would stand firm beneath my feet, holding me up when I was too weak to stand. Then, only then, was I able to reclaim my faith in a higher power.

Believe in something. It’s the only way you’re going to get through this.

I’m not going to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem because to do so would be to deny the truth that sometimes this pain doesn’t go away. I’m also not going to tell you to stay here because there are people that love you. If love were enough, the world would be different.

I’m telling you that depression will come in cycles—high tides and low tides. Somedays it’ll feel like you’re floating on air, like you’re weightless, you can do anything. Somedays it’ll feel like your chest is collapsing because the weight of the world is too much to bear. Have faith that this too shall pass.

Somedays it might seem that you’re living in at the South Pole, where the sun doesn’t rise for months at a time. But, even there, there are months where the sun doesn’t set. Have faith that in the darkest times, there will be light again. If you ever need to be reminded of this, look outside at the darkest night. Sometimes the only way to see stars is to have darkness.

I am telling you to stay here because right now you are walking through a valley, but when you start climbing up the other side, when you reach the top of the mountain, the view is so beautiful.

I’m telling you to live for the little things. Find what makes you happy and do it. Read, write, dance in the rain, pet every animal you come across, listen to that music, eat that cupcake, go see that animated movie. Sometimes we are so focused on the road ahead of us we forget to live in the moment. Sometimes we are so focused on the here and now we forget that it’s not forever.

I don’t know if this letter has helped or hurt or really if it’s made any sense at all. But I’m going to end with this personal story:

The summer after my freshman year at college, I went to Guatemala with a group of students. One day, we went to a multi-story mall. A smaller group of students and I, while exploring, went to one of the upper levels of the parking garage. As I went and stood next to the barrier and looked around and over to the ground, I thought that I was going to feel the urge to jump. I always had before, which is why I tend to avoid heights. But in that moment, as the sun was beginning to set and the horizon was turning to hazy dusk, I felt this sense of calm and peace rush over me, if only for a moment. That’s how I know I was beginning to heal.

A few days later, we were serving dinner in the Guatemala City dump. A teammate and I climbed onto the top of the bus and looked around. As I looked over the dilapidated, rundown metal shanties in front of me, I caught sight of the mountains in the distance. In that moment, I was reminded that beauty and brokenness can live right alongside each other. Out of brokenness comes beauty.

 

You are beautiful.

Love, your friend,

Kaleigh

 

 

 

Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

One of my classmates died this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death is difficult to understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.