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.

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Here’s The Part Where I Reclaim my Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m hurting in profound and deep ways.

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

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

I was lost and alone and self-destructing.

Until I wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because for so long I defined myself as:

victim.

depressed.

anxious.

scarred.

broken.

ugly.

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

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

survivor.

alive.

prepared.

stitched together.

strong.

beautiful.

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

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

Here’s where I rewrite my life.

I fall down. I get back up.

I crack jokes and laugh until I cry.

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

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

Kaleigh, you’ll be ok.”

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

And Jesus Wept

I was sitting in the first row of the choir loft of the sanctuary today, listening as my pastor prayed for peace of mind and hope and strength. And when he concluded, as my mind started to wander, and my thoughts started to get the better of me, he interrupted me, thankfully, by asking, “Out of all the thousands of Bible verses you have memorized, which is your favorite?”

Instantly, I panicked. My mind went blank. All the verses I have cataloged in the back of my brain by reference and topic instantly were sucked out of their storage containers by the cosmic vacuum that proves that the universe has a sense of humor. I could not remember a single Bible verse.

I eventually settled on Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” And then I added, I also love Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly realms.” 

But now, as a few hours have passed since my caught-off-guard moment, and all the Bible verses have reorganized themselves in my brain, I have a better answer: Ephesians 6:7 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”

I’m kidding; I’m kidding, sort of.

John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, states simply: Jesus wept. 

And for me, this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. You see, sometimes I think I’m alone in my pain–nobody understands how I feel; nobody will love me if they find out how hard it is for me to stay alive.

But, you see, Jesus does. Jesus understands how I feel; He loves me despite what’s happened to me, despite the battle raging inside of me. And He loves you, too.

I share my story because I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I feel sometimes. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their shame. I don’t want people to feel like nobody could ever understand what they’re going through.

As I’ve been open and honest about my story, especially how hard these last few months have been, I’ve noticed something: I have become the support system for other people. I have friends who message me when they’re having a panic attack because I understand what it’s like. I have friends who tell me “Hey, I was raped, too.” I have friends who tell me that they have also lived with depression for a while but have kept it to themselves for fear of being judged.

And here’s the thing, guys. I love every minute of it. I love every minute of hearing other people’s stories and having those people in my life who are brave enough to reach out. Because it’s taken me this long to figure out that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Maybe I can’t stop my own panic attacks or pull myself out of the darkest nights, but if I can be there for others, you bet your bottom dollar that I will be.

Here’s the thing: this week has been harder than most. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week, and I feel like I’m failing. Tonight at the gym, instead of sitting on the bench for five or ten minutes to collect my thoughts, I had to sit there for nearly an hour, blaring music, trying to drown out the world. And on the way home, I had to pull over because I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes; right now, life is so hard, and sometimes I feel so alone and like nobody understands.

But here’s the thing: God does. He weeps right along with me. In the moments when the panic sets in, He walks me through it. And during the nights when I’m not sure I’m going to live to see the sun, He wraps me up in His arms and carries me through the darkness.

I used to think that I was a terrible Christian because I was raped, because I have depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, because I sometimes still struggle with self-harm and battle an eating disorder that I thought I recovered from a long time ago.

I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. On the nights when I’m so tired, I can only let out a whisper of a prayer, God hears me. He has not forsaken me.

And one day, He’ll redeem me.

Because life is so so tough right now, but I have faith in the hope that I hold onto during the darkest nights.

I am a Child of God, and Jesus wept.

I’m Here

Friends, I call you friends because if you’re reading this, that’s what you are, many of you know my story; many of you have been on this journey with me for a long time. For those of you who don’t know my story or are relatively new to this blog, welcome. This is a place where I’m open and honest about my life and its struggles–from dealing with the aftermath of being raped, to battling an eating disorder and self-harm, to fighting suicidal urges and nine-year-old depression and lifelong anxiety.

I’m being honest once again. I’m not doing well, friends. I wish I could say I was. I wish I had better news. But these last six months have been hands down the hardest time of my life, the biggest battle, and there are many nights when I’m lying in bed absolutely 100% convinced that I’m not going to make it to see the sun rise. And I don’t want to feel this way. Sometimes I’m ashamed that I feel this way. Sometimes, I even feel guilty for feeling this way after surviving a suicide attempt, like I should be happy that I’m alive when so many other people do not get a second chance.

And I am happy. I’m so so grateful because there are still so many things I want to do with my life. But here’s the thing about Depression and Anxiety and Mental Illness in general: it doesn’t care about second chances and gratefulness and the love and support you have around you. It can hit anyone at any time. Girls carry pepper spray to protect themselves from creepy guys in the night. We carry guns and pocket knives for our own protection. But how do we protect ourselves from ourselves? How do we protect ourselves from the power of our own thoughts?

For so long, I tried to block them out: you’re worthless. You’re better off dead. No one wants you here. No one will ever love you. But the more I tried to block them out, the stronger and louder they became. It’s kind of like when you get a song stuck in your head, and the more you try to ignore it, the more it gets stuck. Or like when you’re lying in bed at night trying to sleep, and the instant you’re about to fall into complete and total relaxation, your mind decides that that’s a great time to start singing “The Ants Go Marching One by One,” and you try to fight it, but by the time you get to The Ants Go Marching 543 by 543, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to use the rhyme “the little stopped to climb a tree” one more time.

It’s like that.

And the problem with trying to block them out is that one day, you’ll be too tired. You won’t be able to block them out anymore, and then they’ll be overpowering. That’s happened to me exactly twice in my life: once on the night I attempted suicide almost eight years ago, and once on a Friday night at the gym about six months ago; the difference between these two times is that this time, they haven’t let up. It’s been six straight months of this feeling that I’m not going to make it out of this. It’s been six straight months of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had, full-blown depression, and straight-up panic attacks.

Back in September, I drove myself to the Emergency Room because I wanted to die. And since that afternoon, I’ve fought over and over and over again to stay alive.

I want nothing more than to be here, guys. I want nothing more to live a full life and to die in my sleep at the ripe age of old. I want nothing more than to be fixed–wholly and completely. But here’s the thing I’ve learned: this isn’t fixable. The therapy I go to and the medication I take isn’t going to fix how I feel. They’ll make it more manageable, and they’ll make the ground underneath my feet a little bit firmer, but there’s no magician on the other side of the rabbit hole of my thoughts waiting to pull me out of his hat and say, “Tada–You’re healed.”

But there is God. And there is hope. And every day I’m reminded of all of that.

And despite how hard all of this has been–feeling everything and nothing and hopelessness and hopefulness and wanting to die and fighting to live–I still show up. I show up to the gym and work and Bible Quizzing and family gatherings and church and all my scheduled therapy sessions–both individual and group. I show up to laughter and tears and music and writing and coffee with friends. I show up to life even if life doesn’t show up to me. I show up to feel, even if I can’t feel anything. I show up, despite the fact that most days, I have to stop myself from crying in public. I fight like hell to survive even though somedays the feeling that I’d be better off dead is so strong.

So, yes, these past six months have been the worst. And I don’t know when they’ll get better. And most days I’m not doing well. But I’m trying my best.

Because life is so so beautiful. There’s beauty in sunsets and sunrises and freshly fallen snow and laughter and sadness and happiness and tears. And I have hope, this indescribable “I can do all things” kind of hope that I try so hard to hold on to when everything within me is telling me to give up.

As he walked into work today, my pastor asked me how I was doing. And I replied, Honestly, not that well. Last night was hard and today is hard, but I am here.

What I didn’t say was that I was barely holding it together–I’m barely holding it together, guys.

But I am here. And I’m trying my best.

And I am thankful for that.

 

 

 

But Then, God.

How are you still alive?, the psychiatrist asked me at 9:00 in the morning on a Tuesday in September, 16 hours after having the following phone conversation with my dad, through tears:

Hi, it’s me. I’m at the Psych ER. I was feeling suicidal. I just want to come home.

I was asked the same thing on a Monday in December when I went for my medication intake.

What they meant, of course, was not how are you still alive, but rather, how have you survived this long without any support?

Easy, I replied, I just don’t talk about it.

I’ve always been this way: a woman of few words, saving my voice for when I felt I had something important to say. All my report cards said the same thing: Is a pleasure to have in class. Needs to participate more in class. My kindergarten teacher even called my parents after the first day of school to ask them if I had an attitude problem. No, they replied, she’s just shy.

Shy. I’ve come to realize the last few months that it’s more than that: you see, my whole life I’ve felt uneasy, on edge, like I’m going to be late for a class that I’m not taking, I forgot to study for a test I don’t have, hearing the Imperial March and never running into Darth Vader, like something terrible’s going to happen, or worse, like I’m watching a Bills game all the time.

And I thought it was normal to feel this way: I thought it was normal to feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest whenever I open my mouth to speak, to feel like running out of a room anytime there are more than 5 people there. I guess when it comes to fight or flight, I choose flight.

This is anxiety. My whole life has been trying to hide what I feel and what I’m struggling with. The anxiety makes me want to be invisible: don’t make a lot of noise, don’t let yourself be seen, walk as close as you can to the walk, take up as little room as possible. And, to be honest, because of this, I don’t want to take up people’s time, don’t want to inconvenience anyone, don’t want to be a burden.

I was the kid who would set up a game on my grandmother’s dining room table and sit there patiently and wait until someone volunteered to play with me because I was too afraid to ask someone if they wanted to play. Likewise, I’ve always been too afraid to ask for help, choosing instead to deal with my problems myself, not letting anyone in, not letting people get to know me–no one can hate me if they don’t know me.

And this constant feeling of uneasiness and the fear of being a burden and inconvenience chipped away at who I was over the years. I was so unsure of myself, too afraid of being rejected to feel like a real person. Because of this, by the time I entered Middle school, I  had learned to keep everything to myself: the fears, the insecurities, the comments people made about me at school. Occasionally, on the days where going to school felt too scary, I would make up some excuse as to why I couldn’t: my stomach hurts; I have a headache–emotional pain manifesting as physical symptoms. And on the days when those excuses didn’t work, I would cry. Being a daddy’s girl, it worked every time.

And then, in eighth grade, I was raped. And it shattered me, destroying any sense of self I had left. 9 years later, and I’m still trying to pick up those pieces, still trying to put myself back together, still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me: slut, bitch, worthless, unlovable.

But, because of the anxiety, I told nobody. When it was over, I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, and then out to my dad’s car, going to school every day after that for the last month of the year, feeling one of the guy’s warm breath on my neck every day in English class. And for a whole year, I told no one: choosing to keep it all to myself because what if it was my fault? Sometimes it’s easier to suffer in silence than to deal with accusations or questions or whispering stares.

And I don’t know when the depression started–if it showed up gradually over time, or if one day it just moved in suddenly–but either way, I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t talk about the self-harm or the anorexia. I didn’t talk about the suicidal thoughts and the nightmares, the panic attacks and the flashbacks. I kept it all a secret until a few months after I attempted suicide (which is a story I’ll get back to later).

And even when I started talking about it, even when I started blogging about it, I never let anybody know how bad it was; not until a few months ago. I was so afraid of being rejected, so afraid of people really getting to know me because I was scared they wouldn’t like what they saw. I was so afraid of being deemed unlovable.

Some days, I still am.

For so long I thought God had abandoned me–I wondered if He even existed. I grew up being told that God loved me, and He wouldn’t let anything bad to happen to me. I grew up being told that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Somebody once told me, after I revealed to them my struggle with depression, that I must not read my Bible enough or pray enough. I kindly informed her that as a Bible Quizzer, I was well acquainted with the Bible, and I prayed every day: Lord, help me get through this day.

God has this way of sneaking up on you: just when you think He’s gone for good, when He’s left you for a newer model, you hear Him whisper in your ear, or you see His feet sticking out from behind the curtain.

At least, that what He’s done in my life.

The night I attempted suicide, I was so tired. For one second I stopped fighting the voices in my head; I swallowed some pills, and I laid down in bed and watched the snow fall outside my window as I waited for the fight to be over. But then, God whispered in my ear, You’ll be ok. And that was enough to keep fighting.

And sometimes I still doubt.

My Freshman year of college, I heard about this missions trip to Guatemala, and I felt a twinge in my heart telling me to go. The anxiety in my head tried to talk me out of it: if you go, you’ll lose your passport and won’t be allowed back into the country. You’ll be kidnapped, and it’ll cause some major international drama. But then, God said Don’t be like Jonah. You’re going.

So I went. And I shared my story with the junior highers at a school in a mountain village we were working with. After lunch that day, a young girl came up to me and asked me, Puedes hablar? And we talked for two hours. And I lead her to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in.

And then later that same trip, we served food to the people living in the Guatemala City Dump. And I climbed onto the roof of the bus we traveled in, and in front of me, I saw all these dilapidated, rundown shanties made of tin. When I looked out farther, past the horizon, I saw the mountains blanketed in sunset. God reminded me that out of brokenness comes beauty.

And sometimes I still doubt.

One Friday evening in July, I had a flashback at the gym. One minute, I was on the treadmill doing my post-workout cooldown; the next minute, I was back in that school bathroom. I felt the world close in around me. And then the panic set in, and the only thing running through my head was I need to get out of here. I need to go home. However, every time I tried to walk down the hallway towards the locker room, I felt nauseous. For an hour I tried to convince myself that I could walk to the locker room, that I was ok. To no avail. I was about to give up; I had convinced myself that I was destined to spend the rest of my life standing at the end of that hall. The gym was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life. But then, God sent a friend, someone who knew my story, someone who, when I asked her to come with me to the locker room because I was having a flashback, came with me, no questions asked. And then, to top it off, she sat with me, talking with me until the storm passed.

That was the event that changed everything: the event that caused me to reach out, to ask for help.

But still I struggled with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts.

I almost died on my way to the gym one Monday in August. One minute, I was driving in my lane; the next I had crossed over into the other lane, heading straight for a tree on the side of the road. But then, God said, Kaleigh. He called me by name, and I regained control.

A few weeks later, I left work to drive myself to the ER because I was feeling suicidal. I should have been writing a Standard Operating Procedure on how to use Skype for Business; instead, I looked up to find the words I want to die plastered all over my computer screen. So I got up and left everything as it was: my half-eaten lunch sitting in my lunchbox, my handwritten notes laid out on my desk, the document I was proofing to the right of my keyboard, closing only the Word Document, hiding the evidence I was so ashamed to tell people I had felt for years, grabbing only my purse because what if I need my epi-pen or what if someone needs a band-aid. 

When I got to the hospital, I had a panic attack in the parking garage; it took me 30 minutes to get out of my car, another five to convince myself not to climb over the concrete wall in front of me and jump over.

This was a hospital I had been in so many times: I visited family in this hospital; I had my appendix out in this hospital; I was born in this hospital. But it felt different this time: everyone around me seemed like they were moving in slow motion. I felt so heavy, so tired, like I was already dead. I had felt this way so many times.

I’ve felt this way so many times since.

When I called my father, and through the tears said, I want to come home. What I really meant was I want to feel safe.

We all want to feel safe: we all need those safe places where we can be open and honest about our struggles. We need people that make us feel that way: like when we’re with them, we can be ourselves.

The church needs to be that way: we need to be a people that meets people where they are, that loves others when they’re in the rough places. We need to be a place where people can feel like they can share their imperfections, their struggles, their fears. This world is so loud, sometimes we need to be the whispering voices that guide people to safety.

There are so many people out there struggling with hurts and pain, and they feel so alone.

Sometimes I feel so alone. Like I won’t make it out of this maze of pain and numbness.

We all need people who are willing to walk alongside us as we navigate the complex maze that is life.

How are you still alive? The truth is, I shouldn’t be. I kept my hurts secret for so long, and sometimes I feel like I got help too late. Like I’ve burned all my bridges when I got to them. Like I reached out to the wrong people at the right time. Like people are leaving me behind.

Somedays, I don’t want to be alive. Somedays, I don’t think I’m going to make it through the night. Somedays, the anxiety is so great and the panic attacks are too numerous, I wonder why I keep trying to keep myself alive. Somedays, I feel nothing at all. This is depression: it’s numbness.

But, within this numbness are moments of feeling: joy and sadness, happiness and anger, laughter and tears. And I keep holding on to these moments because if I string enough of them together, I can build a rope to pull myself out of this pit of hopelessness.

How are you still alive?  What I said is: I don’t talk about it. What I mean is: God. God is the only reason I’m still here.

We have to talk about our hurts and struggles because not talking about them is dangerous. In his novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck wrote “There’s more beauty in truth; even if it’s a dreadful beauty.”

I tell my story because I want people to know they’re not alone. I’ve felt alone so many times, and maybe by being honest about my vastly imperfect life, I can help some one else.

I’ve gotten so frustrated with myself over the last few months because I can’t fix how I’m feeling. It’s not fixable.

And I think we all need to acknowledge that there are hurts in this world that humans can’t fix. All we can do is be a listening ear, an ever-present support. None of us can do life alone. We need people willing to sit with us when we’re in the rough places, to walk alongside us as we work our way through the pain. Because that’s all humans can do.

The only thing we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves and let God do the rest. We have to admit our weaknesses because it’s only in our weakness that we realize how strong we are. It was at my weakest moment that I found the strength to drive myself to the ER.

I have depression and anxiety, and I struggle with suicidal thoughts more often than I would like to admit. But every so often, just when I think I’m the farthest from God I could ever be, He reminds me so clearly of his presence.

Back in October, I woke up one Sunday with my anxiety through the roof. As the service concluded, I felt this sense of peace come over me, and for a moment, I felt the burden I’ve been carrying for years be lifted off my shoulder. I collapsed in my pew and the tears started flowing. And I found myself at the prayer rail, surrounded by friends and family who walk this journey with me.

I want more than anything to be fixed: to have my past erased and my depression and anxiety gone forever.

But, only God can do that. And I’ve come to realize that He’s probably not going to fix me in the way I would like, but He can redeem it: He’s not “Mr. Fix It.” He’s “Mr. Redeem It.”

Every so often, He redeems me a little bit more and more. Every so often, He takes away part of the burden I carry.

And on the days when those moments are not enough, when the anxiety is high, and the suicidal thoughts return, on the days where the sadness is too much, I look at the lines in my hand. I am reminded that the same God who paints the sunsets and sunrises, who created the rainbows and the color-changing leaves of autumn, the God who placed the stars in the sky, stitched me together piece by piece. And sometimes, that is enough.