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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to protect myself from myself.

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

And lately, it’s gotten worse.

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

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

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

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

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

I understand.

But what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can stop going to the gym.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Monster Under the Covers: PTSD

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he said, Kaleigh, you have PTSD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see you.

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

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

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

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

I see you.

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

I am one of them.

When you share, I understand you completely.

When you cry, I want to cry too.

When you panic, I panic.

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

I see you.

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

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

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

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

Let your community love you.

Let me love you.

Because I see you.

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

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

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

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

And I’m sorry for that.

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

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

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

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

Because we’ve come so far.

And we’re learning to cope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no shame in that.

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

None of us should have to.

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

I am willing.

I see you.

I understand you.

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

And I’m so so proud of you.

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

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

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was Good: Finding God in a Mental Breakdown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did. Sometimes, I still do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is true.

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

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

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

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

 

Life Beyond: the Psych ER and My Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Wish I Could Say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you see yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

 

Here’s to the Ones Who Try So Hard

One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.

One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.

You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.

You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.

You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.

You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.

It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.

You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.

And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.

And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.

When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.

The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.

A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.

And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.

And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.

Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.

Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.

Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.

Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.