How trying to drive into a tree taught me to let go

You have to let it go; in order to move forward, you have to turn it all over. 

Yes, Brandon, but I don’t know how.  

. . .  

I look out over the sea of faces before me, and I recognize what is looking back: brokenness. It’s as familiar to me as the back of my hand; I could pick it out in a crowd, just as easily as I could pick out myself on my good days. I recognize it because I, too, am broken. I am them.  

I stand on the platform in the sanctuary singing songs about how great God is, but half the time I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it somedays because the trauma is too loud, shouting my past at me through a megaphone, and it’s in those moments that I forget how good God is. I forget how good God is because I’m too focused on the anger I feel. 

I sit in therapy, and I talk about how I’m angry: at myself, at them, at God. I’m angry at myself for all the hurt I caused myself and others along the way, angry at them because if I wasn’t raped, who would I be? Angry at God because where was He in all of this?  

I sit in Celebrate Recovery and I have to admit I lied. The answer I wrote down is not the real answer I should have said. I thought I had let the anger go, but I hadn’t let all of it go–I was still as angry at myself as I was a year ago. 

Anger is destructive; it destroys that which is beautiful, corrupting happiness, sabotaging the future before it even happens, eroding your identity away before you even recognize it’s happening. Anger is blinding, forcing you to focus on the past instead of looking towards the future. 

Or, in my case, it causes you to try to drive into trees.  

You see, friends, anger has this way of sneaking up on us; one minute we’re fine; the next, we’re sobbing on the side of the road because we tried to drive into a tree. I thought by now I’d be done with that, should be done (but that’s a negative self-judgement, and I’m not allowed to make those).  

And I didn’t know how to let it go—how to hand over the anger, the trauma, the depression. I didn’t want to let go of it because letting go means giving up control. Meant giving up control, and I don’t feel in control. 

Driving home last night, my world changed forever. The anger consumed me so much, I tried to drive into a tree. Last night, I saw the faces of those who hurt me the most, and felt peace, not anger. Instead, I was angry at myself for not being able to let it go, and it was in that moment of suicidal anger that God took it all.  

He took it all. 

It took directing the anger at myself for me to let it go—fully and completely. And for the first time in my life, I felt that everything was going to be ok.  

Defining yourself by the past does not allow you to move forward, makes you fearful of the future, makes it hard to establish an identity.  

Wallowing in brokenness worsens the lack of identity.  

It’s so easy to let our brokenness define us that we forget we can be healed. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves in our suffering that we forget that Jesus himself wept, that He cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He, too, felt forsaken and dejected, rejected and disgraced. He, too, was trying to find God in the midst of the pain and brokenness, trying to find hope in the darkness. 

Aren’t we all? 

Aren’t we the same ones who wandered in the desert for 40 years trying to find the Promised Land? 

Aren’t we the same ones who wondered if God could calm the storm?  

Aren’t we the same ones who walked on water to Jesus and started to sink when we started to doubt? 

Aren’t we all the broken ones, the hurting ones, the weary ones, the ones who wonder if God really cares, if He’s really there at all? 

Sometimes, I do. And it took me trying to drive into a tree that God really is there—He really does care, and He can take it all. He can take it all. You just have to be willing and ready. 

I’m willing and ready.  

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God Friended Me

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

My heart stirred. A quiet voice was speaking to me, go to the altar. Let it out. Let it go. 

Please don’t make me do this, I hesitatingly prayed. I don’t want to be one of ‘those’ people—the hurting, the broken. What must it be like to be unafraid to come forward and kneel and ask for healing, for forgiveness? The truth is, I am one of ‘those’ people. I am hurting; I am broken. I don’t know how to be anything else.  

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

I made my way down to the altar, body shaking, trying to hold back the tears threatening to fill my eyes: I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to exist. I don’t want to be broken anymore. As I kneeled down at the altar, the dam broke: I started sobbing and shaking. I felt people gather around me, one on either side. And then, the pastor said words I never expected to hear, not at this church: I’m feeling God move in this place; those who are able, please come forward to the altar and gather around your brother and sisters. Step into the aisles as we become a family. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.  

It was in that moment that God moved, that the Holy Spirit moved, as people flooded around those kneeling, I felt one of my other pastor’s place his hand on my shoulder. I heard the voices of some of my biggest supporters whispering prayers behind me. And I felt God move. Sometimes I doubt God. Ok, actually a lot of the time I doubt God. But I always manage to find Him in the doubt, moving through me like the wind. Oh, there He is. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.  

Last week, I relapsed. Hard. I cut myself badly enough that it could’ve killed me, should’ve killed me. And I felt guilty. And I felt dirty. And I felt unforgiveable. But God, God met me where I was, kneeling at the altar, tears streaming down my face, my brokenness and shame on display for everybody to see. And He didn’t judge. And He didn’t leave. And He didn’t call me unlovable. He opened His arms and said, Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

I felt God move in that place, in the sanctuary with a hundred of my closest friends gathered around me, around us. In that moment, I let it go: the guilt, the anger, the shame. I let the miscarriage go. I handed it over to God, and He whispered, Finally. 

There’s still a lot of work for me to do, things for me to let go of, things for me to hand over to God. I’m codependent. I feel as though my only two choices are self-harm and suicide. There’s so much pain and heartache. But sometimes it’s not about what God’s going to do in your life; it’s about what He’s already done in your life. God trusts you enough to make it through the difficult moments, so He can make beauty out of the ashes. He makes ministry out of misery. He uses broken people to help broken people because we’re all broken in some way.  

He changed my life yesterday. It took five minutes at the altar, kneeling, panicking with, tears streaming down my face. People whispered in my ear, I love you. I’m praying for you. For the first time, I believed them.  

God was felt in that place yesterday.  

As I got up from the altar and started to walk away, I was embraced with so much love by so many people. I have never been more acutely aware of the fact that I’m not doing this alone. We are not doing this alone.  

God friended me yesterday. He’ll friend you too.  

Kneeling at the altar. Crying in your bed. Driving in your car. Walking through the woods. He’ll meet you where you are. He’ll love you as you are. And when you turn your eyes towards Him and surrender your burdens, He’ll say, without judgement, finally.  

It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

I was four the first time I saw a dead body. It was my great aunt. My great uncle picked me up at her open-casket funeral, placed his hand on her arm, looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said: “She’s in Heaven now.”

Do suicides go to heaven?

Heaven. I learned that Heaven is a place people go when their bodies are cold; they look slightly different: like at any moment they could come back alive—suspended animation—toeing the line between there and not there. Like at any moment they could start breathing again.

Breathing again. Am I ever going to learn how to breathe again?

Every funeral I’ve been to since, the passage of time has been spent counting the number of breaths not taken for every breath I took. Wondering how it would feel if I too had a crest-fallen chest.

Why won’t they breathe? Why can’t I breathe?

Trauma has this way of sneaking up on you, camouflaged in the shadows of okayness. One minute you’re laughing and smiling and singing in the shower. The next minute it feels like a tree is being pulled out of your chest, unaided

by sedation, burning, screaming, God take the pain away.

Is this what drowning feels like?

It’s easier to believe God doesn’t exist when you’ve experienced hurt or pain. It’s almost easier to believe God doesn’t exist. Because if He did exist, if an ever-loving God exists in an imperfect world, why, why do bad things happen? Why does He allow bad things to happen? Why?

You’re moving forward. Stepping out of your shame, owning your story, living your story.

But maybe those are the wrong questions to ask. Maybe it’s not why do bad things happen? Maybe it’s what do I do when these bad things happen? Maybe it’s how do I move forward? What is my purpose within all this?

You know, somewhere deep down, I feel like this is all my fault. Somewhere, deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be alive.

You see, trauma sucks. And sometimes, I still blame myself for all that has happened in my life. I feel like, maybe, if I had done something different, none of this would have happened: I wouldn’t have been raped, gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, had a mental breakdown.

How can I want to die but still be doing everything I can to live?

If none of that had happened, I might not have been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Depression. Things I’ve struggled with my whole life but made worse by life—chemical imbalances exacerbated by circumstances. I would have spent my whole life wanting to die without ever getting the help to fight it.

It’s ok not to be ok.

I’m learning how to be ok with not always being ok. Trauma is not a prerequisite for mental illness. I had one long before the trauma, and I’ll have one long after the trauma is worked through. But it doesn’t define me. I am more than my past, more than my present, more than the battle raging inside my head.

I am suicidal. And for so long I tried to hide that, until I couldn’t any more. I just have to make the part of me that wants to live louder.

I thought being baptized was going to fix me. It did not. It just gave the negative voice in my head I call Gertrude more fodder: you aren’t worthy of being a child of God. You’re a terrible person who will never get to Heaven because of what happened to you.

Do suicides go to heaven?

Could my purpose be to write about God and mental illness? Because there’s still a taboo about not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not having faith enough. Do you know how many Bible verses I quote throughout the day just to keep me going? How each day is one continuous “God help me” prayer? How much faith it requires for me just to put one step in front of the other?

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

It’s so hard to live when every fiber in your body is telling you to die, every memory in your brain is telling you that God made a mistake. But God didn’t make mistakes—He doesn’t make mistakes. Every day I choose hope, but hope really isn’t a choice any more than your heart beating is a choice. Hope is inherent in all of us: our body tries so hard to keep us alive. Our wounds heal themselves; our cells regenerate; our DNA multiplies and divides to keep us living. Having hope is easy. What’s not easy is stepping out of shame into hope.

Do suicides go to heaven?

What about all those people who keep on living even when they want to die? I spent so much time wanting to die, I forgot how to live.

I am More than You Bargained For

Sitting in his office with tears streaming down my face, he sat there patiently waiting for an answer to the question he asked five minutes before: What’s your reason for being alive?

The heavy silence, filled with the weight of all the pain I’ve been carrying for years, was only broken by three small words, uttered—not strongly, not confidently—but brokenly and weakly: I don’t know.
 
Because the truth is that I don’t know. I don’t know. 
And the next words out of my mouth, buried so deep I had long since repressed, shocked even me: I’ve wanted to die since I was five.
 
The problem is, he said. The problem is that deep down in your core you don’t believe that you are even worthy of existing. The problem is that there are two parts of you. One part 100% believes that you don’t deserve to exist. And the other part knows that’s not true. And until we destroy that part that lies to you, the part that you’ve built your whole existence around, you’re gonna continue to want to drive into trees.
 
It shook me to the core, but deep down, I knew he was right. He’s always right. I’ve known him for six months, and I’m pretty sure he knows more about me than I know about myself.
And I know this post is supposed to be positive, Chris. (Yes, I called you out in a blog post. Deal with it.) I’m working on it. But in order to get to the positive I have to work through the negative, the nitty gritty, the messiness.
And right now, I’m a mess. I’m hurting and broken and I’m trying my best to work through all of this. But I’m so afraid that the more I share, the more people are going to want to up and leave.
And maybe they should.
But, also they shouldn’t. 
 
But.
 
What if. 
 
I’m sorry. 
(These are words I say to lessen the blow, to invalidate my own existence—maybe if I say them, it won’t hurt as much when I’m gone—games I play in my own head to convince myself that maybe I’m not worth all the time and effort people are putting in. I’m not worth the late-night texts or the mid-panic attack “I’m trying to stay grounded” freak outs or the “these are my safe people that I can tell things to” burden or even the “I’m pulling out the big bro card” moments.)
But the truth is.
The truth is.
I am.
Brandon had me make a list of things that I am. Positive words that describe my good points. And I could think of none.
None. 5 minutes of silence and the only word that kept popping into my head was: unworthy. 
 
Then he said, Let me rephrase it this way. If I asked so-and-so to describe you, what would they say you are?
 
I assume you mean besides annoying? I asked. They’d say ‘smart and funny and curious and caring and loving and strong.’
 
There you go, he replied. That’s a start. Your homework is to go and make a list of things that you are. 
And I thought and I thought, and the more I thought, the more I wanted to drive into a tree. It’s not like I don’t want to be here because I do. I have a job I love, a job I’m good at, in a place that I love, with people that I love, with family and friends who love and support me through it all.
But..
But..
But sometimes it doesn’t matter and all that’s keeping me here is my faith that there’s something bigger out there—a God who made me for a purpose (even though sometimes I feel like he made a mistake when he made me)—all that’s keeping me is my faith and my sheer stubbornness to prove the voices from my past wrong: I’m strong enough to fight this.
And here’s where the positive stuff comes in, the positive words that I’m still trying so hard to believe myself. The words that come into my head for a moment, and I try to hold onto them for as long as I can, but they’re tricky and quick and sometimes they get away.
But.
But.
I’m trying my best to make my hands quicker, make my brain listen, and as the words pour from people’s mouths, as they come through over texts and emails and social media comments, I’m trying so hard to remember them. To hold them tight, to put them in my pocket and save them for a rainy day.
I’ve wanted to die since I was five. But I’m strong. I’m resilient.
I was raped at 13. But that does not define me. I’m more than what was done to me by people who don’t even matter. I’m stronger than they bargained on, braver than they thought, more loved than they wanted to admit.
I had a miscarriage. But I’m so many people’s second mother.
I had an eating disorder. But I am beautiful, I was beautiful. I am beautiful.
I have panic attacks for seemingly no reason at all. But I laugh and make jokes and have one of the sharpest wits.
I am broken and hurting. But that’s allowed me to see the ironic side of life, to find the humor and joy in the little things.
I feel unworthy and dirty. But I am loved. I am a Child of the King. I’ve been baptized and have been washed clean.
I am loved. And that. That is enough.
No ifs, ands, or buts.

I’m Sorry: A Reflection on 10 Years

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he said as he slammed my locker shut on the last day of eighth grade, just like he had done every day before.

The truth is: I was going to wait to post this. I was going to wait to post it until May 19th, 2018. 10 years to the day after I was raped in a school bathroom by some guys I thought were my friends.

But in all actuality, the truth is: I never wanted to post this, never wanted this story to get out. I wanted to keep it under lock and key in a trunk, buried away under the deep recesses of my memory, never to be open. Because people can’t hurt you if they don’t know you, can’t hate you if you don’t let them in. People can’t love you if you don’t let them in.

And I’m terrified of being loved.

Because the truth is, as much as I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years trying to outrun my past, trying to forget it, there’s a part of my story that I never wanted to admit, too painful even for myself. What happened in that bathroom is one thing: I relive that every day with flashbacks and triggers and panic attacks and random encounters at Dick’s Sporting Goods. And I’m almost to the point where I can say, “This is what happened to me. This is what they did. But I’m stronger now.”

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he smirked at me, his hazel eyes and nicotine breath forever seared into my mind. But what he didn’t know, what I’ve spent the last 10 years trying so hard to outrun, the secret that’s literally killing me is this:

Just a few days before the last day of eighth grade, just over a month after being raped, I had a miscarriage.

I had a miscarriage, and I feel ashamed:

ashamed that it happened; ashamed that I’m sometimes glad it did.

ashamed that I wonder what my life would be like if the baby had been born; ashamed that I think my life is better right now.

ashamed that I was 13 years old and terrified to tell my parents, my entire church community what happened because how would they respond?

ashamed that I was 13 years old and secretly glad that I lost the baby because I didn’t want to face the stigma of being a pregnant teenager, especially in the church.

ashamed that at 23, I’m still worried about what my church would have thought 10 years ago if I had shown up to Sunday morning worship pregnant, the whispers, the stares, the shunning. What happened? Are you going to put it up for adoption? This could ruin your life you know.

ashamed that at 23, I still feel ashamed for feeling guilt and shame over things that aren’t my fault.

And I’ve gone over the “what if”s in my head over and over and over again. What if

What if

What if

And now that the cat’s out of the bag, I feel as though I have to apologize:

Sorry for telling you; sorry for not.

Sorry for feeling guilty; sorry for knowing it’s not my fault.

Sorry for feeling shame; sorry for knowing that I’ve come so far.

Sorry for letting you in; sorry for feeling like a burden.

Sorry for regretting not jumping off the side of the parking garage that Monday back in September when I drove myself to the ER (because there are days when I regret that, and then feel guilty for regretting it).

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry..

I’m sorry…

I apologize a lot because I’m scared of living, scared of taking up space, scared of breathing.

I know how fragile this life can be, and I know how delicate the line between life and death because I walk it every day.

And maybe, if I apologize enough, invalidate myself enough, my impact on the world will be lesser, the crater I leave behind won’t be as great: a great void narrowing instead of expanding.

People can’t miss you if you don’t let them in. People can’t miss you if you never existed in the first place: invalidate yourself into oblivion.

I’ve come so far in the last nine months, the last four months specifically since beginning work with my current therapist.

And what we’re working on is Radical Acceptance: it is what it is.

My life is what it is. My past is what it is. My future will be what it will be. This moment is filled with me typing this post, backspacing again and again, trying to get these words right. Maybe lessen the blow because, after all, words do hurt, despite what that childhood adage might say.

And last month, I got baptized, signifying that I was ready to let go and let God. I was going to give up control, give up my story, give up my past, and let God work in my life, through my life, in spite of my life.

But, I’m stubborn. And I’m scared:

scared of living.

scared of loving.

scared of being loved.

scared of giving up control because I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way back out.

I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years of my life just surviving: moment by moment; too scared of the future to even plan for one.

But I want to live. I want to thrive. And holding on to these secrets, the parts of me I’m sure will scare people away if they knew, the parts of me I deem unlovable or too ugly or too broken are literally killing me.

“You want to drive into trees a lot,” the full weight of these secrets are on the gas pedal, and I’m not strong enough to pull them off.

Not alone.

Because that’s the thing about secrets: they weigh a lot more than the truth, and they’re harder to carry over the distance of life.

Many friends make light work.

And all I can do is shine a light on my broken parts, reveal them for what they are, for who I am. Because take me or leave me, I can’t keep apologizing for who I am.

(I’ll probably still say sorry a lot and continue to invalidate myself because trying to dig through 10 years worth of garbage to move what I know to be true from my head to my heart is a long process, painful, sometimes unending process.)

“You inspire me,” my therapist, Brandon, said to me today. “Do you realize how strong you are? That you have a purpose in life?

Because I don’t look at you and see your baggage. I see a young woman with a bright future who’s trying her best to navigate the storms of this life, who’s trying to process her past and move forward, who’s fighting so hard to stay here, who loves deeply and cares fully and feels wholeheartedly, who’s unabashedly wholehearted: who gets up in front of people and says: This is me. This is what I’ve been through. This is how I’ve been hurt. But I still get up in the morning and try my best to get through the day.

And to me, that is inspiring.”

This is real. This is raw.

This is me.

Love me, hate me, pray for me, complain about me. It doesn’t matter.

Nothing you say to me can be worse than what the voices in my head say to me on the daily, but I’m working on it.

I’m working on so many things.

And right now, what I’m working on is this: fully illuminating my past so that it can be a light for my future.

I can’t hide in the dark forever.

I can’t be scared to live, to exist, to breathe, to take up space.

I’m here. I’ve been hurt deeply and profoundly, and sometimes I feel so unworthy of love.

But I’m not going to stop living.

stop loving.

stop being who I am.

Because I don’t want to run from my past for another ten years.

because a) I have asthma and can’t run very far for very long. and b) simply surviving is so very unfulfilling.

So I’m sorry.

But I’m also not.

I can’t spend the rest of my life dodging trees while running from my past.

This is me: jumping fully in, ready to admit that I was raped and lost a baby, and sometimes I feel 100% at fault.

This is me: starting to recognize that I’m worthy of love.

Sorry it took me so long to catch up.

Forged Through Fire and Baptized With Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I want to live to see that day.

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

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

But it gets harder before it gets better.

I’m living for the better.

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

And right now, all I have is hope.

Hope, Prozac, faith, family, and friends.

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

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

“I Talk to God, But the Sky is Empty.”

-Sylvia Plath

How many times have I thought that? How many times have I laid awake at night crying out to God, wondering if He hears my screams, wondering if He feels my pain? Because as much as I believe in the divine goodness and divine power of God, there are days when I doubt His existence. There are days when I wonder If God truly exists, why do I feel this way? Why was I raped? Why do I want to die even though I want so badly to live, even though I’m fighting so hard, trying everything I can to survive? 

I was a Bible Quizzer. I have entire books of the New Testament memorized. But I’m also suicidal.

And sometimes, it’s hard for me to reconcile the two together: How can I be a Christian and also be suicidal?

How can I believe in a God who loved me so much, He died for me, but also want to die?

How can I believe in eternal life, but also have days where I struggle to stay alive?

If you’re the lady who stopped me on my way in to work this morning, I can’t be both–I can’t be suicidal and a Christian (at least not a good one). For people like her, I can’t have a strong faith if I want to die because people who love God with their whole heart, who trust God completely to take care of them “shall want for nothing.”

But this is where the disconnect, for me, happens: there are two parts to who I am. There’s the traumatized, suicidal part, and then there’s the I’m-in-love-with-life part. And every day, these parts are at war, trying to one-up each other, trying to talk over each other, trying to be heard more clearly over the noise.

Imagine a room full of Italians.

That’s what it’s like inside my brain. And for so long, I tried to silence the suicidal part. (To quote Achmed the Dead Terrorist: Silence. I Kill You.) Because that’s what I thought I had to do. I thought I had to because “Christians aren’t suicidal. Christians value life. Depression is a lack of faith.”

Read your Bible more.

Pray more.

Focus on yourself less.

I didn’t think I could be a Christian and be suicidal (to be perfectly honest, some days, I still don’t).

So, I would go to church and sing the songs. I would shake hands with my neighbor in the pew next to me. I would pretend I was fine, going through the motions because I thought being an authentic Christian meant I had to be inauthentic to who I was–I had to deny a part of myself that was becoming louder and louder.

I would listen to the Christian radio stations and prominent Christian preachers who said: Suicide is a choice.

But to me, it never felt like that.

To me, suicide was never a choice; it was a lack of choice. To me, it’s always been a moment: a moment where there’s action or inaction, and you’re not sure which is worse. You’re on autopilot and nothing can switch it off.

To me, it’s still a moment: the pain I’m feeling right now is greater than any hope I have left.

Which brings me back to the whole point of this: If suicide is the moment when the pain you’re feeling is greater than the hope you have left, can Christians–the ones who have the greatest Hope–be suicidal? Or are they inauthentic? Are they suicidal because of a lack of faith?

Do I have a lack of faith?

It’s a thought that I’ve been wrestling with a lot, especially since the New Year. (Can someone say “New Year. New Me.”?)

Sometimes I’m so sure that I feel this way because my faith is lacking. Because if I was a stronger Christian, if I read my Bible more, if I prayed more, if I really and truly loved God with my whole heart, I’d want to live.

True Christians are happy people who value life.

 

I don’t believe that. I can’t believe that.

Because the people that illustrate Christ’s love best to me are those who are broken and hurting just like I am. Because they’re the ones who sit with the outcasts, who welcome the outsiders, who associate with the “unclean.”

Can I be suicidal and a Christian?

Some say no.

I say yes.

 

On the cross, Jesus cried out “My God; my God, why have you forsaken me?” Sometimes, that’s how I feel: abandoned, alone, destined to live in darkness forever.

And then, sometimes, I feel God’s presence closer than I have ever felt it: on the night I attempted suicide, on the nights I almost drive into trees, on the nights when I feel the pain and hurt and numbness inside me is too much to bear.

He whispers: You’ll be ok.

Because, yes. Faith can move mountains. Faith can make the lame walk, the blind see. Faith can heal leprosy and stop bleeding that’s lasted 12 years.

But, faith can also get me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Faith can help you walk on water.

And faith can help you stay alive just a little longer.

It’s certainly helped me (but so has medication and therapy and a whole lot of friends).

Mind over matter? Not so much.

Faith and Prozac? Definitely.

I talk to God, but the Sky is empty,” Yes, Sylvia. But sometimes, it whispers back: I am. I am. I am.

And that gives me just enough strength to keep going. Because living when you’re suicidal is a miracle in itself.

And God is found in the miracles.

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.

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.”

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.