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?
“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
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 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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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’s fascinating, my therapist said as he looked over my emotional diary cards on Monday afternoon. You either feel everything all at once, or you feel nothing at all. There are lots of 4s and 5s and there are lots of 0s and 1s, but they never exist on the same day. Except for Thursday. What happened Thursday?
Thursday? Thursday, I didn’t know how to bridge that gap, to fill that uncomfortable silence with the even more uncomfortable words: I had a mental breakdown.
You see, the problem is, I finally answered, with me, it’s all or nothing: yes or no. And I know that the world isn’t black and white, and life is really like 5,000 shades of grey, but my emotional scale is binary. I feel everything or I feel nothing. I absorb the feelings of everyone around me. I carry my own pain and everybody else’s, and I don’t know how to stop. I need to learn emotional regulation: how to adjust to my surroundings, slowly and deliberately, like a boat entering a lock on the Erie Canal, and water gets pumped in or sucked out accordingly. But I can’t do that. I don’t know how to remove myself from someone else’s pain: to positively disassociate myself from their feelings and their experience, to be empathetic but not carry their burden. And on Thursday, the tower I’ve been building during this healing process just collapsed, like a Jenga Tower, the wrong block was removed at the wrong time. The levees broke and New Orleans flooded all over again.
What started it? He asked me, with concern in his eyes, because not two minutes before we were laughing at a stupid joke I made (apparently, I use humor to hide how much pain I’m in. But, whatever, I didn’t ask his opinion).
Everything started it, and nothing started it. It started because I got home on Thursday from being an introvert in an extroverted world, and the cars were not in the order they needed to be for Friday morning. And that was enough; that was enough to send me into a tailspin. That was enough to leave me shaking before I could turn off the car engine. That was enough to just. . . just. . .
When I say everything started it and nothing started it, I mean exactly that. Having a mental breakdown over the cars being out of order seems ridiculous to some, impossible to most. But, that was the last straw in a series of straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back (and by camel, I mean my sanity).
You see, there have been many days lately where I’ve felt like I’m barely holding it together, like at any moment I could just start crying wherever I am, like at any moment people are going to start throwing stones at the glass house that I live in and shatter everything I’ve tried so hard to build. The more I’m vulnerable to try and save myself, the more I hurt. It has to hurt before it gets better.
And I know that there’s a power in vulnerability: in airing out our hurts to make way for healing. But at the same time, if I don’t expose it, I don’t feel it. And to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure all the emotional pain I’ve felt over the last few months has been worth it. Is the healing I’m going to get worth the pain and suffering at the moment?
I’ve always had this problem when it comes to emotional pain—I think a lot of us do in different ways—I’d rather deal with physical pain than emotional pain. Slap a Band-Aid on it; grab an ice pack; pop an Advil, and I’m good to go. Sit down and talk about my past and my hurt, and feel the pain and hurt? Yuck. No thanks.
I’d much rather slice open my skin than deal with being raped, than deal with feeling nothing, than deal with feeling everything.
I did. Sometimes, I still do.
So, you had a mental breakdown, Kaleigh. What does that mean?
Simple. It means my system crashed. Normally before your computer dies, it starts slowing down and giving you the loading circle of death.
My brain’s been giving me that for a while: panic attacks every time I stepped foot in the gym by myself, suicidal thoughts while I was lying in bed at night, telling me to drive into a tree every time I got behind the wheel. You know, normal things.
And then Thursday, well, actually starting Wednesday, my brain overheated: too much stimulus going on all at once, not enough time to process it all—too much being extroverted for this introvert to handle.
And just the thought of having someone be inconvenienced Friday morning because they had to move my car was enough to push my sensitive soul over the edge.
The memories of being raped came flooding back, the memories of the night I attempted suicide came flooding back, every mean thing people said to me, all the hurt and pain came rushing in. And there’s no doubt in my mind that if my dad hadn’t gotten out of bed after I called him from the driveway, if he hadn’t met me at the top of the stairs, hadn’t stopped me before I could enter my room, hadn’t asked me “why are you crying?” I would have killed myself.
And that’s the honest truth. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve had to call the suicide hotline. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve been lying in bed wondering if I’m going to make it through. But Thursday night, I had a plan, and my mind was only focused on one thing, and I can’t tell you how scary that hour was. I can’t tell you how scary and emotionally draining that hour of sobbing and screaming was. It was complete inner turmoil, a civil war deluge of real-life bullets when the only thing I had to protect myself was a plastic spoon and a metal trashcan lid.
Because in that moment, it wasn’t just about the car: it was about everything and nothing, and I wanted nothing more than to die. I wanted to die. And I would have died if I hadn’t felt my father’s arms around me, rubbing my back, rubbing my head, if I hadn’t put my head on his shoulder and cried out all the pain I’ve been keeping inside for the last nine years of my life.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
There’s a beauty in this, a parallelism really. There’s nothing beautiful about a mental breakdown; the beauty lies in the after: the rising from the devastation, the flowers from the ashes. Because in the moment that I felt so helpless, alone, and weak, God reminded me of how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been, how strong I am, how much He loves me.
He’s brought me through my hardest days. He’s shown me the power of forgiveness. The power of love. He reminds me that in my doubt, my faith isn’t any less. There is hope even if I can’t see the light.
Sometimes, you just need a good mental breakdown, I joked to one of my pastors earlier today as I was chilling like a villain in his office.
You look better, more refreshed. He answered, which is a weird thing to say to someone who’s just had a mental breakdown, but it’s true.
It is true.
I do feel better. And it’s hard to describe how I feel better because it’s not really mentally or emotionally or even physically. Because the truth is, I’m still exhausted. I’m still finding it so hard to make it through a day alive, finding it hard to keep on keeping on.
But, also, in a way, I’m not as tired. I’ve found rest I haven’t had in three months. The mental breakdown did a hard reset of my system: I still have bugs in my programming that I’m trying to decode, but I now have a newfound strength to try to decipher everything. I have a newfound strength to keep on fighting. I have new life.
Because here’s the thing: I cried out My God, My God why have you forsaken me? And he whispered right back, I’m here. I’ve always been here.
I felt my father’s arms around me, and it was good.
I feel like my life has just fallen to shit, I said to one of my pastors, and new found dear friend, over coffee this morning. I’m having a hard time even staying alive, and there are many days where I doubt God–his existence, his goodness, his unfailing love. For so long I’ve felt like I have to pretend that my life is perfect, that I don’t struggle every day with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. I felt like I had to pretend that I wasn’t raped and that I don’t struggle with doubt and my faith. Sometimes I feel that when I needed the church the most, it abandoned me. When I needed the love, support, and encouragement of people walking along beside me, they left me high and dry.
Is there room in the church for doubt? Is the church a safe space where we can ask the tough questions like: if God is real, why do bad things happen? If God loves me, why was I raped? In a culture where millennials and Gen Xes are leaving church at an alarming rate, many people have theories as to why this is an increasing trend. (If you don’t want to do a Google search, I have searched for you here.)
As a Gen X’er, with strong ties to the Millennials, I have my own theory, a theory that will be hard to hear for some people: young people are leaving the church because the church tries too hard to be perfect. We focus on the goodness of God and the power of God and the love of God, but at the same time, we fail to discuss the brokenness of the world. I mean, sure, we can mention the brokenness of the world outside: the homelessness in our community, the bombings in the Middle East, the Hurricanes in Puerto Rico. But we fail to acknowledge the broken people within our four walls.
It doesn’t happen to us, only them.
But it does happen to us. Bad things happen to Christians; Christians hurt; Christians doubt; Christians struggle to stay alive. I struggle with all these things.
I’ve attended the same church for my entire life, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt like it was home–like it was a safe space where I could discuss the hard topics, share my brokenness, express my doubt.
And maybe part of the reason young people are leaving the church is because we are more connected to the world than we’ve ever been. With the advent of Social media and online news sources, we are more engaged in the world around us, with the people around us. It’s easy for us to hear about the shootings and the genocide, the bombings and the hate crimes. Social Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement are everywhere. We don’t have to search out the brokenness and the hurt; it finds us in way that it never used to.
We used to be so isolated from each other. Not anymore. Now our smart phones and laptops are constantly informing us about what’s happening in the world–the latest technology, the latest celebrity news, the latest School shooting. All of this information is at the tip of our fingers, and the church has lost touch with the younger generation.
We’re all hurting and broken people, but the younger generations are more eager to talk about their pain and struggles than the older generations, and the church hasn’t caught up. And it needs to because now, more than ever, there are people out there who are hurting, hungry to feel accepted, hungry to feel love, hungry to find a community where the formerly taboo is now openly discussed.
Right now, more than ever, I need that.
Right now, I need to know that I can walk into church on a Sunday morning and have it be ok if I breakdown.
Right now, I need to know that I can pull someone aside, anyone aside, and say Hey, look. I’m really struggling today and could use some prayer, instead of just saying I’m fine. How are you?
Right now, I need to know that I don’t have to pretend to be perfect. I don’t have to hide my struggles. I don’t have to hide the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that I was raped and I self-harmed. I don’t have to hide any of that.
Right now, I need to know that it’s ok to share my past and not be judged, not be told to “Get over it,” not be told that I’m a bad Christian, or that how I am is not enough to be loved by God.
Right now, there are a whole bunch of people out there like me: born and raised in the church who are seriously wondering if the community and acceptance they’re searching for can actually be found with the people they worship together with on Sunday morning.
We are so desperate to find places where we feel like we belong. We are so desperate to find places where we can discuss the tough questions; where we have the freedom to openly doubt, openly question our faith; where we have the ability to love, to be encouraged, to grow.
How can we believe in God when there’s so much hurt and pain in the world? How can I believe in God when I’ve been hurt by the church?
I believe in God because I believe in his power, his love. He saved me from myself. And for every day that I’m convinced I’m not going to make it, somehow, I make it through.
But, I also believe in the human side of God.
Right now, that’s the side of God I need. I don’t need an all-powerful God through whom all things are possible.
I need the God of John 11:35 who wept. I need the God who cried out as He was being crucified “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Because that’s where I am in my life. Right now, I feel abandoned and forsaken and some days, I’m full of doubt.
But it’s ok–because Jesus felt those things, too. And I take comfort in that.
And I think the church needs to take comfort in that, too. Because, yes, God is perfect and all-loving and all-powerful, and it’s ok to praise Him. But there are people out there who need to hear about the human side of God.
Because Christians are human too. None of us are perfect. None of us should have to pretend to be.
And on my darkest nights, the ones where I’m not sure I’m going to make it to see the sun rise, I think about God crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I take comfort in the fact that Jesus weeps right along with me.
That’s why I believe in God in a broken world: He understands the broken; he sought out the broken. He loves us anyway.
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.
I was sitting in the first row of the choir loft of the sanctuary today, listening as my pastor prayed for peace of mind and hope and strength. And when he concluded, as my mind started to wander, and my thoughts started to get the better of me, he interrupted me, thankfully, by asking, “Out of all the thousands of Bible verses you have memorized, which is your favorite?”
Instantly, I panicked. My mind went blank. All the verses I have cataloged in the back of my brain by reference and topic instantly were sucked out of their storage containers by the cosmic vacuum that proves that the universe has a sense of humor. I could not remember a single Bible verse.
I eventually settled on Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” And then I added, I also love Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly realms.”
But now, as a few hours have passed since my caught-off-guard moment, and all the Bible verses have reorganized themselves in my brain, I have a better answer: Ephesians 6:7 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”
I’m kidding; I’m kidding, sort of.
John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, states simply: Jesus wept.
And for me, this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. You see, sometimes I think I’m alone in my pain–nobody understands how I feel; nobody will love me if they find out how hard it is for me to stay alive.
But, you see, Jesus does. Jesus understands how I feel; He loves me despite what’s happened to me, despite the battle raging inside of me. And He loves you, too.
I share my story because I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I feel sometimes. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their shame. I don’t want people to feel like nobody could ever understand what they’re going through.
As I’ve been open and honest about my story, especially how hard these last few months have been, I’ve noticed something: I have become the support system for other people. I have friends who message me when they’re having a panic attack because I understand what it’s like. I have friends who tell me “Hey, I was raped, too.” I have friends who tell me that they have also lived with depression for a while but have kept it to themselves for fear of being judged.
And here’s the thing, guys. I love every minute of it. I love every minute of hearing other people’s stories and having those people in my life who are brave enough to reach out. Because it’s taken me this long to figure out that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Maybe I can’t stop my own panic attacks or pull myself out of the darkest nights, but if I can be there for others, you bet your bottom dollar that I will be.
Here’s the thing: this week has been harder than most. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week, and I feel like I’m failing. Tonight at the gym, instead of sitting on the bench for five or ten minutes to collect my thoughts, I had to sit there for nearly an hour, blaring music, trying to drown out the world. And on the way home, I had to pull over because I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes; right now, life is so hard, and sometimes I feel so alone and like nobody understands.
But here’s the thing: God does. He weeps right along with me. In the moments when the panic sets in, He walks me through it. And during the nights when I’m not sure I’m going to live to see the sun, He wraps me up in His arms and carries me through the darkness.
I used to think that I was a terrible Christian because I was raped, because I have depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, because I sometimes still struggle with self-harm and battle an eating disorder that I thought I recovered from a long time ago.
I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. On the nights when I’m so tired, I can only let out a whisper of a prayer, God hears me. He has not forsaken me.
And one day, He’ll redeem me.
Because life is so so tough right now, but I have faith in the hope that I hold onto during the darkest nights.
I am a Child of God, and Jesus wept.