You of Little Faith

I have a hard time getting out of bed. To a point, I think all of us have days like that: days when it’s rainy and damp and chilly; days when we’re so tired because sleep didn’t come easily, if at all. And I don’t want to diminish those days because I never want to invalidate anyone else’s feelings, invalidate other people’s bad days.

My “hard to get out of bed” days are my every day. Every day it’s hard for me to get out bed: the weight of the world and the weight of my pain are too heavy; the fear of “if I get out of bed, I will die” is too high.

One of these feelings is new, relatively speaking. The other one has been my lifelong companion, a friend I didn’t ask for. One that’s moved in, crashed on my couch, invaded my personal space, crowded me out, made me feel like a stranger in my own home. This is anxiety: the constant feeling that I’m going to be late for an appointment I didn’t even make, the impending due date for a major project for a class I’m not even taking, hearing the Imperial March but never running into Darth Vader, discovering a bomb and hearing the beeping get faster and faster and faster but it never exploding. All the time. 24/7.

I’ve always felt this way. I never realized that it was abnormal. I always thought everybody felt this way: so unsure of themselves, feeling like they were going to throw up every time they opened their mouth to speak in class, unable to make eye contact whenever talking to someone, never wanting to meet someone new because “what if they get to know me and then they discover that they don’t like me?,” wanting to find the nearest exit every time they are in a room with more than five people.

I don’t want to say that my anxiety controlled my life when I was younger. But, it did. I was so unsure of myself that I didn’t want to take up people’s time. So, I didn’t talk to people, didn’t ask family members to play games with me, tried to make myself as invisible as I possibly could. And, on the days when I was super stressed, when I had actual tests and was afraid to go to school because of the bullies, I would pick at scabs until they bled. Scarring my body before I even knew what self-harm was.

Growing up in the church, I was always told that God was an all-knowing, ever-loving God. He so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son and so on and so forth. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs; He knows the number of hairs on our head; He knows us inside and out, and He has a plan for our lives.

I was also told that He would never give us more than we can bear. And if we read our Bibles enough, pray enough, are a good enough Christian, He’ll protect us from the bad. Bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people. If I really, truly loved Him with my whole heart, if I surrendered everything over to Him, He would protect me from the evil in the world.

And I believed it.

Then one day when I was in eighth grade, I was raped in a school bathroom. When you’re 13 years old and already so unsure of yourself, what they tell you becomes what you believe: slut, worthless, unlovable, ugly. Those four words have been on repeat in my head, and sometimes, at the worst moments, I relive those 15 minutes over and over and over again.

And because of the anxiety I had carried with me for years, I didn’t tell anyone: I was scared, didn’t want to be blamed, just wanted desperately to be loved, didn’t want anyone to know that I was now dirty. I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, grabbed my backpack, climbed into my dad’s car, and kept silent for a year of running into them in the hallways every day, having one of them breathe down my neck as they sat behind me in class, having my stomach do somersaults everytime they smirked at me.

And sometime in that year, I met a new companion: Depression. He moved in and with him, the doubt came too.

Was I not a good enough Christian? Did I not love God enough? Did God not love me enough? Was there even a God? Because if there is a God, how can He allow things like this to happen?

Sometimes depression is sadness. Sometimes it’s anger or despair or hopelessness. Sometimes it’s complete numbness. And that’s what I was: numb. For three or four years, I felt nothing. Yes, there were occasional moments of happiness and laughter, sadness and tears. But that’s all they were: moments, beautiful but fleeting.

And because I wasn’t feeling anything, I started self-harming. Physical pain was better than emotional numbness. And then, when that wasn’t enough, I stopped eating. We all want to feel in control of our lives, and I could control the number of calories I ate. So I did. I restriced and restriced and restriced because I wasn’t deserving. I didn’t deserve to eat.

I tried to erase the parts of myself I didn’t like, tried to erase the feeling of their hands on my body. I tried to make myself someone worthy of love despite the continual fighting off the demons in my head who were telling me otherwise.

And then one February night during my Sophomore Year of High School, I stopped fighting. For one second, I stopped fighting the voices in my head. I was oh so tired.

I could use a million metaphors to describe what happened next, but this isn’t Star Wars: there’s no “metaphors be with you” to lessen what I’m about to say:

That was the night I attempted suicide. I wrote a note, swallowed pills, laid in bed, and then watched the snow falling outside my window sparkle in the moonlight. When I think back to this night, there’s a disconnect in my brain: because on one hand, it was beautiful: the fluffy snow sparkling in the moonlight. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing beautiful about feeling like there’s no hope, there’s no way out.

In the next moment, as I’m able to quiet my racing thoughts, there was a still quiet voice in my ear, “You’ll be ok.” 

And that was enough. In that moment, that was all I needed.

I found that suicide note a few years ago, tucked away in a polka dot notebook I forgot I had. I would like to say that after reading it, ripping it up, and throwing it out the window as I drove down the expressway, I never wrote another one, but that would be a lie.

I’ve written more than I can count. In the last three months alone, I’ve written at least 15 on the nights that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the storm. But, after the storm subsides, when the winds calm down, and the waters recede, I delete them from my phone, erasing the words I’m so ashamed of writing.

Being raped shattered me, as it would anyone. And nine years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces. Nine years later, I’m still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me.

 

I’m 23 years old now, but not much has changed: I’m still so unsure of myself; I invalidate my own feelings to make room for other people’s; I don’t want to take up people’s time;  I’m still learning how to ask for help.

Somedays I still self-harm. I have flashbacks and panic attacks, mostly at the gym because there are too many guys that I don’t trust, and not enough people that I do. Two months ago, I almost drove into a tree. On purpose. Because sometimes I’m still convinced I don’t deserve to be here. One month ago, I drove myself to the ER because instead of writing a manual on using Skype for Business, the only words on the screen in front of me were: I want to die. I need to die. 

Somedays, I use up all my faith when I get out of bed and trust that the floor won’t collapse beneath my feet.

And I want you guys to know two things: 1. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know: most days, I feel like I want to die. But, I know that I actually do not want to die. And 2. that you can’t fix this. There’s nothing you can do to take all this pain away. But, if you rephrase the question “What can I do (to fix this)?” to “What do you need?,” the number of things you can do skyrockets from zero to so many: I need a hug. I need prayer and support and encouragement and love. I need people to sit there with me as I’m trying to work through what I’m feeling in that moment. I need people to listen to what’s going on in my head. I need people to let me feel what I’m feeling and not get frustrated. Because, trust me, no one’s more frustrated than me.

I’m frustrated because I should be better. It’s been nine years, and in those nine years, I’ve felt nothing; I’ve felt anger; I’ve forgiven, and I’ve tried to move on. I’ve been hurt and harassed and there are stories that I’m not ready to tell. I went to Guatemala and led a young girl to a God that I wasn’t even sure I believed in at the time.

And why haven’t I left? Why haven’t I walked away? The truth is, I have. For so long I was angry at God for letting this happen to me. For abandoning me. For leaving me for a younger, prettier, less broken model.

But, here’s the thing: so many times over the years I have been reminded of God’s grace, of His goodness, of the love He has for me. On the night I attempted suicide, He whispered, “You’ll be ok.” He snapped me out of it as my car was heading for a tree. He gave me the strength to ask for help, to drive to the ER even though I was terrified, because I was terrified.

Right now, I’m oh so weak. But God, He’s strong enough for the both of us. He’s carried me through things I wouldn’t have made it through on my own.

And even though I have so many questions: Why did this happen? Why did I survive when so many people do not? What on earth kind of plan do you have for my life? Does beauty really come from ashes?, I know that there are things that my finite brain can’t even begin to comprehend.

Sometimes, all we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves, and turn the rest over.

My name’s Kaleigh, and I have Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Major Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal thoughts,  and I’m letting God do the rest.

Because that’s all I can do–all any of us can do. Because I can’t fix this. You can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. They can make it more manageable, but that’s it.

Only God can fix this. And I’ve come to accept the fact that maybe it won’t fix this in the way I want Him to. Maybe depression and anxiety and the memories will always be a part of my life. He knows what He’s doing and the plans He has for my life. I still struggle with guilt and shame and the feeling that everything that’s happened in my life is somehow my fault. But, sometimes, every once in a while, He’ll fill me with this sense of peace, a reminder that He’s got this, even when I have no faith, when I feel hopeless, when I’ve lost sight of the light.

Last Sunday, I woke up and my anxiety was through the roof. I felt out of place, uncomfortable, a stranger in my own body. I got up, went to Sunday School, and went to Church, trying to maintain normalcy when all I wanted to do was die. As the last song was ending and the closing prayer was started, I collapsed in my pew and started sobbing. And then, somehow, I don’t quite remember how, I ended up at the prayer rail, still sobbing because God reminded me in that moment that He’s taken my guilt and shame; He reminded me that I’m worthy; there’s no one too broken or dirty. And when I finally stopped crying, when I finally found the strength to stand up and turn around, there were a whole bunch of people surrounding me with open arms and tears in their eyes, reminding me that I’m not alone in this. None of us are alone in life.

So, yes, somedays are hard. Most days are hard. But on those days where I can’t get out of bed, where my faith seems too small, where I’m afraid that despite my best attempts at self-preservation, my suicidal thoughts will win out, where the depression and anxiety seem like too much to bear; on those days, I look at the lines on my hand.

They remind me that the same God who created the stars in the sky, the falling snow, the sunrises and sunsets, the rainbows, and the color-changing leaves of autumn stitched me together piece by piece.

And sometimes, that is enough.

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Late Night Thoughts: I’ll Be Ok

The most common question I get is, “What you were wearing?” As if that makes a difference. I was in 8th grade, and my whole life I had been taught that, as a woman, I have to be careful what I wear because it could be distracting to boys.

I was wearing jeans and an extra-large hoodie if you must know.

The second most common question I am asked is, “what did you do to provoke him?” Nothing. Unless you count him asking me out and me saying, “no,” because he was a jerk who slammed my locker shut every day, who used to pull my hair because he liked the way it curled.

Now before you say, Boys will be boys, or, that’s how he shows you he likes you, let me tell you that I grew up hearing that if a guy is mean to you, he likes you.

“He’s pulling my hair.” He likes you.

“He stole my ball.” He likes you.

I took that to mean that if someone is mean to you, they must like you.

“He beat his wife for years.” He loved her too much.

“Why didn’t she leave?” She loved him too much.

For years, I was mean to my body: I cut myself open. I watched myself bleed. I starved myself. I belittled myself because I believed that in order to love my body, my being, I had to first be mean.

Meanness, I thought, was the way people showed love: Love is born out of hatred; Abuse is a symbol of love.

How messed up is that?

“Why did you do this to yourself?” I was trying to love myself.

“Why didn’t you leave?” Trust me, I tried. But something pulled me back.

You’ll be ok.

People like to believe that most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by strangers. However, that’s not the case. (Trust me, I’ve done the research. I know the statistics. 1 in 5. 1 in 7. I wrote a 12-page paper on the prevalence of rape in society and the way society treats the victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes, society doesn’t get it right).

I knew the guys who did this to me. I went to school with them. I saw them every day before and after until they dropped out. Win for me.

I graduated High School. They didn’t.

I am going to graduate from College soon. I’ve come a long way.

The things they called me, the things they told me, still echo in my ear.

Slut.

Bitch.

You’re asking for this.

You’ll never amount to anything.

Nobody will ever love you.

 

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not.

But I love me. It’s taken me years to get to this point. It’s taken me years to realize how beautiful I am I have the advantage of knowing where I’ve been and can compare it to where I am now. And with all these facts laid out before me, how can I not love me?

There are days when I want to go back in time and say to my 13-year old self, It’s ok. You’ll be ok. It will get better. I want to take her by the hand and show her the people she’ll touch, the people she’ll meet, the lives she’ll change. I want to tell her the story of her 19-year old self going to Guatemala, sharing her testimony with a group of Junior High students, and leading a young Guatemalan teenager to Christ because of her story. I want to tell her about the hard days and the sad days and the in-between days. I want to remind her that one day the sun will come out, and she’ll feel better. I want to tell her that despite the cyclic nature of Depression, she can get through this.

I’ve learned life is beautiful, and I want her to remember this.

I want to tell her that one day she’ll learn about the power of words, how writing can change a life. When she discovers this, she will have found what she wants to do with her life.

I guess those guys must have been wrong about me then.

My 13- year old self would love me.

My current self loves me.

God loves me.

He’s the One who called me back that day.

You’ll be ok.

Some days I have to remind myself of this, especially on the days when the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

God loves me anyway, and I’ll be ok.

Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.

Moving On

The first cut is always the deepest.  The first cut always hurts the most. But then the second and third cuts come, and after a while, you become addicted. You become addicted to the release it brings. For one minute during your day you feel something. You are allowed to feel something.

And then it’s not just days; it’s months, it’s years of this daily release. Then one day, you hit your lowest point. Your skin is not skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting daily battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestones of those lost. It’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled.

One day you trace the scars that you’re so eager to hide from judging eyes, because you don’t know how to explain to people that you’re not trying to kill yourself; you’re trying to stay alive:

How have I made it this far? I’m stronger than I think I am.

How did I get here? I’m left looking back on things I’d much rather forget.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea.

I have no idea.

But I’m taking it one day at a time. Because when you didn’t think you’d make it this far, planning the future and looking too far ahead is terrifyingly intimidating. Life is stressful. You take it one day at a time so you don’t forget to breathe.

Through all this, you have to learn how to move on with your life. I’m learning how to move on. I’m learning how to make it through the day. I’m learning that God loves me despite it all. I’m learning that even at my worst my friends are there to fall back on.

I’m learning how to love myself again, which is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s so easy to compare yourself to everyone else. And this game you play, you lose every time, which destroys your self-image. So you have to undo all the damage done—years of losses has left your Self-image so badly damaged there’s no choice but to tear it down and rebuild it from the bottom.

This rebuilding is a process. It’s looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful even when you don’t believe it. It’s telling yourself that you are worth something when you’re entire being is telling you that you’re better off dead. It’s learning how to block out the voices of those who once hurt you (not that the memories won’t hurt, because they will. But that’s ok. You’re alive).

And it’s so much more. It’s learning to ignore the people who judge you. It’s learning to ignore the people looking at you, whispering about you as if you can’t see them. It’s learning how to cope, how to deal with the thoughts that can destroy you. It’s learning how to let the feelings out in healthy ways (even if it’s crying at Youth Group). It’s learning that it’s ok that big groups make you uncomfortable, that you are always on the verge of a mental breakdown. The people who matter won’t love you any less.

It’s learning that this is a Mental Illness; the feelings won’t go away, but they’ll be like waves. It’s learning how to make the most of them.

It’s learning that you are worth being loved. It’s allowing yourself to be loved and valued when the right person comes along.

It’s learning to say look how far I’ve come. Look at what you did to me, but look what I’ve done with my life. Look at me prove you wrong.

Perfectly Human

This post has been replaying over and over in my head for a while, and up until a few days ago, it remained unfinished. It’s not that it was hard to finish; it’s that no words seemed quite fitting for such a post. But, I think after much thought, I have just the words to say. 

Since starting this blog, I have stumbled upon many blogs that absolutely blow me away. The emotion that is used, the hurt that is conveyed, makes me inspired. Some of the bloggers are dying. Some of the bloggers are struggling with trying to find who they are. These people say what they are feeling; they say exactly what they think without sugar coating it.

And I wish I could be like them.

I know I have been more verbal about my life story than some. I have been more willing to tell than some would like. But, the part that I’ve shared isn’t my whole story. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. The aftermath has been left unsaid. Cutting. Inner war. Self-bashing. Self-criticism. Nagging questions that have no answer. Being left with feelings of utter bleakness, feelings of hopelessness. It’s as if I’m on a giant water slide, going under water faster than I can catch my breath.

That’s the unsaid part. The day to day feelings. The day to day thoughts. The aftermath.

I’d like to be able to say “You know what? I’m not ok. I’m not. Today, I had this thought about myself. Today, I had this thought about people…” without the fear of being judged by my peers, without the fear of retribution, or being viewed as less of a person.

For one day, I wish I could be more like these other bloggers who unabashedly share their stories, their heart, their cynicism, the doubts.

I know I’m not the only one out there that wishes they could be more open. In today’s world, people are judged for every little thing. Society’s standards are tough to live up to. And one of the worst feelings in the world is the feeling of being judged, of disappointing or not living up to standards. Which, in my opinion, is absolutely ridiculous.

We’re all human. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all have regrets. And to be judged for having faults, for being human is one of the worst things.

We all have struggles. Some are more verbal about their struggles than others, but that doesn’t make the silent struggles any less real, any less difficult to deal with.

So, I urge you, put yourself into others’ shoes. Walk a mile in their shoes. See life through their eyes. Or at least be a little more cautious, keeping in mind that the person you walk by in the hall way that you are so quick to judge is struggling with something.

Because we are all human. We are all imperfect. We are all perfectly imperfect.