What I Wish I Could Say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you see yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To the Friends and Family of Someone Living With Depression

I can’t tell you how many suicide notes I’ve written over the years. I mean, there was the first one on the night I actually attempted suicide seven and a half years ago. I found that one a few years ago tucked away in a polka dot notebook I had forgotten I had. After reading it, I took the letter with me as I went for a drive to clear my head; tearing it up and then throwing out the window as I drove, trying to leave my past in the past.

There have been others, too. My “In Case of Fire, Break Glass” safety net. When you live with suicidal thoughts, you’re always on edge, wondering if you’ll make it through this day; wondering if today is the day the demons you’re fighting take over and win.

It’s not that I want to be writing suicide notes. Trust me, there are a million other things I’d rather be writing. But it’s almost a compulsion, an obsession. It’s like if I don’t get the thoughts out of my head, they’ll eat me alive. I write them because I don’t want to have to use them. When the storm hits and the levees break and I’m not sure I can stay afloat, I write them–word by word, line by line, feeling by feeling–taking what I feel and trying to put it into words is the closest I’ll ever get to having a superpower. Then, when the storm passes, when the waters recede, and the sun begins to shine again, I delete them from my phone; I rip out the pages of the notebook; erasing evidence of the pain I was in; trying to leave the feelings of despair and hopelessness behind, trying to transition to happiness and joy.

But life isn’t black and white like that: if depression is black and joy is white, then I live in shades of gray because for every suicide note I’ve ever written, I’ve told at least 10 jokes. Because if writing is my way of staying afloat, telling jokes is my way of quite literally pulling myself out of the water. Also, I’m a Bills fan, and sometimes the only way to make it through a season of watching them pluck defeats from the jaws of victory is by making jokes.

Here’s the thing about life: it’s full of contradictions. Sadness and joy coexist at the same time, in the same soul. On some of my darkest days, I’ve laughed the most–like deep belly laugh, laugh so hard tears come out of my eyes, laugh so hard I throw my head back, hand on the neck, eyes basically closed. And it’s this sudden change from utter despair to joy that reminds me I am alive.

I’ve been having a hard time lately, many of you know this. You’ve read my blog posts, you’ve seen my Facebook statuses; you’ve been there with me in my hard moments.

So, here’s what I need you to know: there are days, many days when it’s hard for me to get out of bed, when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, and when I am standing and singing worship songs one minute and then collapsing and sobbing in my pew the next. These are also the days when I am reminded of happy moments. And these happy moments are enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other until they’re not. Because they’re just that: moments. Beautiful, but fleeting. If you combine enough of them together, sure, they can shine like the shine, illuminating the future standing in front of me.

But here’s also what I need you to know: I can’t build armor strong enough to protect me from what’s going on inside my head. And neither can you.

And it’s frustrating: for you and for me. It’s frustrating because you ask the question “What can I do?” but what you really mean is “What can I do to fix it?” And therein lies the problem.

You can’t fix this. I can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. All they can do is make what I’m dealing with more manageable. They can make the sunshine a little bit longer, stave off the darkness a little while longer, but they can’t erase it.

Neither can you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything. Because, yes, you can’t do anything–not in the way you want to.

But, if you ask the right question, you can still DO something.

“What do you need?”

What do I need? I need support and encouragement and love. I need hugs and laughter and to cry it out. I need someone to sit there with me while I work through it on my own. I need someone to listen while I talk it out. I need to know I have people in my court, on my side.

So, no. You can’t fix it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything.

Somedays I’m so weak and hurting and broken, I feel like death is the only way out. I know it isn’t. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know. I’m coming to understand that both of them are valid. I have to give each of these parts of me a voice. Let them say what they have to say.

The hardest part of life is admitting our weaknesses because we all want life to be perfect, and we try to portray it as such. I’ve come to realize that pretending life is perfect is doing a disservice to yourself. We have to be honest with ourselves and each other.

The hardest part of the last few months for me has been not ignoring what I’m feeling, telling people what’s going on in my head, being honest with you all about the struggles I’m facing. And yes, it’s been scary because people have gotten annoyed with me for sharing, frustrated because they see that I’m struggling and they feel helpless, and some have even told me that “Facebook is not the place to tell people what’s really going on.”

Maybe it’s not.

But I can’t hide behind a status. I believe in honesty.

I believe in recognizing our own weaknesses and giving the darkest parts of ourselves a name: depression, anxiety, PTSD.

And right now, I’m oh so very weak. But sometimes it’s in our weakest moments that we find the strength to reach out, to ask for help.

And I’m so glad I did.

 

And so I kept living

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.

It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.

We all need people.

Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.

And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.

And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.

And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.

And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.

And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.

And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.

And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.

And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.

And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.

And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.

And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.

And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.

And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.

And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.

And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.

 

Black Holes and the Light That Escapes

There’s this idea about Suicide: that it’s a choice; that it’s selfish. I’ve never seen it that way.

We all make choices every day. We choose what clothes to wear; what to eat for breakfast; what route to take to work (depending on if we’re late or not); what to have for dinner; what to fill our evening spare time with; what time to go to bed.

Our body’s natural instinct is life–it fights like hell to keep us alive. It’s the Fight or Flight Response in dangerous situations. It’s why you can’t manually strangle yourself because as soon as you pass out, your lungs will start breathing again.  It’s why our lungs burn after holding our breath for too long as we dive down to the bottom of the pool.

In people like me, who suffer from Depression, or in those who suffer from similar mental illnesses, there is sometimes a disconnect between our body and our minds. Our bodies work so hard to keep us alive while our minds are trying to convince us that death is better.

Depression is like a black hole–so thick and dense and gravity filled that no light, no anything can escape. I have days like that: days when it’s easier to lie in bed, when the weight of the expectations placed on me by myself and others is so heavy I feel like it’s compressing my chest, when the gravity of my past is heavier than my hopes for the future. On days like that, my mind is playing a tug-of-war game with my body. My mind wins for a while, but then my body kicks in–helping me put one foot in front of the other, shoveling food into my mouth, even though I tell myself I don’t deserve it; helping me get dressed, pulling one arm through my shirt and then the other; helping me get out of the house; making me exercise, because even though I don’t want to do it, it’ll help me in the long run; helping me do all the things I enjoy because maybe they’ll make me happy again.

Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive. But on those days where my body is doing all the work and my mind is working so hard against it, I feel like a zombie, like I’m going through the motions. I’m physically present, but not all there–like a stranger me watching myself on TV. My body does all the work while my mind is dead weight.

On the night I attempted suicide, my body was on auto-pilot. It’s like it was tired from fighting my mind every day, it just gave up. The time between going to bed and throwing the pills up is almost a complete blur. I remember bits and pieces: writing the note, swallowing the pills, the voice whispering, “You’ll be ok.” but it’s like I wasn’t in control. I was like a zombie being sucked in by a black hole, doomed to never escape, to be sucked in and pulled apart atom by atom. But then something–God, my inner instinct to survive, whatever you want to call it–kicked in.

Scientists don’t know a lot about black holes.Theoretical physicists posit that they may be able to be used for time travel–that if you can travel through one fast enough that you may be able to travel to the past or maybe even the future.

Some nights when the darkness is bad, I find myself being transported back to that school bathroom. I’m transported back to when I was raped–feeling them touch my body all over again, hearing the words they whispered into my ear Slut, bitch, worthless.  Sometimes I’m transported back, and I’m watching it unfold like it’s not happening to me, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it, which is worse.

The mornings after these dark nights, I look in the mirror and the dark circles under my hollowed out eyes remind me of someone else, who I was years ago when I was too far gone to ask for help.

Dark holes are too dark to be physically seen, but scientists know where they are by the way they affect the space around them.

I know that depression and mental illness is real because of the way it makes me feel: empty, alone, worthless.

On the good days, the intrusive thoughts are hypotheticals: what if I? What if I drove into a tree? What if I jumped from this balcony? What if I swallowed all these pills that fell into my hand? What if I cut myself using this razor? These are the at least I’m still alive days.

On the bad days, the intrusive thoughts are commands: do this. Sometimes they’re dares. Drive into a tree (you won’t). Jump (you won’t). Swallow these pills (it’ll be fun). Cut yourself (it’ll feel good). These are the zombie days.

On the really good days, there are no intrusive thoughts. On the really good days, I am productive and happy and free. These are the few and far between days.

For every one thing scientists know about black holes, there are a million things they don’t know.

My biggest question is: do they end? Or do they just go on forever, ad infinitum, to inifinity and beyond?

I like to imagine that at some point instead of being all black and dense and gravity filled, that they change to light and sparse and zero gravity. And instead of being sucked in and ripped apart, you float and are put back together. Order to the chaos. Restortation to the destruction. Yang to the Yin.

Even if the possibility of that is slim to none, I like to believe it’s true because I know that darkness isn’t all there is.

Because I used to think that my fear of heights was because I was afraid of falling. Then one day I realized it’s because I am afraid of jumping.

And when the intrusive thoughts come back, and I’m tempted to just jump, I’m reminded of the time I went to the mall in Guatemala, and as I looked down from the sixth floor parking structure, I realized that I didn’t want to jump. I live for that feeling again.

I stopped swimming and taking baths because I was afraid of drowning, but I now trust my body to keep me alive.

I know that darkness is just the absence of light, and on my darkest days I look at the stars, because on the darkest, clearest of days, a single candle can be spotted 30 miles away (if the earth was flat).

I have hope that on the other side of black holes, flashes the most spectacular light.

Afraid in Love

When I was in first grade, I was told that if a guy was mean to me, he liked me. I would go tell the teacher that Billy stole the ball I was playing with, and he wouldn’t give it back.

“Kaleigh,” I was told, “He likes you.”

“Sam pulled my hair.”

“He likes you.”

7 years later, I’m lying on a school bathroom floor, and I’m wondering if these guys are showing me they love me. And now I’m walking on egg shells around every guy I meet, not wanting to be loved again, because if this is how a guy tells a girl he loves her, I’d much rather be single forever.

I was taught in school how to protect myself from rape. Don’t walk alone. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t go out at night. Keep your body hidden. Don’t give them a reason.

If the reason was turning him down when he asked me out, because he was a jerk, then yes, I gave him a reason.  Maybe I gave him a reason because I was too quiet all the time, and too loud at the wrong times. And apparently, his friends decided I was the worst and decided to punish me too. And now I’m stuck keeping it a secret because I don’t want the blaming questions.

“Why were you alone?”

“What were you wearing?”

It’s been 8 years, and I’m still getting told by some people to praise God I don’t remember it all. Let me tell you, I remember it enough to know I don’t want to remember it all.

It’s been 8 years, and sometimes unexpected contact is still the worse, and sometimes it burns as if I’m holding the sun in my hands.

It’s been 8 years, and sometimes I still have to defend myself against judging glances. Because, apparently, as someone who has been blessed with two x chromosomes, instead of one, the only job I have in life is to not let myself get raped.

Hold up, let me tell you something.

My job as a female is to do whatever the heck I want to do. I am not part of the “weaker sex.” And I may not be able to bench press as much as you men, but I know how to be strong. I may have wider hips, but I have a fighter’s stance.

And I don’t want to hear these excuses about men having a voracious appetite for sex. The word appetite should only be used when talking about food. I am not food.

Sometimes my thoughts threaten to eat me alive.

But, I will not be silenced. I am a statistic, but that doesn’t define me.

Because one day in my first week of college, somebody said, “If someone hates himself so much they want to die, they’re better off dead.” And then,  “If someone gets raped, they probably deserved it.” So I told my story, and then he had the audacity to defend the other guys’ actions.

I’m pretty sure the “Bros Before Hoes,” part of the Bro Code does not apply in this situation. Because he wasn’t justified, and I didn’t provoke. I was in the wrong place in the wrong time surrounded by the wrong people. And their touch is woven into the deepest part of my skin, and 8 years later, I still get shivers down my spine. I was told no one would love me, and I believed them, until I realized I have the most amazing friends.

I was told not to get raped. They were not told how not to rape.

Guys tell one another, “You throw like a girl!” Since when is being a girl an insult? Some of the strongest people I know are women. Being a girl is not an insult.

I am not an insult. You are not an insult. I will tell my daughter she is not an insult.

I may be a girl, but I know how to fight. And so will my daughters. My sons will learn the meaning of “no.”

“No” is not “maybe.” “No” is not “convince me.”

And I will teach them both the two best things I’ve ever learned: How to love myself, despite everything. And how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

Because repetition forms habits.

I’ve found my voice again. So yes, I may be ‘beautiful’ or whatever, but I am so much more.

I am woman.

I am a fighter.

I am a survivor.

And I will teach my children to be the same.

I will teach my Children what love is, and what it’s not. Because you shouldn’t be afraid of love.

I’m not afraid anymore.

Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

One of my classmates died this week.

I’m still trying to figure out how to process this sudden, heart-wrenching loss. It’s hit me pretty hard—harder than I thought it would because we weren’t particularly close. Once upon a time, sure; maybe in Elementary school–when there are approximately 35 kids in your fifth grade class, everybody tends to be at least semi-friends with everybody else. And then Middle School happens, and suddenly you are introduced to 400-and-something other kids your age, and the relationships between the original 35 become weaker and weaker because there are new people, new relationships. So the semi-friendship between him and I became non-existent.

But then High school happened. And I began to see more of him because we were in the same classes. Our “once-weres” became our “are nows.”

From Kindergarten to BC Calc our Senior Year of High School, I knew him. For thirteen years of schooling, plus the four years since: seventeen years he’s been somebody that’s orbited around the edge of my world.

So, no, we weren’t close. But, I guess when you’ve known someone for seventeen years of your life, losing that someone can be painful.

That someone’s name is Jack. And let me tell you, he was one of the smartest, yet, most humble people I’ve ever known.

Even in Kindergarten, I knew he was probably one of, if not, THE, smartest person in the class. He was the pudgy kid with glasses, with a big brain and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He asked all the right questions, and never made any one feel stupid for not knowing something. He helped those who needed help, and he worked with those who didn’t need help. And it was always a race to see if anyone could finish their classwork before Jack did. When you did, you felt like the second smartest person in the room. (I don’t know if he ever knew people raced him to complete their work, but I like to imagine he did, and that maybe he sometimes let people win—that’s the kind of person he was.)

And as he matured, he grew into his pudge, but his big brain and insatiable hunger never disappeared. I remember so many classes in High school where he would get into mini debates with teachers about themes in the books we were reading in English, the ethics of an idea in Economics, what really caused an event in History, or even the best way to solve a problem in Calculus.

Speaking of calculus, he was probably the biggest reason I passed that class because when I would tell him I didn’t understand a problem, he would explain it to me in a simpler way.

He pushed everybody around him to be better, to work harder, to never grow tired of learning. He was always good for a laugh, a witty comment, encouragement, and a simpler explanation.

He was the most intellectually curious person I’ve ever meet. And everybody knew he was going to do great things with his life, and he did. He did so many wonderful things in the time he was here on earth.

It’s painful to know that there are so many things he’ll never get to accomplish, and my world’s been a little bit darker these last few days, as are so many other worlds as well I am sure. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been some light. My Facebook has been flooded with tributes to Jack by so many people who knew him: family, high school classmates, college classmates, people he’d met along the way. And it’s been amazing to see that the Jack to one person was the same Jack to another person; despite the relationship, he treated everybody the same way. The people who knew him better than I have so many of the same thoughts about him. He was so true to himself. He was humble. He made sure others were encouraged in difficult time. He helped others understand difficult things.

Death is difficult to understand.

Death is cruel because the world keeps on spinning even in the midst of tragedy. In a heartbeat, so many people’s lives are changed, but the world doesn’t stop. Death is cruel because it’s universal. It happens to everybody, and it’s not fair.

Grief has this way of making us nostalgic for memories we thought we had forgotten. It has a way of making us nostalgic for the people and places of our past.

When I heard the news, I went back through all my old Elementary school yearbooks, reminiscing on the good times and the bad times, wanting so much to relive—in a way—what once was, wondering what the relationships of the original 35 would be like now if our lives had played out differently.

But grief also has a way of making us nostalgic for the future. It has this way of making us do things differently—how am I going to live now that this has occurred? Am I going to live life differently? Can I do it long-term?

I don’t know any of the answers to so many questions. But I’m going to keep asking them anyway.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that questions are the way to learn more about this world.

I think we all have to ask more questions like Jack did because the only way to change the world is by learning about it.

The only way we can change our lives is by dreaming big and following our dreams.

Jack followed his dreams. He would want everybody (even those he didn’t know) to follow theirs.

 

 

 

 

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.

 

Anorexia: The Long Walk Back

This past week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I wasn’t afraid to share my story. But there was a time when I was afraid to admit that I had an eating disorder. There was a time when I denied vehemently that there was anything wrong. There was a time when I’d rather suffer in silence, waste away quietly than admit to battling a demon with so much stigma attached. There was a time when the greatest compliment I could receive was, “You look so skinny!” There was a time when I ate nothing but a few crackers a day for weeks on end. There was a time when my roaring stomach threatened to eat me alive.

There was a time when I gave up. There was a time that my whole life came crashing down—like, if my life were a chain of dominoes, I could have labeled each one: Sexual Assault, Depression, Self-harm, Anorexia. One domino fell, causing a chain reaction that caused each subsequent domino to fall, completing the circuit, illuminating the sign: ANOREXIA.

But then something changed, subtle at first. There wasn’t some lightbulb “AHA” moment. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Today’s the day I get my life back together.” It was gradual, so slow and quiet that I can’t even definitively tell you when I began the journey toward recovery.

But I can tell you the day I ate three full meals again: September 24, 2013.

Since that day, it’s been a long, slow walk back to healthy, maybe even a crawl.

It’s been all about finding Happy Mediums, and learning how to deal with the lasting effects (the stretch marks, the cold hands, the extra dietary supplements, the heart that sometimes beats too fast).

When I first started eating again, it didn’t take long for me to gain the weight back I had lost. It also didn’t take me long to gain the “and then some” people like to warn you about.

During my battle with Anorexia, I cared too much about how I looked that didn’t care how I lost the weight. During my first stages of recovery, I didn’t care enough so I gained more weight than I should have. Now, I’m left figuring out where the middle is: how much caring is too much and how much is not enough? How do I lose the weight I need to lose in order to be my best self without letting it—my appearance—consume my life?

I don’t really have the answer, but I think I may have a solution that might work best for me.

I have found that I prefer to recover the same way I enter a pool: easing in.

Some people like jumping right into a freezing cold pool and sending their body into shock. I don’t. I prefer sticking my toes in, then my foot, then my leg, then slowly climbing down the ladder until I’m up to my shoulders, and then finally, an hour later, putting my head under the water, maybe.

If I’m going to reach my goals of being happy and healthy, I have to ease in. Starting with my worst relationship to date: food.

I have to ease into a healthy diet, starting to eat better a little bit at a time, until it becomes second nature. Then after I maintain that, then I can add in the exercise a little bit at a time until that becomes second nature.

And I know this doesn’t work for everybody, and it’s not supposed to–recovery is different for every person.

But I know me. I know that the analogy of dominoes may have worked once upon a time, and it may work sometimes if I want to make my story simple.

Unfortunately, life isn’t simple. There’s nothing simple about Eating disorders and Mental Illness. Because eating disorders are as just as much mental as they are physical. So in reality, there are no cascading dominoes. Instead, it’s a tangled web of events, interweaving in and out of each other until each string is indistinguishable from the next.

My identity is somewhere in that web.

Recovery is untangling that web, trying to find who I really am and who I want to be.

It’s about learning to listen to the voices around you from those who love you, instead of the ones inside you trying to beat you down.

It’s knowing that you’ll fail sometimes and choosing to get up anyway.

The road from Anorexia to Recovery is long and hard. I have fallen down many times, and I know I will probably fall down a few more along the way.

And that’s ok.

Because the journey is a slow walk, and I haven’t walked as far as I would have liked to 2 ½ years into it.

And sometimes I get impatient because I know that at the end of this journey, beauty is waiting.

But where I am now, that’s beautiful, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise and Sunset: A Reflection on Six Years

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

My world’s not a quiet world. Within walking distance of my house there’s a grocery store, a drug store, five or six banks, a Target, a gas station, two churches, a Kmart, pizza places, coffee shops, and various other ways to spend money. Close your eyes, and you can hear the steady stream of traffic rushing past the house: horns honking, music pumping, mufflers that need fixing. It quiets down at nights sometimes, though (as long as the dogs don’t bark). I live in the “urban center” of my town—like living in the city without actually living in the city. I’ve gotten really good at tuning out the outside world.

My world’s not a quiet world. If it’s not the noise outside my house, it’s the noise inside my head. It’s the insecurities, the doubts, the past playing on repeat in my mind that are louder than whatever is going on outside. They’re impossible to turn off, hard to ignore, but eventually you learn how to cope. I’ve gotten really good at coping.

Here’s the thing: when I started working on this post a month ago, I wanted to give you a month’s worth of reasons not to kill yourself. Because when you’re depressed, life is just a series of days at a time: if I can get through this day and the next day and the next day, etc, eventually you’ll have a month. And then you repeat this step 12 times until you have a year, and then eventually, you’ll have a lifetime.

Who knows, maybe after more writing and rewriting, I’ll end up getting there.

But this is all I know right now: if I had my way six years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve struggled with guilt over the last six years, wondering why I got a second chance when so many others have not. And I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will.

I’m learning how to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.

My world’s not a quiet world. But this morning it was.

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

In the normally heavy traffic area, I was the only car. And through the mostly dark blue sky, streaks of cotton candy pink were beginning to emerge; the sun was beginning to shine through. As I sat there and took it all in: the way the drowsy sun illuminated the world under me, and the way the newly fell snow and icy rooftops dazzled and sparkled under the sun they reflected. As I waited for the light to turn green and marveled at the quiet beauty around me, a sense of calm came over me.

I thought to myself, “What a wonderful day to be alive.”

So, I don’t have a month’s worth of reasons to keep fighting, to keep breathing, to stay alive. I just have one: sunrise.

And I’m so grateful for the six additional years of sunrises and sunsets I have gotten to be a part of. Because nothing is better than realizing that the God who painted the beauty of dusk and dawn decided the world needed me too.

 

Continue Reading: Reasons to Keep Breathing