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?
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.
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.
Seven years ago–February 12, 2010–was a day much like today: it was dark, dreary, and cold. Forecasters were calling for snow, and a thin layer of fog blanketed the sky, creating a palpable sense of heaviness and uneasiness. A perfect storm was brewing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the day I tried to die.
For some people, the thought of someone actively trying to kill themselves is unfathomable–it goes against ever innate response in the human body. Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive, and, most of the time, doctors try to prolong life as long as possible. But sometimes our body’s will to survive can be overpowered by the brain: mind over matter, as some people would say.
For some people, their suicide is carefully planned: the day, the hour, the method are all accounted for; arrangements are made; goodbyes are said. For some people, like me, it’s sudden, unplanned, a split second decision (or lack thereof), a brief moment of your brain saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” a moment where your brain turns off.
Those of you who know me, know my story. Those of you who don’t, reading any of my blog posts will fill you in on the events that lead up to my suicide attempt. This post is not the place.
This post is about the moments right before, during, right after, and years later. This post is me, trying to make sense of everything, seven years later.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the events leading up to and the moments immediately following my suicide attempt. Trying to recall them is like trying to remember the one movie you saw once a long time ago, and when you try to describe it to your friends you’re like, “You know that one movie with that one scene where such-and-such a thing happens,” and you start to get frustrated because you can see what happened but you can’t quite put it into words. It’s kind of like that. Or it’s kind of like the time you knock yourself out when you go sledding with your Youth Group and get a concussion: you can remember being at the top of the hill and then being back at the top of the hill, but everything in between is kind of fuzzy.
I don’t remember writing the note, swallowing the pills, or even how many I took. I can’t even tell you how long I laid there before I threw the pills back up. Time has a way of being distorted: some moments seem like forever, and some seem like no time at all. It’s like that time I was raped, and it felt like I was lying there for hours, but in reality, it only took fifteen minutes.
I don’t remember how long I laid on my bed. But I remember watching the snow fall outside my window; the moon was bright that night, casting shadows of falling snow on the opposite wall. I remember feeling so heavy and so tired that I closed my eyes. I remember being jolted awake by a quiet whispering voice, like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day. “You’ll be ok.” (if I ever get a tattoo, that will be the one.)
I remember throwing up the pills, shoving the letter I wrote into one of my many notebooks, and then not telling anybody what happened for a while. If I pretended it never happened, maybe I would just forget that it ever did.
But the thing about secrets is that keeping them is so hard–they’re hard to carry.
Eventually, they start bubbling up to the surface, threatening to pour out of your mouth at the wrong times. I remember the first person I told, and then the second. I remember sitting down in the teen room at my church with my Youth Pastor and a youth leader telling my parents, with the snow lightly falling outside.
I remember the look on my parents’ faces; my dad pulling me into a bear hug, squeezing me tight as if he never wanted to let me go.
I remember telling my friends and then my Youth Group (some of the relationships have never been the same but I’ve also made so many new ones). And now I’m sitting here, telling random people on the internet, although if you’re reading this, we can be friends, too.
I remember the years since that day: the good times and the bad. The healing and the step-backs.
For all the things I don’t remember, there are a million things that I do, whether I want to or not.
I have more questions than I have answers: Why did I get a second chance when so many others do not? Why did this happen? What was the point of all this?
Sometimes the guilt I feel for surviving when so many others do not makes it hard to get out of bed. Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve a second chance; maybe I’ll mess it up, but sometimes, I’m ever so grateful.
It’s been seven years since that night, and I’m trying to make the most of every moment. I have faith that God has a marvelous plan for my future, one that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I try to remember my past because it makes me grateful for the moments I’ve been given, the moments yet to come.
A few years ago, I found the suicide note. I ripped it up and threw it out the car window while I was driving, watching the pieces of who I once was blow around in the wind.
It’s been seven years, and the scar on my wrist (that I don’t remember cutting) from that night is not really a scar anymore. It’s more of a faint line of lighter skin among skin that’s slightly darker: light in the darkness, reminding me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
It’s supposed to snow tonight. And I hope there’s a moon. Something about the way that the moonlight reflects off the snow making the night seem brighter than it should be is so beautiful.
I live for the beauty, and I hope the world is more beautiful with me in it because I know it is with you.
“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.”
His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes and over again.
They don’t tell you how much it’s going to affect you if it happens to you. Nobody tells you how you’ll start to see hollowed out memories, a broken down shell of a body, a ghost of the person you used to be. They don’t tell you how it will affect everything about you—the way you move, the way you talk, the way you act, the way you are, who you are (you never really liked yourself anyway, so really it’s a blessing, because it gives you an actual physical reason to change who you are).
Nobody tells you any of this, but they do tell you how to prevent it, though. Thank goodness for that because 1 in 5 women will be raped in their life, so clearly teaching women how not to get raped is clearly working.
“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.” Trust me when I say that’s the last thing you want to do when you are being violated in the worst way.
His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes over and over again—a reminder of one more thing I’d have to change about myself to try and forget, to try and stop it from ever happening again.
It wouldn’t be that hard. The depression had already taken the sparkle out of my eyes. All I had to do was hide them behind glasses I didn’t need and not make eye contact with anyone. Ever.
He sat behind me in English class, which became the class I began to dread. Every day he touched my hair, said he loved the way it smelled.
When we were in that bathroom on that day in the middle of May, he couldn’t stop touching it, smelling it. So I cut it. And when it got long, I cut it again.
His locker was next to mine. He stood at his every day, waiting for me to open mine. Slamming it shut, his hand would briefly touch mine. “Your skin’s so soft,” he would say.
On that day, he couldn’t stop touching me. His fingers leaving bruises behind on my skin as he moved from my neck down. (I couldn’t wear turtlenecks or scarves for the longest time). He made me touch him, and four of his closest friends.
I don’t know how you get over that, how you get rid of those memories. So I shut down, became numb. I started cutting in places I was touched to create new sensations (because the sharp pain was better than the memory of a touch of a finger, scars were better than bruises). My legs, stomach, and wrist became a garden of crisscrossed lines marking the way back from where I’d been.
I started starving myself, not because I cared how I looked, but because I didn’t. I didn’t mind the dark circles under my sunken eyes, the cold skin, the way I lost my sparkle. I wanted there to be less of me that remembered what it felt like to not have control over my own body.
I ceased to exist in the way I used to, and I didn’t know how to find my way back to who I used to be. So I thought it would be better if I just ceased to exist entirely, if I ceased to be.
Six years later, I’m still here. And if the question is, “why did you get a second chance when so many others do not?” the answer is, I don’t know. Life is made up of too many questions and not enough answers.
But here’s what I do know.
I do know that I am healing.
I’ve started eating again. I’ve gained the weight back, and then some. But that’s ok, because I’ve come to learn I’m beautiful.
(Almost) six years after cutting for the last time, the crisscrossed lines are almost gone. Only a faint few remain, reminding me of where I’ve been, how strong I am.
Eight years after being raped, the memories of what happened to me is still enough to tie my stomachs up in knots, but I don’t panic when I see him anymore. I don’t run away. I don’t hide.
I’ve started wearing my hair long(er) again. I love wearing scarves. I’m learning to look people in the eyes again. Speaking of eyes, I’ve begun to notice the sparkle returning to my eyes. And when I see it, I take a picture because I need to be reminded of the beauty in life.
And I’ve relearned about the cleansing power of blood, how I’ve been washed clean, not by the blood that poured from my skin as I cut myself open, but by the blood spilled from the Man who died so I could live, the Man who became “ugly” so I could be beautiful.
So, I don’t know why I was raped, but I do know that I am thankful.
I’m thankful not for the act done for me, but thankful for what I’ve learned along the way. I’m thankful for how much stronger I am now.
But most of all, I’m thankful for the way God has brought people into my life to encourage me and support me, and for the way he has provided me with people and opportunities I can do the same with.
Because, yes, some days are hard, some days it’s hard to breathe; it’s hard to get out of bed. But everyday God reminds me of how beautiful this life is, and when I look at the lines on my palm, I am reminded that the same God who created nature, took the time to hand-stitch me together, and that is enough to get me through the day.
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.
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.
Here’s the thing: we spend so much of our lives building an identity–a tower of self that is our foundation, what we base our whole life on–that when life begins to chip away at it, we begin to feel lost and confused.
I remember being younger and building my identity around people in my life, mostly friends, sometimes family. The problem with building your identity around others is that it’s permeable–there are cracks in the foundation, allowing water to get in, eroding away the tower brick by brick, piece by piece.
I left Elementary school with a reasonably adequate sense of self. I thought I knew who I was, what I was doing because when you’re one of the big kids in the school, you think you’re unstoppable, and maybe you are.
But then you’re not. You go from being the kid who’s gone around the block a few times to being the new kid in school. And it’s not the moving up of schools that bothers you because you’ve accepted that growing up and getting older is a part of life.
The problem is that you’re now a small fish in a big sea–you don’t know where you fit, where you belong, who your friends are. Something happens to people in Middle School–everybody is trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, and figure out where they fit. And everybody starts doing this at the same time, creating an upset in the social balance, causing hierarchies to form.
The massive upheaval of self-identity causes bullying to start. You try not to let it get to you. You try not to let the names they call you, the things they say to you influence your life. But they do.
And they did for me, too.
They began to chip away at my tower of identity bit by bit; it began to crumble, but because of the foundation, no matter how shaky it was, I wasn’t really scared of it falling.
But then it did.
When I was in eighth grade, I was raped. And it changed everything. It took everything. It took away the foundation I had spent 13 years building. It took away everything I thought I was. It took away my ability to say “No.” because if one guy asked me out, I rejected him, and this happened, what’s to stop it from happening again.
Being raped was like an earthquake–you’ve all seen the images: the violent tremors, the collapsing buildings, the swirling dust, the weakening skeletons still standing.
Being raped was a lot like that: quick and violent, and when the dust settled, all that was left was a shell of who I once was, who I wanted to be.
When it was all over, I was depressed and broken, lost and confused. I felt as though God had abandoned me.And I didn’t tell anybody. When it was all over, I cleaned myself up, covered the bruises as best I could, and carried on with my life as if nothing had happened.
The pain I was feeling was too intense; it hurt too much–I shut down. Becoming numb was easier than feeling, especially when the voices started, repeating over and over and over the events of that day, the words said I wanted so badly to forget: Slut. Bitch. No one will ever love you. You’re worthless.
I was depressed for so long, so numb that I had forgotten how to feel anything at all. That was when the cutting started. I wanted to feel something, anything. The pain reminded me I was alive, and it became addicting. Even that soon became not enough.Soon the self-harm escalated to self-loathing, subtly over time. One day, I woke up and couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a full meal. The roaring of my stomach quickly drowned out the voices in my head.
I needed to grasp on to something, so I grasped on to the thought that maybe this would end someday, because even the idea of death is better than grasping on nothing.
Then, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired; boy, was I tired. I let my guard down, stopped trying to shut out the voices in my head. I just wanted peace.
I don’t remember swallowing the pills, but I remember throwing them up. It came after a moment of peace and a whisper: You’ll be ok.
And I was, but not right away. Because I didn’t get help, because, I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I didn’t want to be seen as weak. So I pretended nothing had happened.
Then I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so tired of feeling alone, so I started telling people my story. I got help. And it’s been a long, long process.
I don’t know where it ends, or who I will be when I get there, but I know it will be beautiful.
Where I am right now is beautiful.
I’ve started rebuilding myself piece by piece, bit by bit. And here I am today. My foundation is stronger now because it’s built on the assurance that I am a child of God, no matter how angry I once was at Him, He never left my side. He brought me back. He rescued me from me.
My identity is no longer founded on others, and I’m stronger now.
I am beautiful now.
Today I am celebrating, but I’m also grieving. I’m celebrating because five years ago God saved me from myself. I’m grieving because other people are not as lucky as I am.
Many people are not as lucky as I am.
And so I’m torn. I want to celebrate the second chance at life I was given, but I also want to be sensitive to those who are grieving, especially to the family who, one week ago, lost a brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, son. I’m acutely aware of their pain, and I want to respect it.
But I don’t really know how to celebrate and grieve at the same time. I imagine it’s similar to rejoicing your grandfather’s life while at his funeral. Except it’s not the same thing. One person lived; one person died. I lived; Jake didn’t.
And I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know why I’m still here and why he’s not. My life isn’t worth more than his, so I don’t know why I drew the “second-chance” card.
I have so many questions and not enough answers—I wish I had more. I can wish things were different, but I don’t know what good that would do.
The only thing I really know how to do right now is say I’m sorry.
I’m sorry. I truly am.
That’s all I can really do. I don’t know the circumstances of Jake’s death, and I don’t really know the family, so I have to be content with knowing that everybody around them is grieving also.
I’m grieving too.
But is it selfish to be celebrating?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But right now, in this moment, I need to be celebrating because depression is unpredictable and destructive.
And I need to celebrate the fact that I’ve lived one more year. When you’re living with depression, every day you wake up is a celebration because our minds are fighting a civil war for control of our bodies: death versus life. And it’s not that we want to die, because we don’t, at least not most of us, not really. We just don’t know if we want to live. At least not like this. It’s like we’re living in this purgatory between living and dying, waiting to decide if we’ll be sentenced to life or death. We feel like we’re stumbling through life–a tumbleweed being blown by the wind–a witness to life, not an active participant.
Depression and other Mental Illnesses cause you to feel as if your world is spinning out of control, a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop.
We’re not crazy. We just feel like the world is too heavy for us. It’s a roller coaster that only goes down. It’s a never-ending tunnel filled with darkness and a thousand tons of dynamite. We’re wandering around in this big world, and we feel so small. We don’t know if we’re ever going to be ‘ok’ again.
And we probably won’t. Because even when we’re happy, we’re always cautious. We know the darkness is just around the corner. It comes in waves, and right now, we might be swimming, but soon we’ll be drowning. And with each wave, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, to breathe, to think, to have any energy whatsoever.
You have your own opinions on suicide, which is your right. You have yours, and I have mine. I also have my own theories about why some people die young(er than others). But right now, none of those are important.
What is important is trying to understand.
Depression is a battle, and five years ago, I almost lost. I should have lost. But I didn’t, and I wish I knew why.
In the middle of my deepest, darkest moment after swallowing those pills, God called me back here. I still don’t know why.
However, I do know that God knows what’s best even though sometimes what’s best can hurt the worst.
I do know that five years ago, in that moment, my demons were in control of my mind and body. I had to get out. (Imagine a fire consuming your house. You have to get out even if the only way out is by jumping through a window.)
I do know that God knows what He’s doing, and I wish I knew what He is doing, but I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of the omnipotent, omniscient mind of the Almighty.
We can’t always choose whether we live or die. But Jesus did. He chose to die for us so that one day we can be with Him.
We will be with Him.
I don’t know everybody’s circumstances, but I do know mine (and if you’ve read my blog, you do to).
I don’t know why I got a second chance, but I’m trying to make the most of it.
I rejoice in the good days and the bad days because depression is unpredictable and powerful.
I rejoice because I know that whatever happens in this life, God is in control.
The first word is always the hardest.
It’s hard for us to admit that there’s anything wrong. It’s hard for us to admit that there are things that have happened to us that have destroyed the person we once were. There are things that have happened to us that have drastically altered the course of our lives.
And we can’t admit we’re broken. So we go on wearing a happy face, rocking our own cape, because we are told that we should deal with our problems ourselves. And then we look in the mirror one day and realize we don’t recognize the person looking back at us.
I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me.
The first word is always the hardest. But I’ve heard when telling a story, it is most effective to start at the beginning.
But, I can’t start at the beginning, because I’m a “Good Christian Girl,” and the story I’m about to share doesn’t happen to “Good Christian Girls.”
And I don’t really know how to talk about it, and sometimes, I feel like I can’t talk about it; so I’m sharing it here.
When I was in 8th grade, I was sexually assaulted by 5 guy friends of mine. They stole my innocence. They tore my proverbial Cinderella dress leaving me in my Cinder Rags. They stole it in a bathroom at school. And while I can’t get it back, the act itself isn’t what’s left me broken.
It’s what they said. “You deserve this. You’re worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything. No one will ever love you.”
And I couldn’t tell anybody because school is filled with the wrong kinds of people. It was my word against theirs. And they were popular and I was not. So I suffered in silence.
The suffering turned to self-hatred. The self-hatred ate at my soul until I felt nothing. I was breathing, but I wasn’t alive. So to feel alive, I began cutting. And with each cut the words “you deserve this. You’re worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything. No one will ever love you” echoed in my mind.
Eventually, after months of this daily battle that left my skin bloody and torn, I decided that wasn’t enough. I started eating less because everybody loves the pretty, skinny girl.
And I didn’t fit any of that criteria. But I wanted to. Because if I couldn’t love myself, who else would be able to.
And over time all these feelings piled up, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to kill myself. I probably would have succeeded too if a little voice in the back of my mind hadn’t told me, you are good enough.
I threw up the pills I took.
I decided to live.
I decided to fight.
And every day I’m still fighting.
Because even though I don’t cut anymore, the urge is still always there. And I don’t know everything that triggers memories to come rushing back. And I wish I did, because then maybe I could tell you what to stop doing. But I don’t. So I can’t. But I will tell you to watch my reaction to jokes, to unexpected physical contact, to certain images, to people that remind me of someone I’d much rather forget. Little unconscious facial expressions can reveal so much about a person.
Don’t tell me I’m a bad Christian for hating myself. God is one of the only things that forces me out of bed in the morning.
Don’t tell me I deserved what happened. Nobody deserves pain like that. I was young, naïve, and didn’t know how to deal with the pain I was going through.
I see many beautiful people while going about my day. I’m not one of them. I don’t think so.
But that’s ok.
Because I’ve figured a few things out.
- I am capable of so much more. In the battle between Who I Think I am and Who I could Be, Who I think I am won every time, because that’s what I let get a hold of me. that’s what feeds off my energy. It doesn’t have to be that way.
- We are all capable of doing something great. I am, you are, we are all. But we all have something holding us back.
Every mirror tells me something different. I can tell myself that I’m beautiful over and over again, until I’m blue in the face, but there is an irrevocable flaw ingrained deep into the recesses of my brain that refuses to let me believe it. And even though deep in my soul I know I’m capable of greatness, there is something holding me back. And until I figure out what it is, until I figure out how to overcome it, I am destined to live in my own shadow.
I’m held back by fear and self-doubt. Fear that I will never be good enough, and enough self-doubt to give all the arrogant people a healthy dose.
Even though I know all this, it’s not enough to stop the feelings. It’s not enough to cure me. it’s not enough to make me whole again. But it’s enough to keep fighting. And you can be damn* sure that I will.
Sometimes when I’m sad, or hate myself, I look at the lines on my hands. They remind me that I have been stitched together by the master sewer, and I’ve learned that sometimes, that is enough.
*Pardon the swear word. I don’t swear normally on principle, but it’s emphasis. It’s important.