A Long Overdue Letter to Myself

I have been struggling with mental illness my entire life.  Just recently, I began writing and speaking out about my struggles with depression, anxiety and ptsd, as well, shouting from the mountaintops to anyone who could hear, hoping not only to help others understand but to battle the stigma attached to mental illness, as well.  When I was approached by another author to write a segment for his upcoming book about depression and recovery, naturally, I jumped at the chance.

You see – when my world fell apart, I had two choices.  It was either sink or swim, live or die.  Though a large part of me wanted more than anything to surrender and have the pain stop, there was this little kernel inside of me screaming to never give up, never give in.  I mustered every ounce of strength I possessed and began to fight like I’ve never fought before.  I began to write about all I’ve been through.  I wrote like my life depended on it because in so many ways it did.  By pulling my demons out into the light and exposing them, I felt I was finally able to begin to heal.  I had found my voice.  Writing had become my passion, my life blood.

I published a book about my life.  I began blogging, as well, hoping to reach out to those struggling with depression themselves so they would know they were not alone.  I found myself writing to help others understand mental illness and to speak for those without a voice.  With each new piece I published, I hoped to start a dialogue and reduce the stigma.  While I found some healing in trying to help others through my writing, the focus had shifted off of myself.  I was no longer writing for myself; I was writing for a cause.

When a fellow author, James Withey, asked me to contribute something to his The Recovery Letters project*, a book set to be published next year, it was enormously huge for me.  He wanted me to write a letter to someone out there struggling and suffering, to let them know I understand; To give them encouragement and inspiration to hold on, be brave, be strong and continue to fight on.  The idea of such a letter struck a chord with me.  Everyone deserves something like that.  Unfortunately, though, what you deserve and what you get are sometimes entirely different things.  I could wait a lifetime and never receive such a letter from anyone else.  So I decided to write one to myself.

Today, I go full circle and return to where I first began, first found my voice.  I shift my focus inward and once again make myself a priority.  It is so much easier to reach out to others with encouragement than to face my own nightmares.  The truth, however, is that I must face my own demons if I have any hope of slaying them.  Once again, it is sink or swim time, live or die.  While it terrifies me to look inward, I am not ready to surrender quite yet.  I have too much living still to do.  I deserve to matter.  I deserve encouragement.  I deserve hope.  And so I write to myself:

Dear Beth,

I know you are scared.  You’ve been through so much in life and are so tired of fighting, of struggling and of hurting, but you have to be brave and hold on.  You’re so much stronger than you know.  You’ve come so far in life.  So many people have tried to break you, yet here you still are, still surviving, still holding on.

All your life, you’ve had people telling you that you were unwanted, unlovable, broken, damaged and a waste of space.  You’ve let other people define you and determine your worth.  You’ve bought into every cruel word they’ve spoken, believed every lie.  You need to stop listening to others and begin listening to yourself.  Listen with your heart.

All your life, you’ve faced abuse from others.  People have laid their hands on you in anger, treating you like a punching bag instead of a person.  Men and boys have touched you in ways a little girl should never be touched.  Their abuses have stolen your identity, broken your will until you felt more like an object for others to use and abuse than as a person.  You never deserved that.

Everyone you’ve allowed yourself to love has torn your heart out and stomped on it.  You’ve begun to believe that love and pain go hand in hand and that sooner or later, everyone leaves.  They’ve made you feel like you’re not enough so often that you’ve begun to believe it.  You internalize their actions, always blaming yourself for never measuring up.  Even when they’ve cheated, you believe somehow you’re at fault.  You’re not.  You never were.

You were taught young to put up walls.  Never let anyone see what hurts you because it makes it that much easier for them to hurt you next time.  Never let anyone in.  Never be vulnerable.  You are so terrified of letting yourself be hurt that you walk around numb, afraid to feel anything at all.

You’re so used to hurting inside that you’re not sure how to feel anything else.  Though you paint on a smile so others don’t worry, you’re always crying inside.  You’re not even sure what happiness is most days.  You’re afraid of letting it in because it’s always fleeting.  Happiness never seems to last.  You greet it with wary suspicion because you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Though others have abused you and broken your spirit more times than you can count, you’ve picked up where they left off.  You need to own that sweetie.  You’re harder on yourself than anyone else has ever been.  You’ve let them all convince you that you’re worthless so you treat yourself as such.  You beat yourself up for everything, regardless of whether or not it was even your fault.  While you’re able to accept the flaws and mistakes of others, you tear yourself down for every misstep and every defect.  You never give yourself any breaks.  You need to stop that.  You’re slowly killing bits of yourself every bit as much as all their abuses have.  Please be kind to yourself.

In so many ways, you’ve surrendered to your depression.  You’ve accepted that this is just how your life shall always be.  You’ve begun thinking of it as something familiar, akin to a friend.  Your depression is not your friend sweetie.  It is not there to comfort you or help you.  Your depression speaks in lies.  It wants to beat you, to break you, to tear you into little pieces, shattering you so badly you can never recover.  You need to stop being polite and welcoming it in.  You need to stop accepting it as your reality, your lot in life and fight it.  It only has power and control over you if you let it.

I know you’re terrified of life, of letting anyone else in and of being hurt again.  You’re scared to death that you’re not strong enough.  So many times you’ve cried out “no more! no mas!”, positive that you could not survive anymore heartache, sure than any more abuse would kill you.  It’s okay to be scared.  It’s okay to be vulnerable.  But never let your fear keep you from fighting.

Whenever you’re not feeling strong enough, you need to remind yourself of everything you’ve survived in life.  Keep reminding yourself of your strength.  You are a hurricane, a tornado, a force to be reckoned with.  You’ve been battling monsters and demons for over forty years now and you’re still going strong.  There is not anything you cannot overcome.

I know you’re scared, too, of putting your heart out there again and that is okay.  Love will come again in time.  Don’t give up on it.  Don’t let the actions of a few bad apples make you jaded or close off your heart.  Love is a beautiful thing and you deserve that in your life.  You deserve to be loved and cherished with as much fervor as you have always given everyone else.  Just make sure to learn from your mistakes next time.  Never again settle.

You need to let go of all those negative labels others have used to define you because none of them are even remotely true. You are fierce.  You are beautiful.  You are smart.  You are strong.  You are a warrior.  You are a survivor.  You are an incredible person Beth.  You have such a warm, loving heart – no matter how much other people have broken it, you always manage to reach out to help others.  You have so much to give to the world, Beth, and to yourself.  You are a blessing.

Stay strong.  Always keep fighting.  Never give up.  The world needs you in it.  Your children need you.  You need yourself.

With all the love you deserve in this world,

Beth

* The Recovery Letters is a labor of love created by James Withey.  Amongst other places, The Recovery Letters has been featured on the BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4’s ‘All in the mind’, the BBC News app, ITV’s ‘This Morning’ and Vanity Fair magazine.  He has a book contract with Jessica Kingsley Publishers to publish a book of current letters from the site alongside new letters. It will be published in the US and the UK in August 2017.

 

biplogo

Republished on Bipolar Life on 9/26/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/13/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/14/16.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

Removing Toxins

Everything that is toxic can kill you.  Some work quickly, dropping their victims almost immediately.  However, not all toxins are fast-acting.  Some build up slowly over time.  But they are all poisons and, regardless of the speed in which they work, all will eventually kill you.

When most people think of toxins, they think of chemical compounds to avoid, which could make you seriously ill or even lead to death.  However, the world is full of people and things that can be toxic to us, that can slowly kill parts of us, our hearts, minds and souls.

So many people are toxic to us.  They are the ones who blow us off repeatedly or like to knock us down so they can raise themselves up in life.  They are the people that refuse to accept our diagnosis and accuse us of being drama queens when we try to talk about our feelings.  They are the manipulators, abusers and narcissists who twist their words and actions so that we internalize their bad behavior as somehow our fault.  They are the ones we call our “friends”, “family” and “lovers”, but never act the part.  They are the people we have invested our time and heart into loving, yet they only bring negativity back into our lives.  They are toxic.

There are thoughts and behaviors that are dangerously unhealthy.  When we take responsibility for and beat ourselves up over the actions of others believing ourselves to be at fault for things we had no say in or control over, we are slowly poisoning our soul.  When we accept the cruelness of others as truth, believing ourselves to be damaged, broken, unlovable and unwanted because others have told us so, we are slowly destroying our heart by believing we do not deserve to be loved.   Every time we give up control to our mental illnesses, surrendering to our demons, we are killing a part of who we are.  All those negative thoughts we allow to creep in and take over, pushing us to believe all hope is lost, are toxic.

We make choices all the time that are toxic to us.  When we rely on food, sex or substances for artificial highs or to make us forget reality, we are poisoning ourselves.  When we accept failure as the only possible outcome so we become too afraid to even try anything anymore, we have accepted defeat before we have even begun. When we choose to invite people back into our lives who have hurt us before, opening the door to allow them to hurt us again, we are inviting poison back into our lives, as well.  Whenever we make poor choices that we know will ultimately kill us, we are being toxic to ourselves.

People who want to live long, healthy lives do not go around drinking bleach or drain cleaner.  We know it will kill us.  We put warning labels on them and take great care when they’re around.  We warn our children not to touch them, never to drink them because poisons can kill.  Yet, when it comes to toxic people, behaviors and thoughts, we welcome them in with open arms, in turn teaching our children by example that they are all okay to have in our lives.

I know it hurts to remove those fixtures from our lives, even if they are not good for us.  We are nostalgic creatures at heart.  We try to rationalize holding onto people and things that are corrosive because we crave the familiar and the comfortable, even if it is not healthy for us.  We need to start weighing the good and the bad and acknowledge whenever the negatives outweigh the positives.  We need to look at how much time, effort, energy and love we put into relationships versus how much others are willing to give in return.  We need to be honest with ourselves when our thoughts and actions that are self-sabotaging, causing more pain than pleasure in our lives.

We need to work harder, not only for our own health but the health of our children, as well, to remove toxins from our lives.  We need to look at the people who constantly bring pain, drama and unhappiness into our lives and say “No more. You are not healthy for me. You need to go.”  We need to push aside our destructive thoughts and call them out for what they are – a product of our mental illness – liars who wish to break us from the inside out.  We need to catch ourselves when we make big decisions in life and question our own motives.  “Is this choice a healthy one?  Am I considering the ramifications of my actions? Am I likely to get hurt?”

We need to be more selective about who and what we welcome into our lives.  We need to be more proactive about removing anyone and anything that has been proven to be toxic.  We need to stop poisoning ourselves and stop allowing others to do it, as well.  We need to fight to become healthier.  More importantly, we need to teach our children how to be healthier.  Our first step is to begin removing everything and everyone that we’ve allowed to destroy and kill parts of us over the years.  After all, you cannot heal from a poison while it is still coursing through your veins or your life.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

Putting up Walls

In these months before the next presidential election, politics seem to be the topic on everyone’s lips.  Because I walk a middle line, leaning one way for some issues and the other for others, I’m bombarded by comments from people on both sides of the fence.  This morning, as I was scrolling through my facebook feed, I came across a meme that spoke to me, though not in the way that it was intended.  It said:

You don’t build a wall because you hate the people on the outside.

You build a wall because you love the people on the inside.

I found that to be profound because I am admittedly the queen of building walls.  I don’t even have to think about putting up walls because it happens naturally for me.  I have been hurt so many times, had my heart torn out and my soul beaten to a bloody and disfigured pulp, that I put up walls to protect myself.  I am scared of being hurt again.

Even moreso, I’m terrified of letting others see how damaged and broken I am, petrified that if they saw all of me, they’d abandon me and I’d be alone again.  I put up walls to keep out family, friends and romantic partners.  I build layers upon layers of walls, sometimes letting some people in a little, but rarely ever farther than the courtyard.

I build walls and I paint on a facade.  That smiling, happy, everything is absolutely peachy veneer to convince others that I’m okay.  I’ve been wearing masks my entire life, being the person others wanted me to be even if it meant losing myself in the process.

I’ve always been okay not only with hiding a good portion of myself but of losing parts of myself, as well.  I’ve never really held myself in high regard.  I sometimes half-jokingly talk about learning to like myself again.  I never even say love, only like.  I usually turn it into a tongue-in-cheek statement because laughter is a great cover for pain, but there is a lot of truth to that statement.

I’ve never been able to say I love myself because I’ve never believed that I do.  I’ve been bombarded my whole life with the cruelty of others, telling me how awful, horrible and unlovable I am in every way.  When it is all I’ve heard for years and the voices keep multiplying and hitting me from all directions, it’s near impossible not to believe them true.  If I am that horribly broken and damaged individual that should never have existed and is a pure waste of space, why should I expect love from anyone else, or even myself?

Yet now this random meme, two simple sentences read while waking up on an early weekend morning, has flipped my entire world upside down and around on its head.  Perhaps, somewhere deep inside, part of me has never bought into the cruelty of others.  Perhaps, despite the depression chattering in my ear trying to convince me otherwise, I am worthy of love.  I, somewhere deep down, love myself.

I must love myself because I am forever building walls, trying to protect myself.  I know how fragile I’ve become after being shattered again and again.  Some part of myself believes not only that I need protecting but that I DESERVE it.  I deserve miles upon miles of walls, layer after layer, to try and keep me safe from harm.

I find myself laying here, still in bed with my laptop, completely floored by all the love I’ve shown myself over the years.  I’ve taken that love for granted.  I’ve allowed myself to buy into that notion that everyone that hurt and abused me was right.  I’ve believed that I was so completely unlovable that I didn’t even deserve loving myself.

Yet all along, somewhere deep inside of myself, I’ve carried a love so strong and so deep that it has silently been building walls for decades, not because I truly wanted to keep others out, but rather because deep down in my soul I loved myself so deeply that I knew I had to keep building to keep myself safe.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/6/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/7/16.

Suicide Prevention Month Through the Eyes of Someone Who has been Suicidal

I feel I must begin by stating that I am not currently suicidal.  The constant bombardment of suicide chatter all month threatens to push me over the edge, though.

Please don’t get me wrong – I find it wonderful that the powers that be on social media have chosen a month to focus on suicide awareness.  There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness that anything that starts a dialogue is a blessing.  However, this month is extremely hard for me.  I have stood on that proverbial ledge and contemplated jumping.  This month is a steady reminder of how close I came to giving up.  Each new post or tweet renews those feelings, each time I speak up, I tear open old wounds.

When Suicide Awareness Month hits, I find myself confronted with the topic of suicide from all angles, inside and out.  Much like being surrounded by the sights and smells of delicious foods makes you hungry, the steady barrage of posts about suicide rubberbands my consciousness right back to that deep, dark place I struggle to avoid at all costs.  My mind is already inundated with thoughts of suicidal ideation, that little demon that tries to lure me in with abstract ideals.  That imp swears that death would be freeing, drifting away into peaceful nothingness away from all the pain.  I already struggle to push those thoughts away, choosing to continue my struggles rather than surrender to that beast.  Yet during September, I not only have to battle my own mind but external sources, as well.

I know I am in the unique situation to give an insight into suicide because I have attempted it myself.  I try to reach out and speak up when I am able because I understand how important it is to talk about, but it is draining beyond explanation.  Imagine taking your worst days, your biggest traumas, and rehashing them again and again for a month.  Imagine spending a month seeing those around you tweeting and retweeting about that pain, encouraging you to talk about it again and again.  My own mind already haunts me, tormenting me regularly with the traumas of my past.  On top of that, I am now bombarded with well-meaning people who want to discuss suicide. Many truly do not understand mental illness so they cannot comprehend how hard that conversation is for me to have once, let alone repeatedly over the course of the month.

I imagine things aren’t any easier for those who have lost someone to suicide.  Hearing the topic discussed for weeks must tear open the wounds and begin a month of steady mourning.  I see them, too, trying to speak up about their experiences and their loss.  Grieving is hard enough to do on your own terms without having to do it publicly again and again.  My heart always goes out to them.

I try to stay strong, to remain positive, to not let it eat at me, but that little demon already has ideation playing in my mind on a loop.  It doesn’t take much for suicidal thoughts themselves to start digging their way into my psyche, as well.  Each story shared by others is heart-wrenchingly relatable, each time I speak up, it’s beyond devastating.

As much as I want to get involved, to speak out and help others, I know my limits and cannot share as much as others may prefer or believe that I should.  I know the upcoming battles others face because I’ve fought them all before.  As much as I know this month is beneficial for so many, it is pure torture for me.  I spend the month feeling raw and glaringly alone.

Please be patient with the survivors of suicide, whether we kept living ourselves beyond our attempts or are people who have survived the loss of loved ones.  Talk to us and make sure we’re okay.  Keep us in your hearts, thoughts and prayers.  Speak up when we cannot.  This isn’t a battle just for the survivors of suicide.  It is important that everyone keeps living and keeps fighting so together we can make the world a better place.  Even one more life lost because someone feels worthless and alone is one life too many.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/11/16.

I’m Allowed to Say you Hurt Me..

I lost a friend recently and it tore my heart and soul in two.

 

I confess that after originally writing this blog, I deleted it.  I have since returned and gutted it, removing all details and leaving behind only vague sentiments because it kills me to think anything I’ve written about how I felt has hurt him.  I have since edited it multiple times, trying to find a balance between discussing my feelings and showing compassion towards someone who once meant a great deal to me.  The blog has, much like the friendship, been forever altered and lost along the way, a bare shell of what it once was.

I have bravely faced the traumas of my past, discussed rape and sexual abuse without flinching, written about the abuses I’ve endured through a wall of tears, all without backspacing or deleting a single word.  Yet somehow the thought of speaking a negative word about someone I once held so dear to my heart gave me pause and made me second guess myself and pull this blog from my site.

The truth of the matter was that, though I was hurting inside myself,  I feared hurting him and irreparably damaging our friendship more.  I’ve lost so much in life – I was terrified of losing him, too.  Despite how much his words and actions have hurt me, I still thought fondly of him and was overly protective, not wanting anyone to think poorly of him.  I still found myself wishing I could be there for him.  I wished things could be the way they used to be.  I missed having him in my life.

However the truth is that he hurt me terribly and damaged our friendship beyond repair.  I know I’ve done things that have hurt him, too, and for that I am truly sorry.  Unfortunately, though, some words once spoken cannot be taken back; Some actions cannot be undone.  I know it bothered him that I’ve written this about him, but I am allowed to say he hurt me.  I am allowed to say he has broken my heart.  And I am allowed to let go and walk away so that I can begin to heal and move on in life.

Please know that I wrote this not to hurt him but rather for my own healing because I can no longer hold my pain inside.  I wrote because my soul has been cracked and broken so thoroughly that holding this in would have shattered me.  I needed to let it out.   I also needed to pull away so I could process things and make sense of it all.  I need to heal.

Funny how I could live with my ex for eleven years, yet losing this friend left a bigger crater in my heart than my ex’s departure ever could.

Lies My Narcissist Told

Narcissists use lies and manipulation to control.  They are master wordsmiths, twisting words to shift blame.  They never accept responsibility for their transgressions or consider anyone beyond themselves and their desires.  Narcissists invade the lives and the hearts of the vulnerable much like gangrene infects an injured limb, systematically spreading it’s disease until all they have attached themselves to has become useless and unable to function.

I spent eleven years with my narcissist, being fed a steady diet of lies.  Big and small, there was not a single day of those eleven years that was not tainted by twisted words, manipulations or outright falsehoods.  Looking back, trying to find kernels of truth is harder than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

My narcissist lied when he promised me a future, promised me the world.  He lied when he told me he wanted to marry me and grow old together.  He lied about that happily ever after dream he systematically built up and dangled like a carrot to get me to hold on and keep going.  The truth is, narcissists never make long term plans.  They only stick around as long as they feel it benefits them or until they can line up their next mark.

My narcissist thrived off control.  In order to maintain his control, he needed to isolate me.  He lied again and again, convincing me that each and every one of my friends all either wanted me for themselves or were jealous of our relationship and hoped to destroy it.  He insisted I should remove everyone that was toxic to our relationship.  He needed to eliminate my support system so I would have no one to rely on except him.  He lied when he claimed it was my friends who were unhealthy in my life.  The truth is that he was the toxic one.

My narcissist needed the attention of others to validate his self-worth.  He lied and minimized his infidelities as minor transgressions.  He twisted situations, blaming everything from his poor self-image caused by the abuses and neglect of his past, or even me, for his cheating.  He deflected anger and hurt that was justified, informing me I was the one hurting our relationship because I could not let go of his repeated infidelities.  He lied when he placed blame on anyone else.  He lied every time he swore he was sorry and it would not happen again.  The truth is that he chose to continue to cheat and he alone was to blame for his choices.

My narcissist lied when he told me I was being too pushy or controlling.  He could not properly play his games if he had to account for his whereabouts or where his money has gone.  He twisted every situation so that I was at fault.  It is not unreasonable to want to understand why a flat tire made him 6 hours late coming home or where a steady stream of money kept going.  It was not controlling to ask for a call if he was going to be more than thirty minutes late coming from work so that dinner could be adjusted accordingly.  It was not unreasonable to want to know where hundreds of dollars disappeared to each month when bills became due.  The truth is that a narcissist never wants to answer questions or account for anything because it unravels the lies they have told.

My narcissist lied to his friends and his lovers about me.  I wasn’t a pathetic emotional  mess he was saddled with, nor did I do nothing but make his life harder.  I revolved my life around him in every way he asked and more, from waking up early everyday to make his coffee to always having dinner on the table when he got home.  He was graced with massages and foot baths daily, homemade baked goods whenever he wanted a snack and head rubs when he couldn’t sleep.  Never once was he denied intimacy, though he often pushed me away.  He was doted on and loved more than he ever deserved or reciprocated.  He lied to them because he needed me to be the scapegoat to cast blame for all that was wrong in his life.  The truth is that he never appreciated all that he had.

My narcissist lied when he convinced me I was broken and flawed.  Again and again, he would point out all that was wrong with me, shattering my self esteem and convincing me I was lucky to have him.  I am not all the disgusting and horrible names he had called me out of anger or to break my spirit; I am still the same beautiful soul I have always been.  The truth is that I’ve had strangers treat me with more respect and compassion than he ever showed me; I’ve had people who disliked me treat me with more courtesy than he ever did.  He was the one broken and flawed, so much so that he needed to systematically destroy someone else in order to raise himself up higher.

My narcissist lied when he told me I would never find anyone better than him.  He lied when he told me I would never find anyone who would treat me better than he did.  He was not God’s gift to women nor God’s gift to me.  The truth is that I was the best thing to ever happen to him.  I, and others like me, are a beautiful blessing because, though we’ve been injured and devastated before, we continue to love and trust with all of our hearts.  The truth is that he had a chance to have something very real and lasting and foolishly threw it away because he preferred to play games.

My narcissist lied to my family and friends.  He pretended to be this amazing man who loved me with all his heart.  He wooed my children and told them he considered them like his own.  He manipulated what friends he couldn’t convince me to discard into believing he always had my best interest at heart and considered them all family, too.  The truth is that none of them mattered to him any more than I did.  We were all easily discarded and forgotten because the only one a narcissist cares about is themselves.

Perhaps the biggest lie my narcissist told me was that he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me.  A narcissist only knows how to love themselves because they do not consider anyone beyond themselves.  The only commitment a narcissist can honor is the one they make to themselves because they are incapable of giving any part of their heart to anyone else.  The truth is that he only ever loved himself.  I was never even a consideration.

The biggest truth of it all is that, though he found me wounded by life and easily manipulated, I am stronger than he ever could have imagined.  I have lived through worse than him.  I will survive the shattering he caused in my life and I will learn from my experiences with him.  I will continue on in life and I will be happy again.  He may have broken my heart, but he could never break my soul.  In time, I shall heal.  The truth is that he is the one who is broken so badly that no amount of love could fix it.

The biggest truth that he will never see is that he will never truly find happiness because he cannot acknowledge his sickness, own his behavior or accept the fact that he needs help.

The biggest truth I need to remember is that I am strong enough to get past him and I will be okay.

Hopeful

When I talk about my depression, I always describe it as drowning – being pulled down into those endless dark depths.  I want to scream but I know nobody would hear me.  I want to reach out and grab something to pull myself to the surface but there is nothing and no one there except the darkness that surrounds me.  Everything feels cold and alone.  It’s like I’m anchored to the bottom and no matter how much I struggle to swim, the shore is always out of reach.

I’ve spent so much of my life alternating between treading water, fighting  to stay afloat and being yanked underwater, drowning in depression.  I never manage to make it ashore, never get a moment to rest.  There’s days I barely catch my breath before being dragged under again.  Even when I’m treading water, the demons of my depression tear at me, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, forever starving and wanting to devour me whole.  I’ve spent my life lost at sea.

I am so tired of crying, of feeling unwanted and unloved.  I am so tired of hurting, of having the demons of my past tormenting me daily.  I am so tired of being afraid of the future, terrified that I might not be strong enough to keep going.  I am so tired of feeling alone, unheard, forgotten and discarded.  Every day, every moment is a struggle.  I am so very tired.

However, I refuse to give up hope.  I refuse to believe that this is all there is to life.  I refuse to let my depression beat me.  I refuse to let those people who used, abused and callously hurt me win.  I have fought my whole life to keep going.  I am a survivor.  I cannot surrender.  I have come too far to give up now.  I don’t want to drown.

More than anything, I just want to be okay.  I want to learn to smile, not the fake ones I paint on for the peace of mind of others but a GENUINE smile.  I want to be happy.  To learn to like myself – I’m not entirely sure that loving myself is possible but I’d be satisfied just waking up not hating myself and the mess that I am everyday.  I want to laugh and enjoy life.  I want to actually live.  I want to flourish.  I want to leave my mark and make a difference in this world.

I know it sounds asinine to be so hopeful when I’ve had no reason to ever believe in happily ever afters.  I hold tightly to my hopes and dreams, though, because I need to believe there’s something more, something better, something worth fighting for in life.  The moment I stop believing, stop hoping, is the moment I surrender and sink under and lose my battle.  I have to be hopeful in order to survive.

How Sexual Abuse Changed Me

I was eleven when I lost my virginity.  It happened under an old pine tree in an overgrown backyard of an old lady’s house a block away from my childhood home.  The boys were older.  They were rough and cruel.  They laughed the whole time like it was some hysterical joke I didn’t understand.  Perhaps they thought I was the punchline.  It killed my innocence and woke a nightmare that has been chasing me ever since.

When I was thirteen, it began happening regularly.  This time it was my brother’s friends.  The first time my brother told me that one of his friends wanted to be with me, I said no.  I didn’t want to do it.  My brother, almost 5 years older than me and over twice my weight, changed my mind with his fists.  It was easier to let it happen whenever they wanted than to get beaten.  It was always easier to close my eyes and let it happen than to say no, get hit and have it happen anyway.

Sex was something I was forced to have when I was a child not even old enough to consent.  Sex was something others pushed me into because I was wearing something revealing or acted flirtatiously and someone else felt owed.  Sex was something I let happen because I didn’t know how to say no and was afraid to say no.  Sex had to do with being an object for others to use.

I had no say over my own body.  I had no say over sex.  Sex was a physical act that boys and men would do that had very little to do with me as a person.  The physical act of sex took away my voice and my identity.  I could have been any person.  Any hole.  Sex, to me, was something ugly and rough.  Sex was scary.  Sex hurt.  Just the thought of sex made me want to cry.

I often wonder if predators can single out victims the way a wolf can spot that lone, weak sheep at the edge of the flock.  The easy target.  That one who has been hurt and abused so often that they have very little fight left in them.  As much as I’ve wished I could walk through life invisible, I’ve often felt like I’ve had a glaringly bright neon sign floating above my head that reads, “Easy Target Here”.  Even in relationships, I’ve been pressured into things I did not want to do, things I begged and pleaded not to do.  My ex used to push to do things or include others under the guise of stepping out of comfort zones or sexual exploration.  Looking back, he felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, just another predator looking to have his way regardless of what I wanted, under the guise of love.

The first couple times I was raped, I tried reaching out to my mother for help.  When I was eleven and came home crying, covered in dirt and pine needles, their semen and my blood, my mother asked what I had expected based on the clothes I was wearing.  When I was thirteen and she was bringing me to the hospital for the doctors to kill the baby one of my brother’s friends had left to grow inside me, I was told not to tell my father.  Told that “daddies did not love little whores”.  I was never asked whether I had consented to have sex because I was too young to even consent.  I was never even asked if I wanted an abortion.  I had no voice.  I was irrelevant.  I learned not to speak up because if my own mother could not be understanding or compassionate, what could I expect from the rest of the world?

Even worse than having no one to turn to is not being able to count on myself.  I have lived a coward’s life.  I have been afraid to say no because my voice meant nothing when I did speak up.  I have been afraid to fight back because it was easier to let it happen than to take a beating.  I have not spoken out about all I’ve been through because I feel dirty, damaged, ashamed, irrelevant and inconsequential.   I feel like I’ve failed myself for not yelling no, not fighting harder, not crying out that things like this go on.  I feel like a failure.  I feel tainted and used.  All the damage others have done to me cannot compare to how much I beat myself up because I let it happen again and again.

When I talk about previous partners, it is a very gray area for me.  Where most people can blurt out a specific number, I’m never sure how to respond.  I refuse to count those that touched me when I was a child.  Likewise, I cannot stomach to acknowledge those that forced themselves upon me as an adult.  I’m forever weighing whether or not to count those that I had never wanted to be with but who pushed anyway.  If I did not say no because I was too afraid to say anything, what do I consider them?  I am very hesitant to ever use the word rape unless I have been verbally or physically adamant in my objections – but what does a woman call it when she has become too afraid and defeated to say no?  Instead, I usually find myself only counting those who I have willingly, completely of my own choice and actions, chosen to be intimate with on my own terms.  It is a very short list.

In my head, in order to try to have any type of semi-normal physical relationship with anyone, I had to separate sex from intimacy.  For me, intimacy was about sharing love and tenderness.  Intimacy didn’t have to involve any particular physical act.  Intimacy revolved around feelings.  It is always those feelings that I have to focus on.  Emotions not physical acts.  I have a lot of trouble dating.  Men seem to want to jump right away into a physical relationship.  I do not move fast enough so most lose interest quickly and move on.  For me, intimacy must involve feelings and trust.  Feelings build over time.  Trust must be earned.  I’m not comfortable rushing into intimacy.

As much as I would love to have a “healthy” physical relationship one day, I’m honestly not sure it is possible.  Whenever people show interest in me, I’m afraid I’ll be put in that position again where I won’t be able to say no, or worse, that it won’t matter if I say anything at all.  Even compliments are met with mistrust because I am always looking for ulterior motives.   I find myself recoiling from the touch of others unless the feelings are there and I have expressly initiated intimacy myself.  I have to mentally prepare myself, convincing myself that this specific time is different, that there are feelings and that I do matter to them, just to follow through.  If there are any doubts about sincerity, I pull away and hide.  It should not be this hard.  Yet, for me, it always is.  I fear it always will be.

I am tired of being a victim.  I am tired of always being afraid.  I am trying to speak up, to find ways to work through my past and to heal.  Though the physical act of sex only lasts a short while, the trauma of sexual abuse lasts a lifetime.

Some Day My Prince Will Come?

The Quest for Love When Mentally Ill

When I was a young girl, I was bombarded with fairy tales filled with handsome princes from far off lands.  They rode in on gallant steeds, battling evil villains and fierce beasts, to rescue damsels in distress.   At the end, everyone always lives happily ever after.

I dream of this happily ever after where I wake up every day wrapped in the arms of a man who cannot imagine his life without me in it.  We’re as happy laying under the stars philosophizing about life as we are snuggling together watching a movie at home.  We’ll take long drives to just talk about our day and hug each other as tightly ten or twenty years later as we did when we first fell in love.  Holding his hand makes my stomach flutter and laying my head on his chest makes everything in the world seem somehow better.  We can talk about anything and make each other smile no matter how bad our day might feel. He knows everything about me and that makes him love me even more.  We do little things for each other every day just to show each other how much the other means.  When apart, we will call each other for no other reason than just to say “I love you”.  We only have eyes for each other and could never imagine anyone else fitting more perfectly at our side.  That’s at least how I dream that love should be.

Unfortunately fairy tales are not real.  Though I consider myself forever the hopeless romantic and carry this beautiful, idealistic view of love, that practical, realistic inner voice is quick to remind me that what I dream about is a pipe dream.  That wonderful happily ever after is hard for anyone to find.  It is even harder, however, when you are mentally ill.

I suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, and ptsd.  I’m not “crazy”, “violent”, “mental”, “unhinged”, “damaged” or any of the other lovely words attached to the stigma of mental illness.  Yet the stigma that follows anyone suffering from mental illness is always the first hurdle I face when even considering dating anyone.  When do I tell them?  How do I even bring it up?  How much do I put out there?  I want to be honest because I’ve worked hard to overcome my own feelings about my diagnosis.  I’m no longer ashamed of my mental illness – I have accepted that it is a large part of who I am.  I’m honestly proud of myself for surviving and fighting as long as I have, yet I know the war is far from over and I’ll be fighting these battles for years to come.  I don’t want to make anyone feel blindsided later on but I’m afraid if I say something too soon, I’ll scare them off.

My emotions are my own worst enemy.  There are days I am agonizingly depressed and cannot verbalize why because I don’t always understand it myself.  There are times when a perfectly good day can be ruined by a trigger that pulls me back into the traumas of my past.  I cry a lot, sometimes over things as seemingly trivial as a movie or a song.  I am anxious about many things that I have no control over.  As much as I try to shield others from my meltdowns, they do happen, especially during stressful periods in my life.  The longer others are around me and the closer I let them in, the less I am able to hide the cracks in my facade.  My emotions are going to spill out.

I am terribly insecure.  Most of the time, my depression only allows me to see the worst parts of myself so I have trouble understanding what others could possibly see in me.  I need regular reassurance that people truly are interested and that they do care.  People and events in my past have shown me time and time again that I did not matter and that I was disposable so often that I need to hear that this time is different and my heart won’t be broken again. Cancelled dates reaffirm my fears that others weren’t serious or sincere.  Infidelities confirm that I really never meant anything at all.

I have so many issues with trust and abandonment.  It’s terrifying for anyone to put themselves out there to someone new in the best of circumstances.  When you add a history of abuse, broken trust and abandonment to the mix, it can be near impossible to let new people in.  Where others can happily leap into a new beau’s arms, ready to fall in love, my mind is always preparing myself for that other shoe to drop, comparing current events to my past traumas and weighing words and actions, looking for ulterior motives.  It isn’t that they’ve done anything yet to earn my mistrust.  I’ve just trusted blindly so many times before, only to get hurt in the end, that I’m terrified of having it happen again.  I want to trust, but it takes time.

Intimacy is also very hard for me.  I’m not a prude.  I love being held and snuggled.  Sharing myself, though, leaves me extremely vulnerable.  It’s not something I can easily share with just anyone.  As much as I long to be touched and caressed, I’ll sometimes recoil if I’m not ready.  It isn’t that the thought of someone touching me is in any way repulsive.  In my head, I have to separate intimacy from sex because sex is just the physical act and has no love or emotion involved.  Separating making love from having sex has been the only way I could differentiate from past abuses and current consensual acts.  Intimacy involves trust and consent.  It takes time for that level of trust to be there.

Where other women set their dating criteria to include wealth, looks, education and other very specific superficial traits, my desires are broader and more generalized.  I need someone with compassion and empathy, who will try to understand where I am coming from and listen to how I feel.  I want someone with a good sense of humor, who can roll with the punches and laugh with me when things get rough.  I need someone intelligent and open-minded enough to accept that my mental illness is just that – an illness – and won’t judge me or define me by the stigma others place on it.    I need someone who is just as happy staying in as going out because I will have my bad days where I just can’t do anything, no matter how badly I want to do more.  My ideal man needs the patience of a saint, because I am slow to trust and have a lifetime of walls up.  What I need more than anything is acceptance and love.

I spend a lot of time wondering if there even is anyone out there for me – someone who can accept all my flaws and still truly love me for the person I am underneath.  I know I’m a mess.  There’s not a day I don’t wake up feeling broken because I have no control over my mind and emotions so much of the time.  I’m forever walking that tightrope of functionality, hoping to keep my balance and not fall into the dark abyss of depression below.  From afar, I might put on a good show and appear to have everything together, but up close, anyone can see how much I’m shaking and sweating – It takes every bit of concentration to take each step forward.  I am afraid to let anyone in close enough to see just how wobbly I really am.  I’m even more terrified that once they truly see me, they’ll walk away, too.  I desperately want to one day find my forever prince who’ll love me despite the circus of my life, but I fear I’ll forever be that sad clown with a smile painted on, struggling all alone, hoping not to stumble and fall.

 

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 8/18/16.

Broken but NOT Done

I recently came across someone who was talking about feeling broken and trapped in her past – I’m not sure if her words resonated with me because we’re of the same age or maybe it’s that I should never wander on facebook at 3am, half awake, after getting up to pee. Either way, this was my response to her:

“I think part of us gets stunted and left behind whenever we suffer abuse or trauma – like someone has chipped a part of us off and it’s left sitting there, marking that place and time, that fragment of ourselves that we lost because of that trauma. The more that we’re hurt at any given time, the larger the chunk that is left behind. Little by little, as we go through more and more, pieces of us sliver and break off, until we can legitimately feel the absence of all those missing pieces – we no longer feel whole. All the missing chunks in our heart and soul feel glaringly obvious – we’re missing so much of ourselves that we feel broken beyond repair.

We find ourselves going back to those moments because we want to pick up our missing pieces and be whole again – somehow we believe that if we are able to understand why things happened, to forgive or to move past it, we’ll get that piece of ourselves back. I honestly think that there really is no way to reclaim those missing pieces – our abuses and traumas mark and change us in a very real way – as they should. No one survives something that horrible and comes out unscathed. We need to leave those pieces where they lie, like bookmarks to those moments that have changed us in life, reminders to learn from the traumas of our past and hopefully not to set ourselves up to repeat them. We then have to learn to be creative and take what pieces of ourselves we have left and build something new. We’ll never be the same person we once were, but we can find a way to become something new – to rebuild our lives and forge something stronger out of our rubble.”

After responding, I sent myself a copy and crawled back into bed.  The next couple days were hectic with doctor appointments, pre-op lab work and other errands, yet this response sat in the back of my head like an unpopped kernel of popcorn bouncing around in my mind, waiting to grow and be fully realized.

During the lull of a morning free of schedules, I found myself reading over my response from the other night, the words that flowed so easily in my half-asleep state.  Tears began to flow as I thought about all those pieces of myself left in my past and of all the people who have tried to break me over the years.  Again and again, I’ve been shattered until I no longer even resembled a person.  I had become a jumbled mess of jagged fragments, raw and aching, afraid of letting anyone close enough to get hurt on my brokenness and even more terrified that they might break me further.  I sobbed as I realized I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.  I’ve lost so much of myself over the years that I’m not the same person I once was.

A strange thing happened as I sat there crying and mourning the loss of myself – I got angry.  Not that red hot fiery rage that leads to revenge and retaliation but rather the steady white hot anger of a person who is so tired of other people feeling they have the right to break me.  Even more so, I was irate with myself for not being strong enough and letting it happen again and again over the years.

I thought of all the people in my past who own a piece that has been lost to me forever.  Family who were supposed to love and nurture but instead greeted me with abuse and dysfunction.  Men and boys who touched me in ways a young girl should never be touched because they were so obsessed with their own desires that they saw me as an object to be taken and not a person.  Exes I had given myself to, heart, mind, body and soul, only to be mistreated, cheated on and discarded.  I thought of my most recent ex, who I had spent over a decade with and had entrusted with everything that made me who I am.  I had expected to grow old with him, only to have him shatter me in ways I know I will never recover from.

As I sat here sobbing, feeling both devastatingly broken and immensely furious, I knew I could not continue to live this way.  When I looked at all I’ve lost over the years and the jagged, jumbled pile of shards and rubble I had left, I realized I’ve lost more of myself than I even have left.  My mind shot back to the tail end of the sleepy response I gave the other night:

“….We’ll never be the same person we once were, but we can find a way to become something new – to rebuild our lives and forge something stronger out of our rubble.”

What only a few days ago was a half-asleep, half-jumbled passing thought sent out to someone else called to me.  The truth is that those were never just words – It’s a hard truth I needed to face.  For years, I’ve mourned the loss of myself, wishing I could just be okay again, regain even a semblance of the person I used to be.  I needed to listen to my own words and accept the truth within.  I won’t EVER be that same person again and I need more than anything to rebuild.

Perhaps it is the red hot rage of revenge and retribution, after all, because I absolutely REFUSE to let any of those people who had broken me without remorse WIN.  I REFUSE to let anyone ever break me like that again, either.  I am not quite sure how to rebuild with the little that I have left, but I WILL find a way.  I will rebuild and I will continue to grow until I am no longer a small broken pile of rubble but rather a whole person again.  I may have been broken and shattered again and again but I am NOT done.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/6/16.