In Preparation for the Life Ahead

It has been a while since I last posted because I have been focused on other things, such as studying for school and working on my new creative art project which involves my three passions: photography, poetry, and painting. Of course, those are endeavours that are outside of the 40 hours a week that I work. My life is so much richer and fuller now. It wasn’t always like this, and not so long ago, as recent as last October, one of my biggest complaints was still that I was unable to get out of bed on the weekends. I would often spend 18 hours or more in bed, yet I managed to get up for work on the weekdays. I didn’t look forward to weekends. My therapist often reminded me that I was making a choice: that I was choosing to stay in bed for almost 24 hours at a time. I was feeling consistently very depressed and it did not feel like a choice.

It’s true: I did spend the last 14 hours in bed and only got up at noon. But right now I am not bothered by it because it did feel like a choice. I went to bed very early at 9:30 and woke up at 7:30 feeling refreshed. But I didn’t want to get up, not really, so I chose to go back to sleep. It was a choice, and had nothing to do with depression.

I am still seeing my therapist two times a week, down from the recent three times a week before he started teaching at the university when the Spring semester began. He teaches in the Education department and works with students who will be spending their careers working with young children. He knows a lot about human development, and how the growing mind works, and what is appropriate for different developmental stages.

I am going to be starting a ten-week group therapy course this week for survivors of sexual assault. It will be at a community center which provides housing for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations. I needed to find a group that was not for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, because that is not applicable to me, and most groups that I looked up on the internet were for that subject matter. I wonder if there will be members of the group who experienced ongoing sexual abuse for a number of years, like I did, not just one time.

My therapist told me that because it is a new group, a new cohort of women who have not met before, there are others who are probably also afraid of starting this group. I am feeling scared and I admitted to my therapist yesterday that I don’t feel like I am ready for this. He reminded me, basically, that I am in control and that if I need to step out of the group because it becomes too overwhelming, I can. No one is forcing me to go to this group and if I decide it’s too much I can even drop the group and stop attending.

I have no idea what this group is going to bring up in terms of feelings for me. My hope is that it will be healing, listening to others who have been through what I have been through, reminding me that I am not alone. I know there may be a lot of tears. I realize that painful memories might emerge. I am actually taking time off of work so that I can attend this group, because it starts in the late afternoon before I get off of work.

Currently I am not dating anyone. I have been on multiple dates with four different women, and after some time, I have realized that the special connection which is required for love to form, is not there. Or perhaps it is that I am not attracted enough physically and emotionally to the person, and that there might not be enough intellectual stimulation and room for growth. This one woman who I saw four times over a period of three months, I really liked her. I wanted to hold hands with her and to kiss her. That never happened and the frequency of our meetings was not enough for me. I wanted to see her more often but her schedule did not permit that.

For now I am focusing on my education, my new creative art project which will take place over the next year, my friendships, and therapy. Psychotherapy is the most important component to my life. It provides emotional stability and feeling connected to someone is so vital for me to continue to heal. I love my therapist deeply. There has never been any physical contact between us. I may have shook his hand the first time we met over eight years ago. I often feel like I want to hug him but I know about boundaries in the therapeutic relationship and instead of hugging him I simply tell him when I feel like doing it. Telling him is enough and I know he can appreciate the gesture and my expression of the feelings I have for him.

For a long time I thought of him as a father figure. I know that is counter transference. But I needed it at the time. I needed a protector, someone to take care of me. Since I started paying him a year ago, no longer pro bono as a client, it has helped to establish the boundary and I know that he is not a friend, but my therapist. He is not my father; he is my therapist. The therapeutic bond between a therapist and their patient is, once again, vital to the healing process.

I am preparing for the life that is ahead of me. I feel happiness more often than not, and peacefulness in my heart and in my mind. Occasionally, lately, I feel lonely, but that feeling only stays for a short amount of time, and then it goes. There is nothing that is really missing in my life right now. I have a full life and it will only start to become fuller as time goes on.

I had an episode a few weeks ago whence I got triggered and felt extremely suicidal. It was an emergency. I called the suicide hotline and then took the rest of the day off of work and was able to see my therapist within a period of two hours. I’m sure there was a lot to write about to help me process the event, but I chose to deal with it in other ways. I suffered for a short amount of time, two days, but it was intense. I had a plan to commit suicide and I had the intent to carry through with that plan. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. The pain that had emerged suddenly was too much to bear and I needed to end my life. Seeing my therapist for an hour that day made me agree to not kill myself, and slowly over the next days that suicidal feeling dissipated until it was gone. It had been about six months since I had last felt suicidal, and those six months were quite the record. Although I had been very depressed, I had not been suicidal. Before that, suicidal thoughts and feelings came up about once a month for me. It was very difficult getting through those times.

I am ready for my future to begin. This is my new life and no one can take it away from me. I am in control of my life. I am an independent woman and I know that I am strong. I provide for myself financially and I am going to put myself through graduate school by taking out loans and then paying them back. I pay my own rent, I buy whatever groceries I choose to buy, I choose what to wear and I choose to be abstinent. I am choosing to attend group therapy starting this week and I choose to continue my healing process. I am in control and I get to be genuinely me now. And I am allowed to love myself, finally. I have waited a long time for this.

I bleed freely

Yes, I’m talking about my period. When it’s bright red like it’s supposed to be I feel as if everything is right with the world, my world. I feel free, because no one is inconvenienced by my menstruation. I have no sexual partner. I have no one around me with any expectations when it comes to my body. I get to own my body. And I get to make decisions. Am I going to wear a tampon or a pad or both as back up? Am I going to wear the extra long pad tonight so that when I’m lying to my side in bed the blood won’t ease it’s way up my butt crack and make its way onto my panties and possibly onto my bed sheets? Yes! These are the things people don’t like to talk about. But they are a part of everyday life and I am not afraid to talk about them just like I’m not afraid to talk about my mental illness.

You know they make all kinds of products for women’s menstruation? There are heavy absorption and light absorption products. There are pads with wings and extra thick pads that make you feel like you’re wearing a rag. Women used to use rags. Rags! And then they had to wash them after each use, hang dry them for reuse. Reusable cloths. This is where the phrase “on the rag” comes from. But we don’t remember those days, do we? A newer generation that has it easier.

I’m very lucky that I don’t get cramps. I just completely lucked out! And when my period doesn’t come for a month or two, I don’t worry because I think it is normal. Other people would worry a lot and head straight to the doctor. What’s wrong with me?! But even without the period talk I think that’s a question I used to unconsciously ask myself all the time. Or the belief that “there must be something wrong with me.”

Why is he upset with me? I must have done something wrong. He played on my guilt. He perfected his craft. He trained me, molded me, coached me, groomed me into doing what he wanted me to do. See, I could go on about this forever. It’s a part of my life and I haven’t talked about it enough, in general, and to enough people. But “people” don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to talk about sexual abuse, marital rape, mental illness, chronic depression, suicide attempts, ECT’s. “People” just want to live their lives and thanks to social media they come across some stories that they wouldn’t have otherwise come across.

I haven’t talked about it enough, so I’m now going to therapy twice a week. I haven’t talked about it enough so I’m going to find a sexual abuse survivors group to talk to. I haven’t talked about it enough and I want the world to know what I went through, but the world doesn’t want to hear it. They wouldn’t be able to handle it. I am tough shit, because I lived through it. I am a warrior because I live with the knowledge that it happened to me every day. My supportive network is full of champions because they treat me kindly and with compassion. I have something. I have enough. My story is out there and people will find it if they want to.

Some peace of mind

In a few days it will already be September. How do I feel about that? Good, I guess. I mean, I’ve made it this far. What’s to stop me from going further on with my life? I am no longer suicidal and although depression still gets me down, I am able to function during the week. The last time I felt really suicidal was two months ago, and two months of not feeling like wanting to kill myself is a huge deal for me. That was also triggered by my talk to the DDA. The Victims Compensation Program for the state denied my application because too much time has passed since the last time I was abused, but the victim advocate at the courthouse is helping me to petition. It would be nice to get some help.

I’m going on my first date from Match.com this week. He wanted to go for “drinks” but I insisted on meeting at a coffee shop and he conceded, which was a personal victory for me. I don’t want to drink alcohol with someone I don’t know. That just spells danger. Going to dinner is of course more of a commitment than drinks or a coffee, and that is for later if it goes that far. A glass of wine with dinner is different than just going to a bar. I really want to stay away from alcohol and any other bad influences. The nice thing though, is that this man I’m going to see is exactly the same age as me. I want to be with more people around my age. I’m so used to being with older people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve always gravitated to a generation beyond my own. Even as a child, my brother and I mostly spent time with adults rather than other children. It’s just how things were. There were other children in our lives too, but moving around to different countries made it difficult to really relate.

I should definitely be a psychologist if I can go from the beginning of a paragraph talking about a contemporary issue and within that same paragraph tie it back to my childhood. It’s more of a personal joke. The truth is, I do so desperately want to work in the field of psychology, but I just cannot get myself to study for this entrance exam. I don’t have the attention span of more than 20 minutes, and then I wander off in my mind elsewhere or distract with social media for hours, just to not look at my study books.

This weekend, in lieu of studying, I went to bed at 7:00 in the evening on Friday and finally hauled myself out of bed a whopping 25 hours later at 8:00 Saturday night. I stayed up until midnight distracting myself with social media, and then went to bed again. I was, however, able to find the courage to face my day today and wake up, make myself coffee, take my morning medication and supplement. I started taking SAM-e and I have no idea if it’s helping but it’s ‘au naturale’ and I figure I’ll just keep taking it because it’s supposed to help.

I love my four-day periods. This month mine came a week earlier than expected. I only know because I track it on an app called P-Tracker, which tells me how many days are left until my next one. I find my period to be just an inconvenience and now that I am able to use tampons again, it just makes it so much more convenient and less messy.

I’m finally going to see a general health practitioner after four years of not seeing one. I’ve been to specialist doctors but haven’t gotten my annual health checkup. Who massages their own breasts every week checking for lumps or cancerous growths? I certainly don’t. Overall my body is rather healthy. I’m at a healthy weight. I eat my fruits but not vegetables. I take supplements and a multivitamin. My mum wanted me to see a doctor because of this cough that I perpetually have which sounds hoarse. I didn’t think of it as a big deal.

My theatre friend took me out for coffee today in between rehearsals. I actually spent half an hour in the sun, and it felt lovely. It’s highly unusual for me to spend time in the sun, ever, these days. I still have a t-shirt sleeve tan from the one hour afternoon walk I took with my mum last month. My life really isn’t that bad any more. Nothing dramatic is going on. No more suicide threats, self harm episodes, and crying spells are at an all time low this week compared to the last few weeks. As my therapist said, emotions don’t always feel good. Emotions are also there to inform us, and they come and go. So if it’s uncomfortable, I can count on that feeling dissipating after a while. Life doesn’t have to be so dramatic.

My life is so undramatic, that I still haven’t found energy to participate in hobbies. I don’t go out, almost never. I like to stay home at sit on my couch and do nothing. Evenings and weekends. It’s nice to be out but it’s nice to be home. How do I explain to a prospective dating candidate that I just don’t do anything? I don’t. I don’t go hiking, I don’t go for runs or for a swim or play volleyball. I just go out for coffee and sit and talk and people watch. Now, that isn’t such a bad hobby, is it?

I almost forgot to mention! I entered this poetry contest online! I found out about it while I was surfing the Internet and the deadline was August 30, so I put together a document of 95 pages of poetry (the maximum allowed was 98 pages) and submitted it along with paying a reading fee. It was for a publishing company that only publishes works written by women. I have over 100 unpublished poems that I wrote over a period of three years, and then spent six months to a year typing them up to my Google Docs. There they wait, hoping to one day be published when I have the time and energy to do it. It’s a part of my healing journey. I even performed one of my poems at an open mic night earlier this year and it was tantalizingly fun. I took myself out of my comfort zone and just did it with a friend one night. I was surprised I was able to memorize the thing in less than a week – I didn’t think I had that in me. That capability. I’m not a part of that underground, tightly-knit community of budding poet-artists in town, but I could be. I could be if I wanted to be. There are just other places I would rather focus my energy right now, such as this blog. This blog has become very important to me. I don’t know how to get more people to read my writing, but I wish more did. I want my story and my journey to be known. And I want it to help those who can relate.

Battle Wounds

I don’t have more or less invisible scars than you because there is no way to quantify them. For each person it’s different. But I know that they are there, lingering in the background, waiting for a minute trigger to incite a volatile emotional spin. I am still not used to paying attention to these triggers. Sure, I know that to stay well, I need to stay away from alcohol, from manipulative people, to not watch upsetting videos on YouTube. Those are the negations of what not to do. I know also that I need to stay in a positive mind frame, be grateful for small and big accomplishments, remind myself that I am loved by many, take my medications twice daily, feed myself, reach out to others when I need help. These are ways of helping to keep those scars sutured and closed.

What brought this up? Something simple: I never wear heels. I wore heels to work yesterday. It was painful! I’m used to ballet flats, every day. Screw my Italian friend who dared to utter his opinion that ladies in flats look like walking ducks. Fashion is a different mindset over there. I do think it looks incredibly professional and elegant when a woman has beautiful shoes, a slight heel, pointed toes. But what about the toes that get squished? And you can’t always wear socks and it gets sweaty and the pinkie toes rub against the material and become red and sore. The back of the shoe sometimes cuts into the crease above the heel. Ouch!

Suffering in silence with every step I took throughout the office, the physical pain reminded me of my silence of the emotional pain. However, it’s different now. I’m not in actual pain. No one is hurting me and I am not harming myself. I live with the memories of the pain. Pain is something of the past. Being in a mind frame of remembering those painful events and remembering the resulting emotional turmoil and confusion is not a good place to be. It’s not a place to stay. It’s a place to visit when the moment calls for it, and to desperately fight to clamour my way out of that hole. Because pain is a black hole and it can be endlessly dark. Don’t go there if you don’t have to.

I think of my dad every once in a while. I know that he has been dead for a long time and I have memories of coming to this realization over and over again which are ingrained in my physical being. It feels like physical pain, although it’s mental. The tears growing up were plentiful. I also cried for my mum’s mourning, which lasted years. I cannot wish I had known him because that was not meant to be. I can be grateful for having had him for the first three and a half years of my life. I’ve had several father figures since, including my psychotherapist. He is the closest to a father as I have ever known. I am so lucky to have him in my life.

Every time I go into a therapy session, I find healing that I wasn’t even looking for. In fact, therapy, albeit very challenging, is also an adventure, because I never know what is going to happen! A conversation path can lead us to a completely unforeseen topic to be uncovered, and my therapist guides me smoothly through the process. It’s a wonder to me. And when I cry, I let myself cry. It is healing. Talking about the future is healing. It’s a positive experience. Talking about the past can also be a positive experience because he accepts me with a nonjudgmental attitude and with unconditional positive regard (something I learned about in my Introduction to Counseling class).

I realize these therapy sessions are for 50 minutes once a week for a reason. I always wish I could have more therapy than what I get. But if I saw him twice a week, I would be relying on him more to bolster my mood rather than getting to practise doing it for myself, on my own. Evenings are very difficult because I look at the clock and sigh, when I realize that I still have three hours before bedtime. What do I do with those hours? Motivation to study, it’s not there. Last night I simply went to bed earlier than usual. I was supposed to shower, but didn’t get around to it, so I’m wearing my long hair in a bun to hide the fact that I haven’t washed it for two days. This struggle with showering time has been something that has gone on for too long. It’s getting better, but very slowly, and not without setbacks.

My therapist has taught me skills of coping, different ways of thinking, giving myself a break, looking at positive aspects rather than negative ones, distracting my mind from thinking too much, regulating my emotions, noticing when a trigger comes my way. My battle wounds are healing, slowly but surely.

Reaching Out

I’ve been suffering inside my mind for the last nine hours since I’ve been up. Sometimes staying in bed with the blinds closed is a more preferable option. I’ve been connecting with people and chatting via text message. I had a strong desire to get alcohol but resisted and overcame. I spent an hour chatting with a counselor on the crisis text line until they told me it’s not meant for ‘talk therapy’ upon which I immediately cut the conversation off for having been apparently rejected (my own perception, thus my own fault). I’m not blaming myself but I can hold myself accountable for the actions that I do take. Even though it doesn’t feel like a choice, staying in bed all day long, it is actually a choice and I find that shameful to admit, so I don’t admit it and continue to let it seem like the nebulous faraway insurmountable mountain that I cannot attain nor reach.

The truth is I want more people to read what I write. I’ve gotten some family members and some friends to read my blog. I find it has been really helpful. Then there are those who just don’t care. That is a let-down although I shouldn’t be expecting too much, because if I set any expectations I’m doomed to be let down.

I haven’t had much to eat today. Although hunger has not stricken me once today, I’ve been forcing myself to eat, which is why at 22,00 hrs I cooked up a whole frozen pizza just for me. Now I have food in my stomach and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to have my regular poop tomorrow morning. It always feels good to be regular about that. Things that people don’t talk about?!

Earlier I was feeling suicidal. But it only lasted for a few hours so I’m not going to track it in my digital notepad, or maybe I should. I talked about jumping off the popular suicide bridge in town. I reached out to my theatre friend, who used to be there for me last year, but now that he has a girlfriend, we’re drifting away. Maybe it’s for the better since we had sex during my traumatic years a long time ago, and he was initially intrigued to stay in contact with me because of the immense guilt he felt for having been a part of my instability. The fact is, all I knew at that time in my life was to act out with sex. It was how I got people to like me. It was how I had been trained. I needed to connect with people, but I had been highly sexualized by my abuser, and relating to men in a sexual way was the only thing I knew by then. Luckily I have grown out of that.

My roommate has had a busy and apparently fulfilling day. She has been in and out, church in the morning, church at night. I just can’t imagine being that active, having the desire to be out practically all day. I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how people manage to have businesses and families and children. I don’t know how other people manage to get up every day, without a second thought, and continue on, perhaps even with gusto, or at least, not with the dread that I feel at the beginning of each day. Some people even like their jobs, or at least don’t mind it, and see it as a means of supporting the life that they love. Yet I do not enjoy my job and I do not enjoy my life. Some day that has to change. It’s not going to happen overnight. It has been an upward battle for the past many years. And so I continue, to struggle.

I am still alive

It’s Sunday afternoon. Sometime in the last two hours since I’ve been up I’ve managed to have cereal, make myself an espresso with my moka, sweetened with cane sugar and dressed up with soy creamer, and pluck my chin hairs. Chin hairs are an inevitable fact of many women, but it’s not often talked about because people are embarrassed or it’s somehow a taboo subject. But it’s my blog and I’m free to talk about what I want here.

Friday night I went to bed at midnight and I spent the entirety of Saturday in bed. I didn’t want to face the world and I didn’t want to be living. Staying in bed, holding my teddy bear tight, drifting in and out of sleep in my darkened bedroom alone, is one way I avoid the world. It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve to live. This time it has nothing to do with deserving. I just don’t feel alive, and I self-perpetuate the cycle by actually staying in bed with my eyes closed, doing nothing but thinking and sleeping and having nightmares all day long, which reaffirms that I’m not really alive because I’m not doing things that “normal” living people do, like being upright instead of vertical, talking with people, making plans, going out for hikes, making coffee.

It’s a big deal that I made myself coffee today. I love good coffee. Most days I make do with the crappy coffee that’s free and made en masse at work, but on weekends I deserve more. I dream of getting up at a reasonable hour every day of the weekend, say, by 10:00 and making myself coffee with my newly purchased Lavazza coffee grounds which for some reason need to be refrigerated. I bought a whole thing of cane sugar just for that purpose. I bought the soy creamer, because it lasts much longer than regular dairy creamer. Yet it was already 2:00 in the afternoon by the time I got around to making my coffee. Still, it felt good making it, pressing the coffee grounds down in the metal container of the moka, smelling the coffee grounds, preparing my large coffee cup with cane sugar, waiting over the hot stove for the first of the espresso liquid to boil up. It made me feel alive because I was doing what living people do. I was doing something I enjoyed.

I think my armpits stink because I sweated under my big down comforter yesterday, though we had the air conditioning on. My long hair is greasy on the top because I haven’t showered since Thursday, and it’s now somehow four days later. How did that happen? How is it that I have to endure this weekend for a bloody third day because of the holiday tomorrow. How is it that I despise weekends because of this cycle of not-living-but-sleeping-all-day-instead and then I don’t enjoy my weeks either because I don’t find fulfillment in my job. Yet I am still here. Still on this earth. Still breathing. And I am privileged because I am a citizen of this country, I have access to clean, running water, I am in good physical health, and I am not homeless. Still, knowing those things don’t help with my depression.

It’s my depression and I’ll do with it what I want! You say ‘action before motivation’? I don’t think so! Says my depression. You’re not doing anything today, it says. You’re going to stay in your dark room and deal with the nightmares, which usually have to do with the sexual trauma of my past, and you’ll suffice to eat once a day, and miss taking your morning medication that is supposed to stimulate you, because you’re confined to your bed. You’re going to stay there all day, says my depression, and pretend you’re not alive. If you’re not going to give in, not going to kill yourself, you can punish yourself in other ways.

Shoot. Am I punishing myself by staying in bed all day? I didn’t realize it until I took on the voice of my depression. It’s a form of self-punishment. It’s definitely not ‘lazy’. I texted my younger but adult boy cousin that I slept all day and his reply was “bum!”. I couldn’t help but replying: “I’m entitled to my bum days. By the way, bums actually work hard to earn a living collecting recyclables to turn in for dollars. They’re not all lazy. Most homeless people have severe mental illness.” No response. What do you say when someone comes at you with hard truth like that? Most people don’t want to think about the other people suffering out there. But what can I do about it? The best I could do would be to stay awake and study, although the motivation isn’t there, pass this exam and go to grad school where I can learn to be a therapist and then help the underserved populations of my community. That would be community service. And when you’re in the helping profession, it’s inevitable to do some charity work on the side. My therapist took me on as a charity case for years. How could any conscientious being not want to give back somehow? I’ve been seeing him for eight long years, and that time hasn’t flown by. It has been arduous and challenging. It sure was hard to stay alive, but he helped to keep me alive, along with other supportive people, and here I am today, alive even if I don’t exactly want to be. I’m alive for a reason. That reason is to help people. To do good in this world.

Money matters. To say otherwise would not be true. You have to have enough money to live. My girlfriend who is a psychiatrist, was recently interviewed by some students who asked her what motivated her to choose the profession she is in, among other things. “Don’t believe anyone when they tell you that money doesn’t matter. It does.” She helps people every day, but it also pays enough for her to pay rent, to send her son to a private school where he can get more individualized attention because he has ADHD, to pay back her student loans, to fight custody battles with her ex-husband. You need money to do all of these things and more. She takes her son on vacations and he is the center of her entire life. Yet she accomplishes so much. “I see the strength of the human spirit in each and every one of my patients, in the adversity they endure and how far they have come,” she says. She admires her patients. She helps them and gives all of herself to them. She doesn’t hide her tears if something comes up that elicits them during a session. She is very emotional and thinks with her heart, and is emotionally connected with her patients. She has seen them grow and become more stable during the treatment period. That makes a good helping professional.

I have to remember that my therapist cares so much. Of all of the humans in my life, he has been able to connect most with me. He has helped me through my most difficult times. He has never rejected me, never lied to me, never been judgmental. He has always been there for me. He always reads the emails I send him every day still, because I need that form of therapy, a one-way journal, a connection with the most important person in my life. He doesn’t respond to my emails, because that would take too much time, and because that’s not a part of the way we do therapy, it’s the face-to-face in person contact for 50 minutes a week which is the therapeutic process, but I know I’m special and that we have a special arrangement, and he doesn’t charge me for the extra time he spends reading my daily emails. I know he reads them, one, because he said he would and he always fulfills his promises, and two, because he references material I’ve written to him during our talk sessions. I am so lucky to have found him. It took trying about five therapists over the period of two years before I finally found him, yet, I persevered. I knew I needed help and no one, not even an abusive husband, was going to stop me from getting the kind of help I knew I needed.

After writing for an hour, I feel much more connected to the world and to myself. I don’t feel quite so empty as I did a few hours ago when I finally had the courage to get out of bed, to wake up, to face the day. Nothing about my environment has changed. I’m still sitting on my lovely couch, with the blinds open, and the sunlight spilling in from outside. Yet, internally, in my mind, a shift has taken place. Writing gives me purpose. It does give me a reason for living. I need to tell my story and I need to be heard. I want others to be witness to my life. My therapist is already a witness, and this means so much to me, but what if, by writing about my inner world, someone else reads what I’ve written and they somehow connect with something I’ve said? A few sentences. That’s all it takes to change someone’s day, to open up someone’s perspective of the world, to let someone know they’re not alone in their suffering and that the human spirit can endure in each and every one of us, if only we let it. When I’m at my lowest of lows, when I’m feeling suicidal, when I just don’t want to keep on living, there is always this small seed of hope within me, a minuscule inner voice that says, “don’t give up. It will be worth it one day. You are worthy of living. You are beautiful inside and out and you deserve to live. You have to live. You don’t have a choice but to live.” The truth is that I do have a choice. If I had really wanted to take my life, I would have done it. I wouldn’t have called the crisis line to have ambulances take me to the emergency room, or to have policemen beat me down just because I had a knife, which is considered a weapon, in my hand. All of these actions kept me alive and it’s because of me, ultimately, that I am still alive.

Effecting Change

Thus so far, the night is going well. It’s Friday. I have no plans. I left work on time. I ate a leftover portobello mushroom that I had soaked in butter, then warmed up. I ate an apple. I spent 45 minutes wasting my time on social media. I just now cooked up two piping hot quesadillas also soaked in butter. I always have cheddar cheese on hand, why didn’t I think of buying corn tortillas sooner? This is, like, the best dinner!

Work was slow today. It has been slow for a couple weeks. I don’t mind those days because it means zero stress. It was a difficult job with challenges for the first ten months, but now, in the last month, I have felt that it is no longer challenging. And, we know I want to work in promoting mental health recovery eventually, so why not start now? I took the leap, the plunge, the dangerous jump. I put myself and my security on the line. I applied to some jobs at some behavioural health facilities today. I have never worked in a hospital before. I have no experience with mental health save my own inpatient stays and years of battle with mental illness. Yet here I am. I want to get some experience. It’s pretty drastic. I have financial stability, and emotional stability for the first time in over a decade. And I’m willing to toss that all aside in order to pursue my dreams.

Well, not dreams. I know that doing something new will be difficult and challenging at first. I would have to get used to the routine. I applied to be a “patient liaison” at the intake department of one facility, and a “Mental Health Worker” at the hospital where I used to stay as inpatient. I have no experience so they probably won’t accept me and I am over-qualified for the receptionist positions that are available, and that wouldn’t give me the mental health experience that I am looking for. How does one break into the industry if degrees and training are not relevant and one has no experience? I don’t know. But I’m going to give it a try. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

I just filled my stomach with greasy deliciousness. I’m not full and will probably splurge with the remaining ice cream that I have in the freezer. I knew there was a reason I went to the gym yesterday! I’m going to spend the night catching up on other people’s blogs. I have only tentative plans for the weekend and no plans for the upcoming holiday. I’ve spent the last one year of holidays alone, and it has been very depressing and lonely, with a grey cloud over my head. I don’t suspect Monday will be any different. But I have a brighter future to look forward to. I know things will get better. They have to.

#MentalillnessEducationFail

Saturday night I met with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years. He was travelling and happened to be in town for business. During our conversation I discovered that his girlfriend has depression. Of course this sparked my curiosity and interest! His main complaint was that she was less interested in sex. This began about a year and a half ago. They had maintained a 9-year relationship, of which several years was long distance between different countries. They saw each other every 6 months during that long distance period. Now they have been living together for a year. When I asked if he will marry her he replied, “Maybe next year, maybe never.” Apparently it all depends on the sex.

My friend revealed that his girlfriend used to cut herself. She did it once last year and instead of being supportive, he reprimanded her. “Who is this helping? You? Me?” he asked her. He recognized this as a form of “self-punishment” but does not understand it. I suppose that out of fear for getting another reprimand, she hasn’t done it again. But it’s just like me! I can relate. Horizontal not vertical cuts along the forearm. She’s Japanese and I’m, well, let’s just say, American. Depression transcends cultures, as do behaviours. When I first cut myself at the age of 16 I thought of it as a perfectly normal yet novel idea. I didn’t know that other people did this. I had never heard of it. And I don’t think that this young woman has any idea that she’s not alone. Instead, she is suffering alone in a non-supportive environment.

“She has mentioned wanting to see a psychiatrist,” my friend said. He claims that she has “free choice” and can do whatever she wants, yet he tells her with firm conviction that he does NOT want her to see a psychiatrist. I told him that he is doing her a disservice by telling her to not see a professional. I explained to him that, in relationships, one person wants to please the other, and that in not wanting to make him unhappy, she is choosing to not see someone for medications. “It’s her choice,” he maintains. “Yes, but it’s not her choice if you’re telling her to not go,” I said. “What am I supposed to do? Lie?” he strongly remarked. After that, I shut up, but I wish I would have continued, not that it would have made any difference. I wish I had encouraged him to lie to her, for her own sake. Tell her you want her to go see someone. Or at least support her. She’s depressed and self-harming and not on any medications. She lives in Italy, completely isolated from her Japanese culture, barely speaks the language, has almost no friends save the foreigners in her language class. She doesn’t work, doesn’t want to, goes to class for three hours a day and then sits on the couch for the rest of the day. She doesn’t get out. She’s there only for him, because she wanted to maintain the relationship, rather than having it end due to the distance. She’s shy. She “pretends” when others are present and maintains that she can “only be herself” around him. He doesn’t like that side of her and prefers the compliant, yes-saying, agreeable version of her, the fake version. He doesn’t like the “real” woman. Not to say that this relationship is abusive, but it is skewed to favour one side as the dominant side, which is a disadvantage to her. I can relate all too well. I remember the days of my relationship when I would smile although I hated my life, and the fact that most of my entire life for more than six years was a complete performance. I was on stage and I was the best actress ever. I should have received an Emmy. I made the jump of moving in with my ex-abuser only to “save” the relationship, at the expense of my educational goals. I know this scenario. I have lived it before.

I explained to my friend that depression is a real, medical illness. That it changes the brain chemistry. “It’s not like she has cancer” was his attitude. I told him that psychotropic medication will help her become less depressed. However, he is afraid she will become “addicted” and that she’ll have to take the medication for the rest of her life. “The medication is not addicting,” I said, “It helps alter the brain chemistry, and she may not have to take it for the rest of her life.” It’s not habit-forming. It’s not an illicit “drug”, damnit! It’s real, legitimate medication! My sense of urgency wasn’t coming across, and it’s not like I have frequent contact with this person. I tried, I really did, but I was up against a wall of prejudice toward mental illness.

He wants her to “deal with this on her own.” Those were his words. He doesn’t want her to see a professional and doesn’t want her to take anti-depressants. “I have depression. Have her contact me. I could help to let her know that she’s not alone.” I pleaded. “I want to help her!” His response? Stonewall. “She won’t open up to you since you are friends with me.” Turns out she doesn’t like his friends much and given the option to stay home or go out with his friends, she prefers to stay home. Did I mention he is an alcoholic and smokes marijuana? She might have picked up on his alcoholic tendencies, as she helps him polish off a bottle of wine each night, not to say that she might be drinking one glass and he the last three, but she does not smoke weed and he doesn’t force her to. Thank goodness for that. So if she doesn’t like his friends, he just assumes she won’t want to talk to me. I’m still going to encourage him to give her my email address. I want to help her. I feel as if I’m her only lifeline because I’m the only person in her life (though I’m not “in” it) who understands what she is going through.

I told him that her hormone cycle can also have to do with the depression. “No, that’s not a problem,” he said. “She’s horniest when she’s on her period,” he proudly proclaimed. I told him that “being horny” has nothing to do with depression. She could be having all of the sex that he wants her to have and still be suffering from depression. What changed in the relationship? She stopped wanting to have oral sex. “She had no problem for the first few years doing this, so why is this all of a sudden different?” he rants. She says she wants to have babies, and says to him that if she’s not satisfying him sexually, that he can find someone to fulfill that need for him, as long as she never knows about it. He attributes this attitude to the Japanese culture, where it’s common for older, married men, to have younger mistresses outside of the marriage. Luckily, he’s not into that. He’s with her because he only wants to have sex with her.

Then there’s my story. I tried to explain to him what I went through during my marriage. I couldn’t tell him everything, partially because of the shock factor, but also because I had this inkling that he just wouldn’t understand. I simply told him that I was raped a lot during the six years of my marriage. “How is that possible,” he asked. Apparently, and to my disappointment, he belongs to the population of the world that doesn’t believe marital rape is possible. If you’re married, you’re entitled to sex. I explained to him that the rape was traumatizing. “But why didn’t you want to have sex with him?” The only answer that I could come up with was that he was cheating on me. “He was sleeping with other women,” I replied. “Oh,” he said. That he understood. He understood that I didn’t want to sleep with my ex-husband because he was sleeping with other women whilst we were married. That didn’t mean I wasn’t having sex with him. I couldn’t explain to this friend that I had become a prostitute during my marriage and that my husband was “pimping me out”. I couldn’t explain to him that it was considered to be an “open” marriage and that we were both having sex with other people outside of the marriage.

“He wasn’t that attractive,” my friend reflected. “I know! Another friend told me that recently,” I replied. “She said that I was much more attractive than he was! Why didn’t you tell me?” “You wouldn’t have listened,” he stated in a matter-of-fact way. “I met him when I was 16 and he was my very first boyfriend. I didn’t know anything else.” I explained. I told my friend that in 2008 my ex-husband sent me to Europe for a month to visit family in England and friends in Italy. At that time this friend was living in America studying at school and we weren’t in contact. The reason my ex sent me there was that he needed to “focus on work.” Whereas that may have happened, he also acquired several girlfriends in that month and complained about having to break up with them when I returned. “But how could he have gotten so many girls if he wasn’t attractive?” asked my friend. “Unless he was paying for them?” “Yes, sometimes he paid for them,” I replied. “Prostitutes. That makes sense,” he said. And he shook his head. “Why didn’t you say something to me?” my friend asked. “We weren’t in contact! I had no friends. Nada. Niente. Zero. I was socially isolated,” I responded. “Not even your family?” he asked. “No! I didn’t even talk to my family then,” I desperately expressed myself. “I had no one. No one. They were all his friends and his contacts.”

This friend of mine, he isn’t without his own issues. He regularly drives drunk and said he has never been pulled over for it, because he “doesn’t make mistakes” while driving drunk. He’s only gotten a ticket once, and that’s for speeding when he was living in the U.S. In Italy, you don’t spend a night in jail for drunk driving unless others are involved in an accident. And they certainly don’t do random check points. They only ask you to pull over if you’re breaking a law. He used to drink all day long. “I’m not an alcoholic if I don’t admit I am,” he said proudly. When I met him he was in his early 20’s, living off of mom and dad like a “mamone” (mama’s boy, typical for Italian men) and he would have a shot of alcohol with his morning coffee. These days he only drinks at night, not during the day. He drinks a surprising 8 to 10 shots of espresso per day. He can have a shot of coffee just before bed and still be able to fall asleep. My friend also doesn’t consider smoking marijuana a problem. He does it regularly and it’s definitely not legal in his country. But “everyone does it anyway,” he says. He has also had multiple surgeries in the last several years for a tumorous growth in his abdomen. The first surgery was a noninvasive procedure in which the doctors killed the organ and skin cells. He ended up having an open wound for 10 months whilst he waited to regrow the dead skin after they took out his tumor so that they would be able to sew him up again, because the first set of stitches broke since there was no viable skin. In subsequent surgeries they cut out all of his right side stomach muscles, and because the left side muscles have nothing to attach to, they have bunched up and caused an abnormal lump on his abdomen under his skin. His stomach is not behind muscle and is directly touching his skin. He will have to have another surgery. See? He understands what it’s like to have a physical illness. He understands having to be on medications and what it’s like to be down for months at a time. But he doesn’t understand depression. He only understands physical illness, not the illnesses of the mind. I believe this is a pretty common stereotype. There’s even mental illness in his family. His mother used to take anti-depressants and she just “wasn’t herself” when she was on them, he said. As a result, because it made her sluggish and lethargic; she is no longer on the medication because she didn’t want to “live like that”.

I suppose I’m angry. My TalkSpace therapist pointed that out; I didn’t notice it on my own. I’m angry that this supposed “friend” of mine will not and cannot understand what I live through on a daily basis, what makes my life so hard. It’s not like I have cancer or some other debilitating physical illness. Some people just don’t understand illnesses of the mind. They are just as debilitating as severe physical illness. It is to be taken seriously. You go to the hospital to get a broken arm fixed, so why not a broken mind?

I’m upset on behalf of his girlfriend because I cannot imagine living in an non-supportive environment like that. I cannot imagine having to deal with this on my own, without the support of my psychotherapist, my psychiatrist, my friends and my family. It’s just not fair. It doesn’t have to be that way. She could be getting the help she so obviously needs. Instead, she is suffering, alone, in a foreign country where she doesn’t even speak the language. It’s not fair and I want to do something about it.

Just another Sunday

Sunday night late. In order to make myself feel somewhat normal I’ve decided to write. I’ve been wanting to write since last night but couldn’t bring myself to. I have a slight urge and desire to cut myself. Maybe because I talked about it over dinner last night. Maybe it’s because I know we have new sharp knives in our home which I haven’t used on myself yet. Maybe because I know that after my therapist and I create our new safety contract on Tuesday I will be morally obligated by an official promise and document to no longer harm myself, and to take action by calling someone before I do anything to harm myself.

I had a very active Friday night and all of Saturday helping a friend move from one house to another, and as such, I spent all day in bed today. It was agonizing because I wanted to get up but just couldn’t bring myself to. By 10 AM I dreamed of making myself an espresso with my moka. At noon I checked the time again to discover that my afternoon study partner had canceled our date due to feeling ill. So I stayed in bed. I woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon to eat two large bowls of cereal, which was the equivalent of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My roommate was listening to worship music and because I didn’t want to have to tolerate it, and also because I didn’t know what else to do with myself (I could have been doing laundry… no thanks!) I went back to bed. Now it’s almost midnight and I had been struggling for the last three hours to get the motivation to have a shower since the last time I washed my hair was Thursday night. Can’t go to work with greasy hair, though I’ve done it before.

I was brimming with stories to tell last night of my dinner out but as I discovered on my day of suicidality, I cannot write about it right away when I’m still so charged with emotion. I have to let the stories simmer for a while before delving into them.

My hair is wet and I’ve made it through another weekend. This weekend I did accomplish a lot, despite my full day of hibernation. I was up and out when I was needed, and the moment I wasn’t needed I discarded myself to depression. Tuesday I see my therapist and I’m so glad we already have the appointment scheduled. I feel unstable and edgy when we don’t schedule ahead of time.

My story that I’m going to tell, about my Italian friend, starts back when I was 19 years old. There’s tragedy and heartbreak and years of not being in contact due to my controlling ex-husband. And there’s memory loss of recent years due to the ECTs. But all of that I won’t go into right now. I’ll just try to make it through another day.

A rant

It’s just after 9 PM. Three hours before my average bedtime. Last night I was unable to fall asleep until 4 AM. Was it the heat or the two cups of coffee I drank or the fact that I slept for 33 hours this weekend or my anxiety? I don’t know which. I’m glad I don’t take ten different pills any longer. Trazodone just makes a person soo sluggish.

The evenings are dreadful for me. Is it because I have nothing to do? Nothing that motivates me, at least. It was difficult going to school at night after work, but at least that provided me with some structure. Now it’s summer and I keep telling myself I’m supposed to be studying for this big exam, and there is but a faint spark of interest in doing the latter work. I am in my head in the evenings. I spend a lot of time thinking. I don’t pay attention to the self-talk I create, yet it must be there. Eating, feeding myself is therapeutic. I cooked cheesy gnocchi from a frozen pack on the stove. Listening to the tiny bubbles in the sauce come to the surface like the pitter-patter of rain on a window. Doing normal things helps me. Yes, I dressed in gym clothes when I got home from work, instead of into pajamas, because I thought I might be motivated to walk on the elliptical machine, but no, I’m putting that off for later in the week.

Can I just be frank here? Can I just say that it pisses me off that some family members know what I’m going through and aren’t supportive? I’m talking about one family member in particular. I thought she would have been more supportive, but I was wrong. What did I ever do to her? This is my white American aunt, who married into our Indian side of the family. She and her husband even supported me financially ten years ago for a year of my college. I guess she can’t do the emotional stuff?? I’m so angry that I just want to delete her text messages. Her advice to me of “try to find a club or volunteer group” seems like normal advice but I take insult to it. She has no idea what I go through every day, just to make it to the next day. She doesn’t know that I suffer in silence on weekends when I can’t get up out of bed, and when I don’t want to live. That advice was given to me after I exposed myself entirely, by telling her that I told the DDA about my abuse story. Her only other reaction? “Oh.” It was a monosyllabic response. The monstrosity of the fact that I will not get justice and that my abuser will not spend one day in jail, gets an “oh”.

On to happier things. My roommate is home and is playing at being a homemaker, as I do sometimes too. She bought a huge watermelon and cut it up and told me to “not be shy” so that I can have as much as I want. The only downside to this is that her sharp knife set finally arrived today. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they are very sharp. “Why would that bother you?” my therapist would say. “Because I might want to cut myself,” I reply after a long hesitation about whether to reveal the truth, even though he knows that’s where I’m going and he knows I need to say it out loud. “You don’t do that any longer,” he would say, “so why would that be an issue?”

All of a sudden it’s 10 PM. My brother called and we talked for over half an hour. He calls me during his long commute time in the car coming home at night. We talked about my weekend of hibernation, and about how I’ve been doing that for the last year and a half, and that it has become more of a “habit” and that habits are harder to break as we get older. He said if I do anything, even watch YouTube videos, rather than sleeping, even if I’m not studying, is better than sleeping. If I find friends, meet a man, or want to do anything, those things usually happen on the weekends and I am confined like a prisoner to my bed. It’s as if I don’t have the courage to get out of bed and face the day when I don’t have to be at work. To be honest, I don’t know how I have actually functioned for almost a year, barely calling in sick. I actually get up in the mornings and make it to work. Work is another issue I’m having with myself. I’m terribly behind in all of my tasks and the weight of the load at work is just weighing on me like a bag of bricks.

I have all of these issues! But, there are things to be grateful for. I’m now aware of myself and my body. I don’t have to let people use or abuse me. I’m learning how to make my life a life that is worth living. I’m not there yet and I still occasionally wish “I weren’t here” (on this earth, meaning, alive). With that mindset every day seems oppressive. My emotions fluctuate and I have to learn to bend with them. Some hours of the day I will feel fine, and then all of a sudden I’ll be struggling, making it hour by hour through the day.

I’m seeing my therapist tomorrow. That’s always a saving grace. Because when I’m with him, I feel alive, more than any hour of the week, I feel alive for the 50 minutes that I’m with him, once a week. He has taught me how to live in a meaningful way. There’s still a lot I have to work on, but I get through my life from one week to the next with him as the marker, the highlight, of my time here on earth.

Shoulders slumped, head cocked to the side, listening to my upstairs neighbour pace across the creaky floorboards. Not feeling okay, not feeling like myself. Feeling as if this evening was surreal, somewhat disconnected, despite my attempts to connect by doing everyday things like feeding myself. I’m so lucky I don’t have to shower tonight because I showered yesterday. I still struggle to find showering a pleasurable activity. It’s worse than a chore and I’d rather not do it at all.

Pick myself up from focusing on negative things. On the outskirts of my mind, and somewhere tucked deep within, there has to be a reason for all of this. There has to be hope.