Remediation

I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.

I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.

I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.

I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.

My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).

I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.

I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”

Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.

Closing Out the Day

To my therapist,

I do not want to repeat a day like today: it was too perfect. Days like today cannot be repeated. I relished every moment of it. The Italian word is “godere,” and according to the dictionary a form of that word is to reference “gustare spiritualmente” which I will indirectly translate to be “tasting spirituality.” (It actually translates to “tasting spiritually” but I like my translation better.)
I did everything I wanted to do today. Every moment of the entire day was directed entirely by me. And it was just me and Samuel time together, all day long. I slept in, I took my time petting and fondling my dog’s furry little head and body this morning in bed. I ate throughout the day. We went on little walks through the housing complex where there is grass and dirt and other things to sniff. I spent some time with Irvin Yalom through his writings. I drank loads of tea all day long. I spent several hours doing laundry in the afternoon, after leisurely reading my book “for fun!” I didn’t turn on my computer. I vacuumed the corners of my room, which is a rare occurrence. I bathed my dog (he needed it). No one called me on the phone and I rarely spoke unless speaking to my dog. Most of the time that I did spend on my phone was listening to Daniel Siegel talk. The two authors I mentioned are pretty much my favourite authors right now. I’m glad I discovered them (one through you).
All day long I have been writing to you in my mind. I have been composing sentences to you, and thinking about how I would phrase certain things when it came to the end of the day and that it would be time to write to you about my day. I suppose not much else needs to be said.
Thank you for you.

Reflections: Part of my Therapy and Healing

Sometimes all I want to do it to write a blog. You know, just write. For me. I put my heart into it. All of me. My whole being. What I write is the epitome of me, my existence, who I am. Writing defines me. It helps me express my feelings and organize my thoughts. It solidifies the experiences that I have had. It gives me space to reflect. What would I do without writing as a part of my life? I don’t know. Writing has always been a part of my life. I know I kept a journal as a kid but I have no idea where that journal ended up. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of writing. I don’t always go back to read what I have written. I don’t always want to. The act of writing in and of itself helps. I cannot bring myself to throw away the old journals which contain accounts of the horrors I have lived through, because they are a part of me. I know that if I were to read them, as I have done to myself in the past, it would have a negative effect on me. It might not retraumatize me, but it would certainly bring back the nightmares and a flood of tears.

Writing to my therapist by email daily is a part of my therapy. I need to connect with him daily. I need him, someone, to know how I am doing and to be a witness to my experience and of my innermost thoughts. I need him to know when I am not doing well, how that is for me, and I need him to know about the beautiful moments in life which make my life worth living. I want him to know it all. The act of writing it down is therapeutic.

I just had my morning weekend coffee. It’s past 1:00 pm (aka 13,00 hours) and I am sitting on my patio with new and old plants in pots, enjoying the song of birds and indirect sunlight. This is good for me. In less than two hours I have a Skype date with my aunt in Australia which I have been looking forward to for more than a week. We had to reschedule but I am okay with that. My afternoon is her morning and so it will be her Monday morning.

Three and four years ago, I had a garden of my own. I lived in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor and my balcony was filled with beautiful ceramic pots and soil and plants which I had grown from scratch. I didn’t even buy starter plants; I planted my plants from seed. I kept that garden. It was a part of my self-therapy. In tending to those plants, I was nurturing myself. In watching those plants grow, I was watching the act of life itself happen. It was helping to keep me alive. My life the way it is now? I could have never imagined such a life. Because the life I live now is not filled with nightmares and dark spaces and suicidal thoughts. The life I live now is just full of… life.

When I had to move away from that home I had spent two years building, because my alimony was ending and I couldn’t afford it any longer, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I got rid of all of my pots, along with other things, and life as I knew it was over. I stopped doing everything creative and sunk into an even deeper depression. I stopped painting with acrylic on canvas. I stopped making homemade paper and candying orange peels to eat. I stopped preparing fresh foods for myself. No salads, only frozen foods. I stopped writing poetry and playing the piano. It was the end of my gardening days as I knew it. I no longer sewed and knitted. I got rid of all of my extra, unused rolls of yarn to Goodwill. I stopped seeing people. The priest I had been friends with had moved away to another state on the other side of the country. I survived the entirety of 2015 by sleeping. On weekends I would stay in bed 22 hours a day. It was a miserable year and although I was not often in the mindset of wanting to end my life, the depression was absolutely crippling. It is a wonder that I was able to hold a job and start my career in finance again starting that August. But I did it because I am fucking amazing and because I am a warrior woman.

In December last year when my Mum came to visit, I had her buy me some plants from a nursery. Keeping those plants alive, albeit barely, brought me to this point. It is now well into Spring and my life is full of life. I still sleep a long time on weekends, sometimes 12 hours as I did last night, but I do things that people who don’t have depression do. I am living my life as best as I can, and I would say I am doing a pretty darn good job at it.

Friday night was revolutionary for me. Why, you ask? Because I was inspired! I was inspired to start my garden! I went on Offer Up, a site that I had just found out the day before from my friend at work. I’ve never bought anything via that site before. And I found a lady, Lily, who has a home business selling pottery. I made sure she was a woman, by asking her, because it was Friday night and dark outside and I didn’t feel comfortable having to deal with a man at that hour, under those circumstances. I drove the 25 minutes to her home. She had me park in her driveway and she was waiting outside for me. As she led me through the wooden gate to her large backyard, I noticed and pointed out how beautiful it was, with well-kempt bushes and flowers and lush grass. There was some lighting coming from the trellis which covered a part of her patio and she used the flashlight feature on her phone to show me the beautiful ceramic planter pots she had in her inventory. There must have easily been 100 pots to choose from, all different styles and sizes, but most in pairs and matching.

I chose three bright blue matching pots and a pot on a pedestal which was beige-coloured with the image of a sun with a face on it painted orange on the sides. I am phenomenally pleased with my selections and they are so much nicer than any pot I could have gotten at a hardware store such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot. I had to go to a pottery store, or in this case, a pottery home-based business. Lily explained to me how she had fallen ill at the end of last year and had to be bed-bound for three months, so she was just now starting up her pottery-selling business over again. She gave me her business card and I am keeping it for the future.

I have a few lettuce seeds planted in one pot. I planted green onions in another. In the third matching blue pot I planted cilantro and Italian parsley. I tried to only plant things that I would actually eat. I used to grow my own zucchini but I have decided for now that I don’t like zucchini. Probably because I am not very big on cooking still these days. Homegrown zucchini is really wonderful though, I must say. I wanted to plant mint but I couldn’t find the seeds for it and I don’t want to buy a starter plant, but I might just do exactly that. In the pedestal pot I planted morning glories. I find them to be really beautiful. I had forgotten that you have to nick the seeds with a knife and leave them to soak in water before planting them. I did that and I was so pleased to see the seedlings already bulging with life the next morning. The miracle of water and life. Water is life.

I have another large pot that I had stored at a friend’s house for the past two years. I finally picked it up last weekend. I bought sunflower seeds. These seeds are actually for growing gigantic sunflowers which will supposedly be a foot in diameter when the bloom is blooming! I wanted to maximize my space, and so I planted most of my seeds, well, all of them, too close together. Closer than was recommended. We’ll have to see how that works out. My little seedlings are already an inch tall and they are just a week old! I had planted them last weekend. They are pushing their way through the surface of the soil and spreading their first little leaves. Unfortunately, I have roly polies. Apparently another name for this bug is a “pill bug” but I have always known it as a “roly poly”. That’s because when it is under threat (I had to look this up) it rolls its little crustacean body up into a ball. My pot, which spent two years in an untended location, is full of these little bugs. I didn’t think anything of it, but when my seedlings were beginning to sprout I noticed the bugs congregating around the baby plants. Apparently they are harmless in gardens because they decompose old plant matter and eat their own poop. But when there is no decomposed matter to eat, they will eat sprouting plants. They won’t eat established plants. Now, several of my baby plants have half-eaten leaves and whenever I see a new roly poly that was previously hidden, I toss it out of the pot onto the grass beyond my patio.

Food is amazing. It nourishes us and keeps us alive just like water does to plants. Plus, water is life too. Water is even more necessary for living creatures than food. We can only go three days without water, but longer without food. I just ate a peanut butter protein bar. It was delicious. Of course, it has a certain amount of sugar in it. It’s like eating peanut butter fudge, as my roommate put it. The bar is called a Perfect Bar and they are sold everywhere but they are cheaper at Costco. Costco was having a sale on them a while back and I bought six twelve-packs of bars which come in three different flavours. There are easily ten or fifteen different flavours of the Perfect Bar but Costco has a limited selection in their twelve-pack: peanut butter, peanut butter cranberry, and almond with sesame seeds on the outside. They are all really good. I discovered them when my former roommate bought them back in September and I have been eating them daily for breakfast for the last six months and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. The bars are packed with superfoods and nutrients and are really good for you.

I have been spending a lot of money. I spend much more than I make every month and if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a settlement of a last bit of alimony last year then I would be completely broke with only a thousand dollars left in the bank, which is nothing. Scary little. But I’m doing okay even though I haven’t been saving money. I have been spending it. About a thousand has gone toward travel last year and then another eight hundred to new tires in December. Read: tyres, for those British-spellers. This year I have spent about a thousand on new clothes and shoes over the months. I am working on a new and better wardrobe for work, and looking toward my wardrobe as a therapist in my future career. It’s expensive to build a nice wardrobe. I have also gotten rid of small clothes which no longer fit me, which is a big deal. Now they aren’t taking up space in my closet. It feels really good to have clothes which actually fit me.

I also recently spent five hundred dollars on a laser hair removal package of treatment series. In 2009 I started a series of treatments and it significantly reduced the amount of hair I have on various parts of my body but it isn’t completely gone. It has been on my mind in the last several months to finish those series. I finally got up the courage to do some research on it, and I didn’t look very far. I actually went with the first place I found on Google. They were having a sale and it was meant to be! I have to wait several months before my first appointment because they don’t do Saturdays and the weekday evening spots are the most popular and always taken. I’m good. I can wait. This would have never been possible without the alimony I got last year. I am visiting my Mum for mother’s day weekend and there is no way I could have been able to afford the cheap plane tickets without the extra alimony I got. Money makes so many things possible and opens up opportunities. I feel fortunate to have just enough. Not a lot, but enough to be able to have luxuries in my life. There are many people who don’t have the nice things in their lives that I have and I am truly grateful.

I have been writing now for over an hour and my Skype date with my aunt is imminently around the corner. We always talk for an hour but I want to not be limited by time and I hope to get to have a couple hours with her, so I have to go microwave that sweet potato that I baked the other night so that I can have food in my stomach so that I can remain calm and centered during my conversation with my aunt. All this stuff takes planning. I learned about “HALT” while listening to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s books. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Those are risk factors for being unable to cope emotionally. In the books it applies to parenting, but I can parent myself and pay attention to those risk factors too. I have to make sure that all of those aspects are taken care of so that I can remain calm and centered. So, I am going to eat something right now. Cheers!

Babysitting Adventures, Equality, and Saying No

I put my friend’s five-year-old to bed last night. It was quite precious. I was babysitting while my friend was at a concert and surprisingly, it was my first time ever alone with him. I used to help with the bedtime routine when he was one and two years old back when I wasn’t working and in addition to being therapeutic for my friend because of the negative household environment that her now ex-husband brought into the situation, it was therapeutic for me. I used to watch her breastfeed her baby and I read stories and played with this child while he was taking a bath. He still likes baths to this day.

This little boy kept wanting me to call or text his mom. His excuse was that he wanted his “normal” pillow and that the pillow on his bed wasn’t his usual one. We went to his mom’s room together but the pillows on the ground didn’t have covers on them because the linens were in the wash. “Please call my mom so you can ask about the pillow!” he pleaded with me. “What would that accomplish?” I asked. “So then she would come home to me instead of in the morning.” My heart broke. I didn’t realize he missed his mommy that much. In order to distract him I said, “how about I tuck you in like a burrito?” “What’s that?” he asked intrigued. I said, “Well, you have to lay flat on the bed with your arms to the side and the covers pulled all the way up.” Then I proceeded to tuck the blanket around his entire body while repeating the words, “squish, squish, squish.” Apparently he thought it was a fun game because he had me do it again later and then asked me to show it to his mom so she can do it too.

When I asked if he wanted me to rub his back as his mom had told me he likes that, he said, “You’re not my mom!” “No, I’m not.” I replied. Later on when I asked if he wanted me to pat his back while he was going to sleep he said, “of course.” He kept fidgeting around a lot while trying to go to sleep. “Close your eyes,” I instructed him in the dim glow of the fish tank on the other side of the room. I had to switch hands from patting his back every once in awhile because the other hand would get tired. He also let me lightly stroke his head. It was very gentle and a special moment. He is five, but in those moments while he was falling asleep with his back to me as I was sitting on the stool next to his bed, he seemed like a baby. He is five but he is still that little baby I once knew.

Now I understand when mothers will say, “yes, baby?” to their elementary school-aged child. Because your child is always your baby, even when they are grown up. You gave birth to them; you helped give them life. They were born unto you as a baby. Life is precious and so are children. So in a sense, that makes everyone in the world precious, because we all once were babies. Of course, babies are so innocent.

Adults have a self-awareness and a moral conscience, and so, they are not really “innocent” human beings. I remember last December when a man on the roadside helped me change my tire. I did pay him royally for his kindness but even before I had offered him money, he told me, “you are someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I would want someone to help my daughter.” We are all someone’s daughter or someone’s son, we are someone’s grandchild, and we could be someone’s sibling, aunt, parent. We are all neighbours in this world, yet there is so much prejudice and stigma and fighting. I want to do away with the lot and treat everyone equally. Everyone is equal and everyone deserves kindness. Every. Single. Person.

When my friend came home around midnight I recapped the evening, including when her son, who has some behavioural difficulties due to the divorce and verbal abuse from the father directed to the mother, tried to hit me. I had told him, “don’t hit me, I’m your friend.” “You’re not my friend!” he responded. “I am your friend.” “No, you’re not,” he insisted. “What am I then?” I asked. “You’re… you’re… nothing!” he managed to eek out. I said nothing but he did not try to hit me again. My friend called me the “child whisperer.” Apparently in all of her son’s five years, she has never had anyone put him to bed other than herself or her mom. She was very pleased and grateful and she came up with my reward (since I didn’t ask to be paid): fresh, homemade tortillas. I told her I want to watch her make them. I am much looking forward to it. She has offered to take me out to dinner as a “thank you” but she knows now that I much prefer homemade meals, and she is really such a good cook. Much better than me.

At first, when my friend had asked me on Sunday to babysit, I had said “yes” having forgotten that I had scheduled a Skype date with my aunt for that night a week ago. When I realized I didn’t have the courage to take back my “yes.” I have a really hard time saying “no” to people. I’m the person who can always do whatever is asked of me. That has gotten me into some difficult situations at work in terms of feeling overwhelmed. I talked it over with my friend at work yesterday and came to the conclusion that it’s okay to say no. I don’t have to say “yes.” I have a life too; I have things to do too. I had really been looking forward to my Skype date and felt regret at having to reschedule it for a later date. I felt angry toward my friend who had asked me to babysit even though this had been my own doing. I vowed to not let my friend know that I was angry, and to take this as a learning experience: that it’s okay to say no.

 

Appreciation and Back To Who I Used To Be (Minus the PTSD)

It’s the dawn of a new day… no, no, no. It isn’t actually. It’s an hour before sunset and it is my privilege to be sitting outside under a blue sky on campus. I just got out of work and I have a half hour before class, so I figure I can make use of this time and have the luxury of writing a blog entry. I was elegantly dressed at work and I brought my bright pink duffel bag with gym clothes and flip flops to change into. It always feels great to not be in work clothes since I spend over 40 hours a week in them anyway. I wonder if in grad school I’ll feel compelled to dress formally as at work or casual as I am now. I suppose it will depend on what others do in my cohort. But this is undergrad and I totally fit in in gym clothes. I still don’t get the whole torn jeans thing. You buy jeans and other clothing items that look totally mutilated. I don’t get it. Not for me. Not of my generation or stylistic comprehension. But I will reserve judgement.

It’s just cool enough, 71 degrees and in the shade, to be wearing a nice, baggy sweater. I love covering myself up but letting my feet roam free in the air. I don’t like tight clothing unless it is black because then you can’t really see the shape as well. Even if I were super skinny… no, no, no. Yet again, no. I don’t want to be thin. I want to be healthy. I want to be as I am now.

I am so lucky to have been able to afford a new and lightweight computer. I look at myself out on this slab of a concrete bench with a laptop in my lap, typing away, and I think, wow, I am so modern. I have modern technology and my computer is portable. I can use it anywhere. I can connect to WiFi anywhere on campus. It just wasn’t like that when I went to college. I don’t even use a physical notepad any longer because I take all of my notes on a Word document. What ever happened to the buy-it-once computer technology. It’s because Microsoft can make more money off of an annual subscription fee. Plus the software gets updated automatically.

This morning was amazing. This weekend was amazing. It’s all because I have not been feeling depressed. I woke up before my alarm clock. Can you believe it? Me, of all people. Me, the person who used to have three alarms set on my phone with three snooze options per alarm. That’s an alarm ringing every 5 to 10 minutes for 45 minutes long. My first alarm would ring at 7:00 and my last snooze would be at 7:50 in order to make the short drive to start work by 8:30.

I woke up before my alarm because of a nightmare. But in that bad dream I was saying “no” to my abuser. I tried closing my eyes to think of something pleasant, such as imagining sitting in my therapist’s calming waiting room, but the visualization didn’t work. So I got up. I actually got up. I put my feet on the ground and slowly stood up. That’s all it took to get up. I am so amazed. Why does it feel insurmountably difficult to drag myself out of bed every single day, but today, for whatever reason, it was easy? I want more of these days!

I had coffee. I only make myself coffee on weekends when I sleep in and I have nowhere to be in the mornings. I purposefully don’t schedule my weekend mornings because I know just how difficult it is for me to get out of bed. But today, on a weekday, on a Monday, I made myself espresso in my stovetop moka. I even sat outside to drink it. I felt the cool air rushing over my skin while I was still in pajamas.

My patio is filled with a bag of potting soil, a new plant, and new pots. I have big plans for my patio. Two years ago, in 2013 and 2014 when I had my one bedroom apartment which I could afford only at the time, I had a potted garden on my balcony. I had the most beautiful ceramic pots of blue and other colours. I grew sunflowers and morning glories and basil and zucchini and mint and succulents and I still had my sentimental tree that I had grown since it was a baby tree for about eight years. I have since given that tree to my brother and his girlfriend and I’m fine with them having it. I can grow a new tree. Wouldn’t it be cool to grow an avocado tree? It takes years to finally bear fruit. I have only ever gotten a seed to grow two feet tall, but that in itself was an accomplishment. I used to take pictures of my flowers and send them to friends. All of this, I am going to do again. I am going to return to the person I was, the person who had hobbies and who did creative things, and filled her life with joy. It has taken a long time to come back to this place. But I did it. I am doing it.

Visit With a Psychic Medium

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I always do a lot of thinking. Yet processing the events of yesterday have required a concerted effort on my part. The events occurred over a period of just over an hour. To be exact, we started at just around 2:00 and when I walked out it was 3:13. The number 13 has been significant in my life for a long time. I think in general, it is an unusual and unique number. It is a prime number and an odd number.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Alejandra kept repeating this phrase during the beginning of our session. I had an appointment scheduled to see my psychotherapist at 2:00 on Saturday. When my friend, who is also my assistant at work, told me about her experience about her “reading” I was really intrigued. I’m really not into this sort of thing. It has interested me but not to the extent to where I have really done anything other than a cursory Internet search on the topic. I have never looked into it before. My upstairs neighbour got some tarot cards a while ago and said he wanted to start learning how to read the cards. He had downloaded an app on his phone to help him. There are so many cards in a pack, and all of them and their meanings have to be committed to memory.

“God said to me, I gave you a gift and you need to use it.” Alejandra was talking about the time when she was homeless and living out of her car on H Street in her neighbourhood, which isn’t in the best area of town. “How did you get food?” I asked. “I went to 7-Eleven on the corner of the street,” she replied.

Thirteen years ago her father had died on a Monday. That same week, her mother died the following Saturday. She was relating to me in that she was in a deep depression. She had gone to a psychiatrist and he prescribed pills to her. Antidepressants, presumably. She said to him, “That’s it?” “Yes, that’s it,” he replied. She walked out with the prescription. No talk therapy. That’s all that was offered to her. She took a pill on the first day and by the time the second day came around, she took one look at the bottle and poured the contents down the toilet and flushed. “I am not going to take pills when have the power to heal myself,” she said to me. “What if there is a chemical imbalance, like I have?” I asked. I had already told her that I take three different kinds of medication daily for depression and that I really, really need them to stay balanced and okay. She told me that I can do it. That slowly, very slowly, I can come off of the medications. It’s called titration but I didn’t tell her that. I knew what she meant. She was very kind to me especially while relaying this information to me.

While she was homeless she was giving readings with her tarot cards to her friends. She didn’t charge them. If they asked her if she wanted payment she sort of just shrugged her shoulders. They would give her five dollars, here and there. “Nobody helped me out when I was homeless,” she told me. No one gave her money. She was down on her knees and praying and that’s when God told her she needed to use her gift. He told her that she needed to always be honest, because the day that she isn’t honest in using her gift, he will take that gift away from her.

She doesn’t do this for the money. I know she is telling the truth. She only charges $50 for a reading, whereas others around town charge $100 or more. My roommate cleansed our home a few weeks ago by burning sage and we both said prayers throughout our home. We cleansed the entrances and our rooms of nightmares and bad dreams, and any bad energies that might have been there. She suggested I do a cleansing with a healer, i.e. a psychic medium. From a quick Google search she sent me a few links and each cleansing was advertised at $150. No way am I going to spend that kind of money when I can spend that on seeing my psychotherapist instead.

So when my assistant started talking to me about her reading, even before knowing the cost, I was very intrigued. Alejandra had told her to not wear black on Fridays because it is bad luck. She didn’t tell me that. She also told my friend that the man she is with is not for her, and that she sees her doing something in the medical field. Funny you mention that, said my friend to this lady, I just signed up for nursing school. There is no way that Alejandra could have known that previously. She told my friend to stay single for a while and to focus on herself. It sounded like such a positive experience that I wanted to have the same thing done to me. I wanted to get my reading done.

When I first arrived at Alejandra’s home, I was very nervous. She lives in a very modest one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a gated community in a decent but not the best of neighbourhoods. The main room smelled delicious and the air was filled with a type of incense. There was a curio cabinet full of interesting items that were all similar. There were several shelves of what looked like glass bells, with all sorts of designs on them. I asked to use the restroom. She directed me to her bathroom, to which I walked through the bedroom to get to. Her bedroom is modest and small. There was a hair pin under the stopper in the sink and I was tempted to take it out because it looked out of place, until I realized that the pin was keeping the stopper up, so that water could run through it underneath. It had a purpose. There was a digital scale under a cabinet which I tried to briefly use but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work and I didn’t want too much time to pass, else she might wonder what I was doing in her bathroom. She has a lot of perfumes on display.

There is a small, brown leather couch with three seats in it in the living room. I believe there was a carpet but now I’m not so sure. There was a fold-out card table just barely big enough to put cards on, and a foldout chair on the other side of the card table opposite the couch. I placed my purse and an extra bag I had brought on the floor and sat on the couch immediately. She then asked me to sit in the small chair. My back was to the front door and to my right up against the wall was her altar, which consisted of about five large porcelain glass figurines of different angels. There was a smaller box, very small, with what looked like a dollar bill stuffed into it. I surmise, as an offering to the angels. There were a couple other smaller items on the altar, which was a flat surface on top of a small wooden cabinet, which looked like it also served as a space heater because there was a knob or dial to turn on heat and an electronic furnace on the bottom of it.

She was about to sit down to start our session when she said, “now I have to use the restroom.” Several minutes later she came out of her bedroom very animated and said, “my phone fell in the toilet, I hope it still works.” She got out some Lysol sanitizing wipes and started wiping down her phone. She kept repeating, “I hope it works” and then, “It’s not working, it’s not working.” She used a kitchen towel to wipe down the sanitizing moisture and continued to swipe her phone. The screen was on, and nothing was working. Suddenly she asked me, “you must be very nervous?” I said, “yes.” That’s when she said, “that’s why. Everything happens for a reason.” I was tempted to ask her to clarify what she meant, in that I understood it was because I was nervous that her phone fell into the toilet. I held back and didn’t ask her because I had already understood that. I was also tempted to apologize and say, “I’m sorry” but I held back because I knew it wasn’t my “fault.” It was just something that had happened. She came back to the couch while continuing to make comments about her phone and trying to get it to work.

“Do you mind if I move this?” she asked, referring to my purse. Before I could answer verbally, having already nodded my head in consent, she moved my purse to the couch. “It is bad luck to put your purse on the floor.” Taking that information in, I noted how I literally always have my purse on the floor. When I sleep at night my purse is on my bedroom floor. At work, my purse is on the floor. Now I am going to start placing my purse on my hope chest in my bedroom and locking my purse in a drawer during the daytime at work. I never knew this.

First, she said she needed to cleanse the energy of the previous person off of the cards. She took the incense burner which was to her side and placed it on the card table. Fanning about five to seven cards at a time she waved them over the smoke of the incense until she got through the whole pack. Then she asked me to shuffle the stack in any way, three times. After that I was to separate the stack of cards in three ways, the first pile laying face down horizontally, then the next vertically, then the next horizontally, simply indicating the break in the pile which I had chosen. I didn’t pay much attention to how she dealt out the cards and ordered them; it happened too quickly for me to catch on. While dealing out the cards and looking at them, she read them out loud to me. “You have been hurt very badly in the past,” she said. I didn’t have to tell her that it had been in a relationship; she already knew that. She said that his energy is still with me and that I need to forgive him and to forgive myself. She said the first time he hurt me, it was his fault. The second time… I stopped her. I knew what she was going to say and I told her that. “You’re going to tell me that it was my responsibility.” “Yes, you could have said no,” she said. “I did say no. I said no so many times. He wore me down.” I, of course, didn’t want to take responsibility. But in a kind way, she said that I need to forgive myself, and pray for God to enter his life. “Yes, he said that he was Jesus sometimes,” I told her. “He does not have God in his life.” She said I need to imagine him visually before me and to pray for him and to forgive him.

Later in the session she told me he is not going to live long. That had been after I asked her if my mom will live a long life, which she affirmed with a “yes.” I was allowed to ask her absolutely anything, but by the end of the session she had told me so much about myself and my future, I could barely think of anything else to ask. She told me that I need to forgive the person in my past relationship before he passes away. I told her that he likes to do dangerous things like flying airplanes. He is a pilot. He also likes to drive at extremely fast speeds on any roads, even if they say 15 miles per hour. She repeated that he is not going to live long and that I need to forgive him. I told her that he had gotten remarried last year and that he is probably doing the same thing to the new woman he is with. “That is not your problem now,” she told me.

She told me that I need to get closer to my family. Without me having to tell her, she knew that I am in this city alone and that my family is not around me, for whatever reason. I did not fill in the blank but said, “my friends are my family here.” She told me that me and my brother are my mother’s entire life, that my mom lives for us. She said that my mom loves me and that I mean much more to her than my brother means to her. She told me that I need to go visit her as soon as possible. “What if my mom comes to me? I could buy her a ticket and she can come visit.” “That is fine,” said Alejandra, “as long as you see her soon.” I told her that my mom is moving and that she will be even further away from me. “Just visit her as soon as possible.” “Okay,” I said.

“I see you sitting at your desk all day long. What do you do for work?” she asked. She was right. I am glued to my desk. I explained to her that I work for financial advisors in the field of finance and that I schedule appointments for them, and that I am on the phone all day long with my headset on. She nodded in understanding. Before that she had told me that I am looking to get a better job. She was also right. I told her I am looking to change my career. Before I had even told her that I am going to school, she said that I am fine financially right now, but that I will struggle a bit in the future. She was right, because when I start school, I am planning to take out loans. When she had learned that I am in school, she said, “you are studying something like psychology.” There is no way, no prior indication, which would have let her know that information. “Yes,” I said, “and I am applying to grad school to become a marriage and family therapist.”

She was looking at five cards spread out with one in the middle and four at each corner. She told me that my dreams will come true and that I will be successful in my career. “You want to have children,” she told me. “Yes,” I replied enthusiastically.” She told me that I will have two children. I told her how I am thinking of freezing my eggs this year because after 35 I will be considered advanced maternal age, and that the risk of birth defects including down syndrome increases significantly. I told her that freezing my eggs is expensive. “You can afford it?” she asked me. “Yes, right now I can. Should I do it?” She didn’t answer me but took out her other phone, her personal phone which had not fallen into the toilet, and showed me a photograph of a woman who, at two years older than Alejandra, is 49, and was surrounded in the photograph by three people. Two of those children were older girls, one looked like she is a teenager, the other in her middle to late childhood. There was a third child. This child was a boy and looked about five years old. “He is healthy,” she told me. Meaning that her friend had had him in her early to mid-40s and he turned out fine. “There is nothing wrong with him. He is perfect,” she said. “Your children will be fine.” “So I don’t need to freeze my eggs?” I asked. “It’s up to you,” she replied.

Mental Health Recovery Day

I am kind to myself. I can be nice to myself. I give myself permission to practice self-kindness. I can be gentle with me. I can do this. I am doing this. I will keep doing this. I am strong, kind, generous, faithful, intelligent and beautiful.

I took the day off of work today. It was a mental health recovery day. These last five days have been hard and I just couldn’t see myself going to work today. I kept snoozing the alarm and I knew I just didn’t want to deal with life today. Instead, I slept for about 16 hours. I finally got up in the early afternoon, a couple hours before seeing my psychotherapist. I was originally going to see him after work, but because I took the day off and he had availability, I was able to see him sooner. I saw him yesterday and I am seeing him tomorrow. It’s Spring Break and he’s not teaching this week, therefore, I am taking what I can get. I’ve always dreamed of seeing him every day for several days in a row. I tell him by email all the time that I hate not seeing him and I hate having to wait five days to see him. Well, I can rest easy because I get to see him in less than 24 hours from now.

When I can’t cope, I can’t cope. It’s just a fact. I wasn’t okay. When I get overwhelmed my mind goes straight to suicide and self-harm. It makes sense. I wasn’t able to retaliate when I was being abused because talking back or acting out would only make things worse. So when I couldn’t control things in my external world, I turned to my inner world for a sense of control. In focusing in on myself, in exacting self-harm whether through restricting food, cutting on myself, drinking alcohol, having more sex with strangers, telling myself I wasn’t worthy of love, and in so many other ways, I was able to control aspects of my life. Unfortunately, the control seeped out into other parts of my life and I felt that this was beyond my control. I acted out at work and ruined my professional life by quitting my career job out of desperation. But after leaving the abusive situation I was in, I began to heal myself once the major PTSD symptoms had subsided, which took a couple years.

When I was growing up too, my external world was beyond my control and things were unstable, so I controlled my inner world by fantasizing about running away from home or sleeping out on the porch in the snow to hurt my mum by hurting myself. When I was eight, I remember yelling at her, “I wish I were dead!” at the top of my lungs, because I wanted to hurt her back so badly, and I knew because my father had died, that it would get to her. “No, no,” she had replied with tears in her eyes, and I knew I had gotten to her. It’s as if I had to go to extreme measures in order to receive unconditional love and attention.

Self-harm has always been a part of my life, but with the help of my psychotherapist over the last eight and a half years I am learning to find other ways to express my anger and to not direct it toward myself. Because I don’t deserve that. No one deserves to hate themselves and to hurt themselves. Everyone deserves kindness and compassion. Most of all, from me to myself. I am okay. I will be okay. I am going to be okay. I can do this. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that and eventually it will be true. But the fact of the matter is, I am actually okay, it’s just that I don’t always feel okay. But I have learned that feelings come and go, and I remain. The emergency in my mind is no longer happening, and the noise and the chaos in my mind has subsided, and what is left is just me, without the state of emergency. It meant the world to me today when, at the end of our therapy session, my therapist said to me, “I’m glad you are feeling better.” “Me too,” I replied. Me too.

Transition Time

I am the maker of my destiny. Those are powerful words. It means that I am in charge of my life now. It is assuming responsibility for the actions that I take within my life. There’s no more acting from the perspective of fear or hurt. Sound decisions based upon a balanced soul and rational mind control my life. Some things don’t always go as planned and there are setbacks. But those are part of the normal ebb and flow of ups and downs which comprise the human consciousness.

I have not been accepted into the two graduate programs I applied to. I had high hopes for both and both times I was disappointed to the point of being temporarily devastated. But I have recovered. Had I written about those incidents at the time those musings would have been infused with strong emotions. I am now in the process of applying to more graduate programs whose deadlines have been extended and others who simply have later deadlines for a Fall start.

I discovered the LPCC Masters of Science program in Early Childhood Mental Health. I hadn’t looked into it before, but the university which did not accept me for the MFT program said they could transfer my application to that department. I accepted. Ironically, my therapist teaches in that program as part of the faculty. If I get accepted into the program I will not be able to see him for therapy because dual relationships are not allowed. And if I go to see him for office hours as my professor our conversation must be limited to class material. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do not like the idea of not seeing him for therapy. My idea is that I will always see him, for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, the idea of him becoming my professional mentor is quite appealing. When I am in need of supervision during my practicum and internship, he might be available to guide me. Maybe it is time to graduate from his service as my psychotherapist. I would want to continue psychotherapy, and he does know colleagues to whom he would recommend me. However, the new therapist would know nothing about my past. I might not be able to be fully myself and fully open with her (yes, I am assuming it will be a female whom I would choose). I am often childlike in my expressions of joy, anger, and disappointment, and I might force myself to act in a more reserved and mature fashion. It doesn’t mean that I have to be less emotionally expressive.

Either way, I think my therapist is proud of me and will continue to be proud of me no matter what I choose to do. I can imagine my therapist teaching me about reflective practice, and guiding me to follow the beliefs and method and theory of psychotherapy toward which he leans. If I had to put my finger on a theoretical orientation which I might ascribe to him, it would have to be eclectic and nonspecific. Attachment work is a large part of our therapy together. He incorporates therapeutic techniques and interventions which he has refined and developed over the last 20 plus years. Whatever he does, it has worked. He always seems to know the right way to respond to me, and say the right thing. I always feel better after seeing him. I want to give this gift of calming peace and safety to other people.

In Healing From a Violent Passion

I am going to keep living my life. I am going to keep on inspiring others by continuing on with my life no matter what obstacles come in my way. I don’t care if I inspire one or a hundred people. One person can make a difference. If I touch one person, just one person, then my mission, my goal, my heart will be complete. Every day is a battle in it’s own right. Every day I face challenges that have to do with my mental health. It’s just like everyone else in the world! It’s called being human.

My struggle on the grand scale of life may not be monumentous, but it has been for me. In trying to end my life, I have begun my new life. I have formed a new identity and a new way of thinking, feeling, and living. I have something called self-esteem, and it’s not based on my looks and my sexuality like it used to be. In fact, I am celibate, and sex does not enter my life at all. It’s by choice and it’s for a good reason. I want to have a child some day, and I’m planning on going to a sperm bank to make it happen because I never want to have sex with a man again. That might change one day, but this is where it stands now.

Next month it will have been five years since the day I left my abuser. I literally packed my car with everything that would fit in it, mostly clothes, and drove for nine hours straight to the other side of the state to get away from him. I wish that would have been the last time I saw him, but unfortunately I ran into him once soon thereafter. He was mocking me by asking if I had children now, when he saw that I had a child’s car seat in the back of my car because I was helping my friend take care of her child. And yet, I was still unhealthily emotionally tied to him, attached to him. Even though it was I who left, it was not I who had filed for divorce, and I was emotionally not even close to being ready to leave him. It was the physical urge, the sexual abuse, the fear, the act of self-preservation, which had led me into action by packing up my car and leaving.

And so, before he left me that one time, he asked to have one last kiss. And that kiss was deadly because it was tender and gentle. The years of psychological manipulation came to a front and messed with me for months thereafter. I was torn at being in the process of divorce yet still believing I loved him. It was because of the love that I had stayed so long. It was because of that unhealthy bond and extreme level of attachment and forced dependency which made me allow him to abuse me.

I had been vulnerable when he started dating me: I grew up without a male role model or model of how a healthy relationship should be. I was angry with my mother for a life of inconsistency and unhealthy boundaries between mother and child, and having suffered the wrath of her keen temper. I was a teenager and not yet fully mature. And his manipulation started from the get-go, only I did not notice it. I thought we were Romeo and Juliet, forbidden to be together, yet violently in love. The passion was dangerous and that’s what drew me to him. And he said he loved me. He said he loved me so that he could get sex. It started before I wanted it to start and I would have had no way of knowing that his sexual fantasies were so deviant, that he would become addicted to sex to an extreme extent, that I would allow us to each have multiple sexual partners which were forced upon me by mental manipulation and minutely planned and persistently relentless brainwashing tactics.

I am sober now. I am sober from having been addicted to a violent passion which ultimately destroyed the entirety of me: my self-esteem, my self-worth, my view of myself, my mental stability, my connection with my family and healthy friends. He gave my vagina as a commodity to every single one of his friends except for his equally narcissistic gay friend. The only difference between his friends taking me, without moral regard to the fact that they were married and whose partners assumed they were in a monogamous relationship, was that his friends didn’t pay him to do with my body what they pleased. I went along with it and by then I was completely brainwashed. There’s no other way to put it. No sane person would ever let this happen to them unless under extreme circumstances.

Everything about my life was extreme. In fact, he was a daredevil flying fighter jets and often driving 100 miles per hour on a 65 mile-an-hour road limit or even on 35 mile per hour roads. I hated it and he knew that I hated it, but he was too self-centered and too narcissistic to care about how it affected me, because he kept on doing the things which I hated. And although it was obvious that I disliked those things, I mostly kept my mouth shut. I didn’t speak back. No, that’s not true. I was a normal, self-preserving human driven by the instinct for survival. Of course I talked back. Of course I said “no”. I said no in many ways: verbally and physically. I used to push him away and say “no” and “stop it” and “I don’t like it”. I used to clasp my hands over the naked entrance to my vagina to stop him from penetrating me with his violent hands. To no avail. He always won, and he wore me down with daily persistence over the period of years. I was with him because we were attached by the invisible, cultural and moral code of marriage, and I naively believed in the phrase “until death do us part” because my father had died when I was three and a half. I took the fact that we were married very seriously.

He peeled my hands away forcefully from the entrance of my vagina. He forced me to wear scant clothing which barely covered me, so that I would be vulnerable and sexually attractive to him, but mostly to others. He was addicted to watching other men take me. There was no sense of protection and everything about my life was reckless and unsafe. He adamantly denied me the use of condoms. He pimped me out to hundreds of men over the years and it is only to God’s grace that I do not have HIV. I do have HPV but my doctor told me that it is supposed to go away over time. I was shocked when I found out, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one wants to hear such news. I understand that HPV can cause cancer. I don’t want to develop cancer. I want to live and I want to become a marriage and family therapist and I want to help other people who have been victims of abuse, terror and neglect. Humans can be the most despicable of beings when they cause harm to others, to children of all people. They cause indelible suffering. But in helping, in becoming a therapist, I can be a part of the healing. My therapist pointed that out to me. Even though humans can be so horrible, there are others who have the power to cause positive change and to elicit healing. I want to not only inspire; I want to heal. I want to have the healing power that my therapist has passed on to me. I want to employ that power for my own personal gain, which is the feeling of pride, of having made a contribution, of feeling good for having helped another person.

I know I don’t have to become a therapist to do those things. I can let a pedestrian cross the road even if there is no crosswalk. I can let a car on the freeway into my lane before me. I can smile at a stranger in the grocery store thereby sharing with them that there is kindness and gentleness in the world. I can be a big sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. I can love another woman’s child by being a dedicated friend and consistent positive presence in their lives. I can listen to a friend when she needs to be listened to. I can sit with silence and share compassion and be non-judgemental. I can make another person laugh. I can make daily human connections. There are so many ways that I can make a difference in the world. I choose to study to become a therapist because I believe from my own personal experience that it is the most effective way to enhance the quality of another person’s life on an emotional and spiritual level. One person can make a difference, and I want to be that person for many people. I care about myself and I love my life and I now have respect for myself. I have standards that I live up to. I want others to love their life as much as I love my own. I cannot force that to happen, but I can show them the way. I can guide them to self-actualization. I can be the enabler of positive change.

Change is difficult. To change one’s thinking takes years of training in therapy. It is challenging. There’s no other way to put it. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments to date. I know now that I can make things in my life happen. I have the confidence to be able to envision what I want, and to cause things in my life to go in that direction. I have the power to make my dreams come true. I have the power to respect myself. As my best friend, who is my sister from another mother, put it: self sacrifice is one of the greatest acts of self love. Knowing that has slowly changed my life.

When I spent five months studying for the GRE, four months into it, when I was really struggling with the maths quantitative portion in particular, she gave me this gift of insight. I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to. But the way to show your child your love is to make sacrifices. And she told me to be my own mother, a mother to myself, and to love me by making sacrifices for me. The emotional energy, the strenuous commitment, the time spent studying: that was and is one of the greatest acts of self love because it is getting me towards where I want to be. I will do anything it takes to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. It is a long road of study, practice and training ahead and I am not daunted by the looming challenge of these years upcoming years of struggle because I know they will get me to where I want to be. I am me, I know I can be fully me now, and I have nothing to be ashamed of in wanting to be the best me that I can muster.

A Funeral For My Past

I have a mild sense of apathetic anger. Well, let’s call is frustration. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel as if I had enough time to talk during group therapy. I wanted there to be a lot more focus on me, yet as much as I was bursting at the brim to chime in, answer questions first, disclose another detail of my story, I could barely bring myself to talk. When volunteers spoke in turn, I was usually toward the end of the lot of us women answering. I wasn’t the first. I wanted to give others a chance to speak and I didn’t want to take the spotlight away from anyone else. I suppose the anger is with myself. I may be frustrated for not having taken a bolder stance, although I did say one thing that was bold. While the group was discussing in turn about being afraid of men, I added, “I’m afraid of penises.” Several women could relate to that statement and someone replied in an empathic tone, “that’s being precise.” I am no longer afraid of men, but I am afraid of penises. If I don’t see a grown man’s penis for the rest of my life, I would be fine with that. In fact, it is the main reason I am dating women now.

I want to share more of my story with the group, and I would hope that it is a judgement-free zone. So far it has been an atmosphere of being non-judgemental and group members have offered supportive replies to each other. But I don’t want to be associated with my story. I want to be me, and I want to tell my story, but I don’t want to be known as “the woman whose husband made her into a prostitute” or “the woman whose husband pimped her out.” I don’t need that. I don’t identify with that. It’s like with my mental illness. I have mental illness but I am not my mental illness. It doesn’t define me. I define me.

Another bold statement I was able to offer as support to a young woman who shared her story was, “it’s not your fault.” That’s all I said. Another woman piggybacked off of that statement and had a lot to say on that subject. I feel that a lot of the women have a better memory than I do. They had a lot to say about each other, in a supportive way, during this second session as we were reflecting on the first session and how it went. Even though we did have name tags, they seemed to just remember each other’s names for the most part, and they remembered each other’s stories. I, on the other hand, struggled to remember each person’s story of sexual abuse and what they had said about it the previous session. I typically have a very difficult time with remembering names. The same happens at my office. I have been there for over a year and a half and there are many person’s names I cannot remember. I am too embarrassed to ask after all this time, although I sometimes ask other people, “what was that person’s name?”

This memory issue happens to me during therapy too. I am always amazed when my therapist mentions something related to an email I sent to him during the week or when he refers back to a previous session. I wonder to myself, “how does he remember that?” Because I don’t remember! I have had him tell me the same stories over the last years again and again and each time he tells me the story it is as if I am hearing it for the first time again. Is memory an acquired skill? I am always in awe of servers at restaurants who can memorize an entire table’s order, for each individual person, with all of the little details and requests. I just don’t have that sort of capacity in my mind. My mind is busy processing other parts of the day and of life.

We went around popcorn-style answering specific questions such as, “what was one meaningful thing someone said to you last week” and we mentioned that person’s name and spoke directly to them. I was shocked when someone called me out. To be honest, I just didn’t expect it. I didn’t think I mattered to anyone there. Although eager to be a part of the group and to participate, I felt invisible. I felt as if everyone was sharing details of their stories, all but me. Popcorn-style, by the way, is also a new term to me. It means that any person in the circle around the room can answer the question next, it doesn’t have to be answered by the next person in the row. I will have to share this feeling of invisibility with the group during the next session and let them know I appreciated being talked to and about. I didn’t think I mattered to anyone there. After all, it is only the second week. Already, women are beginning to form connections with each other. Some have even exchanged phone numbers. Another woman who told me she also writes in a blog gave me her phone number on a card so that she can share the blog with me, at my request.

I loved the art project of making our name signs. It was a brief exercise, but we were allowed to pick out a marker and the facilitators passed around an assorted crayons box. The crayons were brand new. I chose to write my name in thick black ink and I shaded it with bright pink and coloured in a heart after my name. Mind you, I also selected my favourite colour of paper, which was pink too. I wanted to choose a bright, happy colour. I like green but it just didn’t feel like the right colour for me to express myself within the group. In choosing pink it is as if I am making a statement. This is my paper, my name tag, my creation. This is mine and this is me. You get what you see and nothing less.

You get what you see. This is my body and I am the owner of my body. I choose how I want to appear to other people. I choose whether or not to exercise, and I choose to not go on diets. I choose to wear the clothes that I myself have purchased, along with shoes that I chose. I choose to have long hair down to my waist and to not get it cut more than once a year. I choose to shower only every other day. I choose to go to bed at a time which suits me without having to be woken up in the middle of the night to fulfill my “wifely duty” of being the receptacle of sexual acts done to me. I choose to be asexual and to abstain from sex. I am making the choice to go on dates with women. I choose who I spend time with and when, and what I do on weekends. I have chosen to go back to school. I choose to keep my job. I can spend or save my monies as I please.

All of these choices, these decisions, were not always mine to have. There was a time in my life when I did not get to make any of these decisions, when my ex-abuser and ex-husband (one and the same person) made all of my choices for me and psychologically manipulated me into thinking that this is how it should be, that he decides what is to be done with my body and my vagina. He trained me like you train a young child and I was obedient for too long. There was always a part of me, the part that I denied and suppressed, which knew this was wrong and knew I needed out. I did get out and I’m never going to let that happen to me again. I have learned my lesson the hard way.

I feel as if people discount my past suicides. But I mean really, how do you respond to a person who says, “my coping behaviour during my recovery was that I tried to kill myself for many years.” It’s exactly what I said. We were prompted with finishing the sentence, and I was blatantly honest. I didn’t think twice about saying it. We were in small groups and I kept my statements short. I didn’t complete the “I feel…” sentence. After I was done the next person went. But I felt empty after saying that. I felt as if something was missing. Deep inside of me, I had wanted a few moments of recognition for my struggle. I wanted a moment of silence in respect for my past suicide attempts. In my mind, the way I imagine the moments in the manner that I wanted them to be, it was like a funeral. It was a moment of mourning for the lost me. I lost myself during those suicide attempts. Being suicidal used to be a big part of me. It used to be my entire life. Not a day would go by in 2012 or 2013 that I didn’t think of killing myself. It was always on my mind. But then the spans of suicidal ideation became shorter, and shorter, until last year, when it came about only once a month. At the end of the year I went for a record four-month stretch of no suicidal feelings or intention of carrying through with a plan. I’m back to once a month now. The feelings come and the thoughts overwhelm me and for an intense set of days I am intent on killing myself. However, as my therapist always reminds me, the feelings come and go but I remain.