School Running(-Around-Like-A-Headless-Chicken)

The school year has begun. The boys have both been doing brilliantly so far, and I’ve been doing pretty well, considering this time three months ago I was terrified of taking my kids to school.

Was I concerned they wouldn’t do so well? Not really. The little one was very confident and excited to don his uniform and go learn some stuff. The big one was excited he got new stationary supplies and a new backpack with hidden pockets. They were both ready. But I was not.

Rewind to just a few months ago, I found it hard to get out of bed until nine-o-clock or later. I couldn’t do mornings. I could hardly do anything. Knowing that school runs were going to be a drastic change of pace, I had to do something to make sure I was awake before the boys were, to make sure they ate breakfast, to make sure they both had clean and ironed uniforms to wear, and to drive the eldest to the school three miles away, in enough time to travel another three-and-a-half miles to the little one’s school, brave the playground, and walk him to the door.

Maybe the above sounds pretty routine or simple to some. It is not simple to me. It’s a big, fat, huge deal.

So, in preparation, I picked up an exercise regime and cleanse-type nutrition program. I needed it for several reasons, but most importantly it would force me to wake up earlier as part of the routine. It worked. I was up at six or six-thirty, exercising bright and early. I lost about ten pounds, and was feeling amazing. I even took up running which is something I’ve only ever done in daydreams. I made a very big effort (considering this is me I’m talking about) to make friends with some mums from my little one’s school, which is something I’ve never managed to do before a school year has started (or at any point, really). I was, shall we say, “on fiyaa!”

The school year started in two separate stages: my eldest son’s first, then the little one’s. And it was both harder and easier than I’d thought. Traffic is nuts around there. The big one’s school is huge. So many cars, roundabouts making things ridiculous… but I was doing it! I was up every morning, they both had breakfast and ironed uniforms, and the playground was not an awkward hell for me. What an accomplishment!

But just as I was rejoicing that I was successfully ‘adulting,’ I accidentally got my eldest to school late. In turn, they gave him a detention. I was confused about the time he was supposed to be there anyway, thought I’d left early, went the worst possible way I could have gone, and bam, he was tardy. Good gracious they were harsh about it! Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails, this really kicked me down. And it probably wasn’t even a big deal. But to me, it was huge. Why did he get the detention? It wasn’t his fault! I felt severely discouraged.

Fast forward to today, he had an appointment. I was concerned about what the school would say because last time they gave me a scary absence slip to sign and threatened him with detention even though it was to get stitches out of his foot for an injury that happened at the school!

So I called today, having missed the voicemail that said to send a note with him yesterday. I was going to send a note today, but my mood is slipping and I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning again, so it was a struggle just to get out of bed.

The woman on the other end of the phone knows none of this. She knows I’m a parent, and that’s basically it. She tells me to try and remember to tell him next time, because they have so many students that they need people to be as self-reliant as possible (or something like that). Instead of this, which seems simple written down, I hear a tone in her voice that says I’m being a pain and I need to get my act together, and to stop thinking I deserve any kind of special treatment or understanding. (I don’t even know if I imagined it.)

I try to explain that I really did mean to, but I’m doing this on my own, I’ve got the two kids in two different schools, and just getting them out the door and to where they need to be on time is overwhelming in itself. She tells me she knows how I feel because she has three kids but it’s just one of those things you have to remember to do.

But I don’t think you do, lady. You’ve got a job. That means you’re fit to work. I am not fit to work.

If only you knew, lady, how much I wanted to remember. How much I tried. How much my head was so full of “I don’t want to do this today” and “Come on, self, you really need to get dressed, why are you crying?” that I honestly spaced writing the note and telling my son to make sure he’s at the front of the school at the time I need to pick him up.

If you knew, lady, how difficult it was to drag myself out of bed today, how much work I have put into clawing my way out of the depression hole to get to the point where I can even take my kids to school in the first place, would you soften your tone?

Of course, I said none of these things. I just remembered how mental health issues are invisible and the general public has no way of knowing what you’re struggling with unless you tell them. And today, I didn’t feel like giving her my list of diagnoses just so she wouldn’t think of me as a failure, negligent mother, or lazy person. If, in fact, she thought any of those things at all. (My anxiety says she thinks the worst.)

Once my son eventually got to his appointment (five minutes late because he’d started walking instead of going to the office) I had a few meltdown moments in the car. I wish I had the privilege of an ‘excused absence’ on days like this, but I don’t get any.

Truth is, I don’t want sympathy or special treatment, I actually want to just be able to do these simple things, no problem. I want the molehills to stay molehills. I want to run for fun and exercise with my new friends in my bright pink tights instead of running around like a headless chicken in the mornings.

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But I do wish I could have telepathically conveyed a little perspective when I was (I’m pretty sure) getting told off this morning. It would have spared me a few tears in public places.

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When I Asked My Son About Depression and Anxiety

My son is going to be twelve at the end of this year. He is so bright, albeit occasionally insensitive. He carries on conversations with adults with virtually no trouble. Often times, his knowledge base can exceed that of the adult with whom he is speaking, and I am told his teachers are impressed with him. But sometimes, he can hurt feelings. He can be a right little turkey, as I say. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.

What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I can forget that I’ve spoken aloud about something to someone else while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.

As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety. I could be wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say on the subject when we had a little chat the other night.

What is depression?

-Thinking that nothing can get better and thinking that there’s no hope even if there is, a bit.

What do you think causes it?

-Other people.

What is anxiety?

-Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.

What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?

-That they’re doing well because they’re trying hard and I think they’re getting through- just about.

Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?

-Yeah.

What do you think about that?

-I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.

What do you think it would look like if I didn’t have these things?

-Without it you’d be happier, you might have a job.

What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?

-That they should try to understand and give some respect because for ones that have it, their lives are harder.

Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation. He gave a great analogy to help describe having depression and anxiety.

If you could describe depression and anxiety as a thing that might represent it, what would you say that is?

-It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck and you try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.

I must add I have had a difficult week with my son. He is about to transition into secondary/high school, and routines at school are currently inconsistent as they practice for the school play and get things organised to end the year. It’s been a bit stressful for him, maybe, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. He hasn’t been listening, caring, or any of the desirable things I wish to see from him. But just when I was beginning to doubt the good in him, he comes out with this.

He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But in all, I’m so proud of him that his true understanding and compassion, one could say, is greater than that in many of the attitudes I’ve seen in a large number of adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experience of seeing these illnesses in me has expanded his understanding and compassion for others.

I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.

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I love my little turkey.

Not Broken, Just Prepared

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trudging through life when so many things have gone wrong. A lot of people don’t have this kind of life experience, but a lot of us do. Things happen and while there are so many who will look down on anyone for feeling ‘victimised,’ I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and say yes, I was victimised by this person or that event. It was not my fault. That way we don’t internalise it and feel like we’re bad people for ‘letting’ something happen (and if anyone tells you that unjustifiably, that’s insanity), or that we’re whiners for saying it was wrong.

Another difficulty is that the lasting effects of whatever trauma we’ve experienced can be so challenging we often feel ‘broken.’ We wonder why we can’t just enjoy things anymore, why we cry at television adverts, why we’re scared of things that other people find trivial, or why our load feels so much heavier than the next person’s.

My mom was struggling with some of these feelings after I became pregnant with my firstborn. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the back story is here.)

She and I were at a camp in Hungry Horse, Montana, for our traditional weekend away. We used to go every year if we could help it, it was the only thing you could call a “vacation” or “holiday” that we ever really took. It was a church-based retreat, and to this day, that campground remains my favourite place on Earth.

This particular summer, I had just turned fifteen, and, being pregnant with my firstborn, my mom and I both had a lot to process. The incident and the uncertainty of the future were weighing heavily on our minds. We were not wealthy by any means, and never owned new vehicles or anything like that. Choosing to keep my son was my immediate choice and I stuck by my guns, but it was not going to be easy. My mom was supportive of my choice, and was willing to help, but was no doubt under pressure about the situation.

One night at the camp, I was already deeply asleep in the cabin. Mom was in Teakettle lodge, the mess hall, playing board games with others until probably midnight when it was time to lock up. Most other campers were also asleep. There are no lights on the campground after a certain time, so with her flashlight lighting her path she made her way back to the cabin.

When she got to our door, she realised she had forgotten to bring a key. Up in the mountains, in the dark, no shelter, no blanket, and everyone fast asleep. She tried waking me up, but I sleep like a rock and I’m not sure an earthquake could wake me. Bears have been known to come wandering through the camp, the end of May is not summery enough to keep the ground from freezing overnight, and it rains there a lot. I’m pretty sure sleeping on the ground was not going to work out very well.

She didn’t know what to do.

We may not have had much but we did have an old Ford Explorer. Being old and second-hand, the door was broken and wouldn’t lock. Thankfully it was so beaten down no one would steal it, and on this night my mom was able to get into it and out of the cold, much to her relief.

As she reclined her seat to get comfortable, she was thinking about my situation and how sorry she felt for me and what I was going through. She had been praying about it, asking what to do about it all. It was, after all, a retreat where prayer was one of the main focuses. It was then she heard a voice from the back seat say, “It isn’t broken, it was prepared.” She turned to see where the voice came from, but there was no one there.

I realise that this will sound bonkers to many and immediately at the mention of “prayer” about half of you or more will roll your eyes. And that’s fine. I’m not pressing any beliefs onto anyone or indeed, reflecting any of my own. But I know my mom was really shaken by this experience in a good way, and it has had its impact on my life as well.

Sometimes when things really get on top of me, I think of this. Yes, I have been victimised in the past by many things. No, I will not be ashamed of that. I do feel like I was given an extraordinary load to carry, and I also feel it’s important to tell people about it, no matter how personal. I am a survivor, and a fighter. Yes, I have felt ‘broken’ so, so many times. But I choose to believe that for whatever reason I was not ‘broken,’ I was prepared.

I especially believe this because my son, despite the circumstances of his conception, is an awesome little (big) boy. He’s going to be twelve soon, which is really strange to think about. Throughout the years he has been an excellent motivation to keep being a better, stronger, more resilient person despite the many times it has been so incredibly difficult I have seriously wanted to quit.

In no way do I view his entering into my life a ‘breakage’ of anything. His existence has opened my eyes to many things and given me a perspective of the world that I would never shun. I don’t yet know what my purpose truly is, but I know it isn’t to sit still feeling broken and helpless.

Since the day my mom first told me this story, I’ve never looked at anything the same.


If you have a story of something being ‘broken’ but turning out to be ‘prepared,’ I’d love to hear it.

Feel free to comment below or blog it and link to this post to get my attention.

What PTSD Means to Me

It’s PTSD Awareness Month, so let’s go over what that means.

I am one of many who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a.k.a. PTSD.

I say this to someone and most of the time they reply, “What?”

It means a trauma happened, and even though it happened it the past, the footprint it left in your mind is so severe that any time conditions appear to be the same as during that trauma, usually described as “when a trigger happens,” your body undergoes extreme stress and expresses that stress in a physical and/or mental reaction. Sometimes even having to recall the events unexpectedly can be all the trigger you need.

The mind is a beautiful, crazy thing.

If you still don’t get it, think of this: Ever spoken about something attached to any kind of strong emotion and felt that same emotion almost exactly as when the event happened? How about remembering how it felt when you tasted straight lemon in your mouth? Men: how about watching another guy get kicked in the groin?

If any of these evoked physical reactions from you as you read about them, such as your mouth watering at the thought of pure lemon in your mouth, or wincing at the thought of a groin injury (sorry, fellas), then you can begin to see how PTSD works. Your brain, in all its splendour, has stored a physical memory of that thing. Everything in life that we do has a physical and/or emotional memory attached to it. If we haven’t done that particular thing before, we are reminded of a time we did something similar. When these memories occur, we can often feel very physical reactions to them.

At this moment, I am typing. I am typing at the rate of about sixty words per minute. I could not do this if the physical memory, muscle memory, of all the practice I’ve had was not in my brain, at the ready. This is an instinctual thing, part of growing up and being human. Similarly, as part of humans adapting to protect ourselves from harm, we involuntarily store memories of dangerous situations for future, protective reference.

So the soldier who has gone to war and seen all kinds of awful things, will often come back “shell-shocked.” It happens more often than you think. There is a really good representation of this that is currently in the process of being created. I found the trailer really interesting. check it out below, or at http://www.burdenoffreedomthemovie.com

As you can see in this trailer, the returned soldier is no longer at war. But the trauma from the experience has left such a lasting impression that they can’t help but feel like they are right back in that situation, again, and again. It can be so tragic, turning people who were once just as normal as the next person, into altered versions of themselves with undesirable reactions to things that don’t seem to be bothering anyone else. I’m not comparing my PTSD to what is shown in the trailer. But regardless of severity, PTSD is PTSD.

What PTSD means to me is that if I’m minding my own business in my house and the phone rings, my heart races, I get sweaty palms, and feel immediately scared and on edge. Of what? Well, there have been times that I have picked up the phone and had abuse hurled at me. I would block the numbers of the people, they’d call from private numbers, I’d pick up the phone and have a nasty surprise. The verbal abuse and associated behaviours of the people that used to do this was so bad, and lasted for so long, I now hate phones. Especially when they’re ringing.

Here’s an example: after losing absolutely everything in 2008, I had bill collectors calling me. I had no money whatsoever. I had lost so much there was no way I could work. I was a wreck. I was only twenty, I didn’t have savings, my family was not rich in the slightest, yet here were these bill collectors calling me and telling me to “grow up” and pay this bill that only resulted because I had forgot to cancel a gym membership for a gym I attended twice. I had nothing, and they were literally calling me all kinds of names and reducing me to tears as I tried to explain to them why I couldn’t even begin to pay them for this. It was really awful and I never want to experience that again, so I avoid the phone and avoid calling anyone unless I absolutely have to.

If I hear someone closing their car door outside, I look around to see what kind of car it was. I peer through my curtains, trying to be invisible, to see if it’s the car of someone I don’t want at my door. Every time. And it’s because I’ve told people in the past not to come to my house, and they still have. I’ve been stalked before by people who have caused a lot of harm in my life, and I live in constant fear that they’ll find my new address and show up at the door. And if they ever do, I’ll probably have to move.

If I see a car that looks like the car of someone I used to know but don’t want around me ever again, I panic. I could be driving and suddenly be very paranoid that the car I’ve spotted might be following me. I continue to panic until I see that the driver is a stranger and not someone I should worry about. For these reasons I memorise licence plates.

Once when I heard a car door outside, and had lately been stalked by my narcissist mother-in-law, I actually passed out. My heart raced, I sort of fainted, and the person who was there at the time actually thought I was dead. I came to suddenly, with an instant feeling like I was burning, confused and disorientated. I heard a popping and fizzing noise in my ears, and my skin was hot all over. Because of this incident, panic attacks are that much more terrifying, as I truly believe I could have gone into cardiac arrest that night and actually died.

If my doorbell rings, or someone knocks, I hush the children and try to pretend no one is home until I can peek through the little peek-hole and see who it is. If it’s a friend who has shown up unannounced, I will still only reluctantly open the door. And even then I’m a bundle of nerves for a few minutes until I can calm myself down and tell myself it’s okay.

Confession: With the exception of one friend who has known me long enough to be allowed to surprise me at my door, showing up unannounced is almost like a black mark next to someone’s name in the book. Once is an accident. I’ll probably try to hint that showing up unannounced isn’t the best idea when dealing with me. If they do it again, we’re probably not going to stay friends. They could be perfectly wonderful in every other regard, but I can’t have people showing up at my door without notice. It can cause a panic attack and all the feelings associated with the nasty people who used to do it in the past are then associated to these unsuspecting people, and when I think of them in the future I begin to feel bad feelings toward them.

One of the first things I remember occurring due to PTSD, was when I was about ten years old and was on a trip with a group of kids. I had fallen into a hot tub, and had bruised my leg so badly there was a huge lump on it. I could hardly walk. Because we were there for a competition and I was in so much pain, the male chaperone tried to give me a children’s Tylenol. (This is a chewable acetaminophen (paracetamol) with a strawberry flavour.) I lost my mind over it. I was hysterically crying, refusing… they could not have prised my mouth open to give me this thing. Finally the guy shouted at me “Quit bitchin’!” and I was so intimidated I finally took it.

To them I was just throwing a fit for no reason. But I was not the kind of child who used to throw fits for anything. And I didn’t know at the time why I reacted this way. But years later when I began to have certain flashbacks, I finally understood…

I had been in a daycare that was run by an evil family parading as children’s pastors. The wife would give us “vitamins” that were children’s chewable Benadryl, strawberry flavour. This is an antihistamine with a drowsy effect. It would put us to sleep and the husband would abuse us. They would show us movies where people were being maimed and said that if we ever told, our mom would suffer a similar fate. I was almost three years old at the time, but this period of time has affected me throughout life, most specifically when being around men or pressured by men. And to this day I will not let medicines touch my tongue. I put water in first, then pill, then swallow with more water.

PTSD means to me that when I am unexpectedly asked to recall events from the past that were traumatic, I am filled with sorrow. I cry in public a lot. I blame part of this on my American-ness, because apparently Americans express emotion a lot more freely than the British, but a lot of it is Post Traumatic Stress. Having to recall events suddenly can put me in a funk and I will stay in that funk for days, which brings me to perhaps the most important point of this article:

The reason(s) why anyone is suffering PTSD is none of your business. Don’t suddenly ask them about it.

I mentioned in Why I Chose to Speak Out that I am not working at the moment. This means that I occasionally have to go for a review so they can deem whether I’m ‘disabled’ enough to qualify for benefit. During my latest meeting at the JobCentre, the woman assessing my case was asking me all kinds of questions. Keep in mind, my doctor has told me not to work right now. Several other support agencies have told me not to work right now. I have been through a lot in the past year alone that is enough to deal with, now compound that with a lifetime briefly described in the article cited in this paragraph.

The woman asked me what I’d been diagnosed with. I told her PTSD, anxiety, depression. She said, “And what do you think the PTSD stems from?” I was shocked.

A bit bewildered, all I could begin to say was, “Uh… my life?”

I had to sit there, in this office full of people waiting on chairs, people behind desks, people everywhere, my youngest son at my side, and find a way to answer this woman. I strongly felt that she had no business asking this question, but she was sitting there typing away on her computer into the system holding the records of my life and the power over my keys to living it, and so I tried to answer her. I immediately burst into tears.

After fumbling an answer (which was really a list, because it was no one thing but several and I was otherwise lost for words) she eventually agreed that I shouldn’t be working right now. But I can’t shake the feeling that was a bit of a sadistic thing to do. Either she likes to make people suffer and watch their reaction, or she didn’t understand at all what PTSD implicates.

PTSD means to me that if someone tells me that’s been their diagnosis, I say “I’m really sorry” and I do NOT say “That must be hard” (because we don’t need to be reminded or told how to feel), or “What do you think that stems from?”

If I have a friend with PTSD, I ask “What do I need to know about this?” and let them tell me what to avoid when interacting with them.

You would not serve your vegetarian friend a rare steak. So don’t ask someone with PTSD to tell you why they’ve got it.

To ask them to explain why they’ve got it is to ask them to recall the incident that caused it. That is most certainly a trigger. Like serving a vegetarian a bleeding piece of meat and forcing them to eat it, this is cruelty for someone with PTSD.

Their reactions could be so much more than just crying or getting sweaty palms. You could find yourself in a dangerous situation very quickly if they suddenly suffer a dissociative episode (black out) and go into survival mode.

If not danger for yourself, it could be dangerous for the other person. This stuff is no joke. Panic attacks are not fun, feeling out of control of your reactions is not fun. (Yes panic attacks are real, no they are not made up, and it could happen to absolutely anyone.)

PTSD means to me that because a trigger could happen anywhere, at any time, I don’t go out much. I don’t socialise much, and if I do, I have to put on a brave face and force myself to do things. Because people in everyday life don’t understand, and can easily label sufferers of PTSD “crazy,” the best option for many is to shut themselves away. The lack of understanding of this condition, the same as with most mental health issues, is ultimately delivering a death sentence to those of us who have these conditions.

We are being forced into cages, we who were once just as normal as the next guy, because of luck of the draw, because of ignorance, because of the stigmatization of something that could strike any one of you suddenly and without warning (though I really hope it doesn’t, because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone). In these cages we cope day by day until we cease to exist. Is that really living?

PTSD is like a mental scar from an occurrence that caused a mental wound. In order to reduce its similarity to a death sentence, it would be wonderful if everyone took some time to educate themselves on the condition. Especially those who might come in contact with people affected by this. If not, I hope this article from one person’s perspective has given enough of an introduction to the subject, with a few key points to consider.


Video clip used with permission of Burden of Freedom.

Being Poor

I was that girl in school.
The poor girl.
The one whose uniforms weren’t like everyone else’s. The one whose clothes were only new if the store was closing down and had an 80% off sale.
The one who, when all the kids had their names called on the day school portrait orders were delivered, never had her name called.
The one who never got to go on the school trip unless it was subsidized.
The one who always took seconds in the lunch line if there were any extras.
The one who was ridiculed for having greasy hair because her family could only afford enough water to bathe once a week.
The one whose experiences in life were exclusively limited to which ones had a special funding program for people who couldn’t afford them.
The one who stole food stamps from her mother’s pocket when she was asleep so she could buy a candy bar every once in a while because her mom always told her “no.”
The one who, knowing how much it sucked to be poor, sometimes gave those food stamp dollars to the vagrants on the street that looked more hungry than her.
I was that girl, who has never quite understood or got over how anyone could take the backpack she carried on the first day of fourth grade and rip it to shreds along with the expensive floppy disks and school supplies inside, which would mean a sacrifice to replace.
I was that girl who, while everyone labelled her an “over-achiever,” was taking the most advanced mathematics and science classes she could in the hopes that if she tried hard enough, she would get a degree one day and have a job that would mean that when she had a family of her own, they wouldn’t have to know what it meant to be “poor.”
And who, when she fell pregnant at age fourteen, didn’t press charges against her rapist for what he had done to her, but because she didn’t want him to do it to anyone else; Because she had already been shown for so many years that she wasn’t worth much anyway.

Being poor is so much more than how much money you don’t have in your bank.

Whatever

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching…

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The Bird and the Birdwatcher (A Cautionary Tale)

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Once, there was a bird.

She had the most gorgeous feathers of many colours, unlike anything seen before. And when she would open her beak to sing, all the creatures in the forest where she lived would stop to listen to her beautiful voice.

At dawn she would sing to welcome in the morning. Her friends often joined in her song, feeling every bit as beautiful as she. She filled their days with happiness and joy as her heart was just as wonderful as her feathers and voice. She was loyal and kind and very wise, and dearly loved by those who knew her.

At night she would sing a lullaby and all the creatures of the forest would feel safe as they drifted off to sleep. They all knew they were free, and life was good.

Soon, a birdwatcher came through the forest. He was seemingly very appreciative of birds. He complimented them all on their feathers and fed them from his hands. He brought the tastiest treats for them and they began to look forward to his visits. His touch was gentle, his words sweet, and his smile pleasing.

One day when he was visiting, he saw the beautiful bird. As she sang he fixed his gaze upon her, and as he did so, she couldn’t help but blush a little. He was smiling in a way that made her feel not just beautiful, but perfect. As she finished her song, he beckoned her to come near.

“What a magnificent creature you are, just look at how gracefully you flew.” he swooned.

“Why thank you,” she replied, feeling her cheeks grow red again.

“And that voice! Will you sing for me another?”

She performed for him one more tune and he praised her in such a way that she had never been before. He made her feel so special.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered quietly. She leaned her head in a bit closer with an inquisitive look, and he began, “These other birds here, they have told me how they’ve grown tired of your songs. But I don’t see what they’re talking about, because that was exquisite. They don’t see what I see in you.”

“Oh,” she said, taken aback, “I didn’t realise they felt that way! If only they’d have said…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he continued, “of course they wouldn’t say so. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Say, would you be so kind as to grant me your company while I eat a meal this evening? I’m very lonely in my home all by myself and I can think of nothing better than to hear your melody while I dine.”

“Is-is it safe?” she asked.

“Of course!” he reassured her. “Such a treasure like you, I’d protect with my very last breath. I know how much the forest adores you. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Well I suppose so,” she began, “after all I’d hate for such a nice man like you to be lonely. Nobody should be lonely.”

“You go on ahead, my cottage is over there,” the man continued, “I’ll just gather some wood for the fire and will be right behind you.”

“Alright,” she agreed, “See you there.”

As she flew toward the cottage, the man approached the others. They asked why their friend had gone. “Oh it’s nothing,” he answered, “She was only a little tired of sharing her songs for today. She said she would rather sing alone. I’m sure she’ll be back in the morning. But I, on the other hand, would love to hear a harmony by such a good looking bunch. Sing for me, won’t you?”

When they finished the birdwatcher praised them, and made his apologies that his dinner would go cold if he stayed any longer. He said his goodbyes and turned to walk away, and as he did, the other birds were confused. They thought surely their friend loved them and was happy to share her songs, but she did fly off alone, and they knew the man to be trustworthy, so they believed him.

When the man arrived at the cottage, he looked so pleased to see the bird. “Thank you so much for offering your company tonight, my evening would have been so dull otherwise.” In his hand he held some branches. He placed them in the hearth and fanned the flames.

“It’s nothing, really,” the bird assured, and, seeing there was already a pile of sticks stacked nearby she chirped, “Oh, didn’t you know you already had sticks over there?”

“Silly bird, don’t you see those are not fit for a fire?” he laughed, “You had better leave such things to me. Now… I have been so looking forward to another of your songs, won’t you let me hear one?” He sat and poised himself with his hands under his chin, smiling intently, and motioned her to the windowsill, admiring, “What a beauty.”

She took her place by the window and began to sing as she tilted her beak upward and closed her eyes, trying hard to produce the best sound. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the pile of sticks was smaller. She looked all around the room and as she looked behind her, she saw there were a few sticks now standing upright against the window pane. Puzzled, she asked, “Weren’t these sticks just over there?”

“What are you talking about?” the birdwatcher replied innocently.

“These sticks, here, are now behind me. They used to be over there. I’m sure they weren’t here before. Why did they move?” she asked.

“No,” he maintained, “there were always sticks there. You’re imagining things. Perhaps you’re tired, you need some sleep. Silly bird.”

“I don’t think so,” the bird insisted, “I’m sure that pile of sticks was higher and there were no sticks here.”

The man’s fingers began tapping on the table. “I think I would know what was in my own home,” he said, and stood up quickly. He raised his voice, “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No! Of course not!” she conceded. “I wouldn’t–”

“I’d like to be alone now,” interrupted the man. “I think it’s time you left.”

“Oh please, I’m so sorry to offend, I really didn’t mean to.” The bird pleaded with the man, and he accepted her apology. When he then asked for more of her songs, she quickly obliged and serenaded the man until he appeared to be asleep.

“Don’t… leave… me,” he mumbled in between snores, and feeling guilty, and sorry for the man, she stayed. She ruffled her feathers to make herself comfortable for the night, as one of her colourful feathers dropped, leaving a dull grey one underneath. She then drifted off to sleep thinking about how rude she had been in exchange for his kindness, and how sad she was to have upset him.

When she awoke she saw he had made her a lovely breakfast of berries and seeds, and also that there were more sticks surrounding her, this time gathered and tied at the top. For a second she thought to ask if there were now more there than the previous night, but decided against it. She remembered how angry he had been and she didn’t want to upset him once more. Suddenly she noticed a few more of her feathers had dropped, but was immediately distracted by the man wishing her a good morning.

They had a wonderful chat as he told her how much he enjoyed her staying to sing him to sleep, and how she should feel free to come and go as she pleased. As a token of his gratitude, he placed a bracelet around her ankle.

“Our little secret,” the man said lovingly, and with that she returned to the forest feeling more special than ever.

When she arrived there, her friends started chatting amongst themselves. They didn’t seem too pleased to see her. She approached a group of them as she began a song, but none of them joined in.

“What’s that on your ankle?” one of them heckled.

“Why– it’s a secret, actually,” the bird replied sheepishly.

“I knew it,” another started, “she thinks she’s too good for us now.”

“No, that’s not it at all… if you must know, the man gave it to me,” she defended.

“What nonsense.” they all echoed at once, and flew away from the beautiful bird.

Leaving her alone on the branch, she watched as they all gathered together and sang a harmony without her. They looked happy. But the bird was not. Saddened, she flew back to the cottage, dropping a few more feathers along the way.

“Why are you crying?” the man questioned as he drew her near.

“I don’t know what I did wrong,” she whimpered, and looked down, seeing the bracelet. She thought maybe they had been upset that she had been given such a pretty thing. She would rather have her friends than a bracelet. “Oh, maybe it was because I told them you had given me this,” she began, but instantly found herself hitting the wall and in screaming pain. She didn’t know what had just happened.

“I wish you wouldn’t have made me do that,” sighed the birdwatcher, “but it angers me so when you tell our secrets. Hurts my feelings. Don’t you know how much I trusted you to keep that between us? And you betrayed me. I can’t think of anything worse than a friend who betrays another. That’s why I was so upset, I couldn’t help it.”

“I– I’m… sorry,” stammered the bird, “my wing… my wing is broken.”

“You should not have told our secret,” said the man, “if you hadn’t betrayed me you wouldn’t have got hurt. I hope you’ve learned your lesson now.”

He picked her up gently off the floor, where remained a pile of her feathers. He tended to her wing. And then, he placed her by the window. “Why don’t you climb in there,” he suggested, motioning to the sticks which were now attached to a base and completed by a door, “it will be much safer for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in danger now your friends are so jealous. That’s why you should never have told. Would you like me to secure it with a lock?”

“Yes, please,” said the bird sadly, as she cradled her bandaged wing, while a few more of her feathers dropped.

For the rest of the day, the man brought her everything she needed. She began to forget the pain in her wing as he told her stories, made jokes, gave her some of his special treats. He really was a good man, she thought, and she had been so wrong to betray him.

The man asked for some of her songs, and although she didn’t feel much like singing, she obliged to make him happy. She didn’t want to upset him anymore. She sang so much her voice began to crack, and by the end of the evening all her beautiful feathers had fallen into a pile at the bottom of her locked cage. She stared at them, and knew it was because she had been silly and betrayed her friend the birdwatcher that she no longer deserved to be beautiful.

The following day she awoke to a clean cage, but this time there was no breakfast. She asked for something to eat, as she could not go get any food for herself. The man demanded that she sing in exchange for his hospitality. She tried, but her voice cracked again.

“Look at you,” the man sneered, “not only are you so ugly, but you can’t even carry a tune. What good are you to anyone now? It’s a good thing I took you in when I did, or you’d never have survived out there in the forest.”

The man denied her breakfast and left the cottage. Through the window the bird could see him going to visit all her friends. She heard them singing to him, and felt ashamed, believing she would never be able to sing again.

Upon returning, the man brought her a small bit of food. It wasn’t a treat like he used to give her, but she was so hungry that she felt thankful he’d given her anything at all. He then offered her a gift, which was a little jacket made from her beautiful, colourful feathers. Delighted, she put it on and felt pretty for a second. He complimented her and she smiled, when she heard her friends outside the window. Excitedly, she waved to them with her good wing.

“He’s right, she does look happier there,” the bird heard her friends say as they turned and flew away.

The bird looked at the man. He had a smug grin on his face. She lowered her eyes to avert his, and saw once more the bracelet on her ankle. At that moment, she was sure she wanted it off. She no longer wanted to live with the man. She took off the jacket and thanked the man for the food, nodding her head to his following criticisms and trying to be as pleasing to him as possible.

Weeks later when one day the man went out, she seized the opportunity and tugged with her beak at the bracelet. She tried with all her might, but with a weak wing, and an overwhelming fear of what might happen when the man saw it was no longer on her, she stopped, and cried. Letting out a wail while thinking of how she used to sing and be loved and safe and free, and happy, but now she was surely going to die in this cage, she was surprised by the sudden sound of her own soft, melodic voice she had thought was lost. Shocked, she tried to sing a few notes. It worked! She sang a bit longer, repeatedly looking out the window and toward the door, worried the man would return at any second. Gathering a bit of courage, and remembering he would surely be gone for some time longer, she sang as loud and as high as she could, when one of the sticks of her cage began to crack. She stopped, contemplating what she had just done.

In her excitement she fluttered her wings. As she did so she noticed the broken wing had mended and did not hurt anymore. She fluttered again and a grey feather fell out. Surprised, she inspected her wings, to see that on the inside of one of them was a colourful feather. She beat her wings as fast as she could and as she did so, her cage rattled. She smiled as tears streamed from her eyes with this small glimpse of hope. She wiped them away and prepared herself, for the birdwatcher would soon be home.

When the man was around she pretended her voice and wing were still broken. He called her names and told her of all the more beautiful birds he had seen on his walks. She endured his speeches with a silent grace, nodding when he asked if she knew how good he was to her, and how she was lucky he provided for her, as she would no doubt struggle to survive on her own.

Despite becoming wise to his deceptive ways, part of her still wondered if she would indeed be better off staying with the man. Her friends no longer loved her, she doubted she was missed. She could hear their lullabies in the evenings, and their songs and laughter in the days. He would bring her food when she most needed it, and he told her how glad he was she’d chosen to stay with him. Despite the bad things he had done, he’d done equally good things. And she’d deserved her punishments, she thought.

One day when it was sunny, the bird said to the man before he left, “Please, just open this window a tiny bit, just for some fresh air? I am so glad to be safe in this cage and know it could do no harm, but the sun is a little extra warm today.”

Pausing to think about whether she could escape, but knowing her wing was useless and the cage locked, he relented and lifted the window. “Silly bird,” he muttered, and walked out the door.

Shaking, she gathered her courage and started to sing and beat her wings simultaneously. But thinking the man might hear her and be angry, she became terrified and stopped. She sat stunned the whole day until the man returned, feeling angry with herself for not taking what might have been her only opportunity to escape. She really was a ‘silly bird.’

A few days later she caught a glimpse of her colourful feather. She sighed, and knew she must act. She told the man how grateful she was that he’d opened the window the time before, and how much cooler it would be for him when he returned from his outings if he opened it again. As nothing had previously gone wrong, he agreed and opened the window, and left.

Giving him time to walk far enough away that he wouldn’t hear her, she began to beat her wings. The cage rattled. She beat them faster and harder, and tilted her beak upward, closed her eyes, and sang as loudly as she could. The sticks were cracking, and rattling more furiously. Thinking of how much she wanted to be free from her cage and away from the man, suddenly with a burst of what felt like insanity she pushed off and began to fly. Upon making contact with her beak, the cage shattered into thousands of pieces. Her grey feathers were moulting with every beat and her colourful ones re-growing at a fantastic pace. She squeezed out of the window and flapped her wings with fervour in the direction of the forest.

She was flying, and singing the best song she had ever heard coming out of her own mouth.

Being careful to make sure the man was not in the forest with her friends, she settled amongst them. They looked at her with surprise. “Please,” she said, “I have missed you all so much. Please will you help me get this bracelet off my ankle?” She sobbed with relief as they hurriedly rallied together to pull the bracelet off her ankle. “The birdwatcher,” she wailed, “he broke my wing. He caged me. It was awful. He’ll come for me. Please, we need to protect ourselves from him.”

“But you looked so happy when we saw you,” one of the birds commented, “why didn’t you leave sooner? You’ve been there a long time… if anyone treated me like that I’d have been out of there ages before now. How could someone as wise and as beautiful as you allow yourself to be caged?”

“I know,” the bird replied with shame, “I wish I had left much sooner. But I was so scared, and I thought it would have been impossible, so I stayed. But there’s no time to explain. Listen up!” They gathered all the creatures of the forest around and discussed what should be done about the man.

Now walking home to his cottage, the birdwatcher saw something glinting in his path, appearing to float in the air. He approached it, curious. Reaching out his hand, he saw it was the bracelet he had put on the bird, suspended in a spider’s web. After another step he found himself falling into a hole, which had been dug by the underground-dwellers. The birds had disguised it with twigs and leaves. It was so deep, he could not climb back out. After much trying he gave up, feeling sorry for only himself.

The bird, now back in the forest with her friends she had once loved so dearly, began a song. All the creatures chimed in with her, making the whole forest resonate with their harmonies. The last of the grey feathers began to fall out as she sang, except for one feather where her wing had been broken. It was never going to be colourful again. But, accepting it as a token of her strength and courage, she looked upon it proudly.
She would never forget what the birdwatcher had done, though she still felt sorry for him… just not too sorry.

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

Artwork by my eldest son, age 11

This is a story about domestic violence. It was written to challenge questions like, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
And statements like, “I’d never let that happen to me.”
And perceptions like, “She’s too pretty/wise/educated/etc. for that to happen to her.”
Domestic Violence can happen to anyone, by anyone. The damage isn’t always physical, and the solution not always simple.

It is also worth noting that while this story has a relatively happy ending, that is not always the case in real life.

(This story and all posts contained in this blog are the intellectual property of Kirsten Young and are copyrighted as such, unless expressly stated otherwise e.g.: “reblogged”.)

I Thought I Said “No”

It was a during a time when so many other things were going on. I had finally got skinny again. I was being bullied less. I had resolved to try out for cheerleading out of stubbornness and while the popular girls didn’t accept me onto the varsity team, I was good enough to be on the wrestling cheer squad. Though a bit of a consolation prize and clearly because I wasn’t ever going to be one of them, I was excited. Things were at least a little bit better than three weeks before.

While in the gym during the try-outs, laying on the floor stomach-down, I noticed something unusual. My breasts were sore. To me this meant my suspicion was correct; my life was going to change forever. No sweeping it under the rug.

I was not a person of many friends but I did have one whose birthday sleepover I went to the next day. I had been nervous all morning and afternoon because I didn’t know what to do about what was on my mind. I thought I said “no,” I kept saying to myself over and over again. By early evening I was in tears. I felt bad for interrupting Irenea’s birthday celebrations but as it was just us two in the room and she insisted, I confided in her.

I was supposed to take the bus home from the dentist. I didn’t have any money and didn’t know the bus schedule. The last few times I had taken the bus I had fallen asleep by accident and woke up five miles across town, as the bus pulled into the station for the night. I was fourteen. I didn’t like the feeling of walking home across town alone. I was too anxious to do that. I called the only person I knew with a car; His name was Justin.

Justin was sixteen. He thought he was some hot-shot. He drove a light blue Monte Carlo. A few nights before, he had driven me to the cliffs above town and played Prince’s song Purple Rain, telling me some story about his cousin’s funeral. He put the seats back and was trying to make a move on me. I kept saying I want you to take me home now. He finally did, huffing and puffing about it the whole time.

Things were so bad at home I wanted to be anywhere else but there. So this day when he picked me up from the dentist and said “Do you want to watch a movie at my house?” I agreed. I didn’t like his ultra-blond hair under his bandanna and his transparent eyebrows, his tendency to act like some black gangster with his Afroman rap tracks and his “naww” instead of “no.” He was a pretender. I loathed him the minute I saw him. But he was kind of nice to me. Hardly anyone was nice to me.

He drove me to Hastings and he picked out two movies to rent. Then he took me back to his parent’s house. It was a blue double-wide on Monad Road. He got the DVD player from downstairs and set it up in his bedroom. He put the movie on. As we watched the first few minutes on his bed, I felt so uncomfortable. If my home had been a normal home, maybe I would have seen being in his bedroom as a red flag. But I was used to sitting anywhere there was space and he said he didn’t want his parents to interrupt so I didn’t mind, until he started touching me.

Gathering all my courage, I told him I really don’t want to do this right now. He did stop, for five minutes. Then he tried again. I don’t want to do this. He paused again, but then on the third attempt I got scared. I froze up mentally, and I don’t remember anything except laying on my back, staring at a TV screen. Lights on, nobody home, unable to move until the credits started rolling. Suddenly back in ownership of my mind, something told me I was pregnant. It wasn’t just paranoia, it was like I knew in the full sense of the word. I looked down toward my legs suddenly and saw he was still there. I told him to get off me and ran to the bathroom. I was in shock. How did this happen?

He seemed pretty pleased with himself. I kept saying I was pregnant, and I just knew it. He kept telling me I wasn’t. I asked if he’d used a condom. He said no. I was enraged that not only did I say “no,” I mean, I thought I said “no,” but to top it off he didn’t even use any protection.

I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t understand what had happened. Why did I go with him? How did it get that far? This was the person I’d heard had bragged about getting twelve-year-olds to perform sex acts on him. I really didn’t like him from the moment I saw him. But I panicked thinking of falling asleep on the bus and being alone walking through town at 9pm. How ironic that my avoidance of danger landed me in it all the same.

He drove me home where I kept silent and stunned for three weeks, trying to pretend it never happened. Until the birthday party. I think I’m pregnant but I said no, I told Irenea. I was hysterical. I thought I said “no,” I thought I said “no,” I implored.

She said we had to tell someone. I told her I was afraid to tell my mom, so we told the principal the next day. Then the police. If not for me, I thought, then for the twelve-year-old girls he’s been bragging about. Someone had to stop him. I had no idea how difficult telling the police was going to be as I had to describe in detail what exactly had happened and use technical, anatomical terms. I was fourteen and it was humiliating, sitting in front of this cop whose wife used to babysit me as a child, having to describe in those cold technical terms what exactly transpired and trying to remember how and at what point my pants were removed and why.

Over the years, I have tried to come to terms with this and have begun to understand what happened. I’d been abused as a child by a man parading as a Christian minister/do-gooder which set the foundation for the dissociative episode when Justin pressured me for the third time. I have often struggled with people telling me that isn’t rape, I didn’t fight back. I didn’t say “no” properly. I’ve heard I was making it up, I just didn’t want to get in trouble for being pregnant, I’m a liar.

But I never said yes. I never gave permission. I said “I really don’t want to do this right now” and “I don’t want to do this.” Neither of those come close to being a “yes.” He was notorious for this kind of behaviour. But no one wants to say that. They’re so busy slandering me for pressing charges and saying what a good man he was. They didn’t see what I saw in the short time I knew him.

He died in 2013 while running from cops during a routine traffic violation stop and was ejected from the car. He never did get his act together. He remained a delinquent until the day he died. Somehow in my mind it adds to the pain knowing that he never did change his ways, he never did redeem himself. As if somehow that would make it better.

I thought I said “no” but while I didn’t say exactly “no,” what I did say should have been clear enough.

It should have been enough.

The “Mental” Stigma

Last year I knew someone whom I have chosen not to know any longer. We’ll call him Travis. His friend came by quickly while we were chatting, reeling from a conversation where he claimed he had just been yelled at by a woman who had just told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“She’s got that depression thing, you know? She’s mental.” He said this with a wince on his face like he was talking about someone with leprosy, for example.

I looked at Travis and he looked at me. My look was saying “Don’t you dare laugh at me, I know what you’re thinking.” His look was saying to me “I really want to laugh at you right now but don’t want you to punch me in front of my mate.”

I listened to this friend of Travis, and inquired more about his predicament. She had four kids. She was dating him, but he wasn’t very supportive and now he doesn’t know what to do about her because he didn’t want to break up, but she’s got that depression thing. He was out of his element.

He carried on talking about that depression thing. “Those women are crazy, you know?”

At this point Travis did start snickering. Partly because he realised his friend was inevitably about to put his foot in his mouth, partly because he was taking the piss out of me (British term- told you I’d switch back and forth) hinting that I was also “mental.” Jerkface.

I gave him the “Seriously, don’t make me punch you.” look.

I then turned to Gary, Travis’s friend, and began to explain in the gentlest of terms that there are far more people who struggle with depression than he realises, and depression doesn’t mean the same as mental the way he’s saying it.

Upon further pressing, it was clear why she had broken up with him. He had absolutely no understanding of the condition and was talking about it in the most derogatory of ways. I could hardly believe my ears at what ignorance was coming out of this man’s face.

Being the person that I am, I don’t tend to sit back and say nothing when something’s going terribly wrong. In a room full of people where there’s been a request for a volunteer to do something, and no one wants to do it, I’m the one who will put my hand up and get it done. I hate wasting time, energy, and a good opportunity.

To Gary’s surprise, I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it. In the end I told him that after their most recent conversation, it would be best to back off and let her welcome him back on her terms if that’s what she wants to do. At best he could say, “I just want you to know I’m here for you” and BE THERE if she needs him, without judging, or giggling, or cringing.

To be quite frank, it’s not cool to call people mental if they have depression and/or anxiety. It’s also not cool to laugh about them because of it. There is a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues that needs to end. For someone with depression who is already feeling horrible, to see other people joking and laughing about someone else who has this is extremely hurtful. It can cause them to withdraw further and become more afraid to live their lives.

For a person who has never thought about harming themselves, or known what depression or anxiety truly is, I understand that the vantage point they’d own is not one conducive to understanding what it’s like. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to understand. What’s not okay is condemning/ridiculing what you don’t understand. I’d like to think that we’re all generally headed towards getting this concept as a society, but clearly there are plenty of people who aren’t there yet.

As I’ve described in this open letter, our co-humans with adverse mental health conditions just want a little bit of understanding. Less singling-out. Less icky faces when talking about us. Less ignorance. Less stigma.

Please?