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.

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Success, Excellence, Money, Happiness and Reality

Today I’m not feeling so great. If you can imagine a panic attack like in Being Grounded where it’s the hyperventilating and heart-racing stuff, I’d call that kind the “hot and heavy” variety. What I’ve been experiencing for a few days now, I would describe as the “low and slow” variety. Like cooking a roast for several hours at a low heat as opposed to a high one. Both cook the thing, just depends on how tender you want it. Through it all I’m trying to get through the things I want to accomplish one at a time, and also trying to make sense of everything as I go along. The Hurricane is a pretty good description of the inside of my head right now.

I’d like to share with you one of the essays I wrote, the way I intended it to be read (meaning, minus the last line someone put on there that was not part of my original writing), for the A.C.E. Award competition in 2006. I share it because it shows another little bit of who I am, specifically who I was at age eighteen. A.C.E. stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. My first high school motto was “Committed to Excellence.” I have always wanted to be not average, or mediocre, but excellent.

But first I’d like to tell you, I came from virtually nothing. I grew up in the oldest, most beaten down house on the block. Prior to that was government housing. Prior to that was the battered women’s shelter. Like my short intro to Being Poor and the content in the reblogged post it contains (most of which is a pretty accurate depiction of the structure of my childhood), lack of money has been a constant issue in my life. And it still is. This blog may look fancy and I may have wi-fi but does that mean I’ve finally made it? No.

In fact, a man came out to the house about two weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics. I tried to opt out but he really wanted to come in and fill out his little forms. I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him in my house. Because you’re a man and I don’t know you and you’ve shown up unannounced to come and interrogate my finances which I feel embarrassed about and the kids have their toys everywhere and I was about to start dinner and I don’t like your slithery personality! I told him something about how the statistics would be skewed because they want data on what people spend and I’ve been so skint I had literally spent nothing in the previous two weeks, which is atypical of a month for me.

Eventually he wormed his way into garnering an appointment for another day, trying to flatter me so I could be another number on his list. I’m sure he gets paid per interview. Like most Brits do, he asked me where my accent’s from. Why am I here. Do I plan on staying for a long time. Then it got a little uncomfortable, because then he asked if I have a lot of friends. Do I get out much. What do I do for a living. I sound educated, he said. Surely I must have a degree.

I’m from Montana, I guess. I wasn’t born there but I suppose that’s where my accent’s from. It’s now muddled with British English and Brits still think I sound very American and Americans are starting to tell me I sound British. Why am I here? Basically, it was because of a misunderstanding during a phone call and subsequent panic. I married a British guy. We’re still married, but separated. Do I plan on staying a long time? Well, honestly, that totally depends on circumstances. That’s all a big fat catch twenty-two. Right now I’m a bit stuck but thanks for the reminder. Do I have a lot of friends? Oh, dear.

You readers will probably see from my Letter that friendship is difficult for me. I’ve met a modest amount of people. How many can I call friends? I don’t know. You have to work at friendship, which is something I can only do when I’m feeling good. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD ruin a lot of things like that for me.

Not really a lot of friends, no. Do I get out much? Not really, I’ve got two kids and when I was working sixty-seventy hours a week I was barely making ends meet and had no time. In the time I haven’t been working I haven’t had money to go do anything. Educated? I graduated high school. I attended a semester of “uni.” No degree. Of course I’d like one, but again that all comes right back down to money.

Then the man said, “You know what they say, ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’” And this is where I just smiled politely and mumbled something about how ‘they’ obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. I was really thinking:

Really? are you sure about that? Because I’m pretty sure that money could buy me an awful lot of happiness right about now. And I’m pretty sure that, had money been as abundant in my childhood as it had been for my peers, and almost certainly for you, man, there would have been a whole different base on which I could’ve stood to attain my own personal successes without the interference of at least a half of my lifetime full of depression.

I can look back on so many instances beginning very early on, wherein a tragedy occurred, directly linked to my current state of mental health, that could have been prevented or severely altered had there been even a modest amount of more money. But the ones who are strangers to poverty don’t see that. They want to stand from afar and put their labels on you. They want to ask about your career assuming you have one. They repeat these nonsensical idioms which are only true for people on their side of the struggle. They ask their questions to make small talk, while assessing you as something along the lines of: Success? Failure? Nobody? Somebody?

Success is subjective. Failure is subjective. When I was eighteen and about to enter higher education, I had big plans for my life. This following essay is the one I wrote back then about “How can we, as citizens, make a better tomorrow?”

Success, by definition, is a favorable outcome, an accomplishment with direction, or a person or thing that turned out well. As young adults, we hear from our parents and mentors that they hope we will become successful individuals as we grow up. But how may we become a success without someone there guide, teach, and support us?
Things happen in life that cannot be prevented or changed. Unfortunately, these events can be quite crippling. Though you might not expect it, your life could change in a split second and direct you into a completely different path, one that you never would have imagined.

So many young adults or teenagers have been thrown into a new struggle by no fault of their own. They are told by ignorant people that they are failures. Without money or resources or a supportive role model, they will have no choice but to join the vicious cycle of poverty.

It is my hope to become a caring figure in the life of even one person in need, to lend support or to offer advice or resources that will help others succeed in their individual aspirations. I feel compelled to help others, struggling in a cycle that seems to have no end, so in turn, they can become productive citizens.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. If we help them to succeed, our community will prosper and flourish. Then we, in turn, can look back at our world and say that it has become a “thing that has turned out well.”
A success.

Like the people I spoke of in this essay, I was told by a lot of ignorant people just how big of a failure I was going to be. One teacher I thought the world of, came up to me when I was pregnant at fifteen and said, “It’s such a shame that now us taxpayers will have to be paying for this.” As if he immediately assumed I’d be on welfare forever after. Since then I’ve done a whole lot of trying to prove him wrong. I don’t want to be considered a failure.

Would I call myself a success right now? I’m not sure. That’s hard for me to judge. I’m doing a lot of coping. I’m trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours and not feel like a total waste of space. When I read this essay I wrote back when I had a lot less emotional baggage, I can see that despite no degree, and virtually no money, I have done a lot of what I said I wanted to do. I have certainly done my best to help anyone and everyone I could, no matter the cost to me. And I’ve paid the price for it, believe me.

Despite a lot of really bad circumstances, I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. And so are my kids. They have clothes, shoes, and toys. So according to some definitions, I’d say I haven’t exactly failed. I hear I’m a good mom. I definitely try very hard to do my best at the motherhood thing.

Am I ‘excellent’ though? Well you know, I’m not where I’d hoped to be by now. I just turned twenty-seven. It’s strange to think I’m in the latter half of my twenties and there is so much I don’t know and so much I haven’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel excellent. If I were excellent, you’d think I’d be out of this poverty malarkey by now. But I’m not. I am living day to day, week to week. And if I’m honest, I’m exhausted from it all. I want to scream, “WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?” I happen to make some excellent stuff, and that’s cool or whatever, but to excel, to me, would be breaking out of this damned cage and starting to fly.

Am I happy? …No. I’m not happy. Some days, no matter how funny the comedian is, or how silly the kids are being, I can’t even laugh. This is the low and slow I spoke about before. The background heat, ever-so-gently breaking me to pieces.

I went camping this weekend and it should have been fun. But it felt like an out-of-body experience and like I wasn’t in my own head. I took the beta-blockers the doc gave me for extra-anxious days and I don’t know what difference they made exactly but the panic was still there, in the background, low and slow. I don’t think I know what fun is anymore.

My idea of where I would be by now and the reality of where I am are so drastically different. I’m looking for that light at the end of this tunnel, that says someday the struggle will end and I’ll begin to thrive, not just survive. I’m trying to look back and take stock of what I have done, not what I haven’t, and find that solid ground where getting back up to the top of the hill isn’t fraught with mudslides back down to the bottom, like some evil chutes and ladders game.

In reality, there are days when I have to work really hard to be optimistic, where I have to work really hard to keep calm. My definition of success right now is getting through a day without hyperventilating and crying. There is very little happiness. Striving for excellence seems like a goal to reach for later, because right now just doing anything is enough of a battle in itself. It would be a lot easier without the criticisms of everyone else, who lack perspective on the situation, and whose words add to the negative dialogue.

I say these things for me, to remind myself that I’m not just another statistic for someone’s data collection. My definition of success and failure have been adjusted from what they once were, and are probably very different from the next person’s. My reality has been very real and quite difficult, but both my kids tell me I’m excellent. Most days I’d say they’re happy. And I can start with that, stand on that, take the next step up the hill.

And money, while it wouldn’t be able to fix everything at this point, is directly correlated to happiness in a lot of ways, in my experience. Money would eliminate about half or more of my reasons for panic attacks, straight away. And I say that, to highlight that ‘what they say’ sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. Money can sometimes be all the difference. The reality is that it can mean solutions, freedom, happiness. But success and excellence work on a sliding scale. Happiness sometimes does too, but only on days when my perspective can afford it.

My Name is Brad

I didn’t come from a poor family. I didn’t come from a rich family. I came from the perfect family, in my eyes. While some may say I was a little spoiled, I personally thought life was just right growing up. I am 25 years old and still living with my two happily married parents and three Chihuahuas. The reason? Panic disorder and depression have taken my life away.

I was diagnosed with mild panic disorder when I was 20 years old. 5 years of my life I have been battling this “disease.” It all began when one night I was driving my parents’ Jeep Grand Cherokee home from the cottage. In a drunken stupor, I decided to take it upon myself to attempt to drive the Jeep home. Making almost all the way home 2 hours away, I crashed into a ditch, took out a road sign, and hit a tree. The Jeep at this point was upside down and totalled. I would like to think that an angel was watching over me that day, because I climbed out of that car without even a scratch on me. Luckily, I miraculously avoided all repercussions of drunk driving as well. Long story short, this is the big thing that began triggering my chronic anxiety and panic disorder. The next day, I woke up, and realized I was not happy with my life.

The thing that made me notice this was a combination of bad choices and that in the same week, my boyfriend at the time had broken up with me. I also lost my job in the same week. I was at an all time low. That is when it was time to head back to the head doctor and get on some anti depressants. Counselling and psychiatry with a combination of medication have begun my transformation into what I hope will be a better person. I would say the combination of all three of those things is the point in my life where I realize that I’m not happy.

When I explain to people why I don’t drive, they just don’t get it. I am scared to even ride in a vehicle. My hands get clammy, sweaty, and I usually carry a water bottle and my sweater with me just for security. My hoodie makes me feel secure. When I get too nerved up, I simply recline the vehicle chair and cover my face with my security blanket, while breathing in the fresh air from outside. My friends don’t understand it. My best friend Hali is constantly asking me what is wrong whenever I ride with her. The only time I feel completely comfortable in a vehicle, sadly, is when I have alcohol in my system (which since the crash, isn’t very often that I drink). I am not happy because I cannot be independent without feeling like I’m about to die.

I just wish every person could understand and experience the feeling of anxiety. Why? Because when I talk to people about it, they look at me like I should be locked up. Because I get the looks toward me like I’m crazy. I think if you actually experienced that nerve-wracking feeling that I get – palms sweaty, can’t breathe, knees weak, light headed, feeling of nausea – then maybe I would feel more comfortable. However, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It has been a 5 year struggle since the crash, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. If it weren’t for that ONE mistake, I probably would still be on the road. So of course, I sit here and kick myself in the ass every single day over it.

Now let’s take a second to think about where I’m gonna go from here and what I personally want in life. I want to be happy. I want a family. I want two children, a couple dogs, and a nice house. However, it’s a struggle to see this as a reality due to the fact of anxiety and panic. I’m currently a college dropout with a 3 day a week job. It’s hard to look at the future in a positive light, but I just keep trudging through the deep, deep snow.

Here’s what it looks like in my head now:
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Here’s what I wish it would look like:
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My name is Brad, and I deserve better than this.
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If you would like your story featured on this blog as part of Project: Better Than This, please click here, read the guidelines, and email your story.

My Name is Emily

Emily’s Story

“Most people don’t understand anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They don’t understand why you can’t just “get over it” or “just calm down.” It’s basically a lifestyle, but not one that you choose. It’s something you’re born into. Destiny.

There’s nothing extraordinary about my family, really, we were a typical white family living in the middle of nowhere in the US. I didn’t find out until my grandmother died when I was ten that my mother had mental issues. It’s like she was holding back her entire life and then suddenly my grandmother died and the flood gates let loose. She was angry, bitter, and blamed me for everything. She was paranoid, depressed, anxious, and sought an outlet in her high school sweetheart, thinking that he could “save her” from the internal torment. My father didn’t realize, or didn’t care, until it was too late and she kicked us both out. I still don’t talk to my brother.

 

I was twelve, I had my own mental shit going on, and suddenly I was taking care of a full grown, depressed, and angry man who was heartbroken because his wife destroyed him financially and emotionally. He’d tell me that if I hadn’t come to live with him, he would have killed himself by now.
I knew then that I wasn’t happy, but I put all my garbage on the back burner to take care of his needs. He finally met someone, my stepmother, and as she tried to pick up our broken pieces she didn’t know it was too late for me.

 

I saw my own blood more times in those two years than I’d like to count. My grades slipped, I became a loner, I dated the wrong guy, I didn’t sleep, got into an anorexic mindset, and I saw the lines across my forearm as evidence that I was as flawed outside as I was inside.

 

Another student figured me out, and saw my self-inflicted abuse. She reacted by telling the school, who told my dad and step-mom, and they threw me into therapy with a flourish of “we didn’t see this coming, here, take some drugs”. I was on suicide watch. Therapy was irrelevant and pointless, and the drugs just hyped up my anxiety more. The PTSD from my mother being psychotic in the last months that I was living with her kept me up at night with horrific nightmares of faceless things coming for me. I was somewhere between 15-17 years old.

 

I wish my parents had understood that they just needed to love me. I shouldn’t have had to start becoming an adult at 10 years old and taken care of two mentally unstable adults. I was my mothers mental punching bag and my fathers therapist. It wasn’t okay.

 

I wish my friends had thought to do something more than ask if I was okay. I needed help, I needed someone to at least try to understand what I was going through instead of pretending it was typical teen angst. I needed someone to talk to, instead of holding it all in for years.

 

Now, I’m in a stable relationship. I’m happy more times than I’m sad. I write to relieve the pressure of feeling like I’m still not good enough or deserving of love, and to tell parts of my story to other people that might need to hear it. I want to inspire people, and reach out to them so maybe they’ll see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,  and not just more darkness.

 

This poem describes what it looks like in my head now:
You were scared, I knew
because you shook.
You paled in comparison.
You wrote clichés.
You dismissed happiness in a promise
that it was unattainable and futile.
But look. You grew.
Learned.
You went against the waves of oppression
that sucked every ounce of creativity out of you.
Your failures actually made you try again.
You granted love a sixth chance.
Your happiness was illuminated
as your hate faded between the lines
of your next written masterpiece.
Then, you wrote this poem
amidst a time where
“Never again”
slowly seeped into
“Yes I can”.

 

What I wish it would look like:

 
 
 
 
 
 

Silence.
 
Because I hope that someday I’ll stop having to remind myself how far I’ve come,
and how I’m really going to be okay.

 

My name is Emily, and I deserve better than this.”

 

If you would like your story featured on this blog as part of Project: Better Than This, please click here, read the guidelines, and email your story.

Why I Chose to Speak Out

Chances are good you found this blog either from Freshly Pressed or my post “A Letter of Regret From Your Anxious and Depressed Friend” was making its rounds somewhere on a social media site. While the letter was many things, it was not fiction or hyperbole. Many people can relate to parts of it but few will relate to all of it. That’s because, naturally, it was created from my own experience. I am so glad it’s helped in whatever way to so many people, and that’s why I posted it publicly. In fact, most of this blog is dedicated to helping open eyes in one way or another, but what it isn’t dedicated to doing is garnering sympathy for myself. That is the last thing I want.

No, I am not suicidal. I speak more about this in “My Conversation With the Un-Dead” and “Keep Going (My Conversation With the Un-Dead Part 2)” where I state, “sometimes we have our reasons for either continuing to fight or giving up the fight.” I have two very good reasons to continue to fight: my children. This does not mean my mind doesn’t jump to scenarios in which I think, how would this look differently if I weren’t here? And, I wish I didn’t have to do this anymore. For a long time, I thought those feelings were completely normal. But there are people who never imagine how much easier it would be to take a quick exit, and I think those people are very fortunate. But I am also fortunate.

My two beautiful reasons to keep fighting I just mentioned, are a privilege. Many people do not have this privilege. Do I want to be a mediocre mother who cares more about her own pain than her kids’ futures? Hell no. I didn’t work so hard to be a mother for the past eleven-and-a-half years, forfeiting what many people thought would be a “better life” than being a mother at age fifteen, to suddenly quit because the going got tough. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD have definitely changed me, but I’m a stubborn little shit and refuse to accept defeat.

Throughout school I was bullied intensely. There was not a day that someone didn’t have something to say about my appearance, clothing, religion, participation in class, family, what have you. (I’ll give details of this in a story later.) My things were stolen and vandalised, I was not allowed one day of peace. At home I wish I could say at least it was peachy there, but it wasn’t. My mother was a single mom of two (stubborn little shits) and while I believe she did her best, and believe that she believed she did her best, she had her own issues that created an environment that could sometimes be equally, if not more, destructive. We were alone in Montana, far away from family, and we had little. The budget of everything- money, patience, time, etc., was stretched a bit too far. Although things evened out a bit when this incident happened, and my sister left home, I was soon left with a new set of challenges that ultimately became unbearable and I felt I had no other option than to start afresh somewhere far away, in Utah.

So while I did leave home at sixteen, I did not give up on school. As I told in this story, getting re-enrolled and graduating was a whole lot of work. What I didn’t include in the story was that I also worked part-time jobs, starting a couple of months after my eldest was born, because I had to in order to make ends meet. My sister and her boyfriend watched my eldest son for me while I was at school and work my senior year. Had it not been for them, it would not have been possible. They continued to watch him as I began attending Westminster College full-time (and still worked full-time) until the day my son called my sister “Mom.” Because I was already struggling to pay the rent due to my hours spent in class, beating myself up that my grades weren’t doing as well as I’d hoped, and popping caffeine pills to keep awake to do all these things (to the point where I had a residual twitch in my eye), this one word was the wakeup call that it was no longer worth it. My son meant more to me than a degree. But I have never quite been able to release the guilt that came with it.

Part of getting into college/uni was getting scholarships, because Westminster is expensive. One of these scholarships was based on two essays, one about my greatest achievement, and one about how we can make a better future. I can only guess my essays were good because I won out of all applicants in the nation that year, which came as a huge shock. I have always found it difficult to believe something I did deserves any kind of award, but nevertheless, I was extremely honoured. They were so kind. And while accepting the award in front of the attendees of their convention, I gave a speech:

“To say that I am grateful for this award is not enough. Instead, I would like to tell you all why I am here. I did not get this award because I was good at sports or because I had a perfect 4.0 average, or some rare, coveted talent. I got this award because I happened to be presented with an opportunity to share with others my ambitions and values… I offer my deepest gratitude, and also my word that I will never let this award go to waste. It is an investment in a life that is going to impact others’ lives tenfold.”

Pretty big words for an eighteen-year-old girl with no crystal ball. But my passion was genuine. I meant every word. So as I grew older and saw how all my friends were still in school and on course to graduate and I was not, I felt like a liar and a failure.

During the time I would have still been working for a degree, many things happened in my life. I got into a relationship that turned out to be abusive, got pregnant, left my job, became an agoraphobic, lost my house and got news about The Accident while eight months pregnant, lost my sister, parted with the baby (the only daughter I ever had… read about that in Dear Lucy), and many other things… then ended up in the UK, married and about to have my youngest child.

I’ve been here for five years and while the original intention was to have a large family of in-laws around and do the “mom thing,” I found myself in the circus of a master narcissist. Although I’ve chosen not to be involved with them any longer, the lasting damage they caused added itself to the pile. I am an outsider here, and yes it’s hard to make friends when the British Way is so different than the American Way, including but not limited to, talking about pain.

Not talking about pain may make you more likely to be accepted in the superficial friend circles, but I have never been popular. Because I have never been popular, I don’t care if I’m not popular. In fact, it kind of scares me if ever I find myself in such a position. But the flipside of this is that yes, it is a lonely existence. I have been through so much that I can’t stand small-talk. That ability to hold small-talk conversations left me when my sister was in the hospital. After that I’d have panic attacks where I got overwhelming waves of emotion leaving me feeling like I was never going to be okay again. There are times when I feel fine, but occasionally a trigger happens that sends me into a despair, a depressive state for a while, unable to have normal conversations because the depression is overwhelming.

The past several months while experiencing one of these depressive states, I had to withdraw from humanity. I spent a lot of time with my kids, and when they went to bed I’d often weep. I’m going through some kind of stage of grief and I’d cry with a sense that my eyeballs would pop out of my head and my stomach was being clenched. I went through months of zero appetite, and months of too much appetite (you can read about this here) and felt I was shutting down, dying, one piece at a time. I’m not working right now, because I can’t. My symptoms and conditions are affecting my life in all aspects. And I hate this.

I have come through all these things and been okay, I thought, until the panic attacks started coming on a near-daily basis. Having the work ethic I do, I can’t help but feel like that much more of a failure. It’s humiliating to be in this position for someone like me who has been so independent for so long. And it would be easy to accept that this is where it ends, this is what’s become of me. Let go of the reins. Give up the fight.

On May 31st, 2015 I had this moment. I was silently sobbing in bed, trying not to wake the kids. It was a sort of panic attack, but no hyperventilation. Just sobbing, weeping, crying. Feeling worthless, hopeless, stupid… all the undesirable titles anyone has ever thrust upon me and more, because when you’re conditioned enough, the abusers don’t even need to do any of the work, as you’ll walk into the cage all by yourself (like in this story) and do the harm without any of their help.

I’d written “A Letter of Regret” three weeks prior and submitted it to an online publication because I thought it was worth being seen and distributed. They hadn’t responded. I had about five days left to wait for any word, but on this night where I was up until three in the morning crying and wondering what in the heck I was doing wasting my life waiting for something to come along and make a change, make me feel like it was all worth it up until this point, I got angry. Not angry at the publication for their lack of response, but angry with everything.

I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. I REFUSE TO BE A STATISTIC. I REFUSE TO BE DEFEATED. I REFUSE TO DIE LYING DOWN.

I can’t have the same kinds of jobs I used to have. My nerves can no longer handle the extreme stress of the industry. And I have a lot of talents, but I’m a terrible salesperson. I’ve been telling myself “I need to start writing again” for years. People have told me to write a book, mediums have told me I’m going to write a book (think what you want about that), but the only thing I’d written in about a decade was one story which I’ve yet to release. So in my little moment, I decided it was time to just do The Thing. Get back up.

The first day of June I started this blog. I wrote the About page. I wrote a few more posts, put up that letter, and shared them on some Facebook pages. Suddenly the letter got a whole lot of attention, and the comments of support were overwhelming. Then came Freshly Pressed, which kept me awake until three in the morning again, but for a different reason. It reminded me that while I am not profiting from any of this in a monetary sense, my contributions have value. In turn, my life full of hardship and struggling, peppered with the odd triumph, has had value. I have a unique perspective, combined with a love for words and a firm grasp of the English language. I may not know how to get a book published, but I’m not going to let that stop me from telling my stories.

I refuse to accept that my life has been for nothing. There are too many unexplained coincidences and blessings for me to think I’m meant to hold a run-of-the-mill job, which I’ve now learned I’m not fit to do. I am a wonderful kind of weird and I feel like I was given an extraordinary gift of resilience and an ability to communicate it in a way that can teach. And I refuse to allow what feels like the breaking of my spirit (the anxiety, the panic attacks, the depression, the PTSD) to be the final chapter of the book of my life. Excuse my language, but… Fuck. That.

Someone, somewhere, needed to hear one or all of these things. And that one person, maybe that person is you, whom my words have helped, you are why I chose to speak out.

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It’s Still Self-Harm

I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and PTSD, that I know of. As much as these diagnoses say “mental illness” or “mental health issues,” for me they are also very physically related. Not only do I feel like I’m being zapped with volts upon volts of electricity as I shake, sweat profusely and get clammy palms at the thought of confrontation, but I am constantly worried about my body. And not in a way most people would think.

When I started doing these blog posts and looking through my hard drives for photos I thought would be appropriate, I saw my body in the various sizes it has been in the past five years. In 2010 I weighed about sixteen and a half stone. By the end of 2011 I was ten stone. That’s about ninety pounds’ difference, over forty kilos. Since that time I’ve put on ten pounds here, twenty pounds there, then freaked out and made resolutions and worked it back off again. When I see the pictures of how big I was, I feel disgusted that I could’ve let myself get that big. When I see the ones of me smaller, I think how good I looked, how I wish I could be that size again, but also how I remember still feeling huge and disgusting at the time. Over the past six months I’ve put on weight at a rate so much higher than ever before, and am now a good thirty pounds heavier than a weight I’m comfortable being. Except I’m only comfortable with being any weight in hindsight, because no matter what size I may be, I still feel uncomfortable. This got me thinking… what is my problem?

I see these people running around outside in their spandex and neon shoes and even when they’re three hundred pounds heavy, I envy them. I envy that they have the courage to get out there and sweat, running around alone in public, because I would hate for people to be looking at me doing that, regardless of size. I hear of consistent runners and exercise-doers and I am in admiration of how these people can keep these routines in place. I envy myself when I look at my pictures, for being able to get in shape all those times. Sometimes I have no idea where that discipline came from, but I want to find it again.

When I moan about my weight to those I know, thinking how annoying I must sound that I’m even talking about it, I hear generally encouraging things. Some people tell me I’m not too big at all, that I still look great, but thanks to anxiety I don’t accept this as truth. I’m not fishing for compliments from them, but in my head they’re looking at me and seeing all the things I see when I look at me, which is this bulge and that ripple and that flappy bit and this crease, and I feel the need to excuse myself for how I am. I feel they hate me for whining about it, but I can’t stop. They waste their words reassuring me about something which will only stop being an issue when I stop using it to hurt myself.

As I went through another bout of deep depression and started gaining a little bit of weight this year, I felt not only angry with myself for getting carried away with my eating habits, but a masochistic sense of relief and a compulsion to keep getting bigger. I stopped caring about how much butter I put in this, or how much sugar was in that, and completely threw out my own philosophies on eating properly. I was beating myself up constantly that I was only compounding my own problem and making more work for myself. I knew that if I didn’t hold back the portions, my clothes would no longer fit and I’d have to buy more, which I couldn’t afford. But then I’d buy another tub of ice cream, and go to the scale and feel worthless and stupid for gaining another three pounds in one week.

After thinking heavily about it, I’ve come to understand why I do this. I don’t harm myself in the traditional sorts of ways most people would think of when they hear “self-harm” but this is a cycle of anguish that never seems to end. It’s still self-harm even though there’s no blood or bruises.

When I’m feeling better and more motivated, I can look in the mirror and appreciate my stretch marks as “mommy stripes” and my returned layers of fat as “womanly curves” and “proof I’m eating,” which is good in a way because I’ve experienced loss of appetite for weeks at a time and starvation due to poverty alike. But within a matter of days or even minutes I’m saying all kinds of mean things to myself and going to the cupboards to find something high in fat, salt and carbs. It doesn’t feel the same as “emotional eating” where people binge when they’re either happy or sad. It is deliberate sabotage of what I know in my conscious self to be healthy and good for me.

When I’m bigger that means I’ve also stopped doing any kind of real exercise which equates to weaker muscles. When my core is weak I can have excruciating and debilitating back spasms. When I have that extra layer I experience the cutting off of circulation and numb limbs when I’m on the floor playing with the kids. I’m slower. I have less energy. I increase my risk of developing diabetes, which runs in my family. I stop going out of the house. I stop seeing friends. I feel ashamed when I see people who knew me when I was smaller and this can trigger panic attacks. I create more pain of the physical, emotional, and psychological varieties. I tell myself I’d be so much healthier and happier if only I were smaller like I used to be, while simultaneously feeling fear of being that size again.

The fear of being healthier is attached to the incidences in the past in which I was sexually and non-sexually harassed or assaulted by others. When I’m smaller I get a lot more attention for the way I look while loathing the ‘lookers’ for being so shallow. In addition to more serious incidences of abuse, there have been times in the past when I’ve been followed through town at 5:30am by a large man making kissy noises at me, been touched inappropriately in the workplace, been disregarded as an intellectual based on stereotypes of pretty girls (so much wrong with that), been asked to flirt to earn the company free work, been whistled at, hollered at, objectified and singled out for being attractive. I’ve faced competitive attitudes from co-workers, hatred, animosity, and bullying from other women, threats to my well-being, and general negativity.

But those things are in the past, and it’s the anxiety and PTSD telling me to be afraid of what I should be doing for the sake of my health because if I do it, I might get hurt. It’s nonsense, but that’s the difference between one who suffers from these conditions and one who doesn’t; the privilege of rational thinking.

I know that if I exercise and eat appropriately I’ll slim down and my nicer clothes will fit, my release of endorphins will increase, I’ll feel more confident, have more energy, a more consistent heart rate, possibly a reduced rate of panic attacks, and so many more benefits. I know that if I just put my workout clothes and shoes on, turn on my fitness DVD (because there is no way on this earth you’ll find me jiggling, panting and sweating in front of strangers), I will be done in about thirty minutes and feel really accomplished. I know this, but in the straightjacket of depression I can hardly bring myself to do what is needed to get it done.

These are three invisible illnesses among many. Their ability to manifest in a physical form can include literally preventing a person from doing or saying something they know they should, and compelling them to say or do something they know they shouldn’t. It hurts to know these things have any power over me, despite all my stubbornness and shows of determination and willpower in my former years. And it hurts even more that even though I accomplished so many amazing things before, I can be prevented from doing a few silly crunches and lunges.

So as I’ve been writing about strength and putting one foot in front of another, I thought it time that I get back up and try again to take my own advice… and I’ve done two workouts in three days. It’s no big deal on paper but any victory over self-harm for someone battling it feels like a gold medal.

…and if this sounds like you, reader, you’re not alone.

Get back up off the floor and keep going, keep fighting.

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Photo and design of papercut: credit Lucy Jerwood http://www.facebook.com/twinklecuts?refid=12 (Thank you Lucy!) Artwork created for the Always Keep Fighting Campaign (see here).

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 Hurricane

It’s all hitting at once.

Storm crashing, like tides against the beach

I’m okay, I will be okay, I have to be okay.

Everything I want, barely outside my reach

Everything I had, slipped through my fingers like sand.

Leaning on a rock, rushing toward a hard place.

Casting a net, the catch is a double deuce.

Buried to the neck amidst the sandcastles

I can, I will, I am! I was… I think.

Hurricane swept, swallowed me whole.

Staring blankly at the placid dangerous calm

Bracing for the second act.

Wind blowing, flattening shelters.

Whistling tunes of destruction and riot

Giving cause to rebuild, renew, re-live.

Rework. Rewind. Rethink.

It’s haunted in the sunshine.

Ready for exorcism.

-Kirsten Young

On Homesickness

I come from the land across the ocean. The land of the big skies, the Rocky Mountains, the majestic, sweeping landscapes and too much fast food. And I miss it. Right down to the Slim Jims and the late-night-one-stop-regret-shop that is Del Taco. It’s where I was born and raised and it runs in my veins. Not the Del Taco, I mean the essence of the America.

Now I’m in England. The place where I’ve accidentally offended people with my two fingers because I forgot it was a thing, where I’ve been mocked for saying pants and still don’t quite understand how to fit in properly. I’ve been here five years now, as of tomorrow. FIVE. That’s a long time to go without a hug from your family.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine, because I’m busy doing stuff and I don’t notice anything. This is a place where hobbies are common, and I have plenty of those. Sometimes I wonder if I have those hobbies because I’m bored and trying to find something to do, or because I’m assimilating.

Speaking of assimilating, I’m losing my mother language. I use so many British-isms that I don’t even remember which things I used to say and which things are new. I insist on saying words like “folks” just to dig my heels into my American upbringing. But then I hear myself say “Mind the rubbish” and I have to stop to comprehend this foreign noise coming out of my mouth.

One of the hardest days I had was when I first stepped off the plane. Immediately I learned the meaning of “hayfever” as my sinuses filled up and I endured the non-stop dripping and sneezing and wheezing. I was pregnant, I’d been awake for a very long time, and hadn’t eaten for around the same. I had visions before landing of tasting real British fish and chips with the in-laws and having a generally nice experience. It was none of that.

After a lot of messing around and encountering absolutely everything being different, from the door handles to the blinds to the sidewalks, sinks, refrigerators, street signs, EVERYTHING, I was really hungry. I asked for some food, confused as to what happened to the agreement that we were going to have some fish and chips.

My mother-in-law, whom I am extremely relieved to not know any longer, asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich. In my head I assumed she meant grilled cheese sandwich, because that’s the only kind I knew. Nope. She gave me two thick slices of partially stale wheat bread, margarine spread all over, and cold cheese in between. She brought it to me, and in my state of shock I didn’t know what to say but, Uh…What?

What was this thing she put before me? Cold cheese with nothing else in there but margarine? I don’t ever eat margarine, let alone in a sandwich. Butter doesn’t go in a sandwich, either. She asked if I wanted some Marmite. What? Ketchup? Again, what? No! Brown Sauce? Stop!

At this point I wanted to cry. I had no idea what she was trying to do to me. Now that I’ve been here for this long and seen what they do with sandwiches, I understand she was just doing what seemed normal. That, and she’s not a cook. In the slightest. But it was a stiff wake-up call. Nothing is going to be the same here.

These days I’ve found my way around the cuisine, for the most part. Still very little proper Mexican food, which I love and miss dearly. American food is poorly replicated here also. But food isn’t the only problem.

Navigating my way through the unspoken societal rules and boundaries is a challenge. It’s not until after you make the mistake, then repeat it, then have a cry because you don’t know what you did wrong, that someone says, “Oh yes. You can’t do that here. They’ll think you’re nuts.” Ohh okay. I get it. I’ve been parading around like a jester. Cool. That’s just awesome!

I have days where I am so upset about one thing or another that while the pendulum is swinging I romance about how different life would be if I could just go back home. Then I realise it’s not that simple. I don’t have those funds, so I’m essentially stuck. That gets me even more worked up. But the other day, I realised something.

My homesickness is grief. Part of my anxiety is grief. Every household item I buy, every friend I make, all feel like they’re rooting me to this place where I feel I’m not on solid ground and not sure whether to stay or go, or if I’ll ever belong. Another thing I might have to sell. Another goodbye I’ll have to say. To think I’ll never move back home (still have no idea) hurts me quite a bit, like a knife in the heart. But I need to come to terms with the fact that a lot of what I’m grieving no longer exists.

Five years is a long time to be gone. Everyone I knew has moved on, got married, had kids or more kids, scattered themselves across the country. There was no one place I could decide to be before, and now the thought is even more confusing. Where is home? I’m not sure it’s here, but is it in Montana? Washington? Utah? I don’t know if my friends would still have time for me, if the people I care about are going to be able to make room in their lives for me again.

This idea of home I have is a figment of my imagination. I’m wasting my energy fretting about something imaginary. I would love to have the answer (and the means to accomplish it), but I don’t. I’m here now. I only have today. I only have right now.

Might as well do something with it. Let tomorrow take care of itself.