Brain Bruises

“It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.” -Iyanla Vanzant

I went camping this weekend. Actually, if I’m honest, it was more of a blend between camping and glamping. We had a cabin, running water, and electricity, but we still cooked everything over an open flame in the fire pit outside. The details of the trip aren’t really relevant to this post or the thoughts in my head right now though, so I’ll just move on.

I went on this trip with three friends I went to high school with. We were all in choir together, but with them being a grade below me, they knew each other far better than I did. About halfway through the second day, one of them asked me a bit hesitantly if I had been married, or if she had just imagined it. Admittedly, it is a bit of a touchy subject, but I really don’t mind sharing it with people because of the simple reason that I feel a bit of relief and a sense of calmness after getting it off my chest yet again.

This is why I write what I write, and this is why I share so much of my personal struggles: it’s always felt healing to me. I think our culture has become such a culture of secrecy and false exteriors. It has become so important to create the illusion of “everything is perfectly okay”, but the consequences of living that way are incredibly detrimental to our health. So I write about divorce. I write about insecurities. I write about depression.

Lately, I’ve been caught in the midst of another depressive period. It shows itself in the lack of energy to do much of anything, in the feeling of utter exhaustion, in the inability to feel emotions even a fraction as brightly as last year, and in the annoyance and irritability of the people who tell me to just “cheer up”. The difference is that I’m able to recognize the symptoms this time around. The last time it was this bad, I felt completely lost and like I was drowning without any way to be saved.

There’s this quote I love about depression by Jeffery Eugenides that says, “Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch where it hurts. It’s always there, though.” Yes, last year I was doing better. I was the healthiest I had been in close to a decade. But the thing about depression is that once you’ve truly been held captive by it, it’s so easy to be recaptured. Sometimes there’s almost a relief to not feeling emotions as strongly anymore. It sounds twisted, but there’s some sort of comfort in the familiar nothingness. However, the comfort is coupled by a terror that this time, you might not get back out of the hole, that you might not get to be healthy and feel anything anymore.

The reason I write this is because practicing a life of openness and honesty, a life of true vulnerability, means sharing the struggles along with the triumphs. After writing about my struggle with depression over two years ago for the first time, I was able to really see and experience that I wasn’t nearly as alone as I felt. Depression is such an alienating experience, but writing about it helps take the edge off.

So this is who I am: I’ve had high moments, moments where I still feel joy and excitement, but the empty nothingness is very present in my day to day life, and the road to recovery will be one that I’ll be trudging through for a very long time to come. I’ll continue writing about it, because sometimes that’s the only thing I can do.

Bluebonnets at Black Rock Lake Park, Texas - April 2015
Bluebonnets at Black Rock Lake Park, Texas – April 2015

listening to: Phosphorescent

It Takes Time

I had a panic attack earlier this week.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last serious moment. It came out of nowhere. I was hugged far too tightly by someone who was not welcome to touch me, and I panicked. It started off as something I thought I could work through….shaking hands, a slight shortness of breath. It didn’t slow down. It didn’t get better. It got worse. Shaking hands turned to full body paralyzation. Shortness of breath turned into the inability to see or breathe or speak in coherent words. I lost track of time. It was terrifying.

I was in a public place. I was at my job. I was in possibly one of the worst places to totally shut down because I’ve kept most of my history separate from my work environment. I was lucky enough to have one friend there who I’ve known for over a decade who knows all of my past and was able to drive me home and make sure I had moved past the worst of it, but it was impossible for most of my colleagues to know why I was just leaving work in the middle of a shift.

That’s the thing about having ptsd. That’s a factor that I’ve dismissed since it’s been so long since my last crippling episode. It can come back at any time. Triggers can’t be controlled. You can try to avoid situations where thoughts and feelings come rushing back, but that isn’t a hundred percent guarantee that you’re the person before the event or events that caused your trauma.

I think one of the worst parts to me is how embarrassed I feel. There’s a sense of shame and humiliation that comes with completely shutting down in front of a bunch of people that you’ve only known for a few months. It shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately most people don’t understand the feeling that every molecule of oxygen is being squeezed from your lungs, that you have to clench your fists so tightly that nails cut skin just to keep your mind somewhat in the present. That became clear to me when I was told that I “just have to get over my past and move on”.

Some traumas are impossible to get over. There’s healing that will happen and the fear or hurt may subside, but it doesn’t just magically go away. You can’t just snap your fingers and become instantly mentally or emotionally healthy again. It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did. I wish there was an instant fix to make all of the bad feelings disappear. But it does not work like that, and unless you’ve dealt with trauma in your life, it’s virtually impossible to understand that fact. It’s a slow process and there are setbacks, as I’ve recently experienced, but the healing does come. Days get brighter and breaths come easier. It’s just important to remember that it takes time.

Alaska - August 2014
Alaska – August 2014

The Hardest Part of the Story

The only thing I’ve ever published on this blog and then deleted is still a hard story for me to tell. It’s one that needs to be told and one that I don’t try to hide, but I was far too emotionally invested to write about it appropriately.

People that have known me for a while remember when I got married back in 2010. Looking back at everything now, I realize that the marriage shouldn’t have happened in the first place because I was already far too consumed by my depression, but in the moment, it made sense. The marriage lasted three years. Most of it is now a blur to me, but there are still some very vivid memories.

I suppose I should start back before I even met him. I should start back at my freshman year of college. That was the year that everything started to change for me. That was the year that I partied far too often and invested time in some people that didn’t have good motives. That was the year that I lost any innocence and not all of it was by choice.

Fast forward to the next year when I met the guy I would later marry. There were moments at the very beginning that should have been clues that there was something wrong with my psyche. If I felt too constrained in a blanket or a hug was too tight, I wouldn’t be able to breathe, my eyes would instantly tear up, and my body would just freeze. Panic attacks would become more frequent as the years progressed, but I should have realized that something wasn’t quite right at the very beginning.

What started off as a casual friendship turned into a pretty serious relationship. I became dependent on him and went as far as to drop out of college and move to another state to be with him. That was when he proposed. Part of the reason for proposing was so that we could live together without the complete and utter disapproval from my parents.

Looking back, the year we spent together while engaged was a year of my emotional and mental health utterly deteriorating. I started waking up in the middle of the night because of panic attacks. There is nothing more terrifying than being unable to move and so frozen that your brain can’t process what is going on around you.

The wedding day quickly approached. I clearly remember wanting to call off the wedding day, but also being so concerned about what others would think if I did that I carried through with it. I was a mess the weekend of. There wasn’t a waking hour that I wasn’t fighting back tears. I thought it was happy nerves, but I’ve never been that out of control with my emotions, and I know now that the overwhelming emotions were more signs that there was something off.

We were married, and things were fine for a while. This is where things get even harder to talk about. I suppose typing it out is easier than verbalizing everything, but there were three different instances during the three years we were married that changed everything. It was a kind of abuse, the kind that is both hurtful and degrading, and I was completely unequipped to respond properly. After the third incident, I finally realized that there was nothing more important than getting out. I’ve always used the same example when explaining this, but it was as if there was a pane of glass that kept getting cracks in it until that third time. That final moment of hurt and abuse was enough to shatter the glass and make me realize just how badly I needed to remove myself from the situation.

I’ve found that this is a tricky topic to discuss for a couple of different reasons. For one, I needed to escape for my own health and safety, but I’m not out to paint my ex husband as an evil person. There are numerous great qualities about him, but I can’t look past the pain he caused me. I’ve never wanted revenge, but I wasn’t about to allow that hurt to continue. You hear about abuse happening, but you don’t imagine it happening in a seemingly happy marriage. You don’t imagine someone who is beloved by everyone who meets him could possibly laugh when confronted with the pain he’s caused somebody.

Secondly, I don’t want pity. I’ve never wanted people to feel sorry for me. It’s in the past now, and just like the other hurtful moments in my life, I’ve learned from it. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and I’ve learned to be far less tolerant when confronted with similar issues. I’ve learned how strong I can be when it’s absolutely necessary, and I think that strength is my most beautiful quality. I’m proud of the person I’m becoming in my recovery.

So the reason I share the basic overview of this part of my story is this: I want more people to truly understand that there can be pain when everything looks perfect on the outside. I want people to be more willing to help when they think somebody might be hurting. Most importantly, I want people who might be experiencing something similar to know that they can be hopeful, that there is another side and a way out from the hurt. Recovery is possible even after the darkest moments.

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

listening to: Vance Joy

Feedback

If there’s one thing that I’ve enjoyed about writing on this blog more than anything else, the chances it’s given me to connect with other people is hands down my favorite. I’ve written about how flattered, yet taken aback, I’ve been when it comes to old acquaintances or friends emailing me to let me know they’ve been reading my blog, but it struck me again just how incredible it can be.

Yesterday, I got the pleasure of having lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. She was only back in Texas for a few days visiting family before flying back to LA, so getting to spend a few hours catching up with her was really special. We got onto the topic of my blog and how she had started reading it months ago, and it was just so exciting to get to audibly hear what somebody else thought of it. The thing that struck me most is that she found what I’ve written so far to be relatable and open, which has always been my main goal.

Deep in my soul, I have all these dreams of being able to help people who are struggling with the same types of demons that I’ve fought for years. That isn’t to say that I wish some of my past experiences on anybody, but being a support system for somebody who might not have anyone else has been a goal of mine for a while now. Yes, I do get caught off-guard every time anybody tells me that I’ve been able to inspire them the smallest amount, but it’s also exciting. It means that being as honest as possible on here is accomplishing exactly what I’m hoping for: letting people who might be struggling know that they’re not alone.

I don’t think I can say this enough times, but I like being an open book when it comes to my writing. It’s a freeing experience. I have this tendency to dwell on specific moments for far too long, but when I can write down the thoughts going through my mind, it’s almost as if I can remove myself from the situation a bit and look at the problems more objectively. I think exposing all of the dark moments is the best way for me to truly heal, so I’ll continue down the path of sharing as much as possible for as long as possible.

Cotton plants on the way out to West Texas - October 2014
Cotton plants on the way out to West Texas – October 2014

High School Mentality

“You’re going to have to get out of that high school mentality at some point”

Someone said this to me recently during a conversation about my present situation. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that comment. Part of me agrees. Part of me knows that I have far more to offer than what I’ve putting into life at the moment. I know that I have all of these skills and talents that could be turned into something to be proud of if I just worked harder. I think of the could-have-beens, the different paths I had planned for my life when I was younger. I see the people I graduated with who are successful in the traditional view of the word.

Then there’s the other part of me. The part that’s incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in the past couple of years and who I’m becoming. Two years ago, I would have never seen myself on the other side. I’ve written about this before on a previous blog, but it’s been a long time. Up until about eighteen months ago, I was suffering from severe depression. Severe in the sense that I couldn’t manage a job or even a couple classes in school because I could barely make it off of the couch on the bad days. I gained a little over eighty pounds, had crying episodes that turned into panic attacks, and felt that my life was generally just over.

I had a moment of clarity in April of 2013 when I finally started seeing a psychologist. There had been several moments in my life, both as a child and as an adult, that I was able to begin working through, and for the first time in years, it was almost as if a fog was beginning to lift from my life. I removed myself from a very emotionally and mentally damaging relationship, but I lost many material things in the process, including a house and more money than I could comprehend at the time. However, the most important thing to me was (and still is) that I was healing. I was becoming a person who could enjoy life again. My time spent in Germany was another way to heal. Since I had pretty much lost everything in the past year, it was a good way to remove myself from everything, get my priorities straight, and in a way hit the reset button on my life. I was able to get some more of my mental clarity back while learning new things and having adventures that will be with me forever.

While I know that from the outside, the life that I’m currently living doesn’t look like the most responsible or put together, it is a vast improvement from the one I was living when nobody knew the internal struggle I was fighting every day. There will come a time when I will have to move on and do something more productive with my life or find a different job to support the writer’s lifestyle that I dream of living daily, but I’m not planning on pressuring myself too much. There are far more important things in life to me than the “American dream” of marriage, a high-paying job with benefits, a house in the suburbs, and 2.5 kids. At this stage in my life, I’m just proud that I have some sort of drive and desire to do anything at all. I believe that depression is something that sticks with a person, even if it just skulks in the shadows. Right now, the fact that I’ve held some sort of job for the past year and have been able to continuously build strong friendships is an overwhelming win for me. There are people to meet, experiences to be had, and places all over the world to see. If that means I’m irresponsible and living a high school life, then that’s some other person’s opinion.

Winged Victory of Samothrace- The Louvre, Paris, France (July 2014)
Winged Victory of Samothrace- The Louvre, Paris, France (July 2014)