3 Years

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This is what three years in jail looks like. 

January always marks another year. Another year that my dad has been in jail. Another year that I haven’t seen him.

I wanted to write about this for many reasons. First and foremost, I posted something similar a year ago, and a lot has changed since then.

Secondly, I just think sharing this kind of information is really important. I have an internal debate about this a lot though. On the one hand, I often worry that this type of experience (for lack of a better word??) isn’t relatable enough to the people most likely to read my blog. I worry that no one will care because no one (that I directly know) has been through something similar. But on the flip side, I also feel that this type of content is worth sharing even more than some of the other things I write about because it’s uncommon. I fear that, to an extent, I’m doing a disservice to myself (and others) for not making this all more commonly known.

Most often, I cling to that fear of not being relatable to avoid a bigger issue. In reality, this shit is just hard to put words to. I’ll preface the rest of this post with that. Even though it has been three years, I still have so many contradictory, confusing, and often inexpressible emotions tied to all this. I’m going to attempt to not let that deter me from sharing though.

When you look at the statistics, about 5 million children in America have parents that are (or were previously) behind bars. That’s about 1 in every 14 kids, or 7%. 

Less than 1% of white children have incarcerated parents though. 

My dad has been in jail for almost three years.

**To give a brief background for those of you who are unaware. My dad was arrested in January of 2015. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time. I haven’t seen him in person since Christmas of 2014. I just recently started talking to him on the phone this year. Over the past three years, he has been transferred between multiple facilities in multiple different states (PA, NY, CT). The details of his arrest are vague to me, partly because I don’t want to be involved, and partly because the justice system is extremely confusing and the process takes an extremely long time. From what I know, my dad was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. I also know that, as of now, he is attempting to appeal this for a shorter sentence. **

Each time I try to put words to paper about this, a few things always come to mind:

  1. I often compartmentalize this part of my life which makes vocalizing my experience complicated
  2. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the flaws within the current justice system and accepting the fact that I can’t comprehend how to fix it
  3. My relationship with my dad was very complicated prior to his arrest, which complicates the situation further
  4. There are people out there like me, even though according to the numbers I am part of the <1%
  5. My feelings and experiences are not entirely negative
  6. Incarceration is a loss too, but it’s not final and as a family member you can choose what that means to you over time

Along with that, when I think about my dad, I usually feel overwhelmed with a complex layer of simultaneous emotions. I always, without fail, feel anger, stress, guilt, loss, relief, shame, love, admiration, nostalgia, bitterness, and confusion altogether, every time.

I think that is what often makes me want to refrain from sharing this experience with others, in this way at least. Because my relationship with my dad is so complex, this isn’t just about having an incarcerated parent, it’s about having a parent with mental health struggles too, and how those experiences overlap.

So the way I have coped and the things I have learned are, in a sense, two-fold. Even though most people may not be able to relate to the situation directly, hopefully, what I have to share can possibly be beneficial to others in some way or another.

Part One: Incarceration

To start, I’ve learned to understand that incarceration is a loss, and with that comes grieving. There shouldn’t be shame in that. But there will be. Because the person you’ve lost is still physically there.

It’s not a death, but that’s the closest thing most people will compare it to. That’s the only way most people, who have never dealt with incarceration before, can possibly wrap their brains around the experience and the feelings tied to it.

Unlike a death, people will forget the anniversary. YOU will forget the exact anniversary sometimes. To complicate things, neither you nor your friends will usually know how to talk about it.

You also won’t spend time memorializing the person, not only because they’re not truly gone, but because your loss will always have lingering bitterness and confusion.

Also unlike a death though, you and the person you’ve “lost” will potentially have room to progress together. Your dynamic may change and your relationship may grow. It takes time though, just because you’re not ready at first, doesn’t mean you never will be.

First, you need to process the events surrounding their arrest. Regardless of the situation, I believe one thing will hold true, you will come to learn that no single person is all good or all bad. You will come to see that sometimes you can still love someone, even when they’ve done wrong.

As is true for most things though, the progress you make (both individually and within your relationship together) will never be linear. You will continuously feel like you’re taking 3 steps forward just to take 2 back. That part will never stop, but over time you will accept it as routine.

You will always, always, always be filled with mixed emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no handbook to teach you how to appropriately cope. Even though there are literally 5 million other people out there that can potentially relate to you, you will still feel alone.

Sometimes you will feel helpless that someone you know is suffering, alone, behind bars. You will feel shame and stigma associated with the concept of incarceration as a whole. You will feel guilty that you couldn’t help “fix” them when you still had the chance. You will miss them, even when you think you don’t.

Part Two: Mental Health

In my case, to some extent, I feel a lot of relief regarding my dad’s arrest too. If it wasn’t for his arrest, I don’t think I would ever feel so free from the responsibilities of constantly worrying about his well-being.

With that comes guilt too though. Guilt that I’m finally, in some ways, using this space as a chance to be selfish. Every letter and every phone call is another reminder that I have separated myself from someone who needs me.

My dad, from what I know, struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. As I think I’ve shared before, in a lot of respects, when my parents split up when I was 18, I became the person my dad turned to.

Until my dad was arrested, I spent almost every day helping to manage his problems that I couldn’t fix and emotions that I couldn’t bear. I did so partly out of love, partly out of fear, partly out of a false hope that I could really “fix” him someday, and partly out of a desire to avoid my own problems.

One of the best things to come out of my dad’s incarceration has been the realization that, at the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for anyone but myself.

In general, sometimes I also feel embarrassed. Sometimes I feel so unbearably alone. Sometimes I feel like all anyone can think about when they look at me is my father. And sometimes I think everyone forgets completely.

I’ve learned a lot this past year though. In many respects, my dad’s arrest has shined a light on all of his mistakes for me. It has given me an opportunity to see what he struggles with, avoid running into similar situations, and live my life completely differently as a result.

From this, I’ve learned that there is no shame in being yourself. In fact, the things you tend to be most ashamed of are the things that you should wear with the most pride. I’ve learned that people will accept you if you accept yourself, and if you wear your experiences confidently, people will often have respect for you rather than judgment.

I’ve also learned to let go of fear. It’s so easy to be afraid of what you have yet to try. I spent over two years telling myself I didn’t want to “live my life in fear like my father”, yet never truly followed through until recently.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t actually hurt that much to be disliked for being yourself. It hurts so much more to constantly try morphing yourself into the person you think people want you to be.

I couldn’t be more comfortable with who I am and what I like than I have been this past year. I am so proud to say that the things that kept my dad living in shame, like his mental health and sexuality, are some of the things that I am most proud to be open and honest about in my own life.

As selfish as it sounds, I can confidently say I would have never gotten to this place if my dad hadn’t been arrested.

Like I mentioned though, it isn’t always easy. It’s usually like sailing into uncharted territory with no sense of direction and no compass to show you the way. Most of the time I’m just guessing and hoping I make some sort of progress as a result.

I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I literally have none, but I hope, to some extent, my lack of knowledge is helpful too.

I think what’s most important to remember is that even the most confusing and seemingly negative experiences can have positive outcomes. And just because you don’t have it all figured out, doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with your experiences correctly.

Take things one step at a time. Don’t forget to look back at where you started, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Be proud of who you are, and the factors that have helped to make you that way. And remember that everyone else is going through their own unique experiences too. Have patience, approach others with acceptance, and be understanding. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. AMIRITE?

Happy 2018!!!!!!!! BE U AND LUV URSELF

(If you have any interest in reading the similar post I wrote last year, click here)

Summer in New York City | August ’17

First of all, I am very well aware of the fact that I haven’t written anything of value on here in literally months. Ya know, just figured I’d acknowledge my complete lack of commitment and say that I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT AND I WILL SHARE THEM SOON.

In the meantime, check out August’s vlog ft. my friends with video footage to prove that we do in fact watch sports occasionally.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Alyssa

I am very excited to share a piece today written by my friend, Alyssa. Alyssa is someone I have known for years, yet have never been all that close with. We were in the same sorority in college, but a couple pledge classes apart. 

The reason I mention this though, is twofold. For one, it helps to prove my point that you really never know what someone is struggling with at any given time. And two, I just want to say that I was taken aback by Alyssa’s genuine willingness to share. Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts is terrifying. Sharing something so intimate can make you feel completely exposed and beyond vulnerable. Somehow, Alyssa was able to put that fear aside and contribute to this project anyway. She shared some of her most intimate feelings and experiences for me, someone she has never been extremely close with, and even more so than that, for all of you reading.

As you will soon see, Alyssa is still in the midst of her recovery process. Having said that, she has still found a way to explain her mental health journey, and how it ties into this month’s theme of Suicide Prevention Awareness, in hopes that her words will positively impact someone else.

I may have said this in the past, but I cannot stress enough how meaningful that is. Being able to put words to some of your demons is hard enough. Sharing those words with the world is even more difficult. Like those who have shared before her, Alyssa is one of the few people that has found a way to break her silence in hopes of breaking the stigma.  

Without further ado, check out her piece here:

Suicide and depression are complex and are so unspoken that it becomes difficult to find the words to express the darkness. It is hard for me to understand the effects these diagnoses have on my brain, let alone on my life.

For many years, I was able to keep these things hidden. I struggled constantly and knew I wasn’t like everyone else. Something was wrong with me. I grew up thinking I was a defective version of a human, flawed beyond fixing. I lived my whole life constantly criticizing myself and convincing myself I was not enough. If you can’t imagine, this becomes extremely exhausting. A daily battle with yourself, filled with negative thoughts and feelings of shame and guilt. Feeling guilty for just being alive. I lived basically my entire life inside of my head, never taking a breath of fresh air or stopping to enjoy what was around.

Having depression and suicidal thoughts is like walking through darkness with your eyes closed. Everything just seems pointless and confusing.

For years, I convinced myself that I could beat the flood of negative thoughts by myself. By the time I turned 21 though, I knew it was a serious problem that I could not solve alone. Around this same time, I was also still battling my eating disorder – a very physically harmful component of my anxiety. I was sick, but I was able to realize how unhealthy these habits were really becoming.

I panic every time I think about the effects that 8 years of an eating disorder had on me. It ripped my life right out of my hands and forced me to think I did not deserve anything. I was not worth love or life. Suicidal thoughts were not foreign to me. They had been very present in my head ever since high school. 

One day, as I sat on my couch wanting to die, I was scrolling through my phone when I came across #projectsemicolon. I immediately thought to myself that I needed this tattoo. As an impulsive person (probably not much help from my anxiety/depression), I was on the way to the tattoo parlor in under 10 minutes. For those of you that have not heard of Project Semicolon, I highly recommend looking it up, it is beautiful.

This tattoo gave my life a little bit of purpose. It was exactly what I needed. I promised myself that after I got the tattoo, I would confess to my mom that I needed help. She had been in the dark just like everyone else in my life. Keeping all of these things hidden became too easy, and that is a scary thought. I was struggling more than ever and I was not okay. I wrote my mom a note explaining everything, put it in my nightstand at home, and left it there for “the right time.” (Now my only wish is that I would have asked for help sooner).

Finding mental health services alone seemed impossible, but telling my family about my anxiety and depression was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want anyone else to feel the way I felt, and for some reason, I thought it was something they would take personally.

Since then, it has been two years and a rough road to recovery. There have been days where I wanted to give up, but my support system has kept me going. I would be lying if I said that recovery is smooth, because there have been times of relapse and obstacles. I have spent months crying and not feeling like myself. I surrounded myself with people who bring love into my life and helped me see positivity. My friends and my family are the reason I am alive today to share my story. I am forever thankful for all that they have done.

Along the way to recovery (where I still am today), I have endured a lot of self-discovery, both good and bad, but all of it makes me a stronger person in the end. I am thankful for yoga, coping skills and ALL of the mental health services. Two years later, and I have no shame seeing my therapist weekly or taking medications to help my brain reach a healthy place – both things that seem to have a negative connotation. There are still days that seem never-ending and way too difficult, but the main thing recovery has taught me is to enjoy the little things. I have learned to celebrate all of my minor accomplishments (and some days they may be smaller than others.)

On my journey to recovery, I have found my passion, which gives me purpose. Something I lacked my entire life, until now. My preschoolers bring a special kind of light into my life and filled a hole I did not even know I had. They make me feel happiness – a feeling I had long forgotten.

Some days, my accomplishment is just making it through the day with minimal tears. It’s the little things that make life worth it. To this day, I still struggle wrapping my head around all of this, because it’s something I’m still battling. But for now, I have started to see the beauty in the world. Throughout this process, I have learned that I am worth love from myself and from others. I will continue to take life day by day, minute by minute, because at the end of the day- All we have is now.

I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. You are enough. You matter. The world is a better place because YOU are in it.

Learn more about Project Semicolon here: https://projectsemicolon.com/

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Kevin Hines: I Jumped Off The Golden Gate Bridge

Soooooooo I have a few great pieces already prepared for next week, BUT I wanted to post one more video-related piece to round out this week.

Today is about Kevin Hines. I don’t want to share too much background information, because I want to let the videos below speak for themselves, but Kevin’s story is so meaningful to me. It is heartbreaking, inspiring, moving, and simultaneously filled with a mixture of both hope and pain. If you believe in miracles, I think it’s safe to say that Kevin definitely is one.

Before I give too much away, check out his story:

Now, Kevin spreads suicide prevention awareness through public speaking and with his film, Suicide: The Ripple Effect

Below is the trailer for the film:

 

If you’re interested in more of Kevin’s content, follow him on Instagram here: @kevinhinesstory and @TheEffectFilm

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Chris Gethard

I want to share something a bit different for today’s post.

Earlier this year, a couple of friends and I went to see an off-broadway show called Chris Gethard: Career Suicide. A monologue-style comedy show hosted by Chris Gethard at a small venue on Bleeker Street downtown.

In the past, I knew a bit about Chris Gethard from his podcast, Beautiful/Anonymous and his appearances in the Comedy Central show, Broad City. From these small insights into his work and personality, I quickly realized how much I appreciated the way in which he combined humor with depression. His willingness to be open and vulnerable, yet simultaneously hilarious, captivated me.

Having said that, I didn’t have the slightest idea what to expect when it came to Career Suicide, but the minute I heard about it, I knew I had to go.

As you may have guessed by the title, the show basically outlines Gethard’s battles with depression and suicide attempts, coupled with the different types of help he’s sought along the way, all while making the audience laugh hysterically. From insights into his lowest points (i.e. the time a truck drifted into his lane and he considered letting it hit him), to the unconventional relationship he has with his therapist, Barb, to the ways music (and by that I mean Morrissey) plays into his emotions, he finds a way to make you feel like you lived it all with him.

In many respects, this kind of concept is nothing new, right? Many of the best comedians derive portions of their material from painful experiences throughout their lives. But to me, this show was something different – it was more than just a comedy act. While still funny, it was vulnerable and heartfelt and meaningful in ways other shows (at least that I have seen) have never been.

For me, as someone that has struggled with many of the same feelings and experiences as Gethard, this show was beyond cathartic for me. It allowed me to laugh at his experiences, and in turn, laugh at (and cope with) my own.

Having said that, I also believe you can really appreciate Career Suicide, even if you cannot directly relate to the content at hand. That’s why I felt so inclined to share it today.

On the surface, it is a hilarious, emotion-filled monologue about a talented actor/comedian/writer (side note: it’s produced by Judd Apatow so liiiiike you know it’s good). At its core, it’s even more than that. It is one of the many stories that needs to be shared. It is a voice to feelings that are all too real and all too valid. By creating, consuming, and promoting content like this, we are slowly reducing the stigma surrounding mental health in general.

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, although originally a live show, has been filmed and is available in its entirety on HBO. I highly suggest watching. If you don’t have a login, I literally would contemplate sharing my own with you,  just so you can see it.

Check out the trailer below to get a glimpse into what I’m talking about:

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – I Survived A Suicide Attempt

I have been SWAMPED these past few days at work, so I haven’t had as much free time to curate written submissions like I normally do. Having said that, I found a few really awesome videos that I knew I wanted to share this month, so what better timing than now!

I especially appreciated today’s video because it puts faces to the topic of suicide. On the surface, before hearing their stories, the people featured in this video all seem similar to any other person you’d likely encounter during your day to day life. Each from different backgrounds, with different experiences and upbringings, and each with a different reason for their suicide attempts.

It, again, is such an important reminder that you have no idea what someone else is going through at any given time.

It also helps to make an amazing point that, if you are struggling with similar feelings, you can find help and you can find a light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone. Do not just assume that other people cannot understand what you’re feeling. More people than you realize can relate and empathize. I know it seems literally impossible, but find the strength to share what you’re thinking about and going through. Even if it’s only with one person. There are people that understand. There are people that can help. There is hope. It is possible to feel less empty again. I promise that it is possible to find a will to live.

“Everyone is worthy of life” 

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Drew Monson

Today I want to share a video originally posted by Drew Monson. As some of you know, I’ve been a weirdly big fan of Drew’s content for so long. When people ask what I appreciate about him though, I find it difficult to fully explain.

The majority of Drew’s content is hilarious and beyond weird. His videos are, more or less, sporadic trains of thought that are just unintentionally mesmerizing.

From the outside looking in, he’s a 22-year-old, fast food loving, turtle owning, vlogger, who isn’t afraid to share stories about his panic attacks, therapy sessions, spells of depression, and everything else in between. He’s one of the strangest content creators I’ve ever watched, and I think he’s absolutely brilliant.

He just has this ability to share stories about difficult experiences in a way that anyone watching can relate to. It’s no surprise that he has over a million Youtube subscribers – he, like any good comedian, jokes about the stuff so many of us go through, but few of us want to share.

The best way I can describe what I’m trying to say is: Drew’s content is a small insight into his life that consistently makes me feel drastically less weird and drastically less alone.

Usually, although a good amount of his content is about deep, weighty issues, it is still intended to be funny. Today I wanted to share one of his more serious videos though.

I think the way he talks about his struggles with depression and suicide is extremely important. I don’t think I can stress that enough. Without giving too much away, I just remember stumbling upon this video and being like “WOW I FINALLY FEEL SO COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD.”

 

If you liked this video, I highly suggest following Drew on his social media below:
Twitter: @mytoecold
Instagram: @drewmytoecold
Youtube: youtube.com/mytoecold

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Kathleen

As a special two-part series, I am extremely humbled and proud to share the words of Kathleen MacDonald – someone I consider to be such an inspiration to myself and so many others.

I first met Kathleen during my sophomore year at JMU. As many readers know, I was part of a sorority in college. Every year, during February, my sorority would put together a “Speak Out” for Eating Disorder Awareness Month. The “Speak Out” functioned as a safe space, where students were encouraged to come listen and share stories related to struggles with body image and eating disorders. The event was in honor of a sorority member, Leslie George, who passed away after losing her battle with bulimia. Kathleen (for reasons you will later read), hosted this event every year. 

When I heard her story for the first time, I was blown away. She seemed like the happiest, most loving, kind-hearted, vibrant person in the room. I couldn’t fathom that she had gone through the experiences she was explaining to all of us.

Kathleen’s words changed my life. She changed my views on beauty and self-love. And more so than that, she taught me that inner demons are often so easily hidden from the outside world.

These two parts will be lengthy, but they are without a doubt worth the read. Check it out:

By most accounts, I should not be alive today.  To this day, I am not sure why I survived what so many others have not.

No one ever sets out to have the deadliest of all mental illnesses: an eating disorder, and all its accompanying symptoms of depression, moodiness, etc.

No one ever sets out on a diet, hoping that one day they will be suicidal.

And even though I am guilty of having once said, “I wish I could have anorexia for just a little while,” it still wasn’t a “choice” for me to suffer from that mean and terrible disease.

When the eating disorder took root, it changed my brain chemistry and rid me of the ability to have good sense.  Ironically, despite being trapped in its prison, and despite all of the hell the eating disorder brought to my life, for the majority of the years I suffered, I never felt like I had a serious problem. I never felt I was ‘sick enough’ compared to people who were thinner than me. Most people didn’t know that I lived daily with humiliating inner-embarrassment, pain, and shame because of what I saw in the mirror.  To boot, at my worst, when I was severely suicidal because of the eating disorder, the day I reached out for help after using laxatives for 18 years, my doctor patted me on the knee and told me, “I wish I had more patients as thin as you” (a comment that he and I eventually discussed, in depth, with good results).

I want to start my saying: To all those who suffer with eating and/or body image issues, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and to all those who love someone suffering, I hope with all my heart that the words in this blog might meet you with compassion and kindness, encouraging you to realize that you are not alone, and that you deserve to believe in a day where you live free from whatever is making you endure thoughts of suicide.  I hope that, no matter if you’re a sufferer, or a loved one or friend of someone suffering, after reading this, you begin to realize what I began to realize back on June 13, 2002: that no one was created to die by suicide, that you are beautiful and wonderfully made…and that YOU deserve to love yourself, and treat yourself with loving-kindness, every single day.

My story is a long and complex one, but like many people, what pushed me to develop an eating disorder was nothing out of the ordinary.  When I was about 10 years old, I began to feel pressures to look thin and pretty.  Coincidentally, around the same time, I broke my nose.  Because I never had my nose ‘set’ by a doctor, my nose changed shape and it became the subject of discussions and teasing; I was called “mogul nose”, among other things. Up until then, I never gave a thought to whether what I looked like was pretty/not pretty, good/bad, attractive/unattractive. When I broke my nose, I became acutely aware of what I looked like to other people, and acutely aware that people did not like my face.  This caused me to feel intense confusion and sadness because, at just 10 years old, I realized that all the things I thought people liked about me – my kind-hearted, loving nature, and strong relationships with friends and family- didn’t matter, because I wasn’t “pretty.”

When puberty hit, I grew even more uncomfortable with my appearance, not because I noticed the changes so much, but because other people started commenting on my body and its (natural) weight gain.  Our society sends a very loud message to (especially) young women that “thin is pretty.” I didn’t handle the teasing about my body very well. The utter confusion that wreaked havoc on my mind and spirit was horrendously painful.

Fast forward ahead two years – two years of me feeling heartbreakingly ugly. I’m 12 years old.  It was the first time I watched an after-school-special about a young woman who falls victim to anorexia. The movie made eating disorders look easy and attractive. The movie made it seem like anorexia fixed that girl’s life. It made her pretty and made everyone value her more.  That movie, coupled with my lack of self-worth and the pressure I felt to be thin and pretty, compelled me to take a simple step the next day that would change my life forever.  The day after watching the movie, I skipped lunch for the first time.

I was 12 years old.

Like most people who suffer from an eating disorder, I never intended to have one, let alone to have it take up over half of my life.  I thought my ‘diet’ of skipping lunch would make my happy, pretty, and well-liked.  I thought that I would only be on a ‘diet’ until I lost a few pounds. Surely then I would receive approval from my friends and family. Surely then they would think that my body looked good.  I had no idea that this ‘diet’ would actually drive all of my friends away.

The next time I ate lunch was 18 years later.

It may seem odd that I can remember the exact day, but it’s because, on that day, I actually called my mother to say, “I ate lunch.”  Most adults don’t call their parents to report that they ate something –they call to tell them about a job promotion, an engagement, or a completed graduate program. I called because I had eaten some food.

But for me, it was a big deal.  It was the first time I had eaten during the day (outside of a hospital setting) and kept it down, in 18 years.  I was scared to not purge, but I was also so proud of myself.

My mother, however, wasn’t able to be excited with me –and looking back, I don’t blame her.  She had suffered 18 years of hell because of the way the eating disorder made me feel (moody, depressed, angry, etc.).  In response to my phone call, she said, “Great. Now, what are you finally going to do with your life?”  I faked a response that wouldn’t let her know how deeply her words hurt, and we hung up the phone.

When we hung up, any feeling of hope and accomplishment I had immediately turned to visceral and deep sadness, intense self-hatred, hopelessness and suicidal planning.  I sat there realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life beyond that moment of eating lunch. I felt ridiculous knowing that I actually thought eating was an accomplishment.

Just when I thought I had finally made a breakthrough, my heart sank and I cried because I felt like such a failure.

So I called in sick to work, and I stayed home and I wept.

I wept about what a waste my life had become.

I wept thinking about what a waste I had been for 18 years –focusing so much on whether or not I was fat and basing my happiness on whether or not my pants fit the differently than the day before.

I wept because I had disappointed my family, disappointed myself, and lost all of my friends.

I wept because I, a former 4.0 student, had been kicked out of college twice because of the eating disorder and my resultant inability to handle going to class.  (Oh, and after re-entering college at age 28, they told me not to come back second semester because I was still too sick to feel attractive enough to attend class. Yes, that’s how warped my brain was.)

I wept because I had depleted IRA’s and at least $60,000 in mutual funds to pay for food, laxatives, food, laxatives, alcohol, and more food and more laxatives.

I wept because I had wrecked my credit after failing to pay doctor bills, student loans, rent, etc.

And most of all, I wept because I realized that I might never be able to get rid of the thoughts that had been controlling my life, making me miserable every single moment that I was alive.

The thought of having to live this way for the rest of my life felt unbearable.

I finally decided that if I couldn’t overcome my body image issues, bulimia, and anorexia, I did not want to live.

Unlike what I saw in the movie when I was 12 years old, what I was going through was not simple or pretty. It was not about being thin, it was not about getting attention or winning friends.  Up until the day that I ate lunch, I honestly believed that the thinness I had sustained for those 18 years would someday, somehow reward me –it didn’t.

Being thin never ever resulted in anything positive.

So, I purged my lunch.  Disgusted with myself, I ate more, and purged that, until I eventually felt numb.  I remember crawling into bed and begging God not to let me wake up.

But I did wake up.

The next morning, after weighing myself and glaring in disgust at my puffy post-bingeing/purging face in the mirror, I broke down crying over my bathroom sink. I was alone and tired and felt so ugly. I just wanted the vicious cycle of my pain to end.  I stared into the mirror, looking for any sign of hope in my eyes.  I saw none.

What I saw was someone looking back at me who was so very tired of just barely “getting by.”  I saw someone who was so very tired of depriving their body and mind, but someone who couldn’t seem to stop the deprivation.  I saw someone so very very tired of life being so empty.

Exhausted of the cycle, I pulled out my laptop and decided to search one last time online for help.  Of course, in all of my Google searching, I didn’t find a single free treatment option. All I found that day was one single nebulous sounding group called The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action (EDC).  There was a “Get Involved” button, so I clicked on it, typed in my name and email address, and shut off my laptop. Then I started officially making my plan.

About a month later, I received an email from the EDC.  They needed a speaker to present to Members of Congress and their staff as to why people with eating disorders deserved insurance coverage for treatment.  I called the then Policy Director of the EDC, Dr. Jeanine Cogan, and told her why I thought I could help them out as a speaker at their Congressional Briefing.

On June 13, 2002, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak.  Little did the EDC, or my only remaining friend, Jim (who accompanied me to DC), know, I had a plan.

At the Congressional Briefing, first, a doctor spoke. He gave definitions and talked about what a “typical” eating disordered patient is like. The whole time he spoke, I tried to act as if nothing he said resembled me at all, trying to convince myself that if I didn’t fit his mold, I couldn’t possibly be someone who was sick and slowly dying.

Then, a woman named Kitty Westin got up to talk about her daughter who suffered from anorexia.  Her daughter’s name was Anna. When Kitty got up to speak, she brought along a picture of Anna –a big 18×20 poster-sized picture.  In the picture, Anna was smiling, sitting somewhere in the mountains, looking into the camera with a peaceful contentment in her blue eyes.  Anna looked healthy and alive.  But as Kitty continued to speak, I realized that the reason she was telling Anna’s story was because Anna was not alive to tell it on her own.

Anna had committed suicide because of her torturous battle with anorexia.

Anna was the first person I knew of who did exactly what I had wanted to do so many times over the course of my 18 years suffering.  And, Anna was the first person who made me realize how scared I was of my plan.

But after Kitty finished, I got up and calmly read my speech as if I was ‘fine.’ To give you an idea of just how fine I was that day, here is how I ended my speech:

“I wake up knowing that if I continue being sick, I will die. I wake up, therefore, wanting to go to therapy so I don’t die and become a statistic… I do not want to live my life as a result of these disorders. I want to live my life beyond anorexia and bulimia and all the years of torment and mistakes made… I never dreamed that throwing my lunch away one day would, 18 years later, result in me seriously considering suicide– for two years, every day, all day.”

I wasn’t fine.

And I was doing more than “seriously considering” suicide like my speech suggested. My plan was that June 13, 2002 would be the end of my life.  I had planned my suicide, and no one knew.  

I had planned to give my speech and then follow-through on my plan –in hopes that it would make people take note of the seriousness of eating disorders.

The Congressional Briefing concluded and there was a line of people waiting to talk to me.  I thought they wanted to congratulate me on how good my speech was.  But every person said something along the lines of, “You have to get help.  You’re going to die.”  I just kept telling everyone, “No, don’t worry. I used to have an eating disorder.  I’m fine now.”

I do not remember any of the 20 or so people who hugged me after my speech, except for two.  The very last people I spoke with that day were Mr. and Mrs. Ron George.  I will never ever forget how Mr. George, trying to refrain from gently sobbing, his face red and wet with tears, took hold of me and said, “I lost my daughter to bulimia, you need help or you’re going to die.”  And as I hugged him, I wanted so very much to collapse in his arms and beg for help…  But I couldn’t.  I had a plan.  So, I’m pretty sure I probably looked at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Yet something happened at that Congressional Briefing –a miracle.  Between witnessing Kitty’s agonizing pain, and hearing Mr. George pour out his heart about losing his daughter Leslie (all the while holding me, a complete stranger), something clicked inside my soul.  It was in those moments that an undeniable surge of some unearthly spirit of hope took over, and I somehow mustered up the wherewithal to vow to myself that I would do everything in my power to finally stop. I would finally stop maintaining my thin-as-possible frame. I would finally stop exercising to maintain my weight and self-worth. I would finally stop using laxatives. I would stop purging and starving. I would stop believing that I had been sick for “too long” to get help. I would stop believing I was ugly.  And perhaps most importantly, I would stop believing that suicide was an option.

I am very humbled to tell you that instead of June 13, 2002 being the day I took my own life, it became the day that I began my final recovery process…and I never looked back.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Julie

Today’s piece is one I have been dying to share for a while now, well before I came up with the idea for this month’s collaborative project. 

This is a piece written by my aunt, Julie. In many ways, she has been someone I have idolized for so long. As I grew up, I was always so proud to have so many interests in common with her. To me, she was like the success story I wanted to one day become. 

I first read this piece a few years ago. I still remember how relieved I felt when I finished it. I remember feeling like “Oh…okay!  She’s not flawless, she’s human. Cool, I can be that. That’s attainable.” It was as if, in that moment, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I remember feeling this urge to share the story with everyone I knew, in hopes that they would feel the same. 

This was long before I started to go to therapy, mind you. This was well before I was comfortable admitting that I struggled with anxiety and depression. This piece was one of the first real eye-opening experiences I ever had with regards to anything involving mental health. It was one of the first times I realized that maybe I wasn’t okay, and if I wasn’t, that wasn’t wrong. It was one of the first times I didn’t feel alone. 

When I knew I wanted to share pieces for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this is the first one that came to mind. Not only is Julie an extremely talented (published) writer, but she’s also a volunteer counselor for the Crisis Text Line

In case you have never heard of it, the Crisis Text Line is a 24/7 support service for anyone, in any type of crisis, at any time. It is an AMAZING resource. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Although I could go on for hours, I don’t want to ramble too long before introducing Julie’s piece. I hope it touches you in some of the same ways it did for me. Here it is:

 

The Fall of Strangers
Julie Greicius

Sometimes I write that she runs to the edge of the rooftop. Fifteen stories below, I’m running uphill on the sidewalk. She speeds up for momentum, so that she’ll fly past the instant when she might change her mind. The park isn’t safe at this hour, so I’m under the streetlights. I feel strong, so I lengthen my stride and decide to run farther. She vaults out past the edge, and gives herself to gravity just as I’m fighting it. For a second, she’s in flight. Our hearts are pounding. A few more steps and I’ll catch up to her.

Other times I write it straight: In 1996 I witnessed a suicide in New York City. I abandon imaginary details. I don’t really think she was running. Not at her age, in her state, or in those shoes: sullen mauve pumps, one of which landed askew next to her. It would be wrong to say she launched like a diver, or dove like a bird of prey. For all I know she might have been pushed. I only know for sure what I finally saw: her body on the pavement, head smashed beyond recovery, brains fanned out across the sidewalk.

I was working that year as a biographer’s assistant, at a small desk built into the underside of a loft bed in a one-bedroom apartment. Those were the early days of telecommuting. The woman I worked for lived just across town on the Upper East Side. We’d check in by phone, but most of the time I worked alone, interrupted by field trips to public libraries or longer getaways to private archives to find letters and diaries that belonged to people I had never met, most of whom were already dead. When I worked at home, days often ended at five o’clock with me realizing I hadn’t spoken a word to another living person all day.

I loved my job, loved holding the aged, handwritten letters of strangers, examining the journals of others and exploring the idiosyncrasies of families that were impeccable on the outside and daft on the inside. They felt familiar. I grew fond of the people I researched, and they became my community by proxy. I had freedom to work when and where I pleased, and to disappear whenever I wanted to. I lived with my fiancé, who was finishing medical school and rarely at home. When he was, he was fitfully asleep, or a shadow of himself, consumed by work.

I was good at being alone, I thought, even though I was lonely some of the time and mildly depressed—a condition I dismissed as indigenous to New York, something I could handle.

At the end of the day, every day, I got out to run. Running in Manhattan put me back among people. And there were no people I would rather have mingled among more than the people of New York City. I would run from our apartment on 107th street through the neighborhoods on Amsterdam and Columbus, past the bodegas and towering apartment projects over to the giant hill at the upper western corner of Central Park. I’d run into the park and make a double loop around the reservoir. I’d pass people on rollerblades, lovers in arms, children with nannies. And by the time I got to the East Side the crowd was all Burberry and fine terriers on leashes. When I wanted a shorter run, I ran through Riverside Park along the Hudson, over broken crack vials and, further south, through the islands of flower gardens set in the cobblestone. I ran by people on park benches staring alone at the river, people with children and dogs, teenagers in tunnels. I ran in every kind of weather, from the worst heat to the heaviest snow. Running was my drug, my release, my state of grace.

By the time I left my apartment that afternoon the sun was setting. I ran down West Side Drive, from 107th down to 72nd Street and back again, and then on past my own block. A light rain started to fall. Ahead, I saw the lights of fire trucks in front of a building—maybe a fire alarm or a car accident. There were no police lines, up, and no one seemed distressed. So I kept to my path.

A group of people stood looking, their eyes all pointing to something on the ground. As I passed them, I suddenly saw her: a woman in her mid-fifties, curly hair, gray skirt, a single shoe on the ground near her foot. Cinderella. Her head had made a pit in the pavement. But there was no pit. The side of her skull was flattened against the ground. Her brain speckled the sidewalk all the way to the small bushes that bordered the building from which she had dropped. The same sidewalk where I suddenly realized my feet were falling. Now I was on tiptoe, horrified, leaping past what I had already disgraced.

Of all the thousands of ways we encounter strangers, meeting someone at the moment of their death is possibly second in intensity only to meeting them at the moment of their birth. Between those extremes, we pass by with indifference in grocery stores or airports, or confront with clear intention on battlefields or in bars. But to witness this woman alone on the pavement, destroyed, was more than I knew what to do with. I had no basis for processing it, no precedent for understanding the absurdity of how we had just made contact.  

A few minutes faster and I might have blocked her, stopped her, or obstructed her fall. Maybe just one person on the street below would have been enough to change her mind. Then again, she might have struck and killed me. But I wasn’t there when she fell. Should I have been? I was no one: a pedestrian, a jogger, a passerby. The cement was there to catch her.

I stopped running and sat on the curb. There were footsteps behind me, and then a hand on my shoulder.

*

Over the next several years, my fiancé, Mike, became my husband, and we moved to the suburbs of San Francisco to raise our two children. One afternoon my friend Stephanie called and asked if I would go to see Jason, a friend of hers whom I’d never met. She was traveling, and had received an email from him saying he was in trouble. He had stopped drinking a while ago, but was drunk today, far gone, and sounded like he might be thinking about taking his own life.

I don’t know what made her think I was qualified to give that kind of support. My husband said it might be safer—for Jason and maybe for me, too—to call 911. That might have been true.

“What am I going to find?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think he needs someone.”

I drove to his house. I didn’t find it easily, but soon realized that he lived in a house behind a house.

When I reached his door, I noticed the lights inside were off. Maybe I was already too late. I wondered if he was hurt or if I was going to get hurt. A small sign on the door read JASON—a note to help people find him. He wanted to be found.

I opened the screen door and rang the doorbell. I waited, then knocked. Still nothing. I opened the mail slot and yelled into it. “Hey Jason! Answer the door!”

Another minute passed, enough to scare me.

Finally I heard someone coming. He opened the door. His eyes were red and glassy. At the base of his bleached-blonde hair were black roots, tousled as if he’d been sleeping. He wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. “Hey,” he said. The apartment smelled like cigarettes and maybe pot. Definitely alcohol.

“I’m a friend of Stephanie’s,” I said. “She said you weren’t feeling so hot so I came over.”

“Stephanie,” he said slowly. “That girl. She’s good people.”

He opened the door wide and let me in.

“She was worried about you.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I have a fever or something.”

His apartment was dark and stuffy. A small plant struggled on the kitchen table. He sat down on a small couch by sliding glass doors.

I sat down in a chair facing him. And there we were. I remembered once sitting in a therapist’s office back in New York. I was crying and crying—I couldn’t handle it after all—and she leaned down to the floor and pushed a box of tissues toward me without ever lifting her ass off her chair. I never went back.

I didn’t come there to sit back and stare at this man. I had nothing to say to him politely over a coffee table.

I said, “I’d rather sit on your side. I came here to make sure you’re okay.”

I stood up and climbed over the coffee table straight to him, sat next to him and took him in my arms. He fell into me and I squeezed him hard. He shifted and turned so he could fit more closely. He sighed. “Thank you,” he said. He pulled his legs close to his body and curled up. I think I said, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

He wasn’t crying. He breathed heavily in big sighs. Maybe he was relaxing, or just trying to breathe. I didn’t know how much he’d had to drink, but I guessed a lot.

We were quiet for a while. I had rushed over quickly after my friend called, right after a shower.

“Your hair is wet,” he said. “You smell so clean.”

“I think I know how you feel,” I told him. “I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling right now.”

“When?” he asked. “Tell me.”

But I couldn’t. The answer was “yesterday.” I thought it would terrify him.

*

Yesterday: I pulled the point of a razor across my skin and made a cut on the back of my left hand, on the flesh between my finger and thumb.

I wasn’t even close to admitting what I had been feeling in the previous weeks. I kept my life in a rush of accomplishment, so the empty spaces would blur, and was now at a halt, alone, leaning against a counter in my bathroom.

The pain stung, corrosive, but the color was rich and red—unmistakably healthy. The sight of it made me feel strangely robust, in spite of how I felt emotionally. Here was the blood that propelled me forward, the same blood that could tell me I was young and fertile, or mortally injured. I took my time, in no rush to see it end. Then I thought of my children and husband and job and responsibilities, covered the cut with a sober band-aid, and left the house.

I wondered, if someone was going to confront herself finally and truly, if it could only be done violently.

But that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to die. I want to look over the edge, to confront the stranger in myself, and stand my ground.

*

“A while ago,” I lied. “I cut myself to sort of punctuate what I was feeling. It was like this huge cavern of loneliness and despair opened up in me, and I could make it small and manageable and put a band-aid on it. I didn’t think anyone else would understand.”

“I know,” he said.

But he didn’t know, didn’t see that the band-aid was still on my hand.

“So I’m here and you don’t have to be alone,” I told him.

“You know, you sound like you’re good at this,” he said. “The way you just showed up and let me hold on to you. Like you know twelve-step programs.”

“I don’t know. I guess I think it’s something we all need at one time or another.”

“That’s how sponsors are supposed to be in AA. They’re supposed to be there for you.”

“I mostly know them from The Wire.”

“I love The Wire!”

“Yes, well, Bubs is all I know about AA.”

“Bubs!”

There was Jason, this stranger in my arms, suddenly very much alive. In that apartment, I might have found anything. Or he might have never even let me in the front door. He would need therapy from someone more professional than me, or an intervention, but at the moment, he just wanted to shoot the shit.

We talked about television, about his sponsor, and about differences between suburban and city life. I said it wasn’t as easy to walk outside and enjoy the anonymous comfort of humanity like you can in the city when you feel alone. Jason agreed, or nodded, or mmhmm’d.

“But do you do this a lot?”

“You mean show up at stranger’s homes when they’re sad and sit on the couch with them?”

He laughed.

“No, I don’t.”

“And Stephanie just asked you to come over?”

“Yeah.”

“Stephanie. Shit. You know when you let people lean on you, when you help people, you forget about your own problems.”

Stephanie had called more friends, people Jason knew, and in a little while they showed up with their baby and gave Jason more distraction, more love, held on to him when it was time for me to go home to my own family.

That night he called. He sounded happy, relieved—and maybe a little in disbelief that the world had come through for him, stood in his way of a path he didn’t really want to take at all. And I told him that he rescued me, too. Months later I told him that it really was the day before that I had been feeling the way that he had. That it was my own vulnerability that qualified me to hold him up, to really understand how he felt, to hold him like some kind of fragile scaffold.

*

One of the bystanders had come over to me. He must have seen me run straight through the crime scene (was it a crime?), and I was ashamed.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded. That anyone should be asking how I was doing when a woman lay dead twenty feet away astonished me.

But I wanted the comfort. I asked him what happened, who she was. He said no one knew.

“Did she live there?” I asked, indicating the building above her.

“I don’t know. If she did, nobody knew her,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes,” I said, and stood up. “Thank you.”

I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I walked home because it didn’t make sense to run. Nothing made sense. I had no idea how long that feeling would last.

At home, I turned on the television to keep me company. Four different channels had shows about suicide. They were melodramas, made-for-TV movies, a talk show, and stand-up comedy. I turned it off.

I walked back up to the scene. The entire block had been tied off with bright yellow tape and flares at 109th and Broadway to prevent cars from coming down the street. From a distance I could see the woman’s body was covered now, her shoe still lying next to her.

I wondered who she was, what had provoked her, what weight had brought her down. There was nothing in the papers the next day, nor any day after.

I called a friend and she came over. We put our feet up and had a drink. She spent the night and slept next to me in my bed like my sister used to. We talked in the dark and soon fell asleep.

** Originally published in the anthology Rumpus Women, Vol. 1, editing by Julie Greicius and Elissa Bassist **

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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Chase

When Chase and I talked about the idea of him writing a piece for this month, I can honestly say I did not expect this outcome in the least. I mean that in two ways. First of all, his writing blew me away. But secondly, I was also almost angry at myself for not wholeheartedly understanding Chase’s relationship with his depression until now.

Chase is someone I’ve known for years. I’ve told him many times how I felt that, from such an early point in our friendship, it seemed so easy to be open and honest with him and his friends. We used to just get drunk sometimes and share some dark shit and it never seemed weird or uncomfortable. But how could I feel like I was able to be so honest with someone, yet simultaneously not realize the extent to which they’re struggling?

That’s the thing about depression and suicide though. Most people don’t realize the severity of other’s struggles, until, in some cases, it’s too late. That’s why I loved this piece, though. It’s such a perfect example of the complex relationship between inner demons and outside support.

Chase’s words and vulnerable and honest, but I don’t think I need to explain them much more than I already have because they truly speak for themselves. I hope, if nothing else, they’re a simple reminder that these feelings are so real and so valid. Without further ado, check it out:

You become so infatuated with the thoughts of being alone, having nothing, looking in the mirror and hating yourself. Day in and day out you wake up and hurt. You lay in bed, not wanting to lift your head from the pillow because the only time you feel at ease is when you dream. Fake smiles and fraud laughs make you seem okay, but deep down you just want to be in a dark room. Silence is your only friend.

This darkness has taken over my life for over a decade. The depression has never left me, it only comes and goes like summer storms. Sometimes there are rainbows at the end, and sometimes there are flooded streets – each time a different result.

When it comes, the storms bring lightning like slit wrists and broken knuckles. The thunder is multiple missed phone calls and voicemails from loved ones, crying for you to answer the phone. Torrential down pours where your mind seems unable to find any sort of happiness, leaving you aching to end your own life because you cannot bear to cope with the pains of everyday being. The occasional rainbow is your only hope at wanting to stay in this life – the only thing reminding you that it can be beautiful.

My depression has led to suicidal thoughts and actions. I was generally sad. I hated my mental and physical states and who I had become. My life, as it seemed to most people though, was a good life. Good guy, good health, good job, good friends, good family. Everything was fine. But I could never seem to see that. To me, the negatives outweighed the positives in all aspects. I was a whirlwind of hate, anger, self-harm, and sadness, believing that this world would be a better place if I could drown myself in the ocean and never be found.

That was my goal. On Thanksgiving of 2013. I was going to swim as far as I could, out into the sea. Far enough that I could not have the strength or willpower to swim back to land. Hoping I would eventually go delusional from hypothermia, my chest cavity churning with salt water. My mind and body would go numb and I’d sink to ocean’s floor where no one would find me. That’s what I thought I needed to make me feel at ease again. To feel whole.

I was stopped though, as thunder rolled in. One last voicemail that I would listen to before I made my attempt to swim out into the freezing waters of the Atlantic. The words that someone said to me still ring in my head. That night, I listened to those words again and again, repeating the voicemail over and over. The syllables silenced the provoking sounds of the waves crashing on the cold, hard sand, as I sat, ready to end this once and for all. As I contemplated my fate, those three words stuck, and the pain slowly drifted out to sea. The storm ended and this time the rainbow came.
Love conquers all.

Thank you,
Chase