3 Years

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

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)

MHAM Post #17: Someone I’m Lucky to Know

Sometimes you meet people that positively impact you when you’re least expecting it. That’s how I feel about the writer of this piece. 

When we first met, it felt easy from the start to share intimate details about each other. I told her about my family, and my fears, and my aspirations as if I had known her for years. 

When she told me that she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I actually felt more comfortable talking to her. Is that weird? For those of you who don’t know, my dad also has Borderline Personality Disorder. 

Getting to know this writer, in turn, helped me get to know my dad and for that I can’t thank her enough. 

Needless to say, her words are cool AF and I’m very lucky to share them here: 

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder is not beautiful.
Every day, it is fighting a battle every that I’m not sure I’m ever going to win.

Rewind seven years ago to when I was age 15. When I was first diagnosed. I was in a relationship with a male who physically and mentally abused me. One broken arm, scratched cornea, and a couple hospital visits later – I felt that I deserved it. I apologized for his mistakes, like the 6 times that he cheated on me. However, I was cheating on him as well… with multiple people both men and women. Living with borderline personality disorder is living with unstable relationships including the relationship that you have
with yourself.

For 8 years, I self-harmed. Attempting and thinking about suicide occurred very frequently. I felt that this was “normal” and when someone tried to tell me otherwise… it did not end well. My temper was out of control – one minute I would be cheerful and then the next, for whatever reason, I would be punching holes in walls and screaming things that never made
any sense. I have lost many friends due to my mental illness. Looking back on it now, I can understand why. I wasn’t a good friend and I wouldn’t have wanted to be my friend either. I was using the people around me for my own selfish reasons and I didn’t care. I was manipulating every single person in my life. When I was a senior in high school, one of my better friends committed suicide. As usual, no one saw it coming. I remember getting the news and feeling my heart break for the first time. This was a sadness I didn’t recognize. Being in a major depressive state was a constant in my life, but when this happened – it
was a sadness mixed with jealousy and confusion. I did not attend school for roughly 2 weeks after that. I wasn’t able to move. I remember my mom lied to my school and told them I was absent because I had mono. It was easier than explaining to them that I have BPD.

One of the biggest things that I personally face with BPD is dissociation. When I’m faced with certain situations in my life that trigger me to feel sad or nervous, I pretend like they don’t exist. I literally stop feeling and thinking about things entirely. I can’t control this and in turn, it has caused me to have an awful memory of even the good things that have
happened in my life. After I come out of a dissociative state, I often feel like I’ve grown into new skin. When I dissociate I leave everything about my life behind. I don’t talk to my friends, family, and I don’t leave my house. I don’t do anything. I’m just there physically but not mentally. Though my BPD is not as bad now as it used to be, every now and then I will dissociate. This has caused tremendous frustration with my college friends and it’s taken a lot of time to explain to them why I do this in order to help them better understand. If
there is one thing I have learned, it’s that BPD is a very confusing disease. You can never genuinely understand it unless you’re living with it. My family has supported me as best they can. However, I have an older brother who suffers from Bipolar 1 Disorder. He is also a heroin addict. Their focus has more so been on helping him throughout my life and in a twisted way, it’s actually helped me understand myself better.

College was my turning point. Freshman year I wasn’t necessarily in a good place because I didn’t have any friends and I dissociated a lot. Sophomore year, I decided to be an RA. I gained all these amazing and positive new people in my life. I also got into the nursing program at school because I realized that I wanted to help adolescents with mental illness. I wanted to be that person who was there for someone who felt alone – I wanted to help them understand that they are never alone no matte how alone they feel. Although I don’t know how it feels to be them, I want to try and understand. I know all too well how it feels to be misunderstood constantly. Junior year I was doing well. I stopped cutting and I dumped my loser abusive boyfriend (woohoo!) I had friends, true and genuine friends, for the first time in my entire life. I felt like I belonged somewhere. I fell in love with a woman. For the first time, I was in love…. and then senior year had its ups and downs. I got broken up with. That sent me into a depressive dissociative state. I started fucking around with a lot of people. Drinking too much. Almost… almost self-harmed again. I got to a really low point. Then I realized something: I have come so far since the beginning. I just recently graduated with my BSN in nursing. I have grown tremendously since I was that out of control 15-year-old girl. When I was at a low point… I wrote a poem:

That Unlovable Girl
I wonder when I will stop being “that girl”
That girl who had the bones in her wrists
severed by a boy with a thick temper
That girl who is into girls
That girl who is into guys
That girl who only fucks guys
That girl who is there,
palms open, ready to feed your loneliness
That girl who you have no intention of keeping,
but you still kiss her goodbye
That girl who fucked you as hard as she hated herself
That girl who swam on her back
through your bloodstream and decided to call it home

 “A day will come” my mother sighs,
“when you will find someone who knows how to love you”
That girl wonders how they know this,
where did they learn how to love her
Who taught them how to stitch every broken
piece of diamond back together
Where did they learn to dance with the chaos
that fills her raging and empathetic heart
Her quick wit and swollen fist full of apologies
“I promise you,” my mother says,
“every atom in your being will be enough.”

 My BPD has often caused me to feel unlovable. But I know that the only person who believes I am unlovable is myself. I now know that I am stronger than my mental illness. I will have days that totally suck, but I’m alive. Through everything, I am still fucking alive. My journey is to be cherished. Dark days are only dark if you believe they have to be. Paint your own fucking picture, write your own story, and know that whatever society tells
you is “wrong” with you – only makes you a whole lot brighter. Mental illness needs to be talked about more and the stigma needs to be broken. We are all compromised and we all have our own shit. I would be terribly boring without my mental illness. Who knows, I might wake up tomorrow and have a really shitty day; I might fall into a spiral. That’s okay though. I know the future is out here. 

http://www.bpdworld.org/helplines/usa-helplines.html