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:
- I often compartmentalize this part of my life which makes vocalizing my experience complicated
- 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
- My relationship with my dad was very complicated prior to his arrest, which complicates the situation further
- There are people out there like me, even though according to the numbers I am part of the <1%
- My feelings and experiences are not entirely negative
- 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)
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.
It’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything. I have A LOT of things I want to write about, I just haven’t had a ton of time to dedicate to it, SO more to come on that.
But …….today I wanted to share July’s collage vlog! Very delayed I know….but without further ado, here’s what my friends and I did in July:
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/
The piece I am sharing today is written by the very talented, LJ. If you read my blog pretty frequently, you probably remember her post from Pride Month. Something about the way LJ writes is so captivating to me.
As you will soon read, her piece is about her stepdad and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I love the insight her story gives to this month’s topic. In my opinion, it’s easy to assume that suicidal thoughts have a direct correlation with mental illnesses like depression, but it’s easy to forget how many other factors can drive someone to want to take their own life as well.
The point of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is to share a variation of stories in an effort to shed light on such a taboo, stigmatized topic. This is LJ’s story.
As painful as it probably was for her to share these words, they are so important. More than 10 million people worldwide are currently living with Parkinson’s Disease. After doing some of my own research, I also learned that, although suicidal ideation is known to be a very serious issue in patients with Parkinson’s disease, there is a lot that is still unknown. Doctors are still trying to figure out a relationship between suicide, age, medical treatment and disease within patients with Parkinson’s.
Having said that, LJ captures his stepdad’s experiences, and how they impacted her family in her words below:
May 17, 2016.
If I had known on this day the events that would happen the next morning, I would have done things differently.
May 18th, 2016 at 8:39 am
I had just finished unpacking my work bag and was talking about my weekend plans with a coworker when I received a call from my mom.
Barely audible and between gasps of breath, my mom informed me that she had just found my step-dad, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
My step-dad’s name is Bob. He married my mom when I was ten. He is the love of her life and he seamlessly became another father figure for my brother and me.
A few years ago, Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. If you do not know, Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain – neurons. While many people associate Parkinson’s with shaky movements, not many realize that the disease also has a huge impact on mental health.
When I think about it now, I realize that I experienced the complete life cycle of Bob’s Parkinson’s. Before my very eyes, I watched this bubbly, adventurous, and energetic man transform into a mere shell of himself, full of anxiety and pain. Parkinson’s had won.
While learning about my step-dad’s suicide was devastating, what torments me still is the impact it’s had on my mom. Seeing the woman that has consistently been the force of strength in my life break down is heart-wrenching. Knowing that there is nothing I can do to fix it is debilitating.
A lot of people say that taking your own life is selfish, but I refuse to accept that dialogue. I know that my step-dad loved my mom more than anything in the world. He would have done anything in his power to ensure her happiness. Parkinson’s destroyed his mind and his will to live.
I strongly believe that if Parkinson’s stayed the fuck away from my family, things would have turned out differently. I wouldn’t be constantly wishing I had called home on May 17th 2016.
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:
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:
Another crazy busy day at work means another video as today’s post (sorrrrrry!). I think this video is extremely powerful though, and I think it’s a great sequel to yesterday’s post.
Although I feel very strongly that suicide is NOT selfish act, I do believe that it definitely has a wide-spread impact. Suicide has a way of affecting so many people in so many different ways.
Sometimes, with regards to death in general, I have this theory that some people do not allow themselves to accept that they’re struggling/grieving as much as they deserve. Does that make any sense? I think that because death is scary, yet common, yet simultaneously difficult to understand, we don’t always know how it’s supposed to affect us.
In reality, loss impacts each of us differently, and no one way is right or wrong. Because of this, we should accept that we each cope differently too. I don’t think there should be any shame in this. I also don’t think that we should expect the pain to go away at any specific point. Grieving takes time. In many senses, I don’t believe grieving really ever ends.
If you have lost a loved one and you want to talk about your feelings and your grief, I highly encourage you to. It can (and will) be extremely therapeutic and cathartic. If you are not comfortable sharing that part of you yet, don’t! You need to wait until you’re ready.
My only advice regarding this is to share how you’re feeling at some point, when you feel ready, whenever that may be. Like I said yesterday, there are people that understand what you’re going through. There are people that care and there are people that want to listen. Please don’t ever convince yourself that the way you are coping is incorrect, shameful, or unworthy of vocalizing. Your feelings are so beyond valid.
Loss is confusing and heartbreaking. It brings with it a mixed bag of emotions. Loss due to suicide, in some ways, is even more complicated. Please cut yourself some slack and just allow yourself to feel what you feel.