Over a decade ago, a guy I was dating raped me. I feel dirty just typing that, but there it is. For the longest time, I didn’t even remember the event, but it kept assaulting me from the depths of subconsciousness. It wasn’t until November 2015 that I finally started dealing with this and other traumas in both therapy and writing.
It was harder than I’d even imagined it would be. Basically, I spent months reliving every trauma I’d experienced—all at once. It was hell. While awake, I’d combat flashback after flashback. At night, I had disturbing nightmares.
But I got through it.
Then, several months ago, the piece of shit who raped me friend requested me on Facebook. After years of neither seeing nor speaking to this person, he suddenly thought it was appropriate to contact me. Never mind that he’d raped me or that we had a slew of other issues in our trainwreck of a relationship; the damage he’d done was extensive, the list exhausting. This person had been warned repeatedly years ago by myself and others to stay the fuck away from me, yet keeps trying to force his way back into my life every so often.
When I saw the friend request, I panicked. Full anxiety attack with hyperventilation and flashbacks and everything. I also went a little berserk.
Facebook and other social media are a digital part of my business and life, but they’re also a safe space. They’re the places with which my voice is amplified, places where I share my writings and feel strong, secure, and safe. In that moment, though, I no longer felt safe or in control. If he’d been able to find me on Facebook—when I’d made my privacy settings more secure than Fort Knox—he could find me anywhere.
Even at my home.
It all had to go, I realized. I had to scrub myself from the internet. Before I could fully think through what I was doing, I started deleting Facebook friends. There was no rhyme or reason to it; I just went into my friends list and started manually deleting people, one by one—people I’ve known for years, family members, readers. As I scrolled through my friends, mindlessly going through the “remove friend” process over and over, I started thinking about how to go about getting rid of Instagram, Twitter, my blog, my website.
And then it dawned on me: Was I really going to upend my entire career over this person? Yes, he’d hurt me—hurt me in so many more ways than I can ever express to anyone, taken from me not only my sense of safety but also three years of my life that I could have spent much happier. But I’d been healing. I’d grown strong. I’d found my voice and faced all of that pain head on. Was I going to let him undo all of that progress and send me burrowing deep down into myself again? Was I going to let him hurt me once more?
I stepped away from the computer.
Months later, I’m still dealing with the consequences of that day. Since then, I blocked him from my personal profile and business page, and opened up my personal profile to be public. Where I previously refused to add people I didn’t know well, my profile is as open as it can possibly be to my readers and colleagues. Still, I deleted a lot of people.
I tried re-adding as many people as possible, but 1) I had a lot of friends before my little spree and 2) the weird behavior confused a lot of people. One day we were friends, then we weren’t, and then they got a new request from me. There are a lot of scammers out there, so I totally understand people’s wariness, and I feel bad for confusing anyone.
Mostly, though, I’m proud of the progress I made after my initial panic. While I blocked this scumbag, I searched for and blocked the other guy who’d raped me a year later. In a way, it was sort of like typing the final sentence in a chapter.
I’m no longer afraid of these men. When I used to imagine running into them, I saw myself running away or freezing completely. Now I see these scenarios ending in one of two ways: me punching the shit out of someone, or me telling them to fuck off and stay away, and them walking away.
I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.
I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.
If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.
I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.
I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.
Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.
Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.
Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.
My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.
My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.
It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.
A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.
It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.
With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.
Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.
A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.
Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.
Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.
With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.
My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.
Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.
Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.
When that happened, I had to practice self-care.
When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.
For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.
I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.
Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.
My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.
The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.
So I took my time.
I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.
I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.
I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.
I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.
I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.
When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.
I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.
For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.
What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!
Up until November 2015, I had no idea that the events I’d experienced were considered traumas. In fact, I was so determined to believe that they were no big deal, I’d repressed them almost completely. Any time you bottle something up, though, it almost always explodes on you.
And explode it did.
It wasn’t until I started seeing Dina*—a trauma-certified therapist—in November 2015 that I realized the things I’d experienced were not only traumatic, but also the root of the depression and anxiety that I’d been fighting for the past 15 years.
Trauma is any event that shatters your sense of safety and what you thought you knew about the world. Trauma is subjective, meaning that what might be traumatic for me may not affect you the same way, and vice versa. Examples of trauma include:
being bullied as a child
becoming sick with chronic illness and/or pain
getting into a car accident
having your area hit by a severe storm
being sexually or physically assaulted
serving in a war
having a miscarriage
the death of a loved one
None of these examples are more or less traumatic. Everyone responds to stress in different ways.
For example, if you’re driving during a snowstorm and slide on ice, doing a complete 360° turn and nearly hitting a wall, you feel afraid. Your hands shake, your breathing and heart rate speed up, and your brain kickstarts the fight/flight/freeze response to help you get through the incident.
If you’re able to process the event—driving, snowstorm, icy roads under snow, spun, stopped before hitting the wall—you’ll realize you’re safe and your brain will shut off the fight/flight/freeze response.
If you’re not able to process our example event, though, you may start having nightmares about the incident (re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks). You refrain from driving yourself anywhere whenever it snows (avoidance symptoms). You snap at the people around you for seemingly no reason and have a hard time sleeping (arousal and reactivity symptoms). You may even completely forget that you nearly hit a wall while driving in the snow, but still believe that you’re a terrible driver when it snows (cognition and mood symptoms).
For years, all of these things were happening to me, and I had no idea why. I experienced recurring episodes of severe depression and anxiety. I saw nearly a dozen mental health professionals, who repeatedly misdiagnosed me. Many of them asked questions about my past, such as “Have you ever been raped?” But none of them ever mentioned that my past traumas could be causing my present symptoms.
I tried medication after medication—all of which affected me adversely, either intensifying my depression and anxiety or causing unusual side effects. One antidepressant, Viibryd, caused waking dreams, extremely vivid nightmares, and severe anxiety and depression. Still neither my therapist at the time nor the APRN who was prescribing me the medication ever realized that my problem was not chemical, which explained why antidepressants were not helping.
I hit my lowest point in October 2015 when, against my will, I was hospitalized under a physician’s certificate.
My APRN had recently taken me off one of my antidepressants, Wellbutrin, without weaning me, and I had a really hard time coming off them due to rapid withdrawal. Within days, I become barely recognizable.
I’d walk into a room and, unable to move, burst into uncontrollable tears.
I kept having weird thoughts that were not my own, like “I wonder what would happen if I filled the tub, got in, and then threw a toaster in with me? Wait. Where the hell did that come from?!” The thoughts freaked me out, because I did not want to die.
I wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or shower and I spent every day on the couch watching TV shows and movies that I later wouldn’t remember.
It was absolutely terrifying, because I knew this wasn’t like my usual depression and anxiety.
I told Grace* (the therapist I was seeing at the time), and she told me there was nothing more she could do for me. I also told the APRN who prescribed the medication, and he decided I should also come off Abilify, the other antidepressant I was taking. When I asked if I should wean off, he insisted that I should be fine.
I just wanted to check in real quick, as I’m unplugged and practicing self-care, but couldn’t stop thinking of all of you. I sat down and made a video offering love and support, as well as some self-care tips. It’s 20 minutes long, so if you don’t have the time or focus, I’ve included all of the information in this post.
Self-care is the most important thing you can do right now. It’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Don’t let anyone minimize your feelings.
Rest if you can. I know we all have responsibilities and it may not be possible to take a mental health day, but rest whenever and wherever you can. Do whatever you need to lighten your load.
Drink plenty of water. I’m sure many of us could use a drink, but please don’t make yourself sick. Hydrate your beautiful body. I highly recommend ice water to help ease anxiety.
Do something nice for yourself. Even if you simply make yourself a cup of tea, treat yourself. Wear your favorite fragrance or snuggle under a soft blanket with your favorite movie. Give yourself love.
Create—even if it’s “just” coloring. You can find tons of free printable coloring pages on Google. If you’re up to it, draw or paint or write or make music. If not, write in a journal—get those feelings out and onto the page.
Make a safe space for yourself. Unplug from the internet and news if it’s aggravating your anxiety. Disconnect from relationships that may be painful right now, even if only temporarily. You have every right to choose who and what comes into your circle—especially today.
Reach out to your trusted tribe. Talk with friends and family who make you feel safe, who you know you can trust. Stay connected with people who understand and respect how you’re feeling.
And, when you can, please reach out to marginalized people who are affected by this, including but not limited to: your friends of color; disabled friends; Muslim, Jewish, and other non-Christian friends; women friends; survivors of sexual assault; queer friends; anyone else who is currently hurting.
Taking care of ourselves, then coming together and supporting each other, is the best thing we can do right now.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The NYC Samaritans 24-Hr Crisis Support: 212-673-3000
Crisis Text Line: TEXT “GO” TO 741741
PLACES YOU CAN MESSAGE ME:
Please just be aware that I’m unplugged, checking in when I can and practicing my own self-care. But my inboxes are open to you and are a safe place where you can share your feelings with me.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (or use this form)
For quite some time, I had a hard and fast rule: no social media on weekends. Over time I started bending it. After all, my life doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays, and I enjoy sharing it (especially on Twitter). I still try to hop on as little as possible, using my time to just recharge. But this weekend, I needed a cold turkey cleanse.
I completely unplugged from both Twitter and Facebook—a feat that required gargantuan effort. Actually, Friday night I hopped on several times “just to see.” What I was trying to see, I don’t exactly know. Truthfully it was my way of getting another fix. I didn’t cut myself off from Instagram and Pinterest, but I used them only minimally. Mostly I relaxed.
On Saturday, I slept in until 2:30pm. My friends with children are glaring so hard at me right now, but in my defense I hadn’t slept Thursday night, and I’ve been fighting off flareup fatigue while juggling anxiety attacks. I desperately needed the rest—even if I woke up somewhat panicked because more than half the day was already gone.
Sometimes, you just need quiet time.
Because the last couple of weeks had been full of panic attacks, I really needed to calm my mind. Thankfully, my old therapist E gave me some really great tools. I used eucalyptus essential oil to combat my three-day tension migraine. If you put some on your chest, the back of your neck, your forehead, and temples, it really helps sooth the pain.
I also binged The Fosters. If you haven’t caught this show, you need to. Going in, I thought it was going to be a lighthearted family show. And for the most part, it is; no matter what happens, you know the Adams-Foster family goes to sleep with love in their hearts. But damn, do they tackle some heavy stuff. They do it in such a way, though, that you can’t help but feel good (even after they’ve played with your emotions and made you cry). I love the healthy relationships and choices they portray. No matter how hard things get, there’s always a chance for these characters to move forward. And the fact that this show is so pro-LGBT+ makes it even more of a winner.
In between episodes, Mike and I started Luke Cage, which is like a billion times better than those other Marvel shows. *cough* Daredevil *cough* Jessica Jones *cough* I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who doesn’t dig those shows. I tried really hard to like Daredevil, but I couldn’t even get through one episode of Jessica Jones. However, Luke Cage is kick-ass. Maybe it’s because Mike Colter is oh-so-damn handsome. Or maybe it just took some time for the team behind these shows to really hit their stride. But the acting, pace, story, and characters are just phenomenal. We’ve only been able to watch one episode a night, and I’m dying for more.
Side note: I recognized Colter from Ringer and The Following right away. I was super excited, because I loved him on those shows. He’s such an awesome actor. And did I mention how gorgeous he is? 😍
We also went grocery shopping, which ended up a bit more of an adventure than intended because we ran out of money before we could finish. Starving artist problems, sigh. I’m so looking forward to the day when we don’t have to worry about these things. But we have enough to get us through the next couple of weeks, and that’s all that matters.
On Sunday, I spent the entire day binging The Fosters and working on a project I’d thought I’d completely abandoned. Back in 2007 when I was in college, I took a crafts class as an elective. It was a difficult course because it was very hands on, and that was around the time when my arthritis first started. I had to get a doctor’s note to skip certain projects because they put too much strain on my wrists, and it broke my heart. However, there was one activity that I really fell in love with: embroidery.
Even after the semester ended, I continued playing with it, learning new stitches and working at my own pace. Though it is hard on my hands, I’ve found that using a hoop really helps. Frequent breaks, too. 😉 I’d started a project in 2012-ish, recreating leaves placemats that I’d seen in the Kohl’s store I worked in at the time. They weren’t even that pretty, and the store had jacked the price way up. I thought to myself, I can totally make those, and started… but never finished.
In fact, when I picked it back up again this weekend, I realized I’d made even less progress than I’d thought. I was able to finish my first one, though, and nearly completed a second. By the time I went to bed last night, I was so relaxed, I dropped off to sleep almost right away. And I didn’t even need the eucalyptus oil!
This weekend I also got to spend a little much needed time with my sister-in-law. We jammed out to this song on the radio, which I’d heard before but hadn’t caught the artist. Now I know and Kiiara is fantastic writing music. I just love how chill this song is, and her voice is angelic.
This weekend I learned something really cool about myself: No matter how hard things get, I’ll always work through them and move forward. In the past, my anxiety and depression have felt suffocating, like they would go on forever and ever. While my anxiety was pretty bad these last couple weeks, the key difference this time around was that I knew eventually it would pass—especially if I kept using my self-care tools. This time last year, I was so lost, but in the past twelve months I’ve grown in leaps and bounds. I’m a completely different person. I’m still me at my core, but I’m also stronger. More confident. Empowered, not ashamed.
In the quiet of my calm mind this weekend, I sat reflecting on all of this. It feels so good to be in this place, to be this version of me. Even though I still have my challenges to work though, I’ll always keep moving forward.
And when I need a break, I’ll keep making myself unplug, for fuck’s sake. 😉
September is Suicide Prevention Month, which dredges up a lot of complicated feelings in me. You may or may not know that I’m a survivor. Almost two years ago, I’d been on antidepressants that, as usual, had an adverse affect on me. I was so messed up, I was convinced that no one loved me, that my husband had abandoned me, and that I should just die. I was also grieving the loss of a dear friend, so I’m sure that didn’t help. None of those things were true—my husband was in fact baffled at my behavior and worried—but I couldn’t see through the dark clouds.
From the moment I woke up the next evening, confused but alive, I felt ashamed of what I’d done. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I felt stupid and I felt like a failure. It took another year before I finally came off all of the medication and was properly diagnosed with PTSD from multiple traumas throughout my life.
But that year in between was hell.
None of my doctors realized that the medications they were prescribing me were just making things worse. In fact, despite how awful I felt, they usually just increased the dosage or added a second or even third medication. I finally talked the psychiatric APRN I was seeing into discontinuing my medications. Through the haze of pharmaceuticals, depression, and anxiety, I could still hear my gut. And my gut was saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”
Unfortunately, for reasons that I will probably never understand or forgive, my APRN didn’t wean me off. We’d discussed how various psych meds always strongly affect me, and I even asked if I needed to wean. He said no, and within days I went into withdrawal.
I felt an infinite amount worse.
Almost immediately, I became completely unable to care for myself. I spent my days lying on the couch binge watching TV and movies I can barely even remember. I became a ghost woman, barely eating, not taking my arthritis medications, and rarely sleeping. Even my thoughts weren’t my own. They weren’t suicidal, per se—I didn’t want to hurt myself—but I kept thinking things like, “I wonder what’d happen if I filled the bathtub and tossed a toaster in? Wait. Why the fuck did I just think that? I don’t want to do that.”
It was frustrating because I’ve been suicidal in the past but it was my decision, if that makes sense. This was like a stranger had stepped into my brain and was pulling the strings.
I knew it was the medication.
Psych meds have what’s called a half-life—the time it takes for the substance to get completely out of your system. As you go through the half-life, if you don’t wean, you will start to have withdrawal symptoms. The medications I was taking happened to have a shorter half-life, which means they’re even harder to come off of.
Though I was still seeing a therapist and the APRN, neither of them thought to do something about this. I was on my own.
I tried to ride it out. I really did. I kept telling myself it’d get better, especially as each day passed. But there are really no words to describe how I felt. It was terrifying, like crawling through endless cotton-thick white mist. I had no concept of time, no desire to write, and it seemed like I’d never be myself again. I just wanted to get back to my life.
On a Tuesday evening, I made the decision to go to the ER. I did not feel suicidal but I knew I needed help coming off the psych meds. While I didn’t exactly want to try any other medications, I guess I thought the hospital staff would prescribe me something to ease the transition or at least refer me to a new doctor who could.
I was so wrong, and I deeply regret going.
The staff did not listen to me. I tried to be honest, briefly explaining my history and how psychiatric medication always seems to do the exact opposite for me. But instead of hearing “past medication made me attempt suicide,” I think all they heard was “past attempt at suicide.” I was signed in against my will and, no matter how hard my family, husband, and I tried to explain again, I ended up being held for a week.
During my first night there, I had to meet with a social worker who asked if I had ever been sexually assaulted. I told her I have, twice. Not an hour later, they parked a patient next to me who kept screaming about how he did not rape his girlfriend.
The whole experience was horrifying, and almost a year later I still have flashbacks.
But after I was finally released, I found a new therapist who was trauma certified. Between the drugs finally wearing off, her proper diagnosis, and the new techniques she taught me, I felt better within weeks. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t received the proper help that I needed. Maybe I would’ve started seeing a new provider and taking yet another medication that wouldn’t work; my mental illness has never been chemical, so there’s no chemical balance to readjust. Maybe that next medication would have been the one to finally kill me.
I’m not saying antidepressants, etc are all bad. They help a lot of people—many of whom are my own loved ones. But we over-prescribe them. Few providers know what to do with trauma patients, even though many of them are required to ask the same screening questions. And mental illness in general is so stigmatized, too many people just get brushed off. Hospitals have quotas to fill so they can make their monthly budget; affiliated and private providers are overbooked with too many patients.
We have to do better.
I don’t know how to patch the holes. All I know is writing, so all I can do is share my story and hope it inspires other people who do know what to do and have the power to make things better.
Putting these words out there used to terrify me. It still does, a little, and I’m not quite ready to share all the details. But in less than a year, thanks to my therapist’s help and quite a bit of independent work, I feel stronger than I ever have. Last week, I was able to let go of the past and stop letting one of the men who assaulted me continue hurting me. I was able to step out of that trauma cycle, stop obsessing over what happened, and walk through the door. I’ve closed it, and I feel fantastic. Free. I’ve got my magic back.
I just know that, someday, I’ll be able to let go of what happened to me last year. I’ll no longer feel uneasy at the very mention of a hospital. And I’ll keep getting stronger.
I’ll probably still have to deal with depression, anxiety, and flashbacks for the rest of my life, but not as intensely. The problem with multiple traumas is that it’s like ripping open a gash over and over. The original wound never heals, and just festers unless you get the right help. But I’m finally healing—mostly because I finally got the proper diagnosis and treatment. Now, when I have a flashback, I know to let it happen and remind myself that I’m in 2016 and I’m safe. When I have an anxiety attack, I know that it won’t last forever, that if I just breathe and ride it out, I’ll be okay. And I know that when I start to feel depressed, it’s time to ramp up my tools (journaling, yoga, meditation, essential oils, R&R, etc), and I know to always carefully balance my workload as a preventive measure so I don’t get overwhelmed and spiral out.
This isn’t the happy ending to a movie; my life is a work in progress. I’ll still have bad days or months or even years. But something tells me it will never be that bad again. I can’t even put into words how strong I feel, even when I’m down. I’m so much stronger than I ever was.
And even though a lot of that magic is mine, the spark started with Erica, my therapist who I may not see anymore but always think of and will be forever grateful to. If we had more Ericas in the world, maybe we wouldn’t need a suicide prevention month.
If you or someone you know might be in danger of hurting yourself, please call 911 for medical emergencies or Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or, if you prefer, text Crisis Text Line.
I am not a trained or licensed medical provider. I am just a woman who has been there. I can offer an ear but I cannot give you any medical advice. Please use the above resources to get professional help.
Recently I found out that the depression and anxiety I’ve been dealing with isn’t chemical, isn’t major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder, but is actually the result of multiple traumas—probably PTSD. And the more I learn about trauma and how it affects the brain, the more what my new therapist says makes perfect sense. All of this misery started fifteen years ago for me, directly after a majorly traumatic event. Since then, I’ve been through several other traumatic ordeals. I didn’t even think of them as traumas until long after they’d happened; for years, I thought of them as Things Not to Think About.
But the thing is, our brains remember these things whether we want to or not. These events become dark spots in our memory, resulting in behavior and feelings that make us think we’re crazy—especially if we’re not connecting them to those Things Not to Think About. This is why trauma is frequently misdiagnosed. Many mental health professionals know about trauma but aren’t trained enough to recognize the signs, to see where trauma has been confused for something else.
I spent years careening from professional to professional, pill to pill. None of it worked. A psychiatrist reasoned that this was because I have bipolar disorder when, in actuality, the problem wasn’t chemical at all. No wonder antidepressants weren’t working (or, more often, making me feel worse)! This same psychiatrist speculated that it must be bipolar, because I’m an artist and “lots of artists are bipolar.”
Our mental health system may help a lot of people, but it’s also a very flawed system.
Up until last month, my coping method for those Things Not to Think About was to avoid them like the fucking plague. I know now that this was how I tried to protect myself. Turns out, avoiding these things actually made me feel worse. I ran and ran, spiraling into depression and anxiety, sometimes feeling better but never for very long.
My new therapist is working very closely with me. She tells me that I need to accept the things that have happened. First, though, I have to face them. I have to acknowledge that they happened.
I’ve been in denial so long, I don’t know how to face these things. Even when I do, I gloss over them and try to make a joke. Laughter is my coping mechanism. I laugh at everything—nervous, awkward laughter. And by avoiding everything for so long, I’ve racked up a hefty amount of shame. I think our society often shames or even blames victims so much that when we become victims, we are afraid to even acknowledge to ourselves what happened. So many women don’t report sexual assault, for example, for multiple reasons. Fear. Inability to prove anything. Embarrassment. So these women remain silent, hoping that they can just put it behind them.
The crazy thing is, social workers and primary care physicians have started asking patients standard questions—”Have you ever been physically assaulted? Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”—and then, when the patient answers “Yes,” do nothing. They make a note of it and move on to the next question or to the flu that needs to be treated.
Our society is good at ignoring trauma. The military, for example, fails to treat many veterans who experienced horrific things while serving. I knew someone who, while in the Navy, had to gun down children. He never received treatment. Before he enlisted, he was a charming and handsome young man who laughed a lot. He came back very wrong, saying and doing things that were sometimes weird and other times frightening.
After Columbine, 9/11, and Sandy Hook, as a nation we barely took time to grieve. We’re so good at ignoring our pain.
All I want for Christmas this year is to get past those Things Not to Think About, but it could take months or even years before I recover. I’ve carried these things with me and avoided them for so long, it sometimes feels like an impossible task. In the safety of my own head, I can think about them for fleeting moments without panicking. If asked to talk about them, at best I can gloss over them quickly as if reading facts off a piece of paper. At worst, I shut down completely. Ideally, I’d like to be able to get to the point where I can write about them here, telling my story in an attempt to help others.
But that terrifies me, because then people will know.
It all comes back down to the shame.
There are things I’m afraid to talk about for many reasons, but what holds me back the most is the fear that people won’t believe me. There are a lot of people who have been worried about me, baffled by my increasingly odd behavior. I know I don’t owe them any explanation, but my soul cries to be understood. And I know I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.
But I want to come out of the dark. I want to help others who might be dealing with the same things. And I really, really want to save myself. Lately I’ve felt like I’m not really living, like I’m walking and talking but kind of a zombie. I’d really like to take my life back.
I think everyone deep down just wants to be understood.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I got out of the hospital. In those two weeks, I froze. I didn’t want to accept what had happened; I wanted to go back in time, smooth the ugly bump that blemished my sense of security and what I thought I knew about the world. I still do. If there was such a thing as a time machine, I would go back in a heartbeat. I would change it all.
But that’s the tricky thing about life. You can’t change the past. I’m learning that only by accepting it will you be set free—and that by accepting it, you are not condoning what happened. You are healing.
I’m working on that whole acceptance thing. As my girl Faith says, “Deal with it and move on.”
Turns out, there are a lot of things I need to confront. I’ve recently learned that my depression is probably not a chemical imbalance but a result of trauma—and avoidance. The more I learn about trauma, the more honest with myself I am, and the more I think about it, the more it all makes sense. My depression started when I was twelve, right after a major trauma. In the years that followed, I’ve been repeatedly misdiagnosed and, as a result, improperly treated.
But now, for the first time in fifteen years, I’m on the right path. It’s not an easy one. I’m learning to see myself as a victim of multiple traumas; I’m learning to stop blaming myself and practice radical acceptance. After spending the last fifteen years running from pain, it’s immensely difficult to face it head on. The last thing I want to do is think about any of these things. I actually physically feel sick.
Facing my demons and accepting the things that happened, though, happens to be the key to my recovery.
The other night, I dreamed that the zombie apocalypse unleashed itself and I was a bad-ass zombie slayer. In real life, if I saw a zombie, I would purposely give it a very wide berth. In my dream, though, I walked right up to those motherfuckers and annihilated them with a pair of kitchen scissors. Initially, I thought the dream was an anxiety dream. It scared me.
But in the hours after, I began to realize that this dream was actually me telling myself that I’m strong enough to face my real life demons head on. And, just like the everyday kitchen scissors that I used, the tools that I need are so common, they are actually already in my grasp.
I have depression. The kind that I have is cyclic and incurable, though they tell me that it’s treatable. A few months ago, I started feeling less motivated. I had been medication free for a little while after a really bad experience on Viibryd, but my therapist and I determined that it might be a good idea to get back on something. My APRN—who prescribes my psychiatric medication—agreed. So we started me on Abilify.
Within a couple of weeks, I was feeling productive again and less depressed. I felt more like myself. But a couple months later, I felt myself slipping into a downward spiral. So we added on Wellbutrin. And for a little while, it seemed like it was helping.
Until it wasn’t.
My APRN decided to take me off the Wellbutrin. And even though I’d been on the lowest dose, I crashed. Hard. For two weeks straight, I burst into tears at random. I completely stopped working. My self-esteem plummeted. All I wanted to do was sleep. I struggled against suicidal thoughts. I had wave after wave of panic attacks.
My mental healthcare team decided to take me off the Abilify as well. I’d been taking a moderately low dose, but my APRN told me that I didn’t need to wean off. I should’ve known better; I’m very, very sensitive to these meds. But honestly, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I stopped taking Abilify cold turkey.
My APRN and therapist talked me into trying another antidepressant, Effexor. I let the APRN call the prescription in to my pharmacy. I had every intention of giving it a shot.
Until I started feeling worse.
I had a terrible time coming off of Abilify. Though I no longer felt suicidal, I completely stopped caring about anything. Getting out of bed took monumental effort. I wandered through my days, exhausted. I cried all the time for no reason.
Antidepressants tend to have an adverse effect on me. When I was fifteen, Zoloft turned me into a zombie. Ten years later, Prozac made me suicidal. Viibryd almost killed me. Lately I’ve wondered more and more whether I have any business taking these drugs. I know they help some people. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t really know why these medications work. We don’t know much about the brain, and we know even less about mental illness. More and more, I’m wondering if putting these chemicals into my body is doing more harm than good.
After some thought, I’ve decided not to start Effexor. I want to give myself more time to heal from coming off of Wellbutrin and Abilify. These medications alter your brain chemistry; coming off of them throws things out of whack even more. As your body gets used to being without them, your brain chemistry changes yet again.
Honestly, I’m terrified to throw anything else into that mix. No matter how bad I’ve been feeling, I want to get better. I’m truly scared of what might happen if I try yet another antidepressant.
The past few weeks are a blur to me. I’m not writing anymore. I’m barely working at all. Deadlines are looming and part of me could care less while the other part is horrified that I’m so apathetic. Everyone I know is worried about me; I’m worried about myself.
I’ve hit rock bottom.
But I don’t plan on giving up.
I’m fighting for my life, one minute at a time. See, I want to live. I want to feel better. I want to be writing again.
And I will.
In the meantime, I need to heal—without pharmaceutical help.
I honestly am beginning to think that I have treatment-resistant depression. I’ve tried multiple medications from each class. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was fifteen. Yet nothing seems to help. I’m looking into alternative treatment options. I’m also considering getting another opinion on my diagnosis; in the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, yet more recently I was re-diagnosed with dysthymia. I’m wondering if I’ve been misdiagnosed. A social worker once told me that she thought I have bipolar disorder. It would explain the cycles I go through. If I’ve been incorrectly diagnosed, the proper diagnosis could unlock the key for treating my depression.
So that’s where I’ve been, why I’ve been so quiet, and partially why I’ve slowed down a lot. Like a bad cold, I’ve got to ride this out and take good care of myself in the meantime. And eventually, this will pass and I’ll be even stronger.
As the Buddhist saying goes, “This too.”
“I’m not giving up
I’m just giving in”
To me, this means to stop thrashing against it and instead, float for a little while, letting my mind, body, and spirit rest. This song perfectly explains that need to just let go.
That’s been my mantra these last few days. I’ve clung to it through this storm, repeating it to myself over and over.
Refresh. Reset. Renew.
I first heard those words years ago at the Connecticut Business Women’s Forum. They were the theme of the 2010 forum. I spent a lot of time emblazoning those words onto graphics, coding them into a website. The keynote speaker was Paula Abdul. I honestly can’t remember a single word that she said. But the other speaker, Jill Blashack Strahan, said something that has carried me through the last five years:
Start. Know where you’re going. Don’t stop.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that forum lately. Those words blew my then twenty-two-year-old mind. I think even then I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At the time, I was part of the team that designed and developed the 2010 BWF website. My days were filled with writing code. At night, I longed to be writing stories.
Jill Blashack Strahan’s words gave me the courage I needed back then to pursue my dream of being a writer.
Right now, I could use a double dose.
“Fear is the gatekeeper to strength.”
-Jill Blashack Strahan
The last eight years have ravaged me. Chronic pain, loss, and more loss. I’ve only just been skimming the surface, barely keeping my head above water. Lately, I’ve hit a wall. My depression has been at its worst in over ten years. I haven’t written in weeks. The medication I was on only made me worse. Honestly, I’ve wondered whether I would be better off dead.
Depression is a good liar.
I’ve been running scared for the last eight years, barely staying ahead of the ugly monster inside of my head. In the last two years, it’s worn me down. Today I am but a skeleton of a woman.
But not for long.
I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.
I’m working on making some changes.
For one, I’ve decided to give all of my work to my publishing house, to be re-released. This takes an enormous amount of pressure off of me. It’s also slightly terrifying, because in order to re-launch everything, I won’t be releasing anything new for a while.
I’ve also basically cancelled October. I had a lot of things lined up this month, but had to take a step back and evaluate my priorities.
And right now, getting better is my first concern.
I’m working on being less ashamed. I have a mental illness, but my depression is not me. My whole life, I’ve spent more energy on trying to appear normal than on getting better.
I’m also trying to be more present in my life. I’m always rushing to the next thing, running to the future. But I recently realized that if I keep going this way, I will end up looking back and not having truly relished any single moment in my life.
That’s no way to live.
If losing two of the people I love most has taught me anything, it’s to live life to the fullest.