Confessions

Fall Has Fallen And So Have I.

Holy man. Been a rough ride, hasn’t it? This blog has shifted and changed so much from what I had first anticipated. What began as a place to tell stories about my life working in coffee shops turned into a chronicle of my ups and downs and major life changes.

I’m still barely hanging on right now. I fill my days with whatever distractions I can so I don’t have to face the reality that I’m down. Way down. And I know I need help (which yes, I also know I’ve said before). There’s been a major change at work, though, so that help is closer than ever before.

Before, my employer only offered $500/year for mental health services. I didn’t see the point in seeking help because there’s no way in hell $500 would be enough and I certainly can’t afford a therapist on my own. Beginning Oct. 1, that coverage is increasing to $5000/year. You read that right. $5000. They have quite literally saved my life, because if I have to continue the way I have been, I don’t know that I would make it to my 29th birthday. Janelle died over a year ago but the ripple effect of her choice to end her life is still affecting me in a big way.

I still withdraw from people when I’m like this. I can’t bear to see pity in people’s eyes when they look at me. I can’t stand knowing I’m no fun to be around because all I can do is sit there staring into space. Most of us put on a show when we’re at work or out in public because we have to, but when I’m at home it’s a totally different story.

I had my first major panic attack a couple weeks ago. I was at work, everything was fine, and suddenly my hands started shaking hard. I felt like there were millions of bubbles inside my body and if I stopped moving they would all pop and kill me. I have plenty of tiny panic attacks at work and usually I just keep my head down and clean like a maniac until that bubble feeling passes. This time was VERY different.

I went to the back to pull some pastries from the freezer and started sobbing. I mean full-on sobbing to the point I couldn’t catch my breath. A coworker sat with me and tried to calm me down but I couldn’t get my breathing back to normal and I couldn’t stop the tears. I ended up being sent home, where I continued to be anxious for the next couple hours until I finally fell asleep. And since that day, I haven’t felt quite right. I’m angry. The slightest thing irritates me. That’s not the person I normally am, so this is weird.

I also found out some news that really upset me recently. There’s no reason it should’ve upset me, but it did. And I fixated on it. For some reason I felt like I was being cut out and fucked over but I knew if I said anything while I was feeling like that it would’ve come out completely wrong. So I’m still sitting here consumed by those emotions, because I don’t know how to articulate them without sounding like an asshole. I feel like the largest portions of my days are spent trying desperately to regulate my spiraling emotions but it’s a battle I’m beginning to lose.

September is almost over though. And then I can finally reach out and get some help. I can’t keep doing this. I’m so tired from the last couple of years. I should’ve known last October that it was getting worse because when I was hit by that car, I didn’t give a shit. I was honestly a little disappointed that I wasn’t hit harder. Because I want to be dead, but I’m too afraid to do it myself. It’s the same reason I still smoke and drink way too much caffeine. I’m a coward. It’s not bravery in the face of depression, it’s me being too chickenshit to do what Janelle did. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know I want to live. I just need help finding my way back to that path. I can’t wait to look back on this one day and barely be able to remember what it was like to feel so terrible. I want this to be a distant memory.

I was diagnosed when I was around 15-16. I stopped taking my meds shortly after I started them. I’m now nearly 29, which means I’ve been walking around in constant emotional pain for almost thirteen years, and I’m fucking tired of it. I have two solutions: death or therapy. Since the first option seems awfully permanent, I think I should go with the second option first.

So that’s my explanation as to why I abandoned this blog in July 2015. I just couldn’t do it anymore. The noise in my head got to be too much.

I’m back now. I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I’m going to do my best to be around to see it.

Confessions, Life

Coffee With My Teenage Self.

For most people, she’s hard to spot across the crowded cafe, having spent years developing the skill of being invisible. Hooded sweatshirts and ill-fitting track pants, hair in a ponytail hidden by a black bandanna, she fidgets and sips at a hot chocolate, knowing full well the dairy isn’t going to agree with her.

I am considerably older, and recognize her immediately. As she waits, unaware of being observed, she chews on the inside of her lip — a nervous trait I happen to share. I feel the corners of my mouth twitch upward into a smile, and begin my approach.

“Hi,” I say gently. “May I sit with you?”

Confusion registers, then recognition and surprise. I sit and take a sip of my own drink — some lactose-free concoction expertly crafted by the barista. I know full well the repercussions of too much dairy and have learned to avoid it if I can. The girl in front of me takes a moment to look me over before speaking.

“Are you–“
“Yes,” I interrupt. “I’m you, ten years from now.”

We are silent for a moment, past and future huddled together in some sort of conspiratorial meeting, separated only by a round wooden table and several years. I have waited for this moment for quite some time. I know this 15-year-old girl from inside to out, I know her doubts and fears and self-hatred and self-harm and depression. I know her despair. I need to save her.

She looks at me, wide-eyed and silent, afraid to speak for fear of sounding stupid.

“I need you to do something for me,” I tell her. She automatically agrees, because that’s what she always does. She tells you exactly what you want to hear when you want to hear it, and she hardly ever follows through. “No, really,” I emphasize. “I need to you promise.”

“Okay, sure,” she says. “What is it?”

“What you’re planning to do… don’t do it. Don’t take away your chances of finding something better, of learning and growing and creating something wonderful for yourself. Don’t nullify your chance to go places you’ve never been and meet people who genuinely care about you. Don’t give up the fight just because it’s difficult and it hurts you in places you didn’t know you had. I know who you are. I know the champion that lurks inside you, the reserves of strength buried under decades of abuse and torment. You miss Daddy, I know you do, but there is no reason to rush off this earth to join him wherever he is. There’s plenty of time if you let yourself have it. You are worth it.”

She fights to swallow down the hope as it rises within her, to coat it in sarcasm and use it as a weapon against her future self. She struggles to hide the tears as they well up in her eyes, to kill any emotion before it has a chance to take root and grow inside her. She’s at war with her own feelings and will not stop until she’s so numb she has to take a razor or a steak knife to her skin to feel anything at all. And because I know this already, and have already fought the same battles, I know I can get through to her.

We speak in unison. “What’s the point? Nothing’s ever going to get better.”

I take her hand in mine and lean across the table to look into the same stormy grey eyes that have stared back at me from the mirror for the last twenty-five years. I see agony and a wall built so high and so tight that her heart is suffocating already. I know I’m just in time.

“It does get better,” I whisper. “You can retort and make jokes and pretend you think nothing matters, but I AM YOU so you’re not going to fool me and I’m not going to lie to you. Fight. Keep fighting. There are difficult years ahead but every single painful moment up to this point has been preparing you for this. You are hurting, you are tired, and I know you just want to lay down and disappear, but you can’t. You have to keep going, for me, for your family, and most of all, for yourself.

“There will come a day when there are people around you who are genuinely happy to see you. You’ll be able to get up in the morning and make yourself coffee in your own apartment. You’ll wash your dishes and your hair and those things will bring you joy because they’re so hard-won. You’ll have a partner who loves you, and your years of people-pleasing will give way to self-care, self-love, and generosity. The next ten years will be harder than you could ever imagine, but I need you to remember that you’ve been built to carry this. Everyone has a burden to carry, some much heavier than others, but nothing is beyond your ability to cope.

“When the time comes — and it will — and you find yourself standing at the kitchen sink with a knife in your hand and numbness in your heart, remember me. Remember my promises. Remember that it will get better for you and I’m living proof. Accept what happened to you, tell Mom about it and then let it go. Holding onto the past will poison your future. When you find yourself unsure, remember that although you might feel alone right now, the truth is that you’re not. One day you’ll feel connected and loved and worthy.”

As I finish, our eyes meet again. She finally allows her tears to spill over and begins to cry quietly as I fold her gently into my arms. I stroke her covered hair and let her sob into my shoulder. No one notices us although the cafe is full — we’ve spent years learning how to be invisible.

Life

In The Words Of Her Father.

It’s raining as I write this. The bad weather means my bottom left wisdom tooth is broadcasting aching weather warnings throughout my lower jaw and only cup after cup of herbal tea provides comfort.

I’m upset as I write this. Words locked inside my brain, unwilling or unable to come out, trapped inside the maelstrom in my mind.

I’m typically guilty of allowing myself to get wrapped up in the more negative aspects of life. I find time to appreciate the beautiful moments, but as a person prone to depressive episodes it’s hard for me to ignore the darker side sometimes.

I’m talking about Rehtaeh Parsons, a seventeen year old girl who was the apple of her father’s eye, a kind and giving soul, who committed suicide five days ago. She had been raped, and the justice system was failing her.

She couldn’t take any more.

I didn’t know her. She was an East Coast-er like me, hailing from Nova Scotia (I’m from Newfoundland, NS’ friendly neighbor). I heard about her a couple days ago and although I’ve been thinking about her, her situation, and the whole fucked up misogynistic patriarical rape culture slut shaming society in which we live for days, I’ve been unable to write about it.

I’m just too upset.

Rehtaeh’s story deserves to be told. Not just the bad stuff, the stuff about her rape and suicide. She was NOT what happened to her. She was so much more than that.

Her father wrote a piece for The Huffington Post, which I read while choking back tears.

I don’t think I could say it any better than her father, so I encourage you to click the link and read her father’s words.

Rehtaeh, you will be missed by more people than you ever knew.

My thoughts are with her family as they go through this. I hope they find peace, and I hope the pressure from the public forces Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister to do something about her attackers. Show them their behavior was a crime.

Punish them accordingly.

rehtaeh-parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons Was My Daughter – By Glen Canning
Justice for Rehtaeh – Sign the petition to reopen her case.

UPDATE: I just found out the RCMP is reopening Rehtaeh’s case. I hope her attackers will be brought to justice and we make sure no other cases like hers get swept under the rug ever again.

Confessions, Life

The Importance Of Speaking Up.

Have you seen this video? It’s one of the most important videos you’ll probably watch this year. It’s one of the most poignant ways anyone has tackled the issue of bullying, and it comes courtesy of Canada’s own spoken word poet Shane Koyczan.

I was scrolling through my Tumblr feed when I came across the link. I thought the image looked cool so I decided to watch it. It was about halfway through when I started sobbing uncontrollably. I’ve never been able to relate to something so quickly and completely. I’ve never felt like someone was telling my life story through their own words. I ugly-cried through the rest of the video, complete with snot and tear-tracks running down my face.

When I was done, I felt better.

I go through most of my days not thinking about the past. I spent so many of my teenage years obsessing about the horrible things that happened to me in my childhood that I basically refuse to acknowledge them now that I’m an adult. I’ve experienced clinical depression, been put on medication, I’ve had several mental breakdowns and spent a few days locked in a youth psychiatric ward. Don’t let the “youth” part fool you — the gigantic metal door separating the ward from the rest of the hospital was nothing to be trifled with.

Let me take you back to the beginning. I was a little kid growing up in Newfoundland near the shores of the Atlantic ocean. I was a happy kid, content to read books and torment my little sister. True, my father was sick and battling his own demons as he fought with a debilitating addiction to prescription drugs, but I assumed everybody my age was dealing with the same situation. How was I to know I was wrong?

I was shy in school. I disliked being the centre of attention and for the most part people ignored me. I had a few friends and in spite of my lack of popularity, I was happy. One day I invited over a girl from school and we were playing with a cheap little plastic bowling set, setting up the pins in the hallway and throwing the plastic ball at them with a level of chutzpah the world has never seen in non-competitive bowling. We were giggling and making noise, the way kids do, when my father came out of his bedroom. He was coming down off something and we were making far too much noise for him to sleep. He went off like a cannon, kicking the pins and sending them scattering, and chasing us down the hallway.

The girl ran home and told her parents. I became a social pariah soon after.

Inevitably, my father’s self-destructive behavior became too much for my mother to handle. I had near-constant ear infections when I was little and my sister would often be left at home alone with my father during my frequent trips to the hospital. One night we returned home to find my dad asleep in his room and Ashley alone in the kitchen with the deep fryer turned on and forgotten.

I believe that became one of the final straws.

We had to move. My mom had no job and couldn’t afford to find us a place, so we went to live with family members. It was around this time I started being molested. It might come as a shock to anyone from my family who happens to read this, but it’s true. I don’t remember how long it went on, but I do remember it happened frequently and repeatedly up until the time we moved to our own house. I never told my mother or brought it up, I buried it somewhere deep inside and coped by binge eating.

My weight became a source of bullying as soon as I went to my new school. Immediately I realized I was different than the other kids. In fact, I can remember the first time I realized I was heavier than the other kids. I was walking down the hallway on my first day at Coley’s Point Primary and I heard one of the kids say to another, “Look, she’s so fat.” I was the only kid in the hallway, so I knew it was me.

Not only was that the first day I became self-aware, it’s also the first day I became self-conscious.

The years passed by and I retreated further into myself. I read books during recess to pretend I didn’t care about having no friends. I excluded myself from activities before others would have a chance to exclude me. I managed to make myself nearly invisible, to the point where my high school teachers didn’t even realize I was in their classes. I hid in the library or the bathroom during lunch.

At sixteen, I finally snapped.

I had been acting out for months, and my mother was stressed to the max. I had laid down in the street screaming I wanted to die, I had attempted to jump from a moving vehicle, I hardly ever left my bed and had completely stopped attending school. I even refused to shower for months, and I smelled so bad that no one would even sit near me at school on the days I was forced to attend. One night, as I cried at the dinner table, my mother grabbed me by the shoulders and begged me to tell her what was wrong.

I confessed the secret I’d been holding inside for nearly ten years, and we cried together. I’d like to say that’s when things started getting better, but they didn’t. I was still depressed, even more so when I realized how much guilt my mother felt for not having been aware of the abuse. One night my sister came home to find me cutting my wrist with a steak knife and I was subsequently admitted to the psych ward.

I stand here now with so many memories of fat jokes and friendless years, nights spent crying and wondering what I had done to deserve this. As a teenager, I was so convinced I wanted to die. I couldn’t handle life if this was how it was going to be. But my mom stood by me and asked me to just hang in there. She promised me it would get better. At times, I can’t believe ten years have passed since the moment I told her the truth. At times, I can’t believe I’m still alive.

It’s still hard. My early twenties were a haze of drugs and self-harm. I had a lot of sex with near-strangers in an attempt to prove to myself I was normal. As I spiraled out of control, I looked for something, anything, to hold on to. I wrote songs and sang and read books, I wrote poetry and made art and tried desperately to heal.

But healing isn’t built on shaky ground.

One year ago, I fell apart again. I had worked hard to build friendships and a relationship, but my friendships didn’t last and my relationship was abusive. I had lost myself in a sea of experimentation and had managed to frighten my sister into avoiding me during my drug-fueled rants. My rock bottom came the night my boyfriend smashed the shit out of me. It was from that dirt that my flower began to grow.

The soil was formed by years of abuse and degradation, fertilized by self-hatred, starvation and self-harm. But the flower that bloomed there was beautiful. I remember staring at myself in the mirror one night after taking a razor across my left arm. My eyes were puffy and bloodshot with dark circles underneath, the corners of my mouth turned down, but inside the stormy grey of my own eyes, I saw determination. I saw the truth of who I am and who I was always meant to be. Losing weight didn’t make me happy, sucking dicks didn’t make me happy — happiness and confidence had to come from somewhere inside me and that night I saw the sparks that would flicker into a flame.

The road to here was far from easy. I had so much emotional scar tissue left over from false healing and repeated injury that I had to go back to the beginning to rebuild. I had to cut certain toxic people from my life, and although I did reestablish contact with my boyfriend, I did it on my own terms from the safety of my mother’s apartment. She let me come back to her to begin my process of healing. She took care of me as I tried to take care of myself. In essence, she saved me. I write this now from my own apartment. I work my full time job and pay for this place myself. I’m largely solitary but that’s mostly by choice and I am no longer bullied. I do behavior checks when I feel myself starting to slip and have learned a lot about not only loving myself, but forgiving myself as well. If I make a mistake or eat too much or neglect my laundry for one day, I don’t spend the next day berating myself for being human. That’s taken me a long time to learn.

I have good days and bad days, when the mental demons pop up to let me know they’re not quite gone yet, but I accept these things as an aspect of my personality rather than the whole. Every day takes work, but I’m winning each battle as it comes. This war is my life, and I intend to win it.

I’ve even managed to forgive my abuser. Forgive in the sense of “I’ve let it go, it doesn’t bother me anymore, and I can talk about it to shed light on the damage it does and the importance of speaking up.”

Even now, someone is being bullied somewhere. Someone whose life is a constant uphill battle is being told they’re not worth anything, that their suffering is deserved. Right now, someone is being molested or raped or berated or beaten and they’re being told their lives aren’t worth the ground they walk on. Videos, poems, songs, ART like “To This Day” are so important because not only do they offer hope to the people in the middle of a constant battle for their humanity, they offer a real, personal experience to those causing the hurt in the first place. When you show a person how it feels to be the one crying on the ground, it’s harder for them to walk away and continue hurting people. This is why we need to speak up and share our personal stories — to offer hope for people to hang on to. To stop people from committing suicide when there’s a chance things will get better and a whole world of people who have suffered and are suffering and want to reach out and hold onto you when you’re losing your grip on sanity. There is ugliness in the world but the beauty inside people is so much more powerful.

All these feelings were brought up when I watched Mr. Koyczan’s video. A sense of community, of accomplishment, of shared struggle and the strength to overcome obstacles. They said I would never amount to much or be worth anything. They may say the same thing about you, but as it’s said in the video,

THEY WERE WRONG.

Let’s show them just how wrong they were by living beautiful lives of our own design.

Featured image: My mother and I. She truly saved my life.