The Companion I Never Wanted – PTSD

Hello all. Buckle in because this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Or, you know, get out of this caboose before we get going.

I’m about to talk about my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

So here are some warnings: If you are a relative and this isn’t how you want to hear my story, stop reading. Especially you and you, little sisters. Yes, I’m talking to you.

Also, trigger warning: Childhood trauma. If you are super sensitive and you don’t want to hear about this sort of uncomfortable thing today, just stop reading.

RIGHT HERE: IF YOU WANT TO HEAR THE STORY FROM MY OWN MOUTH, OR IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, STOP HERE.

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One last disclaimer: I want to make sure that you guys aren’t going to go on a witch hunt for things of the past. What happened happened and it is gone now. Don’t try to ruin the lives of people who may have been involved and who have turned their lives around. And even though I was a child at the time, I don’t want you to think that my family had anything to do with this: They had no idea what was going on. K, thanks.

All right. Let’s do this.

I was sexually assaulted when I was seven years old. It wasn’t rape or molestation, so it could have been worse. Assault can still be very traumatizing though, especially if you’re too young to understand what’s happening. A young man took me into a room, laid on top of me, and kissed me, sticking his tongue into my mouth. Apparently this is normal behavior…IF YOU’RE AN ADULT. I was too young to understand what he was doing. I hated it, though. It made me uncomfortable, disgusted me, and scared me. I pulled back, he tried it again, and I pushed him off and went and washed my mouth out.

He was a teen and had a lot of issues. I want to make it clear right now that he has since changed. His life and his choices have improved so, SO much. It’s an amazing thing for me to see what the atonement and Christ have done for him, his heart, and his life.

At the time though, he was really messed up. He was struggling with an addiction to pornography at the time, I believe, as well as other things, and mental illnesses. I was just seven, and had no comprehension of anything sexual at all.

Plus, apparently I’ve always been asexual, which I’ll explain in more detail later or in another post, but which basically means that I don’t experience sexual attraction. Hi.

So with my very limited understanding of such things, I tried to tell one of my older brothers that I thought this dude had a crush on me. My brother was like, “No…he doesn’t! Why would you think that?!” I told him what happened, he said no way…and then went and asked the guy about what I had said happened.

He denied it, of course, and was fuming. I could tell. This was someone who was in my life practically all the time, and now I was terrified. I managed to avoid him for a little bit, but then he caught me on a sofa, pushed his fists into the cushions on either side of my head, and whispered, “I only did it because you rough house with us.”

Which, of course, made zero sense then and still doesn’t. I mean, yes, I was a bit of a tomboy and I would fight with anyone and everyone (still do, actually), but OBVIOUSLY that doesn’t give ANYONE license to touch or treat you in a way that you dislike or are uncomfortable with.

Anyhow, it scared me so bad that I didn’t try to tell anyone again. I kept it to myself.

I was only assaulted once, but there were a few other times that I was genuinely scared it would happen again. I can’t remember if it was before or after I told my brother about him, but there were times when the guy would watch me play, or he’d take me to some workout equipment and try to get me to do things. Then there were times, often following these instances, when he would pick me up and try to carry me to a room. I learned how to evade capture, running once he put me down, or making myself impossible to keep a hold of. Tip: Curling up in a ball doesn’t help; you’re still easy to carry. However, straightening your body like a board is VERY helpful and makes it extremely difficult for someone to hold you, even if you are just tiny: I think it’s something about balance.

Terrifying.

Anyway, eventually it stopped happening, and I put it from my mind and went on with my little life.

Until I was about eleven, that is. See, that was when I began to have some little comprehension about sensuality and sexuality, and started to realize that what had happened was really messed up. I started to learn that sexual sin was an abomination, and one of the worst sins that could be committed. Plus, I read a book called “Julie and the Wolves,” or something similar, which is a children’s book, but has an assault scene where Julie is attacked in essentially the same way I was, while the man says something about mating.

So the next conclusion my little brain made was that I had actually HAD sex (don’t worry, guys, I’ve since been educated).

This is when my PTSD actually started to develop. I thought I had committed an unforgivable and gross sexual sin; I thought I might get pregnant (although part of my brain knew that pregnancies only last nine months; fear is illogical); and the guy was still around.

I developed avoidance tendencies. I wouldn’t touch him, anything he owned, or anything he or his things touched. If I accidentally made eye contact with him, I wouldn’t blink again until I had made eye contact with someone else. I wouldn’t allow myself to be in a room alone with him, and would refuse to stand closer to him than I was to someone else. I thought it would show submission and that he would take it as license to assault me again. I was washing my hands CONSTANTLY, so much so that they would be raw and cracked and bleeding.

I kept looking down at my stomach and wondering if it would grow, and feared having to explain my sin to my parents and church leaders.

I got on my knees by my bedside every night, begging God to forgive me, even though I thought what I’d done was unforgivable. I thoroughly believed that I was damned.

This went on for months. I was afraid, and guilt-ridden, and angry. I contemplated suicide, but only briefly, realizing that it would hasten my return to God…and I lived in awful fear of His righteous judgment. I looked forward to the rest of my life and only saw darkness and pain. It never looked like it would be a long life, either.

It was hell. Living hell.

Don’t worry, though: It gets better.

The first inkling I had that things might eventually be bearable again was when I stood by my bedside, getting ready to say that hopeless prayer for redemption yet again. I thought to myself, “Why do I bother getting on my knees and praying every night, offering up this prayer for forgiveness, when I know I cannot be forgiven?” Why not give up? Why not just accept my damnation and allow my life to descend into darkness?

Thankfully, due to thinking I was damned, I’d been doing a lot of studying. I remembered reading 2 Nephi 32:8-9, which states that only an evil spirit teaches a man not to pray, as well as something I’d read in True to the Faith: that Heavenly Father always wants to hear from you, no matter what you’ve done.

I got on my knees anyway. I kept praying that hopeless prayer of a girl who thought she was going to hell. There was one night, after that same experience or not, I can’t remember, when I prayed to feel peace, and just for once, I felt hope.

This experience still ranks as one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I felt so much hope, and life, and light, and goodness, it was amazing. I “felt to sing the song of redeeming love,” and it was so, so beautiful.

It only lasted that one night, but it’s been a reminder to me of God’s mindfulness and love ever since.

I was still hanging on to a slim hope that maybe, someday, I could find redemption.

The December after I turned twelve, there was a ward youth temple trip. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when you turn twelve you can enter the temples to perform saving ordinances for those who have passed on, vicariously. In order to enter the temple, however, you have to have a temple recommend, and in order to have that, you need to talk to a priesthood leader who ensures your worthiness.

I thought I was going to hell, so naturally I didn’t plan on entering the house of the Lord. I was hoping that I would just slip through the cracks and go unnoticed, but one Sunday I was called out of Sunday School to meet with a councilor in the Bishopric. He was also the father of one of my friends, and in a wheelchair at the time, but that’s all beside the point. I went into the classroom where he was holding his interviews, sat down, feeling sick to my stomach, and he started to ask me the standard questions. I was clear, I was clear…things were going good. I might pass? What?!

And then he asked: “Is there anything in your past that should have been resolved with a priesthood leader, that wasn’t?”

Smack. Damnation.

I gulped out a yes, and was ready to confess right there, but he stopped me and said that I should talk to the Bishop about it. He suggested, kindly, that I talk to my parents first.

I don’t think he had any idea what was on my mind. I was considered a very naive and innocent girl for most of my life…still am, sometimes.

I left the room feeling lightheaded, returned to class distracted and confused. Weeks passed and nothing happened.

Two days after Christmas and the night before the temple trip, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Mom and one of my older brothers as they discussed his going on the temple trip the next day. Mom turned to me and asked, “Why aren’t you going?”

My stomach dropped. “I need to talk to you and Dad about something.”

…This is turning out to be a really long post, and it’s really heavy, so let’s have a picture break.

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I think I was four when that was taken.

Anyway, Mom grabbed Dad and we went back to their bedroom. I perched on the edge of their bed, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I felt awful. They waited, watching me. I blurted it out.

Oh, they were so shocked, so horrified. My poor parents. What a bomb to drop on them.

But let me tell you a thing, something that’s always stuck in my memory: The first thing I remember my Mom doing was taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eyes, and saying in a firm voice, “It was NOT. YOUR. FAULT.”

That was what I needed to hear! No, it didn’t cure me, but it did start to lift the weight of guilt I felt. I could believe that I could still be redeemed.

What followed was meetings with the Bishop, fairly frequently, so that he could check up on me. My parents tried to talk me out of my extreme paranoia, but I still remember one night when I dissolved into hysterics because the guy’s shoes touched my boots, which, of course, obviously meant that I could never, never wear those boots again.

It took a long time to beat those habits, to overcome those fears.

My parents had gone to the man immediately after I spoke with them. At first, he claimed to not remember what I said he’d done, but the next day he recalled it. After he talked to people who tried to help him, my parents had all of us meet together. I remember he cried. He wept, and said that he was so, so sorry.

Keep in mind that by this point, it had been five years. Something that had been so long ago to him was still plaguing every hour of my day, every day.

He said he was sorry, and eventually, after a long, awkward period where he cried and my parents were silent, I muttered a terse, “Okay.” I wasn’t ready to forgive yet.

We tried to move forward with our lives.

But now I’m going to break down for you the long term effects of my post-traumatic stress disorder.

From when I was almost twelve till about fifteen, I was afraid of dressing in a way that would pique sexual interest. Luckily, I had three older brothers who had a lot of old clothes. Que the cross-dressing tomboy. Yes, I would still wear girl’s shirts and dresses: But nothing even remotely form fitting; nothing cut to flatter my developing form; nothing low cut. Baggy t-shirts and my brothers’ cast off jeans were my go-to. I had absolutely NO interest in romance, and that lasted until I was at at least sixteen, maybe even seventeen, when I finally accepted that maybe guys weren’t an utter waste of my time after all.

Well, plus I’m asexual, so I still don’t get all jittery for handsome men. I mean, sure, you’re aesthetically put together in a manner that fits the modern, subjective standards of beauty, but that just doesn’t DO anything for me. I mean, cool, good for you?

More of that later.

See, the fear of male interest lasted for a really long time. When I was a teen, any guy who even remotely showed interest in me became an annoyance, especially if he didn’t even seem the type that I would associate with if he WASN’T interested in me.

I was eighteen and in college before I was asked on my first date, and good glory, what havoc that wreaked on my mind! This kid in my science class that I’d never spoken to before asked me out, and I was terrified. See, as an asexual, the idea of love or even interest at first sight is pure NONSENSE. You can’t claim to be truly interested in someone that you don’t even know.

Ergo, if someone is interested in you after just one meeting, it means they’re interested in your body.

I felt like a victim again. I felt endangered.

I went on the date, but made it a double date with my roommate and one of the guy’s friends. He tried to ask me out again, and I promptly stopped texting him back and totally ignored him.

This happened whenever someone asked me out. I would go on one date, which was terrifying enough, and then when he would express further interest I would lock the floodgates, throw away the key, and climb my tower.

My first experiences with dating coincided with my first major depressive episode. I started counseling shortly after, finally realizing that there was something very, very wrong with the function of my brain.

I can’t say it helped much at first.

I went through three psychologists during my four semesters at BYU-Idaho. The first I never got far with, mainly because of my extreme trust issues…I thought that if I was honest about everything I experienced and felt, I would be put in the hospital and my agency would be stripped away from me, “for my own safety.”

The second one was more helpful, especially with my anxiety.

It was the third one who made the biggest difference, though. He was the one who finally cracked the code.

I told him that I felt endangered and unsafe whenever a man showed even a little bit of interest in me, and he said, “You feel like that little girl again. But you’re not! You’re not a frightened, helpless little girl anymore! You are a grown woman.”

Boom. That was it. Any time a man showed interest in me, I reverted into that little girl, a victim, someone who didn’t know how to defend herself, and who was so, so frightened.

It’s still something I repeat to myself on the days when I start to slip into paranoia: You’re not a little girl anymore.

It’s oddly empowering.

The purpose of writing all of this is to explain the experience of PTSD, so I guess I might as well go ahead and delve into that phrase deeper: You’re not a little girl anymore.

You see, by the extension of reverting to thinking of myself as a child, all the men who showed interest in me became pedophiles. Because I was a girl, a child, in my subconscious, you know? It meant that as soon as a man asked me out or acted differently towards me, he became a creep, a disgusting degenerate. It meant that I felt he was trying to take advantage of my youth and helplessness…even though I had grown up.

You’re not a little girl anymore. It made so many things click into place.

I was nineteen when my counselor told me that, but I was twenty before I could handle being the object of interest with at least semi-calm, convincing myself that “being interested in me doesn’t make him a pervert.”

I was almost twenty-one before I went on a date that I actually wanted to go on.

I was twenty-one when I realized that I’d been assigning threat levels to all of the men I met, based on two criteria: social behaviors and physical fitness. Basically, “Does he seem like the person who might EVER take advantage of a woman?” and “Could I fight him off or run faster than him?” For a long time most guys were a five or six threat-level on a scale of 0-10. When I consciously realized what I was doing, I was able to start fighting this urge to size people up. I started getting mostly twos and threes on the scale. Some were ones. Some were .5s. Years before, I’d had FHE brothers who were only ones and twos. God bless those boys. But even my own blood brothers had threat levels.

I’m glad to report that most of the guys I associate with now I am perfectly comfortable with. I haven’t assigned threat levels to anyone in a good while. I’ve even dated a few guys…not that it ever went far, you know, with my whole emotionally phlegmatic and sexually uncomprehending personality.

Let’s have another picture break.

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This is me now. Rocking the platinum pixie and black leather jacket. Go me.

I’m twenty-two now. I can go on dates without feeling as if rape is imminent. I can flirt (poorly, though, it’s true) without thinking I’m setting myself up for assault. I can stand alone with a man without subconsciously plotting an escape route. I can enter a room where it is just the two of us without my heart rate instantly sky rocketing. I’m not afraid of being seen as submissive, and weak, and easy prey, even though I’m only 5’2″ and about 110 lbs.

(Plus, I know jiu-jitsu and am almost always carrying pepper spray AND a taser, so, you know, there’s that…)

And him, that teen who assaulted me fifteen years ago, he’s changed his life around. I was fourteen when I realized I could stand alone with him and feel fierce even though I was terrified, and I was fifteen when I began to realize he wasn’t a threat anymore. He told me about the girl he fell in love with after they broke up. When he was engaged he asked me, anxiously, if I thought he could be trusted to be around children and to be a father. I was sixteen. I said yes, and I told him I forgave him.

He’s married now to a strong woman. He’s a father to a beautiful child. When I see him, the things that happened so long ago are NEVER the first things to come to mind. I see him for who he is now, a good man, who, like everyone, has passed through darkness in his life.

The boy who hurt me so long ago no longer exists. He died when a broken heart came unto Jesus.

I can say that much, at least, that I have forgiven him and he has changed.

I don’t know if I’ll ever completely heal, though. I still have moments where I recoil, still seconds where I feel like that victim child again.

I’m a woman now. I can stand on my own two feet and tell a man to leave me alone. I can assert my agency.

***

This was a really heavy post, but I hope you guys made it through it all right. I’m okay, really! There was a time in my life that I wasn’t, when my PTSD ruled my actions, but that time isn’t now. I struggle with other mental illnesses, too, but you know, there’s sunshine between the showers.

For the injured: It may take a long time. It may take fifteen+ years. It may never entirely go away. BUT YOU WILL LIVE. YOU WILL CONTINUE ON, AND THERE WILL BE HAPPINESS AGAIN. Christ will carry you when you cannot walk.

For those who have injured others: You can find peace, too. The haunting sins don’t have to plague you forever. Offer them up at the altar, change, become a guardian of goodness.

I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it.

 

Gray Domain

I’ve basically decided that the video blog I’d started doing is over. I’ll stick to my normal blogging, since writing is my forte, after all. Maybe I’ll add a video blog now and then if I’m feeling particularly generous, but blog posts here on robinhoodwest don’t have a size limit that I’ve discovered, which is useful for when I have a lot to talk about.

Today, I want to talk to you about the gray zone. This is not only about my lack of emotion, but how depression makes me feel like an entirely different person than who I am when I’m healthy.

The healthier me is always doing things to move forward, always striving for the next improvement, always trying to be a better person and develop skills and talents and relationships. I’m logical. My brain is sharp. I work out and I run. I read new books and study new topics, without having to do so for a grade. I learn new skills, like knitting or jewelry-making. I experiment with writing styles. My mind pieces things together with electric intuition, sensing patterns, making connections, compiling the parts into a whole and appraising it in seconds.

The healthy me likes to go out and be with friends and other people, sensing their ability to enlighten my understanding of the human experience, knowing that I can assist them with my insights, and that I can learn from them as well. The healthy me likes to experience new and exciting things. She goes on hikes and to museums, zoos, and aquariums (if she has the money for those latter things).

She’ll read whole series of books in a week or so, and then find a new one to start on. On average, she’ll write 10 fresh pages of a novel every day.

She likes working, and does it well. Everything she sets out to do, she learns to excel at.

I’m not even being boastful. That’s how the other me is. The healthy me. She rocks. She goes out, and she gets what she wants. Just ask my Mom. I’ve always been that way. Veni, vidi, vici. I come, I see, I conquer.

I did an interview with someone the other day who needed to talk to a first generation college student. One of the questions he asked was whether I had any mentors or people in my life who really pushed and encouraged me to go to college. I answered no, because I’m pretty sure everyone knew I was going to go whether or not I was encouraged to do so. (For the record, I wasn’t discouraged, either. Everybody let me take my own course on this, since I’d already decided what I wanted to do.)

I didn’t have any role models either…unless Jesus Christ and Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings count. Not that I didn’t have good people in my life: It’s just that I realized everyone is fallible and human and I couldn’t set any of them up to be an idol. I set my own standards of quality and achievement and I went for it.

And when I was preparing for college, going from being home schooled to aiming for an out of state university, I taught myself how to cope with and succeed at standardized testing. When I took the GED, I was in the 99th percentile for my writing skills.

Sometimes I forget about that and how bad*** I was.

And also super intense and driven. My gosh. How could people stand it?

Besides mellowing out a bit with age, a lot of this has been tempered down by my depression, anxiety, etc. I don’t have that same zeal and zest for life that I used to have. I’m not the hell-bent lass I used to be. I’m tired.

The first few years that I struggled with depression, I tried to keep pushing. I still got good grades and kept up with writing my novels.

I’m not excited about life and what I can achieve-not like I used to be. It comes back now and then, but not often.

One of my major depressive episodes began in January 2013 and didn’t end until November or December of 2015. When it ended, I started socializing more than I had. I started reading loads of books again. I reapplied for college. I worked out and ran and had a close relationship with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I went back to school and had a 4.0 GPA.

This only last until mid-July 2016, when I sank into another depressive episode. The drive to succeed died, again.

Going from someone who needed encouragement from no one to a girl who can’t even convince herself to go for a run is…disappointing. Hard. It’s painful to look back at how I used to be and then at how I am now and realize how much depression changes me.

But these are the facts. You wonder about the stories you hear where someone goes from being successful in the business world to being a recluse, or about brilliant students who suddenly and inexplicably commit suicide. We’re not the people that we used to be.

When I was seventeen I did make-up work for all the days of early-morning seminary that I’d missed in the last 4 years, so that I could graduate with 100% attendance. These days, I can’t even muster the motivation to do homework due tomorrow, or even to read the material for the next day’s lecture.

So who am I, these days? Someone who is tired, who has trouble accomplishing anything or achieving any of her goals.

Most of who I am now is an absence of being. A gray person, without substance, uncommitted to her form. Transitory? In the middle of change? Except instead of being the cocoon of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, I feel like the brown dead leaves that are falling from the trees before the cold, unmoving winter begins. Something decomposing, fading into nothingness.

I can come back from this, as evidenced by the break in the gloom I experienced last year. But it fluctuates from week to week and month to month. This is what life with chronic depression means.

It can be like the rotating of the seasons, except that you have no general idea of how long the cold and the gloom will last, or when spring will come again, or how abruptly summer will turn into fall and then to winter. A depressive episode can last for years, to give way to a three month spring and summer. A depressive episode can last for a month, and the following summer can linger for five years, and you may think that winter shall never come again, only to meet its twilight the very next week.

I’m not the person I want to be. It’s hard to accept that I’m not entirely in control of how well I do. I was such a fierce child, so free-willed and independent; I fully believed that I was the captain of my destiny. I still believe that my ultimate destination is up to me and the choices I make: However, the phases and seasons I go through in the meantime are not something I can predict or control.

At the moment, I’m stuck. I’m in the gray domain. I’m not progressing at the rate I wish I was, the rate at which I used to move. And it’s painful to realize that I’m not the woman I could be if I was healthy.

Here I am: Waiting for the return of better days, the dawn and spring; for the return of the woman who can rule the world. She’ll come back someday.

 

 

A Ride of Meh

So I was going to do a video blog of my journey with mental illness. The original idea was to record a new video every two weeks, but we’re two and a half months into the year and I’ve only posted two videos total (on YouTube).

I recorded a video last week, but was unable to post it because apparently it has to be under 15 minutes to upload from my phone, and the video I tried to post was 23. It was about my PTSD, so I haven’t been too thrilled about revisiting it to redo the video, but I guess I’ll get around to it soon.

I’m just plugging along, you know, living life with depression and anxiety. It’s a lot better than it was the last few months of last year, but it’s still not too peachy. The sertraline keeps me from experiencing panic attacks or extreme anxiety, which is nice, you know: I’m a huge fan of being able to breathe and all. But it hasn’t really helped with the depression as much as I would have liked. I still feel pretty wretched sometimes, for no particular reason that I can discern. Moreover, while I began taking sertraline to help with my PTSD and its symptoms, such as limited emotional range, I now experience even LESS emotional flexibility. I’ve had experiences since the beginning of the year that should have gotten me riled up, but instead I usually respond with a feeling of slight annoyance, at best. “Meh,” is the most common reaction. Lots and lots of Meh.

I just started a full time job, which is neat. Guess the days of hermitage are over for now.

I’m easily exhausted. I mean, I’m always tired: I’m basically the human equivalent of a sloth. But I get socially exhausted, too. After work, I can’t bear to do more than one or two social things in a day, and even that is stretching it. Let me go home to my hermit hole, my good fellows!

In February I made myself a list of things that I wanted to do, which included exercising more frequently. As you can probably suspect, I rarely muster the gumption to get out there, although running does make me feel much better.

All right. There are a few other things that I’ve realized about my life lately that are peculiar and have been the object of much contemplation, but I’ll save that for another day. Ciao.

 

It’s My Real Life

Real talk time.

When I was twelve years old, I decided that I wanted to influence the world for good. I determined that I wanted to do it the introvert way…by throwing profound literature at it from a safe distance.

By the time I was fifteen, I had decided that I wanted to go to BYU-Idaho and study Creative Writing. That was my plan. I was going to write novels, and somewhere along the line, somehow, write something that would change the world for good.

If you’ve read my other pieces, you probably know that I dropped out of BYU-Idaho to prepare to serve a mission for my church, because Heavenly Father told me to, even though He and I both knew that I wouldn’t actually go. After I finally decided, and confirmed with Him, that my time of preparing was past and I could move onto other pursuits, I reapplied to the BYU schools, and I got into BYU, which is where I am now.

So, obviously, there have been some major plot twists in my life plan. Here are a few more:

One: I’m switching my major to psychology.

Two: I’ve been diagnosed with four mental illnesses or emotional disabilities.

I still want to help change the world, but I want to do it person by person, individually. I’ve been suffering a lot lately in my personal life. This is where I start talking about stuff so personal, my Mom would say, “Rachel, honey, be careful of what you put on the internet.”

But I want to be real about my life. I want people to realize that they can talk about their struggles, and maybe, just maybe, writing about my struggles with mental health is one of the ways I can help people.

Here we go.

In September, I was officially diagnosed with the illnesses I suspected that I’d had for years. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, major recurring depressive episodes, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders.

At the end of a very stressful summer term of school, the latter three disorders all spiked in intensity. When fall semester started at the end of August, I was emotionally wrecked. I met with a psychological counselor and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. I had panic attacks walking from class to class, couldn’t focus on schoolwork because I was too anxious, and would break down and cry, hard, almost every day, overwhelmed with sadness.

Towards the end of September, I met with the psychiatrist and started medication: This was my first time using medication for any of my issues. After a few weeks, it seemed like it was working: I would get super excitable for an hour or two every evening. But then that phase passed, and my mood nosedived. I had persistent thoughts of suicide, and the only reason I could think of to not end my own life was the emotional trauma it would cause my family, friends, and those who found my body.

Not. Good.

I met with my psychiatrist again and she immediately changed my medication. I’ve been on this medication for about a month now, and it doesn’t seem like it’s completely effective, but I’m better than I was without it. I still have panic attacks in class. Sometimes I feel miserable and cry. It takes a lot of effort to get out of bed each morning. I still think of death and dying every day, but not in a way that would inspire me to end myself. And I am insanely lonely, but I can rarely muster the motivation to go out and socialize.

YES. I REALIZE THIS IS ALL INTENSELY PERSONAL.

But I want to tell you what I’ve been learning, what I’ve determined to do.

The last few months, I’ve been feeling like an annoyance to those who love me because I can’t hide my emotional instability. I feel like I burden others with my emotional baggage. No one has given me this impression: This feeling originates within myself.

On the contrary, I have had the best friends help me out lately. One would give me energy massages when I had panic attacks, and would stay with me for hours every day. Another, who is going through much that is similar, has been able to empathize with me. One crawled into my closet, where I was sobbing one night, to wrap her arms around me and hold me. Another helped me figure out how to get disability leniency with school, and yet another will take the time to read my textbooks to me when I’m too anxious to force myself to do it. When I told my Mom about my suicidal thoughts and that the psychiatrist had asked me if I had a plan, she replied: “The Plan is Call Mom.”

I know I am loved. I may have a distorted vision of myself right now, but there are people who are keeping a hold on me, keeping me from tipping over the edge.

I tell you this so that you know: You are also loved. No matter how isolated and lonely you feel, no matter what emotional baggage you carry, no matter how many times you break down in front of your friends, you are loved, and not just by those that you can see. Even if you’re not a religious person, I will tell you, and firmly believe, that there are unseen angels guarding your footsteps, strengthening you against the darkness that is prevalent in the world. I know they’re there.

This bridges into the other thing I’ve been re-learning.

Earlier this year I felt I had a very close connection to my Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I’d been working on developing my relationships with each of Them, and when things went south I could always feel the Holy Ghost witness in my heart: We’re here. Everything will be okay. I grew distant from them again during the summer, when I was stressed and preoccupied with school, but now I realize that if I want to make it through my trials with grace, I’m going to need the Savior with me every step of the way.

When I kneel and pray at night, I ask for the Lord’s help in being worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and that, as I remember Christ and keep His commandments, I may have His presence in my heart. Sometimes, the most comforting thing when I’m anxious is to imagine the army of angels that is backing me up, and to remember that no matter what, Christ understands me and is waiting to help with whatever I offer to Him. I imagine the spirits of my future children, cheering me on, staying by me in my roughest hours, a promise of what is to come if I can just hold on.

The last week or so I’ve been feeling particularly down on myself. This is odd, because even though I’m depressed, my feelings of helplessness are usually directed at external things, and rarely at my own characteristics or choices.

Part of it is because the plan I thought I had for my life is changing, yet again. I have to factor in that mental illness is going to be a major part of my life, and probably permanent. When I’m particularly angry with myself, I think: How on earth am I going to find someone who will be willing to put up with my issues for the rest of his life?

But the success of my life isn’t measured by my ability to maintain romantic relationships. It can be measured, though, in a sense, by the relationship I have with the world at large. It struck me the other day: Even if I never find that special someone, I can change the lives of everyone I encounter. I have a relationship with every human on this earth as a spiritual brother or sister, and being as Christ-like as I can, I will have the ability to impact their lives for good. It doesn’t have to be in a dramatic way, either: A smile, a kind word, a new friend on a lonely day. I can change my corner of the world by daily acts of simple kindness.

That’s why I’m writing this. This is my real life. It’s messy, it hurts, it’s confusing, and sometimes I despair of understanding God’s plan for me. I want others to realize that they’re not alone, that life is rough, and it’s okay to be real about it. It’s okay to talk about the struggles of mortality. It’s okay to admit that things aren’t just peachy all the time, that you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning, that you’re overwhelmed with despair or anger when you think of certain aspects of your life, and that you’re uncertain of what will ultimately become of your plans. It’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to talk about it.

Life isn’t a pretty package perfectly wrapped, with a perky bow on top. The paper tears and the bow is flat and uneven. It doesn’t make the gift inside any less worthwhile, though, or any less precious. Life is a great gift.

I’m going to use my life as well as I can. Suffering doesn’t have to make my life less than it would otherwise be. My Savior suffered the pains of every soul who has or will live, and died for them as well, and yet not a being could claim that His life was wasted. Suffering doesn’t make us less: It gives us more experience, more ability to understand others. The Savior’s understanding of us, after all, came by His suffering with us.

It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

It’s the Little Things…

I created the title for this piece probably a month ago. This is a “Little Things” appreciation post, so get ready for it.

Little Things that pick me up…

  1. Hot cocoa on a lazy night at home
  2. Lonely walks to places I’ve never been before
  3. Quotes I love so much that I put them all over the wall
  4. Waking up early and watching the sunrise
  5. The woods at sunset, mysterious and thrilling
  6. SWEATERS
  7. Owls and owl decorations
  8. Keeping a journal
  9. Taking pictures of my little adventures
  10. Everything about October: the crisp days; red and gold leaves and the way they smell
  11. Fresh fruit
  12. Best friends. The weirder the better
  13. Complimenting strangers
  14. Smiling at people you pass on the street
  15. Getting a full night’s rest
  16. Dressing up cute
  17. Not dressing up and still feeling perfect
  18. Cozy spaces with controlled lighting
  19. Running into someone who’s happy to see me
  20. Those people that I barely know but who have apparently decided, independent of that, that they love me. Thank you and bless you
  21. Looking up-at the trees, the clouds, the sun, the stars
  22. Pictures of Jesus
  23. Laying on the floor (I don’t know why, but I really like to do this)
  24. Headphones in, music up, dancing behind everyone’s backs
  25. Books that make me think

There are a ton more I could add, of course. These were the ones that came to mind. I guess it goes along with my gratitude post. Just be grateful for the little things. Stop to pick up acorns. Stare up at the stars. Listen to flowing water and the wind in the trees. Take a moment, enjoy something, be happy.

 

Attitude of Gratitude

 

There are a ton of reasons why we should try to be grateful in everything. For one, Heavenly Father has given us so much, even during the hard times, that to be ungrateful would be frankly ridiculous. For another, IT HELPS YOU BE HAPPY. That’s right. Sure, there’s a lot of bad, and it’s okay to acknowledge that, as long as you also acknowledge the good and are grateful for it. “Hey, I’m in fair physical health. Good news!” “Yo, I have a lot of really cool friends who help me out.” “I slept very well last night.” Accentuate the positive!

Since the beginning of the year I’ve kept a purple jar next to my bed. Every night before I retire, I write down one grateful thought on a slip of paper, fold it up, and put it in the jar. As of last night, this purple jar contained 228 grateful thoughts. For the first 6 months of the year, I would post a picture of the jar or one of my thoughts on Facebook once a month. I didn’t do it for July or August…not that I’m not still grateful! The jar is still going strong. But since I didn’t post it there, I thought I’d write up this blog post, instead. Look how full it is in the first picture! 228 days!

So here you go, some insight into my grateful thoughts for the last 7 and a half months (pictures and comments from Facebook posts).

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“This year I’m making a gratitude jar. Every day I write on a slip of paper one thing for which I’m thankful, and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, or whenever I feel like complaining, I’ll dump the jar and remember why I should be grateful. Eventually I’ll have 365 reasons why my life is blessed.” -4 Jan. 2016

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“I meant to post this when January ended, so I’m a few days late.
The gratitude jar is still alive, and now has 34 little slips of paper reminding me of the things I’m grateful for. This one says:
‘I’m grateful for and astounded at a world full of optimists who value life, despite its flaws.’
Other days I’ve written my appreciation for lotion and chapstick. It doesn’t matter what you’re thankful for. Just take a moment to be grateful. :)” 3 Feb. 2016

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“62 days of gratitude as of today. February was like a personal gift from Hades on SO many levels, but the gratitude jar still got a little slip of paper every day. Now I’m grateful for gratitude itself. ;)” 2 March 2016

(It’s true. February was AWFUL. Good glory, what a month. But hey, I’m still alive and kicking!)

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“We’re a quarter of the way into 2016, my friends! April is going to be a busy month for me. I’ve been accepted to Brigham Young University and move to Provo, Utah in three weeks, so I can attend the spring/summer semester! I’ve been grateful lately for all the opportunities Heavenly Father has given me, challenging me and making me grow. Here’s for the next step! College bound once more!” 2 April 2016

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“Month 5 already?! Yikes! The little purple jar came to Utah with me.
I have to say, it’s started off rough up here, but I’m thankful to be back in school. :)” 5 May 2016

(This was only a few days after I moved to Utah)

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“Did you know that it’s the 157th day of the year? True story.
Another true story is that the Gratitude Jar still gets a slip of paper everyday, and boosts my spirits when I’m feeling down.
Have an attitude of gratitude!
Also, remember Christ is always your friend, and waiting to help you out.” 5 June 2016

That was the last one I posted to Facebook. But now I’m going to give you some straight from the gratitude jar itself. All right? All right. Here you go.

8 Aug. “Two more days of exams and then I’ll be free! Yay!”

6 July “So thankful for my bed. Zzz” (Haha, all right, Rachel.)

3 July “I’m grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, my Savior <3”

19 July “I’m grateful for sunshine :D”

31 July “I’m grateful for prayer”

3 Jan. “CHRIST”

15 Jan. “I’m thankful for my short hair, that I can wear it short” (Pixies for the win!)

7 May “I’m thankful for my Savior and Redeemer <3” (Okay, so things I’m REALLY grateful for show up a LOT. So sue me.)

15 March “I’m thankful Heavenly Father has a plan for me, even though I don’t know what it is” (Oh yeah, the enigmatic plan. Ah, buddy.)

9 Feb. “I’m grateful for honesty–ha-ha–Honesty” (FEBRUARY WAS A BAD MONTH, OKAY?)

25 May “I’m grateful that I can write the truth and that I love myself <3” (Cannot stress enough the importance of just freaking loving yourself, my peeps.)

24 April “I’m thankful for Father’s Blessings” (The night before I moved to Utah.)

23 Jan. “I’m thankful for Personal Revelation”

23 March “I’m thankful for Temples! :D”

8 April “I’m thankful for good movies”

7 Feb. “I’m thankful for my family, past, present, and future :D”

18 March “I’m thankful for the scriptures and words of the Prophets <3”

27 Jan. “I’m immensely grateful for the Book of Mormon and its influence in my life. The Word of the Lord will never let me stray too far from God and righteousness”

16 March “I’m grateful for my agency”

23 May “I’m grateful for my testimony and hope that it will be able to help someone someday”

5 Feb. “I’m grateful for Art”

4 May “I’m grateful for my body :)”

19 Feb. “I’m way grateful for my self-esteem, ha-ha” (February, you menace.)

25 June “I’m thankful that I did baptisms and confirmations at the Temple today”

21 April “I’m grateful for honest service rendered and received and the love of God in our hearts”

Huh. That was a lot, and we didn’t run into most of the ones about my bed. Weird.

Well, guys, final thoughts about this…

Life is no walk in the park. Believe me, I know. But although life is hard, there are a multitude of things that make it truly, truly worthwhile and lovely. Heavenly Father’s love is obviously one. Even when I murmur (which happens sometimes), He’s got my back.

You know how they talk about rose-tinted glasses? Yeah. You put those suckers on. It’s your prescription, because mortal life has messed up your eternal vision. Put on your happy spectacles and get back out in the world to do some good!

Love you guys!

 

The Last Labyrinth

I’m not afraid of the dark, or of the crumbling, sand-colored walls, and I’m not perturbed by being alone. In fact, my step is almost bouncy as I wander the ruins, the remains of the garden walls of an ancient castle. It used to be a labyrinth–well, I guess it still is, now in sad disrepair.

This morning I spent several hours climbing the trees outside the walls of the fortress, surveying the woodlands that surround it. For some reason, now, as I turn each corner, I’m expecting to see the walls end in sand dunes and for the ocean to stretch out before me, tossing black beneath the moon. But I’m far from the sea. It must be the mist in the air which tricks me.

I mumble lullabies from my childhood beneath my breath as I round a corner and step into an amphitheater. The pillars around the stage are cracked and crumbling. The tiers of seats, formed of stone, are grown over with vines and chipping. A pool of water has gathered before a throne, some twenty feet from the stage, and I hop down the stairs to the floor of the space, turning in circles to take it all in.

I turn and vault myself onto the stage, throwing my head back to take in the starry sky.

“You can sing,” a voice says.

My gaze drops abruptly, to the throne on the other side of the pool. A girl is sitting there. She has dark curly hair, large brown eyes, and wears a crown perched above her round face. She smiles at me. Besides her rich clothes, the friendly countenance, and the crown, there’s a transparent quality about her…and about the chain on her wrist that connects her to the throne.

“Sing for me,” she says. Her voice is soft, courteous.

I shrug, bouncing up on the balls of my feet. “I could. What would you like to hear?”

“Anything,” she replies. She straightens her posture and leans forward, waiting for me.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I open them again, wondering how the acoustics of the amphitheater are, and sing one of those lonesome lullabies. The princess smiles. There is something unnervingly familiar about her, but my lullaby chases away the chill that races up my spine.

When I finish, the mists have grown thicker. I jump down from the stage and splash into the pool. The girl disappears. I look down into the water, and am greeted by the pale face and dark brown eyes that watched from the throne, now staring back from my own reflection.