mental health

Counterbalanced 

They say that everything takes time. Trauma takes time. You just need time. It wasn’t something that I could’ve believed then, though. Hell, I still don’t. Some things there just isn’t enough time for. 

In the Aftermath, friends who’d suffered trauma said I just needed time and I didn’t believe them. And I want to ask them, when is enough time enough? How does the soul repair itself when it’s been through hell? And not just a one off moment of trauma but a lifetime of heavy, soul weary, trauma? When does the breath of ones being finally free itself from the binds of hell?

No one has an answer. Those well meaning friends don’t have an answer. The psychiatrist I was sent to could only tell me to read books but the answer I wanted, the answer I still seek, cannot be found any text – it never heals. 

We enter into this world with a soul, one we believe is all shiny and new, freshly polished. Depending on what religion you follow, however, that soul is as old as time or new as the days sunrise. 
What baggage has each soul carried with it from previous lives? What do we do to ourselves? What do we continue to put ourselves through? No soul is untarnished and with each passing day, with every little bruise, our souls become stained. With love? Trauma? Pain? Is it weary? Is it hopeful for a new life? A new day? 

I have been thinking of you a lot lately. I don’t know if it’s because this is 5 years, if this is date and day, or if I just feel your strong presence because our world is in turmoil and I seek something comfortable that I know. But I feel you and think of you daily. Repeatedly. And then, when I’m alone in a room and doing something, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye and I look and there’s nothing there. Is it you? Someone else I’ve picked up? I spent a childhood with dead people. I had dreams of people before they died. Am I a conduit? If only that were the case. I’d speak with my grandparents again. 

I don’t understand your pain but I understand my own. The anger. The absolute rage that I have because I was molested and people would deny that truth. For their own protection? Self preservation? I don’t know. I only know that I see you, your face. I see your pain, your death. I see your rage turned inward and onto yourself. 

You beautiful girl. How I wish I could ease your pain. 

You are with me every day. We are bound together. The girl who lived and the girl who died. 

I sometimes wonder if I don’t purposely hold on to you, your death, the gore. Like a security blanket, it’s something I can cling to for safety. A bit of an oxy moron to those who’ve never suffered but it’s a safe pain. Something you know and understand. 

I worry that I’m keeping you with me on purpose. And then for five minutes I’ll forget about you. And for five minutes I’m free. I can breathe. I don’t feel a weight tugging at me, a niggling reminder of my own impending death, my own expiry date. I am a helium balloon and you are a weight. We are counterbalanced. 

I used to worry that talking about you and what happened, that people would see it as attention seeking. I would go out of my way to not talk about what happened, to not even mention it. Again, how terrible that I worried more about the comfort and opinions of others instead of myself.  

First Nations believe that as long as someone tells the story, nothing is ever dead. And so I will tell my story. Maybe I won’t shout it from the rooftops (an unlikely pun) but a quiet whisper from my heart instead. 

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Let’s Talk

Edited to include a picture taken of me, a week after the suicide. I’d ot slept more than 28 hours the whole week. 
I don’t support the Bell Let’s Talk day because Bell doesn’t give two stuffs about the mental health of their employees. So they can shove this day up their rears. They’re hypocritical jerk muffins who are only in this for the PR. 

Having said that, I do think everyone should take the opportunity to discuss mental health, be it a personal story of their own, or a story about someone they know/love. 

I have had my own struggle with mental health. The causes have been varied but the one everyone knows because I’ve been somewhat vocal about it is – I witnessed a suicide. 
The woman who took her life was 30, beautiful, a successful lawyer at one of the best law firms in the country (basing this on how often their lawyers are nominated as top lawyer of something or other). She grew up in an affluent family, travelled, went to the best schools. On the surface she had everything going for her. Beneath the surface, however, she was living a personal hell that she probably kept secret from everyone she knew. 

Like many women, myself included, she was molested as a child. For many, there is a disconnect and you brush it under the carpet and hope you get over it. You know what’s happened and just hope to slough it off like dead skin, but you have not acknowledged it. The pain exists in a sort of limbo. It slowly poisons you and you make subconscious decisions based on that poison, without even realizing it. 

When you do wake up, when you do fully and consciously face the abuse you suffered, it makes or breaks you mentally. You either become stronger or the pain wears you down. 

Sadly, the young, intelligent, beautiful woman could no longer cope. And so she attempted to take her life. Unsuccessful, she checked herself out of the hospital, came to her workplace on the 27th floor, got to the roof through an access window, and jumped. 

Her pain ended with her life, yes, but that only started the pain for other people. Her family. Her friends. Her coworkers, one of whom ended up taking three years off work because of her own breakdown. And then me. The unfortunate witness to her death. 

In the movies it is portrayed as a slow moving and beautiful fall. The wind whipping her hair. Her fingers floating on the wind as you would out the window of a moving car. Perhaps a tear falling down her cheek. Some flighty dramatization of what we wish suicide by jumping looked like.  
The movies are bullshit. Death is ugly and suicide is painful, for everyone. 

For the briefest of seconds there is silence, then the most deafening noise, and then the quietest silence again as your brain, soul, eyes, and ears try to put together all that you have just witnessed and heard:
A body hitting the earth. 
That someone chose to place themselves there is beyond comprehension and yet, you saw it happen. You know what you’ve just seen is true yet your mind is lagging, unable to compute. 

Death by suicide is ugly. It is gut wrenching but not vomit inducing. There is an immediate pain inside you, location unknown, that exists, still to this day. That pain would be PTSD. 
In total I took five and a half days off work, what amounted to two weeks. I forced myself back to work because I was afraid of what people would say about me. I was afraid that people would think I was scamming or milking the time off. 
I was dying inside, trying to piece together the broken pieces of my soul. But I worried about them and what they would say about me. How insulting. That I spent even an iota of time on their opinions instead of my own health is insulting. But indicative of where we are as a people when it comes to illness, time off, mental health, and trauma. 

We take for granted how fragile our minds are. In one split second I went from a confident, take no shit person to someone who was afraid of the dark and tall buildings. 

The anniversary of her death is this Saturday. We have come full circle and on the 5th anniversary, the date of her death coincides with the day of the week on which she died. This is not lost on me. At the minute of her death I will be where I was then. I will try not to think of the pain I suffered, an impossibility, clearly, but I will try to think of her family instead. Because while I witnessed it as a bystander, some poor shmuck in the wrong place and time, they must live with the guilt they place on themselves – of not seeking treatment, not helping her, not calling her enough. They live with self induced torment. 

We tell ourselves and our friends, I’m here for you. I love you. Whenever you need me, just call. The fact is, though, we get busy and those who suffer with mental health issues, they suffer alone because they don’t want to burden anyone. 

We need to be a better society and take better care of our people. An illness of the heart is just as worthy of medical attention as an illness of the mind. People still look at mental health as either a joke or something to be feared. A man or woman living with schizophrenia cannot divulge their mental illness to a potential employer, are in fact terrified of them finding out, for fear of not being hired. Meanwhile, a heart patient thinks little of it. 

We need to talk. We need to normalize. Accept. Understand. We need to open our damn hearts and love. 

Don’t isolate someone who is suffering because you don’t know what to say, think it’s an awkward conversation, or it would make you uncomfortable. The best thing that you can do is shake their hand or hug them and offer them support with a mere few words. Because for their entire lives they have felt alone and isolation will only make that worse. 

Unresolved 

When you witness a suicide, you’re changed forever. You’re altered. It’s almost as if your DNA has been changed because things are no longer the same. The way you think, the way you feel, the way you approach life. The things people say. What once meant nothing to you now has more meaning than breath itself. Because sometimes you are left breathless by the tiniest of happenstances. 

I navigate around tall buildings and size them up. Where is the roof? Where would a body land should someone decide to kill themselves? I approach my own and plod forward, pushing myself to walk where she died. At times I am sleep deprived, still afraid of silence, still waking up to non-existent people standing over my bed. I still feel her around me, no longer a pest but a guide. It is not actually her that I feel but the shadow of her, burned into my soul. She is with me, always. 

Tonight, so close to her anniversary, a contractor needed access to the very roof she used to end her pain. I asked one of her (former) coworkers where the roof access was and advised there’d be contractors accessing the roof. 

I don’t know if they’re as hyper aware of people being on the roof since she died but I know I would be were I them. 

But then the contractor jokingly said to the coworker that when they were done they’d jump off the side of the building. 

Something changes inside you when someone you know kills themselves. You are forever altered. And the look on her coworkers face was evidence of that. He is forever altered. I bit my tongue and didn’t tell the contractor off because how was he to know? How could he? You don’t know what another person has seen or felt and we cannot traipse around the world, for all our given years, on egg shells. Life is meant to be lived, enjoyed, loved. A simple comment that has such intense meaning for us but none to him. It shouldn’t be held against him. 
And yet, it affected me still. More than I wish it could. And so I cried, losing my appetite as my tears fell into my pasta, I cried because I so wish his comment and her death could wash over and away from me. There is no 12 step program to death and grief. There’s no timetable of expectancy when it comes to loss and suicide. It just exists within you. Your DNA. Your fibers. It’s as much a part of you as your freckles and scars. 

Tonight, after I took that first step in overcoming my fear of heights, I sat down for my lunch break and cried. When I could breathe again, when I let it wash over me, I checked my email. There was a message from a complete stranger who had read my writing – not even the good writing that has been hidden from view – saying that my writing was a gift. How could you have picked today, of all days, to contact me?, when I chose today, of all days, to take that step out there?

I am forever altered, yes, but on this day my heart is full. 

Stop Sharing Those Autism Updates/Memes

World autism day is in two weeks. It may or may not make it onto a meme, and you’ll be asked to share for at least one hour, and I’ll know who my true friends are by those who also post this update for an hour. 
STOP!!! Good god, could you get any more passive aggressive?! Great way to guilt someone into posting a stupid meme or update that no one, other than those who share to ease their own guilt or because they have really huge hearts, reads or cares about.
Look. Leaving a status update up for an hour, supporting the understanding and compassion about what life is like with autism is all fine and dandy, but it changes nothing about the mindset of the ignorant. In fact, they’re not even reading those memes or updates. Neither am I and my kid has autism and my friends kids have autism. I hate those updates and I loathe those memes. They’re a waste of my time and yours. No one is reading them and those who post them are doing so with good intentions but it’s not necessary. 
Autism is great, crappy, horrible, awkward, uncomfortable, joyous, shitty, depressing, soul sucking, awe inspiring, amazing to live with. But a status update won’t change the minds of people who are shitty and without compassion (the people who would still, in this day, call my kid a retard). And it also doesn’t show how compassionate, supportive, and understanding you actually are. All those updates are? A means to make you feel shitty. If you don’t share it then you obviously are horrible. 

You’re not horrible. You don’t need to share. No one is even reading it. 

If you want to change their minds, or if you want to be supportive, then share interesting videos about what life is like with autism. Share stories about the amazing things people with autism do. Share the horror stories that people with autism live with. Donate money to a local autism support centre or school and tell people about the great things that charity is doing (heck – tell people about that great charity without donating). Tell your friend who has a loved one with autism or has autism themselves that if there’s anything they ever need that you’d love to help if you can. Tell them honestly, too, that you don’t understand their struggles, if they have any, but you’d love to help and you’d love to get to know them better. 
Sharing a status update, which probably isn’t even during autism awareness day or month (which isn’t as often as those memes and updates would have you believe) gets lost in the fold of everyone’s pictures, updates, memes, and videos. No one is paying attention and once they figure out what it is you’re saying, they’ll move on. 

If you want to share those updates and memes, go right ahead. But if you don’t see others, including autism parents, sharing it, know it’s not because we don’t care, it’s because we know they fall on deaf ears and eyes, including our own, and that that’s not the way to get a message across. Life isn’t a chain letter. Jesus won’t save a kid because the picture got so many likes and shares. Sorry. Pray and offer your services instead. It’ll be much more appreciated. 

Notes from my phone (again)

Tears inexplicably fell, as if they weren’t pouring forth due to my emotions but were little prisoners escaping for their lives. 
My sadness was so deep and palpable that a piece of music could, and did, move me to horrific sobbing, regularly. And not the that-time-of-the-month sobbing, but the sobbing that comes from so deep within you that each tear and each sob feels ancient, as old as your own soul. 
I listened to this music, nightly, in an attempt to free my tortured soul from emotions I could not comprehend. At 15 years old I was tired like an old fisherman. I wanted to lay down and sleep and never wake. I never wanted to die – I was far too in love with life and myself for that – but I was exhausted from holding everything in and spending nearly ten years pretending that everything was ok and being strong and resilient. Adults love to use that word when they talk about tragedies, sad things, or trauma that kids deal with. Kids are stronger than we think. They’re resilient. 

Kids are weenies but we say these things in order to ease our own guilt for what they’ve suffered and our inability to truly help them. There’s a process we all must go through to. 

I was living proof that I was not resilient or stronger than anyone thinks. I was dying inside and was too proud and afraid to ask for help. Anytime I thought I had a handle on my life, something else came along and screwed up the progress I thought I’d made. 

There was no progress, by the way. What I thought was progress was me merely building a Berlin-sized wall around my pain, hoping there would never be another 1989. That no one would attempt to free each moment in my life that had scarred, maimed, or bruised me. I had everything under neat, prettily wrapped paper and I appeared to be just fine, thank you very much. At least I thought so. To anyone else, I don’t know how it appeared. I’m sure at first I seemed fine but after a while, things became clearer. 

That I was treading water. 

The truth was that I was coming apart at the seams and I had no one to help sew me back up. A father who was busy with whatever flavour he was cheating with, a mother who was busy immersing her own pain, and a brother who was suffering an equal amount of coming-apart-ness. Our trajectories were not towards each other like normal families are supposed to be. We were going far and fast from each other, as quickly as possible. Each a reminder of the pain we suffered from, caused each other, caused ourselves.  

I hated them all. I hated myself more, but I knew they couldn’t help me, were unable to help me, and for that I hated them. We all had individual and together problems far greater than me. We were hopeless and broken. Not just broken as a family unit but individually, we were each broken. A China set that is cracked and broken, missing half its pieces, scraped and the gold trim is gone. We were ugly broken. And we were each unable to help the other, thus forced to suffer alone. 

The sad part is that it was an epidemic passed down. We learned from our parents how to be broken and that would be passed on to our own children. We were a family of not just heartbreakers but souls, too. We were soul breakers. Crushers. 

I had to hold it all together by myself, for myself, and there were days when I managed. Get up, go to school, go home, go to dance class, go home. But in there I suffered from such anger, fatigue, and pure mental exhaustion from trying to keep it together that making it home at the end of the school day was a feat. I slept on the couch for two hours. Get up, eat, dance class, home, lay in bed and cry for three hours straight. Repeat. 
I have never figured out how to deal with the size of the Berlin Wall that I built. All I’ve been able to do is fill in the cracks and build it higher to cover the ever increasing pain. Never ask a question that could topple it all. My emotional sanity rests atop a weird balancing act of trying to stay calm at all times, trying to be happy, trying to keep everyone else happy, and trying to protect my heart, all while continuously building and repairing this stupid wall. 
It’s become habitual, this self preservation. I wouldn’t even know how to deal with my pain now if I tried. There is so much more pain attached to other pain. I’m afraid if I pulled one out, the rest would follow like some cheap magicians kerchief trick, spilling out onto the floor and I’d be left cleaning up the mess alone while everyone stood there and watched, my pain and sadness, fragility and frailty, a spectacle for all to see, watch, and comment on in hushed whispers. 

Blink

At night, when the lights go out, it is then that the shadows emerge. Reminding me I am merely temporary in a world of forever. A blink in time, my self forgotten, remembered by no one, forever carrying on without me. 

The shadows cause anxiety, panic attacks, cursing humanity for being conscious of their selves. I squeeze my eyes shut to try and silence my brain, my fears, my anxieties, and try not to picture you, choosing to start your forever so early on, but there you are, on the inside of my eyes, and I remember I cannot escape the shadows. They, you, are forever part of me. And I cry. I cry for you, me, us. I cry for you, your soul, your consciousness, wondering where you are, if you feel, think, exist beyond me. I cry for me, the pain I’ve caused, the pain I’ve suffered, the unknown to me. I cry for us and our woven tapestries. I cry and cannot help the tears to stop falling. They exist as I do – blessedly, magically, mysteriously. 

How painfully long our forever is and our here is but a second. 

And I spend these moments with you, as always, wondering where you are. I carry your pain with me and mix it with my own, painting a canvas on my broken soul with our broken hearts and our sadness, intertwined. 

So many articles are popping up of late about pedophiles or being sexually molested as a child, and it’s brought on by the Duggars and the news that their son is clearly disturbed. I’m not here to talk about that.

I’m here to figure out how you’re supposed to live with the knowledge that you never sought charges against the man who molested you, yet you know people who think he’s just the greatest man. What right do I have to name him publicly if I refuse to charge him? Because I want more than anything to shout to anyone and everyone who this disgusting piece of shit is. Why should he get to live the quiet life when I’m left with scars?

Side note: I do not know the law and I do not know whether I can actually charge him with anything, considering it’s probably 30 years since it happened (I say probably because I’m unsure of my exact age when it happened – I guess between 6 – 8). However, what I do know is that were I to charge him and have to go to court, I don’t know that I would want to be revictimized. The law says he’s innocent until proven guilty so, as his accuser, I must prove him guilty. Lord knows my father would deny the whole thing happened (as he did over the phone with my brother) so I would have only my mother as an after-the-fact witness (totally not a legit thing). That’s not my concern. My concern is myself and what toll it would take to go through this. What emotional toll would I be faced with if I had to publicly, out loud, describe what this man did to me? To strangers who are scrutinizing me? And then to be cross examined by his defense lawyer who will paint every decision I’ve ever made as a poor one and make me out to be a downright horrible human being when what we’re not here to discuss is myself but the man who sexually assaulted, sexually molested, sexually penetrated me as a child

I couldn’t do it. I honestly don’t think that I could do it. And knowing that, is it fair to ever speak his name when I refuse to find the courage to charge him, when I refuse to give him the chance to defend himself as our law allows?

Or, by typing all of that, am I somehow protecting him and taking the whole incident back onto myself as my own burden to carry, and not his, or ours together?

He sings and plays guitar and there were two songs that always reminded me of him. I played them to myself so often in order to change the meaning behind them. I took them as songs of pain and misery and shame and turned them into warrior songs. They still remind me of him. Nothing could ever remove the scar he seared into my soul, but these songs are no longer shamefully attached to him. They’re now mine, proof that despite what he may have done to me, I am a Phoenix. I rose from the ashes of a broken child. The child he sexually assaulted and molested. She died and in her place I began to live. I began to thrive and it took me many years to accept that what was done to me was not my fault, that I am now risen. Scarred from the flames and stronger for them, tender though they may occasionally be.

I shall not name him but I do believe the pain he is in today physically is karma slowly torturing him. And I hope it is painful.