I almost used the word embracing instead of accepting in the title, but I couldn’t lie to myself- I’m no where near that enthusiastic and welcoming connotation that comes with an embrace. My feelings, much less the symptoms, aren’t warm and fuzzy, but I’ve come to acknowledge and accept this is part of who I am.
I remember thinking, something’s not quite right and why am I like this, no one else in my family acts like this, when I was around 8. I began to isolate myself from my best friend by lying and saying I didn’t like the other kid who lived down the street, I couldn’t sleep, would frequently scream in contorted confusion and anger at whoever happened to be closest to me, and would skip meals. Those feelings of uncertainty had been festering inside me since I was around 4.
At that time, my parents were no longer a couple and it had been that way for as long as I could remember. Random, infrequent, seemingly unplanned trips to my father’s apartment for the weekend were just part of what we did, and I didn’t dwell on it one way or another. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the baggies with milky white rocks inside I found at the bottom of a drawer I wasn’t supposed to be looking through, the smacks in the mouth when I mentioned I wanted to collect rocks with him. The stinging ache when I looked at him and saw removal, absence, like he was confused there were still 3 children there. How I felt small, unwanted, a hyper burden in his presence, how we argued over why I had to eat cold Spaghetti-Os when they were nasty and Mom didn’t make me.
I never told anyone else about the rocks, thinking I would get in trouble for going through his things. I told myself it didn’t matter anyway, since he abruptly left when I was 4 and the drives down stopped without explanation.
By 8, I was constantly searching for the little baggies, the same dresser with the peeling paint, and those milk rocks I couldn’t seem to find anywhere. That would bring Dad back right? If I was good, a better daughter, if I got his stuff back, then things would go back to normal right? None of that happened, and I barked at, bit, and thought about ripping the skin off every man who crossed my path, painstakingly wishing I could chip away at them until they turned into the right person.
At 9, I started thinking my life was an imitation of what a good life should be. We were fed, clothed, sheltered and loved, there was laughter and light, but I harped on the fact that the lights would randomly go out or how much I knew my mom and grandmother fought to hide the struggle from us. There were random trips to Dairy Queen and I had more clothes and toys than I needed. But. We couldn’t compare to the lobster dinners my friend would tell me about, or the trip to Italy she took with her father. What kinda life is a pale imitation of hers? Thinking I was getting rid of some of the financial burden and one less set of clothes and school supplies to buy, I swallowed about 2 handfuls of my mom’s pills.
I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but it wasn’t that I’d get a headache, throw up, and miss school for a day. That’s it? Now I’m an even bigger nuisance, now Mom has to take the day off from work.
(credit: Instagram, @crazyheadcomics)
I wasn’t diagnosed with clinical depression until my senior year of high school. By that time, my on-again/off-again boyfriend had been strangling me and holding knives against my neck for 2 years; I thought the diagnosis was based solely off that and my solution was to leave the state, leave where he was. It never crossed my mind that this was a real illness, like an illness of any other organ. This organ just happened to be my brain. I hadn’t yet dealt with my childhood, and that the omnipresent doubts of do I belong? Where? Am I taking up too much space here wouldn’t cease as soon as I moved to Portland.
In a separate blog post, Secret Lovers, I mentioned the “boyfriends” I had after the high school boyfriend dumped me for the final time. It stopped after the breakup with a man 40 years older than me (Can I really say we were engaged? I still don’t know) in November 2012. 4 months later, in March 2013, I was involuntarily committed to Oregon Health and Sciences University’s psychiatric unit, with a 72 hour suicide hold placed on me.
The cops and a campus counselor arrived at my door after I had posted a suicide message to a campus Facebook page that I thought was anonymous. They arrived around 7 pm on a Friday night, and I was focused on trying to lay down in the back of the cop car so my peers wouldn’t see me. It didn’t hit me where I was until I was in the “behavioral holding room,” and had to undress into a hospital gown and someone had to watch me through a window at all times. The holding room was only large enough for a mattress that brushed against the door; I couldn’t even do a full turn in the empty space. I sat on the mattress for about 2 hours until I was wheeled up to my room. I was told all patients had to be wheeled in (and strapped to the wheelchair) so we couldn’t try and escape.
The 72 hour hold ended up being almost a week, not because I wanted to be there or thought I was making progress, but because there was “something wrong with the paperwork,” so “someone like me” had to wait until they said I could leave. As I left, as I told my case worker their holding cell reminded me of a mini solitary confinement, I thought about how one of the requirements of my release was to see a psychiatrist and a therapist.
I hadn’t seen a therapist since 2009 and felt overwhelmed with the whole process. Did I have to explain everything again? And relive it all? Again? Yes and yes. Going back to those instances brought me to a dark, scary place and eventually led to a PTSD diagnosis.
That startled me. I knew I was depressed, knew I should ask about going back on antidepressants but PTSD? I naively thought that was only for veterans and didn’t “deserve” the diagnosis. What happened to me wasn’t that bad right? I didn’t truly believe I had PTSD at first and thought I would be fine with not taking the prescribed medicine, since 1. It made me sleep for about 16 hours straight, feeling like a vegetable, and 2. I couldn’t keep missing class this close to graduation. I just had to get through the last couple of months of senior year. I told myself I would “deal with” that incorrect diagnosis afterwards.
On the plus side, I graduated on time. Adversely, I had immediately began to neglect my mental health again. Soon after I moved back home and found another, brand new therapist and was told again I had PTSD. As I job searched, interviewed, repeated, I also dutifully went to therapy every week and took the medication, rationalizing the tamed nightmares, the slightly better cold sweats and flashbacks were worth the vegetable brain.
That was in 2013, meaning I graduated 6 years ago this May. In those 6 years, I’ve moved into 2 different apartments, sobbed into my pillow so my neighbors couldn’t hear, gotten better at prioritizing myself and my needs, and stopped/started therapy and medication countless times. It’s still difficult to say, “I have PTSD,” and to acknowledge that some days I’m not ok. Difficult because it makes me feel vulnerable and raw. Difficult because I think people will hear it and think that’s all I am, all that defines me. Hard because I don’t want to be the “crazy one.”
But I’ve accepted it and gotten to understand what my triggers are, when I need self care that looks like holding myself accountable and working on my flaws (neither depression nor PTSD is a flaw, things like being nosy and wanting to not be dependent on material objects), and to understand that trauma does not define my identity. That I’m a nuanced, bilingual, compassionate, stubborn person along with someone who has experienced systemic and personal trauma.