Saturday, October 25, 2014

The beginning .. before the middle or the end.

Wait … wait… wait ….
The word reverberated in my head; getting louder each time I said it. Faces are above me, angry faces – wait … two are speaking, I don't know them, no, not speaking, yelling …
Wait … please … wait …

I can hear one of them now but it's like trying to listen to someone yelling against a fierce wind, the words are faint and you make out only a few at a time – "get" … "car" …

Wait … wait… wait … I say in my head again; then finally I find a word, a word to not just say in my head, "Stop!" I hear it; it sounds funny, low and far away. I try again, "Stop! Stop! Wait … Stop!"

On that last word the wind is gone and in a moment everything is loud – sounds loud, feels loud, looks loud.

"Stop!" I say it again but the faces keep talking, both of them, at the same time. I hear them now.

"No! You stop! Get out of the car, we need you out of the car!" says one.

"How many?! How many did you take? No, we're not gonna stop – you need to get out or we'll take you out!" says the other. 

For the first time I see them, they're cops. I don't understand. I feel angry and afraid, so afraid, "Please… wait … wait wait … please …" I say. Everything is too loud; they are too close.

"No!" says the one who's on my side of the door, as he leans in and unbuckles my seatbelt, "We need you out now!"

Looking for the first time in the cop's direction, I see, up and out the open door, my therapist. He's trying to talk to them, he's saying something, I don't know exactly what it is but then I make out some of the words, "Just take it easy, give her a second."

"We don't have time for that, we need her out now," says the cop at my door. He turns to me, "This is gonna be a lot worse if you don't get out."

Everything is so loud, so fast. I hear him but I feel like I'm watching a movie where the sound dubbing is a little off, delayed. I suddenly feel cold and see that my door is open and I want to close it but he's there in front of the door, leaning in and angry. I hear myself say, "ok, just … one secon - ok." Anything to stop the yelling.

     This was the beginning of four of the worst days of my life. The question could then be asked – why go back? Why dredge it all up again; leave it alone, look forward. To that I would say that writing about it is looking forward. Writing about it allows it to no longer hide just under the surface, popping up occasionally to terrify me into believing I'm crazy or incompetent. Writing about it, is me choosing to look at it all, to take command of memory and no longer allow memories to take command of me. I've lived most of my life in control, at least on the outside, holding things together for family, for friends, for myself; while on the inside I was and sometimes still am a tsunami.

     A tsunami is a catastrophic ocean wave that causes great destruction when it reaches land. Earthquakes, or volcanic activity, or some other major disturbance under the sea causes it and the devastation it brings is immense. My destruction and devastation was always internal. Large earthquakes in the form of trauma, bullying, pain, disappointment, loneliness, and rejection would come and destroy the good I had tried to build in spite of the bad. Leading up to that day in January almost two years ago now, the tsunami's had gotten worse. It was no longer a large disturbance that started my devastating wave of emotion, it was now having to deal with traffic, or long lines at the grocery store, or a seemingly innocent conversation that somehow struck a nerve; everything led to a large reaction. 

     When tsunamis begin to come weekly, at first you're a little worried, thinking you can get it under control, you can find a safe place to weather the storm. They then begin to come daily, then before you know it, hourly; and not really knowing or understanding how, you are in your car on a snowy and cold January afternoon with two strangers yelling at you as your only thought is…. wait …. wait … please wait …

*part one of a three to five part series. If you haven't read my first post on this:*

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Voice.

"She's just discovered her voice"

"Oh. Then, she's gonna be a singer?"

 "Well, she's gonna be something . . . aren't you? Yes, yes you are. . . ."

            Recently, I found myself waiting for a client in the lobby of DCFS. It was after office hours and the normally crowded and loud waiting area had all but cleared out. A young women and a baby were sitting next to one side of the floor to ceiling windows and an older couple, making small talk amongst themselves, was on the other side. My mind was preoccupied. I felt like I couldn't complete a thought in my head before three others would shoot up, clamoring for my attention. I decided to take a couple of breaths and try to clear my head, my heart. At this moment, the young baby, probably no older than seven or eight months, yelled out in glee; the high pitch yell that you know surprises them as much as you. As I looked over at that beautiful baby girl and smiled, I overheard the young women say, "She's just discovered her voice." The older women, who had been conversing with her husband, was also looking at the baby and responded in a light manner, "Oh. Then, she's gonna be a singer?" The young women smiled and looked down at the child as she replied, "Well, she's gonna be something . . . aren't you? Yes, yes you are."
            I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I would have. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought a hundred things at once, yet this time they all made sense. I felt a deep joy as well as a deep sadness; joy for the baby and the bright future she could have and sadness for the many others I see whose lives started out with the same innocence only to have lost their voices or to have their voice's silenced.  I wanted to say to that young woman, "Yes, yes she will be something but don't forget that she already is something. Yes, she just discovered her voice so please don't ever let her lose it, please. Help her see that her voice matters that she matters."
            They were then all called back to their different visits and I was left alone in the lobby. I couldn't get the phrase "discovered her voice" out of my head. I began to think about my own voice and if I even knew what it was anymore. Had I allowed my voice to be silenced by life, society, experiences, enemies, well or not so well intentioned friends or family members, or even my own self? I knew that I had. I knew that I had lost who I was because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone else was happy with the person I was becoming. I never have wanted to hurt anyone, I never have wanted to be a disappointment so I pleased others based off what I assumed their expectations were for me. Not to say that with some of those choices and opinions I didn't also please myself, because I did. I mean, I'm not a complete push over – just find the level of "complete push over", scale back down two levels and that's where I'll be. Somewhere in that mess of assumptions, expectations, and rules I allowed to be placed upon me, my voice had been brushed aside, quieted, and finally silenced. Shockingly enough, I was the biggest silencer.
             I then began to think about why that was? I meet with people everyday that seem to be beaten down by life and who are struggling in ways that I never knew existed. My heart hurts for them but even more so when I see in them what I've seen in me: they become their worst critic. Their voice becomes one of anger and hate towards themselves and those around them and maybe even before they understand what is happening, misery is the new normal. It was then, in that moment of too many thoughts, that hopelessness crept in - my old familiar friend, who always seems to come when I need him least. Being the bully that he is, he rarely travels alone so along came despair, anger, self-pity, fear, and hate. Normally, I'm no match for when they all seem to crowd in upon me but somehow that moment was different.
            I thought about the little baby, I thought about her happiness and the power that came to her in discovering her voice. I began to get angry, and for the first time in a long time the anger was for the negative, self-defeating voice in my head. My true voice, the voice I had allowed to be silenced, the voice who can often speak for others needed to start to speak back to the negative inside myself, to find the power again. I heard myself begin to talk back to the hopelessness. I heard myself tell it to get lost, that it wasn't needed and wasn't true. The very fact that I allowed this innocent situation to teach me something meant my voice was coming back and in that there was hope.

So, I challenge you to do the same. If you know your voice, use it to help another. If your voice has been silenced, unearth it, become aware of who or what is behind the silencing and crush it. If you don't know your voice, find it, because you have one. Terry Tempest Williams has said, "Each of us has one. Each voice is distinct and has something to say. Each voice deserves to be heard. But it requires the act of listening."

I'm listening . . . .

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What a year ago was like for me . . . .

"One of the greatest lies ever told is that there's no power in vulnerability."
  Dianna Hardy

If ever there was a moment in my life where I have needed power … to push through, to overcome, to keep going, it is now. So, with that in mind, it seems that the sharing of this story – of my story – is rooted in my own selfishness. Feel free to continue reading, to take this journey with me but, by all means, please do not feel compelled.  

One year ago tomorrow, January 12, I found myself somewhere I never thought I would be – the Behavioral Health unit of a local hospital. Now, for those not in the know on the politically correct terminology I just used to describe this fine type of medical unit, I'll help you out – it was a Psych ward. Yup, a legitimate "what the movies always show it as" psych ward – complete with a loud rec room, every 20 minute room checks, awful hospital gowns, and my room consisting of nothing but a bed bolted to the floor.

Now, I'm completely aware of the bias I have, given the situation I found myself in, but I remind myself and anyone else who decided to keep reading, that this is my story, and I will tell it how I viewed it, how it seemed to me. To me, there could be no more horrible place to find myself. Me – the person who had spent most of her life afraid of someone knowing how I really felt – the person who learned to become a great listener to anyone who needed it not only because my years of observance had taught me to love people but also because the fear of having to talk about myself with any depth was more than I could stand – the person who wanted nothing more in my life than to be normal – here I was, in what society had always taught me was practically the least normal place I could be.

How had I allowed myself to get this low? How had I gotten myself here? How do I get out? More importantly, how do I get out with giving away the least information about myself and letting the least amount of people know? I was horrified. I was ashamed. I wanted nothing more than the earth to swallow me whole so I would never again have to face the outside world. In one quick moment, I was changed, altered, different, and thinking about living in any kind of world as this new me was not a thought I wanted to ponder. I was also angry, angrier than I had ever before felt. Who were these ridiculous psychiatrists, nurses, social workers? Coming in and asking me deep personal questions about if I had tried to end my life and if I understood that the amount of pills I took was reckless. I had hardly shared the depth of my pain with myself, which is what got me where I was, let alone sharing with complete strangers who I felt only wanted one thing – to medicate me and throw away the key.

Yes, in looking at it now, it was an attempt to end my life but what it really was to me, and what I want more than anything through the sharing of this story is for this point to be understood - it was a way to end the pain of my life. When I did what I did I wasn't thinking I want my life over, I was thinking – I haven't slept for 3 days, my mind wont shut off, I can't stand for one more second to feel the bottomless pit of agony I was feeling. It was as if my emotions were all controlled by a wide array of faucets and all emotions were turned off except agony, which had been turned on full blast; and in my haste to turn the faucet off, I broke the handle, there was no stopping it. So, I took pills and kept taking them because sleep wasn't coming. I knew physically how I had gotten in the hospital but what I was unable to do was understand it all.

 I had found myself the victim of abuse in my childhood and had kept that incident locked up tight for 15 years. The event was bad enough for my emotional health over that time but it was in the secret keeping that the most damage occurred. This was exactly the kind of thing the doctors wanted me to talk about, however, it was exactly the kind of thing I would never let them hear. I did what I had to do to get out. Now, there are probably many people who have benefitted from the doctors and workers of a facility like this, I was not one of them. It was the worst place for me. I have never felt more alone in all of my existence, and I have never felt more devalued as a human being than I did on that unit. I felt that of the maybe 30 people (doctors, nurses, clinicians, etc.) I met during my four days there, only two treated me like a human being; only two looked at me as a person just like themselves, not a diagnosis or someone with "mental illness". I will forever be grateful for those two people.

I share this not in hopes that pity or sympathy will be felt for me but that the stigma that comes from struggling mentally or emotionally, will be broken. In sharing this story I am no longer allowing myself to cower in the corners of shame, terrified that I will be found a fraud. Guess what? We all have parts of ourselves that are fraudulent and hypocritical, that’s what makes us human.  What I learned from my time with the other patients on that unit is that there aren't "normal" people and people with mental illness but that we are all just people; people who experience life and humanity in very different ways and will face very different challenges as a result.

This past year hasn't been easy for me, just like I know it hasn't been easy for millions of other people. Will I continue to struggle at times? Yes. Will I win triumphantly on some days and lose miserably on others? Yes. So will you. So will the millions of other people on this planet. So, I return to my selfish motives. I write this for me. I write this so that on those days where I have miserably lost, I can read over my own words and find the power I will desperately need, the power I hope I gained in being vulnerable.