I was reminded of you last night. I was up late, looking through a decade of old photos on my computer. A picture of you in your military uniform captured me, I had a hard time looking away, so I stared at it for awhile, with intensity and interest. These were the eyes I would lose myself in, the same ones that could make time stand still and everything else fall into the background. They were the ones that penetrated my walls enough to peer inside and scan my internal landscape of intimate vulnerabilities, desires, and fears. Your eyes had a language of their own and I trusted them, inviting them to sit with me in my most sacred places, sharing a world with them that I had never travelled before. So many intoxicating and exciting places we visited. For me, it was something incredibly special, so beautiful and unique, that words could never paint the picture of us. The painting that only you and I shared. It was, at times, other worldly and blissful. And yet, it was too good to be true.
“I fell through a burning ring of fire” staring into your eyes.
You eyes were deceiving me the entire time. Full of lies, they studied my internal landscape to rape and pillage the fertile soil, determined to leave it dry and barren. Only then, would your ego be satisfied enough to leave me, discarded and devastated.
And so, late last night, I was surprised and delighted to remember that it was your birthday. It has been two years since we last slept side by side, stuck in an abusive cycle of your gaslighting and lies. It was difficult leaving you initially because you had convinced me that I was the problem in the relationship. Your erratic behavior of pulling me in and discarding me, kept me dizzy and in constant confusion and anxiety. You kept crashing into my life with such intensity, only to withdraw quickly and silently, stonewalling me for weeks, ignoring texts and refusing requests to talk. It was maddening and I eventually left.
I still longed for our connection, to look into your eyes, and escape into perfect bliss. In ways, I hoped you would agree to therapy as I implored you to do so. But, days and weeks and soon months went by and if you contacted me it was only to flirt or invite me down to sleep with you. And this was when you were dating someone else. I saw this behavior as distasteful and demeaning to the woman you were romancing at the time. Those brief interactions only served to distance me farther from you, eventually allowing complete freedom from the reign you had in my life for an entire decade!
And so, today, I wish you a “Happy Birthday”, but the gift, baby, is all mine. Two full years of self-discovery and forgiveness. Two years of regaining my dignity. I’m healing and changing while you stay caged in your crappy games, hurting those “you love”. And now, I see those eyes as distant, cold, hollow. I have always held out hope on some level that perhaps you did really love me. But, the larger part of my spirit knows now that you were not capable of loving me at the time, if ever. The many times I left messages or e-mails only for you to not respond. I now see your stare as icy cold, even menacing. There were times when we were together that I watched you turn stone cold, distant. I didn’t recognize you.
And so, today I celebrate two years free from our cycle of despair. And, as you have your cake and ice cream today, I’m three hours away celebrating my recovery of narcissistic abuse. It’s been a time of perpetual gifts, both big and small. I’ve learned to love myself and put me first, in the center of my plate. Our relationship helped to carve out my self-esteem, in a painstakingly, beautiful manner. So the ending of us, was really the beginning of something truly remarkable and beautiful for me. When I thought my world had fallen apart, in losing you, it actually was unraveling in order to be put together in the most exquisite and miraculous way. I rose from the flames, reborn, like the phoenix and am infinitely proud of rising after such a disastrous fall. So….. Happy Birthday to you and Happy “Rebirth”day to me. Looks like we both have something to celebrate!
Over the years, I’ve written quite a few poems inspired by rain. Rainy days often can provide the perfect backdrop for writing as its difficult to get out and do your normal routine. It’s easier to cuddle up with a blanket and hot cup of tea and read a book or put pen to paper and write. Sometimes a steady, soaking rain that lasts all day will nearly put me in a trance, a completely different state of mind, where my thoughts are more fluid and distant. The following poems were written during times when I was swept away by the rain in thoughts or feelings and wanted to capture where I had landed.
Thirsty for More
Swelling in the Sky.
Drop, Drop, Drop.
And I can’t stop,
Thirsty for more.
While the puddles swell,
And the rain swiftly flows
To the gutter.
Where it disappears.
Underneath the city.
I walk above,
On washed up streets.
One lone beat.
And there is none for me,
I wrote this many years ago. I believe this was written during a time when I was longing for connection, more than likely with a partner, and felt lonely. The raindrops symbolized my feeling that connection and relationships were plentiful and yet, I felt I was missing many opportunities again and again as the “rain flowed to the gutter”, disappearing from view. The rain had stirred my imagination and served as a method for processing my pain during a lonely time in my life.
Bathing, in the water.
My strands of hair, wet.
Lying in the wet grass.
The green, wet blades of grass.
The scent of a fresh Spring rain.
The scent of honeysuckle.
Lying naked in the grass.
Exposed, for every soul to see.
My impurities, leaving me.
Naked now, baring my soul,
For the world to know,
For the world to see me.
With nothing to hide.
Rain, falling from the sky.
Covering me, lightly.
Making me free.
This was another poem written years ago during a downpour. This poem displays my connection to nature and the healing properties it holds for me. Being naked and exposed without shame, symbolized a time in my life when I was discovering my true essence and was growing in confidence, becoming ok with myself. The rain symbolizes a cleanse of any and all negativity and fear I was holding on to and a desire to just be me, unapologetic and fearless. The rain was the medium through which I was shedding parts of my cocoon and was eager for flight.
Have you ever sat and watch the rain drops beat upon the window shield?
Each drop, some separating, others combing, quiver and break loose.
They seem to be in a race, against time, against humanity.
They reach their destination, only to realize that they do not exist.
I wrote this many moons ago when I was 17 years old. It was inspired from a road trip in the rain that I had taken with my Mom. I remember looking out the car window and noticing the rain drops. The drops reminded me of people, in a hurry, running to and fro, sometimes alone or together. Like the raindrops on the windshield, people also have an expiration date. It sounds a bit morbid, but it is more about the race that we often find ourselves in and how we forget to slow down sometimes to hang a little longer in the spaces where we are at, engaged fully in the present moment.
Thanks for reading, I believe we will get some much needed rain next week. If I am lucky, I’ll get a poem or two out of it!!
I’ve spent years fruitlessly searching for something more, often by engaging in tumultuous relationships, reckless endeavors, and high intensity jobs. These spaces were fraught with tension, intrigue, drama, and suspense and would hold my attention for a time.
Looking back, one of my unhealthy preoccupations was my gross investment in loved ones who were “drowning”, often in abusive relationships and/or struggling with addiction. Their struggle was severe, often involving episodes of incarceration, potential homelessness, and hospitalization. I would throw my entire being into “saving another” and would rage and wound after being rejected after multiple attempts of confrontation. I became more invested in their healing process than they were. I wanted them well and “awake”, able and willing to connect, and eventually I realized my preoccupation was limiting my own growth and healing. I learned that my quest to connect, over time, trapped me in a cycle of disillusionment and disconnection. In my effort to reach people, I had cut myself off and my world closed in on me as I became more obsessed to reach those who had value to me. Depression and despair set in and I grew bitter, alone, and often suicidal. My value was placed on a select few that I felt had abandoned me, if not, even abandoned themselves.
In this space: I sat, I slept, and I sulked. Those struggling continued to struggle. Those sleeping continued to sleep. And, I, lamented and grieved.
It was during this painful time in my life, that I became aware of two conflicting spaces, one of endless preoccupation, and one of stillness. I was familiar with preoccupation, busying my mind with anything but the deafening silence of solitude. Preoccupation lead me into places of intensity: tumultuous relationships, gambling, and chaos. I refer to chaos as the endless opportunities in my life that existed to engage in gossip and drama regarding other people’s pain. It was an addiction in and of itself, often latching on, attempting to bring about change in a complex and chaotic situation where those struggling were not entirely invested in healing. I wore their pain like a corset and went on a mission to rattle them to the point of waking. To this day, it has failed and left me rejected and devalued, struggling to pick up the pieces while the bombs keep dropping in the background. There seemed to be no safe shelter from it. I had to walk away from those that had already left me, complacent with the dissolve of our relationship and the perpetual destruction in their lives. After years of exhaustion and loneliness, I knew it was time to visit the other side, stillness. I wondered what I could gain from being still, no longer running endlessly, could I even stop and what would happen if I did? This place of stillness is still somewhat foreign to me.
And so, this brings me to where I am at presently in my life. Exploring the space of stillness, checking in, recognizing the urge to move, but not doing so. Often if I felt an urge, I acted on it in some way. So, sitting here, still, is a new practice for me. Some may call it meditation or mindfulness and those are two ways to “tune in” instead of turning to mindless preoccupation where intent is often muted, undiscovered.
In this space, I am learning that I have often ran from the pain of rejection and loneliness in my life. Oddly enough, I would run right back into a situation where I didn’t have the opportunity to connect. In fact, gambling and hopeless relationships served to further alienate me from myself and others. It limited my ability to connect. When I gambled, I was detached, sitting in front of a machine, with absolutely no opportunity for true connection. I look around now and notice the level of disconnection that occurs when people are in pain. To be fair, some amount of preoccupation is needed as it would be impossible to be “on” and “connected” all the time. And preoccupation can be achieved in healthy ways where people are connecting. I am primarily concerned with the amount of unhealthy preoccupation that I have participated in to dull the pain in my life.
Sitting still has made me aware of why I am running so much in my life. A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath. I love a hot bath and it is a great place to “be still”. I asked myself why is it I don’t feel loved? Why am I jealous sometimes of others and long to feel special? Why am I chasing after people and situations that never give back, where I am neglected and rejected? Why? Now, in the past, I would become immediately preoccupied. I did not want to sit with my pain. But, from this simple exchange, came a voice, an answer. I was missing my “father”. I never knew my biological father and I wasn’t close to my step-dad. Growing up, I was jealous and sad of the other girls I saw who would run up, jumping into their Dad’s lap. I was fortunate to have some time with my Grandfather who did bestow fatherly love on me, but my grandparents lived in another state and that love I experienced was limited to the times we were physically together. So, all of these feelings of sadness & jealousy that I figured were character flaws actually came from a real place. This opened up the door for compassion. How could I be mad at a little girl who longed to be held by her father? This helped to create softness in place of the “armor” I had created in self loathing and fear. Had I not sat in the stillness and asked, I may have missed this discovery, this puzzle piece of my landscape.
We have a choice every day to “wake up” or remain sleeping. If you find that you are endlessly running and are exhausted from endeavors that don’t provide any return, but drain you, it may be time to consider the stillness. What greater endeavor than to connect to yourself and enrich your life while developing compassion towards yourself and others. This has been a gift. And I have a lot more “sitting” to do as I’m used to the endless pursuit of preoccupation.
The above is a chant I learned from my Yoga Therapist that has helped me. It is roughly translated as:
From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace
Are there spaces in your life in which there is not a safe harbor? A space perhaps you keep visiting despite the rocky shore, crashing waves, and dangerous undertow? Your heart longs to connect there and after searching meticulously, overturning every single stone, shell, and pebble, you leave empty handed once again. Surely, this space still exists. And so, you retract, often in disillusionment and despair, berating yourself for losing it in the first place and resolving to come back another time, for surely it will still be there.
Are you avoiding aloneness?
There are spaces in your life where it may appear that you have been abandoned, left alone. In these spaces, you often are learning and growing through pain and even suffering. You’ve been so determined in your intention to salvage and restore, that this overwhelming feeling of “being left” cuts through you like a knife piercing your gut. It hurts. There our times the pain is so insufferable and intolerable you will go at great lengths to lessen its intensity or avoid it at all costs. There are so many places to hide that offer the illusion of safety that we are often pulled into these “oh so shiny” spaces that fill us briefly, placing our original search on hold. This part of us that runs from being left and rejected isn’t bad or good, it’s simply our way of avoiding the pain we feel may kill us if we linger in it for too long.
And so, we rotate between the “oh so shiny” spaces and occupy our time with the things that we believe are easier to obtain: our next fix, the bonus on the slot machine, sex with a new partner, recently purchased material goods, a drunken night on the town, an obsessive exercise routine, or a decadent piece or two of chocolate cake. We spend endless hours engaged in perpetual stimulation, avoiding the inevitable, the fact that we are all alone. All of us are alone. And we all to some degree have participated in the act of overstimulation to drown out the pain and fear to avoid being alone. We go back to the spaces in our hearts and minds that have caused us the most pain, in effort to connect and to make sense of a time when we were left, rejected, and abandoned. These are the times that have often paralyzed us. The reality is that being alone is something we all experience, collectively.
You are not alone in that we all are alone and struggle, at times.
And so, since we are all alone, we are also all not alone. Imagine that! Separated by the barrier of our skin, we spend our days moving through time and space, alone. The beauty in this is that being alone in this way is universal. It is something we all experience every day of our lives. We all experience the fear of being alone and this awareness can be grounding and calming. Some of us are lucky to have our lives full of the people, pets, and things that we love. We feel at peace in our aloneness and are satisfied with our connections. Still yet, some feel over-connected and long for more time alone. While others are still struggling in the pain of feeling alone and abandoned and are challenged connecting to others. These feelings of abandonment often come from real places of struggle, perhaps resulting from neglect or abuse in childhood, or even a lengthy relationship with an abusive individual. Living with a mental illness can make it difficult to connect due to symptoms that may limit one’s ability to engage in endeavors where connection occurs. Those things take people away from healthy preoccupations that can make a person feel less lonely and fulfilled. And still yet, we can all take comfort in knowing we all experience times when we feel alone and wonder: “Am I enough?”.
When struggling with pain and loneliness, sit with it and be inquisitive.
When you feel alone and fearful, and you have the urge to fill it with something not truly healthy, sit with that feeling. Let it flow over you and do nothing to escape or contain it. Perhaps, even address it and “check in” waiting to see what comes up. There is often a lot we can learn in these spaces if we choose to sit with it instead of flee or mute it. Often the urge will be too great, and you will choose to engage in some form of activity for relief. Ultimately, if there is pain within you, longing to communicate a need, and you flee each time, you may miss out on a piece of the puzzle that may bring peace in your life. You may be missing opportunities to connect with yourself and when you choose to “sit still” you may in time heal the places within you that are running back to empty vessels, unsafe harbors, and unhealthy endeavors.
Also, in these spaces where you are alone, you will find that it might be a good time to take inventory in your life. If you have been struggling, ask yourself these questions:
Why am I hurting?
What things can I do realistically do to ease the struggle?
Is there someone or something in my life that I continue to invest time in even when it is causing me pain to do so?
Can I let go of certain things that are causing me pain?
Are there things in my life that are “not mine”, that I cannot control, that I cling to? Can I let them go?
What are the things in my life that I do have control over that bring me joy? Can I expand these in my life making them the priority over the things I cannot control that are not mine?
These questions might help those struggling to clear their plate of things that cause despair and depression that might elevate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Clearing one’s plate from situations that are outside of one’s control and replacing it with things that allow a sense of agency can lighten the load that may in time lead to opportunities to connect. Loneliness can be a product of too much overstimulation. Sitting with oneself provides the space to reconnect which is needed to connect to others. One of the most effective ways to deal with pain is to sit with it, address it, and learn from it. It’s not a perfect process, healing is lengthy and will involve many detours. But, always remember, you truly are never alone as you are part of the collective conscious that is healing itself in the past, present, and future.
That’s me above and my pup, Gracie. This was about 2 years ago while I was still working. I was living in Seattle, WA. And, trust me, was severely anxious even in this picture! I’m currently waiting to be approved for SSDI and hope to one day make a full recovery. If I do not, I hope to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHD, and PMDD. Just trying to accept each day as it comes and continue learning!
The suffering we endure related to our mental illness is amplified by the stigma and shame surrounding it. Let us tease out each of these concepts and acknowledge the impact each has on our lives.
The Suffering: Those who struggle with a mental illness do so due to biological changes in the brain that are often difficult to manage and control. No one chooses to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day! Most of those who suffer were active and involved prior to the onset of their mental illness. The illness more than likely crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was “not right”. That something presented itself as a combination of symptoms to possibly include: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, hallucinations and/or delusions, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, disassociation, etc. The sufferer is often aware, on some level, that his or her thought processes are not correct and may seek help due to the uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression. Some people who suffer with a severe mental illness lack the insight needed to seek treatment. In both cases, the person suffering has not done anything to invite the “illness” into their lives, no one intentionally wants to have their ability to control their emotions and perceptions altered or compromised in any way. Sure, there are individuals who use recreational drugs that alter their minds, but even so, no one would want to remain on a “trip” indefinitely with their perceptions altered.
I’ve often compared my illness to someone having unwanted side effects of a drug. Except, those struggling have never ingested a substance, nor do they have the ability to control or ceases the symptoms by removing a substance from their life. The symptoms also differ from the following examples of “side effects” in that they are often more severe and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain.
For example, a person having way too much caffeine may experience some symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious irritable, energetic, etc. Their mind might race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish. Another example I give is that depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn. In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”. Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects. Imagine, living life and all is going relatively well and then one day you get trapped in a cycle of “side effects” in which there is no escape. Sounds like a personal hell, right? It is. I have lived years in the cycle of severe anxiety desperately trying any and everything to get relief. Often it is years of trial and error, until relief arrives very slowly over months to years. It is something one has to learn to cope and manage with and it takes time, persistence, and commitment. This is the suffering that most people do not understand, while others do not even acknowledge. The latter leads to another type of suffering, compounding the already difficult task of managing a mental illness.
The Stigma: Those who live with a mental illness also have to “suffer” in a world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling. There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling. Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation. They also may not get treatment and suffer needlessly for many years because of the shame that is associated with asking for help and admitting that they are sick. I personally have lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when I requested help in the form of accommodations. My struggle was not viewed as credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker”. Even though we have certain rights through the American Disabilities Act, the laws are not always enforceable and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is very slow to act. The reality is that the stigma surrounding the mentally ill discourages people from getting help and it prevents people from disclosing their disability in order to get help in the workplace. The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and inadequate care. Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes. The shame must be placed on a system that is inefficient when taking down barriers that would lead to progress for those struggling.
The Shame: Many people who live with a mental illness feel ashamed of their struggle and this leads to additional struggling and depression. I used to do a fair amount of self-loathing due to the multiple times I would start a job and then “fail” due to the increased symptoms relating to my illness. I realized over time that I wasn’t actually failing, but was suffering under a system that would shame me to the point that I would “give up”. My work was always praised, but my attempt to work with a mental illness was harshly criticized. I was even told at my last job that I was disqualified due to my disability. This caused a relapse and I spent several months stewing over my life and my lack of success due to my illness. It took a lot of soul searching to separate my illness from my identity. In time, I could see clearly that my illness has robbed me of my potential, not my talent, motivation, experience, or passion. It was how I decompensated during times of stress due to my illness that wrecked me. This has prompted me to respect my illness for what it truly is, a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions and is often outwardly presented in behaviors. I began to see the distinction between myself when I am suffering and myself when I am not. I challenge those suffering to let go of the shame you have relating to your behavior when you are sick. Focusing on the negative behavior that arises during an episode often will only serve to keep you hooked in a cycle of shame and regret. Instead, give the illness the respect it deserves and spend time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay. If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time I will forgive myself and instead of lamenting the mistakes made when I was chained against my will and suffering, I will get busy working to get ahead of the next episode. I honestly want to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it before it begins!!!
I hope this was helpful. It is a struggle, and you deserve to know that someone out there sees your struggle, believes it, and is right there with you. Thanks for reading!
*This content has the potential to be triggering for some. It deals with issues of sexual assault and child molestation.
There will be a day in the distant future when such a strong framework of laws and protections exists for the victims of sexual violence, that our current system will seem archaic and outdated. Our cultural norms regarding these issues will be one that fiercely protects the victim, ensuring that they will be safe and supported should they choose to speak out. This is the cultural change I am witnessing and it heals and frees me.
When our voices, raised in thunderous revolt, echo in the chambers of courtrooms, casting off reverberations, breaking glass and shattering the silence that has surrounded us, we will no longer be shrouded in shame and self doubt. Those things we learned from living in a culture that encouraged secrecy, perhaps the ultimate incident of gaslighting. We were often denied our reality and our own voice.
And you will hear: “I am here. I exist. I will not remain silent, nor will I accept your complacency for the crimes commited by those that would not see me, value me, or believe my story”. We as victims will say: “No more”.
Many of us have had to endure being preyed upon only to be discarded by a system that did not see the value in holding our perpetrator accountable. Often adults surrounding us were so complacent that they shrugged off our concerns, hoping we’d somehow forget that it ever occurred.
This complacency is deeply burrowed, like a parasite, into the fabric of our culture. We still hear daily of the lamentations of men and women who suffer under a perpetrator denying them their visibility and worth, attacking not only their physical safety, but their emotional and spiritual safety as well. Enough is enough. When will it end?
And so, the stories continue to roll in, #metoo, #metoo from both men and women, and the assaults must stop. Period.
Not only should we be believed, but we should be protected and provided immediate options for treatment that are paid for by those who commit crimes against the innocent. Because, these crimes often last a lifetime. The take host in the body of the victim and wreak havoc in a variety of ways from anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc. Some victims even turn to substance use as a way to numb the affects of sexual assault and molestation. Enough. Enough.
The system must make it clear that an abuse of power will result in power being stripped, and taken away, immediately.
We heal our society, NOT by being silent and sweeping things under the rug; We heal by continually confronting, enforcing consequences, and caring for the wounded. It is that simple.
There should be zero tolerance for those molesting and assaulting powerless victims. We can do better by holding the perpetrator accountable and requiring that victims, especially children, get the treatment needed so that the impact is minimized and the victim can feel supported and safe.
There has been way too much complacency for an issue that potentially can cause a lifetime of suffering. When our voices are heard and our stories told, we will together demand a safer world that protects people from violating acts and holds perpetrators accountable in a swift and forcible manner.
And so, I will continue to share my story, shouting it loudly and fervently.
I was FOUR when I was violated. My next door neighbor, Wally, was sexually molesting my sister and me and had threatened to harm our mother if we told. It so happens, I was the one who opened my mouth offhandedly and exposed the “secret”. Due to this event, I struggled with bedwetting, anxiety, and was diagnosed with ADHD. Later in life, I was diagnoses with Bipolar I and PTSD, and continued struggling in various ways relating to the assault. Our perpetrator never was held accountable and he was allowed to remain living next door, taunting us. The newspaper article pictured above provides evidence of this story.
I also was sexually assaulted again at age 16 by a different neighbor. I sat in the middle of the truck and had to straddled the gear shift. My friends father fondled me during the entire trip. I felt embarrassed and powerless not knowing what to do or say since my girlfriend was sitting right beside me. My parents did not act at the time and I was told by another man in the neighborhood that it was my fault because my “shorts were too short”. My concerns were silenced. These incidents were in the 70’s and late 80’s and during those time you were just supposed to “suffer through” and “tolerate it”.
It is so important to keep these stories alive and to continue to say “No more”!! I’m encouraged by the progress seen and hope that one day we live in a world safe from sexual assault. It is so damaging to so many of us and one way we can heal is through activism.
Keep talking, shouting, and sharing, we will be the change we seek to create a safe world for ourselves and others.
I see what you have been doing and I am on to you. For years, you have come in unannounced and unexpected, hijacking my mood and perceptions and even altering my behavior. I never once gave you permission to rent a space in my head, wreaking havoc in every area of my life, often down to the minute details. You came in so slyly that many around me questioned your existence, often asserting that I could easily “shake you off” if I truly wanted to by exercising or thinking positively. They were unaware how you hung on to me, smothering me, refusing to let go. There were even times I loathed myself due to your presence, feeling powerless, weak, and ashamed.
I would do ok for awhile and begin to make plans, only for you to come riding in on your dark horse, capturing me, and dragging me to the ground. Days were spent in bed, numb and dissociated from the world around me. People would call, but I was too exhausted to do much of anything and there were days I actually dreaded walking to the bathroom.
I would force myself to get up and go to work, but was anxious and depressed often from having to expend so much energy to hide you and keep your symptoms at bay. I was often praised for my work, but your relentless presence caused absences and this inevitably resulted in job losses. I was angry that my talents, skills, and potential took a back seat to your ominous and foreboding presence that would not leave. It seemed unfair, cruel.
There were those occasions you showed up so strongly, I was pushed into a frenzy, often manic and obsessive. You would have me spinning and hooked so tightly on a topic, that I’d often lose track of time and space until you dropped me with no warning, back into clarity and calmness. I was disoriented and disgruntled. You would then leave me to pick up the pieces from the mess created by those fanciful and frenzied moods. Often in those spaces, I was raging and could hear people in the far distance asking” “Are you ok?” and “Are you rapid cycling?”; Yet you had me in a vice so tight that I couldn’t come up to the surface to breathe. It’s a very undignified position that you put me in, over and over again. If I could hold you accountable somehow, you’d deserve a life sentence for robbing me of my potential and peace.
I went through this cycle for years, often absorbing what should have been attributed to you. I had a difficult time separating myself from you and questioned where you ended and I began. You took up an enormous space in my life. I’m still doing my best to diminish and contain you as much as possible.
Many people in my life, from co-workers to partners, thought on some level that I could contain you if only I tried and I was seen as not credible, lazy, dramatic, etc. I was repeatedly blamed for your presence and that alone was damaging and devastating. Your antics colored my existence, leading people to believe that your symptoms were my personality. I went along with this for years confused and bewildered, until one day I saw the pattern in its entirety and I said, enough.
Bipolar, you are busted. You do not get to claim my identity or any part of my personality. You are an only an illness, and a shitty one at that.
I realize that I still have to live with people not understanding your presence in my life. I have spent years living with you and even I am often baffled and must search for answers. I will find ways to wrestle you to the ground and contain you. Lithium only goes so far. But, I won’t let you make me feel ashamed anymore for the times I am taken against my will, spinning. I am making a promise today and always to let you know who is the boss. You don’t define me. I will find ways to decrease your presence in my life and one of those ways is to not get caught up in angst and anxiety when I’m dropped by you after an episode. I’m just going to accept it and “address it”!
Bipolar I is a lifelong, chronic illness that requires effort and persistence to manage and cope. Shedding light on the struggle can release the shame that potentially keeps someone suffering & sick. So many steps to the healing process, and I do not feel I was truly acknowledging how much shame has kept me trapped and stagnating. I will keep fighting, acknowledging that I live with a severe and persistent mental illness that has known cure at this time. And, I will not be bound to the guilt and shame of an illness I have no control over having. It chose me, not the other way around!
I won’t stay stuck here forever. It’s a dark and suffocating place.
All of us have areas of our life that make us feel unworthy and unloved. Some of those areas go back to a time when our esteem was first forming. For some of us, we were stunted by abuse or neglect and now are left trying to pick up the pieces that were not given to us. This is extremely hard work. I wanted to write this piece because we collectively can benefit from hearing other people’s pain to learn that we truly are not alone.
There is no shame in acknowledging that certain tools were left, often unintentionally, out of our toolbox. Many of us struggling, to no fault of our own, did not have a solid foundation in our formative years. At times, our needs may have been overlooked resulting in poor coping mechanism and difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries.
As a result of a difficult past, I developed a host of ineffective coping strategies I utilized to try and to get my needs met. I feel that those who have hurt me, often did so unintentionally, often without awareness of their own issues or mine. Perhaps they would have been more empathetic, had I been coping more effectively at the time and communicated my needs in less abrasive ways. Those who harmed me with intention often had their own issues of self worth. I feel sharing has the power to set us free from the patterns that have become deeply entrenched in our minds and thus reflected in our behavioral patterns. Often these patterns of behavior mirror back to us what we believe about ourselves and further imprison us, committing us to an false identity that leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy of failure, resulting in low self esteem.
Clearing a path for your authentic self to emerge is difficult work that is cumbersome, requiring courage and persistence. A lot of this work is not linear, and it can not be completed in a vacuum. Meaning as you heal you often are still in the same environment and around the same people who will challenge the healing process, skeptical of the changes you are making. This may even mean you have to distance yourself from certain people who are not willing to accept the person you are becoming. Often, healing is brutally messy and even painful. But, it is a process that I believe to be worth the endeavor, despite the chaos that can ensue for a few years while things adjust.
This has been an excruitiatingly painful year for me. In this year, I have faced discrimination in the workplace and lost my job. I also cut ties and went “No Contact” with my Narcissistic after having a very tumultuous and abusive relationship with him for a decade. And, lastly, it is the year that I was scapegoated by my family and blamed for the turmoil and divisiveness that was stemming from my sister’s struggle with addiction. All of these invalidating experiences, where I was gaslighted, devalued, and discarded, resulted in a very unstable time for me. I relapsed with my Bipolar illness and became suicidal for the majority of the year. I was very hurt and enraged and spent the year fighting with my Mom and sister trying to salvage the relationship, but also determined to defend my reality in the process. This pain lead me to time spent questioning my reality, my motives, and my intentions. This process lead me to links in my past, shedding light on places of hurt that had stunted my growth, causing self-doubt and despair. Being so vulnerable and sharing openly, I feel, only will serve to diminish the power these myths have over me that claim: “I am not good or worthy”. And it is possible that my reflections will resonate with someone along the path of healing, and together we will heal.
In my formative years, there were some remarkable events that caused me significant pain, influencing my world view and challenging my self esteem. One of these events being when my biological father released his rights to me, not wanting to know me or have me as part of his life. I won’t get into the rationale as to why this occurred. I was too young to remember the event, but do recall the years in my life of wishing I had an affectionate father who made me feel safe, secure, and valued. This one event had impact on my self esteem and worth that followed me throughout my life.
At age four, I was molested which left me feeling powerless, invisible, and ashamed. I was not considered in that event, just a little girl whose only purpose was to provide pleasure for the perpetrator. My voice was muted and I was devalued. I absorbed the shame through this event and when I was much older, in my teen years, I felt very ashamed and guilty for having normal thoughts and feelings about boys. I was heavy for many years in order to remain invisible to men and feel safe in my skin. This event impacted me greatly and as a result later in life, I married a gay man to avoid feeling violated. I did not know for certain he was gay prior to marrying him, I just knew that I did not feel threatened by him in any way. When I lost my weight after being divorced, I became involved with a man who was a narcissist and the relationship seemed like a parallel to my molestation. I felt used, devalued, and invisible in the relationship and it took years to finally reclaim my self worth and separate from him.
My family environment was also turbulent as well. My step-father was intimidating and abusive at times, shaking and pulling my hair and throwing things. It wasn’t an every day occurrence and there were times he did try in his own way. Our family has many good memories and my parent both have accounted and apologized for the past. Still yet, I lived in fear and tried to be as perfect as possible. My sister and step-father butted heads and it made for a very scary and not so pleasant upbringing. My sister left me a lot alone with my step-dad as my mother worked, and I was terrified and often felt abandoned. I wasn’t allowed to express anger or really have a voice. This caused me to stuff lot of my anger and ultimately I never really learned how to express anger in healthy ways. I still struggle with this today.
Throughout my life, I have been misunderstood and treated differently as a result of suffering with two disorders: ADHD and Bipolar I. As a small child attending kindergarten, I often was berated by the teacher for having ADHD. I was different from the other children and was asked often if I had “ants in my pants”? I didn’t understand why I was getting into trouble all the time. In my adult years, I loathed myself even more when I became sick with Bipolar illness. I had friends who laughed in my face when I told them I had gone into a psychiatric hospital for care. One friend told me she did not believe in mental health problems and that I needed to “buck up & get over myself”. These sentiments were later expressed in subsequent years by employers when I attempted to get accommodations in place during an episode, so I could remain working. I was discriminated against and let go or it became so uncomfortable that if I did stay, I eventually left on my own accord. I’ve experienced years of frustration, often being misunderstood by friends, family, or coworkers who feel my illness is just an excuse I make up for bad behavior. It is dehumanizing and extremely hard to not only have an illness and suffer greatly from it, but then have your credibility questioned as a result.
Lastly, My sister has struggled with addiction for years and it has caused immense strife in our family. I confront while others often enable, defend, lie, and hide. I would have let things go, but she had five children, all of which are young adults now, and I’ve had to watch them struggle along with their own stories of addiction. Not one of them walked across the stage to graduate and two of them do not even hold GEDs. Their potential was robbed without their awareness. I longed for a better life for all of them, including my sister. This situation has truly been difficult to navigate and I am often devalued in the process. It has caused me to question my reality and whether or not I am a good person. It has truly been trying, at times, and I have often lost my patience in rage and despair.
Even with all the strife in past and present relationships, I have always tried relentlessly to reconcile things. I struggle with letting people go, even if they are not good for me. I’ve lost a lot of trust in humanity and in others because of the way I have been treated by those close to me. I admit all my wrongdoings and I still long for the day when I feel accepted and loved completely.
I often feel like a scared kid, just hoping someone picks me up, holds me, and helps me walk through this pain in my life.
I’ve decided that someone has to be me. We all must manage our own pain, develop better boundaries, and love ourselves. We must forgive ourselves. Sadly, I can forgive everyone who has hurt me, but I have the most difficulty forgiving myself. I often desperately continue to return to those individuals in my life that are not truly open to loving me, or even themselves. I become angry when they devalue me and my reactions become the rationale for why they leave. And so, I must go through the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding, learning to let people in slowly, with stronger boundaries in place. I also have to disengage from those increasing the intensity in my life which often leads to relapses with my Bipolar illness. This is a balancing act. I hope sharing helps others out there who are also navigating several tough situations at one, they are not alone. It’s messy, it’s hard, but it’s possible.
And this is my toughest lesson to learn and my greatest challenge in my lifetime: To love myself enough to develop boundaries and slowly let those people in that will enrich my life and foster my growth and maturity. I believe they are out there. I truly am in the middle of this metamorphosis and I hope to one day look back on my life and see that I did it, I changed. I forgave myself, loved myself, and let go of those who are unwilling or unable to join me on this journey. No one said love would be easy, but I do believe it is worth it. And if you are struggling with self worth, I will say to you: WE ARE WORTH IT. Every human being is worth the journey towards healing and wholeness.
I’m using this piece as a series and am going to follow up with posts of thoughts and progress regarding my healing process. It helps me feel not so alone. Happy healing! Thanks for reading!
You were my ocean, I was often lost in you. Dragged in by the cruel and coveted undertow, Spit out on the shore, broken shells. I was always thirsty by your salty ways, Cresting and crashing in confusion. Searching your vastness, longing… Your beauty mesmerizing. Exhausted & swimming… Trying to stay stable, Among the shifting sands of your ocean floor. Too distant to reach, like the night sky. My grief lead me to refuge, My feet trod on the forest floor. An intricate system of strong and sturdy roots below. Holding me there. I knew the forest would take my salty tears, Standing among gentle giants with no judgment. And as I let go of the days at sea where I lost myself… A carpet of lush green ferns awaited me, A gentle breeze caressed me, Birds greeted me with song. I no longer needed to cry out For the forest had absorbed it. And so here, among the roots is where I will heal. An ocean cannot hold you.
Inspired by a decade of narcissistic abuse, from a man who wasn’t able to meet me with commitment or stability. Often, the forest is where I grieved, and subsequently healed. I’m forever grateful to the forest and the peace that held me and moved me through those intense periods of crisis in my life. When struggling, look to nature as it will offer you refuge and comfort during trying times.
There was something more powerful, pushing me there.
I was exhausted from a stressful week at work,
I honestly did not know if I had it in me.
I was pushed despite the pain, the anxiety, the fear, the exhaustion.
Still, I came.
Still, I showed up.
On the way down, I felt carried.
Carried by love.
I forgave you and was completely filled.
I surrendered, relinquishing control.
I saw that I owned nothing.
I saw that everything was a gift.
I rejoiced in this realization.
And then you met me, joyful.
We spend hours and collided, skimming the surface,
Never going in too deep.
Maybe I saw something in your face,
But I was too far away and I knew the reality of tomorrow.
At one point, I took a bath.
The sunlight came streaming in, warming my back.
There is nothing I love more that bathing in natural light.
I listened to the whistle on the train as it approached,
I faded into the hum of the steel on the tracks,
Wishing I were a passenger in the past traveling somewhere.
My thoughts drifted.
I came back, scrubbing my legs, my back, and listening to the water
Fall from the washcloth as I rinsed the soap from my skin.
Most of the day with you I spent in pain,
Tired and exhausted from the life I am living.
And then we parted. We said our goodbyes.
And, in the past, I would have completely crumbled.
In the past you would have been the only object of focus in my lens.
But this time, you weren’t.
God granted me a glimpse into love.
Love where nothing is owned or controlled.
Love where there is one source.
Every tiny delight, every source of pleasure & joy,
Comes from this one source.
My body, my possessions, my food, my thoughts, my ideas,
All emanate from this grounding force of love.
I can’t tell you why I made it through this or that when so many times I felt I could not.
I only now know now that it was because of love.
And as much physical pain as I was in on this journey, I finally surrendered.
And so, this is my focus.
To surrender and let love expand, washing over the broken pieces of my life.
And like shells, washed upon the shore, they are part of a majestic composition,
Possessing value and beauty.
All those small, insignificant moments, when I thought I was alone,
I was weaving a story of love and slowly surrendering
To the collective potential we possess.
I am learning from you.
You were learning from me.
The yearning we feel is ours to fill,
With the love inside us that drives us to keep going,
Searching for the agates and sea glass the is thrown upon the ocean shores.
And like the tides, having their lows and highs,
I’m accepting all of myself in compassion and care.
Love is embracing all of you, and still marveling at the ocean.
And so, I’ve learned that love isn’t a perfect story of bliss and passion. I left the “love of my life” because we were only hurting one another and it had become harder to “hold on” than it was to “let go”. I was losing my dignity in that I had accepted too much and I no longer liked the person I became in anger and rage. In the end, I realized the person I was most fighting with was myself. I was angry for not having left earlier. Looking back, I feel my lover was suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and was incapable of truly connecting with me. I still love him, but I’ve learned to love myself enough to walk away and go “No Contact”. I’m spending my days rebuilding my life and I love myself enough to forgive the past where I was a student to my grief and pain. The last decade of my life where I experienced narcissistic abuse, has given me the greatest gift of all: self love. All of those arguments and times I was desperate to make Him mine, was actually my desperate attempts to connect to and love myself. I’m infinitely proud of myself for letting go and embracing myself. Sometimes, we don’t realize the person we most miss is ourselves. I’m romancing myself for the time being and experiencing the “Greatest Love of All”.