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The Cost of a Pencil

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In middle school, I sat and watched the popular girls pass notes across the aisles.  The notes would be written on blue lined notebook paper, intricately folded as if made into origami cranes.  As soon as the teacher’s back was turned, the kites flew across the desks as quick as lightning, the pre-Twitter glimpses of little girls intimate thoughts to each other about boys, friends, and future plans.

I dreamed of having these notes passed to me one day.  However, my fate in middle school was sealed on day one, and the only folded notes I had were ones I practiced myself.

I went into middle school poor.  That is to say, I was the girl showing up in torn second-hand clothing and a boys haircut.  This put me behind from the beginning.  I sat down in class the first week and a girl in front of me asked for a pencil.  I didn’t have enough to give away, knowing that what I had needed to last the whole year, so I said no… very hesitantly and regretfully.

Little did I know, this girl was the most popular in the 6th grade.  In addition, her last name was right before mine, so we were destined to sit next to each other for the rest of my middle school career in every class.  She was ruthless and had social collateral gathered to have a posse of girls against me within the day.  And so it went for three years solid.

Teachers watched as I would be bullied by a gaggle of particularly awful girls.  One would kick me in the head daily in choir class and the director would see it, look at me, then look away.

Looking back, what is most interesting to me was my deep desire to be accepted by these girls.  “What could I do to get these girls to like me?”  Was this thought to get them to stop doing what they were doing, or because I truly wanted to be liked by them? To this day, my motives on that question are unclear as I am an unreliable witness to my own past experience.  I had folded into myself.

My mother and father were lost in their failing marriage.  The family in poverty while the divorce drained the resources both financially and emotionally, leaving me not in the crosshairs, but totally forgotten.  I folded into myself.

I recall when the bullying had reached a boiling point at school and I finally said something to my mother.  She, from her place of privilege, spoke pretty words of 1. they are just jealous (which was just untrue, due to my place of poverty) 2.  they have anger problems (how is this helpful?) 3.  tell a teacher (they are literally watching this happen and doing nothing)  4.  let’s invite them over to our house (OMG ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?) 5. In a couple of years, it will be over (but for the next three years?) 6. Just ignore them (How does one do that when your entire realm is them?) I folded into myself with no ally in sight.

However, one thing was clear, I felt very vulnerable. At 12, I experienced my first real serious depressive episode and became suicidal.   I was alone in my world, and no adult was going to help me.  I folded into myself.

At this point, the food I was getting from home was not meeting my needs (at this point I was eating one pack of uncooked ramen for lunch.)  I found out that a girl at school qualified for free school lunch, but never picked up her tickets… so because I was hungry, I started to pretend I was her.  Daily, I told the lunch lady my “name” and picked up her ticket.  I finally felt like I fit in and I got enough to eat for one meal out of the day.

I pulled this off for several months until one day I went up to the lunch lady and told her my “name” and she said, “no you aren’t!”  I still, to this day, recall the flush of heat I felt across my chest when she yelled this across the lunchroom.  You could hear a pin drop, and she pulled me by my arm from one side of the room to the other, with everyone watching me all the way to the office.  The school’s eyes bored into me as my shame radiated around me like a nuclear glow.  All this because I was hungry. I folded into myself.

I sat in the principal’s office waiting for my mother, and when she arrived the question was asked of me “well, do you have enough to eat at home?”  My mother worked for the district and was known by the principal, and with this additional complication, the answer was handed to me on a silver platter with her eyes boring into me just like the entire school’s had been moments earlier.  “Yes, of course, I do,” I said.  And I folded into myself.

My punishment for this egregious crime of stealing lunch tickets was community service for a month.  I emptied trash and cleaned blackboards of all the teachers and offices for all the after-school classes which all the richer kids could pay for.  The girls that mocked me all day long got to see me on janitor duty every day as well.  And I folded into myself.

At this point, my mother found me a therapist for a short time.  Every week I’d go there and play board games.  I found this hour a total waste of my time, mostly because at the end, he’d meet with my mother with me out of the room.  This felt like a total violation of any potential conversation I’d ever have with him, so I ended up just wasting time with him.

Near the end of our time together, he asked me once what my “biggest problem was,” and I thought about it.  I answered “my hole in my shoe.”  Thinking back on it, I was being REALLY honest.  If he had probed that answer, he would have really uncovered a LOT about poverty, my intense bullying and a plethora of home/school/life/abuse issues.  But alas, he closed the hour with a sigh. Soon after he gave up on me. And I folded into myself.

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Where does that leave us?  Somehow, despite suicide attempts, severe depression, anxiety and an equally oppressive high school career, I made it though.  No teacher ever intervened.  No adult stood up strongly for me, but more importantly WITH me, despite clearly seeing what was happening.  Though my experience was threaded with socio-economic and psycho-social issues, it snowballed from ONE event… a PENCIL.  A pencil in sixth grade almost cost me my life, several times over. We HAVE to do better for our young people.  I am ONLY ONE.

We have to unfold and to encourage others to unfold.  We have to do better. 13906608_10100592277897561_6423930915444828325_n.jpg

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“Depression is Funny Like That”- Reagan Myers

Reagan Myers climbed inside the mind of depression and slammed it down in this spoken word.

This week I sat in an auto zone parking lot and cried for ten minutes because I couldn’t change a head light, which sounds like a lead up to a terrible stand-up routine, right? One where the joke is always on me? Like, haha, I ate half a bag of pretzel m&ms at 11:30 in the morning IN BED or, I watched the pilot of Gossip Girl ten times in the past two weeks because I keep falling asleep half way through because being sad is a goddamn joke sometimes.

My headlight went out and my first thought was “seems right.” I couldn’t change it myself because I’d have to take off the whole bumper or something and I thought “of course” or “I wish I was dead.”  Being this kind of sad is funny that way, no inconvenience is a minor inconvenience, it’s all the end of the world or might as well be, my brain is dramatic like that.

Depression is a silent film, a monologue shot underwater, depression is sulking because I won’t talk to it anymore, by which I mean ABOUT it. There are some days I am so sad I don’t remember what it’s like not to be, like when you have a bad cold and you forget how to breathe through your nose and you’re so sure you’ll never breathe through your nose again and I’m so sure I’ll never feel joy again.

Except when you have a cold you can call in sick to work, and people tell you to get well soon, and there is a whole soup genre dedicated your well-being.  I can’t call in “sad” to work. I can’t go to the grocery store and go to the “sad aisle” which would have like already stale popcorn and tea which your best friend swears is good for you.

So sometimes all I can do is laugh, if I don’t, there might be nothing left. There’s a crack in my bathtub in the shape of the Platt river, and I know this because I sit on the floor of my shower so often it’s become a permanent imprint in my thigh.

I’m here because I’ve been sad since graduation, not this one the one before that, or maybe I have a bad cold, or maybe it’s both, but the cold makes the most sense for sympathy purposes.

If I get out, I have to be a person again. Have to put on clothes, put lotion on my legs, eat a bowl of cereal at least, take care of this terrible body that refuses to take care of me back.  I’m so tired of talking about my depression as someone else, a ghost that haunts me and I am afraid of the seance, afraid of what it might want from me.

My depression doesn’t ask for much but when it does it is something I cannot give and that’s the joke, it’s just me asking for something I cannot give.  I ask to come back to my body and it’s only me saying no.

When people ask me how I am they might as well be asking me where I’ve gone. I”m driving down a dirt road, no headlights, when it curves I will not know, just drive on into the field my own voice playing on the radio telling me “there is no place for me here.”

 

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Vicarious Vulnerabilty Victim

This week I attended another Authentic Relating Event, Circling, this one much smaller than the first with only 8 people in the room.  While the setting was different, the content was focused on authentic relating.

My main worry was having nowhere to “hide” with the smaller crew.  I felt… vulnerable. (So I suppose I was right on track.)  Tuesday was a day full of anxiety, and this event was mere hours after.  I thought of canceling, but I had already paid and had bailed from this event two weeks prior.

Admittedly, I enjoyed this intimate setting much more as I was able to settle in and learn more about each member of the group rather than mingling with 20 others.  I was quite nervous to attend this particular “circling” event, however, due to an ominous review from a person from the previous larger event.

Circling is formatted around two “circles;” conversation sessions that happened among the eight of us over 45 minutes with a break in between.  The first circle was dubbed a “birthday circle.”  Birthday circles are focused on one person, where the conversation organically moves around this person topically.  Due to confidentiality, I will not mention what we talked about specifically.  However, broadly, the topics involved how this person reacted to insight given by the others in the group and past experiences.

Though this circle was directed and focused on this one individual, I noticed that I was internalizing a lot of interesting facts about myself.  How would I react to certain situations that were brought up?  How would I feel if I were asked this question?  How would I react if I were asked this question in that particular way or tone?

When this truth bomb was so casually thrown out in the middle of the circle…

“Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.”

I mean, holy shit.  Prepare me next time, Y’all.  I don’t know about you, but I can count on 1845493 hands how many times my self-care has looked like just me retreating into my soul in an unhealthy “omg just leave me alone I’m dying here but save me but leave me alone but help me” way.  However, I label the retreat as “self-care.”  Dude, get over yourself.  Sometimes needing to be alone is self-care.  Totally.  But if you are unplugging from the people you tell when you are having a hard time… if you are running away (especially if you are running away from yourself), first off, good luck.  Second off, let someone know that you are struggling and let them know that you are going to wade around in the shit for a day.  Then do it.  Go ahead.  But then plug back in.

Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.” 

Okay, back to the night. More broadly, once I got comfortable with the questions being asked, I started to probe my ideas about the askers themselves.  What about their experiences brought them to this space, and why did they think what they did?

All this thinking, of course, led me to be quite quiet during this circle. I asked a couple of questions to appear engaged (though I was DEEPLY engaged internally), and then we went to break. During break, it became apparent that several of the people in attendance were friends, and they started to speak with each other.  I noticed that I started to feel left out.  I tried to engage by eye contact with the story and laughing when there was something funny, but there was still a level of disconnect.

We started the second circle which was an “organic circle,” which was waiting to see what would come up.  One person talked a bit about drifting and spoke a bit about feeling disconnected from the group then hesitated to speak further because the topic would be dark.  This was REALLY interesting to me because the first circle was so light and I resonated with the disconnect.  Again, I won’t go details about the topic due to confidentiality.

We closed the circles and two of the people turned to me and said they wished that they had heard me talk more, and they wanted to get to know me better.  My immediate response was that I wish I had talked more as well.  It was an odd thing to come out of my mouth as I didn’t really even think about it.  I had just spent so much time listening to people be so brave with their thoughts and feelings that I just felt I was holding space to hear them.

I drove home feeling very warm and lovely.

 

When I walked in the door I sat next to my husband and told him about the event and I sensed a weird vibe.  As I talked more about the events, I felt a heavier and heavier cloud settling.  I had just spent 3 hours being in tune with people’s emotions, and I knew there was something wrong.

“Are you okay with me going to these events?” I asked (sensing there was something much deeper.)

“Yes.  I just don’t get why you go to them and share thoughts and feelings there.  I mean you have family and me for that.”  He replied.

I had an immediate thought that I couldn’t hold back, “Are you jealous?”

“No!”  He was so quick to reply that there felt like there was some truth there.

“Okay.  Tell me more about what you are feeling then, because I don’t understand, and it seems like you have some concerns.  Is it because there are guys at these events and I share these experiences with them too?” (Knowing that cheating is never ever a concern on either of our minds, I wanted to give him a starting point to work from.)

“Not at all. I guess where I come from is that the feelings and thoughts you mention are things that I generally share with you or my family.  I just don’t understand why you feel the need to seek these experiences outside of us for…”

And he paused.  And cried.

So I waited and thought. And got it.

“So what I’m hearing is that since your emotional needs are met by me and family, the only reason you’d do something like this is if those needs WEREN’T being met.  So, since I am doing this, you’re concerned that YOU aren’t meeting my needs as my life partner?”

“BINGO.” And he took a deep breath of understanding.

 

So then we hashed out how lovely our relationship is, and that the reason I do things like this is to be brave.  And I can be brave because I feel so secure in our relationship.

I married up, Y’all.

 

 

 

 

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And Afternoon says “What’s Up?”

 

October 9, 2015, I penned these words into my journal:IMG_20170823_211324233.jpg

Less than a month away from the 15th anniversary of the rape, just coming out of a traumatic court experience and then just learning how to parent again after my broken body was knitting back together…

…I was drowning.

As women, as mothers, as survivors of trauma, we are expected to “have it all together” to live this life of denial of hardship.  I took this responsibility seriously.

And Silently.  As one does.

Sitting in therapy, 2x a week I felt like I simply couldn’t breathe for more than 4 days unless I had a place to expel the build up fear, anxiety and trembling that built up in my soul.  I experienced a full out panic attack.

A Panic Attack is the sensation of scalding water being poured up your spine spreading through all the capillaries of your lungs. Anxiety is the feeling of long spindly fingers grasping around your chest and squeezing gently, waiting for you to exhale, not allowing you to take the next breath while squeezing again.  Fear is another set of hands grabbing your skull and forcing you to watch films in black and white of every horror film of your past, present, and future (whether it happened will happen or not.)  Your heart starts to jump around like a caged animal, noticing all the chaos, trying to run from this terrible scene. Your mind mocks you the whole time telling you this is really happening, and you’re going to die.

“We need to have a plan”, she says.

I only partly hear her.  I’m preoccupied with making sure Ethan is being parented expertly, and that I am the best and most capable wife and did I empty the dishwasher? I’m managing the memories of trauma that even most of my closest friends don’t know that pop up while I brush my teeth.  I’m in the middle of analyzing whether or not Ethan will remember the few times that he triggered me enough into a trauma flashback that I reacted without knowing, enough to make me retreat into my room sobbing wondering if I should just pack my bags and leave because I’m sure there is a better mother out there who won’t react how I do when he throws his socks at me.  I’m busy managing my rapist who is on the other side of the door, comforting the sexually abused girl in the courtroom I saw a few weeks before, my present and future failure as a wife and mother, and why I couldn’t get my act together enough to tell all those people off who gaslit me for so long when I was younger.

Do you think you need to get away for a while?” She asks. (The story I tell myself is that she is going to take me away from my family. Which made no sense given the circumstances, but Trauma is a liar. Depression is a liar.  Fear is a liar. Anxiety is a liar.)

I start to plan my escape from this room. Can I leave?  What would happen if I just walked out the door?  I look at my purse, I slide my shoes on under the little ottoman and try to remember where I put my keys.  She notices I’m looking at the door.

At this point, I recall she just stopped talking.  This was an eerie thing because she typically has a lot to say, but likely she read that I was spinning everything she was saying into the web of doom.  So she waits me out.

Slowly the hands around my ribs loosened.

“I’m scared,” I say.  Likely the first authentic, raw thing I had said the whole session.  “I think I need medication to get through this.”

And Afternoon says WHAT’S UP.