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“You’re So Brave.”

Brave: having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; making a fine show 

“You’re so brave.”

When people say this to me in regards to my story, my go-to outer response is “thank you.” My inner response is “I have no choice, so it’s not bravery, it’s survival and even that isn’t always a given.”

The past two weeks have been full of the bravery of a different type, simply figuring out a way to stay alive. I walked among the living, not feeling a part of them.  I smiled and joked, and played the part of the living, but was not one of them. I am around people, but alone.

PTSD is a Liar.  Anxiety is a Liar.  Depression is a Liar. Trauma is a Liar.

As someone aptly mentioned, trauma is like “my neighbors who not only play their music super loud but have extra bass that you can feel from across the apartment.” Wednesday night, that music brought me to the brink after a full week of operating at emergency trauma level, and I took a handful of pills on top of my typical nighttime medication.  This was brought about by quite a few of events involving a mix-up with a member of my care team, a person from my past coming up on Facebook surprisingly, and continuing feelings about the friend-breakup from the prior weeks.

 

My thoughts were scattered when I made this choice.  I can’t describe it.  I didn’t want to die.  I just didn’t want to live.  Or didn’t want to feel.  I’m not sure, maybe both.  Trauma is a liar. You can’t escape your brain, it’s always there.

So I talked about it.  First in a terrifying text to my therapist- where I downplayed exactly what I took.  Second, to my husband when “the story in my head” told me that likely my therapist would call the police to do a wellness check (which didn’t happen.)  Third, I reached out to my sister-wife, Diana.  Fourth, to Katherine.  Fifth, made a small circle post to my trusted people.  Oddly enough, the scariest reveal was to my bodyworker, as I was totally feeling very vulnerable about sharing this very deep scary part of my soul.  With previous attempts, I kept silent.  This time needed to be different.

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I was talking with a gal on Insta today about how she was worried about her mental health stories being depressing.  And maybe they are.  Maybe we ARE telling the depressing stories.  We talk about clawing against the walls to get out of the well.  We talk about the awful side effects of medication and how we want to crawl out of our own skin with it, and without it. But here’s the thing, these stories HAVE TO BE TOLD.

Mental Health HAS to be talked about.

Suicidality has to be talked about.

I can appear at a mom’s group at 9:30 AM on Wednesday looking perfectly functional, joking, and at 5:30 pm try to end it all.  The person right next to you could be struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all sorts of things and we AREN’T talking about it.

This HAS to change.

I’m not brave.  I’m alive.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts.  This week, despite my best efforts.

Bravery, in this case, is “Making a Fine Show.”

 

 

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Have You Met My Wingman, Shame?

Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud; this is the meaning of unspeakable.

~ Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

My great-aunt Jane is likely the best storyteller on the planet.  Anyone who meets Jane is immediately drawn into her orbit and simply wants to spend more time with her.  If she lived locally I would likely move into her home just to hear her stories.  She could tell me how she went to the store and it would be the best tale I’d ever heard.

Jane was a nurse, and in the era she grew up, an unlikely candidate for the high education she achieved.   Women were groomed for marriage and homemaking, but she went full force into nursing.  She has a caretaking personality, and though she has a gift for weaving the best tale you ever heard, she also has another amazing quality, the ability to sincerely listen.

Jane can look you in the eyes and no matter what you tell her, she is fully invested in what you are saying, empathizing and for that moment YOU are the center of the universe.  She is the kindest, gentlest, most loving person I know. Jane was also a hardcore addict while serving as a nurse. (And while the family is tight-lipped, my assumption is she was addicted to heroin due to the availability during the time.)

Our family is full of secrets, the untold stories because they are “too dark” to tell.  The elephants in the room of addiction, abuse, medical issues, hidden money… Why don’t we talk about these things?  Maybe your family is the same, with certain topics that are simply off limits?

Herman goes on to describe the need to restore connections between “the public and private worlds, between the individual and community, between men and women.”

My grandfather-in-law served in WWII as a bomber pilot.  One day at Christmas dinner I asked him about his experience, and his reaction took me off guard.  He said “No one ever asks me about the war.  It’s like it never happened, and it was a huge part of my life.” 

A few years back I started to become uncomfortable with uncomfortability. I HAD stories to tell that formed the basis of who I am, and I felt as though I was neglecting part of who I was by not telling them.  My grandfather-in-law’s poignant comment struck a chord and I started to slowly disclose small bits of my story to those around me, starting with my husband, and moving out to the next ring of close friends.

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Which brings me to current read, “After Silence, Rape & My Journey Back” by Nancy Venable Raine.  Nancy boldly describes her rape in detail throughout this book, as well as the reactions that those she loves had to her telling of the story.  As she began to speak about her story and to write the book about it, she found herself surrounded by people who did not know how to react.  When someone discloses that they have been raped, what IS the appropriate response?

Many of our untold stories have a common thread, shame. Speaking for myself, when I am faced with that feeling of “wait, I am uncomfortable sharing this” it is often accompanied by my wingman. Shame.

Shame and I have been BFF’s for a long time. We hung out together while I was bullied in middle school.  We kicked it while I snuck into second-hand stores once a year trying to find clothes to fit in with the kids while I was teased unmercifully in choir class. We shared a locker in high school when I stole food to make sure I could eat enough.  Shame joined me while I was told I wasn’t good enough as a daughter.  Shame threw a party on the day I was raped when I was 18.  Shame’s crowning achievement was when my rapist raped a twelve-year old girl after me.  Shame almost had me in the grave that day when I found out.

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I realized that I had previously formed friendships based on this perfect person I presented.  A put-together piece of work that was false and based on shame.  However, at my core, I was a Kintsugi.

Kintsugi pottery is a Japanese form of art where broken pottery is repaired with powdered gold or other metals to treat the break as a form of history of the object rather than something to disguise.  It’s also related to the philosophy of wabi-sabi, “seeing the beauty in the flawed or imperfect.”

I began with curiosity, what would happen if I shared one of my Shame Stories?   I lived in curiosity for a long time, because it was safe there.  There wasn’t a risk with just thinking about sharing any stories. I could still have my friends who would live in the dark about these scary things that happened in my past that weren’t topics discussed over laughter and margaritas.

Slowly but surely, a group of four (Katherine, Diana, & Maeve) gelled into a firm friendship we named the Mamafia.  As time went on, the other girls in the group started to share some of their stories about their lives.  I watched as they slowed unfolded their lives to each other and how they responded in love, kindness, and empathy.

But, I lived in Fearsville, population 1.  Our main form of communication was via Facebook Messenger, so not only would I be sharing my stories but they would be there indelible FOREVER. I had this fear, someone could take what I said and go to the NYT and print my confessions for the whole world to see.  Because that was the logical thing to fear.

What I feared most was for those around me to sniff out that I had fallen into a deep hole of depression and anxiety.  The hole had become a full-time residence and I kept up an illusion of competence and strength with the “I’m fine” mentality.  When in truth, I was suicidal and just trying to keep my head above water.  I had everything, but I felt like I had nothing.  This feeling had me shrouded in shame, as I was convinced nobody could possibly understand.

I was very cautious.  One of the members of Mamafia (and my best friend)  Diana lost her father to suicide.  I was so scared to bring up my feelings because I was worried about how she would feel.  I recognized that Diana had experienced so much loss in her life due to her father’s death and her subsequent trauma surrounding it.  How would she cope with me feeling this way?  Would she judge me?  Would she feel angry?  What if she got angry or dumped me as a friend or told me I was selfish?  Worse yet, did I deserve all those reactions?  I was quickly approaching a decision point of vulnerability.

I watched a video by the amazing poet Sabrina Benaim, Explaining Depression to My Mother.  She got it.  She got me.

Her video helped me I realize that maybe I wasn’t alone.  Maybe I could slowly come out of my hole and peek out and say “Hey, I’m not okay… anyone else not okay too?”

I realized quickly that I was living in a hole, alone and scared and my closest friends didn’t know how desperate my situation was.  So I started slowly whispering from down there to the girls. “Hey, so, I’m down here.  I’m scared.  I feel like shit. And I’m not sure I’m going to make it.”

And then I waited to see what would happen.  The Vulnerabilty Experiment began.