Bill C-16. Passed!

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Photo credit: (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Today the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-16!!

This bill adds gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Code, and correspondingly changes the Criminal Code allowing protection to trans and gender non-conforming people experiencing discrimination, harassment and hate crimes.

Today, my trans child is now protected and has equal rights to my cis-gender child.  Both my children have equal rights and protections in the eyes of the law of our country.  As a parent, this means SO much to me.  We’ve advocated for this.  Our community has advocated for this.  Our community members across the country have advocated for this. For years, these proposed protections have been struck down and previous bills died on the floors of Parliament.

Today I’m proud to say that my country has become a better and safer place.  Today I’m proud to say that my country is leading the way, demonstrating globally the value of tolerance, diversity and equality.

Thank you Canada!  Thank you advocates in the trans* community! Thank you those who have come before us, trans folks who risked their own safety to fight for the rights of the trans* community.

Today, I am a thankful parent.  Thankful that my trans child will be growing up in a better, safer, more respectful world.  Today, we witnessed a historic moment.

Trans rights are human rights.

Rape Culture.

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Rape culture is so pervasive and it starts impacting children in primary school.  I felt extremely triggered by something my younger daughter shared with me last week after school.  It’s been bothering me all weekend for a number of reasons.  I find rape culture upsetting.  Sometimes I just want to scream, cry and shout about gender based violence and fight against it.  Other times I’m exhausted, burnt out, spent from trauma and secondary trauma and I want to curl up in bed and hide from the world.  Just take it.  Just let it all happen.  Just zone out and give up.  Because I can’t fight rape culture alone.  It’s too big and I’m just one individual person.

My daughter is in primary school.  She told me that the boys in her class were pinning girls up against the wall and humping them.  She told me that the girls were squirming and trying to get away and that they did not like it. The teachers did nothing.  I asked my daughter if the boys did this to her.  She told me they didn’t because they don’t fully see her as a girl yet (she’s transgender).   I asked her if she told the teacher and she told me “No, because the teachers tell me to stay out of other people’s business”

My daughter knows that this behaviour is wrong.  She was upset about it which is why she told me.  We talked about consent.  We talked about bystander intervention and the difference between tattling and telling to get help.  She told me she might talk to a teacher she trusts on Monday.

I’m triggered for a number of reasons.

This type of behaviour shows just how young the messages of “boys will be boys” and “boys chase girls because they like them” etc.  are ingrained, in students, and teachers don’t question them.  My daughter consistently tells me that teachers don’t intervene in situations like this, instead telling the kids to sort it out themselves.  This tells me that the school isn’t teaching consent culture, nor are they valuing bystander intervention, nor are they clearly teaching and demonstrating the difference between tattling and telling.  These are important skills in combating rape culture, preventing sexual violence and helping stop sexual assault in situations where risks occur (i.e bystander intervention).

Though I was very glad my daughter hadn’t experienced this unwanted behaviour, it also drove home a very clear message that women and feminine presenting folks are the main targets of rape culture.  Because my daughter socially transitioned this year, her friends still perceive her as a boy, thus they do not target her for this type of sexualized bullying.  She exists in an in between space, not perpetrating the violence and not yet suffering it either.  Though she does experience some bullying related to being trans or being different, because the kids don’t yet perceive her as a “real girl,”  she is not yet a target for the unwanted sexual bullying.

All of this is extremely upsetting for me.  I’m angry that the school isn’t being more proactive in protecting these female students.  I’m angry that the school isn’t being more proactive in teaching the male students that sexual bullying is not acceptable.  Rape culture takes root during these early years.  It’s far too late to begin education in consent culture in high school.  It’s important to teach school age children that “no means no,”  that games should stop if both people aren’t having fun, that chasing girls isn’t cool unless everyone has agreed on the game, and that humping people against a wall is assault, not a joke.

As adults, role models, mentors, parents and teachers, we can root out rape culture.  We can fight it at the roots by doing primary prevention.  Teaching consent culture to young boys and masculine folks.  Teaching bystander intervention to all kids.  Teaching young girls and women to build each other up, support each other and look out for each other.

I can be a radical feminist.  I can be a social justice advocate.  I can fight to end gender based violence until my last breath.   But very little will change, if young boys are being implicitly taught that humping young girls against a school yard wall is acceptable behaviour and young girls are being taught that nobody will stop it from happening.

Justice.

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I took this photograph today.   I lived in this city most of my life and I’ve never been drawn to look at this sculpture before.

Justice.

This statue embodies exactly how my life feels at this moment.

Grey. Solemn.  Frozen in time.  An unknown, robed figure holds a sword over me, about to make decisions that will alter the course of my life and the lives of my family members.

I feel like one wrong move and the sword will pierce my heart and all will be lost.  I’m walking on a tight rope, on egg shells, on the edge of where the ocean meets the land, on a wire at a circus…fill in the metaphor or analogy of your choosing.  I’m barely breathing.

Justice for who?  How is this justice?  Years of my life spent trying to prove things that seem self evident.  Years of him being believed and me seen as crazy, or potentially crazy.  Years of my privacy being breached and shattered to the point I’m hardly sure what privacy means anymore, except to trust no one.  Is this justice?

Interpersonal violence doesn’t end the moment she walks out the door.

Domestic violence doesn’t end when she leaves.

Family violence doesn’t stop when the relationship is over.

She might be physically safe now, but she still looks over her shoulder.  She still watches herself.  She still fears that anything she says or does might get her or her children into trouble.  She lives in fear of SOMETHING happening, even though she doesn’t always know what that vague threat might be.  She rarely sees him, but he impacts almost every aspect of her life.  He calls her crazy.  He tells her kids she is crazy.  He tells anyone who will listen that she is crazy.

But if she is crazy, than every survivor is crazy.

I don’t think we are crazy.  I think the entire system is broken and set up for us to fail.  We don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system.

Wake up.  Justice doesn’t exist for women like me.

I’m reclaiming “crazy.”

I’m so tired of crazy being used as an abelist, stigmatizing slur against me by my ex-husband.  I’m fed up of being called crazy as an insult, as an excuse for his abusive behaviour.  I’m tired of gaslighting which blames my PTSD for the sexual violence he perpetrated.  I’m tired of being seen as less than, being labelled with things that don’t apply to me.  I’m tired of the implicit assumption that having a mental illness is a terrible thing, something I should be horribly ashamed of.  It’s problematic on so many levels.  He accuses me of having borderline personality disorder (which I don’t have) but even if I DID have it, so what?  Would I be “crazy?”   Would this warrant being mistreated and shunned and ignored?  Would it mean everything I say and do is suspect?

I reject all this.  I want to reclaim crazy.  I want to fight mental health stigma.  I don’t want to be ashamed that I’m not neuro-typical.

I’d like my ex-husband to stop spreading awful rumours about me in the community, but I don’t have control over that!

Things I would like to stop hearing as I reclaim crazy:

-Be more neutral

-You are too emotional

-You are too sensitive

-Tone down your feminism

-Your past is impacting your parenting

-That was a long time ago, why don’t you get over it

-Just relax

-Calm down

-Don’t worry so much

-You are over-reacting

-Why didn’t you just say no?

-Don’t you know how to defend yourself?

-Why didn’t you just fight back?

-She’s crazy (from anyone unless they are also reclaiming the word)

I celebrate being crazy in a positive way, because it means that I’m NOT neutral.  It means that I am an advocate, a social justice warrior, an ally and a support worker.  I’ve harnessed some of the energy of the bad things I’ve survived and I’m using it to help others, to fight injustice and to try to leave the world a better place than I found it.    I’m proud of my feminism.  I’m proud of my anti-oppression principles and the way I strive to unlearn and learn in my daily life.  I don’t want to calm down.  My feminism gives me energy and it keeps me alive.

And if that makes me crazy, then I embrace it.  But let me define crazy.

Nevertheless she persisted.

 

Capitalism = Isolation

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We live in a society that glorifies productivity, busyness and wealth.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how this capitalist value system doesn’t work for people with disabilities including chronic mental illness.  I’ve also been thinking about how glorifying busyness means devaluing human connection, caring and many tasks that are associated with women’s unpaid labour (housework, childcare, health care); as well as, devaluing self care (especially for women).

Those are a lot of big words.  As I’m adjusting to reduced energy levels and increased amount of symptoms related to my physical and mental health issues, I’ve been recognizing the need to slow down.  I’ve been more aware of my disability than usual.  I’ve been very keenly aware of how many people around me are addicted to, or glorify, being busy to the point of workaholism.  I’m aware of how many people around me are literally too busy to make a human connection.  I’m aware of how many people are putting careers first, trying to get ahead, trying to get rich…and putting off connection “for later” or for “when I’m successful enough.”   It’s incredible how many people are too busy to spend time with friends.  Too busy to go on a date.  Too busy to have a telephone call other than in the car in between “essential” tasks.

I’ve been reflecting on what is actually important to me and why I often feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere.

Quite honestly I have no interest in being so busy that I am too exhausted to enjoy my life.  I don’t want to be rich.  I don’t want to be famous.  I don’t want to have a bigger house or a fancier job. I don’t want to be the boss.  I don’t want to have fame.

I just want human connection, peace and happiness and I don’t think money can buy those things.  Neither can workaholism achieve them.  I want to have time to enjoy  my kids while they are young.  I want to spend the day cuddled in bed with a partner.  I want to have someone to cook for.  I want long talks over coffee.  I want to have someone to talk about my day with.  I want to be comforted when I’m afraid.  I want to create memories.  I want to feel like I have space to breathe!  And I want someone else who feels the same way.

It’s occurred to me that there is a much larger social problem going on around me when people I talk to don’t have time to meet for a coffee.  Not just one or two people, but the majority of people I know are so busy they have almost every minute of their lives scheduled.   I’ve been thinking a lot about how our society glorifies being busy.   Society equates being busy with being valuable.   Being productive with having inherent worth.

But where does that leave people who choose to stay home to take care of their children?  Where does it leave those who are living with either permanent disability or temporary illness?   When we don’t value unpaid caring labour we are not valuing some of the most important work in our society.  When we equate productivity and earning power with self worth we perpetuate abelism and the view point that disabled people are somehow less than whole, less than valuable or even expendable.

Equating productivity with self worth means that I’ve been conditioned to believe that resting, self caring, and hobbies have no inherent value.  This is not true.

Equating earning power with value, means that when I entered the workforce my years of full time parenting were not viewed as relevant experience, even though I was applying for jobs in the helping profession.

Capitalism creates a world where burn out is expected.  It is almost worn as a badge of honour by some people, how many hours they work and how much money they earn.

Lately as I’ve been forced to slow down and accept my own limitations, I wonder if some workaholics will have regrets.  I wonder when people are old and rich, but alone if they will feel sad.  I wonder if people feel satisfied with the lives they have, or if like me, they are yearning for more.  I wonder how many people in our society are deeply yearning for connection.  Connection to one another, connection to community, connection to nature and connection to something bigger than themselves.

It could be a radical act to accept our self worth is not connected to our net worth.

It could be a radical act to deeply value self care and caring for others.

It could be a radical act to care for our communities and help those around us who are less able, while still viewing them as complete and valuable human beings.

It could be a radical act to value connection.

(please note this blog entry is NOT meant to devalue the struggles of those who don’t have enough money for the basics of life, or who need to work long hours to provide the basics for themselves. Captialism is responsible for this as well, because a more communal philosophy would place stronger social safety nets in place, including a living wage!)

International Women’s Day

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There was a call today for “a day without women” as a protest against President He Who Shall Not Be Named.  Women were encouraged to stay home from work or to wear red in protest.  It’s also International Women’s Day.

I decided to wear red, but I didn’t stay home from work.  I challenged the patriarchy by going to work today.  Helping women.  It was important for me to go to work today, because I’ve been struggling a LOT the past few weeks. Last week I was tempted to quit my job, and just accept that I’m not “able” enough to pass as normal, not “able” enough to continue working, too sick to keep pushing through.

But I realize that the patriarchy wants nothing more than for me to fail.  My abuser wants me to fail, I think he wants me to crash and burn and commit suicide.

So for me going to work today was an act of defiance and resilience.  It was me overcoming the panic attacks as I got ready, left the house and drove to work.  It was me ignoring the negative self talk which was telling me that everyone hated me and that I should just quit.  It was me saying that I won’t give up, I won’t give the system the satisfaction of seeing me fail.

Failure isn’t an option.  I have to be “well enough” and “able” enough to keep going forward.  I need to do it for my children and for people who are depending on me.  I know I could be replaceable at work, but my kids only have one mother.  So I’ve decided to take better care of myself, to rest and to try to move at a pace that is sustainable and won’t exhaust me to the point of panic and wanting to quit my job.   I’m going to do the best I can, but that best might not be what others are able to do.  Right now, I have to do what I am capable of, what I am able to, and stop judging myself against standards I’m not always able to meet.

So for International Women’s Day, I left the house.  I battled panic attacks but I did not let them stop me.  I tried to focus on my ability rather than my DIS-ability.  I did my best and for today, maybe that was good enough.

Pin featured in photo by Rachael House http://www.rachaelhouse.com

 

Be Your Own Hero.

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It’s been a difficult time for me.  I’ve been waiting 90 days+ for the verdict in my family law trial.  I’m experiencing a lot of triggers and finding it harder to stay positive and optimistic about the future.

Quite frankly, it is terrible for my mental and physical health to have contact with my abuser.  It upsets me, it triggers me, it causes flashbacks and disassociation, it confuses me, gaslights me, makes me doubt myself, my abilities, makes me feel crazy and like nobody believes me.

Unfortunately, he is the father of my children and I can’t just go no contact.

It’s awful.  It’s awful being told I have to “get along” with someone who treated me so badly.  It’s frustrating being told by many institutions such as the kids school, the CAS and some doctors, that I should be more neutral, not let my past impact me, that he’s a loving parent and basically a good person.

Hold on a minute….basically a good person?

That’s what I told myself for years.  It’s just sexual abuse.  It’s just the sexual stuff, he’s otherwise “basically a good person.”  Telling myself that kept me locked into the relationship for years longer than I should have stayed.

Someone who doesn’t believe in consent is not “basically a good person” they are an abusive person.  He is an abusive person.

Privilege in society allows abusers to “pass” as basically good people.  They know how to act, to charm, to make their victims look crazy or unreliable or unbelievable, they know how to discredit others, they know how to tell different lies to different people to suit their needs.  Most abusers can make you think they are basically good people, but in reality, the signs are there that they are not good people.

The saddest part is that because abusers are expert liars and manipulators they can often convince everyone who might be able to help you, that they are good people!   So the abuse they perpetrate goes unnoticed and unacknowledged by anyone who might be able to support or rescue you.

Suddenly, they are “basically good people” and you are perceived as mentally ill and crazy.

Abusers gaslight the system.  That, combined with the societal privilege, rape culture, and patriarchy, allow them to pass unseen, and unnoticed through our world, abusing people as they please and not being stopped.  In a parallel experience, the survivors are believed less and less, as a web of lies is spun about them by the abuser to those around her who might assist her in escaping.

This is what I’m experiencing in my life.  It’s been 3.5 years since I left my abuser but I’m still locked in a web of abuse.  Very few people within the “system” believe me, and those who DO believe me and my kids, are seen as biased!  It’s an unbelievable, frustrating and maddening situation.

The more I protest, advocate and fight for myself and my kids, the more I am labelled radical, crazy, not neutral, too angry etc.

So what are my options?

I feel like the only option is to be my own hero.

At the end of the day, my ex-partner would like nothing more than for me to fall into a crisis and commit suicide.  He wants me to kill myself so that he can be right.  So he can prove that I’m crazy and that I don’t care about, and have never cared about, my kids.  He won’t stop punishing us until he reaches this goal.

But it’s been 3.5 years, and generally I’m more mentally healthy than I was before.  Generally, I take care of myself.  I’m working full time.  I’m becoming more confident in myself and my career.  I have some supportive friends and a supportive family.  I’m not falling into a crisis.

I won’t let him destroy me.  I’ll stay alive as long as I can just to spite him.

I’ll be my own hero, if nobody else will step up to protect my kids.  I’ll protect them and myself and do everything in my power to survive.

Survival is the best revenge.

If you are experiencing abuse, be your own hero.  Believe yourself.  Support yourself.  The rest will slowly follow.

On Valentine’s Day, Celebrate YOU!

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Valentines against white supremacy
By Kate Madeira

On Valentine’s Day this year celebrate yourself!  It’s perfectly okay to take a day to acknowledge yourself and all the work you’ve done.  Celebrate yourself and all your awesome qualities!  Feel proud of the fact that you are a survivor.  You are surviving like a boss.

I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection and taking a long hard look at my life recently.  I’ve been confronted with accepting the fact that it’s not my abusers standing in the way of my recovery (at least not entirely).  What is standing in my way are my own negative, self hating, self-destructive core beliefs.  If I don’t believe that I deserve recovery, health and happiness, then I can’t expect those things to just fall into my life with the wave of a magic wand.

I’m not ready to let go of lifelong core beliefs.  Not yet.  It’s going to be a long journey.

But that journey is beginning with a single step.

Acknowledging that maybe, just MAYBE, my core beliefs aren’t true.  Maybe, just MAYBE, there is another option for me.  Maybe, just MAYBE, I could live a life where I do celebrate myself, I do believe in myself and I do believe that I deserve good things.

This Valentine’s Day, I hope that you find love.

Trust me, self love will last a lot longer than that box of chocolates.

Though you deserve chocolates too!  Buy them for yourself tomorrow, they’ll be 50% off!

 

Born this Way?

 

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A question that I get asked a LOT when I disclose to people that I’m queer is:

“Were you always attracted to women or do you think is it a result of your trauma?”

I find myself wondering what the answer is.  Was I born this way?  Or did I become less and less attracted to cisgender men as a result of experiences of sexual assault?  Does it matter? And why do other people care about the “cause” of my sexual orientation?  Is it really anyone else’s business?

Is my sexual orientation any less valid if I wasn’t born this way?

As a result of recent world events, I find myself feeling less self confident and proud of being queer.  I’m afraid that it might make me more of a target, or be perceived as more different.  I already feel like I don’t fit in, and being queer sometimes feels like one more way that I’m not “normal.”

I came out gradually to people in my life after 3 decades of living the straight lifestyle.  I bought into the “straight agenda” of heteronormativity.  Grow up, get married, have children, live happily ever after.  But it didn’t turn out that way for me.  After dating men for my entire adult life, and after being in a serious relationship/marriage with a man for 13 years, I was single and I had the freedom to explore what not being straight might mean.

I honestly don’t know if I was born this way.  Because as a young person, I don’t think I even knew or understood that being gay was an option for me.  I did know a few gay guys, but I didn’t know any gay women (or at least I thought I didn’t!).   I don’t remember ever having a conscious thought that dating women was something I could explore.  I don’t remember NOT being attracted to women, I just remember it not being on my radar.  Does this mean I wasn’t born this way?  Or does it represent a lack of knowledge that I could explore options other than the heterosexual path.

I have survived a lot of sexual violence perpetrated by men.  Because of this I have flashbacks and triggers related to men.  There is no doubt that experiencing sexual trauma at a young age impacted my sexuality.  But did it “turn me gay?”   And again, does it matter?

For me,  neither answer rings true.  I wasn’t 100% born this way, and it wasn’t entirely trauma either.  Most of all, I don’t think it’s important to figure out exactly why, in my 30s, I came out and identified as a queer woman.  Maybe for some people there isn’t a clear path.  Maybe for some people sexuality is fluid and develops across a life span.  I don’t think it makes me any less queer just because I came to the realization in my 30s.

I do know that when I identified as straight, nobody ever questioned me about it.  Nobody ever asked me if I was “born that way.”   Nobody asked if I’d been abused by women and thus was only attracted by men!  Hetero-privilege means that you don’t get questioned about your sexuality.

I do know that my sexual orientation isn’t a choice.  It’s not something I can ignore and it’s not something I’m ashamed of.  Whatever the reason, I’m not straight.  And as much as I’d sometimes like to return to my hetero-privilege, I can’t.  Once you come out of the closet, you can’t shove yourself back in there.

I’m here, I’m queer and I’m made this way!

 

Can’t make everyone happy.

One of the ways I’ve coped with trauma in my life is to try to make everyone happy all the time.  When I was a child I thought my role was to “be nice” and to “be a good friend” and to take care of others, pay attention to my friends’ feelings, be considerate, be polite and do well in school always.  Essentially to be perfect all of the time.

I took this to such an extreme that I thought it was my responsibility to save, fix and adapt to my abusers.  Somewhere along the way I did not learn that it’s okay to be mean to protect myself.  It’s okay not to be nice to abusive people.  It’s okay to say NO, even to scream it and it’s not something to feel guilty for.  As an adult I STILL struggle with internalizing this.

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure out what part of all my traumas is my fault.   What could I have done differently?  How could I have seen it coming?  Maybe if I’d been a better friend, she wouldn’t have died.  What if?  Maybe people are mad at me?  Maybe I made a horrible mistake at work and everyone blames me.   A good portion of my internal dialogue is convinced that somehow I’m a terrible mistake.  I’m not really a good person.  If only everyone could see!  Then they’d know the truth.

So as an adult, in most areas of my life I try to be the peacemaker.  I try to listen to everyone’s side of the story.  I try to minimize or avoid conflict at all cost.  I feel incredibly uncomfortable, even panicky when people around me are angry.  And if there is a conflict, you can bet it’s somehow my fault and I will feel guilty about it.

The irony, is I support survivors of violence every day.  I’ve told over a hundred or more women that what happened to them isn’t their fault.  I’ve told friends, I’ve told family members.  Heck, I’ve even told my abusers that things that happened to them weren’t their faults.  You were a child!   You couldn’t have known!   You did everything you could to protect yourself!   You aren’t to blame, he’s an abusive person.   You were in the wrong place and the wrong time.  You couldn’t have prevented it.  Your are doing what you can to take care of yourself.  It’s not your fault.  I believe you.

But at the end of the day, I treat myself with contempt and blame.  I feel like literally everything is my fault.  Always.  I try to depersonalize.  I know intellectually that most people aren’t even thinking about me, let alone blaming me for things that go wrong.  But deep down, I fear that I’m just a flawed person and I feel panicky when I realize I can’t keep everyone happy all the time with sacrificing myself.  And even if I do sacrifice myself, people around me have their own feelings and can be mad, hurt, angry and scared and there is not a connection to me.

A lot of women grew up with the message to “be good” and not to show anger.  Angry girls get labeled bitches.  Assertive girls get labeled bossy or rude.  Angry girls are judged.  People like calm, pretty, patient and loving girls.  We are surrounded by this covert and overt messaging from birth.  The labels put on us almost before we take our first breaths.

Why do so many girls and women feel such intense guilt and even shame around saying no?  Why do so many girls and women feel that anger is an unacceptable emotion and that they are bad for having it?  Why do I feel this way?  How do I make room for myself without feeling guilty?  How to say no without feeling afraid and ashamed?

These days, the world has become a scary place.  I’ve had to take breaks from social media and the news because I’m so devastated by the hatred and violence I see.  I feel the urge to isolate myself, connect less, spend more time alone.  Because I don’t feel very safe in the world anymore.  It’s rare that I feel truly safe.  As a survivor of violence, living with PTSD I feel scared most of the time.  But current events have triggered a different level of fear.

And sadness.  Because all the caring in the world can’t fix this mess.  I could be the best person in the world and I couldn’t make all my friends feel safe.  I want everyone to be in a bubble where they feel safe and protected.

I am a good person. I genuinely help people because I care about them and I want to.  It’s not because it’s an obligation or how I was raised.  It’s not just the expectation placed on me.  I think I was always this empathetic person. I always cared deeply, perhaps too deeply.  And it’s always hurt me.

But right now it hurts too much.  I just want to say NO MORE TRAUMA and hide from the world.  My brain feels overwhelmed with conflict.  I’m afraid about everything I do, that it will somehow make things worse.  When I’m alone at least I can think and I only have to monitor myself and my environment, not other people and their reactions.  Sometimes the guilt feels too much and I just don’t want to make a mistake or let someone down.  I’m also terribly afraid of being hurt or betrayed by someone else.  Sadly, this is a lonely way to live.  I just want to be in a bubble and feel safe and protected too.

Being lonely feels safer right now.  Because I can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t make anyone happy, ever.

I can’t even make myself happy.