How to Heal when the World Wishes for Your Silence

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What do healing and recovery look like within a world that you feel wishes you did not exist?   What does it mean to speak up about being a survivor of sexual violence in a society that, despite everything, is still maintained by silencing victims and glorifying misogyny and violence?   What does it mean to be a person with scars, a visible psychiatric survivor who is struggling to meet the criteria of “normal” in a capitalistic world which glorifies busyness and productivity?  What does it mean to be a queer person trying to create self confidence and pride in a world which contains homophobic and transphobic violence and microaggressions all around?

How does one heal in a world which wishes for your silence?

I’ve been struggling a lot with intersecting experiences of mental health stigma, abelism, sexism, transphobia and queer/homophobia.

I’d like to be proud of myself or even to accept myself as I am.  I’d like to believe that being a survivor makes me strong and brave.  I’d like to believe that my scars make me unique rather than disgusting.  I’d like to believe that being queer is just as acceptable as being straight.  I’d like to believe that I’m not broken, dirty, shameful, guilty or weak.   I’d like to believe that I am not TOO MUCH to handle, not too sensitive, too radical, too depressed, too whiny, or too demanding.   I’d like to believe that I live in a world which fights for the rights of people who are different in various ways.

I’d like to believe that I’m okay, just as I am.

Recently I feel like there is no place for me in this world.  I don’t feel I’m living up to my potential.  I feel like a disappointment to those around me.  I feel like an inadequate parent and am consumed by guilt for not being able to protect my children from violence.  I’m currently unemployed and this makes me feel like I have no worth in society because I’m not being productive.   I don’t feel well enough to be working full time and taking care of my kids full time, but I’m having trouble finding a suitable part time or flexible job.  I feel lonely, isolated and full of self doubt.

Last week my daughter described experiencing sexual harassment on the school yard.  She’s not even in Junior high school yet.  She was walking across the yard towards her friends and was briefly alone when a boy she did not know yelled “Come here pussy” at her and then chased after her when she said “No” and started to run away.  The most disturbing aspect of the conversation was how she went on to describe various ways that she could get boys to leave her alone if they didn’t listen to her.  She talked about saying “I already have a boyfriend” and various other things she could say or do to protect herself.   She told me these strategies matter of fact, and it broke my heart to realize that such a very young girl already had a clear idea of being vigilant around boys and men  and had already concocted tactics to protect herself.

I don’t know how not to be broken-hearted about how little things have changed in the world since I was a child.  The media and the #metoo movement would have us believe that we are making progress in the fight against gender based violence.  I disagree.  I don’t think we are making much progress at all.  Generally, perpetrators of violence are still walking free with very few (if any consequences) and survivors of violence are still being held responsible for protecting themselves at every moment.

The only thing I can identify that has changed is that my daughter knew that this was wrong.  This was the second time she was sexually harassed at school this year and both times she told me about it.  She knows that without consent any type of sexual action is assault or harassment.  She knows that she has the right to protect herself, to run away and to say whatever she has to say to stay safe.  She knows that it isn’t her fault and she knows what consent means.

When I was younger, and until shockingly recently, I just assumed this was the way things were.  I didn’t understand the concept of consent.  I just assumed that I was the one who was wrong, strange or broken because I didn’t enjoy sex or sexual comments.  I thought I just had to get used to it, endure, zone out, and put up with it.  I didn’t even understand the concept that sex was something that was supposed to feel good and/or be enjoyable and collaborative.  I didn’t know that it was an option for me to be queer, bisexual, a lesbian or gender non-conforming.  I didn’t know women could be with other women.   In essence, I didn’t know enough to have the option to know myself or protect myself.  I didn’t know enough to even know how to begin telling anyone I was being abused because I didn’t have vocabulary to express it and I thought it was my fault.

I’m learning and unlearning these things as an adult in my 30s.  My own children knew more about consent, gender, sexuality and sex by the age of 10, then I did at the age of 30.

Things seem quite bleak lately.  It’s winter and I’m longing for the summer sunshine warming my skin.  My kids are struggling with the impacts of past abuse.  Schools and services are not trauma informed.  I’m watching my child experience stigma and lack of understanding around her mental health issues.  I’m struggling with the impact of past abuse.  There doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to.  I don’t see a clear path forward and I don’t have answers to many of my questions.  I feel overwhelmed, hopeless and anxious most of the time.  Almost everything online, in the news and social media triggers me and makes me feel more hopeless about ending gender based violence and oppression.

The one thing that seems to have improved is that my children have more tools that I did.  They have more knowledge and more understanding.  I might not have been able to protect them completely, but at least they know that violence is not normal and that it is not their fault.

 

Closets are for clothes.

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I was an adult when I acknowledged my feelings of attraction to women and gender non-conforming folks.  I was in my mid 30s before I began coming out as bisexual and then finally queer.  Some people I know STILL assume I’m straight.  I’ve been told over and over that I “don’t look queer” (whatever that even means!!).  Some people think I “just like rainbows!”  That makes me laugh.   As time goes on, I make more and more slow steps into the realm of “coming out” and living as my own queer self.  I even have a gay agenda! (my agenda is literally decorated with rainbows).

At the end of the day, I don’t fit into a binary of sexual identity.  I’m neither gay nor straight.  I identify as queer which to me means I’m open to dating anyone who isn’t an abuser, but my preference is to date women and gender non-conforming folks.  My primary sexual attraction is to those who are not cis-gender men.

Yes, I was married to a man.  Yes, I dated men throughout most of my life.  No, that doesn’t mean I’m straight.  And for the record, if I date a man again I STILL won’t be straight.  I’m not heterosexual when I date men or gay when I date women.  I’m queer and I’m always queer.  The rainbow pins on my bag, and rainbow jewelry is not just “because I like rainbows.”  It’s a symbol of identity and pride.

Heterosexual people are really fond of assuming everyone is straight.  I call this the straight agenda!  We are surrounded every day with images and representation that teach us that heterosexuality is “normal” and ” neutral” and people who identify as gay, bi, pan or queer are “other” and “different.”

I identify as queer because I reject this binary.

I still struggle with being openly “out.”   It’s new to me, I’m self conscious and I feel different.   I think I fought it internally for a long time because I didn’t want to feel different in another way. Recent political events and news worldwide makes it difficult to be proud and confident as an out queer person.  I see other gay, trans and queer people being discriminated against and even killed worldwide and it impacts me.  It makes me more afraid to be out.

As part of my journey of recovery and healing from violence, I’ve been reflecting on and exploring my sexuality and also my gender identity.   I realize that as a child and teenager I didn’t know any openly gay women.  I didn’t know any trans folks (as far as I know).  As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that many people I knew as a youth identify as trans, queer, gay etc. adults, but as a youth I only knew a few gay male friends.

I didn’t even know that being gay/queer was an option for me.  

But now I do. and whether I was born this way, or grew up this way as a result of trauma, this is me.  I’m here and I’m queer.

Most people in my life don’t know that I’ve also been exploring my gender identity.  I’m still very much “in the closet” about this journey.  It’s much more recent and my reflection on it came about after speaking to and listening to many gender non-conforming folks and finding elements in common with their experiences.

I experience body dysphoria and have since I was 9 years old.  I’ve come to realize that this isn’t entirely related to anorexia or to sexual abuse.   I’ve engaged in self harm in ways that don’t always make sense.  I won’t get into that here, but I’ve come to reflect on the connection, not just with coping with trauma, but with my gender and gender identity.

After a lot of refection and some discussion in counseling, I’m now most comfortable as identifying as:

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What does this mean?  It means that like my sexuality, my gender does not fit neatly into a binary.

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I’m still exploring exactly what this means for me.  It has more to do with my gender identity (how I feel inside and how I relate to myself) than it does with my gender expression  (how I present my gender to the outside world).

So this is me.  I’m coming out of the closet again.  I’m queer and gender queer.

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I’m on a journey of self discovery and healing.  I hope you can wish me well.

4 years out…still trapped

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Photo credit: http://www.katewmak.com/

This week marks the 4 year anniversary of the separation from my ex.  Four years since the night I told him it was over and I was leaving.  Four years since I made the biggest and most difficult decision of my life.  6 weeks later, I moved into my own home and started my new life as a single mother of two.

If I had known back then how difficult leaving would be, I would probably be dead.  If I had known 4 years ago that the court process would still be ongoing.  If I had known he was going to abuse my children and I would be helpless to prevent it.  If I had known that after four years, I would still be caught, living my life trying to prevent him from hurting us.

If I had known these things I would have stayed.  If I had known that leaving would become a marathon of epic proportions, with no end in sight, I would have ended my life.

In the past four years I have endured all of my worst fears.  I have had to face the fact that my absolute worst fear (my own children experiencing abuse) has not only occurred, but is ongoing and society refuses to step in to stop it.  I live with things I thought I could not survive and I live with them daily.

I’ve had to survive things that no person should have to survive and so have my children.  Leaving didn’t save me.  It didn’t save them.  It didn’t cure my PTSD because I’m still being abused by him.

Some days, even recently, I have wanted to give up.  When I started to feel as suicidal, as hopeless, as trapped and as depressed as when I was living with him, it felt unbearable.  Many days feel unbearable, but each day I survive.  I have to survive to create a safe home for my children.

It’s crucial to help people and support them in exiting abusive situations, but we have to stop perpetuating the destructive myth that “just leaving” is the solution.  We have to stop perpetuating the myth that “just leaving” will solve all the problems.  If your abuser is the parent of your children, you can never “just leave” because you are forced to interact with them on a regular basis until your children are adults and possibly longer.

Of course I had to leave.  I wouldn’t have survived there much longer.

Of course it’s better for my children to have a happy, healthy mother 50% of the time rather than a dead mother 100% of the time.

Of course I made the right decision, the only decision.

Of course there are a number of things in my life that have improved since leaving and I’m grateful for them.

But that doesn’t make it any less painful to look back over 4 years of struggling to fully extricate myself from narcissistic abuse.  4 years of betrayals and incompetence by every major social program I’ve interacted with (CAS, legal, court, police, hospital, school).

So let’s support domestic abuse survivors to leave, but let’s also support them for as long as it takes after.  Let’s recognize and acknowledge that the abuse does not end the moment she walks out the door.  Let’s support survivors who regularly doubt whether or not they should have left, because the legal process is so traumatic and inaccessible.  Let’s support survivors who have to co-parent with narcissits.

Create a community of support circling the survivor and keep it in place for as long as she needs it.  Because she will need it, especially at the times she feels as bad, or worse than she did in the relationship.

So this week I mark 4 years down, a life time of healing to go!

What the parent of a trans child really needs to hear…

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There’s something I haven’t shared very much about in this blog.  I’ve debated for a year about whether or not to write about my children.  I have mixed feelings, even though my blog is anonymous, I want to protect their privacy.  I’ve decided not to write many specifics about them, but I do talk about parenting issues in general, including parenting through mental illness.  I do this because I want to break the isolation I have felt as a parent with a mental illness.  I know other parents out there have felt the way I have, judgment, fears of being judged, fears of not being enough, fears of relapse and more…

But I’m living with a different type of parenting challenge.

I’m raising a transgender daughter.

I wanted to write a post with a few tips on what to say and what NOT to say to the parent of a transgender child.  As I write this post, I want to clearly state that I don’t speak for all parents of transgender children, nor do I speak for trans folks themselves.  I’m speaking for myself, a queer, white, femme but not quite binary person, living with mental illness and raising a trans female daughter.

Things that I don’t need to hear:

  1. You are so brave! I don’t know if I could do it!  I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.  I’m not doing anything superhuman.  I’m parenting my child.  Supporting my child in her social transitioning wasn’t even something I debated.  I knew very early on that I could have a dead “son” or a happy, healthy daughter.  This was a no-brainer.  I’d like to think you would make the same choice, if it came to saving the life of your own child.  I’m not brave or special.  I’m just a regular mom, taking care of a slightly extraordinary girl.
  2. How do you know it’s not just a phase?  What if she grows out of it?  Maybe she’ll just be gay.  Please stop.  Don’t say any of these things.  First, it’s not your business.  Second, my child knows herself best and I guarantee I know her better than you do.  Even if it is a phase, which I highly doubt, she will have a chance to explore it and she will know I support her unconditionally.   These comments also irk me because they are laced with veiled transphobia.   They imply that being trans is something undesirable, that being cis-gender is normal and being trans is something deviant.  I reject this.  Gender exists on a spectrum.  We all have gender identity and gender expression.  Trans folks are no different.  Being cis gender is not inherently better.   I don’t wish my child would “just be gay.”  My child is herself, and I celebrate that.
  3. It’s so difficult for me/us to accommodate this.  This is something I heard from my child’s school.  It made me feel physically ill.  Grown adults saying that creating a universal, gender neutral washroom was SO difficult and using my child’s chosen name was so stressful for the staff.   I’m sorry, but this isn’t about you.  Using a person’s pronouns and chosen name is basic respect.  Mis-gendering a trans person is violent and aggressive.  It’s much more difficult for my child to go into school every day, worry about using the bathroom safely, worry about people respecting her, than it is for adults to adjust to using a name, or change a sign on a bathroom.  This is also another form of veiled transphobia.
  4. I understand.  Please use this phrase with caution.  Unless you have parented a trans child, or you are a trans identified person, please don’t say this to me.  If you don’t have lived experience you don’t really understand what my family is living.  An alternative to this could be to say “I hear you” or “I believe you.”

What I would like to hear as I parent my trans child:

  1. How are things going?  Would you like to go for coffee?  Do you want some company?   Parenting is isolating.  Any parent knows this.  Being a single parent is very isolating.  Being a single parent, with a mental illness, parenting a child who has some unique and special needs is extremely isolating.  Please continue to invite me to do things.  Ask me out for coffee.  Come over to my house and chat.  Let me vent about my fears, worries and struggles.  Be there to hear about our successes.  Because I need these things in the same way that any parent does.  I need a sense of community and so does my child.
  2. You are a good mother.  You are doing the right thing by supporting your child.  Sometimes I need reassurance, especially when I doubt myself or am overwhelmed with fears for the future.  Don’t jump in and give advice (unless asked for), don’t tell me my worries are irrational, don’t shut me down.  Just let me talk.  Believe me, validate me and hold space for the unique challenges my family faces.
  3.  Pretty much ANYTHING coming from other parents of trans children or other trans folks.  Its helps me and my child immensely to know that we are not alone. Hearing about the lived experiences of others and being part of an amazing community of LGBTTQ+ folks in our city has been nothing short of life saving.   If you are parenting a trans child, my one piece of advice would be to seek out a source of community.  Community is different than medical care/counseling, though your child may benefit from that as well.  Community includes online support groups, facebook groups, playgroups, youth groups, parenting groups, pride celebrations, camps etc…reach out and find one in your area.  If you live in Canada, you can contact me and I’ll help you get started. I guarantee you won’t be sorry and you’ll meet some of the most amazing people imaginable.

Best of all, if this is new to you, there are so many resources available.  Educate yourself.  Read.  Learn.  Because trans kids and youth are out there and they need our love and support.  And so do their parents!

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If depression were treated like a physical illness

The holidays can be a difficult time for people struggling with invisible illness such as mental illness or chronic pain.  During the holidays we are “supposed” to be happy.  We “should” relax and have fun.  We are “meant” to connect with friends and family.  It’s happiest time of the year, right?

But what if you aren’t happy?  What if you want to be happy and connected more than anything else, but you can’t be?  What if depression is stealing the happy, the relaxing, the fun and the connection right out of your holidays?

People all around me have been cancelling plans due to the flu, a cold and other winter illnesses.  This is acceptable and even expected in the winter time.   It’s even considered polite and good manners to stay home and keep your germs to yourself.  It’s understood that you aren’t feeling your best and that you have no energy when you have the flu. It’s okay to stay in bed and eat soup and sleep for hours.  People are sympathetic and nobody expects you to just “cheer up.”

I can’t even tell people that I’m sick. I can’t cancel plans.  I can’t stay in bed.   I feel disapproving looks from people around me when I’m not smiling and when I sit quietly or lose my temper  more easily that usual.  I’m exhausted, and I won’t feel better after a few days in bed.  Even if I could spend a few days there.

It’s Christmas time and I’m living with depression and anxiety.

Yes.  I’m sick.  I’m more severely depressed and anxious than I’ve been in a long time.

I want to call in sick to life.  I’m not even suicidal, I don’t want to die.  I just want to give up on “acting normal” and “keeping up appearances.”  I can’t imagine going back to work next Monday, the thought makes me panicky almost to the point of tears.  I have fantasies about developing some serious physical illness…nothing TOO serious, just enough to get me about a month off work with no questions ask, but not SO serious that I’d be in the hospital.  I want someone to take care of everything and take all the stress away.

This is what happens when society doesn’t acknowledge mental illness in the same way it does physical illness.  People who are depressed are lowered to the point of imagining horrible illness as a reason to be “justified” in taking sick leave, or even just taking the day off to rest.

Because when you are depressed you get treated like a misbehaving, whining child when you are not happy and not feeling connected.   When you are depressed you feel like a shitty parent when you don’t want to play with your kids, or you can’t enjoy your time with them.  When you are anxious and don’t want to leave the house you have to push yourself through it, even when you don’t enjoy a single minute of the activity you are doing.

When you are depressed, a “good night’s sleep” won’t fix it.  When you are depressed, “just cheering” up won’t work.

When you are depressed, you can’t just “lighten up” or “just relax.”

Believe me.  I WANT to relax.  I WANT to lighten up.  I want to laugh with my children.  I WANT to have fun with you.  I WANT to feel connected.  I WANT to feel like more than an empty shell marching through the tasks of the day.  I WANT to have energy.  I’m fully aware that I’m not acting normally and I’m terribly self conscious about it.  I feel guilty all the time about how depression impacts me and those around me.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than you asked for that cold, flu or stomach bug.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than anyone ever ASKS to be ill.

I don’t need to be fixed.  I don’t need suggestions on how I can help myself.  I don’t need to be told to look on the bright side.  (by the way neither do people dealing with chronic physical illnesses!)

I need you to keep me company while I shuffle through this dark period.  I need you to be there for me and to not judge me.  I need you to remember that I’m sick and not malingering or misbehaving or ungrateful or lazy.  I need you to remember that I’m trying my best and sometimes MORE than my best just to get through each day.  I’m using every ounce of energy to hide the depression from you, from my kids, from everyone.

I’m in pain.  I’m tired.  I don’t feel hopeful.  The world seems like a dark place and I can’t see the end of it because my thoughts aren’t clear.  Just as a runny nose and cough are symptoms of a cold,  depression makes me think that everyone hates me, that I’m worthless and that I don’t deserve basic things.   Just as a flu causes a high fever and aches, anxiety causes me to imagine horrible things and obsessive irrational thoughts.

These are symptoms.   It’s not a choice.

I’m depressed and anxious.  I’m sick and that is not a choice.

I had the best holidays I could, while not feeling well or happy.

 

Body Positivity is a Mystery

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<trigger warning for those with eating disorders>

This picture was taken 5 years ago.  I haven’t owned a scale since.  To me, a scale is an actual weapon that only causes damage and pain.  I can’t be around them.

Ironically, when I first became anorexic, I never weighed myself.  I didn’t own a scale and anorexia wasn’t about achieving a certain weight or ideal of beauty.  It wasn’t about how I looked, it wasn’t about my body.  Anorexia was a complex and deadly form of disassociation, which over time turned into equally deadly obsessive compulsive disorder.  So my eating disorder was not about losing weight, but losing weight was a side effect of my eating disorder.   This is a really important thing for people to understand.

Over time though, sexual assault and anorexia F#@ed up my relationship with my body.  And as a woman, patriarchy and ideal standards of beauty and thinness began to impact me.

As I began to “recover” the first time (I was forced to gain weight),  I was terribly uncomfortable with my body.  I equated safety with taking up less space, being smaller and following my strict food rules.  Anorexia means that I feel extreme levels of anxiety when I break my food rules.   Today, in imperfect recovery, I have fewer rules and more good days, but ultimately, the terror remains.

The terror of becoming “fat” and being out of control and unsafe.

I’m going to admit something terribly un-feminist.  Even though I read blog posts about body positivity and I fundamentally hate fat shaming, I am puzzled by larger, rounder bodied and fat people.  I’m not judging them.  I don’t think they are weak or lazy, or those negative stereotypes that the media forces down our throats.  I’m just puzzled and curious.  I really honestly want to know “how is that fat person comfortable in their skin?”  I want to know because if I could figure that out, maybe I could accept myself.

I’m tortured by the feeling of clothing being tight on my skin.  Some days I can’t wear certain clothes just because of the way they touch me and make me feel “fat.”   So how do many people I know, who are rounder and love themselves, achieve this self love?  I’m struggling just to tolerate my body.

I’ve been in told in therapy that “fat” isn’t a feeling.

That “fat” is a code my mind has made up, as a cover story for real underlying feelings.  Objectively, my body is not fat, large, or round.  It’s also not unusual, it’s not disgustingly ugly, it’s not misshapen or weird.  It’s just a body.  Most people would say I have thin privilege and that I’m ridiculous for thinking I’m fat.  And even if I were fat, that would be okay.  I believe that intellectually, about other people.  I’m not judging others, I am holding myself to a standard I would NEVER apply to a friend or even a stranger.  I love your body, I will fight for your right to body positivity no matter what your shape is.  But I hate my own body.

“Fat” is not a feeling.  I think the feelings I have are shame, sadness, anger, grief, guilt, fear and many others.  But when I feel “fat” it’s not about my weight, any more than my anorexia was originally about my weight.  I was never fat. “Fat” is about the shame I feel as a survivor of sexual abuse.  “Fat” is about feeling my own body betrayed me.  “Fat” is about me blaming my body for the abuse.  “Fat” is me thinking that if I had no body I’d be safe.  “Fat” is my fear of being assaulted again.

I never weighed myself.   When I was in treatment, they weighed me and I stood backwards on the scale.  After leaving treatment I continued this practice at doctors appointments.  A few times over the years, I knew my weight.  But whatever the number, I was unhappy.  The number was never okay.   At various times I had F#%ed up goal numbers, but they were not based on anything other than pure magical thinking.  And they never correlated with my actual healthy weight range.

In 2011, I was struggling with abuse in my marriage.  I was in school and I was struggling with that too.  As I would take the bus home from school, I sometimes snuck into a store and used the scale there to weigh myself.  I’m not sure why I started doing it.  But my OCD anorexia mind told me it would keep me safe and comfort me.  I did this for probably a month or more.  I was consumed with guilt and shame.  I never told a soul.   Then one day I decided it would make more sense to buy the scale and take it home, to avoid the shame of sneaking into the shop.  I hid it and I never told anyone I had the contraband item.

Big mistake.

It was the first time I’d owned a scale since I developed anorexia.  Within a few months of owning it I was suicidal.   The thing about OCD, is if you give in to it even one little bit, it will take you for a ride, a hellish ride.  First I started weighing myself once a day, first thing in the morning.   Then, gradually I started weighing myself at night too.   And before I knew it I was weighing myself 8-10 times a day.  It was out of control.  And it got out of control in a matter of a few weeks.  I was controlled by that scale.   This was at the same time when I was receiving ECT treatments, I wasn’t eating very much because I felt quite ill.  My weight dropped and because I had a scale, I obsessed about it.   Then when the ECT was finished and I began eating more normally again, I began to PANIC about the weight gain.

Normal, intellectual, reasonable thought of someone without an eating disorder:  “I was sick, I lost weight and it was unhealthy, it’s normal and healthy that I’m gaining it back

Anorexia: “You are weak, you are “fat”, you are out of control, you are ugly, you need to stay at this number on the scale or something bad will happen

In the end, the suicidal thoughts became so overwhelming that I decided to get out.

I took a hammer, I went into the garage when nobody was home, and I smashed the hell out of that scale.  I smashed it until it was in pieces.  It was surprisingly sturdy and difficult to break.  I was sore and sweating from exertion by the time it was destroyed.   And I felt empowered.

Five  years later and I’ve never owned a scale again.   Sometimes in weaker moments I will weigh myself on a scale at a friend’s house, or in a store.  But I know that this practice is self destructive and only gives Ana ammunition to destroy me and shame me.

Scales are for fish.

I will continue to admire the folks around me who embrace their bodies of all shapes and sizes.  I will continue to be mystified and curious about the concept of body positivity.  I will continue to strive towards true recovery from anorexia.

True recovery goes so much further beyond weight restoration.   True recovery means that the scale is powerless over me.  True recovery means I can be comfortable in my clothes.  True recovery means that food is nourishment and enjoyment and doesn’t have  moral value.  That my weight does not mean anything about my self worth.  True recovery is freedom from shame and self hatred.

I may “look good” but don’t be fooled, Ana still runs my life.

 

 

Reverse Sexism isn’t a Thing.

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I’m angry, frustrated and upset about some comments that were made to me by a male friend this week.  We’d been disagreeing and at odds recently, and he told me in a string of texts a few things that really stuck with me and were triggering given my current situation.

He accused me of treating him badly because he was a man.

First of all, that’s like accusing me of reverse sexism, which isn’t a thing.  It’s just not.   I was angry at the unreasonableness of the comment.

Then he went on to say that he feels like my court case and my job have changed me (implication was that it wasn’t a change for the better).

I didn’t read everything else in the texts. I deleted them because I wanted to scream and was triggered.

#obvious

Of COURSE my highly prolonged, extremely traumatic, family law case has changed me.  It would be miraculous to the point of ridiculous impossibility for an experience as stressful and difficult as facing my abuser in court, fighting for custody of my kids and being re-traumatized by the legal system over and over, not to impact me.

When I’m struggling, when I’m having a difficult week, it’s even more important for people in my life to be more gentle with me, more understanding and more patient.  Because when I’m dealing with my court case (and thus my ex),  I’m triggered.  I feel vulnerable.  I’m not always as kind as usual. I’m impatient and irritable, and it’s rarely to do with the people who I care about.  Memories from the past and feeling tones from the past are driving me.  I’m more suspicious, less trusting and more wary.  I need space, time and comfort in order to ground myself.  The court case changes me, and I need help from my friends (not their judgment) to get back onto the path to kindness and safety.

My job has changed me too.  It has changed me immensely and completely and wonderfully.  Working in a feminist organization, helping women and learning from women has helped me grow and gain confidence.   Over the years I’ve been working there, I’ve slowly and painstakingly gained back some of the self confidence I had lost during years of abuse, self hatred and isolation.  My job has changed me, as I’ve learned a greater appreciation for my own privilege, and a greater respect and depth of understanding and empathy towards the many faceted situations of others.

Feminism is important to me, because without feminism I might not be alive today.

Does that mean that I hate men?  Of course not!  I hate the patriarchy and white supremacy and heteronormativity and ableism and cis-sexism and sexism and inequality.

And I hate folks who I have to justify this to.

I don’t exist merely as a sexual object for others.  I don’t exist merely to uphold systems of privilege without question.  I don’t exist merely to please others.  Feminism helps me believe that I am worthy of so much more than that.  Feminism empowers me and gives me strength and a path towards a meaningful purpose to my life.

A life that, a few short years ago, I considered meaningless and worth ending.

I wouldn’t change this about myself.  I wouldn’t want to go back in time and not have this job.  I love what I’ve gained from it and I love myself more than I have in years because of the sense of community I’ve gained from feminist allies.  I think that not working, and not being able to work outside the home, was an aspect of the abusive environment within my marriage.  For that reason, I celebrate my new abilities, my ability to work and my ability to have a greater purpose.  I don’t take my ability to work for granted, because I worked hard in recovery to achieve this.

I have changed.   I will keep changing.

And I won’t apologize for it to anyone.

 

Why I sometimes miss self harm…

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<trigger warning for description of self harm>

It’s a strange thing to admit, but if I’m 100% honest with you, I still miss self harm.  As a coping mechanism it has to be considered one of the worst.  Almost my entire body is covered with permanent scars.  The scars cause me to be self conscious and feel shame.  The scars also result in social stigma, and difficulty in being taken seriously by health care providers.  They itch as they heal and sometimes they hurt.  They are constant reminders of parts of my past that I’d rather forget.

Usually when I think about self harm, what stops me is remembering two things

  1. The self harm only ever helps for a brief moment
  2. I will have to hide the wound and feel intense shame about this, as well as worry about the consequences if anyone sees the injury

This usually works, but sometimes I feel bitter and angry.   Sometimes I have thoughts like “If society didn’t consider self harm to be SO AWFUL, I could just keep doing it, because I wouldn’t feel ashamed and I wouldn’t worry about the potential negative consequences on my family.”  I get angry and I feel like my coping mechanism is being taken away from me.  I get angry and think about how some people get fall down drunk on a regular basis and society thinks this is acceptable.   Why isn’t MY coping mechanism acceptable too?  I feel like having a tantrum like a 2 year old child!  I want it and I want it NOW!  But most of the time I refrain from self harming, not just for my children, but for myself too.  It’s not a lifestyle that I want to return to.

I do want to write about some of the complex reasons I miss self harm.  Some of this might sound completely ridiculous to you.  I’m worried about being honest and just writing this down.  I’m worried about being judged for liking some aspects of this self destructive habit.

Self harm gave me something physical to take care of, and be taken care of for,  when my inner pain was un-fixable and unreachable.

Even though I experienced a lot of maltreatment and abuse in the psychiatric system and hospital emergency rooms, I sometimes miss having a physical injury that could be fixed.

There were times when I was almost addicted to the process.  The care I received after self harming was almost as important, if not more important, than the ritual itself.  The trip to the emergency room WAS part of the ritual.   To be honest, without this part of the ritual, without the serious self harm, it seems almost useless to hurt myself at all.

There was a predictable ritual to the emergency room visit.  At times, I felt safe and cared for there.  At times it felt like a pause, a break from the day to day stressors in my life, which at that time felt unbearable.   I think there was a part of me that used self harm and suicide attempts as an excuse.  Not a cry for help or attention, but a cry that said: “I can’t do this.  It’s too much.  I need a break.  I need to be cared for.  I’m not capable.  I’m afraid to fail.

I remember some of the times I had multiple serious injuries from self harm.  It took the doctor or medical students a considerable amount of time to fix the cuts.  During that time, the doctor would often speak to me.  I had their full attention.  I was being cared for and I was being symbolically “fixed.”

There was a ritual to the process.  Triage.  Waiting room.  Exam room.  The questions.  The cleaning of the wounds.  The freezing.  The sutures.  The bandaging after.  The conversation.  The questions.  For those hours, if I was treated nicely, it was like being numb and being in another world.    A world where time was stopped, my responsibilities were paused, the outside world did not exist.    I actually FELT better afterwards, like I had been healed, but the improvement was so fleeting.  So very fleeting, that often I was injuring again only a day later.

It was as if the injury gave me an excuse to stop, validation to say “I’m not well.  I’m not coping.  I need help!”  Without the injury, without the physical reason, I struggled to ask for or to accept help.  I still do.

I’ve never really verbalized all this to anyone before.

I remember one time, I cut myself on my stomach.  It was deeper than usual, maybe deeper than I intended or realized, because I was new to injuring in that spot.  Over time I had learned to hurt myself in places I could hide.   (When I first started, I was almost hypomanic from SSRIs and I cut in visible places, places everyone could see and that were very difficult to hide.)

I went to the hospital, as I usually would, alone.  At the triage desk they examined me, discovered the wound was serious and triaged me as Emergent rather than Urgent or Less Urgent.   I was put into a wheelchair and taken back into a part of the ER I’d never seen before.  I think it was the place for seriously ill people. The lights were dimmed and the bed was actually comfortable.  I had my own room, not just a curtained area.  It was quiet and comfortable.  I didn’t have to wait very long and I remember feeling safe and calm and protected.  I felt like my health problem was considered important, legitimate and I was being cared for appropriately.  I had a female doctor and she was kind to me.  She was wearing ordinary clothes rather than scrubs or a gown.  I remember her as being fairly young.  She treated me as if I had a physical health problem, not as a mad, crazy, unworthy self harming psych patient.   I felt bad because she got blood on her clothing while she fixed my injury.   I can’t really describe exactly what happened that night.   But I felt protected and the ritual had worked, my mind was quiet.  The racing thoughts were gone.  It was silent and the room was dimmed, like the thoughts were dimmed as well.  For that time I was in another world.

I’m having a difficult week.  I’m feeling overwhelmed and lonely and scared.  I’d like nothing more than to be cared for.  To be honest, the thought of that quiet, dimly lit emergency room bed is very appealing. But I don’t want to achieve this through self harm.  I don’t want to be “sick” and treated in hospital to get a break or to feel validated in resting.

I want someone to take care of me because they care about me, not because it is their job.  I want comfort because someone loves me, not because they are scared that I might harm myself.

I want to be an adult and not a misbehaving, out of control 2 year old.  This is part of what recovery means to me.  I have to use my words, not my actions to let people know that I’m not okay.

Note: the art was made in 2005

I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control…

 

20160522_220818[1]“I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control,  I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul”

-Radiohead

One of the worst parts of living with anorexia is also the part that is the most difficult for others to understand.  Body dysphoria or distorted body image.

In the context of an eating disorder, and in my own case, this basically means that I’m never really sure if I’m seeing my body accurately or not.  When I look in the mirror sometimes I see a lot of things I don’t like.  I don’t like the majority of the middle of my body for example.  Lots of people can relate to that.  But for me what I see in the mirror can sometimes change dramatically from one day to the next.  Sometimes I look at myself and I can see the parts of me that are slim, sometimes thin even.  But when I’m stressed, upset or triggered I see myself as big…too big…taking up too much space.  I hate the way certain parts of my body look and feel.  I get upset at the feeling of clothing touching my body and I sometimes have to change my clothes a few times in the morning before I feel okay to go out.

It’s important to know that 90% of this is not about how I look to other people.  It’s not about vanity.  It’s not about wanting to look like a model in a magazine or an actress on TV.  It’s not a life style choice.  It’s not a choice, period.

Distorted body image and body dysphoria are symptoms of many eating disorders.  Eating disorders are medical illnesses.  You don’t have to “look sick” or be extremely thin to be medically at risk from an eating disorder.

Sometimes I want to scream because if I could get rid of Ana and live a “normal life” around food my days would look very different.  I don’t want to waste even one more minute obsessing about my fat stomach, or how much I should or shouldn’t eat.

I’ll tell you something about Ana…she is a total bitch.  She is also incredibly boring.  Probably the most boring person I’ve ever met.  Ana is abusive too.

Who is Ana?  She is my eating disorder.  I personify her and I experience or imagine her as a young girl, maybe about 15 years old, with dark hair and pale skin.  She never looks happy and she is never satisfied.  She’s often full of rage and full of anger and she seems to want to destroy the both of us.

Ana talks to me like this:

“Your stomach is fat. You are out of control.  You are so disgusting. You don’t even deserve to be alive.  You probably shouldn’t eat very much because it’s the only way you will feel better.”

Ana lies. Ana is cruel.  I’ve been living with her for almost 20 years now and she rarely gives me much of a break.

Because of Ana I have a hard time remembering what it is like to eat and feel relaxed, just enjoying the flavours.  I have a hard time imagining eating without obsessive thoughts and rituals.  Ana has this idea that by controlling food and controlling the size of our body she will solve all our problems and make us feel in control and safe.

Ana wants to be safe more than anything.  Unfortunately, she is young and she doesn’t know that controlling food makes her MORE at risk, more vulnerable and certainly more unhappy.

If I could live one day without Ana…

  1. I would get SO much done.  I’d have more energy because I’d be eating more regularly and more healthfully.
  2. I’d be able to actually concentrate because my body would have all the energy it needs AND my mind would be de-cluttered and not distracted by obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  3. I’d be able to relax and enjoy social time.  Until you live with Ana you never realize how much of society centers around food
  4. Did I mention how much more energy I would have?  Listening to, or fighting off Ana’s abusive inner monologue takes so many spoons.  It leaves me exhausted and on bad days depressed and hopeless

But even knowing all this intellectually, I have a hard time letting Ana go.  She does sort of keep me company, and she does sometimes give me the illusion that by controlling food, I’m controlling my life and managing overwhelming problems.

At the end of the day the truth is that Ana was born during the time I was being abused as a teenager.  Ana promised me things, and she deceived me into thinking that if I was smaller and took up less space I’d be safer.  But I wasn’t safe, I almost died.  And then when I was in imperfect recovery, I was abused again and again.

Ana doesn’t keep me safe.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, especially among young woman.  They aren’t a choice and they do destroy lives.

I hope one day Ana will leave me alone.  I hope I will be able to look in the mirror and like what I see.  I hope  I will be able to eat without fear and guilt.  I hope I will pick my clothing based on what I like and not what will allow me to tolerate the body distortions for that day.

I still have some hope that I will let Ana go, instead of fumbling along in imperfect anorexia recovery forever.

Darkness and Light

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It’s been almost 3 years now since my last full-out episode of major depression lifted.  It started to shift about 4 years ago and lifted when I moved away from my ex-husband.

The last 2 months I’ve been struggling a little.  I developed low iron and I was feeling burnt out and stressed.  For a short time I was depressed again.

I wanted to write a little bit about my experiences with the difference between depression and a clear mind.  Usually the shifts are subtle, but startling, and it’s all to do with darkness and light.

The last few days, I felt startled, caught of guard by the brightness of the colours around me as I drove through the city.  Granted, it is spring and the leaves, buds, grass and flowers are growing, but this is something more than noticing natures beauty.   Today I was driving home with my kids and I saw a set of traffic lights across a field.

My mind: “Wow, those traffic lights are SO bright, so colourful, so orange yellow, they are jumping out of that field”  They looked almost psychedelic and other worldly to me.  Yesterday, as I was driving, the green grass looked almost neon and startled my eyes.  It’s a striking yet not unpleasant feeling waking up from a time of depression.   Suddenly there is light in the world, when you were not always aware of the depth of its absence.

When I get depressed I also struggle with varying levels of disassociation related to my PTSD.  Depression tends to blunt feelings at the best of times, while disassociation can leave you numb.

The last few months I described my feelings as “being a zombie.”  Going through the motions of my day to day life, functioning on the surface, but feeling like I didn’t care, wasn’t connected, wasn’t engaged and wasn’t happy.  Depression feels like living in a world without colours.  Everything pleasant is muted because I cannot connect with my feelings or my environment and then I start to feel hopeless.  It’s like looking through a dirty lens and being wrapped in a blanket that prevents me from feeling things fully.  I can see people around me, I know how I “should” be acting, but it’s an effort to complete the actions in a genuine manner.

For many years, I was severely depressed and this became my “normal” state.  I remember in 2012, I had been depressed consistently since 2009, with 2011 being a particularly bad year.  In July 2012 I was in England on a family holiday.  One day we were at the beach, my family, my cousins and my cousin’s children.  It was a warm day, not hot, but sunny and very pleasant.  We were walking by the seaside along a rocky beach.  I sat down on the stones and I placed my hand on them.  I remember the moment so vividly because I was aware that the stones were warm.  I sat soaking the warmth from the stones into my hand and I felt alive.  I felt something that probably saved my life (again).  I felt hope.  It was the first moment I truly felt connected with the world around me in all its vivid reality in many years.

That moment was one impetus on the journey towards finding my path away from my abusive marriage.  Just those smooth warm rocks and a single moment of the depression cloud lifting and hope streaming in.

People often wonder what moments have changed your life, and sometimes the truth is that the most simple, unplanned moments can elicit major change.

Christmas 2013 I had another moment of hope, it was bittersweet though as I realized how dark my world had been.  We were at my parents house and my younger cousin and her boyfriend at the time were teasing me about someone I was dating.  I was laughing and laughing because the situation was funny, hilarious even.  My children were playing in another room and my older daughter ran in, looked at me confused, then ran into the kitchen shouting “Grandma! Why is  Mommy laughing?”

My daughter needed reassurance that I was happy, she hadn’t heard me genuinely laughing in years, maybe never.  Connection.  In that moment I was connected with the world and I was enjoying my life.   During a dark depression I don’t laugh very much, I feel isolated in a room full of people, I feel like a shadow with clouds hanging over me.  I sometimes don’t even feel like a real person!  My memory is terribly bad after a period of depression.  I think I’m functioning normally, but later, because of disassociation, I realize that I didn’t form proper memories of the events.  I’ve realized that without connection, sometimes memories aren’t completed and stored correctly.

Seeing those yellow traffic lights today felt similar to the stones on the beach and the Christmas laughter.  Yellow shining beacons of hope and connection!  Maybe the opposite of depression is connection?

I’m very lucky that my periods of depression are much further apart now and usually very brief.  They don’t last long enough for me to truly lose hope.  I can always hold onto the memories of those moments of connection.

Even if you are struggling with depression you feel will never lift, please don’t lose hope.  Look for small moments of connection in your day to day life.  It could be as small as noticing a flower that has bloomed, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, feeling the cool water while you are washing your hands, enjoying a smile with a friend.  I believe you can build on those moments and slowly build a path to recovery.