What I Hide

(from my friends and family)

About My Anxiety

Though any group gathering can make me worse, what stands out right now is the holidays. That time of year when people have parties, families get together and the stores become a treacherous gauntlet. There are some people who thrive during this insane season, while others, like me, need to ready the mithril armor in preparation.

In my head, I know it shouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, the rest of my body doesn’t seem to be aware of that; they didn’t get the memo, I will have to send a stern letter to management. Oh, wait! That’s me. At any rate, the moment I find out there’s some kind of gathering I have to attend, friends or family, the panic sets in and there’s an incredible amount of mental prep involved. This is partly because I’m ashamed of my anxiety and partly because I feel guilty for it.

1.)  Mental Prep

Here’s how a typical mental prep goes:

“Alright, Liza. Auntie and Uncle are flying in. Mom’s having a bbq and you need to look decent. Enough to pass Mom’s critical eye and enough that I won’t provoke any questions about my mental health. I also have to make sure I fly under the radar of Auntie and Uncle, which I am never certain I do, but they’re always good about not saying anything.” The scenarios will change, but it’s always the same basic idea. I want to appear as normal as everyone else. But I also want people to see that I do have limitations, but that I am still me. I’m a girl. I’m complicated! The mental prep, all humor aside, can be exhausting in itself.

2.)  OCD Worrying

I fret for weeks what I am going to wear. And that is if I know way in advance. If I don’t and it’s something sudden, where I didn’t have time to play, it’s worse. Even when I finally decide on something, I’m not happy. Too tight, too hot, too frumpy, or the always popular, I look fat. Anything to criticize myself and my choice. But no one, aside from my darling Mister, will know how much I worried over everything.

3.)  Gearing up for Conversations

This sounds benign right? I assure you that it is far from it. It’s basically three parts. The first, questions about my health. The second, what I plan on doing with my life. The third, casual, random conversations that should be easy but because I am hyperventilating about one and two, it never is. And, it’s always worse when I don’t know the people I’m around. Alright, so the first question about my health always stumps me. Do I answer honestly? Or will this provoke to much pity? Do I lie and possibly elicit the opposite response which is anything between apathy and skepticism? You might think this is harsh, but t is universally known that someone trying to acquire disability shouldn’t be happy, shouldn’t enjoy anything and definitely shouldn’t laugh. Let’s slide into home with the last, my life’s work- which couldn’t possibly be writing because I don’t get paid for it. Basically, this is just some glorified hobby of mine too keep me busy while I wait for disability. This is truly my least favorite topic of conversation because there is no winning. I could tell them I was being featured in Time or that I was Oprah’s newest favorite thing, and the reaction would still be, “That’s nice dear. When are they going to pay you?” Finally, I don’t do small talk very well. I hate, hate, hate, having to do small talk with someone I do not know. I have no problem sitting in silence and staring at them uncomfortably until they leave.

4.)  Can You Bring Something?

I am lucky that I do not typically host any event at my house. We’re far too small a space for the six people already occupying it so there’s little reason to torture everyone else too. But it usually means I have to bring food and while I don’t mind, I often worry about what to bring. Thinking about it as I write it, I am cognizant of the ridiculousness of this worry and what I put myself through, but it is what I do. I worry about the dish pleasing everyone even though I consider it divine intervention of some kind when I please every palate in my own house. I worry that if it is too simplistic of a dish it won’t be pleasing enough and yet, if I make anything too complex, I know that I will need help or that I will end up exhausted.

5.)  The Anxiety Over Having Anxiety

Finally, and I made this the last thought not because it’s the least of my anxieties, but because I want it to linger in your thoughts.

It’s hard for people who do not understand anxiety to comprehend all the stressors we go through, sometimes just getting out of the house. Yes, just to get out of the house. I’m now sharing a little-known fact about me that not even the Mister knows. On bad days, I can’t leave my house. When I used to work, to compound my misery and guilt over missed days because I was sick, there were days I just couldn’t leave my house because my anxiety was so bad. And, what is worse, is that logically I get it. I’m willing to bet we all do on some level. Stepping out of the house won’t kill me, but my body and the racing heart and the inability to breathe and sickness and nausea I feel, tell a whole different story to my brain. I’ve tried to leave my house and gotten as far as my car, locking the doors as I sit inside and hyperventilate myself into feeling that impending doom. I don’t want to feel like that and I just jack up the anxiety and stress even more when I try to logic my way out of it. I wish there was a way I could be free of it and maybe I will find it one day, but until then, remember that we don’t want this. Remember that before you make fun of someone for being anxious or diminish what they are feeling by trying to rationalize it for them, as though they didn’t already try. Saying things like, “It’s all in your head.” I may know that. I may know it in every cell of my body, but when my heart is pounding and I’m struggling for every breath and the tears are rolling, I just don’t give a fuck. I just want you to hold me.

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Escaping and Surviving Domestic Abuse

*Trigger Warning*

In December of 1997 I made the decision to leave my husband. This decision came after four-years of being emotionally and physically abused.  This decision came after repeatedly leaving him and taking our two, young, daughters to live at my parents’ house where ultimately, he would manipulate me enough through apologies and promises, that I would go back. That summer he decided to move us to Alabama, a small town where he still had a lot of family and where he had inherited his grandfather’s home. It would alleviate us of rent and he’d have a job at a cotton mill and we’d be happy. Well, that was supposed to be how the story turned out, but it didn’t.

It did not take long before problems resurfaced. Arguments over money, over his drinking and over his violent temper. There was little I could do right, in any facet of our home life. I was constantly being reminded that he was the one working and therefore I could not do anything without his approval. My job was cooking and cleaning and maintaining the house as well as being available for sexual use whenever he wanted, regardless if I refused. I was repeatedly raped during those six months I lived there, before I left that Christmas. I did not understand I was being raped until much later, because I did not understand you could be raped when married- that a wife still had the ability to say no.

I was extremely homesick in Alabama. I am an only child and my parents have always tried to support me even though we don’t always agree with one another, or get along. My marrying at 19 because I was pregnant was very difficult for them and so I truly tried to spare them the grief of my failing marriage, even though I would ultimately go back home a total of six times, for sometimes 2-3 months and live with them, with the two children. They knew I was unhappy, that he was controlling and had a temper, but not to the extent of what I was experiencing.

I asked to go home for Christmas because I was homesick and after many arguments, he finally gave his consent and purchased tickets for me and the two girls. I did not plan on not returning, however I had discovered I was pregnant prior to my departure and I was devastated. He…was happy. Many things went through my head, from the non-consensual sex that had me in this predicament to the knowledge that if I had another child, I would never be able to leave him. I didn’t have an education or a job because I had two children under 4ys and a baby would pretty much anchor me to a marriage that I was afraid would kill me. We’d had a fight about something, I can’t even remember, but what I do remember vividly is me, in one of the closets of the bedroom crouched down and praying he would be distracted by something and not hunt me down and then him finding me, yelling at me with a sawed off shot gun in his hand and pressing the barrel to my forehead. I was not going to disobey him, again. So, I got on that plane and while I don’t even remember the trip I remember crying at some point, holding my youngest and pulling the older one close against me and telling them we weren’t going back.

People have told me that I am so brave for leaving but it wasn’t bravery. It was survival. This wasn’t some Hollywood-hatched-plan of escape. It was luck. I believe that sometimes the universe opens a door that you may not understand the meaning of until you are in that moment. Going back home was nothing more than wanting to be with my parents for the holidays but it opened up a window of opportunity that only made itself known to me when I opened up my eyes. I needed to survive because I had two small daughters who depended on me to protect them and care for them. I am often asked if I have any advise for women in domestic violence situations or survivors. Here is what I can offer from my experience.

·       It’s not just physical: I wasn’t aware I was being sexually abused/assaulted, repeatedly until much later. Domestic violence includes: Sexual, Emotional, Psychological, Financial and Social abuse.

·       Boundary Building: When you are in this situation you become so acutely focused on pleasing someone else you forget entirely about you. Where you once may have been able to say no, you are unable to because “No” becomes associated with rebelling and violence. If you cannot learn to create boundaries with people you remain a potential target for abuse.

·       It’s not your fault: The abuser cannot take responsibility for their abuse and so it is pushed onto the victim. This burden is not yours. You were not to blame. It is one of the biggest hurdles because it is one of the first things they do to assume control. “You made me do this” or “If you could just do this right, I wouldn’t have to..” You’re not to blame.

·       Remember happiness: You were once happy before things took a downward turn. Remember what it was like to not be afraid, to be happy, to see yourself smiling, or laughing, and to see your kids smiling. Abuse shatters happiness and leaves you as a shell of your former self. It robs your children of their happiness too. You deserve happiness. Children deserve happiness. Hang on to that hope, don’t let it get away from you and you will eventually get there.

I am not a counselor or therapist. This is only my opinion and perspective from experiencing domestic abuse/violence. If you are in an abusive relationship please call:

In the US: National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

[*Wrote this for The Migraine Mantras published Oct. 5th, 2018]

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How My Assault Has Shaped Me

And Shaped My Mental Health

*WARNING* *POSSIBLE TRIGGER* *WARNING*

I’ve been thinking a lot about my rape. Everything in our news has sort of forced me into thinking about a subject that I tucked away for 30rs. I recently wrote about how I feel my assault has perhaps had a hand in much of my chronic illness, if chronic illness/autoimmune disorders are in part, caused by elevated stress. Today, I want to talk about how I feel my assault shaped me and my mental health. To be clear, I am only talking about my assault here as a teen and not including a four-year marriage that was also violent and abusive and no doubt had an impact on all facets of my health.

It was 1987 and I was 13yrs old. I went to a YMCA day camp in my town. Day camp was the closest thing I got to a “camping” experience. My mother was not the out-doors type and because I was an only child, and probably because she needed some me-time too, I was sent to day camp for a couple of sessions. I was always a very introverted child- an INFJ to the core and I wish I had known that then or had come with an owner’s manual for my parents, because it was very hard. Both my parents are very extroverted and it simply did not carry over to me. They felt that day camp would get me around kids my age and I would blossom from the cocoon of introvert-land. No such luck, but I did love going to camp.

To sum up the hierarchy of the camp you had the camp-goers and staff/counselors and also counselors-in-training (CiT). These were kids that were too old for camp and who were 16-18 years old and who worked they’re under the guidance of counselors and would play with and monitor the camp kids. Please keep in mind that these memories are 30yrs old and from a child’s memories. I have always loved kids. I felt like I was an adult trapped in a child’s body. I don’t know if this was because I was an only child, if it was because for a lot of my childhood I lived in neighborhoods without children and where my companions were senior citizens, or because I just got kids. While I had a few friends my age, when we did age-related activities, when we were all thrown together, I spent a lot of time playing and keeping company with, the younger kids and also with some of these counselors-in-training. Among them, were both boys and girls and at the tender age of thirteen, I both idolized them and wanted them to like me, including the boys. But I was 13 and approaching in Junior High and awkward and didn’t feel very pretty. Until, one of the boy-CiT’s eye landed on me. He payed attention to me and whenever he needed help would recruit me. I felt very special.

My day-camp, though I do think they had a special week that was overnight, was not that kind of camp. My parents were extremely frightened of something happening to their only child and in a day and age of “Adam,” they had a good reason to worry. So I did not get to go to the special overnight week that some of my friends were able to attend, however, we did have day trips where we would go to an area with a lake (and forgive me, as this is a place I have not been back to in 30yrs, so my memory is foggy) and where they had areas for art and crafts and other things, bathrooms and showers for after the lake and places that were out of sight, though you were not allowed to wander off without an adult or CiT. This place is where my assault took place. The boy had me wrapped around his finger and so when he asked me to help him get some stuff for a project later on, I didn’t question it and it didn’t seem odd to me that it was in the are we weren’t allowed to wander to. He was a CiT, which was the equivalent to an adult for me and I was glowing with pride that he liked me and trusted me to help him. It was here, away from the others and in a supply closet that he raped me. I remember the surprise and the fear with a terrible acuity. I remember the way he pulled down my shorts and put his hand over my mouth and told me not to scream. I wouldn’t have dared anyway, the fear had me all but silenced and all I could do was cry. He raped me and told me if I said a word, if I tried to tell anyone, that he would hurt me and my parents. After it was over he brought me to the girl’s bathroom and told me to wash up. He left me there and I did as he said, still feeling the horror. I washed everywhere. So even if I had told, I’d already ruined any possible DNA being found. I was a kid. I was terrified. I don’t know how I made it the rest of the afternoon. Mostly, I don’t even remember. I think I slipped into some rote function and did what I was supposed to and when I got home I pretended not to feel well.

I never told anyone. Not a camp counselor, not anyone.

That up-coming school year was horrible. I have no doubt I drove my parents to the brink. Things get fuzzy for me here. I spent a lot of time in detention and I was not doing well academically either. Everything from my demeanor to my style changed. I was more withdrawn than normal; my favorite color was black and I was always seeking trouble. I was experimenting with boys and not in a healthy way. I had it in my head that I brought this on myself and that I somehow deserved it for flirting with this boy because I wanted him to like me. So, my perception of myself in relation to boys was a thing to be used. At some point my parents sought help for me, taking to me a psychiatrist who apparently at some point had been a priest. I was seeing him because I had begun to not eat. Anorexia and bulimia, for me, was a way in which I could control something within myself because I wasn’t able to control what happened to me. I told this doctor I had been assaulted and this doctor did not believe me. I remember recounting to him in excruciating detail what had happened and he told me that it was an imagining. That my brain had conceived this idea as a way in which I would not have to be culpable for my actions. In other words, I invented this horrible experience because I did not want to be responsible for my bad grades, or my mouth, or constantly doing things wrong in school that landed me in detention. To be fair to this doctor, these are my 30yr memories and it is from the perspective of a child. It may not have been how he intended, but it was how it was perceived. This only made me more combative against my parents and they decided that therapy was not working and we stopped going.

Jump forward to High School, I turned my focus on writing. I wrote poetry and fiction and I spilled my pain onto paper. I also fell into some sports and found a way to release some of the anguish I’d been feeling. My behavior in High School was either way, way up in elation or way down. I cycled fast, and there could be days I was good and days where I shut out the world. I knew something was wrong with me but I did not have the words for it. Sometime in my Sophomore year, I think, I went on a choir trip for a competition in Virginia Beach. This was the first time I’d been allowed to embark on such an excursion, by myself (without parents) and I was excited. Everything went well until the night before we had to leave when we were out on the beach and met some men in the military. We were expressly told to stay away, but I was high on life and daring and I befriended two marines. One of them more so than the other and I invited them up to my room (That I shared with 3 other girls). They showed up and half surprised and half dizzy with excitement that they did come up I let them in. Two men who were probably between 18-21 years old, in a room with four girls around 15. I thought I was in love with the one. He held me the entire night and when morning came, excitement and that rush of love drained faster than I can even describe, leaving me with torment and anguish because we were expected to leave. He promised he would write and I half believed him but knew it was unlikely. I didn’t want to go home and I can’t even put into words how quickly and how devastating my mood plummeted. I couldn’t even register the possible danger I had placed my friends in, as I recall their fear when they showed up at our door and when I let them in.

I believe that my assault had an impact on a developing mind as well as developing emotions. I think that whatever made me predisposed to Bipolar biologically, was set-off by the assault and changed the wiring in my brain. I’m not a doctor or psychologist and I don’t claim to know a lick about the biochemistry of it, I’m just saying how it feels in my own head and body. That the body who raped me when I was barely a teenager most likely altered the course of my mental health. I also believe that this alteration predisposed me to an attraction to men who were abusive. I think it’s naïve to believe that events in our lives have no impact on our brain and body. I think in some ways that it is unfair to lay the entire burden on biology for making us this way. That our brains were simply pre-wired for all of this. Can’t it be both? I believe that my sexual assault, and later on my abusive marriage, were integral in making me who I am today. This includes everything from my personality, my quirks and anxieties and my bipolar. Sure, it’s possible that even if I’d lived a charmed life and never encountered the kind of pain I had, that I would have turned out exactly the same way, but I believe pain changes us. And when it’s all said and done, despite it all, I like how I’ve turned out. My experiences have allowed me to become a writer and to share what happened to me with all of you so that maybe, we all heal a little. I feel truly blessed that I can use my platform to engage with other survivors and other warriors out there. We over-come our pain through unity. We use our powerful voices to change things.

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Relationship Between Chronic Illness and Assault

A personal experience #MeToo

I have done a lot of reading about how stress can affect the immune system and how it can have a pretty hefty hand in our over-all health. There are even some doctors who believe that stress is a major contributing factor in autoimmune disorders. This is not to imply a direct cause an effect, but something that I think is interesting and may warrant further review. In my own case of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I can see where stress throughout my life may have had an impact, however, in my daughter’s case I do not seem the same correlation and she also has the same diagnosis. Something to mull over.

My reason for writing this is many. The Kavanaugh hearings and controversy surrounding it has been very difficult for me. In fact, last week was probably one of the worst weeks I’ve had in a long time. The painful memories this brought back affected my mental health, emotional stability and physical well-being. Even I was surprised by the totality of it. Something that I haven’t thought about much in roughly 30yrs, was brought into acute focus. Not only was it brought into forefront of my memory, but the discussions surrounding the Kavanaugh case and the arguments on both sides made me question decisions I made when I was no more than a child. So, I am writing this as a survivor who supports and believes other survivors and as someone who struggles with many aspects of her health posing the questions: 1.) Did the stress of my assault predispose me to chronic illness? 2.) Did it predispose me to my mental health struggles? 3.) Does reliving the experience via these hearings cause more harm?

To answer the third question first, I actually feel that while it has been a very painful experience to listen to the testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, that it has in some ways brought further healing through discussions with my husband. A question that re-surfaced not only because of these hearings, but because of the #MeToo movement itself, has been the price of my silence. I never said a word of what happened to me as a kid to anyone. I was far too frightened of my assailant and moreover, I was terrified of what bringing it to trial could mean for me and my reputation. Not because I was a promiscuous teen-ager, but because I’d flirted with him, he was older than me and I felt it would be used against me like “I was looking for it.” Thirty years later, the question that arises from all of this for me and the pain with it is: “Did my silence lead to more girls being assaulted?”  “Should I have said something?” and, “If I saw my assailant was about to be nominated to the Supreme Court, would I bring it all back up?” No easy answer there. And as my husband comforted me he reminded me that not only was I just a kid who was scared, trying to protect my parents from the grief and anguish of not being able to protect me and the ordeal of a trial, but that even if I had said something it would not necessarily mean I could have prevented further attacks. I don’t think that the reliving of the experience through these hearings has caused more harm, but I do think that hearing the issue of assault as a partisan matter has caused some harm. It not only re-injures the child-victim within me, but also the adult who struggles with how assault can be seen as anything but abhorrent and wrong. Not Republican or Democrat. Not something chalked up to boys will be boys or wild antics of a youth. Because while the boy who may have drank excessively and tried to assault someone or did assault someone grows up, never held accountable for his actions, and revered for successes as an adult, the survivor of that assault never forgets, deals with the emotional injury done to her for a life time and may end up with life-long struggles because of that. Though I understand there is only a small window of opportunity to be able to criminally charge someone, and that after that time there is no way to really hold someone accountable, I think the true crime here is that women feel and have always felt, that if they say something they will be the ones to stand trial, they will be the ones to be picked apart, not their assailant.

Jumping to my first question, did my assault predispose me to chronic illness? Sadly, I am unsure. One of the things I believe my assault did, was predispose me to thinking that this was supposed to be how I was treated. There was no longer a boundary between allowed and dis-allowed behavior from boys and later on, men. In High School I was constantly touched when I didn’t want to be, whether it was the juvenile “snapping of bra” or slapping my rear that sent boys into fits of laughter, especially and even more heartily, if you got angry about it. I did not have healthy relationships with boys and that would eventually land me pregnant and married at 19. This was an abusive marriage that I stayed in for four years because not only did I not know how to get out but I believed it was deserved. The job I held during that time was also ripe with sexual harassment, something I felt was just par for the course and all women were treated this way. No one said anything and I simply tolerated the behavior of men who would touch me without permission and just chuckle about it. There was stress everywhere in my life and I can’t even quantitate it. So, while the initial assault may not have predisposed me to chronic illness, it predisposed me to consistently being in environments where sexual harassment pervaded and where I was under continual stress, which may have made me more susceptible to chronic illness.

Looking at my second question, and whether or not it had a hand in my mental health issues, yes. I believe that my assault caused severe depression.  While my brain may have been hardwired for bipolar, I believe that the assault and continuous environments of sexual harassment, coupled with a marriage that was abusive in all ways, exacerbated my mental health and caused my OCD and anxiety and left me with PTSD. It has taken many years to come to terms with things that happened to me and to be able to function as well as I do and more importantly, be happy. Much of it was done without clinical therapy though I do see a psychiatrist who monitors my health, I’ve used writing as my therapy and sharing my story when I can. I’ve never shared my story as publicly as this before, but I felt that with everything going on it was high time. My whole purpose for my blog is sharing my experience of chronic illness with others, so they know they are not alone. My assault left me with chronic memories and I felt emboldened by others who are sharing their experiences to share my own so men and women who have experienced an assault know they are not alone.

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My Bizarre Obsession

Since I was a little girl I struggled with OCD. It began as counting my fingers, starting from my pinky and just going back and forth, from pinky to index and back again. It progressed to an obsessive-compulsive need for cleanliness and when you are a teen-ager and breaking out and thinking it is because you are dirty it can turn into something nightmare-ish. I was somewhat lucky in that not only was I still able to function for the most part, they were compulsions I could hide or be discreet about. I was fifteen when I developed an eating disorder that I personally link to my OCD because counting calories became my undoing. Though I saw a therapist and got back on track with my weight and health, I feel that it had less to do with emotional pain and more to do with OCD. At the very least, it was half and half and while I got better there, it seems that my OCD just relocated to something else. That something else was skin-picking, also known as dermatillomania, also known as excoriation disorder. This has been the most difficult to overcome and I still deal with it presently, though to a lesser degree.

If you don’t know, Dermatillomania is a condition where a person feels compelled to repeatedly pick at their skin, scars and other areas of skin, sometimes causing visible wounds. This is sometimes accompanied with self-harm, though it doesn’t have to, but almost always goes hand-in-hand with OCD. In my case, it was all about the OCD and while I guess you could say that I do self-harm by picking at my skin and causing small wounds, I don’t do anything more than that. It is, in my opinion, the most distressing of my mental health issues of which there is bipolar and anxiety and mild PTSD. It is distressing because sometimes I don’t even know when I am doing it and by the time I am conscious of it I’ve already damaged my skin. It is distressing because the concentration seems to be my face and that is the most visible part of you. It used to be my fingers- that space between the knuckle and first joint- I would pick at and pick at until they were truly destroyed. I got myself so worked up and distressed about infection that I stopped, but just like previously, it simply relocated. The damage to my face is not as severe as what I used to do with my fingers, looking more like I picked at zits than large wounds; I can cover them up with minimal make-up, but because it’s on my face, I feel like the whole world can see it. It’s one reason I am in-love with Snap Chat and filters. If you follow my Twitter or Instagram you know, filters are my friend, and not just because chronic fatigue does not lend to being photogenic. This is an embarrassing and weighty secret coupled with not just a little bit of shame that I have carried with me a long time. In fact, so long not even my psychiatrist knew I was dealing with it until about a year ago.

This condition is not something I had a name for. I had no idea it fell into that OCD group and I can’t even begin to articulate my shame. It wasn’t just about picking scabs or picking at my skin. It was every little imperfection seen as the enemy and to a certain extent, still is. I am currently dealing with a heat related eczema and recurring rash along my arms and face, but the eczema is all over my back  and thighs and so when I run my fingers across my skin at any given time and feel these little bumps or dry patches it sets off this alarm in my brain which causes this inexplicable desire to pick at it as though picking it away will make it disappear and my skin will be smooth again. And like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I don’t even realize I am doing it until my fingers come away with blood. Still, when it’s over, I feel relieved. Like that itch was finally scratched and I can breathe. It’s a lot less now that I am medicated. I take Tegretol and while that is not the go-to drug for OCD, because I also have seizures, it’s like killing two birds with one stone and it’s helped. It was amazing to me when I realized it was helping. Just one day I realized, oh my goodness, some of those wounds are healing or scabbed and gone and I felt saved. Yes, it still happens but between medication and talking about it and using mindfulness as a part of my inner healing, I am over-coming it.

Sharing it has helped me feel less alone and less ugly. Reading about other people who are going through it, or who have gone through it and come out the other side, has also been helpful. I have to work at being positive every day. I have to work on self-love. When I wander off my path I feel that urge more deeply and I do wander off the path. I am not perfect. But instead of chastising myself for it or hating myself for it, I forgive myself and work on veering back to where I need to be. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes it’s exhausting because I don’t just have this one issue, I have a lot of issues.  Don’t get discouraged if you are trying to work through this and fail sometimes. It’s not easy. But know, you are not alone.

On the Fringes After a Suicide

If you’ve read my blog, you know I have dealt with suicide. In fact, I have been on both sides of the fence, having known someone who has taken their own life and having attempted it myself. I have read countless books and articles on suicide and how to move past the pain and loss. It’s been almost 20 years since my ex-husband killed himself outside my workplace and I still struggle with it but it has gotten much better. In these 20 years I have discovered there is little information about how to deal with the suicide of a person you are no longer in a relationship with; there’s little information on how to grieve a loss when this person caused you a lot of grief and whom you really weren’t speaking to but had two children with. These are not examples found in books and articles. It’s always about someone you love, who you were friends with or married to or a sibling or son or daughter. Not an ex. During that time, though I was re-married, I felt on the fringes of emotion and I felt alienated and very alone. People who had known my situation would comment with words of relief, which was two-fold. Relief that he’d no longer be able to torment me and relief that he had not taken me with him. But this person had been my husband and this person had been the father to my two children, who were too young to understand what had happened and who I’d not be able to sit down and discuss the nature of his death until they were much older. I floundered for a long time trying to deal with things in what I wrongly labeled as the “proper” or “normal” way to respond.

It is true that at the time of his death we were no longer married and that I’d moved on and found a great man and love. But affection and/or romantic affection are not exclusive to grieving the loss of someone who had been in your life, even if that person had not been the best representation of themselves that they could have been. After-all, I’d married him and spend a handful of years with him and had two kids with him. But I hadn’t been allowed to attend the funeral and again but very literally, I stood on the fringes of where friends and family had gathered under the canopy at the gravesite and saw his casket from afar. My dearest friend had brought me and we stood there, awkwardly watching and she held me while I cried. I can’t express how difficult it was. I was caught between grief and guilt, feeling that all of it was somehow my fault and I spent many, many years trying to grapple with guilt that was never mine, but had been re-enforced by his family in ways like not allowing me to be at the funeral and instead watch from the sidelines. Those subtle gestures are profoundly impacting and leave lasting damage to a person.

Even now, as I type this, I know that some would question why I felt so grieved by what he did. After-all, he had come to my place of work and could have, very easily at the time, come up to the office where I worked and done much more, lasting damage. We’ve all seen the deadly after-math of workplace violence. I think the difference and what has made it such a difficult thing to deal with is that I have seen things from the other side. Way before this happened, while I was still married to him, I’d tried taking my own life. I understand on a molecular level; the deep and profound pain he must have been in that it would lead him to show up at my work and would end with him dead. I understand so deeply that I don’t think I ever hated him for it. That is a lie. I did for a little while. I hated the knowledge that had he chosen a different path that I might not be here. But hate did not last as long the grief and guilt I felt and still feel to a much lesser degree. The anniversary of his death is coming in a couple of months and I will re-live every moment of it in a single thought, but the mood will last awhile, like lingering storm clouds without the rain. I have come to terms with it. I think death leaves its’ mark on all of us because we are afraid of it and when it’s unexpected it reminds us how fragile we truly are. This is true for suicide too, because while it may not be old age or illness that implies a fragility of the body, it is instead a fragility of the mind and no one is exempt from that.

I think it is difficult being on the fringes when someone takes their life. Even without the complications of my particular tale it is difficult. One of the things that can help people get past a death like this is having people to support you and it is difficult to get the support you need when you are unable to speak about the person in a way you need to because those around you feel you are better off. The difficulty continues and extends to friends of the person who died because they might not feel inclined to talk to you and may not even feel like your grief is genuine. When you aren’t exactly in a relationship with the person anymore people tend to feel like you shouldn’t have the feelings you are having. That grief and pain and whatever else you might be feeling aren’t yours, that somehow you forfeited your right because you are no longer with them. It sounds ridiculous when you read it, but it is very true. We’re funny as human beings when it comes to that and feel like we own the rights to how someone should feel. But being human, I care. I am also very empathetic and that empathy doesn’t see a boundary. So, I grieved long and hard and very privately for a long time, not feeling that I had a right to my grief.

My best advice would be to allow yourself your feelings and to grieve the way you need for as long as you need. If you don’t have someone in your life who will listen to you without being judge-y then start a journal. Writing has always been therapeutic for me and you don’t have to be prolific. You can write as much or as little as you need to. If you weren’t allowed to attend services, like me, you can light a candle and say good-bye the way you need to from home. I think it is very important to have closure in any way it feels right to you. I wrote a letter to my ex. I was sobbing at the end of it but it was cathartic and I did feel better. The most important thought I can leave you with is knowing that you are allowed your feelings and that no one should deny you. That by making you feel as though you don’t have a right to this and alienating you and leaving you on the fringes, they are doing greater harm. You may never be able to talk to their friends and family about how you feel but you don’t need to. You can self-heal on your own and become a much stronger person afterwards.