Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stigma: Love It, Hate It, Learn To Live With It

1. a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.

I didn't understand this idea until I was in college and saw the world around me, realizing that so much of my life that I've kept secret would be criticized by others.  While some struggles I have learned to be open about, others I have kept only to myself.  With April being sexual assault awareness month, I knew that I wanted to write about my assault.  While I have written about it before, there is always more to the psyche, particularly with my recent participation with Hear Us Roar 2016 at Northern Michigan University.  So allow me to delve into the depths of my life and tell you all about it.

I started struggling with depression when I was a kid, but didn't understand it.  I felt isolated and lonely most of my childhood, but I put on a brave face for everyone around me.  I had one friend that I was very close to, but felt completely alone besides her friendship.

During that time, I began to self harm.  I had a very elaborate and shamefully sneaky way to go about it.  I pricked myself with pins.  Very voodoo-esque. I would manipulate the pin under my skin to cause discomfort but drawing very little blood.  I would often use scissors to scrape and scratch my skin but not enough to leave a mark anyone could see.  Even into my adulthood, the compulsion to self harm would get very strong during a depressive episode.

The summer after 8th grade, I attempted suicide.  Knowing very little about medication, I didn't understand that in order to kill yourself, you had to take far more than the recommended dosage.  Not just 4 pills.  I always figured dying in my sleep would be the easiest way to go.  Just sleep and never wake up.  Well, I disappointingly did wake up.  After that, I tried to move on and let it go.  But after a week, I wanted to try again.  I held a large knife in my hands and rolled it over and over.  I wanted to die, but I also wanted to say goodbye.  I called my best friend at the time and told her.  She made me put the knife down and talked to me for hours.  She saved my life.

A lot of my depression was triggered at 11 when my mom and I were in a near fatal car accident.  Much like any major stressor, my body's chemistry shifted. While I had always been the skinny girl, I was now the chubby friend.  Putting on weight became easy and losing it very, very hard.  I couldn't help but feel ugly and think I would never be someone's first choice to love.  The struggling self esteem still continues its march with me on a daily basis, though at this point, I've beaten it back quite a bit.  However, the lack of self esteem manifested itself as a near eating disorder in early high school.  Knowing nothing about fitness, I believed that barely eating anything would make me skinny.  I would skip breakfast, eat salad for lunch, and often times skip dinner.  Many a night I would force myself to go to bed with a rumbling stomach because I believed it would burn more calories. This did not last very long though, because my depression didn't turn me away from food.  It led me to using food as a coping skill.  I would begin eating my feelings.  Which I sometimes still do, but in more healthy ways.

The self defeating behavior and self loathing continued through high school and into college.  Going through college I started working on loving myself.  It was hard.  When you've programmed yourself to hate seeing your face in the mirror and your inner monologue calls you a "fucking ugly cow" whenever you're naked, it's an uphill battle.  But I eventually believed that someone would be interested in me.  In fact, I decided to let loose.  To do something I would never do.  I went to a frat party and made out with a stranger.  Which ended up leading to a life changing event.  As he would be the same guy to sexually assault me while I was drunk a few days later.

The stigma of being a survivor was quickly brutal.  I learned very fast about rape myths and victim blaming.  And after that, I shut it away.  I put it deep inside me and didn't process it for a while because it was too much.  Once I decided to finally deal with the rape myths and the victim blaming, I frankly just got angry.  Fucking angry.  Angry that someone would tell me it was my fault for being drunk.  Angry that so many people are victims of sexual violence.  But mainly angry at myself for believing any of it.

It was around this time that the PTSD set in.  I would have nightmares or flashbacks.  I would often shake, cry, scream, or hyperventilate.  I could nearly rip out my hair.  It would feel like I was living it all over again, and no matter how many showers I took, I never felt clean.

Shortly after this, I relocated to Alabama.  I had a successful relationship and amazing friends, but that was all I had.  The bitch landlady who owned the house we lived in lied to all of us about her mortgage so she could overcharge her friends.  I was a stranger so she didn't even feel bad for doing it to me.  Truly proving the kind of person she is.  More about that here.  But slowly, everyone else moved out and it was just me and her.  Even with my amazing dog, I couldn't cope.  My relationship also ended and I began abusing alcohol.  I would drink three or four beers every night just to get to sleep.  Or straight chug whiskey.  Or vodka.  Anything to be able to sleep.  I started fairly lightweight, but that tolerance quickly built up. When I moved out of Hell Bama, I was able to get my relationship with alcohol under control, but it wasn't easy.

I worked on moving forward.  I joined an amazing organization, the Listening Ear, and learned how to deal with my emotions.  I learned I wasn't alone and that other people loved me.  I transitioned into a job I felt more passionate about.  Working with teen boys at Turning Point Youth Center was an experience I will never forget.  I got to be on the ground floor of the new Abuse/Neglect unit.  I got promoted to assistant group leader and developed amazing relationships with the kids there.  It unfortunately didn't last.

My relationship with my supervisor deteriorated.  I never felt good enough.  I felt that every move I made was scrutinized and that I never did anything right.  Walking on egg shells is paralyzing, and my anxiety reared itself.  I would start having panic attacks on a daily basis on the way to work.  I would shake, and cry, and hyperventilate.  Sometimes I had a friend there to talk me through the day and be support.  But the days without her were devastating.  Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I quit.  When working with teen boys isn't the most stressful part of your job, that's saying something.  So I willingly entered unemployment and job searching.

I had a short lived job, but the New Year would prove the end of it.  And the end of my second relationship. And for two and a half months, remaining optimistic seemed impossible.  Every time I came close to a break, something would fall through.  I spent days crying.  Isolated by my depression and anxiety.  In March, I got a lifeline and started a job in finance.  It's not my dream job by any means, but it pays well and I am massively enjoying it.

But even with my life on the upswing, it doesn't mean I don't have all this still.  It will always be with me.  A part of me.  And that doesn't mean I like it, but I live with it.  Because it's me.  These are my stigmas.

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