For about 5 years, I dealt with extreme anxiety and panic attacks. It ran my life. I had medication I felt like I needed and would panic (even more) if I didn’t have it. I tried numerous other ways to combat it, but nothing seemed to really help. It was crippling and paralyzing. I lived in fear of having another panic attack. Oftentimes, the panic attacks were paired with an extreme emotional breakdown. It was so embarrassing when this happened and I couldn’t stop it. I remember one time in particular, I had an EMDR session earlier that day, and later went to play in a dart tournament that evening. Everything was going great. There was the slightest pressure to hit a couple specific numbers. No big deal. I loved this! I did it all the time under pressure, in fact, it often helped me play better. I remember sitting in my bar stool chair, looking at the dart board and at my teammate, and was about to go, and then it hit me. I felt the tears well up, and before I knew it I was having a melt down in the ladies room. Then I was couldn’t breathe – I was hyperventilating and freaking out. I was paralyzed by the anxiety and fear.
What happened was something was brought up during my session, a feeling, emotion, thought, something… Maybe feeling out of control and helpless in a terrifying situation as a young kid, maybe feeling pressure, maybe something else completely, but the tiniest something in that moment triggered it and all of those repressed emotions came out pouring out and I was not ready for it. That was a really intense and difficult night. Luckily I had people there who were there for me the best that they could be given everything, and that was so helpful not being alone during those tough times, cause I’ve been there too and it’s much harder to pull yourself out of it afterwards.
The point I’m getting at is, the same situation, playing in a dart tournament with some healthy competition and pressure, though stressful, I often find to be exciting and exhilarating. That particular night, I was plagued by a deep fear brought on by the EMDR session, which turned my normal excitement into fear and then into a full blown panic attack. This is an extreme example, but I urge you to try to see where you might’ve actually been feeling a bit of excitement (at least at first) in a past or present experience that brought up a lot of anxiety.
There’s a fine line between anxiety and excitement. It’s really the same thing when you break it down. They are both simply feelings or emotions. With anxiety though, we tend to take it on as who we are. We say “I am anxious” rather than “This makes me feel anxious” or say “my anxiety is acting up” rather than “I’m noticing I’m starting to feel anxious”. Start by noticing if you do this or something similar, and gently reword it every time you notice it. Here’s a great video about the science behind the similarities between the two and how to turn your fear into excitement.
We’ve become so detached from ourselves, our minds and bodies that we often have no clue where the anxiety stems from or what’s causing it. We just distract ourselves, numb, or detach ourselves or whatever we can to feel better in the moment. It’s become more of a lifestyle: drinking, smoking, binge-watching netflix, obsessive video gaming, shopping, social media scrolling, eating, etc. What we really need is to work on becoming more self aware and paying more attention to ourselves and our emotions, and get to the root of why we are experiencing anxiety in the first place. When you feel anxious, try to pinpoint where you most feel it in your body. What other sensations are you experiencing, such as trembling, increased heart rate, a lump in your throat, or sweaty hands? I encourage you to sit with the anxiety for a bit, as this can be incredibly helpful and enlightening. By that I mean, take some time to go somewhere alone and quite, even if you have to go to the bathroom, close the lid and sit on the pot. Close your eyes, take several long, slow and deep breaths focusing on the anxiety and ask yourself where it’s coming from and what it’s trying to tell you. You might see a glimpse of a memory, have a sudden thought, feel a twinge somewhere in your body, or have an emotion come over you, just to give you some ideas of what to pay attention to. If you are ready, explore whatever comes up for you. Thank yourself for bringing it to your attention so you may become aware of it and let it go this time.
So maybe next time you start feeling anxious, simply say to yourself “I am excited.” We do have control over the thoughts we think, and when those thoughts are fear based we experience anxiety, which feeds it and can lead to a full blown panic attack. You don’t have to go down that rabbit hole. Catch yourself when you start feeling it. Acknowledge how you are feeling and have some affirmations ready for when it happens. Some of mine are: I am safe (I sometimes just repeat this one over and over). I am okay. I am grounded. I am cared for and loved. I am worthy. I’ve got this. I’ve overcome far worse than this.
Use whatever works for you. I hope these ideas are helpful and can help you get out of your fear. Let me know what you found to be impactful for you. =)
Trigger warning: Some material in this post may be difficult for some individuals to work with at this time. And that’s totally fine! If you find the material to be too much for you, do whatever you need to do take care of yourself, whatever that may mean for you.
Someone tried to tell me something along those lines years ago. I scowled and turned my back and walked away. I was an asshole. My thoughts angrily stirred inside as I walked away,
“You don’t have a clue what I’ve been through. There’s been too much pain, sadness, trauma, heartbreak, loneliness, and suffering. I’d love to be happy, but I have this thing called depression and anxiety that won’t let me be.”
“Such bullshit! Maybe that’s possible for you, but there’s just no way. What does happy even feel like? I don’t even remember…I remember feeling happy, like when I make chocolate chip cookies…”
I guess it pissed me off a little when I saw other people being so happy and joyful. How easy they have it. No stress, no worries, no therapy, no medications to take every day to stay sane, no medical bills – nothing! What the hell?! Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I be happy? Why did I have to get dealt such a shitty hand in life? Why me?
Since then I have dedicated my life to healing and to helping others so they don’t have to suffer like I did for as long as I have. I have done A LOT of self work, in so many ways. I have tried everything I could find, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and I can honestly say, it’s working! I’m a completely different person than I use to be. That darkness in me is probably still there in some ways, but there is a beautiful light now that keeps shining brighter and brighter with each day. I don’t fear the darkness like I use to, nor do I cling to it either. When all you’ve known is sadness, detachment, pain, and darkness, it’s excruciating and terrifying trying to pull yourself out of it. It’s like those shiny black sludgy creatures from Kingdom Hearts or the creatures from the bottom of the lake in Harry Potter, grasping at you, trying to pull you below the endless black water, when you’ve already accepted that this is your home, where you belong. It takes lots of conscious effort, choosing positive thoughts when all you notice are negative thoughts and thinking patterns, and it takes having faith in the universe that you were not born for this, that there is something so much better out there you might not even be able to fathom or believe in right now. With each positive choice, to choose positive thinking, supportive and good friends, following inspirational people on social media and removing yourself from anything that causes a negative reaction, giving yourself permission to pursue whatever you have been wanting to do or experience or try (for me it was singing, piano, writing, photography, belly dancing and painting) and release whatever fear is holding you back.
What I didn’t know then, was I suffered from another illness, called victim mentality, that I imagine many others share in this thinking pattern who have also been through any kind of extremely painful experience or trauma.
Now don’t write it off just yet. Let’s think about it. Every single thought I had after someone told me to choose happiness, love, light, or positivity was a choice, right? I consciously formed those thoughts in my head. I decided happiness, joy, and love weren’t options for me, because of X, Y, and Z. Couldn’t I have made the choice then to be open to it instead? Technically yes, realistically, not at the time. And here’s why:
I didn’t value, care about or love myself. So how could I truly value, care about or love someone else, romantically, as friends, family or otherwise? I wanted to, but I found it so hard to even tell my friends and family I loved them, or even my dog! I lost faith in myself and no longer saw my value and worth. I felt worthless and unworthy of anything, especially love.
I didn’t believe in myself. I had lost myself at this point. I had lost hope in life and in myself. I couldn’t see a future that was anything other than darkness and pain.
I didn’t trust myself. Therefore I kept making decisions based on my negative subconscious beliefs that didn’t align with what I said and thoughts I wanted. My actions were often self-sabotaging and not in my best interest, that was not helpful to what I said and thought I wanted.
Usually I just did whatever I could to feel better, to feel normal, to feel happy, to forget, to numb the bad feelings, to run, to hide, or to escape. I would go to the local pub and drink excessively til they closed and kicked everyone out, I would shop and spend money I didn’t have and buy things I didn’t need cause I hoped they would make me happy or help me figure out who I was, I’d spend an obscene amount of time playing open-world role playing games (World of Warcraft anyone?) to escape my reality, I’d smoke lots and lots of weed when I could get ahold of it (which wasn’t exactly easy in the Bible Belt – thank you Colorado!). I would constantly either eat my feelings or starve myself and often go to extremes to lose weight and many other worse things for my mind and body I’m definitely not proud of.
I didn’t see the point in life anymore. Some days I felt empty and numb and other days I felt tremendous pain, overwhelming anxiety, hurt and sadness. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t continue to live this way, and feel this way every single day. I saw no light, had no hope, and just wanted the pain to stop. I knew how I wanted to go, by the only light that made sense to me… a bright beautiful light given off by a ray of hope! A train.. a quick and seemingly painless ending and the end to all of my problems, or so I thought.
I stood there in the middle of the train tracks in the dead of night staring longingly at that light as it came closer and closer towards me. I actually felt at peace for once in my life. I didn’t have any worries or pain, there was somehow peace for once. My mind was clear, the chatter was actually quiet and I felt a small glimmer of hope. It was getting so close, not much longer now. Then a hand grabbed mine and pulled me off the tracks right before it reached me by a complete and perfect stranger I had met earlier that night.
When we are stuck in a deep state of depression and hopelessness with our lives run by fear, it sounds odd – but we are actually incredibly selfish! Had I taken my life that day, that would’ve been the end. No goodbyes, no explanation, no do-overs, no nothing. The end.
I wasn’t thinking about the locomotive engineer whose life would forever be changed by the trauma of killing me and witnessing that. I wasn’t thinking about the kind stranger. I wasn’t thinking about my dog or bearded dragon, the friend I was with that night, or even the people I knew that I wasn’t really close to that would still be impacted by that decision to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about my friends or my family and what kind of impact that would have on them; they didn’t know anything really about what I was going through, and what I had shared with only a few people only made me feel more alone, invalidated and depressed. It felt like no one got it, no one understood, and no one even cared. Some people would dismiss what I did share, minimize it, find reasons to blame me, or would just turn it around and talk about how they had it worse, or that it wasn’t that bad and I needed to just let it go and get over it.
They all seemed too busy with their own lives either way and didn’t seem to care let alone just be there for me. And so we’re clear, anyone can be there for someone simply by sharing space and even just silence with them, authentically listening, holding their hand or giving them a long and loving hug (ask first), validating their experience and feelings, or even just by asking how you can help or what they need, etc. Advice in this state often isn’t needed or wanted and will quite possibly just fall on flat ears. For me, I really just needed to speak, to let it out and talk about it, to be hear, seen, cared for, and that the pain I was feeling was valid and mattered. That it wasn’t my fault and nothing I could’ve or should’ve done differently then would’ve changed the outcome by much, if any.
I had often thought, maybe they’d be better off not having to deal with me, that I was a burden. These were all simply thoughts based on my perception – my perception that I was unworthy, alone, unloved, that no one cared about me, that my feelings weren’t valid and didn’t matter and therefore that I didn’t matter, but it goes way deeper than that.
Our perceptions about life and ourselves begin forming when we are only infants. We don’t understand words yet, but we pick up on feelings and emotions, touches, noises, tone of voice, presence or absence of others, and energy for instance. We literally get a sense of the world and how it works and this continues as we get older. Yelling and screaming, abuse, neglect, being dismissed, not being held and loved, not feeling safe – it all shapes how we view the world and ourselves later on in life. It may show up as anxiety as an adult and feeling unsafe. It could present as a deep distrust in men or women or even in relationships if you are subconsciously taught that they only bring pain or abandonment, so you subconsciously push love away to protect yourself. It may show up as a deep sadness and depression when your needs as a child for love, attention and affection aren’t met. Or, you may feel unworthy of these things at your very core and develop self hatred rather than self love and go through life seeking approval, validation, love and happiness outside rather than within. I did all of these things and it actually did get me somewhere – to check in to a mental institution.
I had just suffered a horrendous heartbreak and breakup after living with the abusive fuck for a year. I was lost, alone, broken, hurting, confused, and had hit the deepest state of depression I have ever known, which was badddd. I had to get out of that town so I jumped on a great career opportunity that presented itself as my shining ray of hope to get out of the state, leave it all behind and start over. I ended up running away from everyone and had no one for support. I truly was alone. I knew I seriously needed professional help at this point so I started with group therapy once a week but after various symptoms of a much larger issue started running my life and affecting my ability to work, I was fired and then realized I needed a lot more help and fast.
The outpatient program taught me a few things though, it introduced me to meditation, art for a creative outlet of difficult emotions or memories, mindfulness, music therapy, and yoga – I still to this day find all of these incredibly helpful, healing, and imperative to my recovery. It also taught me that I also suffered from complex-PTSD in addition to major depression and generalized anxiety, which gave me the validation I needed that there really was something deeper and much more complex going on inside of me, cause I just thought I was going crazy and losing my shit. My diagnosis was a hard pill to swallow, metaphorically and quite literally. It took a long time for me to accept it all and make peace with it, but that was the first step. It made me feel so broken and messed up. But I finally did accept it and was able to identify with it. I started to find my tribe, of other “broken” individuals with an equally sad sob story, a “woe is me” attitude and a pessimistic outlook on life. It started to become a part of my identity, my crutch, and ultimately my reason and excuse to not heal, to sit in my misery and not really try to get better. I had developed the victim mentality. I’m not saying it was all bad. It was part of my healing process just to know that I was a victim of someone else’s undealt with shit and the anger, manipulation and abuse that came with that. I about drove myself crazy trying to figure it all out in my head, going over and over everything, what I should’ve done differently, what I did wrong, blaming myself, and so on in a never ending monologue that only tortured me further and solved nothing. I had to learn that it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong, and nothing I thought I should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve done would have changed a thing in the grand scheme of things, because you can’t change people, especially when they can’t be honest with themselves, and hurt people hurt people, plain and simple.
The next hardest thing was learning to forgive myself, as well as my family, and that abusive fuck. I did these all separately in their own ways and on their own separate timelines. I was able to forgive my family by working on myself, and over time I was able to see events and the situation they were in from a different perspective. I could put myself in their shoes and see how they got the way they are. I was able to use an outside perspective without emotional attachment and hurt involved so I could see clearly and have compassion and empathy. I asked myself, what could’ve happened to this person for them to get this way, or for them to act in certain ways. I found this to also be particularly helpful for forgiving the abusive fuck as well. The signs were subtle and hidden when I was with him, but still there. He had suffered too and possibly been abused in his youth. As a young adult, he wasn’t able to stand up for himself to his father and he wasn’t allowed to be his truest self because he had to be who his dad wanted him and expected him to be. It is quite sad really. I learned that forgiveness doesn’t mean you are accepting or excusing any poor behaviors, it doesn’t really even have much at all to do with the other person, forgiveness is for you ultimately. To free yourself from the ties to a person, their actions, words, endless chatter in your mind and hurt in your heart. For me, forgiveness meant seeing things from an outside, unattached perspective and finding understanding and compassion in where and what they were coming from and how they got that way. I was able to forgive myself because I found compassion and love for myself and my younger self, and knowing I did the best I could in many tough situations with where I was and what I knew at the time. I was so hard on myself – why?!! I compared myself and my life to other people so much. Social media is the worst for this reason! We only see snapshots of only what other people want us to see. Do they post all of the bad times, bad days, burnt meals, bad hair days, plain black coffee, microwave dinners, screaming and crying children and all of the other less than stellar things people experience? Generally, no. So of course if you compare all of the real life crap to someone else’s seemingly perfect picture of a seemingly perfect day, you’re likely to find yourself feeling FOMO, anxious, upset, envious, depressed, lonely, unfulfilled, etc. You aren’t doing yourself any favors there.
The doctors said the diagnosis is a permanent condition. The doctors said I will be on medication my entire life. The doctors said it will affect me the rest of my life. And I believed them all. What they didn’t tell me what how incredibly powerful and resilient our minds are, how strong willpower can be, and how the human body is designed to heal! How much it really just wants to heal! But it starts in your mind. If you believe you are broken, guess what.. you will feel like you are. If you believe you can’t do something, you won’t. It’s that simple. Your life, your body, mind, thoughts and feelings might feel completely out of control right now, and that’s ok. We all start somewhere, but you do have some control. You have a choice in what you choose to believe and if you choose to listen to naysayers or choose to carve your own path. You choose what you fill your mind with, what kind of content you let influence you, what kind of people you keep space for in your life. You decide what you will put up with from other people and how you will be treated. You can choose to set boundaries for honor your needs and you can choose to communicate those needs with others or you can choose to let things slide and not speak up for yourself. You can even decide today, right now even, that you are so sick and tired of being sick and tired. You can decide that you want a different life than what you’ve been living. You have the power to decide that you’ve suffered enough, done enough damage to your mind and body, and have wasted too much of your precious life wrapped up in your misery, blind to the light that resides in you and the beauty and wonder of life and this vast wonderful world. You have everything within you already that you need. You have love and light, confidence and a strong heart, and I’m willing to bet you also have something to say, something to share, that others desperately need to hear. Because we all just want to feel connected. Your pain can be what destroys you or what connects you. You can bury the pain and allow it to isolate you rather than using it to connect to others, or you can begin to open your beautiful vulnerable heart to others. When you share your story and your truth, others begin to feel more comfortable sharing their hearts, and through this process, we start to learn that we really aren’t as alone in our feelings as we thought. We meet others who can relate to your experience and real connections form. Remember to connect from a heart centered place rather than from that inner child that may still be seeking validation and acceptance. You know your story. Any and all hurts are real, are deeply painful, and only you know how it felt and how it affected you. Your validation, acceptance, and forgiveness is the only one you need. Your own health, happiness, hope, joy, and love is the most important thing you can ever give. When you let go of all the things weighing you down, you create room and space for new things, new people and experiences to come in!
Deep down I always felt I was meant for something much greater; my big ideas and thinking were often too much for others to wrap their head around, but not me, I lived for that. I think part of why I was so depressed for so long was I wasn’t living life the way I knew I wanted to be, and craved so desperately to be. And honestly, I’m still not quite there. But I’ve learned something… your pain is your power. And if you run, hide from, and numb it, you will never be free of it and you will never discover your power. You have to feel it, sit with it, sit with the feelings and emotions of your past traumas and really feel them if you ever hope to be free of them.
Practically our whole lives we are taught that darkness is bad and that dark and heavy experiences and emotions are not something to share. We learn to bottle these things up and to run and hide from them. We get this false belief ingrained that we won’t be liked, accepted, or even understood if we share our struggles with others, and oftentimes we learn this because we experience this and that is a sad truth.
I’ve experienced this my whole life. I’ve felt tremendous shame over things about my life I can’t change. I buried these things deep within and never mentioned them to anyone; just pretended as best I could that it wasn’t my truth and distanced myself from those things, thoughts, feelings, people, places, etc. however I could. Over time the mind may not remember, but the body does and the subconscious has ways of trying to get your attention. Sometimes this manifests in the form of disease, injuries or illnesses. For me it was major depression and anxiety, and after many more years of not confronting my demons and adding more to the mix, it became complex PTSD. Funny how that happens.
It’s just like a wound, you must clean it, apply antibiotic, dress it, and repeat until it heals. You may end up with a gnarly scar and a fun story to go with it, but chances are, you will get through it, have the scar to remember the lesson, and you will move on and hopefully not make the same mistake again. If you don’t clean it and take care of it properly, like maybe just put a band-aid on it or even just clean the blood with a t-shirt and go about your business, it doesn’t heal properly, it might get infected and become a festering disgusting mess that could’ve been easily avoided had you taken the time to deal with it when it happened. The longer you ignore the problem the worse it will get. Your mind is the same in this sense. It needs tending to, and if you ignore whatever is hurting you, it will only fester and become your own personal nasty demon that lives to torture you.
So how does this relate to how you relate to others, how you connect with others and develop relationships? Imagine that little demon sitting on your shoulder talking into your ear non-stop while you are on a date, hanging out with friends, or any other social situation. This voice makes you second guess yourself and who you are, your worth, your wants and desires, how other people feel about you and so much more.
Now get this – you already have this little voice! It’s that little voice in your mind and in your head. It’s the voice that’s constantly judging, questioning, second guessing, self-sabotaging, keeping you awake at night and so much more. This voice can ruin your life if you believe everything it says. So what can you do about it? Start by becoming aware of it. Notice when it’s blabbering on and what it’s actually saying. Is there any truth to what it’s saying? Start to question those thoughts and put them to the test. Try to trace back where the thoughts and underlying beliefs originated or where they stem from. Do those thoughts, beliefs, or values actually belong to you or are they actually someone else’s who pushed them onto you? What are your actual beliefs around the topic? What is your truth? Not your parents, your teachers, your friends, siblings, significant others, etc. – what do you believe? Begin to break apart all of the layers of yourself and you may discover they were never you all along, it was who you were told to be and who you thought you had to be.
Start to uncover the truth of who you really are, aka your authentic self. This can seem difficult, but start small and take baby steps. Start by noticing your thoughts and questioning their truth. Let go of any negative beliefs you may have about yourself or anything someone else may have led you to believe that you may not really resonate with anymore.
Try to notice when something happens that tends to affect you in a much bigger and deeper way than whatever it actually is about. Dig deeper into your emotions and feelings about it. Notice how the situation is making you feel, like really feel. What other times or situations in your life did you feel this before? Is it possible whatever is happening is bringing up old memories perhaps with some unresolved feelings? Instead of pushing it away, think of it as a blessing. Your mind and body is trying to help you heal. Find the humor in it if you can – “ah hell, AFGO strikes again (another fucking growth opportunity)! Be gentle and compassionate towards yourself. Healing takes time, so allow it to happen rather than fight it and be thankful for it rather than beating yourself up or getting upset or angry about it. It may help to keep a notebook and track your progress of how you’re growing over time. It may look like symptoms you suffer from including a time period and how those symptoms change and resolve over time. It may include feelings you are struggling with (feeling journal) or it may include medications and dosages as well as how long you take them for, or it could include ways you are healing and things you are doing or learning and implementing and all the ways you’ve noticed you’ve changed and grown. Whatever works for you! It can be helpful to look back on when you are feeling discouraged or like you haven’t made much progress.
The darkness, heavy and traumatic experiences, and dark feelings and emotions all have a place. They are part of what makes you feel vulnerable, scared and unworthy. When you are ready to open up and share things that make us feel this way, you start to learn that other people may have had similar experiences. You start to not feel so alone. You start to feel less broken. Now, don’t fall into the “woe is me” trap. Find a way to connect to others where you aren’t just bitching about your shitty stories. What did you learn from your experiences? How did you grow? What happens here is you learn to connect with others. You start to step into your vulnerability, and you may even find it’s not as scary as you thought. People can surprise you and they can be accepting, loving, caring, kind, and genuine especially when you share from your heart. This is how deeper connections can begin, by being vulnerable and real and unapologetically you. You may realize you were never broken, you just felt like it and that’s ok, because you were just doing your best with sometimes an impossible situation. You are still here for a reason. You may still have some figuring out to do on that, I know I do, but there is a big beautiful world out there and everyone has something to share, to put out in it, to help others with, or a way to help in general. Keep at it. You’re doing great!
It’s me, and I’m still pissed. Hell, after everything, I’m not quite certain you even exist. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking… even did a lot of research, meditating, and soul searching, and my theory is that you aren’t so much a He or even a being at all. Tons of people believe in something; some higher power to save us all, give us hope, tell us the meaning of life, and love us unconditionally. You may go by different names such as: God, Buddha, Allah, or maybe even The Force! Well, I’m coming to the conclusion that you’re essentially energy (for lack of a better term) of formidable powerful and way more complex than what our creative brains could ever comprehend, or try to make sense of. An energy that we can even sometimes feel, like a presence. I’ve felt that presence more than once before, and it was truly incredible. For a moment, it was like everything was okay, it was peaceful and oddly comforting and for that moment, I was hopeful and I believed everything would be okay. But, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t.
You allowed horrible things to happen to my family, particularly to my dad, which the repercussions continued all throughout my childhood and teenage years. It affected us all very differently then and still does even to this day. A stupid bicycle accident, and lives were ruined, before they even started. We were all good people, we went to church, we prayed, we did everything right, but nothing changed. The seizures got progressively worse as I got a little older. They happened so frequently to my dad, that it quickly became a big part of my life; it became my normal.
“Your father had another grand mal seizure while driving and hit a bus. I’m going to the E.R. with him,” my mom told tell me on the phone in the school office.
“Okay, I’ll just go to my friend April’s house after school. See you all at home later or when you pick me up later tonight.”
That’s basically the conversation summed up. In one ear and out the other. No feelings, no worry, no stress, no pain, no emotions; nothing. That’s how I got through it, time and time again. Details would change, like what was happening when it happened, where he was, which bones he broke or dislocated and the location of numerous new bruises. The important part was that he would always come home and I would see him again. I had no clue how all of this was impacting me, and how it would continue to affect me through my adult years.
Over two decades later, at a special place for people who struggle, my psychotherapist introduced me to a new term: dissociation. What a powerful and useful coping mechanism for dealing with long-term trauma! If you’re not familiar with the term, dissociation for me was like I was detached from myself, my family, and my emotions. Severe memory loss, which I still suffer from as well as my inability to cope well with professional or emotional stress. The memory loss is super fun! Like when randomly out of thin air, I can’t remember my best friend’s name, a close relative’s name, or something I was told not two seconds prior, especially when they say, “What do you mean you don’t remember?! We were just talking about it.” I’ve just started telling people to just call me Dory so they don’t press it any further.
My world was a mess; it was like hell on some days and like a slow burn on most of the others. I hated being home most of the time, particularly as I started to learn how unnormal my family was. Even on “normal” days, everyone’s stress levels were constantly at the tipping point. There was no one to talk to about any of it and eventually I became deeply angry and severely depressed. I didn’t even know what depression was or that I was depressed until much later on in life.
What I needed more than anything was for someone to hug me, like really hug me, and tell me everything will be okay, and that I am safe and loved. But that didn’t happen, or if it did, the memory has been completely blocked. I needed this more and more as time passed. My mom was so busy taking care of my dad, keeping a roof over our heads, and just trying to get through each day. Looking back now, I don’t know how she did it all and how she managed dealing with everything on her own. She is one of the strongest people I know. I also think the dissociation became very strong in her. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen her cry, not even at her sister’s funeral. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions were simply not something that was talked about, or even really existed in our house. We went along pretending that life was normal, but it wasn’t, and I knew it all too well. If I felt anything it was alone and empty; I’ve become good friends with them both over the years. I guess it kept me from completely falling apart.
I remember going to the counselor’s office pretty frequently throughout elementary school. I looked forward to these visits; it was the only time I truly felt safe, special, happy and peaceful. She was the nicest person I had ever met. Often I would pick a board game and we’d just play for as long as I could. Sometimes she would ask me questions, questions that made me deeply uncomfortable and anxious, questions I wanted to avoid. Perhaps part of that was because I just didn’t know and had no self awareness whatsoever. I didn’t know how I felt, I didn’t even really know or understand what feelings were anyways. Sometimes though, we would just sit there and play, like two friends; candyland will always have a special place in my heart.
When I started dating, my walls became weak. All I wanted was to feel cared for, safe, and loved. And when I got that, I fell head over heels… my hero. Years later, my high school sweetheart and hero came to my house, and told me he couldn’t be in a serious relationship anymore, and that he was moving to Ohio. It broke me. I still remember the days, weeks and months after like it was yesterday. I experienced my first panic attack during this time. The depression hit me harder than ever. I stopped eating and became anorexic for a period. I physically could not be around food without feeling sick. I eventually was fired from my job. I was lost and more alone than ever.
Church was a nice escape for me. It was free and fun and I finally felt like I belonged. I desperately wanted just a little bit of normal in my life and to get out of the hell house. I constantly prayed for my dad, my mom, and my brother. Every night, I prayed for things to get better, for my dad to get better, for us to just be a normal family. I prayed for strength, for guidance, for help, for change. It never came.
Do you want to hear a deep, dark secret I’ve never told anyone before?
I thought about death a lot; how long would it take for someone to even notice, would anyone even care or miss me, would it make things easier for my mom if she didn’t have to deal with me and my outbursts of anger? Would the pain finally go away? I wondered if you allowed people who take their own life through those pearly gates. I doubted it, the South was full of both very conservative and very judgemental Christians and that’s just the way things were. Ironic huh? Judgemental Christians. Ha! What a small world I lived in.
I constantly thought about killing myself too. I thought about slitting my wrists and bleeding out in a tub, like you see on tv, but the thought of all the blood made me queasy. So instead, I decided to take a bottle of pills and hoped for the sweet release of death to take me swiftly, but it didn’t. It wouldn’t be the last time either. Over the years, I decided I wanted to go by train, just staring into the light, almost like the light at the end of the tunnel, poetic almost, and then it’s all over. Finally free. Lucky or maybe unlucky for me, I never told a soul and not a soul ever found out. Maybe things would’ve been better if they had… maybe I would’ve gotten some real help, or maybe I would’ve just been the crazy girl who couldn’t even kill herself and ended up in the loony bin. I wanted help, I needed help. I needed someone to see my cries for help, someone to care, someone to actually notice how much pain I was really in. Someone who saw me for what I was, which was nothing. I never shared this either.
I buried myself in writing and in music. It kept me sane. I read a lot. I wrote constantly. I journaled, wrote short stories, poems, and even songs which were mostly about death, rejection and pain. High school band got me out of the house and away from the craziness. I was good too. When I didn’t have after school practices, I usually stayed later to play around on the marimba (you’re awesome if you know what that is! If not, you should look it up). I’d be there for hours just playing around and practicing. I would get lost in the music. It was a beautiful thing.
It was so helpful and important that I had a creative outlet I could throw myself into, and a way to feel and express deeply repressed emotions in safe doses and in a beautiful way. Singing was also a way to do this. I’ve always loved to sing; only was two best friends knew this about me then and only a few people know that now. Music cuts through all of your walls and all the bullshit and you are left raw and vulnerable. The beautiful thing is that who you really are and how you truly feel is finally revealed.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” -Hans Christian Anderson
Why do bad things happen to good people? I’m sure people ask you this all the time. I still haven’t figured that one out. All I know is throughout my whole life, I’ve believed and put all of my hope and faith into this almighty, powerful, and supposedly loving and forgiving God. Every time I was at a breaking point, at my lowest and in desperate need of just the slightest glimmer of hope, it never came. I was alone, just like I’ve always been. But for some reason, I kept praying, unsure if I was just talking to myself or if indeed there was some higher being watching over me.
As human beings, we constantly push ourselves too hard, striving for perfection; to be who we were told to be, do what we were told to do, and believe everything we were made to believe. Well, let me ask you this: how many of your beliefs can you honestly say are 100% your own, without anyone else’s opinion or influence? I was taught to believe in God from a very young age; I basically grew up in a church. Sunday school, youth group, bible study, potlucks, fundraisers, and even a mission trip to Germany. I was told what to believe and expected to do so and live my life according to other people’s beliefs, never having room for my own. Now I do. Now I know better than that.
Okay, here we go…
Dear God, or whatever,
Where do I even begin? Where were you when I needed you most? My faith in you has withered away over the years and is pretty much non-existent at this point, but feel free to change that at any time.
Why me? Why my family? I sometimes wonder how things would be different had that accident never happened. I’m starting to see different interests, hobbies, and personality traits I get from my dad, and I can honestly say I’m proud of that now. I use to be so ashamed and embarrassed of my family. How people stared and had these judgemental looks on their faces. Or when we were out in public and he had a seizure. Then the ambulance and all the people would come and there was an audience just watching. And me, I don’t even know where I was or what I was doing, let alone feeling. I can’t remember what it felt like either. I just know that now, after so much time has gone by, I just want to feel safe, loved, and cared for and to never lose that feeling.
Maybe you have some grand plan to turn my pain into my purpose. Maybe you see something I don’t, or something in me I don’t. Maybe I’m just wasting my time and my energy wishing for something that doesn’t exist. Cause if you did, why couldn’t you at least give me a little piece of happiness, a shred of hope, someone constant that was there for me that I could reach out to and they’d actually be there for me? I didn’t think that was asking too much, but what do I know about that… Well, here’s my last request: to fully heal, inside and out; To live a life full of joy, purpose, excitement, hope, love, and peace. To leave stress, fear, grief, anger, resentment, and uncertainty behind and to step into my true self, and to get an even better idea of what that looks like for me. If nothing else, this is a letter to myself, but I’ll keep a lookout for signs, for hints, direction and guidance. I’ll let go of my fear and uncertainty and just jump. It may not be because of you, but I somehow know that through action, trial and error and faith that this can’t be it, that there is something much bigger and better out there for me. I just have to figure that out and get a clearer picture of it and never stop working towards it and never give up no matter how hard it gets. If nothing else, I’ve learned I can handle extreme levels of torment, torture and turmoil. I’ve survived somehow through it all; I’m still here through it all. That’s gotta mean something right?
Still seeking answers,
To my incredible readers:
I want to remind you as well, that YOU are still here too! You are still here for a reason, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. Think on that for a second and be grateful for the precious life you’ve been given. You have something in you the world needs. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to try something new, don’t be afraid of the challenges that help turn you into who you want to become. No one has the answers for you, but perhaps the answers have been within you all along. I have faith in you and in your ability to keep fighting and make a difference. The most important thing is to have faith in yourself.
Peace and love,
Suicide is serious and should never be taken lightly. It may feel like the only way to find peace and for the pain to stop, but it’s not. It’s selfish and the cowards way out. You do more damage and cause more pain than you could possibly imagine. Think for a minute about those closest to you: family, friends, even pets. Suicide has a devastating effect on everyone around you, especially those that love and care about you as. There is always someone who cares, you just may not know it yet and there is always a solution, you just may not see it yet. Sometimes we just need a different perspective or to know that you are not alone and that so many people share similar feelings. Talk to someone you trust or to someone from one of the resources provided below. Even just having someone else tell you it’s going to be okay, that you’re going to be okay, can make all the difference.
If You Or Someone you Know is in Crisis: Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1–800–799–4889. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency. Learn more on the NSPL’s website. The Crisis Text Line is another resource available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Text “HOME” to 741741.
Looking for a mental health provider in your area? For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1–800–662–HELP (4357). SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator on its website that can be searched by location.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
In 2017 47,173 Americans died by suicide.
In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts.
Confession: I haven’t been productive at all really for a few months now. Why? Sometimes I tell myself I’m lazy, I don’t have the energy, drive or motivation, which are all true to some extent, but the real answer is simple: I’ve been depressed. To be completely honest and fair I’m always struggling with depression to some degree, but lately, I have been a bit moreso. I’m not moping around feeling sorry for myself, self-harming, or having over-the-top emotional breakdowns or anything like that, but I have been sleeping excessively and have been waking up in the middle of the night or had more trouble falling asleep than I was just a few months ago. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning to start my day, mainly because:
a) I’m still tired
b) I have absolutely no reason or motivation to get up and no real reason to want to start my day
Both of which do make me sound super lazy, I’ll admit. Even on days when I do manage to get up and going, maybe make a decent breakfast or accomplish something productive, I find myself exhausted by the afternoon. I wish there was some magic pill or something to give me back some energy, hope, and motivation to do stuff again. Ugh.
I still think about the things I could be doing, want to be doing, or need to be doing, but can’t seem to get myself to do them. Like job hunting or writing cover letters to apply for jobs. I can’t go back to what I was doing before, and honestly, that awful experience has me wanting to change careers entirely, which also leaves me feeling stuck. I’m not exactly sure where to go, or even where to begin. My previous job wasn’t bad. In fact, most people would be overjoyed to have that job. I worked as a Conservation Technician for the city. It was kind of a glorified park ranger/trail technician/maintenance position for some of the city parks, and it was my second season doing it. Granted, I got my degree 6 years ago, and have only had one job in my career field that was permanent and/or offered insurance, and the pay was barely enough, and sometimes not even that, to get by. All of the other positions were seasonal, and I would find myself out of work and starting the job hunt all over again. I’ve been job hopping for 6 years now, with an awesome degree from a great university, yet still needing medicaid just to make it, sometimes applying for food stamps when my job ends, and constantly stressed about money or what or where my next job will be. I turned 30 this year, which was a big wake up call that I can’t keep doing this. In this outdoorsy career field, I’ve been told by about everyone you have to do your time in the seasonal positions, often 5 years or more depending on where you want to work to find a permanent position; this is considered normal in today’s society. We go through high school, told we need to go to college to be successful. So, you do; you work your butt off thinking it can’t get any worse than this… that once you graduate, you’ll land your career job, make great money, have more free time and can finally have a life again. Maybe you’ll meet your soulmate in college or shortly after and settle down; get married, buy the house and the car with those fabulous butt warmers and maybe even a sunroof!!! Then you’ll make some pretty babies and get a nanny so you can vacation at fancy villas in Italy or have a romantic getaway to Paris….. *sigh*
There is a time and a place for everything, including “the victim mentality.” Think back to a really difficult period in your life, when you felt stuck, hurt, or couldn’t seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When it felt like every step forward you fought to take, something happened and you fell three steps back.
Why does this stuff always happen to me? A parking ticket!? Just my luck. A canceled date… guess he got a better option? A solid prospect you met and were really excited about… who then completely ghosted you. WTF?!! A solid rejection… ahh, yes, rejection. Rejections can hit hard, and if you let it, can push you three steps back. When you’re already doubting yourself, have low confidence and self-esteem, and are feeling beat down, it’s really hard to see things for what they are, learn from mistakes, understand the lesson, and continue on. You may feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, then to add insult to injury, you get another rejection or some bad news that you were really counting on and hoping or even needing to go the other way. In the blink of an eye, the last bit of hope you had mustered up vanishes. The hurt and sorrow engulfs you again and you sink lower into your own personal pit of despair…. rock bottom. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse… they do. Let’s be honest here, you are now one with the rock! Lo and behold: the victim mentality begins. Woe is me! Why me?
If you’re anything like me, a long-term sufferer of major depression, you may find comfort within your dark fortress of solitude. The darkness is soothing, the loneliness is familiar, the quiet is welcomed, and the pain and mental anguish, well it’s basically another Monday morning for you.
When you retreat into this place, you let go of hope, push away people that care about you (even though you tell yourself no one cares about you), and your thinking turns into a complete victim mentality. You’re basically brainwashing yourself. You latch onto negative thinking patterns and tend to believe the worst about yourself and others. Your self talk is seriously depressing, and everyone else? They can’t even imagine how hard it is for you. They wouldn’t understand. Adulting is hard, feelings are hard, relationships with family, friends, or romantic in nature are all really hard! All these other people have it way easier. Life would be way better and easier to deal with if I had ____, if (insert person) would ______, or if I wasn’t or didn’t have ______ to deal with.
“The victim mindset will have you dancing with the devil, then complaining that you’re in hell.” -Steve Maraboli
The victim mentality is a very tricky thing. So, let’s break it down a bit:
According to good ol’ Webster, it is defined as: the belief that one is always a victim : the idea that bad things will always happen to one
To be clear, there is a significant distinction between a) someone with a victim mentality and b) someone who has actually been through real trauma or experienced a traumatic life event. A person with a victim mindset goes through life with an attitude and outlook of: “it’s-not-my-fault, the-world-is-conspiring-against-me, and “nothing-and-noone-can-help-me” type. They act like they are helpless, powerless, and destined to live a life of misery and there’s nothing they or anyone else can do to change that. They constantly whine and complain about their circumstances, but do little if anything to change it. They avoid responsibility for their actions or lack thereof, as well as the results of them in their life. You will notice a pattern of excuse giving everytime you offer a potential solution or help to their predicament. My favorite is “Yes, but…” and then they come up with various reasons (excuses) why such and such won’t work or help, or at least not for them, because they don’t have _____ or ______ like those other people do. I’m sure you know the type, or maybe you are that person. The big kicker here is awareness and the desire to actually do something about it!
Change begins by becoming aware of yourself; how you present yourself, your words and actions and how others may interpret them, and taking responsibility for all of it. Journaling, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature and just actively being fully present in each moment and in everything that you do, are all good ways to practice becoming more self-aware.
Here are a few exercises to work on being present and aware:
-When you eat, get rid of distractions like tv and your phone or computer. Sit down and take time to fully enjoy your meal. Savor each bite rather than gobbling it down. Notice the flavors, spices, aromas, temperature, and texture of your food. Feel gratitude for even having such a hearty and delicious meal and for the abundance of food we are privileged with here.
-If you’re feeling disconnected or anxious, take a time out. Close your eyes and take several long deep breaths; in for 4 out for 6. Focus on your breath. Notice how the air feels as it goes in and as it fills up your lungs. Notice the temperature and how it changes as the air leaves your body. Notice how the breath is connected to your body and mind; how it relaxes your muscles and calms you down.
-You can also practice this simple exercise when you’re feeling upset or anxious that will help you get centered, grounded and present. Wherever you are at, name one thing you notice around you for each of your 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). For example: I smell the crisp, fresh air, with a hint of a fireplace burning in the distance or the prickly touch, yet smooth texture of blades of grass beneath your feet. Go for 2 of each if you’re feeling extra anxious or just ambitious!
Let’s go back a bit and touch some on victim mentality when it comes to people who have actually suffered some type of trauma. Every situation is different, of course, but chances are they were a victim or were even victimized. Some examples include: being bullied, robbed, assaulted, or being in a toxic relationship with someone who is abusive. There is a time and place for a victim mentality, and any of these examples would indeed make you a victim. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes they happen to people who’ve done bad things; call it karma, if you’d like. It’s okay and perfectly warranted to acknowledge that you were indeed a victim. It can even be freeing to be able to admit that, especially if you tend to blame yourself for things that happened. It definitely helped me to stop blaming myself and going over the would’ve, could’ve and should haves over and over, just beating myself up. It got me nowhere. Many years ago, I was in a toxic relationship with a sociopathic narcissist. He was cruel, manipulative and abusive, and I was his victim. He had everyone around him fooled with this completely fake façade of someone that just didn’t exist. Maybe narcissists think of themselves as actually being the front they put on and somehow rationalize or ignore what they do behind closed doors when the rest of the world can’t see them. He would say untrue things to everyone behind my back so they couldn’t see what was really happening. Like if he told his family and friends I was an alcoholic (which I never was), then maybe people wouldn’t question the bruises or even ask if I was okay when I was crying. He was the victim here, and I was the bad one. That’s the game they play. Poor me! Pay attention to me, so you don’t uncover my lies and see through my bullshit. When in reality, you are the one being victimized, and you may not even know it or even believe it if someone told you!
People never talk about how real, devastating and destructive mental abuse can be. A narcissist’s or any abuser’s playground is your mind, your sanity, your confidence and self-esteem, your peace, and joy- and wreaking havoc on it. That’s how he or she feels alive, by feeding off your energy, until there’s nothing left, then they move on to their next victim. Then cycle repeats. It’s sick and pathetic, yes. Let’s not forget narcissism is considered a real personality disorder, just like any other one, but the difference is they are too proud to ever admit something may be wrong with them or to ask for help. It’s taken me many years to learn that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of great strength. It can be so hard to ask for help, especially when you are hurting. You risk rejection and there’s something very vulnerable about needing help or even just asking for it, and that in and of itself, is terrifying. The easier thing to do would be nothing; don’t ask for anything, don’t say anything and instead just suffer in silence. That always turns out well… am I right?
So, there are some circumstances that are appropriate for a victim mentality, but don’t believe for a second that just because you were a victim, that you still are and will continue to be. I’m sure you learned something from the experience and grew as a person (I sure hope you did or it’s quite likely to continue to happen to you again and again). You can choose to continue playing the victim as you go through life, having people feel sorry for you, but you always have a choice, and it’s not always black and white. It is a transition to make, and you have to start changing the way you think about things and approach situations, but you can decide right now that you are instead a survivor and you will no longer be anyone’s victim ever again! Same goes for those who live in the victim mentality; those we mentioned before that think the world owes them something. I’ll be the bearer of bad news : it doesn’t! No one does, and the world doesn’t revolve around you and your problems. and the sooner you swallow that big pill and stop making excuses for everything and get to work, take action, and start making changes, the better off you’ll be unless you are perfectly content where you are, and can be completely honest with yourself in that (doubtful). Yes, bad things happen, coffee gets spilt, things get broken, and accidents happen. These are called challenges and they come to test you, to see if you’re ready to level up, so to speak. Life’s challenges and hardships teach us valuable lessons necessary to continue on your path without getting eaten alive. So instead of letting that next rejection beat you down, think of it as a redirection (rejection=redirection)! Instead of making excuses, (like that fireball came out of nowhere!!) use your brain (DUCK)! Be proactive and be resourceful, that’s the only difference between those who succeed and those who do not, that, and their lack excuses. You got this! Now go forth and make some magic!