Mental Health is Not a Straight Line

*tw*: depression, anxiety, sexual assault, abuse, self-harm

I hate the process of getting somewhere.  When I’m traveling, I hate driving for long periods because I feel like I’m wasting time when I could be accomplishing something.  Flying makes me anxious, and even though it’s faster, I hate the concept that I have to arrive so early before my flight just to sit in the airport and do nothing.  I love traveling when I get to where I’m going.  I love exploring new restaurants, seeing new sights, and doing things I haven’t done before.  But it’s the process of getting there that makes me uncomfortable.

For a long time, I felt the same way about my mental health.  Once I overcame an issue after a prolonged period of suffering, I thought I was done.  I could check it off the list because I had overcome it.  In high school, I had problems with self-harm, and once I stopped self-harming, I thought I was done with it.  I was proud of myself for overcoming an obstacle and moving forward.  I thought I’d never have to worry about it again.  But mental health recovery doesn’t work like that.  There are good days and there are bad days.  Our negative patterns tend to show back up in difficult times.  Recovering addicts probably know this the best, and the fact that they use the phrase “recovery” to describe their process shows a much deeper self-awareness than my own.  Recovery is a process, not a checklist.

Things have been difficult lately.  I’m still figuring out what the proper medications are for my anxiety, and because I also have a history of depression, it’s proving more difficult than I expected to find an anxiety medication that doesn’t also trigger my depression.  I’m working with my doctor to figure out what prescription will be best for me, but it’s essentially a trial and error process.  Also, our current news cycle hasn’t been any help, triggering memories and fears surrounding my own experience of sexual assault.  I didn’t spend nearly enough time processing these feelings, which resulted in a breakdown during my therapy session last week, after which my therapist wouldn’t let me leave until I had a friend to meet me at home to make sure I was okay.  (Overwhelmingly grateful for my therapist and my friends in that moment.)  Because I’m a perfectionist, I rarely let people see me at my most vulnerable.  I don’t like for people to see me cry, so asking for help in that moment was a big step.

I’m also supposed to be training for a marathon that’s happening the first weekend in November, but I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be able to run it.  I sprained my ankle (for the millionth time) at the beginning of August and just started coming back from that injury a few weeks ago.  I had some calf and shin issues while getting back into training because my left leg wasn’t used to the strain, so I’m incredibly behind on training.  Injuries combined with mental health struggles, not to mention that I’m now battling a cold, mean I haven’t trained past 12 miles.  I ran a marathon earlier this year, so I might not die if I tried to run this one, but it definitely wouldn’t be what I had hoped.  I can’t stand this because I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped when I ran the Nashville Rock ‘n Roll marathon earlier this year, so I chose Savannah (a super flat and easy course) to redeem myself and try to PR (run my best time).  But now, I’m facing whether or not I can even complete this marathon.

All this to say, things have been in a downward spiral lately.  My depression and anxiety have caused me to spend a lot more time sitting in my room not exercising, making strange meal choices (i.e. cereal for dinner like every day), not cleaning my house, and not getting things done.  Without my routine, I get even more depressed and anxious, so you can see how this spirals out of control pretty quickly.  I haven’t been moving toward my goals.  I haven’t been checking things off of my to-do list.  Heck, I haven’t even put on make up most days to go to work.  But it’s important for me to remember that these things don’t make me a failure.  I’ve made it through times like this before and I can make it again.  I made it through an intense bout of depression in high school.  I made it through the aftermath of being sexually assaulted.  I made it through breaking up with someone I had dated for 5 years only to realize he was emotionally abusive.  I made it through coming out.  I am strong, and sometimes strength looks a little different than we expect.

Right now, it looks like managing to eat several times per day, remembering to wash my face, going to bed at a decent time, drinking water, and taking my meds.  Eventually, it might look like running a marathon again or striving toward getting more pieces published.  Being mentally healthy isn’t a straight line forward, so I have to remember to celebrate the small victories along the way.

defamation

The truth sat in my voice box
for years,
calcifying and decaying.
When I tried
to speak it,
my voice turned to vapor,
pouring out of my mouth like smoke.
But the longer it stayed
trapped under my tongue
the more I tried to swallow it back down
and dissolve it in my stomach.

The lump in my throat
has grown so big that I can’t
breathe or swallow.
Finally, to release the pressure,
I stick my hands down my throat
and force the words up and out.
They are messy,
and I don’t know quite how to arrange them.

Me,
too.

You are ravenous,
tearing at the flesh of my words
like a wolf on the hunt.
You tell me that my truth
is a house of straw,
and that you plan to set it on fire
if I don’t do it first.
My story will go up in smoke,
you say.
Instead,
I fortify it
in the fire
into steel.

Nice Guys Can Be Rapists Too

**TW: assault, abuse**

“I have friends who are women.”

It felt like Brett Kavanaugh repeated this over and over throughout his hearing.  This statement is the patriarchal equivalent of “I have black friends” – a phrase often used by white people to prove that their actions couldn’t possibly be racist because they know a black person.  Knowing black people does not mean you don’t say and do racist things.  And knowing women does not mean you aren’t a part of the patriarchy.  In fact, it’s entirely irrelevant.  Not everyone has black friends (though that blows my mind because it’s 2018).  But, everyone knows women.  Everyone has a mother.  By nature of existing you have come into being through the body of a woman.  Yet, there are rapists, misogynists, and abusers everywhere.  Knowing women means nothing.  The recently arrested East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer was living with his daughter when he was arrested.  Bill Cosby has a wife and daughters.  Brett Kavanaugh has a wife and daughters.  This does not exempt them from being perpetrators.

What’s more, being a “nice guy” does not mean you have never assaulted anyone.  Bill Cosby was the apple of America’s eye for decades.  He was viewed as a wholesome, all-American, family man.  But it turns out, there was a lot of abuse happening under that facade.  Throughout Kavanaugh’s hearing, he pointed to letters and statements from friends that stated he was a good person, a nice guy, a good friend.  These things are not mutually exclusive to sexual assault.  I know because my own story feels eerily similar.

The person who assaulted me is a “nice guy”.  He cares about social justice and even claims to be a feminist.  No one who knows him would point to him as being a violent or mean person.  I’m sure he could get 65 people to sign a letter stating the he’s a good person, just like Kavanaugh.  I myself was blinded by his good-guy persona, so much so that I continued to see him for several months after my assault because I didn’t realize what had happened to me.  It seemed impossible that a guy like him could do the very thing that he spoke out against.  He went to the women’s march.  He fights for the marginalized.  How could he have possibly done something so against what he claims to be his moral code?

I dont’ know the answer to that question, but I do that Dr. Ford’s story feels all to familiar.  If I were in her position, I’m sure people would be saying things about my perpetrator that are similar to the things being said by the committee and others about Kavanaugh.  He has a mother.  He has a wife.  He has a sister.  He has a daughter.  Witnesses claim they have never seen him act like this before.  The reality is that these things don’t matter because they don’t prevent assault.  Having women friends that you talked to on the phone in high school and never assaulted does not mean that you never assaulted anyone else.  No one assaults every woman in their life.  Just because there are women who have not seen this side of him does not mean that side doesn’t exist.  Nice guys can be rapists too.

 

The Haitian

I can’t understand
most of his
jumbled words –
between his
French-Caribbean accent
and unavoidable mental illness,
his sentences all mush together.
But they are still lovely.

At first, I admire
his words –
like freshly born animals,
they are wobbly when they walk,
still slick with afterbirth,
eyes still closed.
Each time I ask a question
with a simple answer,
he has a monologue prepared
to go along with
his demographic information.

He pulls faded pictures of children,
who are now fully grown,
out of an old leather briefcase
and tells me where
all three of them live:
New York, Chicago, Houston.

Eventually,
I’m exhausted
by his relentless storytelling.
I interrupt his run-on sentences
with the questions
of my case work.
Where did you stay last night?
Do you have a history of substance abuse?
How much income are you receiving monthly?

With each question,
I see him return
to himself,
as though he were
previously unaware
of his own voice,
just a moment ago
echoing off the concrete walls.

Legend

This is a portion of the piece Legend, which is published in full in the collection Georgia’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction.  The collection can be purchased here or on Amazon.

I am a child, maybe six. Alone, but not lonely. I walk without direction along the suburban street in front of my house. There are railroad ties that my dad put in our yard to prevent drivers from cutting the corner and leaving tire tracks in our grass and a wooden fence, gradually rotting. Bradford pear trees and small cacti neatly circle around the perimeter of the yard. I watch my cat climb the tree right next to the house, hoping she doesn’t get stuck.

I breathe in the magnolia air and run across the yard to a strip of woods that separates our yard from the neighbors’. Rocks the size of cantaloupes line the patch of woods, and I like to hide things under them – pieces of paper with secret messages or tiny toys. My favorite spot is a small tree that grows strangely out to the side, stretching toward the sunlight and making a chair with its trunk. I sit on it and uncover my favorite rock, grey-blue with sharp edges, under which I keep one of my mother’s old lockets.

I look out and survey the world I’ve created for myself. I am safe here with the trees and the rocks and the Southern air. I am safe from the grief that fills our house. I am safe from the stress of my father as he tries to balance raising a daughter and working in an office. I am safe from the emptiness of a house without a mother. In my imaginary world with trees and rocks and railroad ties, the truth is avoidable. In my game, I am a mother, caring for the trees and for the tiny objects under rocks.

In adulthood, learning how to cope with my lack of knowledge about my biological mother has progressed little beyond my childhood games. If anything, I’ve grown further away from being able to remember her. In my consistent efforts over the past 22 years to count my memories of my mother, I can count only five. Other images of her float around, cross-contaminating my memories to form legends of a woman I never really knew. There are the stories that relatives and friends tell decade after decade – the story of my premature birth, the story of how she pulled out a chunk of her hair during chemotherapy and made a quippy joke to her doctors, the time we all went to Disney World when I was two – but none of these are my own memories. They are stories for which I created images after multiple retellings. More importantly, they are not the entire story. They are the high points, the greatest hits, the grain separated from the chaff. No one tells me about the mundane things – how she brushed her teeth, what she ate for breakfast, how she pronounced the word pecan – much less the terrible things. When someone dies, everyone is afraid to mention the moments that they gave up or the times they were frustrated with people they loved. We conveniently forget that they were a whole person with flaws and, instead, create a legend.

These unintended heroes give us the same hope that any legend gives: the story of a martyr who was kind through her suffering, benevolent to a fault, selfless in every circumstance. However, legends are not people; they are ideas. And my mother was not an idea; she was a person, and I cannot know her unless I know all of her stories. So, I will start with the ones I remember…

To read the rest of this piece, visit the Z Publishing website to purchase the collection.

How Wild Goose Festival Helps Me Heal

It’s been over a month now, but mid-July I attended my third Wild Goose Festival.  The first time I went to Wild Goose, it was 2015 and my life was in shambles.  I had recently broken up with my partner of 5 years, and I was in the middle of another complicated relationship situation.  I had no idea what I was doing, and my plans for the future had completely crumbled.  But, luckily, I was interning for the goddess Bec Cranford, who told me to pack a bag because we were going camping.  I had no idea what was in store, but I knew that if Bec loved it, it had to be good.

That first Goose, I wandered around by myself a lot.  I stood with my feet in the river and stared out into the wilderness.  I played drums in a circle with strangers.  I wept while someone held me.  It was what my soul needed in one of the most difficult seasons I’ve experienced.  I was in the process of learning that I could care about justice, creation, people of color, LGBTQ people, and still be a Christian.  I found belonging with like-minded Goose-goers.  I sat in the presence of prophets.  I sang and danced with my feet in the dirt.  My first Goose came at just the right time.

The next year, I started a job right before the Goose was scheduled, so I wasn’t able to go.  In 2017, though, I returned gleefully.  It felt like coming home.  I stayed up until 3am dancing.  I held Nadia Bolz-Weber’s purse.  Even though I came to the Goose alone that year, I didn’t feel lonely.

This past year was potentially my favorite experience yet.  I was able to convince my best friend to come with me, and I acquired a tent through the magic of Craigslist.  Having met more friends and acquaintances at the Goose over the years, I was excited to see these kindred souls in person.  But perhaps the most fulfilling part of it all was being able to look back.  The Goose serves as a time marker for me, much like birthdays or New Year’s.  But because I have time and space for self-reflection at the Goose, I’m able to mark time in an even more poignant way.

My first year, I never could’ve imagined that I would find love again with someone who loves me so well.  I was in the throes of abuse, and a healthy relationship seemed far off.  My second year, I wrestled with my experiences of sexual assault and whether I was brave enough to tell my own story.  I also felt tangled in my feelings about my sexuality.  A year ago, I couldn’t fathom coming out publicly.  I could barely be honest with myself.  This year, I bought a shirt that says “THE FUTURE IS QUEER” and got a tattoo that incorporates the bi flag.  This coming year, I’m considering what it would look like to be a co-creator and sharing my story with others at the Goose.

When I think I haven’t come very far, the Goose serves as a reminder that I have accomplished great things within myself.  I have healed.  I have wept.  I have felt the dirt on my toes.  I have been vulnerable.  I have done the emotional work to be true to myself and my experiences.

Each July, I treasure the ability to take a litmus test to my soul and know that I am brave enough to fly with the wild geese.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!

Quick but most exciting announcement! A collection of nonfiction from Georgia’s Emerging Writers was released today, and guess who’s in it? That’s right. Ya girl. I’m so honored that my piece was chosen to be featured and I’m excited to see what other opportunities this will bring. You can buy the collection here!