Recently I’ve started food journaling again, and I’ve joined a 21 day clean eating challenge group on Facebook sponsored by a family member. I thought it would be a good way to pay more attention to what I’m eating and make sure I’m consuming a well rounded diet (without too much sugar), which is an important thing to pay attention to when you’re vegan. What I wasn’t anticipating was how triggering this would be. It’s been almost two or three years since the last time my EDNOS really affected me, so I was surprised that every time I reported to the group I had a sugary or salty snack I felt like a failure. Being a perfectionist, I carried a lot of latent guilt every time I admitted that my diet wasn’t 100% perfectly health 24/7. Realistically, I know that it’s ok to treat yourself sometimes, and that treats and unhealthy foods can be part of a balanced diet as long as you’re not overdoing it. I think what really got to me was the fact that I had to admit to other people that I wasn’t perfect. My perfectionist tendencies play a large role in my eating disorder – even now, I get upset and cranky when I don’t eat on schedule. Not because of low blood sugar, but because I spent so long learning how to eat properly again that I feel like a failure when I’m not doing it exactly right. When I was first diagnosed with an EDNOS, it was largely due to restricting and purging food; later on, however, it sort of morphed into something more psychological – I started to equate my body and my self with food. I’ve been through periods where if food tasted bad I felt like it was my fault and it was a direct result of my goodness or badness as a person. So it’s no surprise to me that when I have to admit to less-than-perfect eating habits, it makes me feel as though I am less than perfect. And the thing is, this totally blindsided me. That’s the thing about triggers – you can go for years unaffected and then suddenly something puts you right back in the throes of it. Two steps forward and one step back, as they say.
I remember when I was in the throes of it. The physical triggers as it first occurred to me that I had repressed a memory of childhood sexual trauma. One of the most painful and frightening things was being in the bathroom. I couldn’t shower, and I struggled using the toilet, by virtue of not wanting to acknowledge the existence of my genitalia. My vulva had betrayed me; if it wasn’t there, I reasoned, then I wouldn’t have been sexually abused and created a repressed memory. Any kind of contact between my legs made me sick to my stomach, so I avoided it like the plague. I remember putting off going to the bathroom for over twelve hours one day because the thought of wiping myself terrified me.
I also remembered trying to relay this information to a guy I knew. Despite the fact that he had told me things in the past such as “Those are very serious accusations; if you’re not currently in danger, then don’t worry about it; if it happened that long ago, and you can’t clearly remember it, then it doesn’t matter”, I had thought that maybe he would be supportive. He wasn’t. His response was, simply, “TMI, Aurora.”
What kind of fucking adult does that? I thought angrily. I was telling someone I thought I trusted something personal, something that I was really struggling with, something that was very seriously affecting me, and all he could say was, “TMI”? But, really, that’s just a reflection on the whole situation. There are too many people who, when a survivor wants to tell their story, refuse to listen. “TMI, Aurora.” Or, “I don’t believe you, Aurora.” Or, “Those are very serious accusations. You could ruin someone’s life if you talk about it, Aurora.” As though nobody cares that my life was and is being ruined. As though I’m suddenly the bad guy for wanting answers.
I’m at a point in my therapy where we’re peeling back the layers of the onion, as my therapist put it. She has me creating a timeline of before I was born up to now. I have no idea if I’m coming closer to any answers or if it will take more time, if it will waste another three years of my life. I’m continually debating whether or not I should maintain my relationship with my suspected abuser when I know others have cut him off, because I’m not sure if my future children will be safe around him. Because I’m not sure if something happened, but if it did, then why would I want a relationship with him to begin with? But even that decision becomes complicated. Because, what if he didn’t do anything, and I accused him of something that awful? Or, what if he did do something, but everybody takes his side? Then I’m forced to cut others out of my life that I care about because they care more about maintaining a rose colored view of our situation rather than supporting me as I struggle with my trauma. And it isn’t as if my goal is to “ruin someone’s life” or cause a rift – as it stands, I protect the identity of my abuser from most of the people I discuss the issue with, especially those that read this blog. I respect the boundaries of others who may know things about his history of abuse but refuse to tell me, because honestly, as much as I want answers, discussing whatever has happened – and something did, although it may not be sexual abuse – is obviously too painful for them.
So I wait. Approaching the three year anniversary of “that December”, as I refer to it. No closer to any closure. No closer to any reclaimed memories. No closer to any admittance of guilt, or any filling-in-the-blanks by people who know more about his history than I do. No closer to any fleeting feelings of sanity, or the mending of relationships that were ruined by this potential revelation. No closer to any kind of support from people who don’t want to answer questions, or who think that my goal is to blackmail or hold this over everyone’s head. I feel stupid, I feel wrong, I feel crazy, I feel like a liar. There was a time when I was so sure, so confident, so ready to heal. And that time is gone.
So I wait. Hoping, praying, that someday, instead of “TMI, Aurora,” or “Those are very serious accusations, Aurora,” I might hear, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Because isn’t that what every survivor wants to hear?
It can be a bitch.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about snow and ice. What I’m referring to is closer to seasonal affective disorder. While the change in seasons has always been problematic for me (and my first two psych hospitalizations were in January), lately I’ve been noticing that if it isn’t sunny in the morning, my day is pretty much ruined.
Take today, for instance. Rainy, dark, and cool. I just couldn’t handle it. While I was able to get up to eat, take my meds, and take care of the pets, the rest of the day was spent in bed napping or awake but exhausted. My pricey several years old dawn simulator has been on the fritz (turns on or off on a whim, the time is always wrong no matter how many times I try to set it, the FM radio which only gets static turns on at inconvenient times), so I’ve been at the mercy of nature when it comes to getting up at a decent hour.
For about the past year and a half, I’ve been able to go to bed at ten P.M. and get up at ten A.M. pretty regularly. My new goal is to get up at nine A.M. consistently for a good amount of time and then push it back to eight A.M. Lately I’ve noticed that the fall weather has been seriously messing with this plan. But even when there are days where that extra hour I’m normally losing with my new goal is all I need to function and have a good day, there are other days when the lack of sunlight sends my mood into a pitfall and the depression and exhaustion just get to me. A lot of people who experience depression or the depressive lows of bipolar disorder but who don’t quite fit into the DSM’s definition of actual seasonal affective disorder struggle with this as well. And, honestly, I’m pretty sure a lot of neurotypical people experience seasonal blues also.
This is something I most definitely plan on bringing up to my med provider on our next visit. It’s just not practical to be at the mercy of the fickle New England winter weather and spend one or two days a week depressed and bed ridden. In the meantime, I’m hoping easing into wakefulness with listening to music in the morning and switching the light on right away will help.
How do you deal with the seasonal blues or SAD?
Yes, I know it’s been a while, and I also know I’m a little premature for the ” ’tis the season to be thankful” that inundates the blog world come November. But bear with me here.
As I was lying in bed today, exhausted despite having done absolutely nothing, battling suicidal and otherwise negative thoughts, it occurred to me how thankful I am that we have an intersection of two things in place that allow me to sit in bed all day: the modern mental health movement that has battled stigma and promoted awareness of mental health concerns, and the modern feminist and anti-domestic violence movements. Because, friends, about 60 years ago, nobody would have said to me “I”m so sorry you were feeling suicidal and depressed; are you ok? Is there anything I can do?” 60 years ago my husband (because I couldn’t be engaged to a woman, let alone a black woman) would have called me lazy and beat me or at the very least smacked me around a little bit until I got up and did housework.
Those images from vintage magazines that tend to surface around Facebook – the ones with articles containing quips from various men and titles like “Is it appropriate to spank your wife?” absolutely horrify me. Being mildly paranoid, I tend to assume people post these articles on my wall to torment me because that is pretty much my greatest fear. More realistically, however, they’re probably just doing it because “oh gee isn’t it funny that people used to treat women this way?”
It’s actually not that funny. Especially not when I would have been the type of woman who was getting that treatment, because nobody would have understood what I was going through and assumed the worst of me. Especially not when I know of a woman in my family who was treated that way, simply because that was the mindset back then. The guy that was hitting her wasn’t the stereotypical domestic abuse monster that we would paint him as today. He simply said, “She needed to be smacked around a bit to get motivated; all women do.” Kind of like that quote from Sean Connery in Playboy that everyone always references. And the further you go back, the worse it gets. 100 years ago, I would be lucky to get the shit kicked out of me for being “lazy” around the house. The other alternative would have been an asylum or sanitarium, where you were given solitary confinement and beaten by strangers instead of your loved ones.
Maybe it’s a bit of a morbid mindset to automatically go to something so dark, but there it is. I’m lucky and blessed to live in a society and with a woman who permits self-care instead of encourages domestic violence and promotes the understanding of mental health. I dodged a bullet there.
Last night at the church’s choir rehearsal (I’m back to church; I’ll discuss that in a later blog post) we discussed what would be appropriate to present to folks who are interested in joining the choir at our open house. It occurred to me momentarily to suggest a brief on how the choir is disability friendly for people who might feel they would be held back by being differently-abled. Certainly the choir isn’t friendly to all disabilities – in fact, at a first glance, it might appear that with the steps leading up to where the choir sings or the fact that we rely so much on auditory clues might mean that we’re not disability friendly at all. And while I have struggled a lot with my choir attendance, due in part to spiritual conflicts but also because of my social anxiety, I feel that it’s overall a good place for people who struggle with mental health conditions. As embarrassed as I am to be attached to the hip with my phone, I’ve never been reprimanded for sending a text when I was in crisis. No one has asked questions as I surreptitiously pop an anti-anxiety medication. Certainly it was awkward when it was discovered that I was holed up in the bathroom having a panic attack that reduced me to tears, but I was able to have the space to cope with what was going on. As I said, my attendance has been shoddy, but I’ve been allowed to come and go depending on how I’m able to cope with my social anxiety at the time. There’s never been any pressure to 100% commit or otherwise don’t come at all.
But of course, I never suggested anything of the sort. Even as I’m working on this blog post now, I’m close to tears. If we were discussing a physical or visible disability, of course this sort of discussion would be welcome. But because of the stigma attached to mental health concerns, nobody wants to hear about how a small church choir can be a good social outlet for someone who can’t work and who gets nervous around large groups of people. I know that by not speaking up, I’m perpetuating that stigma and I’m not making it any easier for someone who’s in a similar position. It’s similar to the way I felt after Robin Williams committed suicide. I had an acquaintance post on Facebook that she had bipolar disorder and was on medication to help cope with the symptoms, and that it was important to be open about this sort of thing to reduce stigma and have less cases similar to that of Robin’s. And while I would feel comfortable posting something like that on my (relatively) anonymous blog or my even more obscure Tumblr, I didn’t have the heart to take that step on Facebook. I have friends who are able to post about personal things, and maybe because of the online community they have cultivated, they are supported by their friends and family. Posting a link to my own blog posts or something written by someone else carries the bonus of being one step removed from the information. But too frequently discussing my mental health struggles on a platform like Facebook? I just don’t think anyone wants to hear about it. It’s one thing to post an image saying “Keep this on your wall for one hour if you support those who struggle with depression or anxiety”. It’s quite another to open up about your own personal struggles with these things.
Certainly if someone were to ask, or mention that they weren’t sure they could handle the pressure of joining the choir, I would be open. But I’m not yet brave enough to take the first step myself. Perhaps someday.
When I was first struggling with my repressed memory, someone I trusted told me, “Maybe there is no appropriate way to ask about something inappropriate that happened.” Someone I didn’t quite trust told me to “be selfish, ask questions, and not be afraid of people’s responses.” The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center supported my struggle to question. My therapists at the time did not. I was told that there was no point in asking because an offender was likely to lie. I was told that making accusations was inappropriate if it turned out I was wrong. All I know is that, should someone ever approach me and ask if I ever sexually abused them when I did not, I would never be mad. Never. They, in my mind, would have every right to question and I would offer them whatever help I was able. I would treat them with kindness and compassion. I would never accuse them of trying to ruin my life. I would be kind.
Last week I received a phone call from someone who may know something, if not about my history of abuse, about the history of the abuser I suspect. I was so tempted to ask them questions. Tell them that I was diagnosed with PTSD. Ask them what he meant when he said, “Something happened. The other two people involved were able to forgive him; I was not.” Ask them what they knew about December and ask them if they had any information that could help me figure out what was going on.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t have the courage.
I suppose I could ask my new therapist if it’s worth it to reach out. If it’s worth it to contact people who may know something about the history of the abuser. If it’s worth it to ask questions at all. I’m just afraid of being told “no”. Maybe it’s not even that – I’m just afraid that I’ll never have any answers at all. I don’t want to be accused of trying to ruin someone’s life or blackmail someone.
I just want to know.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot of discussion based on the postmodern feminist homesteading movement. It’s been refreshing and I really wish a lot of these resources were as popular – or even existed at all – back when I was in high school. I remember telling my high school guidance counselor and my therapist at the time that I didn’t have any solid career goals – I simply wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (and a foster mom), and whatever work got me financially settled until I reached that point would do. They both responded by telling me there was something wrong with me. For a bright young woman growing up in the era of third wave feminism and attending a school that prided itself on its academic achievements, it was unheard of that I wouldn’t be excited about college and a career and using those two aspects of life to define myself. That line of thinking was reserved for the girls who had a lower GPA and perhaps were already mothers. That line of thinking was reserved for the girls who were “damaged” and would end up on welfare – something nobody in my insular community thought would manifest for me. I was destined for “success” – the kind of success that is measured by expensive, good schools and solid careers that produce money and “happiness”. But at my June 2007 high school graduation date, right before the economy tanked, nobody could predict that this kind of “success” would be hard to come by – for everyone.
I didn’t expect to become a “radical homemaker” or a “hipster housewife” because I had no other options. Did any woman in the 2k era think that? I figured I’d work a little, get married, work a little more, and then settle down, and the whole affair would be a choice. For me, though, there was no choice. Unlike the lack of choice imparted by society in the 1950’s and previous decades, the lack of choice that was fought against by second wave feminists, my lack of choice came from a disability. “Standard”, or career-focused work, was too stressful for me. And honestly? Sometimes work around the home is too stressful for me as well. But, overall, it’s considerably more manageable – and for me, much more rewarding.
I shouldn’t need outside validation to bring home the point that there isn’t anything wrong with staying home and managing affairs there – and to a certain extent, I don’t. But it’s amazing to see how the movement – if you can call it that – has grown and changed since I graduated and started trying to find my way as an adult. After the career-driven 80’s and 90’s, more millennials started adopting the attitude I had – work is not the be-all end-all to life, and there are more ways to be a contributing member of society beside bringing home a paycheck. Of course, this brings to light various racial and class inequalities – if I wasn’t engaged and co-habitating, and if I didn’t have the option of presenting this as a conscious decision my fiancée and I made (and to a certain extent, it is), then I’d be considered a welfare burden. People who come from a lower economic bracket or marginalized race have a lot more obstacles in the way of social judgment when it comes to this area as well. If the roles were reversed and my Black fiancée was the stay-at-home dog-mom and keeper of the home and I was the career woman, the judgment faced by her would be much harsher. Once you’re not white and educated, making the decision to be a homemaker is no longer deemed a conscious one by society – it’s assumed that you had no other choice. And when the element of choice is taken away, that’s when conservatives decide you have less value and deserve less rights.
I like to think of the benefits of me staying home to make sure things run smoothly. Our pets get considerably more attention than they would if we both worked outside the home. I’m able to do a lot of cooking from scratch (and would love to learn to do more), something that I can’t imagine is easily manageable for two adults who commute to a full-time job every day. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a housekeeper-grade cleaner (I actually tried to be a housekeeper once; after about an hour my boss gave me what I had earned thus far and told me to go home), the home is considerably more well-kept and we get much more downtime on the weekends than it would be otherwise.
Despite all this – the burgeoning modern movement that has captivated both liberal and conservative folx, the extensive histories of homesteading as a valuable way to make a living pre-industrialist and capitalist society, the first-person testimonies of stay-at-home moms everywhere – I still find myself having to justify my choice to anybody and everybody who asks. I recall the husband of someone I went to church with stating that he wished he had it as easy as “staying home and playing with the puppy”, while I was struggling with crate training and keeping up with the ordinary housework on top of that. Maybe managing a household is easier for neurotypical or non-disabled folx, but given that statistics show that women do most of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and childcare for their households even when they do work outside the home, I suspect that this husband was blissfully unaware of the weight his wife had been pulling. And unless I’m adding considerable community socialization or increased DIY projects to my schedule, saying things like “Well, this week I baked bread, worked on creating a cute goal chart to help myself live more purposefully, finished my library book and cut down on the time it takes to clean the kitchen without sacrificing the quality of my work!” tends to sound… boring. Like I’m not doing anything with my life. Like I’m struggling to make myself sound interesting. The small goals and accomplishments are the ones that are the least talked about and the ones we’re the least proud of.
So while resources on homesteading and homemaking can be procured in abundance during the current economic and social climate, there’s still a change to be made regarding attitudes toward those who choose to stay home – or toward those who don’t have the luxury of choice and are making the best of things. While the work can seem daunting or a burden to those who don’t have this agency – whether we’re referencing 50’s housewives doped up on antidepressants to curb their boredom and depression or modern single parents who are struggling to provide for their children when outside childcare is inaccessible – for those who desire to work inside the home, what we do is valuable and does contribute, even if we are childless or child-free. It’s not easy, and it matters. And we matter.
I try so hard.
I really don’t mean to sound like a martyr. But I try so damn hard. Taking self-esteem classes, reading books that paint housewifery as a radical social movement, making promises that I won’t go through with it.
When I’m there,
In the dark theatre,
The thoughts come.
You should end it
You’re not contributing anything
So just do it
And get it over with.
And then I wonder if the reason I feel this way isn’t my fault.
I had a nightmare Sunday night.
It left me incapacitated most of Monday.
I heard her ask him,
“Did you molest her? I need to know.”
And then I felt myself slipping into a flashback. But as usual, the full-on flashback never hit. I was terrified, so I kept repeating over and over again
It’s 2014 and you’re safe.
It’s 2014 and you’re safe.
And then the nightmare.
He reached over, grabbed my chest, and grabbed my crotch. And I could feel it. The body memories were strong.
“He” was a big scary monster with red eyes. So I know it wasn’t a flashback. Not really.
But I could feel it. I could feel him molesting me. I tried to push him away, screaming
It’s 2014 and you’re safe.
But I could feel it.
It would be so easy to say that my self-esteem issues stem back to that incident. Except I don’t even know if that incident even happened, or when it did. My therapist seems to think something happened. And I now officially have PTSD. But I still don’t know. And in the meantime, those nightmares, which happen about once a month, are pretty much all the trauma I can cope with. Maybe that’s why the suicidal thoughts came. I had a rough week and I just need to work more on the self-care. Try a little harder.
But I’m so damn sick of trying.
I just wish it was easier to convince myself that I’m worthwhile. That I deserve to take up space and waste oxygen. Or, you know, whatever the nice way of saying “take up space” and “waste oxygen” is.
Sometimes I want it to be true. Other times I don’t. I remember someone telling me that I have every right to feel bad, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling bad. And when I feel guilty for feeling bad? I wish it were true. So it would explain why I’m so fucked up. Or, you know, if I’m being nice to myself, “so it would explain why I feel so fucked up”. So I could say it’s not my fault and I have every right to feel bad. So I could have a convenient excuse.
Hi, my name is Aurora, and I feel bad.
Hi, my name is Aurora, and I get suicidal thoughts sometimes.
Hi, my name is Aurora, and I have nightmares where I can feel it happening.
Hi, my name is Aurora, and sometimes I don’t want my writing to have a point. Sometimes I just want to complain. Or get things off my chest. Get a little release.
Hi, my name is Aurora, and I’m not going to kill myself. Or even cry. Fuck it, I’m just going to eat a bunch of cookies. Because downing an entire box of Oreos is totally appropriate self-care.
Because when you try so damn hard
It uses up a lot of calories. However many calories are in a package of Oreos.
(And maybe a couple of spoonfuls of Nutella.)
I’ve been taking Everyday Feminism’s Everyday Self-Love course to help improve my self-esteem, which is… well, it’s kind of in the shitter. I can’t ever remember having good self-esteem. Maybe before childhood trauma or sexual abuse took place I did. My low self-esteem reached its peak at the age of eighteen when I became severely depressed and suicidal. Not in-your-face-I-have-a-plan suicidal, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer suicidal – while I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be dead, I definitely didn’t want to be alive. I felt like a worthless burden and those feelings intensified when I had to quit my job and apply for disability. Living off of government handouts (because I didn’t work enough to contribute to my retirement fund) in a country full of conservative folks who shame welfare recipients will do that to you.
Today (sometime in June; it’ll probably be July when you read this) I signed into Skype to participate in the group conference call for the Self-Love course. It turned out to be just me, so I had a personal coaching session. And while going through a guided piece of coursework, I had a thought:
What if those conservatives are wrong, and it’s OK to be living off of government handouts?
Radical, I know. But bear with me here.
I can’t work right now. I’m not sure if I even want a college degree, but if I did, I worry that the system is too abelist to allow for me to succeed in attaining one. I’m not sure if this is a temporary thing or if this is permanent. I have been doing better since I started receiving disability benefits, so that could mean that eventually I will feel well enough to return to work. But it could also mean that I do well on a stress-and-trigger free schedule and not on the kind of schedule required to hold down a job. It could just mean that not ever working is the nature of my disability.
Is that really such a bad thing?
I know, I know. Government handouts. Siphoning off taxes from people who actually work for a living and deserve their hard earned money. Buying junk food with EBT cards and getting tattoos, having a fancy phone, and buying beer with government money. So shameful.
But the thing is?
I am still contributing.
Maybe not to society at large. But I keep the apartment clean. I bake bread from scratch. I sing in the church choir (when my anxiety isn’t so intense that I skip rehearsal). I take the dogs on a two mile walk and make sure their needs are met. I blog. Not for money, but I’ve had guest posts featured on Offbeat Bride, A Practical Wedding, and Offbeat Home and Life. I’ve affected people (two people? Maybe three? I jest, but really, I don’t have a huge readership) with the mental health and childhood trauma posts I write. I make dinner. I support my fiancée emotionally and spiritually as she provides for our “baby family” (meaning that we are just starting out on creating a family together, NOT that one of us is knocked up).
The thing is, guys, I truly believe that every person has worth and value. Every. Single. One. I’m the kind of person who could do prison ministry. There are no bad people in my book – only good people who do bad things. Disagree if you will, but as easy as it is for me to apply this logic to others, it was so difficult to apply it to myself. It was hard to think that my (albeit small) contributions were enough to substantiate me receiving government aid. It was hard to think that I was enough.
But maybe I am. And maybe it’s ok to receive handouts. And maybe I have worth, and value, and the things I do have worth, and value.
Isn’t it sad, that I, the survivor, am the one worrying about “inconveniencing” people?
I don’t want to sleep in the house where it happened because it’s triggering.
But I won’t say anything because I don’t want to “inconvenience” the owners of the house who want me to visit.
I want to avoid the person I suspect, because it’s painful to be around them, wondering.
But I show up to the party anyway because I don’t want to “inconvenience” my friends and family.
I want to take his advice, and be selfish, ask questions, and not worry about other people’s responses.
But I don’t. Because I don’t want to “inconvenience” anyone. I don’t want to bring up painful memories, or get people angry, or spread rumors, or make accusations.
I just want to know.
I just want peace.
I just want to stop being an inconvenience.