x144 (duggar)

By Tengrain, used with Creative Commons License

By Tengrain, used with Creative Commons License

I really wanted to write something about the Duggar scandal. I even looked into a note I published on Facebook in 2011 when the Penn State scandal broke out. I don’t agree with a lot of what I wrote then, but I thought it was worth sharing and comparing to my current opinions. I ended up deleting the Facebook account I had at the time and creating a new one because a lot of that note was based off of comments I left on other people’s statuses and I was so embarrassed about putting myself out there like that. Now, I blog about what happened to me and I link to that blog on Facebook. I have a courage now that I didn’t back then. But overall, I’m just too overwhelmed to address the issue. There are too many strong and confusing emotions. It brings up a lot of tough stuff for me, and makes me question my own validity as a survivor. What if the initial issue isn’t as serious as I think it is? What if there’s no repressed memory, and I’m just crazy? What if I’m not a survivor after all? Should I feel terrible for claiming to have been sexually abused when it turns out I was just being sensitive, overreacting, and it was all in my head? I remember when I was first coping with my trauma, and my first response was to be overly sensitive to the situation of the offenders. I wanted to forgive them and help them to get better. It makes me feel bad for Josh Duggar, while at the same time I empathize with his victims and think what he did was terrible.

I just wish this was easier. For me, and for Josh Duggar’s victims. I wish that the statistics – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – weren’t so alarming. I wish it never happened to me, to Josh Duggar’s victims, or to any of us. And I wish it was easier to talk about this and heal from it.

x143 (the initial issue)

By Kevin Dooley, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Kevin Dooley, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

This past week in therapy, we addressed something in EMDR that none of my other therapists or doctors have even tried to clarify as legitimate: we started working through the initial issue. The one I remember; the one that most people don’t see as sexual abuse or sexual trauma but that I feel was very much so. Because this is something I remember pretty clearly, it was a lot more difficult than our past EMDR sessions have been. I don’t like thinking about this issue, and in fact even naming it with those I trust to validate my experience of sexual trauma is triggering for me. I generally just refer to it as “the initial issue” because speaking aloud the word itself makes me extremely uncomfortable and upset. I fact, whenever I hear a child cry, my first clouded but frightened thought is, “Is it because someone is doing it to them, too?” Irrational, maybe, but it’s where my mind automatically goes.

I sometimes wonder if the repressed memory is even real anymore, now that it’s been three and a half years since that fateful December. I wonder, if the initial issue had been properly addressed by my doctors, would my anxiety levels have reached as high as they did and would my mind have latched onto the concept of more traditional sexual abuse? While part of the issue is that I had a doctor tell me “While I agree that is an inappropriate way to treat a child, I think something else may have happened,” I have done research into falsified repressed memories to ease my guilt surrounding my very serious thoughts. If nothing happened, I wondered, am I a terrible person for assuming that people who care about me did something so terrible? But it is, in fact, incredibly easy to manipulate memory and it is possible that my psyche manufactured the physical symptoms of my repressed memory to cope with the fact that I was not receiving enough support in dealing with the initial issue. My subconscious could have recognized that I was not getting the help I needed, and responded by manifesting physical symptoms that helped me grieve my loss of innocence and, in turn, could make others take my situation more seriously. It probably sounds far-fetched, but the mind is a powerful thing.

In addition to the (now very uncomfortable) EMDR sessions, I have tried a new practice in addition to yoga and the pelvic exercises suggested in “Healing Sex” by Staci Haines: I have started to try taking my walks without listening to music. Granted, part of this is to help me address the dogs’ behavior issues on walks better, but in “Healing Sex” Haines mentions that using time on a walk to simply be in your body and pay attention to its rhythms and the way it moves and reacts is a great way to become more comfortable in your sexual self. In addition, practices like walking without music and yoga can help center the body more so that I am more prepared and comfortable should a flashback occur. I checked out “Healing Sex” from the library for a third time around the time I started seeing my current therapist, but I had to return it once I reached the chapter on masturbation per suggestion of my therapist because it was simply too triggering. I would read the book, relate to something, wonder if I would ever get better, and break down in tears. I couldn’t do it. Despite having read it and having gone through the exercises twice before, something was different this time. I’m hoping that the more I focus on somatic healing, the easier it will be to return to the book and in time return to a more normal, or healthy, way of being. I’m tired of having this affect me daily and I want to get to a point where I feel better. And slowly, but surely, I’m getting there.

x142 (early to bed, early to rise…)

By Betsssssy, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Betsssssy, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

There are a lot of tips on homemaking blogs about how to get more housework done and how to fix those little scheduling problems that inevitably occur when doing housework. Their number one tip? Go to bed earlier and get up an hour earlier to get more done.

Ha.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I’ve struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember. As a child, it would take me hours to fall asleep and I would awake around four in the morning and fall back to sleep around six or seven. This persisted into teenager-hood, when trying to balance a full load of schoolwork with this sleep schedule was simply something I couldn’t do. I tried various sleeping medications before settling on Ambien when I was fifteen. I briefly tried other meds during my brief stint in college because the Ambien’s potency was starting to wear off, and I eventually transitioned back onto a combination of Ambien and Trazadone. Eventually, I built up a tolerance to both of them and had to go off of the duo, and it took about a year of being narcotic sleep-aid free before even melatonin would work again to make me drowsy. My current regime is 5 mg of melatonin at night, and the 10 mg of Zyprexa I take also helps make me sleepy. While I can fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time, I still struggle with waking up in the middle of the night and too early in the morning. Recently my med provider added a blood pressure medication to my docket, hoping that it would make me dream less vividly which would therefore help me get more restful sleep. It seemed to help at first but now I’m noticing that I’m dreaming again.

Suffice to say, I have never been good at getting up early in the morning. Sure, I managed it in middle and high school – somewhat. I did miss a lot of school and go in late quite a bit. I managed it when I worked an 8 – 5 shift at Wal-Mart when I was in college. And if I need to, I can certainly get up whenever is necessary and pull through. But for the most part, I am to be awake at 9 or 10 in the morning and at this stage in my life, I can’t comfortably manage anything earlier. Obviously when my fiancée and I have kids this will change, but for now this is the schedule that works for me.

Now that it’s getting close to summer and the heat is on the rise, I’ve had to do some adjusting to my schedule because when I take the dogs on a walk depends on how hot it is. But even getting up at 9 or 10 in the morning, I do manage to get my housework done. My productivity doesn’t actually seem to have anything to do with when I wake up – it seems to be more affected by when I go on my walk. I find that if I start the day off doing chores then I tend to get them done in a more timely manner, rather than waiting after my various exercise routines. And easing my way into the day – by checking my e-mail first thing in the morning, and maybe watching a little bit of TV while I write in my prayer journal and do my Bible reading, is also very helpful. Since I’m not a morning person, it’s nice to give myself concrete things to look forward to first thing in the morning.

In the end, you have to do what works for you. One homemaker’s daily schedule isn’t going to work for every other homemaker out there. For me, getting up earlier (and believe me, I’ve tried) does not increase productivity, but instead makes me groggy and irritable throughout the day, and nobody likes a grumpy housewife. I find that not having a properly “adult” schedule is a good trade-off for being miserable most of the day because I don’t feel well rested. And who knows? Maybe I’ll find a medication combination that treats my cause of insomnia instead of the symptoms, and getting up at 7 or 8 in the morning will be more feasible. But for now, I’m happy with the schedule I have – late mornings and all.

x141 (goals for the month)

By Daniele Zanni, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Daniele Zanni, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

Although we’re almost a week (!) into May, I’m going to go over my goals for the month. I set yearly goals at odd times during the year, which I’ll touch on, and then five monthly goals that I work toward in addition to following Intentional By Grace’s monthly checklist.

One of my monthly goals is to do 20 minutes of yoga once a week. Ideally I would be doing it twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I struggle to get motivated so I’ve moved from setting the goal to once a month, twice a month, and now once a week. I use the Wii Fit for this, which makes it pretty easy (although it would be nice if I could remember some poses well enough to do them outside). While I do take walks with my dogs once or twice a day, yoga is recommended for people who struggle with trauma memories and repressed memories because it can help you stay in your body when you are feeling triggered. I’m hoping that a regular yoga practice will prepare my body for flashbacks and body memories that may occur.

My second monthly goal is to put money into savings. Unless the month has five weeks (which May does), I usually have enough money to put into a joint savings account with my fiancee. I also try to set aside a small amount of money every month so I have a bit of a cushion in my bank account instead of spending the entirety of my disability check. Because disability doesn’t provide a lot of money, this can sometimes be difficult because if something comes up last minute I will have to dip into the money I would normally set aside for savings. We’ll see how this one goes – I was successful with this last month, so hopefully I can repeat that. This is also one of my yearly goals, so it’s important that this is something I work on consistently.

One of my other yearly goals is to decorate our apartment. To help me accomplish this goal, two of my monthly goals include doing some window shopping for bedding to mesh our two unique decorating styles and finally hanging up a picture. We’ve lived together for about a year and a half now and we’ve never hung anything up in either of our apartments that wasn’t strictly functional. It would be nice to have something pretty to grace our walls.

My final goal for the month is to work on buying birthday cards for my friends and family. I used to buy gifts for everyone, but since moving out on my own money has been tight and this hasn’t been in the budget. If nothing else, I give people a phone call on their birthday, but I would like to set aside enough during the year to purchase cards to send to people. It’s the thought that counts.

Here’s hoping I’m able to stick to my guns and get some (preferably all) of these things accomplished this month.

x140 ([v][e][g]et[a]ria[n] part two: the confusioning)

By Jennifer from Sweet On Veg, used with Creative Commons License

By Jennifer from Sweet On Veg, used with Creative Commons License

I’m going to be trying out a new format on the blog. At the beginning and end of the month I’ll be going over personal goals and whether or not they have been met, as well as setting aside a slice of room for blog posts about personal issues. Granted, mental health concerns generally tend to be pretty personal issues, but by that I mean focusing on things I’ve blogged about in the past that don’t generally fit into a mental health category, such as religion or veganism. Also I’m going to try to include a post about homemaking about once a month (which will most likely include intersections between homemaking and doing so while coping with mental health concerns) which leaves about one post a month for mental health and trauma topics. Depending on how I’m able to keep up with the new content, I may bump posts up from once a week to twice a week to make sure I’m featuring mental health and trauma topics with the frequency to which readers have become accustomed.

Since we’re at the end of the month, I’ll kick off the new blogging schedule with a post of a personal nature. Enjoy!
___

It’s been almost a year since I last posted about my transition from vegan to vegetarian. I suppose, technically, I am a vegetarian – I do eat a limited amount of dairy and eggs – but the label sounds foreign; strange. It feels like I’m cheating. In a lot of ways, it mirrors my struggle with defining my sexuality. To a lot of folx, it’s a very important label and there is often a lot of conflict within the respective communities. It’s a bit like vegans are gold-star lesbians (lesbians who have only had relationships with other women and never with men) and vegetarians are bisexual women or late-in-life lesbians. To be a vegan or a gold-star lesbian is a lofty goal that is to be aspired to – it’s the ultimate, the right way to go about doing things. It defines you in a way that you aren’t prepared for. With the label comes trappings, comes a culture. It reminds me of how surprised I was when I found out the one vegan I knew in college was also a smoker – many vegans are concerned with health and wouldn’t go near a cigarette. The two seemed incompatible to me. And while you can certainly be a vegan who smokes, it goes against that culture I was talking about – the one that comes with assumptions people can make about you based on that one word you use to describe yourself.

Dealing with other people’s reactions to my transition has been difficult. Generally not because of anything they have said or done, but mostly because of my concerns with or perceptions of their reactions. My mother phrased it as “she eats vegan, but she’s not a vegan,” which I really like. Since my fiancee is lactose intolerant, there is a limited amount of dairy in the house, and when I can eat vegan, I make an effort to. However, I don’t really feel like a vegetarian – I simply feel like a vegan who cheats with disturbing frequency. Recently I was at a family gathering eating some macaroni and cheese when someone commented they were “proud of me”. I had no idea what they meant by that and I wished more than anything that I could eat what I wanted without my food choices being policed. I’ll admit that part of my desire to remain a vegan was to avoid that kind of judgment. I’ve stated in previous blog posts that it’s less about the difficulty of being a vegan (which I honestly didn’t find to be all that difficult) as it is trying to find the best way to support animal advocacy. Certainly there are environmental and health benefits to a vegan diet, which is a valid reason to eat mostly vegan, but I’m just not convinced the benefits to animals are there. But if people don’t know that – if I’m not in active conversation explaining my food politics (which, at a family reunion, I’m probably not) – it may look like I’ve simply given up. And despite my most recent guest post for Offbeat Home and Life (written mostly to assuage my own guilt), I don’t like the idea of others being able to say “I told you so”.

I remember talking to someone who had been vegan for over thirty years and being in awe of her commitment to the lifestyle. I’ve known vegans and vegetarians who have gone back to omnivorous diets, and it occurred to me that the difference between her and my relatives who no longer stick to an exclusively plant-based diet is that she had a passion for animal welfare and they did not. My relatives went vegan for health reasons or as an adolescent experiment, and this woman went vegan because she cared about living creatures. And while I maintain that being vegan is not as difficult as some may make it out to be (particularly if you are an adventurous cook or live in a city or near a Whole Foods), I will say that there are certain convenience items that are easier to indulge in when you are not motivated by a higher cause.

Being vegan was an important part of my life for a good four or five years. It’s a difficult thing to move on from. I still don’t know if I want to go back to being vegan or, as previously mentioned, experiment with a VB6 style diet – or even if I want to embrace eggs and dairy and go back to being an unabashed vegetarian. I know that my biggest hurdle is going to be to not worry about what other people think of my decision. It’s less about their judgments of me (although I’ll be honest, that is a bit of an issue) and more about being an ambassador for animal rights. I don’t want people who are considering transitioning to a vegan diet to think they shouldn’t because they saw me “give up” on it. There are certainly a lot of options for me to consider, and it’s an ongoing process that may take even up to another year (or more) for me to comfortably figure out. But what I do know? I love animals, and I love vegan food. And I’ll find a way to combine the two in a manner that I feel works best for me.

x139 (vulnerability)

By David Dávila Vilanova, used with Creative Commons License

By David Dávila Vilanova, used with Creative Commons License

Vulnerability. It’s a powerful state to be in. Opening yourself up to judgment because you have put yourself out there – your whole self – can be terrifying. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worthwhile to do so or if you even have the strength. Sometimes you end up getting hurt, but sometimes it ends up being the best decision you could have made. Vulnerability can open doors to understanding and camaraderie. But getting there? Getting there can be hard. It takes courage. But it can be done.

On Easter Sunday my pastor talked about vulnerability within the walls of the church. She told the story of an older widow who stopped attending services after her husband’s funeral because being in church brought her to tears at the memory. Although I haven’t been in that exact situation, I can empathize to a point. While the pastor mentioned that, if you can’t cry in a church, where can you cry?, I know that opening yourself up in such a personal way is difficult. I often try to hide my tears when I’m around others because it’s too difficult and embarrassing to explain what’s going on. I recall working at a Wal-Mart while in college and having someone approach me to ask if I was okay. I clearly wasn’t – my face was swollen and tear-stained – but I maintained that I was fine. “I know you’re not okay,” said the co-worker, “so if you need anything, let me know.” In some ways, it would be easier to attribute tears to something more people find relatable or something that has less of a stigma attached to it. At the same time, dispelling that stigma generally requires one to admit to something people usually don’t like to discuss. The more open one is, the more options there are for paving the way for those who come after.

I’ve talked before about making attempts to be more honest with my fellow churchgoers about my mental health concerns. It’s a long and difficult process, but I feel I am making progress. I find when I am done opening up that it’s not as scary as I assumed it would be. People can often be more understanding than you would give them credit for. At the same time, I worry that I am saying too much too soon. I can’t tell if mental health concerns are a personal problem because of the stigma that surrounds them or because they are simply that – a personal problem. I have found in the past that if I spring my mental health concerns on a newly budding relationship it can damage it irreparably. Not everyone is willing to deal with mental health concerns or support someone who is coping with them. Oftentimes it is difficult for someone coping with metal health concerns to differentiate between when to go to a friend and when to go to a mental health professional, and putting too much on a person who lacks training is unfair. I still don’t know, having been on both sides of the issue, if it is inappropriate to ask a friend to talk you down or spend the night with you if you are feeling suicidal, for instance. And while some people may appreciate the gesture of calling the police after reaching out or a cry for help, others may resent you for it even if it ended up being the right thing to do. It can be a difficult call to determine how close to danger someone is when they reach the point of suicidal ideation, and because psychiatric hospitals are often not helpful unless someone is truly in crisis, forcing someone to get “help” they might not actually need can often be just as damaging as waiting until it’s too late. Because of serious issues like these, it can be frightening for a neurotypical person with a lack of experience in this arena to take on a sometimes taxing friendship with someone who not only deals with mental health concerns but also might not quite know how to really deal with their concerns themselves. And while vulnerability and opening up don’t always lead to such serious discussions, there are times when a simple and honest answer to “How are you feeling today?” can lead to a snowball effect. Sometimes the honest answer of “I am unsure whether or not I want to live right now” can lead to empathy from someone who has overcome something similar, but other times it can be crossing a line when the person you need to be talking to is a professional.

Vulnerability is an art. It takes practice to know when it is appropriate to open up. It is a learned skill to know when one is battling stigma, when one should reach out for support within an interpersonal relationship, and when it is more appropriate to discuss the issue with a therapist or a doctor. But when one masters the art of vulnerability, it can open doors and shatter walls. It can lend itself to the human experience and lead to connections. Vulnerability is often knowing when and how to make those connections and knowing when it is best to stick to small talk. When you know how to open up, it can make those moments when you need to keep something to yourself more bearable. And when you do open up? You can cause change – change for the better. Change for others. Change for yourself.

x138 (done)

By Roland O'Daniel, used with Creative Commons License

By Roland O’Daniel, used with Creative Commons License

I’m done asking questions.

For just over three years now, I’ve been praying daily for closure and for the courage and strength to ask questions. Someone I spoke to that December told me to “be selfish, ask questions, and don’t worry about people’s responses.” And yet, when I tried to talk to people (including the person who gave me that advice) about the possible history of the suspected offender, I got nothing. I got shut down.

For just over three years now, I’ve lived in fear, wanting answers but afraid to seek them.

No more.

I have stopped praying for the strength to ask questions. I no longer wish to bring up a topic that no one seems to want to discuss. The more distance there is, the more I doubt myself and the more I feel others doubt me. Surely if something had happened, I would have remembered it by now. Surely if the trauma I do remember was legitimate, more people would have helped me go through my healing process and listened to me when I said it was an issue. Now, I realize that it is my body, and I get to decide what is sexual abuse or trauma and what isn’t. I also realize that I could go my whole life without recovering a memory and it would not make my perceived trauma any less true or difficult for me to experience. But that is not always what other people seem to be thinking. I have put so much stake in outside validation that it has caused me to doubt myself when I need to be focused on my healing.

I do not have the strength to be selfish, ask questions, and not worry about people’s responses. I do not have the strength to doubt myself or my experiences so consistently. When I first started talking about the initial issue, the trauma that I do remember, I received validation from a precious few people. I will hang on to that and remember that I am the one who gets to decide what is traumatic for my body. I don’t need to ask questions. I need to move forward and heal.