Two years.

2 years ago tonight, I set out with a bleak, haphazard, and panicked plan to kill myself. Some of my memories are hazy, but they include a lot of shaking, a lot of crying, and oddly enough, a lot of hope. 

Someone intervened. And the thing is, someone or something will always intervene, if you let them. Hope isn’t always elaborate sunrises or birthday parties. Sometimes hope is a milkshake and a hand to hold when yours won’t stop trembling. Sometimes it’s the job you thought you wouldn’t get, or the favorite book you’ve read 500 times, or BOGO coffee on a random Thursday. It can find you, even at your lowest.We all break. We all do things. We all have our stuff. Every last one of us. (You still don’t have your shit together? Thank goodness. ME TOO.) And what a brokenly blessed relief it is to never truly be alone in the dark places. We are so lucky to get to break alongside other people, to join together in the hurting and the healing, to sometimes be the leaner and sometimes be the leaned upon. It is a back and forth that I’m happy to still be a part of.

So I guess this lengthy and rambling post (I never stopped being a writer..) is to simply say this: I’m glad I’m here. 

I’m not ALWAYS glad about it, mind you. Life took some sharp downward turns in the years after. Life is also sometimes generally unkind, and just being a person gets to be a tricky business. But in these 2 years, there were also beautiful surprises and incredible opportunities. There was still kindness and there was still grace, even when I didn’t think I deserved it. There is so much that I would have missed. I guess it’s all worth sticking around for. I still have songs to sing too loudly to, crude jokes to cry laughing at, art to create, chances to take, help to actively keep choosing, progress to make, and stories to tell. Here’s to telling the one where I made it out alive. ✨❤️

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Bad days deserve unicorns, too.


When the ocean attempts to swallow you whole, I’ve found there are always things that will keep you afloat – no matter how treacherous the waters. The caramel corn on a day that feels like fall. The job I was certain I wouldn’t get. The doggy kisses without rhyme or reason. Life is filled with tiny, good moments, and they do add up. 

These moments will save you.

They will save you on the weird brain days, too. Some days you find, all you can do is exist, and you know what? Your productivity does not define your worth. You are not worthless because you’re crawling out of your skin and you don’t know how to be. You are not worthless if and when your depression makes it hard to complete tasks. You are not worthless when you thought you had it all control but some days – you still don’t. You’re allowed to hurt.

There is a time for bath bombs and writing meaningful blogs and baking cookies and texting your friends. And there are days where all you can do is come home, cry, hug yourself, and remind yourself that you’re still a good person. And maybe you still draw a unicorn. 

Maybe that’s where I am today. And maybe that’s okay. 🦄🦄🦄

Me too.

There’s a post going around social medias stating that, “if everyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
And so I echo my fellow humans: me too.

You shouldn’t have to out yourself as a survivor in order for people to grasp the magnitude of how systematic and horrifically common sexual assault and harassment are. And if you, as a survivor, need to keep silent on this one, then I respect you. I will speak for you. You owe no one your story, and for the people who owe you an apology you’ll never get – I am so, so sorry. You didn’t deserve it. You never did.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or otherwise. It makes no difference if you were wearing a parka or a bikini. And no, you don’t have to be someone’s daughter or mother or brother or a celebrity in order for what happened to be valid. You are human, and so you deserved respect. You deserved decency. You deserved better. You belonged to yourself, and you still do. You are still a castle, and they did not tear it down. You are still composed of royalty. You still house dragons to fight for your soul. The kingdom lights still shine, and you are still who gets to open, and close, your own doors. No one took your power. I promise. 

It was not your fault. It was not your fault. It was not your fault. No matter how many times you wake, dreaming again of him touching you in places he has no right to touch you, no matter how many times you run out all of the hot water trying to wash him out of your skin, no matter how many voices make you jump because they sound just like the first boy who called you beautiful before he called you a whore in the very same tone – none of it takes away who you are. Your worth was never defined by what they did. Your worth is bigger. You are brighter. Your soul is bolder, and your heart? It has more love than they’ll ever know. 

You’re not broken. You never were.

You’re one of us. We’re the hands held tight in a chain stronger than those who hurt us. We’re the ones who made it out. And we will continue to make it together. We scream and shout and throw our middle fingers up together. We can teach those around us, raise our children, and plead to our friends to know respect, to give respect, to demand respect. We can change the future together. 

You’re not alone, and you never were.

You never will be. 

Me too.

Me.

Too.

On World Suicide Prevention Day: I am better. I am well.

When I began this blog in 2014, I was 21 years old. I was in between majors, in between long hair and short hair, and in between bursts of self-harm, crippling depression, and bouts of reckless joy. As a matter of fact, this blog came after my first suicide attempt and before my second. I was in a place where I so wanted to string together words that would inspire people like me, words to be a balm to their most aching wounds, and words that could be something to hold onto in times where there was little else. I was also in a place where, some days, my words were the only crutch that held me up and kept me alive. 

Before I even gave my musings a home in this blog, I wrote a piece that sounded a lot like a diary entry and felt a lot like quiet hope. Simply, I knew that I understood myself better when I sat down to write about what I felt. In that piece, I wrote a blurb that has followed me ever since: 

“I’m better, but I am not well. So I say this, and I will try to hold onto this too. You’re going to be sad. If you’re human, you’re going to be sad. You’re going to find all of these good things, and you’re going to grow up and figure out who you are, and then you’re going to scrap it and start over again. You’ll build something new, and then you’ll add onto it. You’ll take part of that away and replace it again. You’ll constantly be adding and deleting and reevaluating and rediscovering and redefining who you are, and that’s okay. I think it’s important that you keep your foundation strong. You hold yourself up when all you want to do is collapse into the ground and let yourself disappear. Don’t you dare. You’re going to be sad. Find yourself in the little things. Find yourself in what makes you glad you’re alive. Take a mental health day. Scream in the shower. Drive around by yourself and sing to the radio because you have a voice and you can. Clean your room at 3 AM when you hate yourself and you just need to keep moving. Read the book that makes you cry when the tears won’t come and you can’t stop feeling them. Sing to yourself in the mirror. Smile as big as you can to strangers you’ll never see again, because maybe they need it. Send a text message that you’re scared to send, because being vulnerable is the hardest thing in the world, but it is a start to getting better. Ask for help if you need it. Accept help if you need it. Isolate yourself for a day, but not forever. If you’re like me, write poems, write songs, write essays, and write stories that maybe 2 people will read, and maybe 2,000 people will read. Take your own advice. Go to school and go to work and go to parties and go to lunch and go play and keep going. Act 15 on the days you feel 15. Act 35 on the days you feel 35. Act your own age if you ever figure out how you’re supposed to. Tell people you love them, because they need to know, and you need to hear it. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to get through it. 

That’s what I need to keep telling myself. That’s what I need to keep knocking into my own head. I am better, but I am not well. Someday, maybe I will be. I’m holding out hope for that.”

I am better, but I am not well. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to get through it.

Those words that I penned down on an inconsequential day during the spring semester of my last year at junior college became my home. I am so thankful for the words they inspired, the words that came after. And I am so, so thankful for the years that have come after, as well.

I suppose that brings me to today. For the sake of being honest, I’m going to say that life, as a whole, did not get easier in these past few years. Shortly after I began this blog, I was assaulted by an ex-boyfriend who intended to kill me. It took me until I moved away for a college transfer to realize that, although my broken ribs and my black eye had healed, my mind and heart had not. I had a mental breakdown that I refused to recognize, and I made every other excuse under the sun for why I came home less than a week after I moved. I got a second job at an olive oil and wine shop, and I busied my days with that new gig, serving tables at my old gig, and otherwise cutting my wrists and feeling like shit about myself. I was incredibly blessed to find a few new niches, the most important one being the one I found in the theatre community. I found an outlet for my music, my emotions, and my creativity, sure, but I found something a bit unexpected and incredibly beautiful, too. I found a tribe with whom I felt comfortable being dark and twisty in front of, and they went above and beyond in defining what friendship means, at its core. They wrapped my arms up with steady hands to counteract my shaky ones, they reminded me what was real when my panic wouldn’t let me breathe, and they always indulged my tendency to hug for an extended period of time. They helped me stay afloat when I was too tired to tread water, but still afraid of drowning.

That brings me to another dark place. My second suicide attempt was in November of 2015. I struggled for a long time with actually classifying it as an “attempt”, because to be frank, it was pretty futile. Recently, I’ve decided that it counts simply because my actual state of mind was one focused on not wanting to be alive. It was during the run of my favorite musical I’ve been in, on a Thursday. I knew that I wasn’t doing very well at hiding how panicked I felt. And so I went home and overdosed. I knew that it wasn’t enough to die. I was just scared and everything felt like it was on hyper speed, and I was crawling out of my skin. I just didn’t want to feel that way. I tweeted, and I quote, “I can’t keep myself safe tonight. And I don’t quite know what that means.”

While I was just starting to shiver on my bedroom floor, blood trickling down my arm, someone noticed. My phone lit up with the voice of a friend, who ended up coming to save me from myself. My memories of that night are hazy and scattered, clouded by anxiety, tears, and the pills that were supposed to make me not want to die. But what I remember most is one of my best friends, driving to buy us milkshakes, asking me to just stay awake and keep talking. I remember the look in his eyes when I tried to respond. It did not hit me until right that second that perhaps I did not go alone. It had never occurred to me how truly, truly there were other people who were willing and trying to carry the weight of my world with me. I didn’t recognize that I was scaring other people, hurting other people. I didn’t know that I mattered enough to do that. 

Sometime, I stopped shaking. Even later, I stopped crying. And by the grace of pure friendship, pure love, I went to bed a little less broken. I woke up not a zombie, but perhaps a paper doll instead. I found the stage on the next day, and it felt like a welcome back home. I lived. 

I am so glad that I lived.

That instance was such a wake-up call for me. I have tried to be a helpful voice for the mental health community, and I have tried to preach honesty in spite of the things that scare me to death. I have tried to repeat over and over what is real and true: People need other people. We were not meant to go alone. We will break in this live, and so it is a privilege to go hand in hand, to hold each other in the hurt and in the healing. It is okay, it is exceptional to ask for help. And someone will help. Someone will. There is still time left, tasks undone, words unsaid. There are mountains to climb and mountains to move. Today is not all there is. These feelings are not all there is. 

And by writing these things, I knew that I was “better”. I knew I wasn’t well, but goddamnit, I was better. I wasn’t the smart-but-stupid high schooler cutting her thighs under a table at Buffalo Wild Wings unbeknownst to her friends. I was vocal about my struggles, my relapses, my recovery. I was allowing people in to see the highlight reel and the deleted scenes. I had grown in so many ways. 

Except.

I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. A check is no good unless you take it to the bank. And I was holding mine tight in clenched fists. I wasn’t spending what I was earning.

In April of 2016, my mom was in a horrific car accident. Someone ran a red light going around 65 mph and t-boned her. Her car spun 7 times, her driver’s seat was shoved at least a foot and a half further inward, and somehow twisted. It took 40 minutes to get her out of the car, and it took even longer to ascertain what was broken. She made out with a broken hip and femur, and multiple breaks in her pelvis and ribs. Her right ankle was completely shattered. Her spleen was lacerated. Her hand was torn apart, because she tried to get out. 

But she was alive. She was broken in a million ways. Things were chaotic and horrifying, and we cried so, so much. But she was alive.

The first weekend, my brother and I were encouraged to sit with her and make sure that we knew what her wishes were, should worse come to worst. 

After her first surgery, her surgeon told us that he was sure it was only a matter of time before he would be amputating. She would never walk again.

That same night, I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had, on the floor of a hallway in a hospital where I was convinced that people I loved would only come to die.

She moved to a nursing home the day before Mother’s Day. She screamed when anyone tried to move her, and she could not sit up, let alone come to see me in the show I was in rehearsals for. I had no idea how to pay our bills and keep everything afloat. I took up smoking, briefly, and I otherwise begged for the Earth to swallow me whole. 

And yet, there were triumphs that, to the outside eye, seemed small and insignificant, but to me and to us, they felt like gold medals. I was there the first time they sat her up on the side of her bed. I was there the first time she stood with the parallel bars in therapy. When I sat singing and crying center stage on my closing night, she was in the audience, in a wheelchair I had pulled enough strings to find a van to transfer. I cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner by myself for the first time and transported it to the nursing home, where we ate on a bedside table, laughing and smiling. She blew out candles in a homemade funfetti cake on her birthday in December, and the significance of celebrating the day she began this life was not lost on me.

There were hard days. The hardware in her ankle fell apart, and warranted more surgery, more time away from home. I worked insane hours, and was essentially forced into giving up my theatre outlet. I contacted suicide hotlines more than once, eventually only staying because my mom needed me. Christmas was small and quiet; I didn’t even put a tree up. There was an infection. Her good roommate passed away. I sliced the most noticeable cut into my arm and no one noticed.

But we still found ourselves at a new year, a chance to hold tight to a blank slate, and I found myself, as I usually do, focused on a set of words that fit my heart. These were given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends, and they sort of set my mind on fire. 

“Goals are great, but without action, they’re just ideas.”

I wrote a list for 2017. I decided, point blank, that it would be MY year. And I wanted to make goals that were also plans. I wanted to feel, for once, like I hadn’t failed. 

More than anything, I didn’t want to fail myself. So I made a list:

  • Make more time for your art. 
  • Get your mom home. 
  • Find a new job where you can grow in a place where you feel appreciated. 
  • Stop letting people who treat you like a doormat back into your heart. 
  • Stop hurting yourself. 
  • Let the voices in your head be nice to you.

Happy New Year, indeed. I turned 24 in January and then accepted a management position, where I felt confident, and I knew I was hard-working, bold, creative, accommodating, and professional. However, sometimes, things simply are not a good fit, and I knew pretty quickly that I deserved better. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am thankful for my time, but I will never, ever regret taking the leap and beginning to fill out job applications. While I worked on finding a new opportunity, I also revamped my home in preparation for my mom to come home, 14 months after she left. She moved home at the end of May, walking through the very door she had left on a sunny Saturday. She walked. My hands were cut to shit from moving furniture and making sure things were accessible for her, but to see her sit in her own living room and cry, surrounded by her dogs, was among my favorite things I’ve witnessed in my life. Over the past year, our relationship had gotten so much healthier and stronger, and I am fiercely glad for the good that came out of a terrible situation. With that goal accomplished, I gave myself a little time and a little grace. I accepted a job handwriting wedding invites. I painted canvases for my friends. I worked backstage on a show. Sure, it wasn’t performing, but I found myself immersed in music and stories and the very smell of a stage, and it was everything my soul needed to heal. I stood on my front porch while a boy tried to kiss me goodnight, and I very pointedly counteracted him with a “goodbye”. I have since proved that statement to be final. I am very proud of that. 

But what I am most proud of all is that, since mid-December, I have not taken a razor blade to my body. I have contemplated. I have carried a tool in my phone case. I have worn a rubber band to snap. But I have not broken. I found myself thinking about how heart-wrenchingly disappointing the first cut of the year is. It feels like a failure, a sinking back into the gutter. This year, I simply decided that I wouldn’t give my heart that cross to bear. So I didn’t. This is the longest clean streak I’ve maintained since I began self-harming when I was 14. And you know what? This one doesn’t feel like a “streak”. This one feels like freedom.

I guess that brings me to today. I am in my second month at a new job, and I feel like I can breathe again. Everyone is kind and funny and goal-oriented and easy to get along with. I didn’t realize how soul draining my old job was until I finally found a place that feels like light. I still overthink, because it’s who I am, but I think I’m doing okay. I have a million opportunities to be nice to people, and that makes all the difference. I go home to a mom and 2 dogs who love me, and now I have time to see shows and grab froyo with my friends. I laugh more. I draw more. It’s nice to make marks on paper; they’re prettier than the ones I always made on my arms. I hug just as hard as I always did, but I save them for the people who deserve them. And I’m okay. My hair is getting long again and I don’t second guess every move I make and I feel like I can set new goals and make new plans and dream new dreams. There’s the short term ones: stop biting your nails and try to remember to buy birthday cards before the ACTUAL birthday, and there’s the long term ones: finish your bachelor’s degree, buy a car, have a baby, fall in love. Things that I used to think were unattainable for a quiet, sad, broken girl like me became real things that I know I am capable of achieving. I don’t know exactly when the switch flipped, but I stopped being quiet, sad, and broken, and became loud and strong and tough and scrappy, instead. I am a multitude of words and events and wishes and ideas, each one better than the last. I am a future. I am a hope.

I am better.

I am well.

I used to think that “well” was a destination. Once I endured the long, hard journey, I would lay a foundation and build a new home. I would shed my sadness like an old coat, and bask in the glow of happily ever after. However, I don’t think it works that way, and if I’m being honest, I’m glad it doesn’t. Well is when I buy myself flowers because sometimes Thursday becomes a great day to love yourself. Well is remembering to do 4 loads of laundry so the dirty stuff stops cluttering the floor and the brain. Well is still crying in my friends’ passenger seats, but knowing that the hands that hold me do need me and want me, and that someday, I will get to hold them and return the favor. Well is asking a million questions, but still choosing to believe my new coworkers when they proclaim that I’m a quick learner and a sweet spirit. Well is in my mother’s and my renewed relationship, and it is in the ballsiness it took for me to call back for a job interview, and it is in the steady, sure hand that threw the last razor blade away.

So. If you’ve made it this far, let me tie this up as neatly as someone who has always been messy can try to summarize.

Life is hard. To borrow a cliché, none of us make it out alive. But on a day like today, which happens to be World Suicide Prevention Day, I think it is of utmost importance to say that choosing to stay, to fight, to dream, to cry, and to live – is worth it. It is always worth it. People will break your heart, be it friends or boyfriends or girlfriends or family. Situations will shatter your soul, the car accidents and the trauma and the toxic jobs and the deaths and the wondering why. And the thing is, it’s okay. When life gives you lemons, you are not obligated to make lemonade. You can throw up a middle finger, yell at the sky that these lemons suck, and go off and find the oranges or limes. You just have to make the choice to find what works better for you. You have to actively choose hope, choose community, choose help, choose rest, choose your future. Choose what works for you, and know that it might not be the first or second or even fourth thing you try. But do keep trying. Because one day, the sun comes up, and you notice the pinks and yellows, and you take stock of how nice it is to notice. And strangers become friends, and you can’t imagine how you ever lived without them. Your future becomes your present, and if you don’t do what you always wanted to now, then when will you? The risk ends up becoming the best thing that ever happened to you. The deepest wound becomes a scar that you wear like a badge of honor. You made it. You made it. You made it. 

Whoever you are, if you need to hear it, you can make it too. Sometimes the healing takes 10 days. Sometimes it takes 10 months. Sometimes it takes 10 years. But it is so, so, blessedly, beautifully, wonderfully worth it. 

Here’s to the surprises to come. Here’s to the leap days that didn’t happen. Here’s to the rainy Tuesday afternoons and the excitable opening nights. Here’s to what we lose, and here’s to what we win. Here’s to the hands we hold. Here’s to the stories we tell. Here’s to learning all we can learn, and still knowing nothing, not really. Here’s to learning who we really are. Here’s to choosing to stay. Here’s to finding what we were made for.

And most of all, and more than anything, here is to choosing to get better. Here is to getting, choosing, being, and living well. ❤️

Thank you for sharing these roads with me, in each season, on the dark days and the light ones. This is only the beginning.

Always,

Rianne Elizabeth

Musings on July 4th: Life does come back.

One of my favorite pieces was written by one of my all-time favorite humans, Jamie Tworkowski, about this holiday 7 years ago. I visit this one often on the 4th, and different sentiments stand out to me at different times.Today it is this: “Perhaps you have to have a little bit of hope to believe that beauty can be found, to believe that life does come back, that something can surprise you. And maybe they’re somehow related. Maybe wonder feeds hope and hope feeds wonder. You see something beautiful and it reminds you that it’s possible to see something beautiful.”

2 years ago, I posted this with a different reflection. 2 years ago, I posted my first copy of this book, before Jamie added a few stories in a new edition and then his words and my name in my copy, before he hugged me and told me he was proud to call me a friend. 2 years ago, I had white gauze wrapped around my wrist, and I didn’t feel compelled to crop it out of my Instagram photo; my friends had already seen the blood and had been putting me back together again. I was in the midst of trying to know what hope was, and trying to believe that it could surprise me. I was scaring my friends and I was scaring myself, and I don’t know still who I am more sorry for. I was in the business of dark and twisties, of fighting for a life I still wasn’t sure that I wanted.

Jamie was right. Life does come back. Maybe this is as good a post as any to reflect on how I’m 6+ months free of self-injury. Back in January, I found myself thinking how disappointing the first cut of the year has always felt, like a permanent shattering of the clean slate. So I vowed to myself that I simply wouldn’t make it. I would keep the slate. I feel like I’ve reached something I haven’t ever reached before. It was something I think I always wanted, but I was never quite sure it really existed. Maybe that’s the hope I had dreamed of. I really do like the way it feels. 

“It’s too easy to forget, to believe the black night sky is always only black,” Jamie wrote. On a night where it is filled with color, perhaps it’s nice to simply notice. Things change. We change. It gets better (and sometimes worse, but then better again). We are born to break, but also born to mend. We are born to know beauty, and also to be it and become it and learn to recognize it, in July skies with our friends and in quiet spaces with ourselves. 

Tonight, I hope you felt the fireworks. I hope you noticed. I hope you felt free and I hope you knew how lovely it is to just be alive. ❤️

Hold On.

There’s a scar on my right forearm, a little closer to my elbow than to my wrist, and it runs parallel to a smaller scar with a smaller story. It’s a scar that has found a home in my skin since the last time I’ve actually sat down to write, and perhaps that speaks volumes about where I am these days. It’s a scar that my eyes catch sight of at least a hundred times a day, or so it feels like. No matter what I’m doing, it’s there in the corners of my focus. And I haven’t yet decided quite how I feel about it.

I don’t remember the exact day that I made this particular mark on my skin. I know that I chose a spot much higher up than I would normally self-harm on, partially because I was tired of rinsing blood from the inside of my bracelets. If I’m being honest though, I know that primarily, I chose that spot because it was noticeable. I wanted someone to notice that I was aching, and aching so badly that I would need to slice into my own skin. The thing is, I suppose I neglected to take into account the very difference in skin from my wrist up to a smoother, fleshier area of my arm. It ended up being a cut that scared me. It was long, deep, and it stung like a mother fucker. I made the wound just before heading to work, so I cleaned it up as best I could and went on my way. No one mentioned it that night, and I relished in the throbbing that felt like a sad, warped form of release. Cutting that day seemed like a question. The silence of the people around me while my skin screamed triumphantly in discomfort, was the answer.

In the weeks since I made that particular cut, I’ve had two pointed conversations about it. Once, my mom asked if there was something on my arm. She was likely to have had numerous chances to see the cut in various stages of healing, but the first time she noticed it, it was definitely just a scar. An afterthought. It was actually looking very similar to a burn on my left hand that I had gotten from taking cupcakes out of the oven a little bit haphazardly. I busied myself with something that would hide it, and I lied through my teeth: “Oh, I burned myself on a bread tray at work. Hey, should I water your plants while I’m up?” Later that same evening, I recounted the story to a friend, who confessed that she had, in fact, noticed the cut in its early days. “Oh yeah, I saw it. I remember thinking ‘ooh, Rianne, that’s a little high up.. Yikes,’ but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. I figured I would take your lead.” Perhaps that was an opportunity for me, to scream, to shout, to cry, to beg for help. To admit that I’m not doing okay and that it feels like my very world is crushing me. To share that I feel like I can’t take care of the hard stuff, let alone myself. To look someone in the eye and tell the truth about how tired and wobbly and dark and twisty I feel. And yet, I kept quiet. I let out an easy little laugh and changed the subject. I swallowed my pain, and I let it be just that. My pain.

I would call these past few weeks, these past few months, among the hardest of my life. Life is made up of seasons, and this particular one has been a long, hard winter. I have been busying myself with nothing but work and my mom’s care, and isolating myself from my friends. I have steered clear of theatre. I have shied away from texts that might lead to real contact with real people. I have used the easy excuses – I have to work, I don’t have the money, I’m just so tired, – and while they are true, they are just that. They’re excuses. At any point in this season, I have had the power to change my own course. That’s one of the hardest things to admit. At any point, I could change my own course. Depression lies when it tells me (and when it tells you) that it’s impossible to find friends, to find hope, to find change. Depression lies when it suggests that being alone is better. Depression lies when it steals your energy and turns you into someone you hate. But you know what feels good and right and true? Knowing that the simple task of admitting my pain is enough to melt the iceberg in my throat. I type these words through blurry eyes, and I think I know now why I put this blog off for so long.

I was afraid of feeling it.

I still am.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and in years prior, I have hung signs and created Instagram challenges and fundraisers and I have shouted community and love to anyone who would listen. I have felt like a strong, genuine voice. I have felt like a beacon of hope. This year, if I’m honest, I feel like shit. I’m tired and sad, and again, bogged down with work and my mom’s care. But beyond that, sometimes it feels like a lie. How do I preach the things I haven’t been living? How do I inspire others to seek counseling, or at least the ear of a friend, when I can’t even get out of bed? How do I tell the people around me that their lives matter, when I’m taking my own life and slashing it apart with a razor blade?

And it occurs to me, time and time again, that when I allow it to be, my voice is my power. When it comes down to brass tacks, I am still who I have always been and I still believe what I have believed. Perhaps there is strength in being soft, in being honest even when it’s broken, even when it’s quiet. I’ve been telling myself over and over because it feels right and it feels true: Sorrow is an injury, but it is not a death sentence. Minds change and seasons change, and even I know that I will not wear this pain forever. That’s where hope comes in. Hope stays real. Hope is the small, unwavering light that continues to wake me up in the morning, even when I think I don’t want to. There is hope here. There is still life here.

Perhaps that’s what the scar means. It is a testament to my lonely season. It is a real life analogy of the pain I took into my own hands and carried on my own. It looks healed, but it isn’t non existent. It isn’t nothing now. It is still there, a constant, every day reminder of a hurt too big for me to handle. It moves and changes and lives and survives with me. It lives. It doesn’t hurt the way it used to, but I haven’t yet forgotten it’s sting.

And so I say what I have always said, what I have always believed to be true. People need other people. We need friends who will check up on us, who will root for us when we are up and carry us when we are down. We need hands to hold while we walk through our dark seasons, hands who will find the hidden light switches and candles along the way. Beyond that, there is a degree of honesty that I think we could all afford to learn a little bit better. Perhaps it isn’t always best to take someone else’s lead. There will be times when it is okay to pull your friends aside and ask them about how they’re doing, ask them about how they’ve been acting, ask them about that cut on their arm. A few minutes of discomfort is a small price to pay to ensure that our friends and family stay alive, that they know their worth in this world. Some of us are good at asking for help, and some of us simply aren’t. It doesn’t mean we don’t need it. It might mean that we’re fiercely independent and we don’t know how to need. It may be that we’re nervous and scared and we don’t know who or how to ask. It may be something else entirely. I can’t speak for everyone.

But I can speak for this. Loving your friends is always worth it. Loving them when they’re messy is worth it too. There are almost always indicators that someone is struggling, and it is always worth it to speak up now, rather than in a hospital room or at a funeral. If you notice that your friends are checked out, or acting differently, or talking about wanting to harm themselves – look closer. Ask the hard questions. Wait to hear the hard answers. And remind them what’s true at the base of it all: life is worth living.

I look at my scar, how it finds its home in the hodge podge of old war wounds on my arm, and I know that waiting to be noticed in our pain is not all there is. We have to be willing to occasionally swallow our own vulnerability and let at least one person know that we are reaching our limit of pain. We all lead busy lives, and though it is not ideal, sometimes we just don’t live in a way that allows us to notice the details concerning our friends when they are hurting. We have to learn to be so brave as to speak up. It is one thing to preach over and over that people need other people. It is another thing to take action for our own wellbeing. We have to choose to speak up. We have to choose love. A check is no good unless you take it to the bank. Take it there. 

And that’s advice for me, too. Ask for help if you need help. If counseling is something you need and have access to, I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you aren’t in a situation where it’s accessible, resources like 1-800-273-TALK or texting TWLOHA to 741741 have proven to be very valuable in desperate moments. Make sure you get outside at least once a day. Remember to eat something. Remember to drink something. And if all you can do is go back to bed, then maybe change your sheets or make yourself a playlist to fall asleep to. Keep yourself safe. You don’t have to move mountains. Just keeping yourself alive is a job important enough.

That’s the goal, at the end of the day. Keep living. Hope to be surprised. Love your friends fiercely enough that they believe life is worth living, too. Lean on each other when it gets hard to bear. Your friends really do love you, and they really do need you. Learn to believe it, even if you think it isn’t true.

I Believe by Christina Perri played while I was writing this, and I was struck with a phrase contained in the song. It’s what I’ve been trying to write this whole night.

“I wish that you could see your scars turn into beauty. I believe that today it’s okay to be not okay. Hold on, hold on.”

I am only one broken person trying to break gracefully enough that I can still be a voice for those who break like me. I am not doing okay right now, and I could use a little checking in. But there is work to be done and conversations to be had and songs to be sung. I’ll be here waiting for that, always learning and relearning how to hold and be held, need and be needed on this journey. I hope for change, I hope for peace, and I hope that God hears all of my prayers.

And the music plays. Hold on. Hold on.

(Disclaimer: You can ask me about my scars. It’s uncomfy, it’s weird, and it’s allowed. Mental illness is real, and it is okay that this has happened to me. Join the conversation. Let’s talk.)

A Letter to Myself (and my PTSD) at 16

Hi there, sweet girl.

I see you. I know you feel invisible, but I see you. I see long hair and big blue eyes, big enough to match the big heart that still beats in spite of itself. You’re still alive, you know. They didn’t take that away from you. I know you’re begging the very floor you’re laying on to swallow you whole, and you stare at the ceiling above you praying that it crashes in, but listen to me. You’re still here. And I know you’ll roll your eyes at this, you’ll deny it, you’ll want anything else – but girlfriend, here is an okay place to be. It’s okay. 

But hey, I’m not going to discount what is actually real and true: right here and right now, nothing is okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that they hurt you and you probably hurt you a little bit too, and I’m sorry that it still hurts. You deserved better. You hear that? You did. You deserved better. I know that you’re acutely aware of every place he ever struck you, like old war wounds on rainy days. I know that you lay on the floor because it is the absolute lowest place to lay your head. I know that it is also because your bed has become a crime scene, the very last place where he tried to steal the air from your lungs so that you couldn’t cry when he stole your body from you, too. They stitched you up where his fist tore you apart, but they couldn’t stitch up the parts of you that still feel broken. They did put a label on it though. Four letters: PTSD. You wear your diagnosis like a bandage, and you wait for the healing to come. Baby, it’s not going to come today or tomorrow or even next year, and I’m so sorry. You can wrap words and pills and therapy all around and over what hurts, but none of it is going to stop the bleeding.

You know, I know that you hate your body now. It was once a home to hope and love and growth and life, and now it has become a graveyard. It is a home to death, to destruction, to pain, to loss. You’re scared to feel so haunted in your own skin. You trace your scars with your ever-shaking hands, you run your tongue over the chip in your tooth, and you wonder if this body will ever feel like yours again. You don’t look too closely in the mirror; you don’t want to see the pain in your own eyes. The dead nothingness that you find when you accidentally steal a glance is even worse. Showers are torture. Something that was once a comfort has become a chore. You haven’t been able to touch your own breasts since he did. They are more than foreign; they are dirty. And you try and you try, but you can never quite scrub him out of your skin. He’s always there, in everything you do, and you still wake up with his hands around your neck. You scream and you scream, and by the time you realize he isn’t there, you’re too scared to breathe normally anyway. He’s still won. He’s still got you.

You can’t tell anyone, even still. How do you begin that conversation? How do you invite someone into your graveyard to see the haunted bits and pieces that are left? You don’t want to scare them. You don’t want them to be haunted, too. And perhaps, even worse, you can’t handle the rejection. The first time you told anyone about the abuse, they told you that you were exaggerating. Then, you were lying. Then it just became a downer. You’re too intense. You’re not fun anymore. No, no, the risk of opening up is too big to take. You can’t handle people running away, not again. Not anymore. No, it’s easier to keep to yourself. The broken thing will build itself up in silence. The ghosts will live in the shell where they were brought to life, and death. They will howl and you will bear it. You’ve born worse, haven’t you?

But look. I get to write to you about what you feel and think and say and don’t say, because guess what? You survive it. You do. He didn’t get you for good. He didn’t win for life. You make new friends and you don’t hide the fact that you’re a little broken. They’re actually a little broken, too. You cautiously tiptoe onto stages that feel like new homes, and you aren’t scared to be what you are, for the first time. You learn to love the chip in your tooth because it means resilience. You cut your hair off and wear it curly, because he liked it straight and long, and you finally get to choose what makes you happy. You start to read books again, write poetry again, and get good grades again. You sleep through the night sometimes, and even better, you sleep in your own bed. You let a boy kiss you, and you don’t scream or cry. You plant flowers, and they live. You live. You realize that you’ve been doing it all along.

But I can’t sugarcoat it to you, because it wouldn’t be fair. You will still hurt. You will hurt a lot. You’ll cry a lot, too. You’ll cry in the bathroom at school when the police question you straight through all 3 lunch periods. You’ll cry on anniversaries of events that your brain won’t ever let you forget. You’ll cry the first (and second, and third) time a boy that you trust and may even love tries to do more than just kiss you. You’ll cry the first time you let him. You’ll cry in your friends’ cars, for the same reasons as you’ve been crying for years, but it’ll still hurt your chest and your soul and you won’t be able to stop. You’ll cry when you sneak away during rehearsal to slice your skin open again. You’ll cry on the good therapist’s couch, and on the bad one’s, too. And somehow, you still won’t drown. You’ll feel like you’re going under. You’ll be pulled up by friends and medication and musicals and counseling sessions and Taylor Swift albums, and then dragged back down by panic attacks and hurtful words and flashbacks and nightmares. 

And he’s going to pull you back under, too. He’s going to come back. I wish I could warn you of that more than anything else. He is going to come for you one more time. He’ll break your bones, but he won’t break your spirit. You’ll think that he does, though. You’ll come home from school, worn out and defeated. You’ll relapse, hard, and you’ll try to die once or twice. You’ll see him nearly every night when you try to sleep, even though he’s locked up. You’ll know he can’t come for you, and you’ll double, no, triple check the locks on every door just in case. You’ll jump and panic when anyone touches your neck. You’ll have a hard time letting anyone in. You’ll feel bogged down by your abuse-learned behaviors. And you know what? You might be like this forever.

You know what else?

That just might be okay.

You’ll fall in love with metaphors, particularly one where you view life as a dance. Sometimes, it will be more difficult. Sometimes it will be a lot of work. Sometimes it will be lighthearted and fun. Other times it will be melancholy and dark. Occasionally you will dance a solo, but you’ll live for the group numbers. Many a great dance is not danced alone. And so you will lean on others. You will sometimes lead, and many times, follow. You will leap and twirl and sometimes fall. But you will get up. You will go on.

There’s so much life left to dance, my friend. Just wait. You’ll learn how to breathe again. There will be graduations and weddings and shows and wine nights and new jobs and good concerts and precious tea parties. There will be car accidents and a boy who decides he doesn’t want you, and you will lose friends and you will screw up and almost lose a job and you will take all the pills you can find, and then shake and cry while your friend holds you and talks you through the night. And the night will pass. There will be a morning. You’ll plant pink roses at her grave, and you’ll blow out candles surrounded by people who love you. You’ll cry on stage, and for once, your tears have a place where they belong. Your friends will learn your triggers, and they’ll know where to touch you and when, they’ll sit with you in emergency rooms and at coffee shops and in their cars late at night. They’ll say the right things, and sometimes the wrong things, because they’re human too. You’ll do the same. You’ll have the privilege of holding them sometimes. You’ll learn about what helps you cope, and you’ll learn about what will always ache, and you’ll write about it. You’ll decide that you’re pretty good at that. You’ll give and take and break and mend and hurt and celebrate and live. You’re going to live.

I know it’s a lot to think about while you’re at your lowest, but I just need you to please, please believe that there is a place for you beyond this floor. There are so many places and people and surprises left to find. Your past, your pain, your PTSD – they are crucial parts of your being, but they are not all of your being. They don’t dictate your art or your laugh or your future. I’m so excited for you to learn about coping and surviving. I’m so excited for you to discover theatre and writing and friendship, how much healing they bring to you. You don’t know much about being tough and scrappy yet, but you don’t have to know it to be a warrior already. You’re here for a reason. You’re brave and ballsy. You’re loving and loved. Learn to believe it.

Oh sweet girl, you just can’t even fathom yet the pain that is to come.

But you can’t imagine the joy, either. It’s worth it. Okay? It is.

Keep dancing. Keep going. Get up.

Go on.

With love and hope and the hug I wish I could give you right now,
You at 23