The dawn is breaking

There are many misconceptions about anxiety, PTSD or any other mental disorder. To me this is surprising since mental disorders are now more common than ‘the big three’ combined – diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I must admit that before I experienced mental health problems I also had no idea what PTSD or depression is. I just knew it’s not something you want to have. I like to think that I would have had enough compassion back then that if someone approached me with this issue I would have known to shut up and listen. Knew not to talk about something I knew nothing about.

Since dealing with anxiety and PTSD I have met all sorts of people and experienced all sorts of reactions. Negative ones were and are unfortunately more common than positive ones. It never ceases to amaze me how little people know about something so widely spread.

‘Just stop thinking about it’.

‘You are talking about it too much’.

‘Just get over it.’

‘If you dwell on the past you will never be happy.’

‘Snap out of it.’

There is probably no need for me to say what this kind of a response does to someone struggling with a mental disorder. Well, maybe there is since I get this response often. And it usually comes with the mandatory eye roll and a patronizing smile. So let me be absolutely clear: a mental disorder is not something you snap out of. It is not something that just goes away if you stop thinking about it. Making light of it does more damage than silence ever could.. It makes us look like we are creating unnecessary drama which is not the case. There are wounds, terrible and deep wounds that never show on the body but are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.

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So what is the appropriate reaction when someone tells you they have a mental disorder? Listen. LISTEN. You might not understand, but keep in mind that depression is something people die from. Something kids die from. Be kind even if you don’t understand it. I have never been depressed, but I know well what PTSD does. How deep it runs. How much courage it takes sometimes to get out of bed and put on clothes, put on a brave face and go out into the world.

I have received kindness too and I am thankful to everyone who offered it. They made me feel that yes, I might be damaged, broken or lost but that’s okay. I am still a person, a good person and that one day I will surely be found.

And to those who talk about it at parties and use mine (or whoever’s) mental disorder as a source of amusement, know this if you never know the rest: the night is darkest just before dawn. And while my dawn is breaking, your night hasn’t even started yet.

My Anxious Heart

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Take me to church

‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into abbys, the abbys will gaze back into you.’ Nietzsche

The last few weeks were hard. Were incredibly hard. After writing about sexual abuse the whole thing just became so real, so undeniable, that I couldn’t even stand it. I felt it made my blog dirty. It made me dirty. I spent many days gripping the toilet seat, desperately trying to throw up all the shame and pain. I spent many sleepless nights staring into the wall, desperately trying to come to terms with what has happened. And I spent many mornings barely holding my coffee cup because my hands were bruised from getting that anger out of me.

But it needed to come out. It had to be written. It had to be processed. There were many factors that caused it to surface; my therapist being one of them – and I thank him for that.

I am Catholic. I grew up in a household where God was a punishing tool. ‘You will go to hell’ were probably the most common words in that house, no matter what my sin was. I was not condemned with only the original sin – I was born and that was the biggest sin of all. One that could never be redeemed or forgiven.

My grandmother and my mother are both very religious. Every Sunday I was forced to go to Church. I hated it. There was nothing quite like it. A bad feeling that I cannot even describe. Maybe most similar to anger. I always thought it was because I had to go while my mother didn’t but over the years I realized that wasn’t the main cause. I hated standing there, in that old cold church, listening about heaven and hell. About justice. About bad deeds that are punished and good deeds that are rewarded. My mouth were formed in a thin line but inside me I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Filled with rage. How dare they preach about redemption, about forgiveness, about heaven when some people experience nothing but hell. When some people are forever damned to torture. When some people are always unforgiven.

The God they preached about in that church has let me down with the day I was born. Listening to how that same God forgives me was ridicules. It was not my fault I was born. It is not my fault I exist. There is nothing about my existence that should be forgiven.

So I listened to those lessons every Sunday. My eyes were often filled with tears. From anger, agony and hopelessness. I could not afford the luxury of having the hope that I would be saved. Hopelessness was welcome; it meant no disappointments, no additional trauma and no additional pain.

A few weeks ago after posting about sexual abuse I fell apart. I was on my knees, beaten. I woke up in the middle of the night, eyes sore from tears. There was a constant ache in my chest, a pain so brutal it took my breath away. I looked up to the sky full of stars and wished I had a choice between heaven and hell. I spoke to God. I asked for help. Again I wanted to be saved. I even contemplated going to Church. In some crazy moment I thought that the same God that was used to punish me would be the one who would save me.

I was Catholic. My distaste for the religion has in fact nothing to do with God; I do not believe he was the one who punished me just like I don’t believe he can be the one who could save me. I do not go to Church. Ever. I was Catholic.

‘You will go to hell’ my mother used to say. She was absolutely right. I went to hell. I’ve been there. That same hell she helped to create for me. A hell, so black and brutal that I thought I will never escape it. I’ve met many demons along the way. I fought hard and I still fight – for my piece of heaven. It exists, you know? It’s where I’m going.

And there isn’t a god in this existence that could take that away from me.

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My Anxious Heart

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Not a big deal

Have you heard of Brock Turner? He is the student who sexually assaulted an unconscious girl behind the dumpster at Standford university. He was found guilty by all twelve members of the jury and sentenced to – get this – 6 months of prison. No, not 60 months or 6 years. Six months. Half of the year. A hockey season.

The victim had a few drinks too many at the frat party and woke up naked in the hospital under the ‘Rape victim’ section. With no idea what has happened. She didn’t remember. She doesn’t remember.

I do.

So two years ago I was standing in a bridal salon. I had finally found THE dress. As I had my wedding dress on and as I stared at the miror, there were sparkles in my eyes and an amazed smile on my lips. I loved the dress. It was like it was made for me. But something was off that day, something bothered me. It was a documentary I had seen a few days ago on tv. It was about the sexual abuse that went on inside of the church walls. They had an interview with an irish priest who molested children for 30 years all over the United States.

As my fingertips gently touched the soft white chiffon fabric I became nauseous. My legs shook and everything around me went fuzzy. My stomach was queezy and heavy; the salon girls sat me down and offered me chocolate; ‘Many of the brides get nervous’. But not this bride. This bride had remembered, had seen, had experienced and had known. At that moment I had known. But it wasn’t a big deal.

It’s not a big deal.

My parents owned a restaurant close to our home. It was a big place with a huge garden and huge windows. They had big ledges where I sat many an afternoon with a book, surrounded by my mother’s flowers, trying to survive in the hell my parents have created for me at home.

It was a late summer afternoon. I can clearly remember that I wore white shorts that had small roses on them and a white T-shirt that was dirty from running around. I remember it was hot. One of those humid summer days when you just can’t wait for that cool breeze that the evening brings. Funny, I don’t remember that breeze that evening.

I was outside sitting on that window ledge and watching the post office across the road. My parents sat 30 meters away from at one of the garden tabels, chatting with my uncle and having a dandy afternoon. A man approached me. I knew him, he was one of the regulars in the restaurant although he never ate, he just drank behind the bar. An old man with mustache. He came to stand very close to me; definitely at a distance that made me feel uncomfortable. Now, how his hand got into my pants I am not sure, but I remember everything it did there. My body froze. Completely froze. A tornado could not move me. My hands were gripping the ledge so tightly I had marks on my fingers for days. While his fingers were rubbing, massaging, kneading, entering and his other in his pants was moving, my eyes were glued to the post office. People coming and going about their business. It felt like an eternity before he stopped touching me although it must have been only 10 or 15 minutes.

Once he finished he smiled and walked away. I am leaving out a part of the story because it horrifies me. At one point he asked ‘Are you enjoying yourself’ and I can still feel my head nodding. I feel guilty beyond belief that my head involunteraly when up and down. I still cannot understand it.

I sat on that ledge until it was dark and I was called inside by my father. I sat down behind the table because my father ordered pizza for us and my uncle. There was laughter, lots and lots of laughter. I remember sitting there holding a slice of pizza, in complete shock and disbelief. I could see my father laughing loudly, it was like in slow motion. How can it be normal for a child of 9 years old to be sexually abused while her father is sitting 30 meters away? How can that be? How can you not be suspicious when an old guy is standing next to your child? Would you be suspicious? Would I be? Yes, I would be. I would have raised hell.

And I still thought it wasn’t a big deal.

I got married in that dress that was tainted with this memory. The innocence of white was taken out of it just like it was taken out of me so many years ago.

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You might be wondering what happened to the bastard. Nothing, to my knowledge. He was old even back then, but then again, everyone seems old when you’re 9.

The Stanford victim wrote a letter during trial to the man who sexually assaulted her and it was read out loud in court. The opening line was ‘You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside of me and that’s why we are here’. This line has turned my stomach but gave me the courage to write about this. She was not raped, but sexually assaulted. I always believed that without penetration it’s not really that bad. Not a big deal, as I would say.

How wrong I was.

It is a fucking big deal.

My Anxious Heart

 

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A 20 dollar bill

There was a teacher who wanted to teach her students something about self worth. She took a 20 dollar bill and asked the students who wants it. They all raised their hands. She took the bill and crumpled it and then again asked the students if they still want it. Again all hands went up. She proceeded to throw the bill on the floor, she stepped on it and grinded it. She picked up the bill, now all crumpled, dirty and grinded and asked the students again. ‘Who wants it?’ And again all hands went up.

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I could be sitting in a coffee shop or driving to work and all of a sudden it would hit me: oh my god, I’m nothing. Nothing. NOTHING.

My worth has always been dependable. It is not something that is just there, something that just happens. It is something that has to be earned, something that has to be built on suffering and pain. But this goes just for me, mind you – in my mind everyone is worthy of everything. Except me.

It is no big secret that I wasn’t wanted. My father told me my mother jumped into a bush of roses when she was seven months along with me. She was severly cut and scratched and had to be taken to the emergency room. It is safe to conclude that I arrived into this world already scarred with nothingness and my childhood has already been determined by feelings of despair and self hate. I cannot begin to tell you how nothingness feels; it creeps into your mind and eats and eats at you until you just want to give up and stop pretending you are something. Anything. It is a disgusting feeling that makes your stomach queezy, your heart heavy and your soul shattered. All my life I have so wanted to be something. So wanted to hear I am worthy of the air I breathe, of the words I say and that at the end of the day I don’t need to feel guilty for my existance. Once you truly believe you are nothing it is nearly impossible to convince yourself you are something. No job promotion, no new car, no money, no accomplishment can bring you that worth. No matter how many times I achieved something and sat down to celebrate, that feeling, that small voice would always remind me it is not enough. I have been scarred with nothingness.

I was worried other people will realize it too. I still am. It is probably the biggest reason why I still hide my true self in the extent that I do; what if even that is not good enough? What happens then? Am I really nothing?

That small voice might still be there, but there is also another voice that is getting stronger. My adult part. And when I went back to read this post and read it through my adult eyes, it hurt me to know I still get blindsided by that small voice. Because this 20 dollar bill might be crumpled, grinded, dirty and torn, but beneath everything it is still 20 dollars.

I might have been dealt a bad hand of cards when I was born. And there was nobody to tell me I am precious and worthy and wanted and loved; and it did scar me and it did change me. But it didn’t defeat me. It will never defeat me. I suffered and I suffered a lot. I wore pain like a badge of honor pinned to my chest to prove my worthiness, but I need not to – because in my mind I know I am worthy. I tried to tell that to my heart but it didn’t want to listen. I will try again. And again until I feel it in my heart too.

So no, I am not nothing. I am pretty much everything.

My Anxious Heart

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The bells of Notre Dame

If I had to pin-point the start of my anxiety disorder it would come down to one this one event in my life that wasn’t the cause by itself but definitely pushed me over the anxiety edge. I am not sure if I have fully dealt with it yet. But seeing it written might hopefully ease the feeling of betrayal, anger and always – pain.

I met her about 7 or 8 years ago. We had a mutual friend who introduced us. She invited me for coffee and I remember it being quite awkward and uncomfortable. Then again, meeting new people was always uncomfortable for me so I brushed it aside. By that time my star was on the rise professionally and she mentioned in passing how her husband is looking for a job. I then realized why I was invited and the bells as big as the Notre Dame ones went off. I ignored that too. She pursued me relentlessly but I knew from the beginning her husband will never get the job – there was no job available and even if there was one he would never qualify. But they couldn’t let me go. I was invited to their home for coffee, for cheap wine and later on for dinners. They had a way to pull you in, to make you feel grateful you can be a part of their ‘club’. I was starved for attention and gladly took the opportunity to become their friend. As time went on we became close friends. They became the people I called family.

I was with them every day. I watched them discard people who were their friends from one day to the next. I served as a buffer between her and her husband; I took their kid ice skating and I bought her school supplies. I also became heavily financially involved. I ‘borrowed’ them money for clothes, food, Ipads, rent. They came to me with all sorts of problems but in the last two years of our friendship those problems were mostly of a financial nature. Notre Dame bells were ringing like crazy.

In the last year of our friendship our relationship tilted; the change was subtle and barely noticeable but it was there. They spoke about moving to Australia or New Zealand because her husband couldn’t get (or keep) a job. At that point I met my now husband and I was successful professionally and there was no way I was going to move. This damaged the relationship even further.

I started getting a headache every day. I became certain it was brain tumor. Anxiety overwhelmed me and I turned to her for help. She listened out of obligation and she tried to help a couple of times. At one point she said: ‘You are too much of a burden for me.’ And never called me again.

They moved to England – the country I love – with my money, with my love and loyalty and never looked back.

Thinking about it today I know I carry part of the blame. I was  a very lonely person when I met her. I was lost. I needed someone to guide me, to want me, to make me feel like I am worthy. Yes, I paid for that friendship – and I paid a lot – but who is worse? Someone who pays for attention or someone whose attention can be bought?

She gave me a box full of darkness and it took me years to see even that is a gift. It pushed me on this journey and this journey will be the best thing that could ever happen to me.

As of her, I have just one message that I would want to pass on to her, although she will probably never read this:

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My Anxious Heart

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Goodbye ‘normal’

I haven’t posted anything on this blog in quite a while. My silence is not intentional; in all the confusion it just happened. When I started therapy I promised myself my recovery will always come first – it will come before any job, any distraction, any opportunity to run away from my issues again.

I haven’t really kept that promise.

I have been struggling to find some sort of a balance. Merge the two worlds, connect the two completely different people. One is the true authentic self and the other is that heavy role I play. I saw this role as an opportunity to run, to hide and I took it. I moved away from my inner child, my adult part and sent my saboteur on a cruise. Everything was beginning to feel ‘normal’.

Yes, it started to feel normal. I went several years back into a very troubled person, full of anger, shame and hopelessness. I experienced myself behaving like I did years ago; avoiding any ill feelings, avoiding my inner child who begged for attention and anger started to feel familiar again. I caught a glimpse of the life I led before I fell into the deep anxiety ocean.

My body reacted to all of this instantly. It took several trips to the ER and multiple tests to realise all the pain in my stomach, liver and intestine originated from that ‘normal’. I had this unbelievable pressure under my rights ribs, constantly aching, constantly reminding me something is wrong. This increased my anger even further – to the point where I had to go to the bedroom and smash my fists against the matress, the pillows, the wall. My hands were sore for days but the pressure under my ribs stopped completely.

I miss my therapist. There are still months to go before she comes back, but I miss her dearly. In the last few weeks I felt so scared and so abandonded when thinking about her; this made me run some more. I intentionally forgot everything she taught me and all of the instructions she gave me. When feeling sad I closed up; when feeling angry I let it escalate to the point of hopelessness; when feeling like my soul has been ripped apart I turned to food.

It took a while to realise I don’t want that ‘normal’. I cannot go back to that ‘normal’. I have come too far to turn back now. I love this new person too much to let her go. I love my inner child too much to set her aside after years of abuse she survived. I deserve to continue on this journey and I deserve the freedom I am working so hard to achieve.

So I decided to go back to the ‘abnormal’. Said hello to my post-traumatic stress syndrome and welcomed back the anxiety. My husband bought a beautiful stuffed bunny for my inner child and my adult part came out. Along with that came that wonderful, amazing feeling that lit up the darkness; that knowing feeling, when you know, you just know you are on the right path and freedom can be felt, can be tasted and is back in your reach.

Goodbye ‘normal’, we are done. And hello freedom – I have a feeling we will meet soon.

My Anxious Heart

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‘Don’t look back in anger’…I heard you say

My soul slides away

‘But don’t look back in anger’ I heard you say

I have to start this post with a warning. Anger isn’t pretty. And since my posts are always (brutally) honest I am not about to make an exception now. Therefore if you are easily offended by graphic language this is the time to stop reading.

Me and anger go way back. I remember being angry even as a little kid, not exactly knowing who or what I am angry about. Not knowing how to let it out it built up and since I am trying to discover time I have lost and life that I survived anger is also one of the emotions I have in abundance.

I am writing this while my muscles are still sore from the last time I beat the shit out of my bed. It is the only safe way for me to deal with anger. I have no idea how much there is left of it in me, but I do know it needs to come out.

Yeah, I am angry. I am seriously pissed off. ‘Don’t look back in anger.’ I’ve heard that a million times by people who know nothing about the blinding rage that can come from knowing that people you trusted betrayed you. That being your parents makes it so much worse.

Yes, I am fucking angry with my mother. Anger doesn’t begin to cover it. Angry that she didn’t want me. Angry that I wasn’t enough of a reason for her to deal with her issues. Angry that her blood runs in my veins. Angry that she exists.

Yes, I am fucking angry with my father. Angry that he looked away while my mother abused me. Angry that he abused me. The extent of that abuse is beyond everything I imagined. Angry that he is still abusing me and playing me like a pawn in a chess game. And yes, angry that his blood runs in my veins too.

Yes, I am angry with myself. Angry that I still cannot accept myself. Angry that the scars run so deep and no matter how I try they still bleed. Angry that I am fat. Weak. Unworthy. Less than others. Angry that I am not living the life I am destined to live. Angry that whenever I want to reach for the stars my demons convince me that they are unreachable for me. Angry that I don’t even try. I’m so cold from fear, you have no idea. Yeah, I am seriously pissed off.

So no, I cannot look back without anger. Not just yet. I will beat the shit out of my bed as many times as I have to. I will bravely observe my knuckles turn white while that blinding rage rises from my stomach, robs me of speech while it rolls in my throat and ends up in the toilet. And you know why? Because the day will come when I will be able to say to people who caused me those scars:

‘You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out’
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My Anxious Heart

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