Tag Archives: life

This Is What Depression Feels Like AKA The Hardest Fucking Thing I’ve Ever Done

Six months ago, I hit rock bottom. I found myself sobbing on the curb in a gas station parking lot. This is the story of how I got there, and how I’m clawing myself out today.

The overarching themes in the barrage of recent body blows were and continue to be a feeling of not being valued, a feeling of being taken advantage of, and recognition of dishonesty from people I trusted. From a deceiving landlord to a toxic job setting to getting laid off at another job to theft–twice–to a broken heart to hate mail from a stranger to unsolicited criticism from loved ones and most recently, getting hit by a car, the other shoe just kept on dropping.

In December, my pattern of self care began to morph. All I wanted to do was sleep but then I couldn’t sleep. I went back and forth between eating sparingly and eating ravenously. I became apathetic about everything, even cute dogs, and if you know me you know I’m overly empathetic and compassionate. Apart from noticing that I wanted to do nothing except lie on the couch binge-watching Netflix, I realized something more was going on when I saw this apathy in me.

Everything in the present was crashing into me all at once and doors of the past that I thought I’d slammed shut were blowing wide open. I came out of work one night after a particularly distressing day after a particularly distressing weekend to find that my new bike lights that I’d just replaced from theft two weeks earlier had been stolen from right in front of the big glass windows where I could see my bike all day long.

I’d planned to ride to my sister’s that night to tell her I needed help but someone stole my fucking bike lights. This one single act pushed me to my breaking point. Later, one of my friends would point out that I wasn’t crying about the lights. It was just that–a breaking point.

I grabbed my bike and began pushing it a few blocks toward the two-mile hill home, but then I stopped on the sidewalk next to a telephone pole. I leaned my bike against it and just felt like, This it it, I’m done. What more does the universe want from me?

Standing next to a telephone pole with my bike in the pouring down rain, I have never felt so much anguish just trying to exist. It felt like there was a target on my back, like the universe was conspiring against me. I crossed the street, threw my bike onto a curbside lawn in a Shell parking lot, and bawled my eyes out.

That night was the lowest point of my life.

I called a friend to see if she could pick me up and she immediately hopped in the car to come get me. For twenty minutes I waited on the curb, sobbing into my hands, but after ten minutes I heard a soft, tentative voice say, “Excuse me? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

I looked up to see a concerned middle-aged woman. I told her I wasn’t hurt but I couldn’t get home and was waiting for a friend. She said she would wait with me and repeatedly offered to buy me food or water or bring me a blanket because I was shivering. Her kindness briefly helped restore some of my brokenness. Her name was Becky.

My friend talked with me for a couple hours after bringing me home. After she left, I reflected on the hour-long phone conversations I’d had with two friends the night before, and the phone conversation I was supposed to have with a friend the next day.

It was getting increasingly more difficult to work in the customer service field where I had to always smile despite not feeling like smiling. Some people say if you smile enough you’ll start to feel like you mean it but everything I do in life I do with authenticity. Pretending my smile was real didn’t make it feel more real. It made me feel like a fraud.

I truly didn’t think I was in danger of intentionally harming myself, but I was so incredibly exhausted. I thought I might fall asleep in the bath tub, faint from hunger or sleep deprivation, leave the stove on, or worse. I didn’t want to die but it was taking so much energy to live.

I have been seeking stability ever since the hurricane, but the stability I’m building keeps cracking slowly like a chisel working on a porcelain vase until finally it shatters and I have to start all over again. I keep standing up for myself, molding and holding onto hope, but then I get crushed, and it is making me so very, very tired.

I wanted to be hopeful that night that things would get better, not worse.

But I couldn’t sleep. I cried all night long and in the early morning hours, I texted my best friend who I didn’t want to bother because he is so busy and always so selflessly giving so much of himself but who I needed. He saw the urgency in my words and he did everything in his power to get me the help I needed from afar, including researching doctors. I made the first appointment available that day.

Step 3: Visit the doctor.

Step 2: Get on the bus.

Step 1: Get dressed.

It took me twenty minutes to put on clothes. I stared at my closet for two minutes before grabbing the pair of jeans I knew all along I would wear. I put on underwear and then jeans, then I laid on my bed for another minute. I scooted back to my closet to grab a bra, rested, then grabbed socks and rested again. I laid in bed for another ten minutes before getting up to pick out a shirt.

It took every ounce of faith in myself to get out the door and step on the bus, and every ounce of strength to transfer to the second bus. I cried the whole way.

I saw my reflection in a mirror at the doctor’s and realized how much I didn’t look like myself. I looked like I felt: a stranger walking around in someone else’s skin. After my appointment with the doctor and social worker, I picked up medication in the pharmacy. While waiting for the bus home, I realized I was standing right in front of a grocery store. I had needed to go to the store for four weeks but couldn’t find the energy to do so. I made myself step inside and pull things off the shelves. It didn’t matter what I put in my basket as long as I put one foot in front of the other.

I cried the entire bus ride home.

I spent four hours outside of my apartment that day, and it was excruciatingly exhausting. My sister came over that night and I filled her in. Like so many others, the first thing she said was, “I am so proud of you.” She said it made her think so highly of me that I was trying to get help, and she could see the strong woman beneath all this pain.

Finding the energy that day to get the help I needed was the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done. I still don’t know how I did it.

In the days following my doctor visit, I sat down on the floor while cooking because standing required too much of me. But I reminded myself I was cooking, progress that replaced the energy bar meals of late. Small tasks were monumental to-do’s but I made a little-big goal every day until things have slowly started to get better.

People keep telling me how resilient I am; “resilient as fuck” as one friend said, a “stunt woman” according to my therapist. They call me resilient but I feel like I’m dying inside.

But somewhere deep inside me I believe in myself enough to continue to put one foot in front of the other. I’m continuing to fight for my rights, to harness some ethereal willpower, to not let my demons win. Somewhere deep inside me I know they’re right: I am resilient. Not impenetrable. But definitely resilient.

Before I went to the doctor, I read an article by Sandra Marinella in Well Being Journal titled, “Your Life-Changing Story: The Story You Need to Tell.” It caught my eye because that is why I write about my vulnerabilities, and that includes sharing what it feels like to hit rock bottom. I write because it helps me heal and I write because I know I’m not alone. I want to help people and I want people to understand. I think and I hope my writing does this.

I want to thank my immediate support team (they know who they are) and everyone who has been there for me through not only the ups but especially the downs. I want to thank all of you reading this. Mental health has a stigma that it shouldn’t have. It is very real, very painful, and very scary, but we cannot and should not hide from it.

Being the support for someone struggling with mental health is a huge and exhausting task, but it is an honorable one. I have for a very long time not wanted to inconvenience the people I love by unloading my struggles on them, but these very people have helped me see that it’s not a burden–I’m not a burden–and they are honored to be there for me. I am honored to have them be such a present, reliable, and unconditionally loving part of my life.

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The First Time (We) Kissed

I remember the first time we kissed. You were still asleep on the sofa bed when I crept past you on my way to the bathroom. I stood behind the closed door for a minute before heading back out, deciding if I should take the plunge, realizing after last night that you definitely reciprocated the feelings I’d tried to keep locked away. I felt it in the way you looked at me, the way you talked to me, the way you were so attentive, the way you accidentally but purposefully grazed my arm with yours.

I opened the door without looking at you and plopped sideways onto the creaky fold-up mattress, my back to you. I heard you awaken, I heard you smile.

You pulled me into your arms, and we laid like that for thirty minutes—maybe more, maybe less. Time became immeasurable. We both silently took in each other’s smell, listened to each other’s heartbeat. And then you spoke.

“You deserve to be cherished,” you said. “I wanted you to know—I intend to show you that.”

Then I did that thing that I always do when I’m happy and excited but also nervous and embarrassed, overwhelmed in the best of ways. I closed my eyes and I nuzzled deep into your clavicle, burrowing into my safety net, that soft pocket of flesh between your neck and your collarbone.

A few minutes went by. I heard your mouth open and close as you tried to figure out how you were going to say what you wanted to say. I waited, patient and impatient.

“I would like to kiss you,” you said, “if that’s alright with you.”

I did that thing again, taking in the scent of your neck and this time shifting my head onto your chest. My hand slid up to my face and latched on like a starfish, doing that other thing I do, where I try to hide from the barrage of feelings that I yearn for but also don’t know if I can trust. Not you, though. I trusted you. You’re the only man I’ve trusted like that since.

I fumbled for the words to speak.

“I’m nervous,” I said.

“Why are you nervous?” you asked.

“Because of my past, because of my last relationship, the things with my ex.”

“Understandable,” you said. “I’m nervous, too. I don’t want you to feel any pressure.”

I smiled gratefully, but you couldn’t see me. I plucked the knuckled starfish from my face and continued.

“And because we live oceans apart.”

“Another good reason,” you agreed. “I don’t have an answer for that one.”

I squirmed closer to you and hugged you harder. After a few minutes, you got up to use the bathroom. I heard a flush, heard the faucet running, heard you brushing your teeth. I’d secretly brushed mine before, just in case.

I looked up when you opened the bathroom door, watched as you crawled onto the mattress and slid your legs under the covers. You propped yourself up on your arms and leaned over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled nervously. You smiled beautifully. My chest raised as I inhaled deeply in preparation, anticipation. Slowly, you closed the gap between us, aiming for my lips. Your eyes never once broke away from mine.

My hands trembled as my body remembered what it felt like to be kissed this way by a man. I ran my fingers through your hair, like I always do.

Later, I would ask you to teach me to kiss, because I needed to learn how again.

_______

I don’t remember the first time we kissed. The moment is an abandoned memory, floating past the flood of warnings, so many skirted red flags. I remember you didn’t want to kiss me, but you wanted to be naked next to me. I remember I wanted to be kissed, and I wasn’t ready to be naked next to you. You got naked anyway. I didn’t. You kissed me eventually, but I don’t remember it.

I can count on one hand the number of times I remember you kissing me. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I tried to, wanted to kiss you, but couldn’t, wouldn’t. I remember vividly you laughing when I tried, your lips parting when I closed mine to touch yours. Eventually, humiliated, I just stopped trying.

I remember wanting to be strong and once asking you if we could kiss, just kiss. I can still hear your laughter, see the way your eyes crinkled, like I’d just told the funniest joke known to man. I remember me turning away to deal with my pain because you didn’t see it when it was right in front of you. Or maybe you did see it but simply didn’t care to fix it.

I remember eventually figuring out the only one who could fix this pain was me, but it was too long before I got away.

Who is God?

To believe or not to believe… is that really the question?

In college, I was a devout Catholic, a weekly church attendee and band member, president of a campus Catholic community, and leader of a group of teens in youth ministry. I didn’t often ask questions and so I didn’t often feel lost and I often felt fulfilled.

But prior to the collegiate life, my faith had never before been challenged. For four years, I attended a university surrounded by peers whose views ranged from the same to vastly different from mine. I initiated discussion with far right individuals who I didn’t see eye to eye with. I also engaged in honest, open conversations with atheists about the role and existence of a divine being that oversees the universe. In these tête-à-têtes, my faith was never shaken but rather strengthened.

Then one day I was handed a white rose as I walked past organizations tabling on the campus’s main walkway. The white rose symbolized the pro-life stance. I was 19, a virgin who hadn’t put much thought into the abortion debate. I was an active member of a denomination that was outspoken about it’s pro-life viewpoint, but I realized in that moment that my instincts were on the other side of the fence. I could feel the rose’s thorns in my hands creating a pit in my stomach, nausea threatening to surface, and I very swiftly but discreetly discarded the rose.

I felt uncomfortable never having examined where I stood on this important and hugely personal but politicized issue. I felt like a liar practicing Catholicism yet now unsure if I believed everything the Church preached. However, I continued on with my devout Catholic life.

Soon, I realized how many strangers and close friends on the college campus surrounded me from the LGBTQ community. As the fight for equal marriage rights gained steam, I posed zero opposition, and in my head, this was nothing that should ever have been a political matter anyway. I shared my views openly, despite the Catholic Church’s stance and my continued involvement with the religion, but I’m ashamed to say I didn’t fully embrace my viewpoint. I could have been and should have been a stronger, more outspoken ally.

My junior and senior years, I helped launched the Inter-Faith House, one of various themed campus housing options. We promoted religious tolerance. I read the Tao, celebrated Passover Seder, and continued to be a devout Catholic. My campus housing projects included a silent awareness initiative of religious stereotypes and a faith unity quilt patched together from students and staff expressing their religious beliefs.

In my last years at university, I had one-on-one conversations with priests about the concepts of free will, fate, and destiny as well as good and evil. I am grateful to these priests, some of whom are still dear friends, for offering me perspective. I wanted to believe in God, but God was no longer the same man with a face in the clouds in the sky that I pictured in second grade Catholic school.

The summer of my graduation, I backpacked solo around Europe. At the East Side Gallery in Berlin, someone had painted on a preserved part of the Berlin Wall, “How’s God? She’s black.” It was empowering, and I’ve thought about it a lot since that day nearly 8 years ago.

After college, I dove head first into the animal and science world, embarking upon a career in wildlife conservation. While sitting on the couch in my apartment one day, I asked my then boyfriend what he wanted to get out of life. He told me he wanted to be happy. I asked him if he believed in God–a conversation I’m surprised we’d never had before despite this being the start of our relationship. He told me he didn’t think so.

I thought about his response a lot, namely that he simply sought happiness in life. It was such a simple yet solidified answer, one that boggled my mind at the time but has since come to be a beacon in my own muddled travels through life.

As my scientific career began to suffocate me, I started to wonder how faith and science can co-exist. I reached out to religious scientist friends, poured over atheist philosophy, and analyzed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I struggled with the concepts of time, beginning and end, and forever. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to believe in a Higher Power, that I would refer to this power as God, and that, while much of my definition of God was inspired by Catholic teachings, God as I saw him had changed.

Upon moving to Seattle, I stumbled upon a Buddhist temple. I began attending group meditation, discovered I am terrible at meditating, sought to improve my meditation, and still attempt to meditate today. Meditation and writing became my main forms of prayer, and nature replaced a physical church building.

When I shared publicly the story of my sexual assault, I received a wave of support from friends and strangers. However, some of that support wasn’t the best form of support for me.

One person repeatedly reached out to me to offer a shoulder but only from a deeply religious standpoint. I received texts saying how often I was being prayed for, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear but it wasn’t a terrible thing to hear. But when I read the words “God saved you,” I realized these texts were not helping. I responded saying I knew the texts came from a good place, but I needed them to stop. I said, “It’s alright if you want to believe that God saved me, and I know you need to heal from this news in your own way, but I do not believe God saved me. I believe I am a strong, capable woman and I fought my way out on my own.”

I am incredibly grateful for my Catholic upbringing. It gave me guidelines, morals, and values to live by. For a very long time, Catholicism was fulfillment enough in my life, and I never labored over what I believed. I thought this was enough to be happy and whole.

Ash Wednesday is still one of my favorite days of the year. I still feel very much at home on the occasion that I do I step into a Catholic church, especially when I’m alone in a foreign land. I still want to and choose to believe in God, but I’m still figuring out what God means to me.

My definition of who God is has changed dramatically over the years. I’m still perfecting that definition, and I don’t think I’ll ever have it perfect. Faith is a journey I don’t think should ever end. I think it should be challenged daily, and I firmly believe we should come to an understanding of the universe on our own.

In the beginning of my adult life, I was blindly trying to fit into a mold I was handed from birth with which I wasn’t sure if I wholly or partly agreed. Maybe that mold is right for me, maybe it isn’t.

Who is God? He is whatever you believe him to be.

One of the Hardest Things I’d Ever Do Was Keep from Falling in Love with You

The thermometer read 90 degrees, but my bed felt cold that night.

I hugged the box of tissues closer to my chest, the only confidante in an otherwise empty apartment. I let my eyes shed the memories, let the paper blankets listen to my throat’s disenchanting song. I lay there as my tired brain confused impossibilities with could-be’s, would-be’s, should-be’s.

My gaze followed the length of the ceiling, traveled down the wall. I stared at unread books on my nightstand, unlit candles on the window ledge, an unframed stack of pictures on the shelf. You put love right alongside those photographs, nestled it sloppily between snapshots of the past, of hopes and dreams for the future. You piled it high above fate, lorded it over destiny, scoffed at new beginnings.

But see here’s the thing: love doesn’t belong on a shelf.

It shouldn’t be collecting dust with trophies and vases. It shouldn’t be scattered across the countertop with unfinished to-do lists. It shouldn’t be given up on when it never got a chance.

The saddest love story isn’t the one that didn’t work out. It’s the one that was never told.

You chose to give up not give in but not before we bared our scars to each other. We rolled up our sleeves, cuffed our slacks, and compared blemishes twice a week. We didn’t see these marks as damaged goods. We saw them as magnets that brought us closer, electric sparks when placed side my side.

We cut open our chests and placed our beating, pulverized hearts on the table. Their rhythms ticked toward synchronicity. I kept mine guarded. You kept yours sealed.

Who knew that one of the hardest things I’d ever do would be to keep from falling in love with you.

Each time the buttons loosened over my feelings, I fumbled to button them up. I tried to protect a broken heart from more brokenness only to find that love isn’t the only reason we feel pain.

Is it you or I or both who views us now merely as two motes of flesh distantly floating through a cosmic universe? You’re gone but we’re still the same souls craving honesty and integrity and eternally searching for truths, once united in vulnerability, now left yearning in a dying wind.

 

 

 

 

Hurricanes, Hugs & Humor

The first two weeks of October, I was on the road A LOT, offering my heart and receiving so much heart in return.

When Hurricane Irma hit the Keys, I struggled from afar for half a dozen reasons, part of which involved immense empathy and understanding for my Keys island family, having lived through a CAT 4 storm myself.

As the days ticked by, I found myself becoming increasingly more anxious to step foot in my old stomping grounds. I was antsy out of excitement, nerves, and fear.

Without consciously planning it this way, the timing of my trip proved to be quite serendipitous. I boarded a red eye on September 30, the two-year anniversary of the day a tropical storm was brewing in the Caribbean that might hit the remote Bahamian island I was living on. I landed on October 1, two years to the day I woke up to a CAT 4 historic hurricane on top of me.

But the second I walked out of Miami International Airport and into the arms of my Bahamian island parents who drove from Naples just to see me, my anxiety melted away. My island parents hug like no other–strong, sturdy, genuine. Their embrace needs no words to tell how they feel about you, about life, because their assuring physical touch says it all.

They drove me down to Florida City after a quick jaunt at Cracker Barrel (a restaurant I haven’t seen or visited in years–Amurrica!). I then waited excitedly in a Starbucks to reunite with my friend Kris who left the Keys nearly five years ago. I was SO excited that, in sending a flurry of texts and phone calls sharing my whereabouts and ETA to Keys folk, my palpable joy started putting smiles on faces of the coffee shop’s caffeine-infused customers.

I expected to hold back tears as we entered Key Largo, creeping south toward Marathon in the Middle Keys. Memorable and iconic local hot spots were strewn about; towering piles of debris lined the roads. But mostly, I had a smile on my face, because I knew I was about to see my island family.

In the short week that I spent in the Keys, I had limited time to help: ripping off moldy, sodden baseboards, tearing down dry wall, and digging through sand. My friends are exhausted; cleaning up the aftermath of a hurricane is a daunting task. Many of my friends are now homeless and/or jobless.

But they still have so much love to give.

I spent the evenings attempting to organize gatherings–relief from the hurricane relief. I knew one week wasn’t much time for me to make a dent in the clean-up and construction, but aside from putting my set-building skills to use, I also have my joy, love, and comedy to offer.

Before my trip to the Keys, I was struggling to process it all. I called one of my closest friends who knows the long version of what I’ve been dealing with the past couple years. He asked me to recall the first time I laughed after Hurricane Joaquin.

I really, really had to think about that. Due to my isolated situation following the storm, it was two weeks before I could get out into the community. I had no one to talk to about the fear I’d experienced or the apocalyptic aftermath that kept me awake and inappetent. Two isolated weeks following a traumatic experience is like two years.

But I thought hard, and then I started laughing. I remembered someone lending me some gasoline so I could drive the truck down south and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to the now homeless, alongside the hot dogs my friends cooked. (Read more about the incredible perspective I gained from this trip south here.)

Bahamians like their meat, and they don’t eat PBJs. (It’s largely an American thing.) I made somewhere between 50 to 100 PBJs… but I had to practically beg the locals to take the sandwiches from me once we ran out of hot dogs. I remember laughing at my efforts to help and seeing how people can still be opinionated in the hardest of times. It reminded me that no matter what life throws at us, we’re still human.

Even if I am covered in sweat and dirt and my muscles are sore, I am still me. Even if my heart is broken and I can’t imagine tomorrow, I am still me. I will always have the gift of crazy, uninhibited, Energizer-Bunny energy, and I tried my hardest to share that with my island family then and now.

Another aspect of my healing process that was missing post-Joaquin was human contact. Studies show that supportive physical touch–a simple hug–actually results in incredible physiological changes within the body, including decreasing stress.

I hugged often and I hugged hard when I was in the Keys, because I’m a hugger, and I know how much I’ve missed and needed that in my life. My Keys friends are huggers, too, and they have a way of making me feel more loved than I’ve ever felt before.

Mother Nature can turn lives upside down in an instant, but she cannot destroy our human nature, that indelible mortal connection. Laughter and physical touch bring joy and hope that have a healing power all their own.

The Keys will recover just like Long Island, Bahamas recovered, and it happens with love, joy, and a little bit of laughter.

To anyone experiencing hardship: hug & laugh, more & often.

Is This the Apocalypse? Then Here’s a Glimpse of Hope

I am writing to offer some hope. In the immensity of the disasters happening right now–we’ve got wildfires raging out west, hurricanes and flooding around the globe, an earthquake in Mexico–it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is–it must be–the apocalypse. It is easy to give in, give up, lose hope.

My heart right now is breaking. I can’t stop pacing my apartment, I can’t focus at work, I can’t sleep through the night. Strangely, the only place I have wanted to be in the past 48 hours is in Long Island, Bahamas with my island family, threading the eye of the hurricane and riding the spherical needle to its next destination, predictably to its mainland fall in my forever home in the Florida Keys. How helpless we are left to feel when we willingly wish ourselves to be in harm’s way for the sake of leaning on each other.

But that is what we must do–support each other. In the imminent devastation that Irma will leave wherever she goes, we must hold onto the silver linings. Sifting through the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin, I choked back vomit and tears more times than I can count. And while, admittedly, even from far away Irma has shaken my subconscious into unwelcome flashbacks of my own experience flirting with the dangers of Mother Nature, that is not what I remember most from my island life.

Landscapes, homes, hearts, and minds are not impermeable to devastation, but they are resilient in the wake of it. Trees regrow; buildings are rebuilt; our spirits heal. When life makes us take a step back, we pick up, we rebuild and somehow, sometime, we get back to normal. We have to, because there is no other option.

I remember vividly the strength of the storm I endured in October 2015, but I reflect fondly on a strength far greater than Joaquin. I am humbled by the community that arose from the rubble like a phoenix from the ashes, the neighbors who opened their doors, the locals who distributed home-cooked meals to the now homeless.

What makes these places paradise more than their beautiful scenery is their beautiful people. It wasn’t the turquoise blue waters that I had a hard time saying goodbye to; it was the friends who became my family that made it so difficult to leave.

So, to all of my beloved friends and strangers who have to endure Irma in one way or another, I offer you this morsel of hope: devastation does not mean destruction. Find hope in knowing that whatever happens, together you can and you will rebuild. We did it with Joaquin and we’ll do it with Irma. You, the community, are what make a place home.

I love you all from the bottom of my heart. #longislandstrong #keysstrong

I Feared For My Life & This Is What I Learned

October 2017 will be two years since I lived through Hurricane Joaquin, the historic perfect storm that I remember as the two longest days of my life. I have never known time to stand so still, during which I prayed constantly that my family and friends knew how much I loved them.

Effectively isolated after the storm on a remote island in the Caribbean, it would be eight days before I could hunt down a satellite phone to let the people who mean the most to me know I loved them, I was breathing but far from okay, and please send donations because the island was devastated. I didn’t know when I’d be able to reach my family again.

In the months following Joaquin in which an overseas, across-the-country move took place, I was a mess. Trauma from the storm unlocked trauma from my past until, nearly a year later when I thought I was healed, another window opened that my mind had bolted shut. I started seeing a therapist in the immediate aftermath of the storm who diagnosed me with PTSD on top of PTSD on top of PTSD.

But this post isn’t about fearing for my life. This post isn’t about my PTSD. It isn’t about my past (though that story begs to be told at a later time, when I’m ready).

This post is about my recovery. This post is about me, now.

So, you ask, how am I now?

The short answer: Freaking fantastic.

The long answer: I’m working on it.

My wounds will always be scabs turned scars that make me who I am. I would never in a million years wish any of these hardships upon someone. But I cannot change my past, so instead, I decided to see how my past could shape my future.

Breaking apart the most harrowing experiences of my life, I made a list of what I gained from them.

Here is that list:

  • Empathy & compassion. Sometimes life has to beat you up to give you empathy and compassion you didn’t know you were lacking.
  • Perspective. My eyes were further opened to the existence of poverty and racism in the world today.
  • Strength in vulnerability. Turning to others for help did not make me weak; it takes a great deal of courage to bare one’s heart and mind so openly.
  • Cultural enlightenment. I mean, I did get to live on a remote island in the Bahamas living the real island life and making lifelong friends turned family. So there’s that.
  • Dreams. I needed to start following my dreams NOW, and never ever stop.
  • Relationship knowledge. I learned what I want, need, and deserve in a relationship.
  • Self-awareness. In order to heal, I had to fully know myself. It was an isolating road to travel down, but necessary.
  • Peace within myself. Knowing who I am meant accepting all of me, including my flaws, quirks, and neuroses. Better yet, it meant embracing them.

Despite having just emerged from the darkest period of my life–and, admittedly, still having moments in which I feel like I take a step back–I am the happiest I have ever been.

My path of healing from PTSD threw me under the self-reflection bus, and I am eternally grateful to it for that. But I don’t think you need to claw your way out of the lion’s den in order to begin this journey.

The three experiences that led to my struggle had a common thread: I felt small, helpless, and insignificant. I have spent the last twenty-four months fighting to be strong, confident, and significant. I have worked hard at believing in myself, taking risks and viewing subsequent failures as successes.

Now, most days, I wear that cheesy ear-to-ear grin on my face that everyone who knew me before I moved to Seattle remembers. But I’ve changed. I have so many layers to me now. Good layers. Deep layers. Real layers.

One of my friends from the Florida Keys, who has always praised me for my positive and uninhibited energy, recently told me, “Stacey, you’re not the same person you were when you left here, and I mean that as the highest compliment.”

As I’ve begun reconnecting with college friends, they say the same thing. I still dance my crazy dance moves in the middle of the grocery store, but there’s more than a zest for life behind those crazy legs. There’s understanding. There’s a profound appreciation for it.