TWLOHA2

 

Below is an excerpt of a post I wrote shortly after actor and comedian, Robin Williams committed suicide:

Depression is a void. It’s an abyss. It’s a chasm. It’s a violent, invisible storm. It’s suffocation while breathing normally. It’s walking through life as a person and feeling invisible while simultaneously feeling like all eyes are on you, judging you. Depression is smiling and laughing and doing what’s expected of you while counting down until you can crawl back into bed because you were exhausted before you even crawled out of it that morning. Depression is living and, not just feeling but, KNOWING you’re dead already inside and yet still hurting so much you’re blinded by it.

Now for the hard part of writing all of this: I still struggle. I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks. This past weekend I was at the grocery store. It was a routine trip, and I was in the office supply aisle to pick up Post-Its. Next to the Post-Its were X-Acto knives. If you’ve ever known- or been- a cutter or person who self harms, you know several implements may be used, but there’s always a preferred method and/or tool. My arm holds the scars of hundreds of cuts. It’s safe to say, in the course of the years, I inflicted well over 1,000 cuts, digs, gouges, and burns on my body. So as I stood there, looking at Post-Its, my eyes landed on the thin blades. Normally I avoid the section of a store these knives are kept, but I really did need the Post-Its. There I stood, staring at an art tool that, in my hands, is a means of self destruction, and I froze. Instantly I had a physical reaction. I felt the cold blade across my skin so real, I could taste metal. But there the package hung, a small bit of metal encased in plastic and cardboard. Completely benign yet my insides were turning savagely. Begging my hand to reach out. I didn’t stand there long. I couldn’t. I walked away, my palms sweaty and mouth dry but no blades in my cart. I didn’t feel victorious. I still don’t. Because I wanted that knife so viscerally, I felt shame and the darkness and pull became darker and stronger.

Talking about what goes on in my brain is difficult. When I say out loud what I’m feeling or thinking, it sounds silly. Trying to quantify wanting to be alone AND needing to be connected to someone who cares without sounding completely nutters drives me inward more often than not. No two people experience or cope with depression in the same way. And those who have never dealt with the darkness may never come to terms with not truly understanding what it’s all like. But if you struggle, reach out. If you know someone who is caught in a losing battle, talk to them. Talk about anything. Physically reach out and wrap your arms around someone. We don’t have to understand why or what or how a person is dealing or not dealing, just being present- really present- can save a life. If you’re unsure of what to do, how to help, or where to get help, check out the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for resources. And for heaven’s sake don’t go all holier-than-thou on a person who’s contemplating suicide or self harm. Love them, hold them, talk to them, smile at them, give them a flower or pack of gum or one of those Cokes that has their name on it. Just don’t go all judge-y or preach-y on them. Trust me, they’ve been preaching to and judging themselves harsher and longer than you ever could.

It was a vulnerable moment for me, admitting the struggle and attempting to put words the jumble of everything going on inwardly. Some days are easy. Some days are impossible. Most days I don’t want anyone to know how dark or how often it gets dark in my head- they don’t need that burden and I don’t like being that exposed.

My sister, Sarah (the one in the ponytail), has dealt with her own dark places her whole life. Some of our dark places are from the same events, some aren’t. We’ve fought being close over the years because of the commonness in why we struggle, but we’re finally in a place to see and appreciate who each of us is, and embrace each other- flaws and dark places included. Our fight isn’t identical. How we fight and why we fight are vastly different. But we fight and recognize the spirit in each other to keep going. She’s the one who bought us the matching shirts designed by actor, Jared Padalecki to help raise money for TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms). If you aren’t familiar with the organization, please spend a few minutes checking out their website. I’m grateful for people like Padalecki who are using their fame to help those who, many times not just feel but, are invisible to the world.

The top photograph of Sarah and me was taken when I picked up my shirt from her. Her boyfriend, Doug, was taking our picture and we kept shifting for the best angle. “Strong arms cuz we’re fighting!” I directed. We made our strong arms and then burst into laughter. Doug captured that moment of naked glee. Sarah kept trying (unsuccessfully) to point out a flaw she saw in herself in that moment. I don’t see it; I choose not to. I see two sisters. I see two sisters who love each other. I see survivors of unspeakable horror. I see two vibrant rays of light. I see two scarred, but beautiful women. I see two fighters.

Always keep fighting.

TWLOHA1

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

– Eleanor Roosevelt.

More and more those close to me are being made to feel inferior. These are intelligent, witty, funny, sarcastic, giving, helpful, loving, lively, beautiful- inside and out- people. Too often this quote is used to brush off an offense when someone hurts us. And it’s easy to walk away when the offender is a stranger or someone we deem inconsequential. Sometimes. It’s much less easy to embrace this thought when the person who demeans us is a person we love, or loved, opened our hearts to, embraced, and for whom we’ve become vulnerable. Eleanor was right, a person can only make us feel inferior if we’ve given them permission to do so. But the problem is, by default, those whose opinions of ourselves we value most are the ones with the permission to devalue us.

I fear I’m getting too cerebral or abstract to effectively make my point. When two people meet they have several options on how to proceed or not proceed with a relationship- friendship or romantic. If they choose to create a bond, the closer two people become, the more of themselves they share- the more of themselves they give as a gift to the other person. And the more one person gives of who they are, the more ammunition the other person has to destroy them, but the vulnerability is done with the understanding of trust and reciprocation. Many times this works out: marriage, family, life-long friends. Unfortunately, the majority of the people I love the most have been betrayed after giving, in faith, who they are- dreams, fears, passions, goals, weaknesses- to someone.

The betrayal hurts. It hurts them and it hurts me. It hurts those who are left to pick up the shattered remains of a vibrant life now dulled. And so often it seems the one who did the damage walks away unscathed. The imbalance leaves the injured party with more questions than they can fully express. It leaves a hole where they used to be whole. It leaves an ache sharp and deep that steals their breath and makes their emotions bleed out. The destruction left in the wake is physically unseen, fully felt, but barely expressible beyond paltry offerings of metaphors and similes.

So yes, a person can only make you feel inferior if you give them permission, but that permission is usually granted as a ‘Terms Of Service’ type of unspoken agreement when a person opens up and trusts another with the understanding that each person won’t breach the agreement. It is not permission in the sense of encouraging or condoning someone to tear you down and leave you in shambles; it’s a part of the trust you build with another to keep your weak parts protected, your vulnerable parts covered, your insecure parts shielded, and your precious parts loved. Those who have the means with which to make you feel inferior are the exact people you shouldn’t have to fear as the ones who would. In a perfect world.

Y’all don’t mind if I sit down get honest with you, do you? Thanks.

For those who know me and that’s why you follow my blog, you may understand what I’m talking about. For those who read this and don’t know me personally, welcome to my world.

Today I’m tired.

Not ‘I haven’t slept in days, putting in too many hours at work’ tired. More along the lines of today I’m tired of being good. Not in the sense I want to go out and commit crimes and be reckless, but in the sense, I want to take a break from walking this very tight line I walk daily. Even if it’s just one moment in private and no one else sees it. But at this point even that may not quell the unrest inside.

Caveat: I love my life. Overall, I really do. I travel and have a steady job with good benefits. I have wonderful family and friends and friends who’ve become closer than family. I own my own car and my apartment is chock-full of character and fun history AND a claw-foot tub. I do what I love- write and bake- in my free time. My calendar fills up fast and I have things planned through til my birthday in September. My faith has never been stronger. My church family is beyond amazing. I thrill at singing in the choir every week. I have pretty good life with few things missing.

But today at work I realized I want to just quit for a day. All of it. Maybe longer. Maybe has something to do with dinner last night. One of my cousins was staying with me for a couple days and we got together with my sisters for dinner. Back at my apartment she was telling me how as soon as I excused myself to the restroom the attitude of the table changed. All the words and jokes everyone felt they couldn’t say in front of me came out and when I made it back to the table they all clammed up. Now, I really appreciate they respect me enough to not be profane and vulgar – most of the time- when I’m around, but it struck me differently this time. A coworker a couple weeks ago was shocked I knew how to get angry. We’ve worked together about three years and for the first time she saw me express a level of anger and she was shocked and relieved. I was embarrassed. Do people really put me on some kind of anti-emotion, anti-joke pedestal and think I can’t- or don’t- have negative emotions or like to laugh? Yes, I’m called a prude on a regular basis.

Ya know what? I’ll say it: It hurts. It’s frustrating and suffocating to be boxed in so much. I laugh, cry, scream, shake with rage, long for someone to hold me, plead with God for a husband, a child, a family of my own. It’s not that I’m not grateful for what I already have, but that I know something is still missing and there’s a hole where that last piece goes. It’s that when people call me “prude” or tell me to just go get laid they’re dismissing not just one part of my life, but my whole way of living. They’re reducing me, as a whole person, to sex or a dirty joke. When someone is shocked I actually have times of anger, it’s not flattering. It’s telling me they see me as less than human, or more than human. They don’t see my flaws. That puts both of us in a dangerous situation- me to fall from grace and them to walk away disenchanted when I don’t act as they expect.

My faith keeps me going. It keeps me evaluating my actions and words to become better. I remind myself I have to be pleasing in God’s eyes. My goal is to hear, “Well done,” at the end of this intense journey called Life. And that’s all my choice. I choose to live this  life and it’s made me a better person than I ever imaged I could be. But sometimes- just sometimes- when circumstances line up just right (or wrong), I want to drop it all, jump of this prison of a pedestal and run to a place people don’t know me. A place of no pressure or expectation. A place where I can be angry if I’m angry or tired if I’m tired or sad if I’m sad. Where I can be imperfect and awkward and silent or too talkative without being expected or assumed to be something else. Where I don’t have to explain WHY I’m hurting or spiraling out of control before someone puts their arms around me and lets me just go through it safely. Somewhere where I’m not made fun of for being chaste, not vulgar or profane, or for dressing modestly. Somewhere I can be unapologetically me. Somewhere where people don’t put me on these pedestals.

Over the last year my social media presence has waned. Life and all its life-ness produced some bends in the road. And in maneuvering those bends, I’ve retreated inward. I’ve lost outward touch with people I hold fiercely in my heart. But, for the first time since leaping into the wide world of social media in 2011, I deactivated one of my accounts, ignored the others, and turned my phone off for almost two weeks- ignoring calls, texts, and messages. It wasn’t an experiment in unplugging; it was a last-ditch effort to control a situation that spun wildly out of control on December 24th. I’m near-positive writing this will not go over well with some of those involved. At this point I care, but will no longer feel shame for needing to purge my own thoughts and inner dealings in an attempt to regain what I inwardly lost.

I haven’t hid my battles with depression, cutting, and suicide. Overall, I’m the best I’ve ever been, but I still struggle sometimes- especially in high, negative stress situations. I thrive in positive stress, it’s exhausting, but those times are when life is at it’s most exhilarating. Anyway, December 24, 2014 was definitely negative stress situation and it sent me reeling and into seclusion.

Against my better judgement (short story, but not relevant) I agreed to go to my parents’ house after work to see the family. From the moment I walked in the door I was bombarded by people handing me things, asking questions, demanding something, telling me to eat, go, sit, shoes off, hug gramma. My 23 year old brother told me he wanted me to drink with him. Let me stop here, my family KNOWS I do not drink. I haven’t for over 7 years. I used to have a drug and alcohol problem and worked hard to maintain my sobriety over the years. Again, my family knows this. So when my brother insisted I drink with him, I declined and made my way to the kitchen to grab some food and finish assembling the dessert I brought.

While alternating between the stove and center island, my brother tried to hand me a glass of some kind of alcohol. I again told him no. He insisted. I stood my ground. He stepped closer. I stepped back. He tried to shove the glass into my hand. I kept saying no and he kept insisting I drink. Both our voices raised. He tried to put the glass to my mouth. I backed up as far as I could. We began yelling. He started cussing. My parents rushed in trying to break things up. My brother stormed outside, cussing up a storm and calling me several names- all of which I do not say. At some point I was told I shouldn’t have provoked my brother. I was told several times by him to “just let it go” after he came back inside. One of the gems- what we call “C U Next Tuesday” (I’ll let you suss out what that stands for)- my brother hurled at me several times, texted it, and used it in tagging me on a threatening photo on Facebook (I have screenshots of everything).

If only that were the worst of it. In the fray some family left (I don’t blame them, I wanted to leave, too). My parents’ were leaving to go to church when my dad noticed my car covered in mud. It was dark and that was the only “damage” anyone could see. I left a short time later. As I drove home, I noticed something wrong with my windshield- it was scratched all over. My brother had excessively keyed half my windshield. Anger and hurt consumed me. I was shaking and past the point of crying. I wanted to cut. I wanted to drink. I wanted to take pills. I wanted to do all of it just to not feel or think. To not remember my brother thought so little of me. To not think about how violated I felt. I prayed and screamed the entire drive home. At home I crawled into bed and turned everything off. The next day I had to run an errand. That’s when I saw my car in the light. The passenger side door was keyed up with a deep scratch running down to the tail light. As I looked over the damage I saw what was carved into my door: Satan. I felt violated all over again. My faith and relationship with God is the most important thing in life. My brother knows this. We’ve had some great spiritual conversations in the past. That he would use this to deface my car… I have no sufficient words. Later, at church, a friend pointed out (and please forgive me for writing this) “FUCK” was also scratched into my door. I park at the far end of the church parking lot to keep people from seeing the damage.

My brother has not apologized. Other than messaging me one day on Facebook to tell me not to press charges, he’ll talk to me when he’s ready, and he’ll pay for the damages (a placation to keep me from pressing charges) he hasn’t spoken to me. It was an uphill battle to get my family to see this situation through my eyes. I was told he was drunk and I should have known he was even though the entire house had been with him for hours and no one else knew he had been drinking that much. I was told I should have taken the glass, then maybe he wouldn’t have vandalized my car and said all those things. I was told to remember I was once that age and did things I shouldn’t have. I was told to remember I was the Christian and he wasn’t. I was told I was older and should forgive him. I was told maybe I should just take this as a lesson learned.

I spent two weeks grasping at every shred of control within myself in order to keep going. I spent that time praying and begging God for the strength not to go back to old comforts. I questioned what I did and said. I tried to not feel guilty for smiling when something made me happy. I tried to reach out to friends, but my hands wouldn’t comply to text or call. Every inch of me was focused on appearing normal when I had to leave the house. I’m still exhausted. I don’t want to leave my bed; I have to because I have to work and pay bills. I don’t want to go out and see people and pretend, but I have to keep living. It’s hard to describe why this ordeal affects me this way. I know every day I walk out my front door to see my car in all its vulgar un-glory and cringe. I drive and see through a scratched up windshield. And I am reminded every day my brother deemed me not drinking as a crime punishable by profanity and vandalism and he’s unremorseful.

To say Rolling Stone Magazine made a mistake is giving them too much credit. November 19, 2014 a rambling story of brutal rape was published under the banner of Truth (you can Google the story for yourself if you feel so inclined; I’ll not be posting a link to that drivel to help their hits counter). Stats and figures and other cases of rape were intermingled with the main story about “Jackie”- a naive college student who allegedly endured near-unspeakable horrors. Except, apparently the burden of fact-checking one woman’s heinous allegations was beyond the pay-grade of Sabrina Rubin Erdely or her editors. Fact-checking shouldn’t be above anyone’s pay-grade. Is Rolling Stone hurting for cash to the point they are stooping to write soft-core porn, Penthouse-worthy opening paragraphs?

I’ll say this just once: Rape is evil beyond words. Those who rape are the lowest of humans- if they can be called that. Those who endure it are scarred for life and only the strongest and those with an incredible support system and faith seem to make it out of the barely surviving stage into thriving and living.

Although this shouldn’t need saying, in this post-feminist society, it sadly does: All men are not evil. All men are not out to rape, oppress, and/or beat women. All men are not dogs. All men are not slaves to their neanderthal hormones. All men are not the same. Also, all women are not trustworthy. All women do not tell the truth. All women are not virtuous. All women are not the same.

Two weeks into the Fall of the 2001 semester at Ball State University, I was sexually assaulted on campus. A new friend I’d met in my Psychology lecture encouraged me to meet more people- get out there. I was quiet and awkward and unsure of everything thing around me. I took his advice and met up with another freshman for dinner one night. We went back to his dorm room to play cards. His roommate was gone, but came back briefly only to speak in quick, hushed tones then leave. At some time in the evening he closed the door and brought out a Mt. Dew bottle with alcohol in it. I got up to leave. He blocked the door and said I could leave if I’d have a drink with him. I drank fast so I could get back to my dorm. The alcohol hit hard. He said I could lay on his bed until I felt better. I asked him to take me back to my dorm. He wouldn’t. I laid down trying to catch myself as the world spun and drifted in and out of my consciousness. I remember him crawling into his bed with me. I remember things I don’t want to remember. I remember him touching me and manipulating parts of my body to touch him. I remember trying to move but everything feeling like I was submerged in mud and going in slow motion.

In the morning he said he had a good time and we should do it again. I went back to my room, called my friend, and waited. My friend rushed to campus to pick me up and whisk me to the fraternity he was pledging- the last place I wanted be. But I trusted him, so my friend drove me to the house. The brothers there had been given the heads up what was happening and when I walked in, they were amazing, kind, compassionate, and genuine. The ZBT guys did everything they could to help me. After getting advice from one of the brothers who was studying law, my friend drove me to the hospital for one of the most humiliating experiences a woman can go through- a rape kit. The doctor’s attitude was cold, the nurse was verbally abusive when I refuse the morning after pill, and everything was so sterile and impersonal.

After we left the hospital, my friend took me to campus police where I had to recount the entire ordeal- as much as I could remember- to a camera then write it all out on paper. I didn’t leave the station until 2-3 in the morning. While I was there, the police told me they had brought in the guy who assaulted me and were taking his statement. At some point my friend talked to my parents for me. I couldn’t face them. The guy confessed to everything. Campus police told me he gave more details than I could, except he claimed it was consensual. I still balk at that. I didn’t consent to anything. When I was conscious I insisted on leaving, but he wouldn’t let me.

My roommate called me a liar. She told a couple of her friends on our floor and they called me a liar. They asked how I could ruin a poor guy’s reputation like that just for attention. Campus police eventually called me to tell me the prosecutor wouldn’t take my case because there was no physical evidence from the rape kit proving I was assaulted- never mind his TAPED confession. He wasn’t disciplined by the university and continued to move freely around campus. I almost dropped out of my English class because it was held in the basement of his dorm building and I broke down crying every time I walked up to the doors. My friend and his fraternity are the only reason I made it through that year alive.

Rape and sexual assault are real. Those who make false allegations for attention hurt REAL victims. They hurt the progress made in creating a safe space to speak up and speak out, and to get help. Rolling Stone’s and Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s lack of Journalism 101 skills set back rape victims. Their cavalier attitude to facts and fact-checking is disgusting. They were a joke when they put one of the Boston Bombers on their cover like a millionaire playboy. With this rag of a story and their shell of an apology, they’ve downgraded their credibility to below The National Enquirer.

Okay, so since I began sharing via social media the food I create, people have begged for the recipes and several have poked at me about a cookbook. The big problem? I don’t make a habit of writing down what I do in the kitchen. For me cooking and baking is about how I feel or trying to put a flavor to what I feel. Cooking is pure passion and emotion. Exactness has no place in my kitchen- honest. I have measuring cups and spoons but use them more as estimating shovels than tools of science (contrary to friends of mine who insist baking IS a science and requires accurate measurements). It’s been a fun journey and my food has traveled across the country to friends who brag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram when their packages arrive.

Last year my cooking exploits took an unexpected turn into gluten free and paleo. And more people tried to bribe me for new recipes on old favorites I’ve modified to be easy, delicious alternatives to gluten-laden foods. Enter my amazingly patient friend, Ginny Kruta- the gluten free wife of a baker who can’t eat a single bite of her husband’s work. She’s more disciplined in the kitchen than I am and jumped on board the cookbook train. She kept me on track when I wanted to give up. She reminded me to WRITE DOWN what I was throwing together. She randomly lobbed ideas at me. And most importantly, she encouraged me.

And after months of interstate collaborating and traveling we’ve released our holiday preview of Barefoot and Gluten Free on Amazon.com for $2.99. We take you from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day- three meals a day- and we help you figure out what to do with all those leftovers. The full cookbook will be available Spring of 2015 if Ginny can keep me on track and writing down what I do! Snag your digital copy and have a wonderful holiday season!

Dear Stranger,

We may never meet, but thank you. Not just for your service, but for your sacrifice. Thank you for your dedication, selflessness, honor, and courage. Thank you for giving up your life to train in harsh conditions and then to live in harsher conditions still. Thank you for putting your family on hold to protect mine. Thank you for stepping into danger so I can step out of my house in freedom. Thank you for leaving all you love behind so I can hold those I love close without fear. Thank you for living in uncertainty about deployments so I can safely live in uncertainty about my next career move.

Your dedication to our country is inspiring. Though some dismiss your choice as inconsequential, please hold your head high. You’ve done what most refuse to do- stand proud and willing, at the front and at the ready, to defend and protect America and all who live within her borders. Precious Stranger, you who have given up so much so America can live in abundance, you are my hero. I am grateful to you, not just today, but everyday there is breath in my lungs.

“Thank you,” is such a small phrase in comparison to all you have done, but I mean it sincerely. Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for serving.

God bless,

Ruth