What Happens in the Heart Stays There

What Happens in the Heart Stays There

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my abuser. She was the first person I ever dated, but more and more I’m reluctant to call what we had a romantic relationship. I used to think I was in love with her. But I’m starting to think it was more of an infatuation. I was obsessed with her. With getting to know her. With being in her life.

And she took advantage of that. She used that to her advantage. She held it over my head. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing. She abused me. She refused to commit knowing I would stick around anyway. She sucked up all my emotional energy to fuel her ego. She flushed herself up on my concern and my care. And she gave me the bare minimum in return–checked in just enough to keep my energy up, touched me just enough to make me tingle. But she withheld real intimacy. She tallied up my weaknesses and methodically touched each trigger when she needed to set me off, needed to steer me a certain way. She held labels hostage. She set all the expectations knowing I had never done this before. She ridiculed my concerns, making it clear that my requests for clearer boundaries, better times, a stronger connection were unfair and selfish. She told stories of healthy relationships with the side note that those relationships were unrealistic, clingy, and gross. I kept most of my ideas for myself. I trusted her too much. I trusted that she knew where to take us. I trusted that what she said was true, that it was normal for couples to refuse to acknowledge they were together, to refrain from making long-term plans, that it was okay and healthy for her to refuse to invite me to her gatherings with her “other friends.” It was fine that we never held hands, even when we were alone.

I was not allowed to ask for more. I was not allowed to expect more. I was not allowed to feel resentment towards her restrictions. If I complained, she gaslighted me or guilted me into taking it back. I had to follow her rules. I had to stay on her track.

She could talk about the man she was in love with even while she claimed she wasn’t attracted to men. She could spend all her time with me talking about him, how perfect he was, and how much she missed him and couldn’t stop thinking about him.

If I mentioned my self harm, it was treated as trivial and unimportant. Not worth her time to discuss or try to help me. Apparently I just did it too often for her to care anymore.

I could not be weak; I had to monitor my emotions by myself and take her for her word without breaking down. I was not allowed to self-deprecate, because comforting me was just too inconvenient.

And yet I could not be strong: I couldn’t stand up for myself, I couldn’t question her, I couldn’t begin to stray away or do anything that indicated I knew I deserved better.

I had to stay exactly where she wanted me, while at the same time she berated me for not growing up, not taking care of myself, not being the person she wanted me to be.

She never said “I love you” until she was blackout drunk.

She never thanked me for staying with her the night she lost her grandmother and drank herself into a stupor.

She never apologized for making me miss the obligations I too readily gave up for her sake.

She never asked me about the scars or the lowering grades, the skipped classes, the guilt spirals, the emotional distress, the self-abuse (mental, verbal and physical).

Everything was fixed with a tight hug, a mumbled excuse, a reminder of how shitty her life was.

I clung so desperately to what little she gave me because I didn’t know anything else. I was used to being taken advantage of, abused, neglected. I was used to being consistently invalidated and mocked. My parents had been doing it to me for 20 years. When she fell into my life, it just seemed natural to let her do to me the things she wanted to do.

She never made plans; I had to deal with her last-minute texts asking me to drop everything and come to her. When it was my idea, the timing was bad, the idea was wrong, the details were illogical. When it was hers, I had no say but followed along because I thought I loved this person.

For four months I did everything she wanted, everything she asked, everything she needed, because I though that’s what I wanted, I thought, that’s what you do for the people you love.

I thought I loved her.

I never really did.

It felt like love at the time, but since then, I’ve felt what love truly is. I understand the difference now.

I was infatuated with her, obsessed with breaking down the wall she’d so viciously built up. I was sure I could get through to her when no one else could. I was intent on learning every detail of her life so I could examine and cherish it.

Since then I’ve felt real love from my friends, my chosen family, the amazing girl I dated for two and a half months, and the incredible people I’ve filled my life with since the abuse.

I thought I had no regrets. I comforted myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason.

I’m sick and tired of excusing her. I’m sick and tired of refusing to admit the regret I feel for every time I let her shove me down. I’m furious that my society had me convinced that in the long run my abuse was worth it, because everything happens for a fucking reason.

Sometimes things just happen.

And you can be angry as hell.

And that’s okay.

Because sometimes there’s no good reason for things to happen. All the lessons I leaned from my abuse, I could have learned from having loving parents and a secure support system. I could have learned it from a better social life growing up, from a few casual dating experiences I was never allowed as an adolescent. I could have learned it from so many other events.

There is no good fucking reason I had to suffer at the hands of a selfish cunt for a year and a half because society allowed me to be stupid enough to believe that I DESERVED IT AND IT HAPPENED FOR A REASON.

I want everyone to take a minute to reflect.

You don’t owe the universe anything.

Sometimes shitty things happen.

And it’s okay to be fucking angry about it.

Because there was no good reason. It just happened.

Allow yourself to feel the extent of that pain, because no matter how shitty it may feel to know you were hurt without there being a positive outcome, it’s so much better than lying to yourself and excusing the actions of your abuser to defend the idiotic idea that people getting hurt is okay.

My First Bar Crawl

Friday night I went out with some friends to celebrate my 21st birthday. We stopped in a few bars, where I brandished my ID with pride only to get funny looks from the bouncers who I guessed thought I was an 18 year old with a fake ID. Apparently, I look a lot younger than I am.

But I was let in without trouble and got to celebrate and get tipsy with some of my favorite people. They had to do a bit of babysitting as I got paranoid about getting blackout drunk. Since I’m so small for my age, I figured one Sex on the Beach was enough to knock me out.

My roommate, who was planning the night for me, had asked if I wanted to go into the gay club at the end of the street. A few weeks ago I would have been beyond excited to finally walk in there, but after the mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I was afraid.

By virtue of having lived in America for 21 years, I understand that when something like that happens once, it’s going to happen again.

I went back and forth about it and finally agreed that we could at least walk in.

It’s hard to even describe the feeling emanating from that space. The music was loud enough to feel in my chest as we walked in. The dim and colored lights flashed and spun as a myriad of people crammed onto the dance floor. Rad and brightly colored hair styles caught my eye. Bodies letting it all out. Limbs and hands and heads and hair flailing and swinging in the scattered light. Smiles from people feeling free, grimaces of concentration in the heat of the moment. Couples stealing aside to kiss in corners and doorways. Friends gathered around tables and the bar laughing and singing along. And the air so queer I could feel it. There’s a certain taste to it that I just can’t place. A feeling of finally being able to be your true self and knowing everyone else is feeling that too. A long-awaited lack of judgement for how we dress, who we kiss, how we wear our hair and decorate our faces.

When we walked upstairs and I looked down at the dance floor, at all the colors and smears of movement, I got really excited. I’ve never been a fan of parties and public dancing, but this place made me want to jump in and join everyone else. I felt as if I could swing in and start dancing without any self consciousness. Maybe it was the two drinks, but at the very least there was something about the place that made me feel welcome. I’m pretty sure it was the queerness.

But at the same time, looking down at the mass of colorful bodies, I started to wonder.

If someone walked through the door with an assault rifle, who would be the first ones to fall to the ground bleeding?

Who would be the first to run screaming to the back?

Who would be the first to die, and who the last, and how many of us would be taken to the hospital in ambulances, and how many of our names would be written on stars in dark nights of tears?

I couldn’t stay any longer. As soon as we left I felt an ache in my chest–I wanted so much to go back and drink the air that was part of my world.

But I’m never going to forget about Pulse and wonder how long it will be before my friends and family and I can feel safe.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Inclusivity is Important

It’s not about “not offending people,” it’s about making sure people are safe. I’m not “offended” if you misgender me. I’m hurt, invalidated and dysphoric. I’m not “offended” if you make jokes about suicide or self harm. I’m triggered and sent into a panic spiral that can last for hours or days.
It’s not about policing people’s language, it’s about building a culture of respect and understanding where people are aware that everyone comes from a different place and people are willing to learn from the experiences of others, and respect that certain things are not okay to say. Is that really such a bad thing?

Free Speech Should Not be an Excuse to be an Asshole

Free speech is important but sometimes people forget that it comes with consequences. Historically the amendment was made to protect individuals from persecution if they speak out against those in power. It does not and SHOULD NOT protect against hate speech, so I’m glad to see many college students are making this distinction. I have been told numerous times bu many different people that “no one has the right to not be offended” and under the free speech amendment they can say whatever they want, and if I get upset them I’m preventing them from exercising their freedoms or even accusing them of thought crime. Maybe I don’t have the right to not be offended but I do have a right to a safe environment where I feel I will not be harassed. I have been told that harassment is protected under freedom pf speech. I have been told I can not speak out against my oppressors because I am preventing them from exercising my rights. A good friend once told me “You are free to say whatever you want, but you are never free of the consequences.” If the consequence is something as simple as me reminding them to use inclusive language, I don’t see why anyone should have an issue with that. But a lot of people have essentially told me that free speech gives them the right to be an asshole. If someone wants to be an asshole, go right ahead; but be prepared to be called out for it! Free speech should not negate the need for inclusive language and hate speech should absolutely come with consequences from the University. Free speech should protect students’ right to protest but it should not excuse harassment. In my job I work hard to make students aware of our bias incident/hate crime procedures, but there are those on this campus who would get rid of those resources in the name of “free speech.” My question to them is always: Are you inconvenienced by people’s right to report you for saying racist, ablist, homophobic, sexist, and other discriminatory things? If so, I probably don’t want to be your friend, because I can see you’re not a safe person to be around.

What are we leaving for them?

I came back from volunteering feeling weird today. Usually the group of forty girls I see once a week is lighthearted, rowdy, and fun. Not that today wasn’t; there were fewer of them there because of the weather and spring break, and that actually made it easier to have one-on-one interactions and laugh with the girls. But one of the activities really struck a chord with me. We had broken into smaller groups and I was facilitating six girls in a discussion about friendships and bullying. I asked the question, “How would you feel if you found out your friend was spreading rumors about you?”
One of the girls in my group was of special interest to me. She’d been incredibly shy on the first day and I had to repeatedly coax her back into the group. Since then she’s become much more outgoing, making friends and talking during activities, but she still tended to sit by herself unless I asked her to join the group. She’d asked me several times how old I was, at first mistaking me for one of the students. Sometimes she’d approach me on purpose to simply stand next to me, and I was usually able to invite her into conversations with me by asking her questions she seemed eager to answer in her quiet but energetic voice.
When I asked the question about the gossip and how that would make them feel, this girl put hr fingers to her head in the shape of a gun and said, “It might make you feel like doing this.”
I’m pretty sure this girl is eight years old.
I didn’t know what to say to that except, “That would be sad.” I made her meet my gaze and she did without flinching, and she didn’t seem overly upset about anything, but I was shaken. I told the supervisor what happened and asked the other volunteers to keep an eye on her and I was assured that the girl would b checked on, and that we would talk to all of the girls about what they should do if they were ever feeling very bad about themselves.
About a year ago I was in Pine Ridge and I learned about the three elementary school kids who had killed themselves that week. I remember feeling shocked, feeling helpless, feeling frozen with fear when the other kids brought it up.
Since then I have worked for summer camps where middle and high school kids have expressed to me feelings of depression, moments in their lives they’d considered suicide, ad seen evidence among the ones I was closest to of self harm and suicidal thoughts.
Since then I have been labelled with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and poor self-concept.
Since then I have considered my options more than once but thankfully I have always chosen to keep going.
Since then I have struggled with self harm and its aftermath.
Since then I have interacted with over a hundred kids from troubled households and heard so many stories of kids, each time younger and younger, struggling with thoughts and feelings that no one should ever have to deal with. I can’t believe how young some of these kids are that have these thoughts.
I’m scared for the girl that made that comment tonight and I wonder what she is going through that would make suicide the first reaction she would come up with. I wonder what kind of world we are leaving behind for our children. If seven and twelve year olds are having these thoughts, what will they be doing, saying and thinking as they grow older and more involved in the society we are creating?
I take in the feelings that are expressed to me and sometimes I worry how I will be able to handle the work that I want to dedicate my life to. But I can’t interact with kids like these and then just walk away. I need to do something with what I have learned.
I’m lucky that I have something I’m so passionate about to dedicate my life to, but it makes me indescribably sad to see the evidence of the need for the work I have to do.

In the World of Mental Illness

Sometimes, I just get really angry. People with mental illness tend to one-up each other a lot. Are you having a rough day? Someone close to you has been having that day all week. Feeling especially depressed? Your friend tells you they’ve been having panic attacks for days. Struggling with suicidal thoughts? There’s always that one person who says they’ve been suicidal every day since age twelve.

I get that some feelings are more severe than others, but all we are doing is hurting each other by invalidating someone else’s pain in favor of yours.

I didn’t realize until recently how much I repress my feelings. How my depression and my panics manifest themselves in silent ways my mind keeps disregarding as not important enough to notice, because there’s always the feedback that someone has it worse than you. That’s part of the reason I struggle so much with self-harm. I might think I’m fine, but in reality the pain and sadness is building up inside of me until I reach the tipping point.

And I guess the thing that irritates me most, both about myself as well as my friend group and society as a whole, is that no one notices how upset I am until they see it. I’ve been majorly depressed and suffering from panic attacks for the past week and yet it wasn’t until Friday anyone outside of my tight group of two or three close friends asked me if I was okay. And I’m pretty sure it was because I looked like shit that day. I was only going to the Pride Center, so I didn’t bother showering—I hadn’t in days—I dug an old shirt out of my laundry basket to wear because it reminded me of the girl I’m dating, and my arms were wrapped in white gauze because they were still recovering from yesterday when I’d broken the blade out again (the first time this year, which is actually a little astonishing for me). I curled up on the couch and slept and didn’t even talk to the Friday intern, who I usually love to hang out with when he’s there. He tried bothering me into getting up, but it didn’t work. I was too tired, too upset, and too tired of hiding it.

Stacie walked in to update us on the things that were going on, as she always did, and at the end of it she asked me if I was okay. “You don’t look okay. In fact you look very bad,” she said.

It was the first time someone was acknowledging my outward expression of my inner pain, and it was kind of relieving actually. I told her I was fine—“I mean, I’m not okay, but it’s fine.”

She seemed to believe me, and when she left told me to call her if I needed anything.

I felt a little bad for another friend of mine who was there, who I’d been talking to since I bothered to sit up. He seemed to notice for the first time how shitty I really did look (he tends not to judge people by their appearances, which is a great skill to have). After what Stacie said though his attention was drawn to it, and he too asked me if I was alright. I told him a bit of what was going on, grateful for his concern but irritated that it took white gauze for him to notice.

Besides my sister, the only person that I told the whole story to was the girl I’ve been dating for the past two weeks. We were driving in her car later that same day and I decided to ask her about her comfort level with my self-harm (she was already aware of it, and my sister had encouraged me to be open with her since she’d already told me I could talk to her about it).

I started by saying I’d had a really rough week. She jumped in with “I’ve had a really rough two weeks.”

There was a slight pause. I looked at her and said I was sorry.

She looked back at me, saw I was genuinely distressed, and quickly changed her tune.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to one-up you or anything.” I shrugged, and she pressed me. “Why was this week rough?”

I go back and forth about the exchange. On one hand I’m pissed that she so quickly countered my expression of pain by trying to say she had it harder. But on the other hand I really don’t think she meant it like that, and I’m also really impressed that she quickly apologized, and then immediately refocused on me without bringing it back to herself once for the entire conversation. Her first move was immature, but she’s only a freshman. She’s still maturing out of her high school mindset, and I have a feeling high school kids are one-upping each other constantly. In fact I know that after having worked with almost a hundred of them for eight weeks over the summer. And she’s already showing maturity by correcting her behavior, so in all, the exchange mostly makes me feel safer with her.

I told her what had been going on—my struggle in finding a new job or keeping my old one, my living situation, dealing with the mixed messages I was getting. That it had cumulated to a panic attack and a bought of self-harm. And I wanted to know if she was uncomfortable with my state, if she didn’t want to hear about it, if she wanted to be an outlet for me.

“It’s not going to trigger me,” she told me. “I don’t mind hearing about it. It doesn’t bother me.”

Later I was getting warm in the car and took my jacket off, revealing the gauze. “It looks bad, but it’s okay. This is what people saw, and it freaked them out, and it was the first time I felt okay not wearing long sleeves,” I said.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she repeated.

She didn’t give me a funny look, her voice didn’t shake, she didn’t sigh or let the feeling hang for minutes on end. I let it out, she took it in, and we moved on.

I hope I can continue to feel safe with her. I hope we can continue to talk about these things. I don’t want us to be comparing our depression or our pain. That’s not healthy and it just harks back too much to the way it was with my ex. I’m hoping we can foster a safe space between the two of us, because in today’s crazy world, where some people aren’t as mature as she was able to be, things just get nasty. And I know I’m going to need an escape from that.

Summer Camp Speculations

Summer Camp Speculations

I just love kids so much. Honestly, sometimes just looking at a small child makes me want to cry, and I really don’t know why that is. I think part of it is because I so intensely want to believe in the amazing spirit of every single child I come across. I want to tell them how awesome they are, how super cool it is that they’re wearing a blue t-shirt, that they are holding their sibling’s hand, that they stop and take a picture of the sunset or a bug with their phone. I want to tell them how much of life they have to look forward to. I want to tell them to keep the positive attitude that they start off with, that conviction that they are perfect and cool and capable and life is just an adventure to live and learn from.

At what point does our society tell our kids that they’re not worth it? What eventually convinces kids that life is a drag, a trial to be tolerated until something better comes along? When do they lose their free spirit, their unshakable sense of self? Who comes up to them and tells them that all the cool things they like are dumb? When are they compelled to stop, look around, see what “everyone else” is doing, and drop what they really want to do just so they can be like “everyone else”?” When do they become convinced that it’s better to fit in with an unrealistic mold than it is to stay yourself?

Recently I’ve started to take a look back at my own life, and I wonder the same things about myself. I know I complain a lot about my family, but my experiences with them don’t begin to explain the intense feelings of self-hatred I experience. And I know from talking to my friends that I’m not the only one. There’s something fucked up about the younger generation, and it’s not our fault, and I’d give anything for this next generation of kids to not have to suffer through it.

I wonder every day what happens to 12-year-olds to make them want to kill themselves. I wonder what kind of hurt kids must have suffered through to become bullies. I wonder how many times it takes for a kid to be hurt before they shut down and are labeled with some kind of mental disorder. I wonder about all the creative minds we’re suppressing because they way they work doesn’t fit “the norm.” I wonder when it was decided that asking for help was a bad thing, so kids are forced to look stupid and adults don’t take the time to ask “Why?”, rather focusing on the “what”–what haven’t you done, what do you need to do to make up for it? I wonder what happened to make parents think that taking care of their kids is no longer a humane necessity but a duty that they perform out of free will and tolerance, and then hang this over their kids’ heads as some kind of threat. “We take care of you, but we don’t really have to, and you should be grateful we give you anything at all.” What is going on here?
All I wanted as a kid was for someone to tell me or show me that I was worth it. That I was worth believing in. It took me years to even realize that’s what I wanted, what I’ve been missing. And now that I’m in a new environment, surrounded by people who love me, support me, and believe in me, I can’t handle it. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m convinced that they must be wrong, that they must be lying to me. I’m so convinced I’m not worth anything that when someone tries to show me the contrary, I shut down, and sometimes start to avoid my closest friends just to get away from that confusing feeling. And the worst part of it is that I know I’m not the only one experiencing this. So many of the people I know are feeling these same feelings and harboring these same thoughts.

And they keep getting younger. One of my precollege girls–she could have only been 10 or 11–wrote a message on the white board at least four times during our 2-week class. “Life is not meaningful.” And she signed it with her name.
WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR SOCIETY TO MAKE A FUCKING TEN YEAR OLD SAY THAT LIFE IS NOT MEANINGFUL?