Reflections from the Saddle

Today was a big day for me.

Today, I got back in the saddle and rode my horse.

That may not sound like a huge thing to some, but, for me, it is a huge landmark and a cause for celebration.

I haven’t been able to ride for about a year. Something that was once as vital to me as breathing became something I couldn’t do. Driving out to the barn was just too much when I was so depressed that I could barely get out of bed in the morning. Grooming my horse when I struggled to find the energy to shower was beyond me. During the random spots where my depression let up a bit, my anxiety kept me out of the saddle. I wasn’t anxious about how Cadenza would behave – my faith in him has never flagged. I was anxious about my ability to ride him. Bringing a horse back into work who has had a significant amount of time off can be a bit difficult, at times. It takes patience. I knew I didn’t have the patience and that my anxiety was likely to make me overreact to every little thing that he did, and I felt this wouldn’t be fair to him.

So I didn’t ride. I didn’t even go out to the barn very often, other than to pay the board bill. I knew that just brushing horses is therapeutic to me, yet I couldn’t find it in me to even do that. I was anxious that my new barnmates would judge me for having an expensive lawn ornament (a.k.a. a horse who just sits in the pasture). Everyone at the new barn is very nice, but anxiety usually isn’t logical.

I’ve been wanting to get back to riding and spending time at the barn since April. I haven’t quite been able to do it, though. I was sent on a month long business trip just as I was starting to mentally gear up to get back in the saddle. I had only been home for a few weeks when I had a severe episode with my PTSD, and then Maggie and I had to make a somewhat unexpected move from our old apartment.

I have managed to get in some groundwork with Cadenza here and there over the last month – an exercise to remind myself what a good and obedient horse I have as much as it was to give Cadenza a refresher course on his manners and obedience. Yesterday, I lunged him after the farrier reset his shoes and he was a perfect gentleman. Today, I got out all his tack. I took my time brushing him and tacking him up, simply to get back in a routine. I even put his leg wraps on, knowing we wouldn’t be doing anything strenuous enough to really need them. We did our groundwork and he was a perfect gentleman. As I stood with him in the middle of the arena and scratched his head and praised him, I knew it was time.

Time to get back in the saddle. Time to face down the depression and anxiety that have kept me groundside for too long. Time to reclaim one of my longtime passions and sources of comfort.

I let the other boarder who was there to work with her horse know that I was going to get on and that I hadn’t ridden in about a year, just so she could be aware and check on us. She offered to lunge Cadenza for me (lungeing means standing in the center of a circle, with the horse on a long rope, and working the horse around you in a large circle), which I gratefully took her up on.

Riding a horse is a lot like riding a bike – you never really forget how to do it. From the moment I got on, it felt natural and almost like hardly a day had gone by. I felt like I was home again.

All that Cadenza and I did was some quiet walking in circles. He was very quiet and very attentive, almost as if he was waiting to see what I would ask him to do and ready to obey. But I don’t want to rush back into a full training regimen. We will gradually build back up to it. Today, I just enjoyed being back in the saddle and feeling the rhythmic steps of my horse.

Horses are used in many therapy programs across the nation, and they have proved to be wonderful companion animals and a steadfast source of comfort for the mentally ill. I’ve often observed in the past that horses have been a major part in helping me get through some of the more difficult times in my life. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my four-legged therapist and re-establishing an old bond with my horse.

I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few weeks. Today, though, was a momentous day. I climbed a seemingly insurmountable mountain that has been standing in my way. I reclaimed one of my lifelong passions. I once again found a place that brings peace to my heart and mind.

Riding really is good for the soul.

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A post-ride selfie Cadenza, my baby boy.

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On Consent and Entitlement

Trigger warning: consent, sexual assault, rape culture

Last year, I had the honor of being the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding. It was perfect. It was her – steampunk, yet still traditional. Standing beside her and watching her marry the love of her life brought tears of joy to my eyes. I’m still amazed that I made it through my speech without a few tears escaping as I congratulated my best friend on the next chapter of her life.

As lovely as her wedding was, and as much of a privilege it was to stand beside her on this momentous day, her wedding isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something that happened at the wedding. Something that happens on a regular basis.

I want to talk about consent. Or, rather, the lack of it that pervades our society.

There was something that happened about half way through the reception. I was chatting with an acquaintance at an event where I didn’t know many people. A gentleman stepped in to join the conversation. Abruptly, a moment or two later, he told me that he was going to hug me. I took a step back and said “I don’t want to be hugged.”

That was when it happened. Despite my statement that I didn’t want to be hugged, he stepped forward to wrap his massive arms around me in a giant bear hug. Without even thinking, I reacted the same way I would if a horse encroached upon my personal space: My elbow came up and I body-checked this guy (yes, I have been known to body-check horses. It works, in certain circumstances). In order to fully appreciate this scene, please imagine me, a whole 5’5″ with my stilettos on, wearing a corset and a formal gown, body-checking a guy who is at least a foot taller than me and probably double my weight.

I pushed away from him, ignoring the look of shock on his face, and said in a quiet but firm voice, “I said I don’t want to be hugged. I hate being hugged by most people.” I turned on my heel and headed away, not wanting to this minor spectacle it into a major disruption.

A short time later, I joined my roommate out on the deck so I could enjoy the nice October weather. The same guy was on the deck and shortly after I joined my roommate, he began loudly lamenting the fact that I refused to give him a hug and proclaiming that I made him feel bad. It was clear that he was trying to guilt me into hugging him. I replied evenly that I dislike being hugged, and added in the clarification that I can count the number of people I willingly permit to hug me on my fingers and have a few left over. My roommate backed me up and told him that I don’t even like hugging her, unless there are circumstances of considerable duress going on. He continued to grumble, but stopped making a scene about it.

At that point, I thought it was over. Much to my dismay, it was not. As the reception was winding down, I was resting my tired feet at a table and relaxing a bit. He came looming up over me, proclaiming that he was going to get a hug before he left the reception. Once again, I threw up my arm to fend him off, and an edge of anger crept into my voice as I repeated yet again that I do not like being hugged by people I don’t know well. He backed down, but not without muttering his hurt and disappointment almost all the way out the door.

Although this is a more extreme example, I run into similar situations on a fairly regular basis. I cannot count the number of times that I have flinched away from someone trying to hug me. People assume that they are entitled to my body and then act astonished when I gently (and in not so many words) inform them otherwise. The vast majority of the time, my quiet explanation that I dislike being touched and that it has nothing to do with that particular person is met with hurt expressions or harsh words. Other times, it is met with an attempt to physically force me into the hug.

And this entitlement isn’t just manifested in the undesired hug. It can be found in the uninvited touches that pervade everyday life; the slap on the back, the pat on a shoulder, or the casually placed hand on waist or back to steer someone. As someone who has learned to be keenly aware of touch and personal space from a lifetime of working with horses and also for whom touch is a major PTSD trigger, I find myself becoming increasingly aware of how casually we treat the bodies of others and behave as if touching them is our innate right.

We live in a society where the people with the most entitlement to your body is everyone but you. Where it is commonly accepted to try and force a hug on someone. Where you are expected to simply endure it, and where you are a divergent if you try to enforce your wishes to not be touched. Where people try to guilt others into unwanted physical touches because it “makes them feel bad when they are turned down.” Where it is okay to expect certain physical acts because you have done something for someone else (bought them dinner, helped them move, gave them a gift, etc.).

We live in a society where we teach children from a young age that their consent doesn’t matter. We teach them to expect to have their “no” overridden, whether it is by a command, or by cajoling or guilting them into giving a hug. We teach young girls that it is a sign that a boy likes her tries to look up her skirt, or unlatch her bra, or cop a feel in the hall  at school. We tell them “boys will be boys” and advise them to ignore it. We ask what they did to incite these actions, or blame it on the way they are dressed.

We live in a society that teaches our children that others have a right to their body and that they have no say over it. Is it any surprise that teenagers are having sex simply because their partner wants to, even if they don’t? They’ve been taught from a young age that they can’t say no to someone else hugging them. They’ve been conditioned to give in to the guilting, or the orders, or the cajoling. A simple conversation to sit down and tell them that they have the right to expect consent isn’t enough. The lack of consent and bodily autonomy that has pervaded their lives for so long overshadows that message.

We live in a society where young girls are told that if a boy violates her body, it means that he likes her. We are teaching them that it is simply a thing that boys do, and that it is best for them to ignore it. Or, even worse, we teach them that it is their fault, because they did something to invite this violation, or they dressed in a way that invited it. Is it any surprise that many young women experience rape within a relationship and still stay in that relationship? We spent their childhood either teaching them that it is a good sign, or that it’s just how boys are, or that it is their fault (or a combination of all three).

I have had enough of this society. I have had enough of tolerating infringements on my consent and bodily autonomy. I am done indulging others and their perceived entitlement to my body. I am finished going along with a societal standard that contributes to rape culture. I am through perpetuating this disregard of consent in everyday life on the next generation. If I don’t want to be touched, I will speak up. If someone continues to try and touch me after I have spoken, I will physically enforce my “no.” (not in a violent manner, but in a manner that stops or cuts off the unwanted contact) If I don’t have time to speak before the contact is initiated, I will calmly inform the culprit that I do not like being touched without my explicit consent and ask them not to do it again. I will encourage others to stand up for their bodily autonomy and expect that others respect their consent, and I will stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I will ask my niece and nephew (and other children with whom I come into contact) if they will give me a hug, rather than telling them to come and hug me. I will accept their “no,” if that is their answer, and tell them that it is completely okay if they don’t want to hug me.

If we can learn to respect the bodily autonomy of others, we can strike a blow deep into the heart of rape culture. It won’t destroy it completely, but it will wound it deeply. And if more individuals felt that the violation of their consent wouldn’t be excused or blamed on them for “inciting” the violation, perhaps they would feel more like they are able to come forward with their experiences. Perhaps then we could make some progress on prosecuting those who commit sexual assault and sexual abuse.

I know there may be consequences to taking this stance. Some people may think I’m standoffish or rude. Some may think I’m an extremist. But I don’t care. I am done indulging their entitlement and feelings, especially when that indulgence often comes at my own expense. I will stick to my guns and demand that my consent and bodily autonomy be respected. I will extend that same respect for the consent and bodily autonomy of others with whom I come in contact.

I will be a one woman revolution. It may not spread across the entire nation, or even across the state. It may not even spread through the whole city. But I will do what I can to make difference within my sphere of influence. I will challenge this entitlement when I see it and I will stand up for consent and bodily autonomy.

Will you join me?

 

If you have been in a situation where your consent was violated and you have been sexually assaulted or abused, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is a wonderful resource for help and healing. They have people standing by to help you, whether by phone (800-656-4673) or via chat. I’ve talked to them, myself, and they are truly amazing and caring people.

 

A Note for Coping with Anxiety

It has been a few months since I have written, but not because I have abandoned this blog. I was having computer problems (solved by getting a lovely new laptop!), went on a month long business trip, and had a lot of other things going on. I’m hoping to get back into more of a schedule, as far as posting here goes.

Have you ever found yourself in a point where your anxiety was so bad that you became non-verbal, yet you absolutely had to run some errands and be able to communicate with people? That’s the situation that I found myself in, today. I want to share how I got through this, because it’s something I think would really help others!

I found myself out of anti-depressants, today. I’ve known all week that I was running low, but I’ve been having a very severe episode with my PTSD/anxiety/depression and couldn’t even leave the apartment for several days. I had a panic attack that lasted over an hour and a half, yesterday, and it left me so physically and emotionally spent that even a good night’s rest wasn’t enough. I am almost entirely non-verbal, today. It’s not that I can’t speak, physically. It’s not that I can’t put together my thoughts into a coherent sentence. I simply can’t make the words come out of my mouth. It takes more of an effort than I can produce, right now. Driving to the store and walking to the pharmacy, though? That’s fairly doable.

I put in my request to refill my prescription online and was trying to figure out how I was going to manage to go into the store to actually pick up the medication when I remembered a friend posting on Facebook about how he had needed to run errands on a day when he was non-verbal and wrote notes ahead of time to give the clerks, regarding what he needed. I decided to give it a try, myself.

Anxiety note

I walked in and headed straight for the pharmacy, nodding a quick acknowledgment of the cashier’s greeting when I entered. The pharmacist met me with a smile and a “How can I help you?” I simply smiled in greeting and handed her my note. She continued to speak to me in a friendly tone, but immediately dispensed with any small talk that would require an answer from me. The one or two questions she had to ask about my prescription (“have you taken this before” and “do you have any questions about this medication?”) were easily answered with a nod of my head. Within a few moments, I was out the door, medication in hand and severe anxiety spike averted.

This isn’t something I intend to rely on every day, as I usually chose to push myself just a bit to not let my anxiety get the better of me. On days like today, though, where I have been non-functional for an entire week and am still struggling, this is a great option. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of coping techniques for anxiety, and recommending it to my friends who also struggle!

 

 

Jessica Jones: an inspirational character

TW: sexual abuse, PTSD

Also, SPOILERS!

When I heard that Marvel was coming out with a new series on Netflix and that David Tennant would be in it, I was elated. Not only do I love Marvel, but I am also a huge David Tennant fangirl. I really liked Daredevil, so I had high hopes that Netflix would do a good job with this new series. I’m still a bit of a comic noob, so I wasn’t familiar with the storyline behind Jessica Jones.

When the time came for this new series to be released on Netflix, I was a bit busy and didn’t get to it in the first few days. Then I started seeing warnings on Twitter that, though good, this series could possibly be very triggering to anyone with a history of abuse/PTSD. This was during the time when I was having very serious issues with my own PTSD, although I hadn’t been diagnosed yet, so I decided it wasn’t wise for me to start the series, yet. Now that my new meds have taken effect and I am doing better than I was, I decided to try watching it and see if it was still too soon for me. My roommate and I watched it together, which helped.

To my surprise, instead of being triggered by this series, I was encouraged by it. Jessica faced some horrible, horrible things at the hands of Kilgrave, and her suffering often resonated with me. The long term effects of it were very obvious, and her PTSD symptoms were almost palpable to me, at times. Yet, through it all, Jessica showed incredible resilience and strength of mind and will. Yes, she obviously has some issues, which include her drinking habit, but she doesn’t let that stop her. She continues to live her life as best she can and she reaches out to others like Hope and Malcolm when they are affected by Kilgrave, as well. She goes so far above and beyond to try and help Hope. Are her ways of trying to help her always the best? No. But she does the best that she can.

Seeing how Kilgrave acted towards Jessica and others was also very illuminating, to me. His manipulation often gave me the chills. The way that he was so convinced that there was nothing wrong with what he had done and clearly believed his own justification was eerily familiar to me. The way that Jessica stood up to him and refused to let him gaslight her into thinking that his version of reality was the accurate one was amazing. It takes a lot of strength to stand up to someone like that and to refuse to allow them to change your perception. Not only did she refuse to allow him to change her perception, she also told him point blank that he raped her and refused to budge when he tried to convince her otherwise. She recognized how abusive and manipulative he was being when she stayed with him in her childhood home and she still set some boundaries with him and insisted that he honor them (not touching her, for example).

To me, Jessica developing a resistance to Kilgrave’s powers was symbolic of learning not to let the person/event that caused your trauma continue to control your life. She defied him openly on multiple occasions and refused to allow him to resume control over her, regardless of how much he got under her skin. I know it probably wasn’t meant to be symbolic by the writers, but to me, Jessica Jones will be a reminder of the fact that I can learn to live without letting my PTSD control my life.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how Jessica grows in the next season, now that Kilgrave is gone. I’m looking forward to seeing her work to help others, and hopefully start to heal from the pain and trauma that she went through.

While Jessica Jones is not a great role model, in terms of some bad decisions she makes in the course of the series, as well as her drinking habits, she’s still an inspiration to me and quite the bad ass, despite what she went through. I can’t wait to see the next season!

 

 

Welcome to Midnight 2016

One of the mental health support and awareness groups I follow is called To Write Love On Her Arms. Every year for New Year’s Eve, they do a thing called “Welcome to Midnight.” It’s about more than just your typical NYE resolutions. It focuses on truly believing that it is possible the change and turn your life around, and that those changes don’t happen in a moment.

I use Welcome to Midnight as a chance to reflect on the last year – how I have learned and grown and changed, and also how I struggled. I use it to decide what I want to work on and how I want to grow in the coming year. I’ve never publicly shared this before, but this year I decided to do it. I’m fairly late, this year, but better late than never.

Here is what I decided last year that I wanted to work on in 2015.

I want to learn that it’s okay to need help and how to trust enough to ask for that help, even when I am at my most broken. That I am worth the help of my friends. That I am worthy of love and that I deserve to see better days. That better days are coming.
 
I want to continue to grow in the area of living every moment and not just existing and dragging myself through life. I want to continue to grow in terms of not just refusing to let fear hold me back, but in living a life free of the fear and uncertainty I’ve allowed to hold me back for so long. I want to grow in my relationships – in truly knowing my trusted friends and letting them know me. Not just the pretty parts of me, the areas where I seem to have my life together, but the struggles, the pitfalls and the triumphs, as well.

I did so much in the last year, in terms of not letting fear hold me back. In February, I accepted a new job. Within days of accepting that new job, a former colleague of mine posted on Facebook that she needed a new roommate. In a matter of days, I had signed on as her new roommate. I moved on February 28th, a mere ten days after I decided to move, and started my new job two days later. Taking that leap was a terrifying thing to do. I grew up in a home where it was expected that I would live at home until I got married. It’s implied in that teaching that women are somehow unable to live independently, without a man to watch over them and care for them. Despite the fact that I no longer hold to those beliefs, the insidious ideas that were planted by purity culture and my fundamentalist upbringing still linger in more ways than I would like.

Moving out went smoothly, and I will forever be grateful for my friends who helped me with moving my things. My new roommate, Maggie, and I got along from the beginning, and being out of my mother’s house meant that I no longer had to conceal the way that my beliefs had changed. As welcome as the change was, it was difficult to adjust to at first. I often found myself missing home, though I knew I didn’t miss how afraid I often felt, at my mother’s house. And it was hard to learn to relax and feel safe in my new home. I found myself feeling afraid that Maggie wouldn’t like having me as a roommate, or that I would be a nuisance to her. It was quite the opposite, though, and she told me not long after I moved in that I was the best roommate she’d had since her sister moved out.

Emelee and B both helped to ease the transition quite a bit. B supported me and comforted me from afar, while Emelee frequently came over after we got off work and kept me company. It took a few months, but I gradually grew accustomed to the apartment and and it began to feel safe and to feel like home. Maggie and I become better and better friends, and I began to trust her and feel comfortable in confiding my struggles in her, too. She’s been extremely supportive during the struggles I’ve been facing with my mental illnesses, even when it has had an impact on her. I’ve learned to trust both her and Emelee, and to reach out to them when I need help. Especially as the symptoms of my PTSD worsened and I was officially diagnosed with it, I’ve had a lot of new opportunities to share about my struggles as part of my ongoing commitment to raising awareness about mental illness by being open about my own struggles.

Once I had begun to settle in a bit more, I decided to do something that I had always been loathe to do – I joined OkCupid. While I lived at home, I was afraid that Mom would want to watch over my shoulder and pre-screen any matches, in keeping with the purity culture traditions I was raised with, but no longer believed. I’ve already chronicled my adventures on OkCupid in some of my earlier posts, but this really was a huge step towards my goal of not letting fear and uncertainty to hold me back. The relationship I developed with A gave me an opportunity to work on growing in my relationships. We’ve taken time in letting our relationship develop, but there is very little I wouldn’t share with him, at this point.

I think this year was definitely a huge success, in terms of what I set out to accomplish, last year. I accomplished my goals and did things that I never imagined would be possible, at this point in my life. I have lived so much and done so many things that I would have previously allowed fear to hold me back from. I’m very proud of myself, all that I have done, and how far I have come.

So, what do I want to work on, this year? How do I want to welcome midnight, this year?

This year, I want to learn that it’s okay to give myself a break and to accept the limitations that the PTSD places on what I can do, while also challenging and pushing those limits. I want to continue to build a better life for myself. There are many more better days ahead of me. I know this, now.

I want to continue to grow in my relationships and the openness that I have been learning. It is a truly wonderful thing to be open with someone and to know that they accept me for who I really am and not hide behind the mask I so often put up when I am in public. I want to continue to work on not letting fear and uncertainty hold me back. Both of these things are ongoing projects for me, and will likely be something I work on for several years.

 

 

 

 

 

An update

It has been some time since I posted on here. I appreciate all of the encouragement and support that I have received, since then.

The med change that I went through was not well handled by my doctor and I ended up having some very serious side effects. Thankfully, I have adjusted to my new medication quite well and it seems to be working very well. The nightmares have mostly abated and I’m sleeping, again. Amazingly enough, I have more energy than I have in months. I hadn’t realized just how long my depression had been creeping back in and stealing my energy. I can finally get out of bed again in the mornings without having to fight to get up. It’s no longer so hard to go out and run errands and get things done around the apartment.

I am still struggling with learning to cope with the random triggers, but I know that isn’t something I will be able to do overnight. I’m slowly building up a repertoire of grounding exercises and techniques to help myself with the anxiety. I’m still afraid of how hard it will be to overcome this and how long it will take me to work through this. I’m no longer so afraid of the process and the struggle, though. I know that I have friends who will stand by me and support me as I work through these issues. It’s not going to be a quick or easy road, but it is one that I know I will be able to conquer.

Now that I am a bit more stable, I am looking forward to posting here more frequently. I already have a post scheduled for tomorrow, and hopefully I will be able to write more again, soon.

A New Diagnosis

I haven’t been around much for the last month, largely because I have been fighting to keep my head above water.

Let me make this story short. I hit a major trigger regarding the sexual abuse that took place when I was a kid. I started having flashbacks, anxiety, and nightmares, all of which just kept getting worse and worse. After I spent several hours, curled up in a ball on the couch and unable to move because my anxiety and distress were so severe, I called my therapist.

She confirmed what I had begun to suspect: I have PTSD. She couldn’t give me an official diagnosis, since therapists can’t diagnose. But we looked at the criteria for a diagnosis and I every last one of them, and exhibit all of the symptoms except one (outbursts of anger or irritability). At this point, my doctor has confirmed this and diagnosed me with PTSD. We’ve changed my antidepressant and I also have a med for my anxiety, now.

I have mixed feelings about my diagnosis. It’s a relief to know what is wrong. Being able to give a name to what I have been experiencing for the last year somehow makes it less scary. And now that we know what is wrong, we can start treating it. I can get better. I mean, I already lived through anorexia, which has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. If I can beat that, I can do this, too, right?

But I am also afraid. Terrified, really. My eating disorder swallowed up five years of my life. It came closer to claiming my life than I like to admit. I don’t know if I can go through that much of a struggle, again. What if this one actually does claim my life? I feel so very broken. And the worse the depression and the anxiety get, the harder it becomes to continue to eat. The eating disorder always starts whispering in my ear again when I’m already struggling. It’s so hard not to relapse, sometimes. If I do, I honestly don’t think I will have the strength to climb back out of that black pit a second time.

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my friends. I lost three with my eating disorder. Close friends. One of whom I had grown up with and who was like a sister. I don’t know if I can cope with losing any more to mental illness.

I’m afraid I’m going to hurt my family. I finally told my mother about the abuse and how bad my mental health is, right now. And I know it’s hurting her to see me hurting so much. She’s even helping me pay for therapy, which is good, since I can’t afford it. But that’s money out of her budget. And she already spent how many thousands of dollars on treatment for my eating disorder? It’s not right. It’s not fair to her. I wish I could just be a normal daughter.

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job. I’ve already earned a verbal warning for “attendance issues” due to have to leave work a few times. A verbal warning doesn’t bear any consequences, but continued absences will. My manager is being as understanding as he can be, and I’ve even been approved to have some extra 5 minute breaks throughout the day to help with my anxiety. But it’s still a business. They can’t let me miss work constantly, not without FMLA. And I’m not eligible for that until March.

I know everyone will tell me it will be okay, I can get through this. But, right now, I’m so exhausted and depressed and afraid that I can barely move. And switching antidepressants is making it all worse. The mood swings in particular are killing me. I know this is necessary, and I know that I will start to feel better in a few weeks, but the transition between meds feels like a living hell.

I feel frightened. I feel alone. And I feel so very, very broken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression is…

Trigger warning: depression, anorexia, self harm

Depression.

For some, it’s an intangible idea. For others, it’s something that they watch their loved ones struggle with. For still others, it is a harsh reality in their lives, either past or present.

I’ve struggled with depression for the last ten years, perhaps longer. I finally went on medication a little over a year ago and, overall, it has made an incredible difference. I had no idea how depressed I was on a daily basis, before. Now, I just have occasional bouts where the severity and intensity increases.

Right now is one of those times.

I can almost always point out a specific trigger for occasional bout of depression that is too strong for my medication to handle. Stress. Problems with my mother. Flashbacks. Things of that nature. They are usually relatively short lived – I have two or three days (four, if it is really bad) where I struggle to make it through work, or to even get out of bed, followed by a several day “recovery” period where things slowly start to improve.

This bout has been different. There is no trigger point that I can identify, and it hasn’t followed the trend of starting to get noticeably better after two or three days. It has been a week, as of today, and although the initial, highly destructive tendencies that often accompany the onset of a bout of depression have faded, the depression itself is showing little sign of abating.

I’ve been posting status updates on Facebook to a small group of my friends, all of which start with “Depression is…” I’m finding it both helpful to express what I am going through and a good way to continue raising awareness about mental illness. This is an extension of those posts.

This is not a pretty post. It is not filtered. It is not dressed up. This is a brutally honest post about what depression is like, for me. It’s raw. It’s ugly. But it’s not without hope. I know it will get better, again. And I’m not giving up on that hope.


Depression is…

…hearing the alarm clock go off and not having the energy to turn it off, even after sleeping 8 hours.

…feeling like I am moving through sand. The resistance to my efforts to move is almost palpable. Simple tasks like walking to the bathroom suddenly become an immensely burdensome task, one that takes a lot of deliberation to accomplish.

…struggling with the anxiety that always accompanies my depression. Anxiety that my friends are going to get sick of my mental health problems. That they are going to decide I’m not worth it, that I’m too much of a burden and leave me. This anxiety isn’t entirely unfounded – I have lost cherished friendships to my mental illness in the past. The result is that I often find myself caught between wanting to be open about my struggles and fearing that same openness that I crave and need will drive away my friends and loved ones.

…knowing that I’m running out of anti-depressants and have to see the doctor to get a refill, but not having the energy to pick up the phone and make an appointment.

…not even having the energy to go see my beloved horse. I know that brushing him and putting my arms around his strong neck is incredibly therapeutic for me. But I can’t summon the energy to go out to the barn and do so.

…fighting with myself about eating. Loss of appetite is common with depression. Combine that with the anorexia nervosa that is always lurking, looking for a moment of weakness to pounce and drag me back into the hell that is a relapse, and not only do I have to fight to find the energy to cook something to eat, I also have to fight to make myself eat it.

…feeling like I am incredibly high maintenance and a burden to my friends. I have a small circle of friends with whom I am open about my struggles. Last year, I confided to one of them that I felt impossibly high maintenance. She actually chuckled a little and assured me that I am anything but high maintenance. Despite that assurance, I still feel like I need too much from them and like I am interfering with their lives. Yet, when our places are reversed, I never feel the slightest bit put out by a friend asking me for help. In fact, I feel honored that they trust me in that way. I’m working on learning that it is okay for me to ask for help, but it’s still a work in progress. I know that part of my problem is that my mother told me more than once that I had no regard for how much my eating disorder impacted her and called me ungrateful. Even though I know this is an unjust accusation, each occasion that these words were hurled at me echoes through my mind, and it makes me hesitant to reach out for the support that I need.

…laying awake at 3 am, utterly exhausted, yet unable to sleep.

…being late to work, even though I arrived with plenty of time to start my shift, because I was sitting in the car, crying for no apparent reason.

…being afraid to let people hug me, because I feel like I might shatter into a thousand pieces and become a sobbing mess, yet wanting that hug more than anything and wanting them to never let me go.

…finding my eyes randomly leaking at awkward moments and for no apparent reason. I swear, I’m not crying. My eyes are just watering. Yeah, that’s it.

…finishing my shift at work and trying to summon enough strength to walk out to my car and drive home, just so I can crawl in bed and not move for eight hours while I pretend to sleep.

…begging my kitten to cuddle with me and ignoring him play-attacking my hands, because I need to hear his little purr and feel his warmth so I don’t feel so alone.

…feeling like there is a 100 lb weight on my chest. Something as simple as breathing becomes a difficult task, at times.

…listening to the same two songs (“I Believe” and “Human” by Christina Perri) on repeat for days on end, because they are comforting and help me remember that this will get better.

…having a death grip on my “stick” when I’m at work and getting funny looks for walking around with a decorated dowel rod because it helps to ground me and remind me of the support I have from my friends. (please note: I am not suicidal. “I need a stick” became a signal between me and a good friend/coworker that we were struggling with our mental health at work. One day, I handed her a pen and said, “Well, I don’t have a stick, but I have a pen.” She decorated it and it became our official “stick” that we passed back and forth to whichever of us needed it most as a sign of support and solidarity. I have since decorated some wooden dowel rods and keep one at my desk)

…looking forward to the weekend, not so I can get things done or go out with friends, but so I can build a pillow fort on my bed and refuse to come out or socialize if I don’t feel up to it.

…sleeping with my recovery notebook under my pillow. It’s something I started when I was struggling with my eating disorder. It has my reasons for wanting to recover in it, along with encouraging quotes and some Bible verses. I carry it when I am struggling and refer to it often. After ten years of being shoved in my purse, book bag, or pocket, it’s getting a little tattered around the edges. But it is a priceless gem to me.

…watching my bathroom and room slowly deteriorate, because I don’t have any energy to clean them. There is cat food spilled on the floor, the sink is getting pretty scummy, and there is a film on the mirror. There are worse things in life than a less-than-perfect apartment, I suppose.

…staring at the “There Is Still Some Time” print that hangs above my bed for extended periods of time, reminding myself that it is okay to struggle. It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to need a break. And I’m not alone.

…knowing that I should leave early for work, because the weight of the depression slows me down, yet not having enough energy to get out of bed to shower when the alarm goes off.

…putting off taking care of everything that I possibly can. Not because I’m a procrastinator (those who know me, know I am anything but), but because I simply can’t deal with anything more than just getting through the day.

…not being able to shave for days at a time, even if I feel up to it, because handling a razor is too dangerous and too tempting.

…lacking energy to put on anything other than jogging pants and t-shirt to go to work (this is permissible and common, since I work in a call center), but knowing that putting in the effort to wear something nice and put on makeup can help to lift my mood.


These are just a few of the realities that I face when I am struggling with depression. I may add to this later, as other things come to my mind.

As a note: I have a physical with my doctor, tomorrow (thanks to a friend helping me make the appointment). I will be asking him if we need to consider adjusting my antidepressant to a slightly higher dose or something.

What “Purity Culture” Meant For Me

I was asked recently by a friend who has been reading my posts for more information on what purity culture is. It’s a bit hard to sum up, as it can vary somewhat from person to person. Rather than trying to capture purity culture as a whole, I decided to write about what purity culture was like for me.

The first time my mother ever mentioned saving sex until marriage was when I was 11 or 12. She brought it up in concert with “The Talk,” where she explained the very basic mechanics of sex and told me this was something that should only happen once a man and woman were married. Outside of marriage, she told me, sex was a sin. This brief discussion was all the sex ed that I ever received. Even once I got a little older, there was never any discussion of contraceptives or how to have safer sex. I was never really told about STIs, either, I only heard about them in the context of how they were horrible things that happen to girls who have sex outside of marriage.

When I was 13, my mother bought me a series of Christian fiction books about a young girl named Elsie Dinsmore, which we read together. These books emphasized Elsie’s submissiveness, particularly towards her father, and her diligent preparations for marriage from a very young age. They followed her through her teen years and her courtship with and subsequent marriage (I believe the series continues beyond that, but we did not finish the series). I can remember my mother exhorting me to follow Elsie’s example of submissiveness and always striving to be a Godly woman, particularly when it came to her courtship and how her father managed the whole affair. And so the idea and expectation of courtship was set before me.

Not long after this, I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris, found its way into my hands (placed there, as I recall, by my mother). I eagerly lapped up every word he wrote, absorbing the idea that dating was just practice for divorce and resulted in giving away pieces of your heart to a man who would disregard and disrespect them. The illustration he gives in this book of a man standing at the wedding altar with his bride still stands out in my mind. In this story, as he says his vows, a line of women stand beside him, each of them women whom he has been in previous relationships with and to whom he has supposedly given a piece of his heart. His bride is heartbroken and disappointed to find that she only has the leftover pieces of his heart.

By the time I finished this book, I was sold on the idea of courtship and determined that I would never allow any man other than my husband to have even the smallest piece of my heart. I studied the text that told me how to guard my heart, and began formulating rules based on what I learned, rules that were designed to make sure that I didn’t give away pieces of my heart, as the book warned I would if I let any men become too close.

When I was 14, one of the breakout sessions at a church camp for teen girls was about the True Love Waits movement. Along with a group of about two dozen girls, I listened as we were told of the dangers of dating and of being too friendly with boys. Dressing immodestly would lead boys to lust over us, inviting the attentions of the less-than-honorable, and causing the “good” Christian boys who were trying to guard their hearts and minds to stumble into impure thoughts. Flirting, we were told, was a sin. We were warned that kissing would inevitably lead to sex, which would cause boys to lose all respect for us and ruin our relationship, unless we were already married. The only way to have a chance at a marriage that didn’t end in a disastrous divorce was to remain a virgin until the wedding night.

Towards the end of the session, we were all encouraged to sign True Love Waits cards. Along with several other girls from my church, I solemnly signed one of these cards, which has the following pledge:

Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.

I remember taking my card home and showing it to my mother, who was very pleased to see that I had taken the pledge. I carried that card in my wallet for the next 6 or 7 years, a constant reminder of my pledge and the goal I had set for myself of physical and emotional purity. When I was 15, my mother gave me a beautiful gold ring with sapphires and diamonds. I wore it on my left hand to symbolize that my heart was already reserved for my future husband, and that I was waiting for him to come and replace it with an engagement ring. The idea was that he and I would exchange our purity rings as part of our wedding ceremony. I never took the ring off, wearing it in the shower, to bed, even out to the barn to train horses.

Over the next few years, I read every book on purity culture that I could get my hands on. And the Bride Wore White, Boy Meets Girl, When God Writes Your Love Story, When Dreams Come True, Authentic Beauty, Beautiful Girlhood, Lady In Waiting, The Secret Keepers, Every Woman’s Battle… the list goes on. With every book that I read, my rules got more and more strict.

My guidelines for myself on modesty weren’t quite as extreme as it is in some groups – I didn’t insist on always wearing skirts and dresses. I was pretty strict, though, and would periodically go on a crusade against my wardrobe and weed out still more clothes that didn’t meet my ever-tightening sense of modesty. I mostly wore jeans, but shunned the skinny-leg look, feeling that this drew too much attention to my legs and behind. I had a few pairs of shorts that were knee length, but preferred capri. Skirts and dresses were never form fitting and almost always fell below the knee. I ruthlessly judged other girls and women who wore clothes that didn’t match my modesty standards, feeling superior to them. After all, I was making sure I didn’t tempt my Christian brothers to lust after me, as purity culture warned they would if I didn’t dress modestly enough. The funny thing is that “modest enough” was an ever-moving goal post. It’s a trend you can see in Christian culture, today – there is always some new article of clothing that is being targeted and declared to be a temptation to men.

I guarded my interactions with men closely, mindful of the warnings that I had read that women are emotional creatures, who develop emotional ties at the drop of the hat. I avoided conversations with men in any sort of one-on-one setting whenever possible. I didn’t talk with them online, or exchange emails with them, for fear of cultivating too close of a relationship with them and giving away a piece of my heart. I stuck to women’s Bible studies whenever I could to avoid the possibility of becoming spiritually intimate with a man. Only my husband should be allowed that level of spiritual connection with me, I had read. And so I built up walls around myself and around my heart. If I felt the smallest inkling of interest towards a man, I squashed it and shoved my feelings into a tiny, dark box in the corner of my mind where I could ignore it. Over time, I learned to disconnect from those feelings entirely, suppressing them quite ruthlessly.

If my emotional restrictions were strict, my physical ones were even stricter. I avoided any sort of physical contact with men, beyond just shaking hands. I wouldn’t even sit on the couch in youth group at church, for fear that one of the boys might sit next to me. I found it inappropriate even if he was sitting on the opposite end with absolutely no danger of touching me, so I always found myself a chair in the corner where I could safely stay away from any sort of contact with them. I skipped out on all the youth retreats and overnighters at my mother’s advice. After all, no good could possibly come from boys and girls being in the same building overnight, even if they were constantly chaperoned. And so I skipped out on these events, shunning anything that would possibly put me in the position to cross any of the strict boundaries I had put up.

It was my expectation that any man who was interested in me would first speak to my mother and brother to obtain their permission to pursue me. I had originally planned for them to speak to my father, but after he all but disappeared from my life after he and my mother divorced, that became an impossibility. And so I reconstructed my visions of courtship to include my mother and brother extensively interviewing any prospects to ascertain whether or not they would be a good match for me and if they were ready for marriage, spiritually and in terms of providing for me. They would also continue to meet with suitor throughout that courtship process, to continue to verify his readiness to become a husband and his continued spiritual growth, etc.

Only after obtaining their permission would a man be allowed to approach me. Our courtship would be strictly supervised, with all interactions and even our correspondences carefully chaperoned, to help to keep us from becoming too emotionally involved with each other too quickly. During the courtship, there would be absolutely no physical contact allowed, according to my plans. After all, the books I had read made it clear that any sort of physical touch would start us down a slippery slope that would make it hard to stop. Therefore, I concluded that it would be best to simply abstain from physical contact to avoid any sort of temptation (because, apparently, the vacuum of physical touch wouldn’t leave us tempted to try some sort of physical contact).

Once we had been courting long enough, my suitor would once again have to speak to my mother and brother to obtain their permission to propose to me. Only once we were engaged would it be appropriate for us to say “I love you,” or to hold hands, or get in a quick side-hug (because frontal hugs clearly tempt men, because BOOBS!). Our engagement would be relatively short to avoid prolonging the period of temptation for us, and we wouldn’t kiss until after the minister said “You may kiss the bride.”

Until that suitor came along, I was responsible for making sure I was preparing myself to be a wife and mother. I learned to cook, clean, and sew (in all fairness, my brother also learned some cooking and cleaning skills, too), as well as how to care for children and serve in the church. I focused on my own spiritual growth, determined to be the most godly woman that I could possibly be, all so I could be the best possible helpmate for my future husband. I often thought about what it would be like to be married, and even wrote letters to my future husband, which I kept in my hope chest. It was my plan to go to college for piano performance and get a “Mrs Degree” while I was there. After that, I would start popping out babies immediately, whom I would homeschool while I kept house, served in the church, and taught piano lessons on the side. This was the future that was laid out for me by my mother from a fairly young age, and reinforced by the books that I read on purity.

Am I saying that my mother forced me into purity culture? No. But it was presented in such a way that it seemed like the only godly option. And, like most children, I desperately wanted to please my mother, so I swallowed this idea whole without ever stopping to examine it. As is typical for my personality, I threw myself into purity culture until I was consumed by it, taking it fairly major extremes without considering if this was something I truly wanted or believed.

I’ve discussed why I got out of purity culture and what some of the consequences of it were in my life in other posts, so I won’t go over that, here. I will just say that the following pictures were the result of me finally stopping to examine this purity culture that I had been brought up to accept and embrace, and the conclusions that I drew from that examination.

Here is the card that I carried for years.

Here is the card that I carried for years.

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This is what happened to that True Love Waits card, 15 years to the day after I signed it.

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Needless to say, I don’t carry this True Love Waits card anymore!

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This was my collection of purity culture books.

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This is what happened to those books.

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Bye bye, books. I don’t miss you at all.

The Lipstick Conundrum

When I subscribed to Birchbox a few weeks ago, I had no idea that my attempt at learning how to better apply my makeup and try new products would also turn out to be an exercise in overcoming purity culture indoctrination.

Let me back up a little. One of the consequences of my eating disorder was that I got to the point where I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. As a result, I went nearly 8 years without wearing makeup except for concerts or special occasions. One of the milestones of my recovery is that, as of about 10 months ago, I am now able to not only look in the mirror, but I can also enjoy putting on makeup and occasionally have a thought cross my mind that maybe, just maybe, I am beautiful.

I never reached a point where I was terribly proficient at doing my makeup, before the eating disorder started. I could do very simple things, but it certainly was nothing to write home about and didn’t do all that much to compliment my features. I want to start learning how to do better, so I decided to start adding new and higher quality products to my inventory. Most of what I had previously was super cheap stuff from WalMart that didn’t stay on for the whole day. I’ve gotten some good essentials, but felt lost as to how to start trying new products and figuring out new looks. One of my coworkers was talking about Birchbox, which is a subscription service where you pay a small fee each month for shipping and get a set of beauty care products in the mail.

I was excited to get my first box in the mail, yesterday. I tore into it as soon as I got home from work and was pleased to find an eyebrow volumizing gel, along with a nice perfume, a pore minimizer, and a new lipstick. I was very pleased with all the products up until I opened the lipstick and took a look at the color. “Oh, no. That’s far too dark for me,” was the thought that ran through my head. Now, keep in mind that I filled out a questionnaire about my skin tone and such when I signed up for this service, so I knew they thought this would work for me. But I thought, “No way.”

Still, I decided to give it a try this morning as I was putting on makeup and trying out my new products before my lunch date with A. I loved the other products (well, except the volumizer. Seriously, I have so much hair, I don’t need more volume), but when I put on the lipstick, I was instantly horrified. It was far too vivid of a color for me to wear. It was time for me to get out the door for my date, so I just wiped off most of it until it was a more muted shade and scooted out the door.

I texted a picture to my friend who got me hooked up with Birchbox as I was walking out the door to show her what I’d done with my samples and commented that I disliked the lipstick because it was too much. Her response said that it was a lovely color and that I could totally rock the darker shade. She’s quite good at makeup, so this made me wonder if perhaps I should reconsider the lipstick. Still, I was torn between my initial dislike of the lipstick and her opinion that it would be a great color for me. I felt stuck in a conundrum of trusting her opinion (which I do, completely!) and my own reaction to the more vivid color.

On the way home from my very pleasant lunch with A, I started wondering why I reacted so strongly to the new lipstick. It wasn’t until I got home and tried it on again at full-strength that it occurred to me: it draws a lot of attention to my lips. Not drawing attention to any particular feature, especially the mouth, is one of the elements of purity culture that I was raised with. I wasn’t permitted to wear makeup at all until I was 16. Even then, I was limited to a very light foundation and a tiny bit of very neutral looking eye shadow. I eventually was allowed to wear lipstick and mascara, as well, but any lipsticks that I wore had to be very natural looking and not draw undue attention to my mouth. Wearing bold lipstick and/or lip gloss was seen as a cry for male attention, a stumbling block for those trying to keep their minds pure, and an invitation for unwanted advances. If I ever shopped for a more moderately tinted lipstick when my mother was with me, I was criticized for wanting makeup that was too ostentatious. When I started wearing red toe nail polish at 18, my mother’s best friend half-jokingly called me a “floozy” for wearing colors that only “ladies of the night” wear.

The modesty teachings of purity culture are fraught with contradictions. “Dress nicely.” “Don’t draw too much attention to yourself by dressing nicely. Simple is better.” “Wear makeup so you are attractive for your future husband/husband.” “Don’t make it obvious that you are wearing makeup, or you will be seen as a hussy and a stumbling block.” “Wear modest dresses that don’t accent your feminine curves.” “But be sure your clothing is feminine, so you don’t look like you are dressing like a boy.” Even wearing makeup at all is hotly contested by some of the stricter proponents of purity culture. As a teen, I absorbed these conflicting messages like a sponge, wrapped up in my eagerness to learn how to be pure in mind and body for my future husband. I didn’t realize just how much these messages about makeup and appearance had affected me until today.

Today, I add makeup to my list of restrictions/rules from purity culture to my list of things that I am rejecting. I don’t wear makeup for attention. I wear it for myself, because I enjoy it and because it’s a tool to further my recovery. I am comfortable in my skin without it, but I also enjoy how I feel when I wear it. It has become an element of self care for me, and sometimes helps to lift my mood if I am having a rough day.

The next time I wear makeup, I’m going to wear that lipstick proudly and not let old purity culture thoughts hold me back. I’m not going to let the subtle shaming I experienced in my teens continue to sway my opinions. Body positivity is something that I have been working on for the last few years, and this is just another extension of that work. And it’s one that I’m going to rock!

A picture of the lipstick that started this whole train of thought.

A picture of the lipstick that started this whole train of thought.