Friday, August 9, 2013

The Branches of Sadness

I like to think of sadness as a tree. Each branch represents a different type and level of intensity of the feeling. Sadness is obviously perceived as a normally negative feeling, but I don't think this is always the case. On rare days where I feel an unusual sense of contentedness, depth, and reflectiveness, I often find my thoughts contain a sweet sadness. I'll be sitting outside and the day will be warm and sweet and light, the perfect summer day, and I will feel sad that this day won't last forever. Or I will see beautiful shades of bright autumn leaves under my feet, and I will be reminded of the sweet innocence of childhood and the excitement of a new school year. Or I will be sitting quietly by myself in a public place, and I will watch other people go about their lives, oblivious to mine; mothers cooing to their babies, partners holding hands, and friends laughing together, and I will feel this bittersweet sadness over the happiness I see contained wholly in these peoples' beings. This sadness that I feel really isn't bad; I just let it sit with me, letting it roll around in heart, tugging at its strings as it wishes. Sometimes it's better to just let yourself feel rather than try to interpret it.

I think this bittersweet sadness is just a part of my life right now. I'm coming to a huge transition in my life, one I have been waiting for what seems like a long time, and though I'm grateful it has finally come, I am also a little sad. I will be leaving behind what I've known as my life for a long time. I think back to what I dreamed my life would be at this stage when I was a little girl, and it is honestly nothing like what I had hoped for. But when is it anyways? I try to hold on to the good memories I have of happy times with my parents, friends, that certain boy, but most of all my sister. I will take these memories with me into the next stage of my life, and they will be my lifeline for when I know I will be struggling, just as I have in the past, and how I am struggling now. Struggle in inevitable, but it is sometimes what makes life so valuable; conquering our heartache is what makes life taste that much sweeter. 

It's funny that although our thoughts and feelings are abstract, that we cannot hold them in our hands and feel them and observe them with our eyes, that very often they are the most tangible of all we know. When my emotions are so powerful that they overtake me, I hold on to them now, rather than trying to push them away, like I did before. Feeling so powerfully reminds me that I am human: bone, flesh, and blood, and it keeps me stronger. I am my own savior.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sleeping Under Black Clouds: My Suicide Attempt and Hospitalization

For whatever reason, the day had actually been pretty good. It was the day after Thanksgiving, a Friday, and I had spent it with my family. I don't remember much about the day, but I do remember sitting in the movie theater watching Life of Pi. It was a good movie, when I wasn't distracted by my thoughts.

I was reflecting on the events that had led up to my life in that moment, and most of my memories were not happy ones. Beginning in middle school, I was bullied very, very badly, and that same year I had started to develop severe acne and skin problems. These two years were the beginning of my battle with extremely low self-esteem. Once I got into high school, the bullying died down a bit, but my skin got much worse. I plastered on layers of makeup to try and hide, but I was still very self conscious, and I became isolated. I was constantly obsessing over my appearance and my disfigurements, and I became obsessed. I spent most of my time alone in my room that year. My freshman year of high school always seemed very, very dark.

My sophomore year, I developed other health problems. My skin got even worse, and my hair started falling out. I developed alopecia, resulting in a bald spot on the right side of my head. You can imagine how self-conscious and ugly I felt. I was having troubles with a boy. I felt lonely. To cope, I started binge eating, and I gained a lot of weight. I then felt fat and even worse about myself.

By my junior year, I had finally found an acne medication that cleared me, and my hair had mostly grown back. I lost the weight I had gained my sophomore year and then some. But I became obsessed with healthy eating, which eventually led to extreme restriction. I lost more weight; at my lowest I was 105 lbs. at 5'7". I was still having the same problems with the same boy. I cried a lot and always felt miserable and ugly, and most of all hopeless. I felt like I would never be happy, that I would never live the life I wanted to live.

That night, that Friday after Thanksgiving, I snuck a bunch of my mom's prescription sleeping pills into my bedroom, swallowed them, and I laid down in bed. I expected to just fall asleep, but instead I felt strangely jittery but drowsy at the same time. I lay in bed for around an hour without passing out, so I decided to go get more of my moms pills. However, when I stood up, I got really dizzy and passed out on the floor. When I came to, I felt very sick, and by this time I was extremely scared. I kept thinking, "What have I done?" I stumbled into my sister's rooms and told her about taking the pills. She kept asking me," Why Savannah, why did you do that?" She was panicking, but I couldn't answer her. I was lethargic, but I was still fully aware of what was going on.

I heard her run up the stairs, and then I heard my parents run down, yelling. They tried to get me to stand up, but once in the hallway I collapsed. My dad held me while my mom called 911. My sister was screaming and crying. I kept throwing up, and I kept saying I needed to lay down, but my dad didn't let me, wanting me to stay conscious. When the paramedics and firefighters got to my house, they stood me up and helped me out onto the porch, sitting me down on the bench. One of the paramedics pushed up my sleeve to take my blood pressure, which is when he saw the cuts all up my forearm. He then pushed up my other sleeve, revealing more cuts. It got really quiet, and the paramedic was whispering to another, telling him to look. I even remember one of them saying, "Oh man, does the family know?" I could tell it was bad.

They loaded me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. Everyone kept yelling at me, yelling my name, asking me questions. "Why did you do it? Are things bad at home? Do your parents ever hurt you?" I was upset. I couldn't understand why they kept yelling at me and asking what I thought were stupid questions, and why they wouldn't just let me sleep.

Once at the hospital, they set me up in a room in the Emergency Department. They hooked me up on a bunch of machines that took my vitals what seemed like every five minutes. A police officer came to talk to me, but I don't remember much about it. I could hear the doctors and paramedics laughing and joking with each other in the hallways while I was laying in a hospital bed after one of the worst experiences of my life. It made me feel angry and sad and humiliated. Tons of doctors came and saw me. My family came and saw me. I tried to sleep, but I felt so sick. I've never felt so physically sick in my entire life.

Eventually a psychiatrist came to see me. She talked to my mom while they thought I was sleeping. She told my mom I would most likely be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for teens. When I stirred, she came over to my bedside and asked me the same questions I had heard all through the night before. Then she told me I might be hospitalized, but there was a chance I would go home soon after I arrived. I would find out later she was completely lying. There was no chance I would go home.

I was taken by ambulance to the psychiatric hospital by two wonderful and kind EMTs. They made sure I was comfortable. Once I arrived I was asked more questions, and then I had to surrender all of my possessions and change my bra (apparently the clasps and underwire could be used to hurt myself). My actual time spent at the hospital was fleeting and uncomfortable. I wasn't allowed to have any of my personal belongings except a few articles of clothing. That means no makeup. I was mortified by my experience. The other patients were nice enough, but my roommate snored all night loud, and loudly. My therapist at the hospital was wonderful and the sweetest human being. She really listened and she was tender with me. It was the first time I opened up about the problems I was having. At the meeting with my family, I didn't expect to cry, but I did... a lot. Finally they let me have my freedom again, and I got to go home.

For a while my life at home was better, but it eventually went back to the usual badness. But that's okay. I know I'm lucky to have what I do. I opened up to my friends about what was going on with me, and I changed my schooling situation for the better. I kept going to therapy. My journey has been gradual, but slowly and steadily I'm getting better. I still have a lot of struggles, but I'm working to overcome them. Sometimes I have faith that I will eventually overcome these struggles, sometimes my hope is hanging from a thread, but after coming through all of this, I know I can get there.

Monster in the Mirror

Tonight, after a long day at work, I came home and headed straight for the bathroom mirror. What I would find staring back at me would be a peeling, disfigured monster. Underneath my thick layer of foundation, my skin was flakey from excessive use of retin-a (a topical cream most commonly used for the treatment of acne and wrinkles) and my salicylic acid infused foundation. Deciding it couldn't get any worse than this, I began removing my thick makeup and cleansing my skin with the aid of an Olay spinning skin brush of sorts that I stole from my mother. Looking back up after cleaning my skin, the mirror revealed, under bright fluorescent lights, the most homely figure even witnessed by man. I mean, were those really pores, or were they actually craters on the moon? And why, oh why, did I have to have broken out from that skin brush? How was I ever going to get a nose job with such horrid skin? And no laser treatment or chemical peel or topical would ever give me decent skin! Why me, why, why me?? I felt deeply sorry for myself. If tonight were to be like most other nights, I would have gone to bed and cried myself to sleep (I'm not even kidding). But instead, I decided to write about my horrible predicament on my blog.

In case you couldn't tell already, I'm making fun of myself, but these kinds of thoughts really do plague my mind a lot. My life has revolved around my bad skin for over five years, and although my skin is progressively getting better, my self-esteem is a different story. It's easy to get caught up in what you perceive as your flaws, or what society would deem as so. Sometimes being human in a culture obsessed with physical appearance, beauty and perfection is really, really hard. I can't even pay for my groceries without being bombarded with "headlines" like "Worst celebrity beach bodies!" and "Celebrities without makeup!" I can't even remember the last time I left the house, or even walked around my house during the daytime, without makeup on. It's been years. Of course, I know my fears aren't completely in my head. My skin is bad, but should that really matter? Maybe it would be okay if I had nice features and perfect facial symmetry, but nature never offered. Or maybe if I was just a little more confident, I wouldn't give a rats ass about what shallow, ignorant a-holes thought of me. But until that day, I will be prisoner to my makeup.

Will our society ever change? Honestly, probably not. But that doesn't mean all of us decent human beings out there shouldn't try. Teach your children, change a friend's perspective, write about it on your blog- Whatever you do, reach out to one person, or lots of people, and tell them that they are beautiful inside and out, that they are important, special and talented, that they are more, much, much more, than what they look like. And make sure they believe this about others too- We are all human and perfectly flawed. Beautiful minds equal beautiful people, no matter what our mirrors tell us.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Scar-let Arms

My struggle with self-harm began when I was in the seventh grade. I was half-way through the school year, and junior high hadn't been at all what I had expected. In the movies, the indoor halls were always shiny and polished, and the lockers were always huge, the girl always beautiful but "different," and there was always a boy- a beautiful, beautiful boy that saved her from herself. That's how my middle school experience was supposed to be, right? I had never imagined the lockers would be old and rusty, that the halls would actually be outdoors (ugh), and that the boys would be weird and immature. There would be no thirteen year old prince charming saving me. Nor did I expect how mean the girls would be.

So there I was, an awkward thirteen year old girl with greasy hair, acne, and a less than impressive fashion sense. I went into middle school interested in science and kittens and worried about my grades. And I still wore pigtails to school, which apparently was "so uncool." When the other kids began to pick on me, I didn't understand why.

One girl in particular took a special interest in me. One day I was walking out of the lunchroom when she approached me. She harassed me for something I didn't do, and she threatened to beat me up. For the rest of the year she and her posse followed me around school and called me things like "anorexic man" and told me I was ugly. Sometimes she would push me into walls.

My confidence was shot. I really did feel ugly, and I was constantly stressed out and afraid to go to school. One night, after a track meet, I felt like I couldn't take the pressure anymore. We had just lost the relay, and my teammates blamed me for losing. I stripped out of my clothes, turned on the shower, and stared at my naked body in the bathroom mirror. I was ugly. My body was repulsive. I sat in the shower under the hot water and cried for a very long time. When I looked over and saw the razor, I knew instantly what I had to do. I pressed the razor blade down on my skin and watched the blood bloom like a red, red rose on my wrist. It hurt, and it was scary, but in that moment I felt immense relief. Finally what I was feeling on the inside was showing on the outside. But once that moment had passed, I couldn't believe what I had done. I was scared out of my mind, but I kept doing it. I started cutting my thighs instead so that I could hide my secret more easily.

By the time I reached my sophomore year in high school I had managed to stop for a while. However, once junior year came, the habit picked up again. My self-esteem was lower than ever. Every night I stood in front of the mirror and picked out my every flaw. I wondered how anyone could ever love such a repulsive human being- how I could ever love myself. I began to cut my arms again, but this time cutting became more about self-destruction. I hated my body, and I wanted to destroy it. I wanted my hatred to show on my skin. I began to cut more and more, deeper and deeper, all up my forearms. My sheets were constantly stained with blood.

The day after Thanksgiving that year, I made a suicide attempt. During my recovery, I began to talk about my struggles with self-harm, and I was eventually able to stop. As of now, I have been clean of self-harm for over six months. I still have urges to cut often, but I have found ways to overcome those urges. I am proud of myself. I think there is often a stigma that surrounds self-harm. Some people feel those who self-harm are weak or are fishing for attention, but neither is true. Self-harm is a serious and horrible and scary and lonely way in which people cope with bad emotions. We are not weak- we are hurting, and we do not need to be shamed, we need to be supported. We are not seeking attention- we are crying out for help, for solace, and we need those who care to answer those cries.

I still have the scars to remind me of the pain I went through, but I no longer see it as a negative thing. These are my battle wounds, and I am a survivor. I am strong, I am human, and I am proud to say these scar-let arms have made me this way.