Thursday, February 20, 2014

Always Point Me North

This week has been exasperating. I'm not particularly sure why it started, but even in the middle of lots of textbook face-palm moments, I like where it's ending up. I feel like I'm drowning in grace (as per usual) and in perspective (how refreshing) and insight (how frightening, wonderful...)

Today, I had the pleasure of giving a planetarium show to a class of middle school students. It always encourages me to interact with these young, inquisitive, brilliant minds and to laugh with them and their curiosity, uninhibited. They left me, rejuvenated, to my own devices and instead of heading to the department's colloquium as I probably should've, I stayed inside the dome.  

Throughout these past few weeks of my heightening anxiety, the planetarium has become my hiding place. It is cold, and dark, and it has no corners. It's perfect. But today was a day that I had been dreading, so I stayed inside the dome to deal with it.

The summer night sky in the year 2010 means the entire world to me, especially on the night of July 6th. So through the magic of the projectors, I turned back the clock to that night and transported myself to the quaint little town of Delaware, Ohio. I leaned back, gazing fondly at Antares and Vega and Saturn and Spica, and had a little chat with Lawrenzo.

Today marks three months since he took his life. And I'm not sure why I remember this, or why I think of him so often...but I think it has something to do with this:

July 6th, 2010 is my independence day, my day of breaking free from depression. I told him this, today. I don't think that he knew. But, I do know that he constantly made me laugh. He came into my life during one of the most gut-wrenching, dreadfully dark seasons in my recorded history, and he illuminated my inclination to smile again. Even when things were difficult in his life, he illuminated all of ours. I told him that we all miss him, and that I wish we would've known how deeply it all ran before it was too late. And that he couldn't possibly even begin to realize how much of an impact he had on us, and his world. But he was there under the stars with me, sending chills down my spine, and we reminisced and I laughed. About that time we were at the West Chester hospital until 2AM, and I was sitting outside with Nikki, singing for hours. And how talented he was, and never realized. How unbelievably intelligent, never believing. How flattering he was; telling me at age 19 that I was "so smart that I basically invented Quantum Field Theory," and how I still have no idea what that even means, and between the two of us, he was the one who could really understand it. I told him that I had thought of him last year in lab, when I was trying to synthesize Josephson junctions, failing. I think of him every time I work out a harmonic oscillator problem. And I wish we had known how precious our time together would be. And I am angry with him, and I'm sorry, and I'm sorry that I didn't realize how much he loved me until it was too late. And I miss him, and love him. He's everywhere, just like we always used to sing, with chords instead of words. So, smiling at Polaris, I shut it down and left. Always point me north, friend. 

I feel very blessed to have access to a planetarium. Strangely enough, I can use it to heal.

That's interesting, because my therapist suggested that I blog about what it would look like for me to be a totally healed person, and I think I got a kick-start on that particular night in 2010.

I made the mistake back then, though, of believing that my instant of healing was a destination. And it was, to a small extent...it was a foothold. But then I became discouraged every time I had a bad day, and that's self-directed disappointment...and I am not on board with that. 

Instead, I'm learning another nuance about grace every day. How to accept it from others, how to accept it from myself, and how to give it to myself in the first place. I know now that healing isn't a destination as much as it is a journey, and I'm so on board for this painful, enlightening trip. At very least, I want function. I want to be emotionally available, and brave enough to be vulnerable when I know that I need to be. I want to learn how to lean on people when I need to. I want to finish my Master's, I want to start my PhD, and I want to finish my PhD. I want to stop being burned out. I want to keep finding out what love is, in all of its forms. I want a family. I want to be as arms-wide-open and fearless as I feel. It's funny; I spent so many years tightly securing the walls around myself, and now, I want to start taking them down. It's easy to feel as if all that work had been for nothing, but I know that those walls were built for a reason, for such a time as then. But this? This is a revolution. This is a brand new day.

I told Lawrenzo that I wouldn't give up, and I won't...but no matter how much I love and miss him, I'm not really doing this for him. I'm doing this for me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why I Rise

Oh, my goodness. I'm so excited that I can't sleep. It's like Christmas and my birthday, but way back when I was five years old! My heart is pounding and happy and full, and I couldn't imagine bringing in this VDay in any other manner.

As my blood pulses wildly through my veins, I can't help but smile at the fact that I've had an exceptionally wide open arms, wide open soul kind of week. Just excitement. Excitement, and reflection, and freedom. I feel as if I'm finally reaching my boiling point; bursting with potential and rising with the heat. Busting at the seams. Basking in glory with hands held high.

Finally.

During this VWeek, I've been reflecting upon the girl I've been and the woman I've become. And, coincidentally, sending mad praise to the Great I Am because I couldn't be more radiantly happy with this wild spirit of mine! For the first time in my life, things are beginning to come together and make perfect, lyrical melodies of sense. I fit. There is nothing wrong with me. I am not a victim. Not anymore. Not since.

I remember bits and pieces of being in the thick of my trauma, feeling darkness like hands around my throat and a giant mouth swallowing me whole. I would lay down to sleep, paralyzed with fear, waiting for the goblins under my bed to take me and even while I slept,  my waking-hour paralysis manifested itself into a ghoulish subconscious existence of running, and being pulled down by my hair, and locked doors, and no escape, and not being fast enough, and trying to save them, and being mocked, and the very worst thing: trying to scream without a single intelligible sound escaping my frantic lips. Losing the one thing I felt I had left: my voice.

But some months later, having rocked myself back to sleep after such nights, I moved on. And I felt what would be the first of a long line of chains being broken.

At fourteen, a gal thinks she can get it together, by herself, and get it together completely. But at twenty three, a gal knows that the story didn't end there; it never ends. I can't quite remember what happened until I graduated high school, other than my having a marvelous time. I think I tried to slowly and quietly heal. Focus on other things. Focus on my having a marvelous time. Deal with anything, anything else.

I knew my soul was sold for this, though. Sexual violence had carved its signature into my entire self, and when I began at Michigan State, I began to look for others who might be damaged like me. There is camaraderie there, and solidarity, and the opportunity to tell your story and to heal together. It was an attractive thing, this possibility that I could trade in my shame for our survival.

But, there is also vicarious trauma. I remember working on one case that was particularly difficult to stomach, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a world-class survivor, desperately trying to change our worlds for the better. And that's when my anxiety attacks started. And they continued as I dove deeper into my academic career, and they shook me a year later when my family became shaken with confessions of more violence.

I lost my mind for a moment there, as I've mentioned before. I became incredibly discouraged; believing that somehow, all of us get destroyed. And there wasn't a damn thing that I, powerless and broken, could do about it. By a power much greater than my own, though, I broke that spiritual depression and rose to my feet again. I continued to try and advocate for those who needed it, and for myself. Slowly, I was developing a sense of self-worth. Not simply confidence; actual self-worth.

Then, I found the VDay movement.

I laugh about this, because nothing has brought so much joy and radiance into my life, and simultaneously, so much public shaming and fighting and fear-driven judgement. During my involvement with the VDay movement, I met loads of incredible people with whom I continue to surround myself. And finally, I found that solidarity, and grace. Oh, man. That indescribable grace. Pieces of myself began to rush back into place. I began to understand what it was to treat myself with compassion and care. Those who were quick to judge us were quick to call me a hypocrite, but for what? For saving myself? For finding comfort? For attempting to give a voice to others when I knew too well what it was to feel like it had been lost forever? For finding other survivors and finally letting my cloak of shame evaporate? For finally understanding that my trauma was acceptable and normal? For growing deep roots and establishing beautiful connections? Well. Guilty as charged, and I'm not sorry. Not ever.

Because now, I can feel myself beginning to blossom. My heart is full of the love that has been given to me by others, and I actually can't stop myself from giving it freely to the people who surround me every day! I meet new survivors all the time. My heart recognizes them, and wants to love on them, and feels so much care for them. A strong heart will recognize other strong hearts.

And my strong heart wants to rise. I rise for the one in three, the billion women who have experienced the things that I've experienced, tenfold. I rise to eradicate the stigma of mental illness and PTSD. I rise because I have taken back my voice, and I want to use it to help others take back theirs. I rise for the opportunity to lift people up. I rise for all of us; for Laura, Janelle, Stephanie, Rachel, Nic, Katie, Joe, Marie, Bee, Jessica, Tiffany, Hannah, Shawn, Elizabeth, Heather, Kassy, Whitley, Lori, Emily, Herasanna, Kim, Cheyenne, Matthew, Carmon...all of us. I rise against. I rise for. I rise.

I rise today, and I will rise for every tomorrow. Happy VDay!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Reflection

When I was a kid who didn't know she was a kid, things went awry for a minute.

I don't know where it came from, being ashamed of feeling ashamed. I can't really remember, but I think that I probably sank into a routine of compounding shame on shame, unaware that I was allowed to be traumatized. Unaware that paranoia, which I misconstrued as my being unacceptably judgmental, was normal. Unaware that nightmares, though horrifying and too much like screaming in space, were absolutely justified.

Unaware that this was, is a process. 

I hated the idea of a process. I was afraid of things blowing entirely out of proportion. I held tightly to secrets. I thought it would be over, soon.

If I would've known that as a 23 year old woman I'd still be thinking about this every day, triggering tiny emotional responses from the littlest things, and being just so very aware that this year will mark my tenth assaultiversary, well. I can't guarantee that I would've been so determined to stay alive. Because I would've known that it wouldn't be over, as I know now that it won't ever be.

That was then, though...and this is an incredible now. Things are better. And the fight is still clenched in my fists because I kept fighting. I could've bowed out. I could've gracefully chosen a path that led to a sideline draped in pacifism. I could've.

But no, I couldn't have. Because I'll always fight for you, and secretly behind the scenes, an adolescent me. Always.