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Monday, September 27, 2010
Retrospective and Perspective
I often find myself at odds with the world, though I usually can’t pinpoint why that exactly that seems to be the case. Sometimes, it seems that I want both calm and chaos, silence and loudness. Things that shouldn’t be a big deal become hugely important to me… and I find myself giving hours (literally) of thought to ideas and situations that are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty petty. I worry too much, love no matter what, laugh too loud and at the wrong times, and really just wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s not always a bad thing to show too much emotion, but it can be. That being said, I am grateful that I can (usually) rest easy knowing that the people I love know that I love and care for them very much. Try as I may to not live in the past, I often find myself trying to grasp at a “better” time in life. Of course, it is completely understandable that I like to reminisce about high school and college--I went to wonderful schools and made some stellar friends at both places… but still. I no doubt remember big things--like cross country meets, my chapel talk, graduation, football games, the Grove, Spring Break 2008 in Fort Walton Beach, and the list goes on--but it’s the small memories that I wear like a protective shield. Bus rides back to school after a great run with the team, treehouse adventures with Karen, Jamie, Iz, and Erika (and whoever else was there at any given time), free time spent hanging out in Mrs. Neal’s classroom, movie/hanging out nights with Lauren, Rachael, and Elise, slow nights at work (still love these!) where random discussions break out, exam week at Ole Miss (strange I know, but you meet some cool people at the library when everybody’s brain is fried from studying too much), lazy pizza nights at home when Brent and I still lived there, early morning walks or runs when I happened to be awake, the smell of freshly baking bread at Subway (high school and college), random conversations with random people about random topics, babysitting for neighbors in the summer before I had to worry about a real job and paying bills, the smell of fresh cut grass, kickboxing with Mama, “date nights” with Daddy…so many seemingly insignificant happenings that for whatever reason still resonate with me and make me feel at peace. I am so glad that I experienced enough sadness and heartbreak to truly appreciate what I have in this life.
Sugar Wheeler, the GPS guidance counselor of my day, came through my line at work today and completely reaffirmed my desire to be a great therapist. I was finally able to tell her that she is the biggest reason I decided to go into the field of psychology (other reasons being that I wanted to help people but wasn’t too good at biology and of course my own personal struggles and demons). She is also a big reason I am still alive today. And I’m not being dramatic here--because of the love and compassion of more than a few of my GPS classmates and Mrs. Wheeler’s undying support and belief in me, I did not succumb to my eating disorders or my self-mutilation issues. In the end, it had to be me that wanted to live, but it certainly helped that I had so many people on my side. Even through multiple relapses and a hospitalization (where I had both wonderful and, well, terrible therapists), I still remember her encouragement and loving words. That reminds me, one therapist in particular at Parkwood deserves so much credit. I was there for only a week (and really, it should have been more like a month but I wanted out to be “normal” again), but I met great people while I was there. The therapist’s name escapes me, but he led nearly all of our group therapy sessions (I went to both addiction and depression group, because my issues fall under both categories) and what stuck with me about him--besides his humor--was the way in which he went about accessing our underlying problems and helping us work through them. I remember it was either my first or second group session, and I was in a great mood for whatever reason. My new found friends (because you know I can make friends anywhere and make it a point to do so whenever possible) and I were joking as we entered the common room. My favorite shrink (and I can’t believe I don’t remember his name!!) wasn’t being as…friendly…as he was known to be (hmmm...must have been at least my second session). We all quickly got quiet in response to his demeanor, and he turned to me first with a look of great disdain in his eyes. I don’t remember word for word what he said, but it went a little something like this: Naturally, I found my face wet with tears. As I looked around the room, I noticed a split in the reactions of my peers. Some had their mouths hung open, obviously as astonished as I was by his words. Others look unaffected by what he said. He continued: “You are so weak. And fat. And arrogant. And noisy. You need to starve yourself. You need to make yourself throw up. You most definitely NEED to cut yourself with whatever you can find. You can’t survive without these rituals. You will always be weak, and you will always be defeated by those practices you crave that are killing you.Am I right? Of course I’m right. You have failed to overcome these issues for more than five years (I was 18 at the time). Why even bother being here? These diseases will always win.” It was the first time, on a side note, I can remember my issues being called diseases and not just attention-seeking actions. Around this time, I started to realize what he was doing. He wanted me to fight for myself, to defend what I knew existed in my soul. He wanted me to succeed. So I began to say aloud what had eluded me internally for years.
“I am stronger than all of my problems. I am not defined by my mistakes, but by how I choose to fight them…and what I choose to fight for. I am now seeing that I do not want to die by my own hand, and especially not as my life is just beginning. I want to live. I can overcome these things.” He fought back, stronger than before. After all, if I couldn’t even fight the words, how could I fight the actions? “How can you be so brazen as to think such a weak person as yourself is strong enough to fight even one of your myriad of problems? Who are you kidding, really?” I found myself on my feet, unsure to this day of when that happened. “I am stronger than all of them put together. I know this because I am still alive, and if they haven’t defeated me yet, they aren’t going to now. I did not want to come here, but I needed to…if only to convince myself that I am so worth fighting for. There are better outlets than the ones I’ve been choosing to exercise to vent my anger, sadness, and frustrations.” His face had become softer, but I don’t know when that happened either. “Anorexia, bulimia, anorexia athletica, cutting--these are serious and powerful diseases. How can you be so sure that, when things get difficult, you won’t turn to what is easy and comfortable and familiar to cope? Tell me how you can prevent these from ruling--and ruining--your life again.” I sat back down and thought for a while about how to answer. His face changed again--this time into worry. “I can’t be certain that I will never relapse again (and I have several times), because these are strong problems and they have beaten me time and again. What I do know is that, no matter how many times they crop back up and what form they take, I will beat them because I want to live. I want to have adventures and make memories and laugh and cry and be proud of my accomplishments. I want to feel alive because of the positive effects I have on the world, and not because a knife or a number on the scale tells me it is okay to live. I’m finally okay with taking up space and being a complete human being. I want, so badly, to live.” He got up and hugged me then--one of those genuine hugs that makes you feel like life makes a little more sense. I let myself cry, but not out of sadness or self pity. I cried for all the time I had wasted wanting to go back in time; I cried for all of the people I had hurt; I cried for the irreparable damage I had done to my body; I cried because I was beginning to feel strong. Before that moment, I hadn’t felt so strong and so sure of myself in at least five years. “I’m proud of you. I believe in you. You are loud and your own best friend and a friend to so many and you love people in a way that is to be envied. I very much believe in you.” The group erupted in applause, and I got a standing ovation from twenty or so people who had at least some inkling of what I was experiencing--and why--and I felt like I was in a room of hundreds. They all believed in me. Come to find out later, my shrink was channeling my disorders and speaking to me as them, and he had learned this from a therapist he admired greatly from his time in psychiatric ward. You see, he too has issues- self-mutilation (I believe he was a burner), drug and alcohol addiction, severe depression, almost crippling social anxiety--and you would never know it by looking at him. He was well over six feet tall and weighed roughly 300 pounds. He told us that it doesn’t matter what he looks like, because when he was going through his worst days and addictions, he acted like somebody a fourth of his size and whined like a little girl. It meant a lot to me--and still does--that he was so open about what led him to be a therapist. There is a fine line between overstepping boundaries and self-disclosing too much information and making people feel as though they are not alone--and he is one of my heroes because of how he handled that situation. Originally, he had wanted to be a personal trainer (and I believe he does that on the side), but felt a strong pulling to study psychology once he began to see his own life as worth living. As I prepared to leave too soon after my week at Parkwood, I found myself sad at the thought of leaving a few select staff members who had become like family and the friends that continued to show me that my life is worth living. I had two adopted mothers while I was there, and they were fiercely protective of me (and probably still would be if I ran into them down the road sometime), and many friends I felt had become like siblings to me. My family always worries what a stay in a “psych ward” will look like on my record, but I realize now that I don’t care. That time in my life played a pretty big role in shaping who I am today and setting me on the path to help others, and most days I really like the person that I'm becoming. I became so much stronger as a result of my time there, and I will be forever grateful for the time and effort spent on trying to make me whole again. As I went around giving hugs and exchanging numbers and plans for the future, I started to get worried that my favorite shrink wouldn’t see me before I left. Right before I walked out into the sunlight, I saw him getting ready to go into the building.
“You leaving?” he asked me. “I am. I think I’m ready to start conquering the world.” I laughed and he joined me. “I think you just may be ready too, but if you ever need to come back, remember there is no shame in that at all. Also, remember that I love you and that I will never stop believing in you.” He hugged me and as he turned to leave, I saw tears in his eyes. “Thank you. I love you too. And I will always believe in you.” He nodded a thank you and walked away, and I got in my friends car to go. They joked with me and teased me about my “crush”, but I smiled to myself. It wasn’t a crush (well, maybe a small one--he is a very good looking guy), but it was the realization that I knew, for sure, what I wanted and needed to do with my life. He showed me that I am indeed much braver than I ever would have realized on my own, and he also allowed me to see that my own words could bring a grown man to gracious tears. When I have my own clients one day, I hope that I can do for them what both of my favorite therapists did for me--open the door to realizing that they are worth it and that one person can make so much difference.
Whew! I haven’t let myself think about that time in my life nearly enough in the past few years, and though the words and actions are always on my mind to some degree, it is nice to actually reflect on a time I am now proud that I lived through. It also reminds me of how funny it was the day I got back to campus from the hospital. My friends were understandably unsure of how to act around me--they didn’t know what might set me off and they were also unclear on many of the details of how I came to have to go there and how my time there went. One friend, Jessica, bought me a couple of gifts, and a group of people took me out to eat at Huddle House almost immediately after I got back. We are all sitting at our booth and everybody was beginning to relax when an ambulance blew by the window with its lights on and sirens blaring. My friend Tarah didn’t miss a beat--she looks at me with wide eyes and said “They’re coming for you, Kelly!”. A hush fell over the group, and then I burst out laughing and soon everybody joined me. Relief washed over her face and she hugged me. She said she didn’t know what had come over her, but she wanted to see if I was still the same Kelly as before. I was, of course, and still am--just much stronger and more resilient. How lucky a girl I am, indeed.
At 24--can’t even believe I’m this old!--I am also so much closer to my parents. It seems we have all grown a great deal over the years, and the aspects of me and especially of my troubles no longer irritate them. I think it helps that they realize I was not out for attention (which is a very common misconception), but was and am still sometimes trapped in my own personal hell. It is such a relief to have their support. I love them dearly and am so glad I am their daughter. A couple of years ago, my Mom and I were having a heart to heart and I asked her why they dealt with my problems as they so often did. I was genuinely surprised by her response. She told me when I first began to have my eating issues, I was so little and tiny and so much fun to dress up…and she thought it was a phase I would someday outgrow. After it became apparent that the eating disorders were getting much worse instead of getting better, she told me both she and my Dad went through major denial. When I began the cutting, they shut down almost completely. My father’s sister is an alcoholic (since the astonishing age of 9) and my mother’s sister is severely bipolar with schizophrenic tendencies (the bipolar disorder began to manifest when she was about 10; the other started making it‘s appearance when she was in her 30s and heavily into drugs)…so they wanted nothing to do with mental problems. I can’t say I blame them, because that is a very long time to have to put up with such prevalent problems. When they came face to face with glaring demonstrations of said issues (for me, one such time was when I cut my leg pretty much wide open with a gin bottle and a shot glass; for my brother, he would often fly into rages and punch holes in walls and doors), Both of my parents wanted to believe so badly that both my brother and I had escaped serious mental issues (my brother was diagnosed with clinical depression not long after I was and he took medication for a while as well), and so they just acted like we simply did not have problems. They got angry because they thought they could make them go away by getting mad instead of getting us help. Finally, they begrudgingly put us on medication, and for a long time it made a world of difference. They still chose to be mad much of the time, mind you. It wasn’t until years after I was out of the hospital that my Mom shared another heartbreaking reason for her anger. She told me that, especially with the very physical cutting scars, it hurt too much to accept that I could have done that to myself--that my pain could be so severe that the only way I knew how to deal with it was to carve into my own skin. When both me and my brother were born, our parents spent a lot of time admiring our smooth skin and happy dispositions (we were both incredibly happy babies and toddlers) and seeing those marks on my body were just too painful to accept--so they used anger and aggression to ease and cover up unbearable sadness and regret. I’m glad she told me these things--it humanizes my parents and shows me that the things I do to myself affect far more people than just my own heart and soul. Of course, when I relapse they still get pretty mad--but I go easy on them. I understand them a little bit more now, and that has made all the difference.
My brother turned his aggression into a lifetime of active sports (he was, and probably still is, amazing on the soccer field), an incredible ability to sing and perform, and years of faithful Marine service--he spent a little over 7 months in Iraq and then a few months later another 7 months in Afghanistan. I’m incredibly proud of him, and will always be his number one fan. I “fell into” cross country running after I began to heal a little bit from that first hellish period of insanity (really, I was encouraged by the weight trainer at GPS to try running for a little bit--thank you to her as well), and I never looked back. I’m still friends with most of my teammates, and count their wisdom as some of my greatest lessons learned. I was never the best runner, but it did so much to bolster my strength and release mental tension. Running is still a major stress reliever for me, and I hope I am still saying this years and years from now. My life will contain what I’m sure will be many more relapses, some severe and others not so much, but I know that I will always have people to talk to if and when I need it, advice to fall back on when my own mind is working against me, and my own (sometimes very buried) strength to counter any problem. People with a past of eating disorders and self-mutilation have lives similar to that of any addict--the pain will never fully go away and every day will be a struggle to not fall into old habits. I’m very fortunate that I have so many people who love me in this world, and I try to remember every day that some people will never be so lucky. Knowing that, I am going to try my hardest to do two things: allow the wonderful people in my life to understand how grateful I am and how much I love them and find the people out there who need support and a little faith and be there for them. Pay it forward, right? There is evil in the world, and some very mean people, but there is also so much love and acceptance--my time will be better spent spreading the love and acceptance rather than dwelling on, or passing on, the hatred in the world.
I love writing…in case you couldn’t tell haha…and I’m glad that it provides another outlet for me. It is my genuine hope that everybody can find something that gives them the kind of relief writing gives me in their own lives. There is so much beauty out there, and so many people who need help opening their eyes to it. My mental problems are not the worst of the worst, and I will never even pretend to understand what some individuals have to endure in this lifetime. What I can do, and hope to always do, is be there to listen and help in whatever way I can. We should all do that in our everyday lives anyway, and I hope that I can take both book learning and my own life experiences and use them to help others overcome what pains them the most. Psychology is a tricky field, but one that I believe is very important to individuals and our society as a whole.
Alright! Quite a lengthy blog I’ve got going on here…can you tell I don’t want to clean out the litterbox? Just a few more things and I’ll be on my way. This past weekend was busy, but I had a lot of fun. I closed at work on Friday and then turned around and opened on Saturday, then went immediately to my parent’s house to get ready for Dare to Dance 2010, where I volunteered and had way too much fun. I had to wake up somewhat early on Sunday to work from 11 AM until about 10:15 PM. Now, I’m back at my apartment, getting ready to clean a little and study for a bit. I’m off work today (Monday), but I have a few things to take care of before I go watch Dancing with the Stars at my parents house tonight. I love being active, and I hope to get in a good bit of exercise this week on top of my work schedule. I’ve lost a little over 10 pounds and I’m feeling awesome, so I definitely want to keep this up! When I get around a scanner, I’m going to upload some pictures from Dare to Dance 2010, and show everybody that I do clean up pretty well. Hey, I even danced a little at the event…which is really saying something because it’s hard to get me up and dancing (I think it stems from being embarrassed by my lack of dancing abilities). At any rate, I better get to cleaning and studying. My work here is done…for now. Hope everybody has a fantastic week!
1) The view from the "porch" at my very first apartment (The Links at Oxford). Taken at sunset, it remains one of my favorite pictures ever.
2) Kristin (and her awesome boyfriend) came to visit me for a weekend after she had graduated and moved away...we had too much fun!
3) Elise came to visit me for my 23rd birthday! Rodrigo is always a must for a great time!
4) First ever ChattaNewYears, with Iz (and her boyfriend at the time), Rebecca Taylor (Cross Country buddy), Karen, Jamie, Erika...and Edward (who came from Louisiana to celebrate with us).
5) GPS best friends Christmas dinner (Karen, me, Jamie, Erika)...its a tradition.
6) Mama and me at an Ole Miss football game--isn't she beautiful?
7) Me and Daddy from the same game--they loved visiting me while I was in school, though they didn't get to do it often!
8) My big brother all decked out in his Marine combat gear. Hardcore!