03 November 2014

Patience in the Water

I need to begin to accept that, with all that I deal with, things are always going to get harder before they get better for me. (The saying “It's always darkest before the dawn” may have just as much realism to it as it has cheesiness.) And I need to learn to be more patient with myself when things get rough at first – even though I never feel deserving of that patience. I continuously hope if I am ruthless with myself that I will wake up one morning as not myself, but as someone completely different – or that maybe the universe will realize I am not worth being on this earth and decide to make me disappear. I wish I knew how to change that mindset, and I am trying to change that mindset, but it is going to get worse before it ever gets better. And I need to learn to be patient and be shameless in asking for others' patience through the rough times. I need to somehow convince myself that I am at least worthy of that much – even if it doesn't seem like I am. All in all, this post is a plea to myself and to others for some patience. Because if I need anything from this world right now, it is that.

As a few people know, it's been three years now since I decided I was going to conquer the voices in my head and the effects of the harsh situations I've been in physically. It's been hard, living in a situation where the changes I make are never enough to those who are supposed to support me, to really look back and see how drastically I have changed myself and my quality of life. I have come such a long way though. What a lot of people don't know about me is that over the past few years I have gone from barely being able to talk to people or even leave the house to holding a job, traveling the country alone, and attempting to figure out how to finally move out on my own where I will have even more opportunity to grow as a person without the criticism I get now. I have spent the past few years fighting to deal with struggling with mental illnesses, to accept the bullying that happened to me as a child at school, and to overcome the abuse and neglect I suffered as a child at home. Over the past three years, I have become a completely different person – and, up until now, I have never really personally asked for much patience from others. I guess I've never really felt as though I was working hard enough on myself to deserve it and the things I needed to change I could do on my own. I am starting to struggle being on my own now.

For most of my life, I have been isolated from other people. I grew up afraid of my family and my peers. I am still afraid of people. For as long as I can remember, rejection has been everywhere I have turned. First from my father who abandoned me, then from my mother who abused and neglected me then eventually abandoned me as well, then my grandparents who didn't adequately care for me, then extended family who simply did not care. In school I failed to make friends, no matter how I tried – and eventually the only attention I received was from two other students who were planning to kill me with a knife. By high school, I completely shut myself down to trying to form relationships with others. It was less damaging than repeatedly trying to open up and being rejected every time. But as I get older, the loneliness I face is more damaging than anything else I have ever dealt with. I am finding that I would rather be dead than continue on living as lonely and isolated as I feel. So, over the past month or so, I have been trying to open up to forming connections with other people. I have been trying to show I care about other people and trying to be someone who other people can care about.

And I desperately need some patience. Because as I am trying to form relationships with other people, my anxieties, insecurities, frustrations with myself when I fail, and deeply-rooted feelings of worthless and being unwanted are already showing their ugly faces with meltdowns and lashing out – making be the burden on other people that I always feel as though I already am.

Putting myself out there, trying to form connections with other people for the first time feels a lot like I am drowning and everyone else is standing three feet away, screaming 'learn how to swim'. It seems as though everyone has 'learned how to swim' so many years ago that they've forgotten what it's like to first be introduced to the water. They've forgotten what it's like to be in the deep end of the pool with no lifeguard on duty for the first time - vulnerable and out in the open, kicking their feet with nothing underneath them to support them and no one to pull them out if they go under. And to even just throw a life-jacket in for someone else, let alone teach them how to swim, would be purposeless to everyone standing on the edge. There is no need for someone who is just going to drown in the pool when they could be surrounded by people who already know how to swim. I should just get out of the pool so they can get back in the water. There is no need for someone slowly learning to connect with people when they already have their own group of friends. I feel as though the people I try to connect with already have the people they want to be around, and they have no time for someone new. At least not someone like me, someone struggling just to stay above water. And the rejection is like a weight being attached to my ankle, causing me to simply sink – and once I'm under, people can breathe relief that I am finally gone then forget I existed to begin with.

But I can't be alone anymore. I'm running out of oxygen under all this water and if I don't fight to learn how to swim, I am going to die by tying a weight around my own ankle. There is so much fear in connecting with others that before I learn how, I am going to freak out. But at least in freaking out, I know that I am fighting for air and not just sinking away. At least I know that I am trying and if I am still alone, I can't say I let fear consume me and didn't put in my best effort. And until I learn to teach myself how to swim, if I am ever going to learn how to be close to other people, I just need some patience.

15 September 2014

You Have The Right

This post is rough and unedited and may lose you at some points, but it is one of the most important things I have to say. - I usually speak about my struggles with my own mental illness. But, lately, I've been feeling the strong need to address those who have friends, family, or other loved ones who have an illness, and to speak from the perspective of someone who is surrounded by others who deal with various struggles. This post is dedicated to six simple words that come together to make one serious statement that everyone should know – whether you suffer from mental illness or know someone who does (or even someone who doesn't). I hope that these words stick with you and that you know that nothing can make them false. They are as follows:

You have the RIGHT to SAFETY.

Physically. Verbally. Emotionally. Sexually. You have the right to be safe. No matter what.

Never listen to anyone who tells you or makes you feel otherwise – even if the person making you feel otherwise is yourself.

Never be guilted to enter into or to stay in a situation where you are unsafe.

For twenty-three years, the words 'they're trying their best' have haunted me and invalidated my pain. The worst part is that those words hold true with some members of my family. Others, no so much. My mother, a woman undiagnosed with something, uses her mental health as an excuse to take advantage of those around her. (Note: This is NOT always the case when it comes to other people. Most people who struggle with mental illness do NOT use their poor health to take advantage of other people. Mental illness is a disease, and living with it is akin to living in Hell. People like my mother are simply a special kind of awful.) By remaining undiagnosed and insisting that she is sick, but not sick enough to need help, she has found how simple it is to manipulate others – especially her own children.

Now let me take a step back to bring my family as a whole into the picture, because I want to briefly speak about several of the situations I have come to deal with.

In 1991, I was born into a situation that still occasionally blows my mind. My father, a gay man with Bipolar Disorder who chose (and still chooses) to self medicate with alcohol, and my mother, a manipulative woman who victimizes herself in order to draw in the attention of others, a match made in Hell, had a baby. That would be me. Despite that I was planned, to start off their life as parents, they never made a mental note about which day I was born – spending the next eighteen years convinced that I had been born on the 8th while my birth certificate (which they must have never looked at) says the 9th. But I was born. And seven years later, so was my brother, to the same parents.

Both of my parents spent their childhoods in less than ideal situations. I don't know much about my grandparents on my mother's side, even though I did grow up knowing them. My grandfather had an alcohol problem – and at some point, he divorced my grandmother and moved back in with his mother – where he lived for the rest of his life. My grandmother remarried a man with leather belts that weren't just for holding up his pants. He was still probably a more suitable parent than she ever was. She spent her life struggling with anorexia and an alcohol addiction, and at one point, she attempted to run over her three children with a car. She has since tried to make amends with her children, though has no desire to get help for her issues.

My grandparents on my father's side, who I lived with after being abandoned by my own parents at the age of seven, were a whole different level of complicated. Though recovered now, my grandfather had an alcohol addiction while raising his children. He continues to struggle with extreme anxiety. My grandmother is a controller with a hot and cold switch that turns automatically. I am not a doctor, though if I had to guess, I would say my grandmother is a poster child for Borderline Personality Disorder. One day, you can be her perfect little angel, and the next she is standing outside of your bedroom door rattling off every single reason she thinks you should be completely ashamed of yourself for at the top of her lungs. There is no warning which woman you will see from day to day, and stability is non-existent.

My entire life spent in turmoil, I was told to believe that because they were trying their best, I was a bad person if I voiced that I did not feel safe. I was unappreciative if I voiced when my needs were not met. And I was a liar if I brought to light the terrible things that happened behind closed doors. I learned to feel guilty for having needs, for wanting stability, and for not feeling safe around people who emotionally tore me to shreds. Because they were trying their best, even though their best hurt me, I had to deal with it. Even as I type this, there is something inside of me that tells me I am wrong. Even though I know that my mother is not one of the people who tried their best, I struggle with guilt as I finally break away from the pain that she causes and cut her completely out of my life.

Like I said above, I was seven when my mother abandoned me. My brother had just been born and our father had just left to go live his own life. It finally seemed to sink in for both of them that having children meant giving up a large portion of their lives, and neither of them were ready to do that. So they left my brother and I with our father's parents. My father moved around from state to state, and my mother moved just down the street from where I lived. Being away from her left me with complicated feelings that I couldn't really manage to express. On one hand, I missed living with my mom. I felt unwanted and unloved. On the other hand, my earliest memories involved hiding under a bed while she and my dad fought, so getting away from both of them was a relief. It didn't make things any easier that she lived just three blocks away.

I visited my mother often during the day – even though for some reason, I was afraid to stay the night with her. While visiting her, I spent most of my time utterly alone. I don't remember if this was common in my early childhood or if this was a new development. It became common knowledge that if I wanted her to stay awake, I shouldn't talk to her though. Saying 'Mom' could lead to an explosion of yelling about how she didn't want to deal with whatever 'it' was or didn't care about what I wanted to say. So I took care of my brother and watched The Care Bears Movie and Clifford on repeat all day. On days when I was particularly in need of attention, even if it was negative, she yelled at me for awhile then shut herself in her room to sleep – and I was alone again. As I grew older and my brother threw tantrums so he wouldn't be made to visit her, it was almost like having an apartment to myself – as long as I didn't make a mess or too much noise, which would cause her to send me back to my grandparents' house. While I was there, she slept all day long.

I was told that even though she either yelled at me or ignored me completely, I had to visit her. She was my mother after all. She loved me. I should feel ashamed of myself for not wanting to be around her.

The neglect wore on for years. She would make plans to spend time with me then break them because she didn't feel like it. If I was sick, she would drive me to the ER if my grandparents couldn't then wait in the waiting room because she didn't want to deal with a crying child – she would spend her time angry that I was such a burden and tell the nurses that I 'always acted like this'. If we went shopping, she would give me $10 to go buy myself a toy and stay in the toy aisle so she didn't have to keep an eye on me. She stayed in the car during my ballet practices. As I got older, I needed to see a therapist, but she stopped taking me after only a few appointments because waiting on me while I was with the doctor made her bored. She showed little interest in my life – only acknowledging me when she was bragging to her friends and family about what a great mother she was. During those times, she would let me sit on her lap, do my hair, and speak to me. She was good at convincing those around her that she was the perfect mother, and if I acted out to try to bring light to the truth, it was simply because I had behavior problems – something she used to gain sympathy from others. To those around us, it was a shame that my mother 'tried so hard' and I was so unappreciative.

Those who knew the truth still continued with their mantra. I should feel ashamed of myself for not wanting to be around her. She was my mother. She loved me. She just didn't know how to show it.

I was about ten when she finally found a reason to take interest in me – or, well, convince me to take interest in her. My grandfather, her father, gave me his old computer – and the only place there happened to be room for it was in my bedroom. I discovered Neopets and became perfectly content playing it 100% of the time my grandparents sent me to visit her. I actually started to want to be at her apartment, just to play on Neopets. I even began to stay the night – as I didn't have a bedtime and could play all night long. During the time I wasn't at her apartment, she discovered Yahoo Instant Messenger's chat rooms on the computer. It soon became a battle over whose turn it was the play on the computer. More often than not – she won, and I played with toys on my bedroom floor while she sat beside me virtually playing with men. All I could think was, 'At least she isn't yelling or sleeping'.

The first time she wanted me to 'read something' online, I was confused. At a certain point, I became no stranger to how she spent her time on the internet. She bought a mic and spoke to men who had webcams. Their conversations were weird and disgusting, and didn't really hold my interest. I began to lose interest in her. But it was sparked again when she wanted me to read something online with her. I remember the first conversation between her and a guy that she had me read. She wanted me to give her 'suggestions' on what to type to him as he spoke about wanting to lick her face and various other parts of her body. The conversations multiplied – and often, she was talking to more than one man at a time. I soon was not only giving her suggestions, but typing to them as she got up to use the bathroom or check on laundry. Sometimes she would want me to pretend to be her. Other times, I would talk to them as me. I helped her spell words and began to type what she wanted to say for her once I started typing faster than she could. I hated talking to them, but talking to them made me feel as though I was finally behaved and wanted. I was finally pleasing her. In school, I had learned that sexual abuse was if an adult touched you or another person touched you without your permission, but had been taught nothing about this kind of thing. So I shoved how dirty I felt away and tried to forget about it.

Soon, the men she was talking to online began to show up in person. She found entertainment in making out with them in front of me or telling me to watch as they touched tongues or licked each others faces. They spoke graphically about sex, having no qualms with describing to me exactly how it was done. My mother, the woman who slept entire days away so she didn't have to speak to me, was suddenly spending hours telling me about the time she forgot she had a tampon in when a man attempted to stick his penis into her. And I did not like it. Partially, because I was a child. Partially, because I knew I was a lesbian since third grade, and if I wanted to know how anything about sex worked, I wanted to know how it worked when you both had the same damn parts. It became my turn to ignore her, to walk away, and to lock myself in rooms so I didn't have to hear her speak.

The tables turned, and she was not having it.

I remember the day that I came to believe no one could ever love me. I was somewhere between 11 and 12. She and one of her boyfriends sat me down to have the 'talk'. It wasn't really the 'talk' as I knew what all of that stuff was and how it worked by then. This talk was about how much disgust I showed toward the topic of sex, and about how I began to adamantly claim that I never wanted to have sex. This talk began with the topic of how good sex felt and how I didn't know what I was missing out on, and that I would change my mind eventually. I would realize how much I liked the male body and how good it would feel with a man inside of me. I had to have sex, according to my mother. And I had to do it with a lot of men. If I didn't, I wouldn't be experienced, and if I wasn't experienced, a man would never fall in love with me. If I was 'bad at it', I wouldn't be enough and the man would leave. It was unacceptable for me to claim that I was completely fine without a man in my life. I had to want a man in my life. Multiple men even. And I had to want to have sex. Especially if someone were to ever love me. It was enforced that they wouldn't be mad at me if I decided to have sex. My disgust only grew. I hated her for her 'talks' and myself for no longer being able to please her, and I began to isolate myself from my mother and from everyone else around me.

I also developed severe anxiety and behavioral problems – which led to no one in my family wanting me around anyway. I 'belonged' in my room. I only caused trouble when I came out.

My mother began to form more serious relationships with men – especially with men who couldn't stand her children. After being locked out of the house by one of these men, barefoot in mid-winter, I finally stopped going to see her almost completely. The same boyfriend would take my brother, a toddler at the time, out of the room my mother was in and mock him for crying and yelling for her. She would return and scold my brother for crying. Her boyfriends didn't want me or my brother around, and she was able to to please them while gaining sympathy from others by telling them her children had abandoned her and didn't want to see her. She began to tell friends and family that my grandparents and father had begun to brainwash me and my brother, convincing us that she was a bad mother and preventing us from visiting her.

I began to have panic attacks whenever my grandparents would make me speak to her on the phone or she would show up at our house. She did not take being ignored well, and would begin to make an effort whenever I stopped vying for her attention. I decided that I did not want to see her or talk to her anymore.

This caused major turmoil in my family.

As a child, I was not allowed to have rights nor privacy nor respect. It did not matter that I had become terrified of even just the thought of my mother. It did not matter even to the people who knew how she treated me. If I locked myself in a room to get away from her, they would take the door off the hinges and physically pry me out of the room. If I didn't want to speak to her on the phone, I would be cornered and the phone would be pressed against my ear until I spoke. It was drilled into my head that she was my mother and to not talk to her was rude. I should be ashamed. I should feel guilty. I should feel like a bad daughter. It did not matter that we had to talk about what she wanted and I was not allowed to talk about anything else (because anything I might want to talk about was boring or stupid); I should feel guilty for not talking to her. (It did not make things easier that my mother soon became my 'punishment'. If I did something wrong, I would have to go stay with her.) My fear and discomfort and anxiety worsened, and I came to learn that I was not important. My feelings did not matter, my interests did not matter, my fears and likes and dislikes did not matter, and I did not matter.

I was thirteen when I was first hospitalized for self-harm and wanting to kill myself. My behavioral problems had worsened due to bullying at school, and I had been sent to stay with my mother for the night. And I couldn't take it anymore. I drew cuts across my arm with a safety pin then stood at the top of the stairs and wondered how much force it would take to kill myself by throwing myself down them. - She drove me to the hospital, claiming that she 'couldn't take me anymore' then called my father to come handle me.

Things continued how they were until I was eighteen and moved in with my father – hours away from her. She began to text and call me continuously at all hours, becoming angry if I didn't answer my phone. Suddenly, now that I was away, she wanted to talk to me non-stop. During points when I was in college, she would purposely call me during class, then let messages in my voicemail about how she was my mother and how she was important enough that I should leave class to answer my phone for her. After I left college, out of nowhere, she began to send pictures of naked men to my phone. After getting word that she was doing the same to my brother, who was about eleven at the time, he and I both had our numbers changed.

I managed to block her out for a number of years, though dealt with unimaginable guilt as people told me I was doing the wrong thing. No matter how she treated me, she was my mother after all. I was required to talk to her and to love her. I shut myself down to the situation, pretended it didn't exist. Or tried to. Being away from her, I finally felt safe from her, but I also felt guilty for that. It was enforced so often that she was my mother, that she carried me for nine months, that she had gone through giving birth to me, and that I owed her for that, that feeling safe from her was just as bad as allowing her into my life. I no longer had to deal with her, but I had to deal with everyone who knew her admonishing me for blocking out my own mother. What kind of daughter was I to do that to my mother?

A year or so ago, I finally caved under the pressure. Though I refused to give her my phone number, I friended her on Facebook and saw her on a visit back home to my grandparents. (It wasn't quite so willingly as my grandparents told me that I had to go see her and drove me to her job despite my protests. Visiting her at her house was impossible, fortunately, since her now fiance banned me from their trailer.) The moment I decided to allow her into my life via social media, a loving mother that I had never seen before jumped into the public's eye. Her Facebook statuses were suddenly nothing but how much she loves her children and would do anything for us. She began to claim that we were stolen from her rather than abandoned by her, that she tries to do so much for us, and that she just wishes we would accept her. I did all that I could do and ignored the messages. For a year, I managed to live peacefully by allowing her to post message after message on Facebook – dealing with her without really dealing with her. The 24/7 messages she sent me begging me to talk to her were a small price to pay compared to years of guilt placed on me for ignoring her.

Outside of Social Media, however, my brother, now 16, became a target for her and her fiance. At some point, my brother gave her his phone number, and suddenly became bombarded by her text messages. He, much more blunt than me, called her out on her words and her actions. This has since turned into our mother attempting to manipulate him with money and sending him threats of violence. She had been insistent he apologize to her fiance for being a bad child, a man that has thrown him against a wall, and is now threatening him, telling him that her fiance is going to show up at our grandparents' house and beat the shit out of him. One day, she will claim that she loves him. The next, she tells him that she is no longer supporting him financially and is going to punch him. She has placed my brother, a child, in a situation where he is no longer safe.

And, suddenly, there is no amount of 'she's your mother's that can justify the pain she causes. Suddenly, from an outside view, I see what I should have seen my entire life. No matter what, my brother has the RIGHT to SAFETY. I have the RIGHT to SAFETY. YOU have the RIGHT to SAFETY. Anyone in an abusive situation, no matter who the abuser is in relation to them, has the right to safety – without guilt, without shame, without consequences. There are people who understand out there. There is support out there. And anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. It is normal to feel conflicted, guilty, ashamed, and feelings there aren't even words for. It is normal even to feel as though you are betraying your abuser (that is how I feel all the time). But none of those feelings, nothing you may think, nothing other people may tell you, take away your right to be safe, loved, and happy. You are so important. Never let anyone convince you that you have to take being hurt because the person hurting you is family, is sick, has done so much for you, or any other reason. Never let anyone convince you to live your life in pain and guilt. If you're worried about hurting the person who is hurting you (it's a normal feeling, trust me), the best thing you can do for that person is to get help – let someone know about the situation. Call the police. Call a hotline. And, if you can, get out whatever situation you are in.

It is a dark tunnel at first, but there will be light at the end.

And there will be people there waiting to help you develop healthy relationships and to show you what you were really missing all along.

Resources for Help:


09 September 2014

An Open Letter To Anyone I Met At NJCon

I almost didn't make it to NJCon. At the very last minute, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to go. I started the process of finding someone to sell my ticket to, figuring out how to transfer my hotel room into my roommate's name, and coming to terms with the fact that something I had been looking forward to for roughly a year was not going to happen. The cons of going definitely outweighed what I thought the pros would be.

I'm currently weaning off of my meds (Lamictal first) so I can write again, and some days are better than others. The headaches, dizziness, and exhaustion are beginning to wear off. Unfortunately, the anxiety, depression, repetitive thoughts, and paranoia are still amplified. Every second of every day for as long as I can remember has felt like Hell, and for the next several months there will be moments where it feels even worse. That coupled with the fact that I need money in order to survive leaving home made it seem like a good idea not to go. Staying home would give me more money, and it would also mean that no one would have to deal with me. Because, honestly, who wants to deal with someone who is like me – especially right now?

I have come to learn that 'just staying home' is the worst thing I could do though – especially if I am making all of these plans to fight for myself. I have tried the 'just staying home' thing in the past. It has nearly killed me. I used to think that if I stayed in my comfort zone, it would all be okay. I'll 'feel better'. Life will be 'easier'. I've considered quitting my job, going on disability, and 'just staying home' from the world. I mean, if tearing myself out of my comfort zone, even to simply do things that I enjoy, is so difficult, why not? Because I've found that when I give up what I want and let my mind win, the only thing I really want to do is die. So, I make plans to do things that I love and see people that I admire. Because standing completely overwhelmed and helpless in the middle of a strange place is still better than lying on my bed, daydreaming about just ending it all. It takes being out of my comfort zone to remind me that I still exist and there are reasons for me to continue to exist.

I think that when I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to attend the con, I somehow knew that this weekend would take me out of my element more than I planned for it to.

Firstly, in order to afford to stay in the hotel, I made plans to room with three other girls. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't get on well with other people. As much as I wish I could connect with people on a deeper level, I don't. I can't. I live in a situation where my daily interactions with others mostly include people yelling and hitting each other. I live in a situation where people seem to go out of their ways to make me feel ashamed of my existence. As much as I want what other people seem to have with each other, there is always that sinking feeling that people are only pretending to like me. And the voices that scream, 'You're disgusting. You're bad. No one likes you. No one wants to be around you. You're creepy. You're annoying. Everyone wishes you were dead.' So I stick to myself because I can't handle the loneliness that comes with being around others.

I knew that rooming with three other people, while good for my empty wallet, was going to take a mighty toll on me, especially now when I am going off my meds. And it did take quite a toll.

Thursday and Friday were miserable for me in that area. When they tried to interact with me, I didn't want to interact because I knew they would hate me. When they didn't try to interact with me, I convinced myself that they already hated me. My social life, which I adamantly try not to even have, is a never-ending empty void. Being around people and knowing that I am not someone that exists or matters is another thing that makes me wish I was dead, even more so than 'just staying home'. I try to convince myself that I am worthy of friends and that I don't deserve to feel so lonely, but there is something that tells me that every human in the world wishes I would disappear the very moment they meet me; that everything they do and say is just them struggling to get away from me.

Saturday, I melted down. It happens. After trying to 'fight' thinking that everyone hates me, like everyone tells me to do, and continuing to lose, it happens. I somehow found myself in a crowded area of the hotel, rooted to the floor, as other people walked by. And all I could hear was, 'Look at all those people. Look at them talking to each other. You don't have that. You'll never have that. You're bad. Don't try. Don't try. You're bad.' over and over and over. I couldn't conquer it, I couldn't leave, I could only just stare. And I broke. I always do.

But there is always something about breaking down at conventions that makes me a little stronger in the long run. I break relatively often. It happens when I see groups of friends, families that aren't screaming at each other, lovers, strangers who managed to make conversation. I walk away in tears or stand in the middle of a public area with 'You'll never have that' repeating like a broken record to me. And then I walk away alone. It matters to strangers on the street whether or not I'm okay as much as it matters to the people in my daily life – either not at all or in a way that I am in the way, that I am a burden. And I weaken. But at cons, not even just Creation cons, it isn't like that. The moment you start to look sad, you're surrounded by twenty people asking you if you're okay. You're not invisible. You exist.

I realize that on the outside, sometimes existing and being cared about tends to make everything worse. It's hard to comprehend at first. There is the desire to push everyone as far away as possible so I don't get hurt worse. But there is also the need to pull people close. I always end up freezing up until people give up and leave. People at cons don't just give up and leave though. My amazing roommates and new friends continued to return and check on me, something that doesn't often happen in my life. I can't put into words how it feels to matter to other people when you so often don't. I can't put into words how it feels to exist when you so often feel invisible. It's like being pulled out of quicksand, onto a rock. I finally have the courage to start to try standing on my own.

The kindness and support shown to me by my new (and old) friends, by Gil McKinney, by Osric Chau and by Chris Schmelke this weekend gave something unexplainable to my life that I never had before. Because of the wonderful friends I had/made, I gained the courage to try to connect with other people, spending Sunday night bonding with my roommates rather than isolating myself. I finally gave in and broke down to someone in person about how invisible I feel all of the time, and because of Gil, I actually discovered how it felt to exist. Chris took the time to make sure one of my photographs was how I wanted it, despite the hundreds of photo ops he was doing all weekend, giving me a sense of importance. And, because of Osric, I was able to put everything in my head aside for awhile and dance at the Cocktail Party – something I never would have even considered doing if he hadn't taken the time to boost my confidence and show me how to dance. It is people like these who remind me how and why to keep going when I am ready to quit.

To all the people I met at NJCon – whether you were my roommate, my friend, someone who stopped to ask if I was okay, or someone who just simply commented about my bear – you have had an impact on my life this weekend.

Thank you.

12 August 2014

now is the time

Yup. It's happening. At last, I have gained the courage to step out into the big, scary world all alone. I am equal parts excited and utterly terrified for this new battle.

Three days ago (on 9 August 2014, I am going to mark this date in my memory forever), I decided that I have to set a too-big goal in a too-little times span or I will never accomplish any of my dreams. It only took a few hours to decide what I was going to do – as I have been dreaming of this adventure my entire life. And it took me even less time deciding when to do it, as I realized I have never had a real New Years Resolution. So, at some point between Dec 30 and Jan 1, I am going get on an Amtrak train that will take me to Austin, Texas and never bring me back. And I am going to start a new life there.

So far, I have been hit with two questions. I will address the answer to both.

  1. Why Austin, Texas? What is there for you in Austin?
    The two times I have been there have been the only moments in my life where I felt like I fit in. I am weird. The city is weird. It's a perfect match. It also has more opportunity for me than other places that I have considered. I want to go back to school to study either neurology or forensic psychology. I also want to write. There, I can both find a place to study and be in a very media-centric area. The art, music, and television scene in Austin blows my mind. I have considered NYC and LA for similar opportunities, but Austin managed to win out. I feel safer there than in other large cities as people have always been kinder and more respectful toward me. It is also warmer than NYC, and since I will be leaving in winter, I don't want to possibly be stuck outside in the cold. And it is detached from the people I know in California who may either send me back home or allow me to be dependent on them. It is also midway between where I grew up (Pennsylvania) and where I want to end up (California).
  2. Are you sure you're doing the right thing? What do your parents think?
    Firstly, my parents don't and aren't going to know about this. I don't need people trying to stop me. I need people who will support me. Secondly, yes. Yes, yes, yes I am absolutely sure this is the right thing to do. I have been in a situation that has left me feeling hopeless for too long. I can't do it anymore. If I continue just drifting by, I will end up killing myself before I reach 25. I know myself well enough to know that I have to take a giant leap to accomplish what I want to accomplish in life. I don't get places unless I completely throw myself out into open water and start swimming toward an island. For the next few months I will be meticulously planning this new start to my life – and in just three days of planning, I realize more and more that this is the right decision. I have mapped out shelters, social service offices, food pantries, churches, etc in the area – and I may even have a part-time job already waiting for me.
So far, since I have only been planning for a few days, I only have the basics worked out. I know where I will go in case of emergency. I know where to find shelters. Where to find food. Where to find trustworthy people. I have asked a friend in Texas if she can find someone who will allow me to use their address so I can be transferred to a new job (and hopefully open a bank account and a P.O. Box). I have read up on Austin's laws in regards to being homeless – panhandling, sleeping, showering, etc. I am developing a support system that includes people from all over – in case I get into any rocky situations. I have found people who will hold onto my most valuable possessions until I have a place to keep them myself. And more.

Things could take two directions upon my arrival in Austin. As I get into the city at 6:22 PM, my first night there I will almost definitely be on the streets all night. After that, it depends on how much support I can gather from other people. - As I said, I may have a part-time job there waiting for me. This will give me income, a place to store my work clothes, and a safe space to 'loiter'. I will immediately begin looking for either a second part-time job or a full-time job. Now, where I will be staying until I get an apartment is still in question. It is possible that I will be living on the streets until I can save enough money and find a cheap apartment with roommates. This is not ideal. I have found though that there is a Bed and Breakfast walking distance from where I may be working that has a $1,000 monthly rate. If I could afford this for one or two months, this would give me a chance to secure another job and find a place to live. I am very much hoping for this option as it will give access to a shower, bathroom, kitchen, washer/dyer, etc, and also provide me with safety that the streets can't give me.

I am reaching out now for help. I am currently working, but I will still need additional money to support myself for the first few months I am in Austin. I am hoping between work and the kindness of other people, I can raise $5,000 before Dec 30. This will cover my train ticket, two months at the bed and breakfast, a bus pass, food, etc. I will be leaving with nothing but a backpack full of essentials (in case I end up on the street, as I don't want anything particularly valuable stolen from me).

If you would like to help, I would be forever grateful.

I have opened a gofundme where donations can be collected for my train ticket, a place for me to stay, food, etc.

I have also created an amazon wishlist with basic items I will need.

And, if you would like to send anything else (ex: gift cards or cheaper versions of items on my wishlist), you can email me at jalyssarussell@gmail.com and I will provide you with an address in which you can send mail. If you know of a cheaper place for me to live (even for just a month or two), please email me at this email address as well.

It would mean so much.

26 July 2014

My Closest Friends Are Geese

Many people have seen or heard stories of dogs sticking by their fellow dogs who have been hit by cars – and even dragging them out of the middle of the street. There was one particular story floating around the internet with a picture of two dogs – one had been hit and the other refused to move from its side, not allowing anyone to even get close to it. Even though such stories are tearjerkers, I've never really bothered to put much thought into them.

I saw a goose get hit by a car yesterday. Well, I didn't really see the car hit it. To be exact, I saw the aftermath of a goose getting hit by a car yesterday. I saw the goose – two broken wings and a broken foot, dragging itself the rest of the way across the street. A mixture between hopping on its good foot and inching itself along on its stomach – like it was trying to swim on dry land. Alive at the time or not, the goose was clearly done for. It couldn't fly and it could barely attempt to walk. The probable internal injuries taken into mind, I have no doubt that the goose will be dead by tomorrow at the latest.

I wonder if animals have the potential to lose hope. I'm sure that some do. There are several creatures besides humans that have been capable of expressing complex characteristics and brain functions. Elephants and dolphins, for example. Both have shown themselves to be intelligent and also to be capable of developing friendships with their own species and with others. I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy, but I once read that primates in captivity losing interest in the outside world and repetitively counting their fingers instead of interacting is a sign that they have lost hope. So I wonder if geese can lose hope. If something in their brain can trigger a sense that they are dying and they find themselves with the option to keep going or just give up.

If geese can lose hope, this one was a fighter. It made it all the way across the rest of the road and kept going. I could write an entire blog post on an inspiring goose that was clearly dying but decided to keep going until the very end.

But that wasn't what struck me. It definitely wasn't what led me to the internet to research the habits of Canadian geese, nor was it what led me to write a blog post on them.

In front of the injured goose was the rest of its flock. I never really took the time to think about what geese do when a member of their flock is injured. (...which is actually odd, because that definitely seems like something I would take the time to think about and spend an entire day bothering my friends [particularly Alexx] about.) I've always seen geese as assholes. Because they are assholes. So in my head, it's always been that a goose dies and its asshole friends and family are like 'Did you see Gary walk right out in front of that car? What an idiot. How did he survive past being an egg.' and then they move on to chase unsuspecting creatures and eat everything in creation (then poop it out all over the damn place). Because really, geese are just assholes.

Though, unfortunately, I can no longer be so adamant that geese are evil creatures created by Satan for the sole purpose of infesting the earth with a desire to kill anything standing between them and food.

The rest of this goose's flock did not fly off and let it there to die alone. In fact, they stayed only a few steps in front of it as it dragged itself along. Every few seconds, they would stop and turn around to make sure it was still there – honking rather quietly at it as they did so, as if to encourage it to keep going. I was stunned. (I really had no good feelings about geese. None. Not even a kind of good feeling.) The geese in the flock slowed their pace and even stopped to wait when need be. I knew that ducks would do this for their ducklings, but I never considered that geese may do this for their fellow flock members.

At first, I considered it was just instinct. Something in the geese said 'You can't move on unless all of your flock is with you'. But when did instinct fizzle out? When the goose was mostly dead? When the goose was completely dead? Was it all about instinct? Or did this flock of geese actually care about this injured goose? Thoughts flooded my brain until I had the chance to go home and research the characteristics of flocks of geese.

It turns out that if you want to be a decent human, you should probably forget being a human and aspire to be a goose.

Geese show a strong devotion to other members of their flock. (Random fact: Did you know that geese are monogamous? That's right. It isn't just penguins. Geese will find and mate with one other goose for the rest of their lives.) Geese are highly emotional in their connections to one another – especially when a fellow flock mate is on the brink of death. If a goose has become sick or injured, two flock mates will stay with it until it is either well or has died. They will honk encouragement to it. And if it dies, the flock will mourn its death. I think that is a development that surpasses just instinct.

I am lucky enough lately that a few of my friends have devoted themselves to being geese. Not even just two, but three. I feel like the goose that was hit by a car and dragging itself across the road. The past few weeks have been the car. I've been lonely. I've been sick. My mental health is taking its toll, and my meds no longer seem to be working. I constantly want to die. Everything I do is insulted or mocked by family. I seem to be slowly losing my job – or at least being deemed inadequate, working for an hour and a half then being asked to leave because someone can do my job later. My grandfather has cancer. Life in general is just a mess. I can't get control over myself, and no one seems to understand. Every time I try to be positive, I seem to be slammed back to the ground by a problem even worse than the last. So I stop trying in order to protect myself and I am deemed just one of those negative people who brings others down. And no one wanting to be around me, people getting tired of me, not feeling understood, loved, or like I have any support – it just makes everything worse. It just enforces that not only is everything going wrong, I am wrong as well.

I am just dragging myself across the highway with a limp foot and two broken wings – waiting for the inevitable.

Yet, somehow, three people manage to stick with me – looking to make sure I am still here and honking encouragement while the rest fly off. I am probably not going to get very far. I think everyone knows that by now. I have no desire left to keep dragging myself and more cars seem to just keep running me over. Still, they are here for now, standing on the other side of the road.

Sometimes I hate them. I hate them because I can see they made it across the road and I didn't. I hate them because I know they are going to get somewhere and I am just broken. Other times, I admire them. I imagine what it must be like on the other side of the road. Their successes at being functional people in life give me something to dream about. Then I feel guilty that they have to stand there, watching me get hit by car after car. Something else must be calling them and I am holding them back. And I wish the last car would hit and it would all be over with.

Mostly, when the last car does hit, I hope they're the last thing I see. Because it means someone believed in me to the very end and felt that I was important enough to stick by even when it was clear that it was a hopeless cause.

And now the one animal that I wished to never see is the one that I aspire most to be.

18 July 2014


I don't want to disappear as much as I wish I could view the world in Universal Omniscient – a narrator in life rather than a character, watching and observing my surroundings without having my own story. I envy the clouds that float across the sky, able to see everything but feel nothing. They explore the world, from the skyscrapers in New York City to the Himalayan mountain tops – free of fear, bound by nothing. They travel wherever the wind takes them. And even on days when they flood the world with their sadness or rip it to shreds with their anger, they can't be touched. They continue toward their next destination, able to view the entire world on their journey.

I, like everyone else, view my surroundings through First Person Limited – thrown into the mess of life while only truly seeing myself. I'm forced to interact with my surroundings. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There are no breaks. There is no chance to view the world from up high, free of tethers. The strength of the clouds as they release everything they've pent up inside of them is seen as weakness in me. That which makes them needed is that which makes me unwanted. And I wonder if I'll ever even have a next destination – unable to even fathom how I might get to it. I want to disconnect myself from life – removing myself as the main character of my story while still being able to view the beauty and tragedy in the world. I want to be untouched, a silent observer of life and death, able to eventually move on and allow people to experience the sun that shines through when I'm no longer around.

And it kills me that the only reality of escape is to simply disappear.

To observe as myself is to take but not contribute – to become more of a burden. To not exist as myself is to do neither – providing others with sun.

To compromise, I consider becoming a different person. I develop an image in my head of the person I should be – someone with different likes, different positive traits, different flaws, different ways of thinking. Someone so vastly different from who I am now that that person has to be 'good'. Someone who can interact with the world without causing turmoil. I imagine being someone intelligent who is a good friend and a welcomed acquaintance. I imagine being someone who never takes but always gives. I try to be someone who will get somewhere in life and who won't burden others with their presence. I reinforce the idea that I am bad, but my attempts to be good only seem to make me worse.

I wonder if it's possible to hate yourself so much that everything in you simply gives up. Because as I was taken to the ER the other night, controlled by vomiting and panic, it felt as though my mind and body had simply given up. And now, I don't particularly want to get out of bed. I don't think I'm sick as much as I am done with being myself – someone so selfish and unlovable. I think maybe I would feel better if I wasn't me.

But I am me – and I want to close my eyes and disappear.

14 July 2014

The Bee Room

It isn't stressed enough how frightening mental illness can be (and almost always is) to those who experience it. Fear can range from a creeping nervousness to pure terror – often sliding back and forth across its own fear spectrum without ever stopping. The bouts of calm are few and far between. And, still, it is just a calm before the next storm. And I want to stress it again: mental illness is frightening. And invalidating a person's feelings or perceptions makes it all the more scary.

Because not everyone's minds work the same, I can only speak for myself in this post – but I know that there are people out there who will be able to relate. Lately, I have felt under attack. Am I under attack? I honestly do not know. There are few ways that I know how to reach out to others when I am in this state of mind, and the ways I do know how to reach out seem to always backfire on me. Everyone needs reassurance and positive attention – some people more than others (and more often than others). I am one of those people who constantly needs reassured that I am loved and that there is nothing 'wrong' with me. I need reassured that I am good, or I am sure that I am bad. And I need it more than ever on the days where I am sure the world is out to get me. But as I reach out in whatever desperate ways I can manage, it always ends with negativity. I am an attention-seeker. I am ungrateful. I am annoying. I am many things – and none of them are good. And, already feeling under attack, I become more defensive and more desperate.

Imagine being in a room with a bee. (You're also allergic to bees.) “I need someone to remove this bee,” you shout at the closed door, huddling in the corner. The bee is not attacking you, but there is potential that it might. There is silence. “Please, remove the bee!” You finally receive an answer, but it isn't one you were hoping for. “Stop shouting!” yells a person who does not know you are allergic to bees – and you're stuck in a room with one, either unable to open the door or just too afraid to move out of the corner. The bee is riled up by the noise. You panic. You hit the wall, trying to draw in the attention of someone who can help you. People begin to get angry and annoyed. They hit the wall back. You cry and hit the wall harder. “Stop looking for attention!” someone yells. “There probably is nothing even in there!” another person announces, unable to see what you do. Suddenly, you're beginning to doubt the existence of the bee and you feel guilty for crying out. It buzzes menacingly while people continue to shout. “There are people who have to deal with bees every day! Some people even have to deal with worse! Get over it! You should be grateful it's only one bee!” But that one bee, something that looks so small to everyone else, might just be the death of you. And while the people around you don't think that they are causing any harm (only trying to make you see the 'truth'), they don't understand that they are suddenly part of the potential attack.

Finally, as you're reaching exhaustion and feeling as though no one cares about your safety, someone does come to help you. But no matter what they do, they just can't open the door. It's not their fault. It's not your fault. Even as the people who were previously just hitting the walls and yelling back at you are shouting, “Someone is actually trying to help you! You won't even let them in! Do you even WANT to be helped?!” The door is just stuck.

And what can you do besides accept your fate or become all the more desperate.

The people who didn't understand your situation to begin with either leave the building or continue to yell at you for your fear and desperation to be helped. And, eventually, the people who had shown up to help but found that they couldn't get through the door either join those who are yelling or leave as well. You scream at them not to leave. You don't want to be alone. But they're tired and they want to go home. They don't want to hear you yelling for help when you both know you can't be helped by them. There is nothing they can actively do for you. Sitting outside the door seems useless to them – even though it means the world to you, knowing they're still there. You feel so alone. Even the people who do stay are behind a door, and even though you can talk to them and you appreciate that they are there and you don't want them to leave, you still feel so alone. You can't help it. You just want to be on the outside with them.

People come and tell you to help yourself. You throw your shoe at the bee. It hits. For awhile, you think the bee is dead. But it isn't. You throw your other shoe. The same thing happens. And then you are out of shoes. The bee sits on top of them. And people continue to tell you that you just have to help yourself. You're strong. It's not like anyone else can help you. You're bigger than the bee! If you don't get yourself out of this mess, you clearly want to be in it. But they don't understand that one little sting can kill you. That sometimes you get so close, but the bee can fly and it is faster than you.

They recommend (sometimes condescendingly) that you get professional help. So an exterminator comes. He sprays something to kill the bee under the door. You cough and wheeze and eventually beg him to stop. The spray makes you feel as though the life is being sucked out of you. He tries a different bee spray. This time you feel nauseated and you can't stop crying. He suggests maybe you should talk about the bee. You describe it in detail, but you wonder if he even believes you. He diagnoses you with a bee allergy as though you didn't already know you were allergic. He also tells you that you seem to have a bad habit of biting your nails. You should probably slide some money under the door for another session so you can talk about that too. Oh, and if you need him, he is only available next week for one hour. But you should be fine until then. 

You're confined to a corner, feeling helpless. The people who have told you they don't even think there is a bee in the room with you leave you questioning whether or not your perception of the bee is real. Those who yelled at you for seeking attention make you feel guilty for your desperation for help. You want to kill yourself before the bee can, but you're scared and you voice it – and people respond by telling you if you were going to kill yourself, you wouldn't be telling others you want to be dead. You would just die in silence. You think maybe they want you to die in silence. They call back the professional who deems you as a hazard to yourself and takes the rest of your money for another session to talk about the bee. I mean, maybe if you talk about it, the bee will slowly start to disintegrate or something. There are the people who have left you, making you feel unworthy of being helped – annoying, a burden, self-centered, someone with nothing to give to anyone else. And you begin to fear for the day when the people still behind the door finally get up and leave as well. You cling to their presence tightly, accidentally smothering them.

Suddenly the entire world seems to be against you. In reality, outside the door, it isn't. But from where you are confined with that bee, that little speck of mental illness, there is only fear. And it seems like nothing will ever change.

I just want to tell you that if you know someone who struggles with mental illness, it is not always that they just want the attention on themselves. It's not always that they're not thinking about you. It's not always that they're annoying, needy, frustrating people. It is not always that they don't want to help themselves. Or that they want to turn down the help that you're trying to offer. They're stuck inside their heads with a bee and the door won't open. And the best thing you can do is not to get angry, not to yell, not to invalidate them, not to accuse them, not to try to convince them you understand when you're standing in a world outside the door. The best thing you can do if your loved one is struggling is to sit beside the door and let them know that you plan to stay.

You don't need to sit there 24/7. You can get up – take care of your own needs. Please, take care of yourself as well. Eat, sleep, take time for yourself, do things that make you happy – and don't let anyone make you feel guilty for being happy just because they are not. But when you can, sit down outside that door. And on particularly bad days, offer some reassurance that someday, the door will open. And if the person on the other side gets angry, yelling that the door is never going to open, remember that it's fear speaking. People who struggle with mental illness, in a way, are in fear for their lives – especially those who struggle severely.

Be kind. Even if you can't see past our door, to us the terror is very real.

Don't let anyone treat you badly though – ill or not. Don't accept abuse. If someone hurts you, get out.

But for those of you who know people who kind, good people but are just stuck in their heads with a bee...

It would mean the world if you could sit outside the door with a flyswatter, offering comforting words and hoping with us that the door will someday open and we will be free.