my depression story.

“Whatever you are feeling right now, there is a mathematical certainty that someone is feeling that exact thing. This is not to say you aren’t special. This is to say thank god you aren’t special.”

Neil Hilborn

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, DEPRESSION, BINGE EATING, AND RAPE. Reader discretion is advised.

Left: Me at the height of my depression. Right: Me at the mentally healthiest I have ever been

I hate talking about this. Not because it is painful, but because it is exhausting. Which is really rather symbolic of what depression actually does to a person. But it is world suicide prevention day, and as a wounded healer, i find it to be really important to discuss this topic.  People think that folks just wake up one day and decide to complete suicide. Sometimes, this can be true. But there are warning signs. Mainly, I feel that the only way to prevent suicide is to address the imbalance that ultimtely leads to it and that is depression. There is a huge misconception when it comes to depression. Many people think that when you have depression you just get really sad and wait for it to be over. I will talk about all of it here, and what my experience has been with it.

I have not always been mentally healthy and most days, I find myself wondering if I ever will be. Because even on my best days, I rarely actually feel like I am at my best. On my worst days, I am lucky if I can muster enough energy to get out of bed to drink some water. But depression really looks like so many other things too and it is painful and exhausting and it is repetitive and constantly wondering if there will ever be a day when life doesn’t hurt so badly. The best way that I can describe depression is not a cloud, it’s not constantly feeling despair. It’s the absence of feeling. It’s numbness. It’s not caring about anything, even when you want to or when you know you “should”. It’s forgetting to brush your teeth or your hair. It’s a total lack of energy and interest. It’s waiting for the days to pass in the hopes that “this shit just gets easier”. It’s mood swings and irritability that is expressed through interactions with those who love you most, but really you’re just mad at yourself “because why am I like this?”. It’s wondering what the point of everything is. 

My “diagnosis” is clinical major depressive disorder. It is chronic. Which means all the time. My first encounter with depression was when I was a child. I don’t remember the exact age. My father had been diagnosed with cancer, for the second time and I don’t remember what led to it, but it was bad enough that my mother brought me to a therapist. I remember not knowing how to connect with this person and then becoming angry with myself for that. Throughout my life, I would try several therapists and eventually feel like “therapy just doesn’t work for me–I am too hopeless” (the irony of this is not lost on me). At this time, I developed severe anxiety. To the point where I would rip my clothes and my socks up. I would make tiny rolls of paper and rip that up and roll it back up. I became unable to sit still for any amount of time. Around fourth grade is when I was put on my first antidepressant. Zoloft. 11 years old. I don’t know what my primary care doc was thinking, but it  had an adverse impact and so I stopped taking it. This led me to believe that “pills don’t work and I will never use medication for this again”. This is when I started with my next therapist. Once again–it didn’t work out and I stopped going. 

This is when the bullying started. I went to Catholic school. The kids were mean. Really mean. I would get beat up, and shoved around and made fun of for being an artist. I wish I were kidding. I was an early bloomer. Full-chested at 11 years old, and my first period at the age of ten. My emotional and chemical balances were super out of whack. I took to my art as the thing to help me through it. I would watch other kids laugh and enjoy the company of one another and find myself feeling bitter at the ripe old age of 13. I tried to join in on things with them but never really felt like I quite belonged there. I turned to writing. I turned to art. 

What i didn’t realize was how normal I was. That all of my insecurities were the insecurities of all the girls around me. That my body was telling me it was ready to live a life of fruitful growth, and that I did not need to hide. I wouldn’t realize this until i was 28. And It would get much worse before it got better. 

Depression is different than being depressed. To be depressed is having symptoms of depression short term. Depression is deeper. Sharper. Thicker. Muddy. The time leading up to a deeper bout of depression is uncertain and scary. My awareness of it now, allows me to depict it as a circus bear in a tutu with a bowl of oranges on its head. The bear is riding a unicycle. But he is circling a ditch. And he is so busy worrying about the bowl of oranges on his head that he doesn’t realize the ditch is much deeper and much closer than he realizes until he falls in. There is a sinking feeling that happens when you notice you’ve lost your footing and suddenly you’re falling into that ditch whether you were ready or not. You don’t know how long you will fall, how deep or how the hell you’ll ever get out. 

Cut forward a few years. I’m in college. I’ve just survived an abusive relationship. My uncle just died in a tragic car crash and my dog just died from cancer. At this point, the depression was so deep that even when i expected to feel sad, I couldn’t. I went numb. It hurt so much that I shut it off. Depression is dissociation as well. It’s living life like you’re watching a movie. You can see everything happening from outside of your body. It’s being so exhausted from the pain that you have to turn it off.  Sometimes that means numbing your feelings. Some use substance, or sex. Some use art. Others just wait. I used art. I always had art. Art has always been my therapy, and my best friend. It’s always honest. It’s always a holding space and I never have to hear the bullshit. 

It was at this point that I tried my fifth therapist. She was the first therapist I had met that I had seen that allowed me to feel felt. I can’t remember her name. But I can remember the impact she had on me. I was still vehemently against using medications but working out and exercise was not working for me anymore. Art was barely doing it. There’s that ditch again. I felt alone. I could sit in a room full of people and only be able to connect by using self-deprecating humor. I would hide behind my appearance, dying my hair, changing my makeup, complete style makeovers. I would do ANYTHING to hide the fact that I felt like I was a human shell. I stopped being able to laugh. But I kept going. I had to find things to hold on to. There were countless days that I spent in my bed. Thank god for my friends. My people, my community. My sister. These were some of the people that kept bringing me back when I would get too lost in my head. I came out of it and I committed to trying to make my life better. I got scared to keep going with therapy so I stopped. I kept using art. I kept asking questions. I had life talks with my professor. I graduated college. 

In all of this time, I don’t suppose I ever really knew how to describe what I was feeling. I eventually stopped trying. I spent so much time thinking happiness would be a destination that I grew impatient with the present. This has taught me to be a firm believer that staying present allows you to drop some of the pressure of the future and the weight of the past. 

Cut forward to the summer after college graduation. It was my third year working with New York State Summer School of the Arts as a Head Counselor. This work was hard work but it was gratifying work. I loved working with those kids and to this day am ever grateful. This was the summer however, that was a turning point for me. This was the summer where one of my students told me I was a safe space for him. It was right in this moment that I thought, I need to become an art therapist. I had spent my whole life thinking about how to make my own life better, and all of it came to a head when i realized my life would become better by helping others make their own lives better. Most therapists you know have experienced some serious shit in their lives. Just an FYI. 

I got a new therapist. This is the one i see now and i have to say, this woman is a saint. I will never not say that. She introduced me to a concept I had never really understood. The power of asking questions.

I went to grad school. Second semester in, the same student who told me that I was a safe space for him died by completing suicide. It broke me. I felt grief unlike any other grief I had ever felt. “But he was so happy! So sweet! So Sunshiney!”. And that’s the thing. Depression does not just show up as a pain and suffering. In fact, most of the time those with depression go through every day overcompensating for how fucking miserable they are. They go out of their way to make a positive impact on people’s lives because they know how hard life is. They go out of their way to make others laugh because laughter is too hard to come by in their own lives. They go out of their way. Often times what happens with people who are contemplating suicide is this: They may start giving their possessions away. They may seem “off”. They may be really sad. They may be. Or they may be extremely happy one day. In fact, so much of the time, you will hear their loved ones say “ But I saw so and so yesterday and they were SO HAPPY!”. BY this time, the person has likely already planned their death out. They see an end in sight. They have accepted it and are looking forward to relief from their pain. I know this can be hard to hear, but this is the reality of it is and I need you to understand how HARD life has to be at this point for it to get to be this way. Because unless we know what the signs are, we cannot step in and help. Because people who are depressed aren’t going to reach out. A lot of the time they function just fine in the day to day and then go home and sleep the rest of the day off. Maybe they stop doing dishes for weeks at a time. Maybe they forget to eat or they eat too much. 

My first thoughts of suicide were when I was in grad school. I had been living on my own. I had been raped about three weeks prior. I remember the exact night. I don’t remember the date. But I was absolutely hopeless. It was the first time that i couldn’t see the future.  And if i could, i had decided it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have a plan, but I also couldn’t feel anything. When I reflect on all of this, I realize that all the trauma I have experienced and inherited finally came crashing out of the floodgates. I told myself I wouldn’t deal with my student’s death until after grad school. I told myself I couldn’t let myself deal with the rape until after grad school. So instead I ate. I ate and ate and ate. Eventually i gained more weight than i had ever gained in my entire life. In addition to everything i’ve already mentioned, my depression has always looked like food binging and over consumption. I know I am depressed by my increase in food intake. I isolate. I stop wanting to see people. I give up on myself. 

 I can tell you what saved me: Curiosity and my community. This is why curiosity is so important to me. Because I was always way too curious about what would happen next to complete the act. It was 4:00 am. I was thinking about all the things that hadn’t managed to kill me, and how i wished they would have. I couldn’t sleep. I called three different hotlines that night. Finally, i called my parents. I couldn’t stop crying. My parents showed up at my apartment, and I cried. We came up with a plan. I would make an appointment to start taking meds. I felt desperate. I felt angry that it had to get to this point of desperation. But i did it. I got on 75 mg of Venlafaxine and I waited. I went to therapy as often as I could get in. I forced myself to make art. This is when I started relying heavily on boundaries and only doing what felt right in any given moment. 

*I want to be very clear here. I used to think that medications were bad. I still think there is a huge factor of responsibility that comes with them. I do believe medications can help bring you to a baseline where you are actually able to focus on healing your pain. This is exactly what it has done for me. I know how stigmatized medications can be in the world of psychology. But they do play a role, just as any other medicine does, and if you feel you need to try medications to give you relief until you are able to tackle the underlying issues, then please, do not let anyone convince you otherwise. But do understand that the medications are a temporary fix for a long ass  problem, and when paired with therapy, and changes in diet and exercise and sleep and social habits, there is a massive amount of success. This is coming from someone who was dead set against medications. But I really don’t think I would be here if I was not taking my medicine, going to therapy, and meticulously tracking the things that work for me and exploring my identity all in tandem. Sometimes we reach a point in life where we feel weak when we ask for help, or when we have to do the thing we said we would never do. This does not make you weak. This just means you are changing. Every version of you is good enough. You are not less than for needing help.* 

The body holds on to trauma with everything it has. Even when you think you’re “over it”, you’re not. You feel it in your shoulders. You’ll notice you clench your jaw, or maybe you’re suddenly terrified of impact noises. Maybe the idea of someone being confrontational makes you have a panic attack. Whatever it is, it is real and it hurts. Until it doesn’t anymore. When I take time to think about how far I have come, I can’t help but be moved to tears. I still have my days. I call them “mushy days”. Days where there is leftover pain. Because like i said, depression is not a singular event. It is chronic and it creates brain fog. Maybe you’re more forgetful when you’re in a dip, or like you can’t pay attention to anything. 

The trauma that I have inherited goes so deep it is in my blood. When i think about it that way, It is no wonder that every bone in my body hurts on some days. And when that happens, I accept that that day is going to be a slow one. It does not make me less than anything. It does not mean I am weak. It means I need to listen. Because my brain and my heart and my body are asking for something to allow for healing. So I listen. Whether it’s tea, or soft clothing, or a cold shower and forcing myself to stand outside in the rain. All of these things heal. All of these things create moments of tenderness that were never given to you in the first place. These are the things that allow softness. You do not have to be coated in a hard exterior all the time. Depression is what happens when  trauma, and pain go unhealed. There is a reason it is hereditary. 

You need to know that you do not need to be strong every day of your life. You do not need the pressure that is placed upon you to stand in the font lines for everyone around you all the time. You are allowed to rest. You are allowed to check in with yourself and explore your needs. You are allowed to do that. 

I will never lie and say that it “just goes away”. It doesn’t. But there are ways to manage it. Sometimes it is clear and easy to figure out and other days it feels like you’re running uphill on a -40 degree day with a tornado coming right at you. Some days we are the circus bear and we fall in. Other days the bear’s circus friends help him out and others you create a ladder out of that unicycle and get your own damn self out. All are viable and all are okay. 

There are a lot of things that depression has taught me. There are a lot of things I do to manage my depression. So I will talk about that  here.

Things that work for me:
1) Telling people as soon as I wake up and notice I am feeling low.
2) Breathing. Focusing on my breathing and various other grounding tools.
3) Singing. I sound like a dying whale but it heals.
4) Smoke and Water cleansing. Drinking water. Bathing in water. Water. Sitting by it. Looking at it. 
5) Tea.
6) Dogs.
7) Family. My partner.
8) Sitting outside with my eyes closed.
9) massaging my face
10) crying 
11) writing, art, movement, stretching 
12) cooking a delicious meal 
13) researching my ancestors–understanding my community, and where I come from. It has helped me feel connected to the world in ways I cannot explain. 
14) Laughter. I literally LOVE looking at baking fails. Cry laughter is so real with that.
15) Distraction. No joke, I play Zoo Tycoon and Nancy Drew games like a mother. 
16) Listening to slam poets ( Neil Hilborn is AMAZING for this)
18) Soft textures–clothes, blankets, pillows.
19) Podcasts ( Hey,Girl-Alex Elle specifically)
20) Curiosity and Chocolate

Things that depression has taught me.
1) Patience & Acceptance. With myself. With the world. With the seasons. With Loss. Depression comes when it wants to, but if you pay attention it does have a pattern. It has taught me the importance of cycles and how to accept when those cycles begin so that I can plan and prepare ahead of time. 

2) Gentleness is the best medicine. I used to be so hard on myself for my depression. But the best treatment works slowly and over time, with soft and subtle changes. Abruptness is almost never the way. 

3) Healing is a community job. It takes a small village to build something strong, and that includes the people within it. Find your people, and be people for someone else. 

4) Healing is coming home to yourself every damn day with the deliberate intention of loving who you are no matter how you wake up. It’s making peace with your body, with your mind and with your spirit.

5) Things that are out of our control are not things that deserve the time. You can only control your next step. If you have a big plan, your very next step is the most important one. Focus on that. You can’t get five steps ahead without that one. So slow the hell down. 

6) Not every day will be your day. There will be days where getting out of bed is the biggest thing you do and that is okay. Your worth is NEVER tired to what you produce or do in a day. You being here is plenty. Any person that tells you otherwise is not your people.
7) It is hard work. Somedays you’ll be all about it and others will have you saying fuck it. And Both are fine. 

8) Take. Care. of. Your Vessel. Clean food. Clean sheets. Clean hair. It makes a world of difference.
9) Break it down. If it seems too big, simplify. What can you do right now? My dearest friend  Lena always used to ask me “What can you do right now?”. And I swear it has helped me understand how to prioritize in ways that have literally saved the day at times. You don’t have to tackle everything today. Try one thing. 

10). Be. Fucking. Curious. Curiosity is planting seeds for tomorrow, and in order to see the plant grow, you need to keep going. You need to wake up. Those seeds need you. Ask yourself questions. What do you want for dinner tomorrow? What is the weather tomorrow? Who invented the pillow? What is the distance from China to England? Get into the habit of asking questions. Then ask yourself more questions. Ask yourself about the quality of your questions and how you can improve them. My reason for this is that this instills a sense of awe and wonder. The most important question you will ask yourself every day is “What do I need today to safely make it through?”. The reason questions and curiosity are so important is that it leads to creative solutions to difficult and temporary problems. It can serve as a grounding distraction. But mostly it allows you to plan for the future and the present in a way that keeps you involved and engaged actively in your own life. It allows for reconnection. This is what has saved my life. 

There is so much more I could say on all of this but this may be my longest post ever. I hope that on this day, you are safe, and comfortable and healthy. And if you’re not any of those things, I hope you are able to be gentle with you. 

Ever curious, with warmth and love–

Gina


** If you or someone you know is having suicidal ideation, thoughts or considering please call:

National suicide prevention line:1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line — Text Hello to 741741
YouthLine — Text teen2teen to 839863, or call 1-877-968-8491

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline — 1-800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-800-799-7233

National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-855-812-1001

RAINN — 1-800-656-4673
The Trevor Project — 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678
Trans Lifeline — 1-877-565-8860

SAMHSA National Helpline – 1-800-662-4357

https://www.self.com/story/bipoc-mental-health-coronavirus

psychologytoday.com

on taking back your power after sexual trauma.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains themes of sexual assault, sexual violence, depression, military veteran violence, and suicide.

“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

Walt Whitman

Of all the fruit in the world, I find the fig to be one of the most fascinating. For those of you unfamiliar with this fruit, I will take a minute to describe. The fig, though it has many varieties, usually is a tear drop shaped fruit. It is not generally bigger than a child’s fist, and it can come in many shades varying from green all the way to a deep purple. The fig feels heavy in the palm of your hand. It grows best in warm weather, and is native to climates in Africa, the Middle East and Italy. It is one of the oldest fruits, and is depicted in art throughout history. It’s considered the fruit of the gods. The fig tastes like honey. Sometimes floral, sometime more fruity. It pairs well with goat cheese, and various other creamy based cheeses. It is an excellent accent to your bitter based salads or dishes. Add a little prosciutto and a couple of nuts and you can’t go wrong.

Figs are a tricky thing to perfect. They can be finicky when they do not grow native to an area. They are a sensual fruit. To bite into one feels indulgent upon your tongue. When they are ripe, they drip a sweet milky honey from the bottom. Some folx dry them in the sun and let their natural sugar emerge. They can be used for baking and incorporated into desserts.

Something that has always drawn to me to this fruit, is that it is not actually a fruit at all. It is a flower. And the flower grows within the confines of its sacred, round, form. This flower is pollinated by wasps specific to their species. The wasp pollinates the fig from within, and when it is done the wasp dies. The fig, then consumes the wasp. This silent process is symbiosis.

The first time I ever saw a fig, I was small. I remember being smitten with the taste and drawn in to look closer at all the beautiful fibers that made up its inner contents. I remember holding it and feeling its weight. It felt like more than the tiny thing it was. To grow a fig tree takes time. It takes nurturing and communication with the plant. It takes deliberate intention, and devotion.

October 2017. I had just moved into my apartment on Alexander street. It was fresh and new and small and adorned with furniture and textures that were incredibly me. I was close to everything, I was paying my own rent and my own utilities. It was mine. It was not perfect. It was hot. It had minimal counter space. But it was mine.

This was a busy time in my life. I was in grad school. I was doing my internship. I was beginning research for my thesis. I was trying to balance so much and I was doing it well. My routine was perfect. I would get up around 8:00 am and head into my internship. After that, I would go home, have dinner and go to class. I would come home and do my homework and do it all again the next day. It was busy but I was liberated.

One day, I got a message from an old friend from highschool. We didn’t know eachother super well back then, but we knew eachother enough where he was more than an acquaintance to me. My palms are getting sweaty as I type this. I don’t know that I feel safe saying his full name in this space. I may come back and edit this one day, but right now, I don’t know.

Anyway. I got this message from him. We hit it off really well. Like really well. It was the first time we had spoken since highschool and I was, frankly, surprised. He told me he went on to join the Navy and that life was very different for him now. I told him about my experiences with college and we decided to meet up for coffee. We found out we lived really close to one another, so we met halfway and walked the neighborhood with our coffees. I told him about what I was studying and he told me about his experiences, and we were able to relate in big ways. I felt comfortable, but cautious as one usually is. The date ended and we parted ways. But one thing that I remember him telling me, and I guess hindsight is 20/20, was that he believed “the military should provide sex workers for free so that men wouldn’t rape women”. I get angry at this now, because I feel like he was telling me something and also why the hell didn’t my red flag alarm go off here?

Cut forward to a few days later, we’re talking a bunch and it seems light and fun. I was having a really busy day with school. I went home and wanted to just relax, but he asked to come over so I let him. This time, he was a little pushy physically. I remember feeling uncomfortable and asking him to leave. He did.

Give it a week, and he was back to asking me to hang out. I really didn’t want to. I told him I wasn’t sure it was a good idea given what happened last time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved anymore. I felt less safe. And yet, he convinced me he just wanted to come and talk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I let him in. It gets late. We’re talking. His apartment isn’t far but he says he really doesn’t want to walk home and “can I please just stay the night?”. I really didn’t want to let him stay. But I did let him. “Fine”. The wasp.

I mentioned the trigger warning above. I am going to mention it again here. These next few paragraphs are graphic.

I remember I was asleep when it started happening. I was wearing my usual pajama shorts and a t-shirt. Soft grey with draw strings. I was face down. I felt his hands on my wrists holding me down. I couldn’t turn my head. I felt his breathe on my neck. He was pressing past my shorts. It hurt so much. I remember whispering stop. I remember thinking “I do not want this”. I remember saying stop. I felt him get mad and more forceful as his body stopped cooperating. It might have been ten minutes? It might have been more or less. I can’t really remember. I stopped thinking and I stopped moving. He was in the Navy. He was much much stronger than I. I might have let out nervous laughter. I waited until it was safe to move and he was off of me. He put his clothes on and left. I don’t remember what I was doing in these moments. I know I texted my best friend because I really wasn’t sure what had just happened. I told her. She sent the word back. “Rape”. My whole body hurt.

I texted him. “I am not fine with anything that just happened and I need you to know that”. His response? “I understand, do you still want to be friends or nah?”. I was baffled. I don’t remember if I answered. I might have said something cynical like “nah”.

I was in my bed. It was quiet. There was dim light coming in from the window in my bedroom. In my soft gray shorts that would never mean comfort again. I loved these shorts. I remember being really mad about that. I couldn’t register what had just happened to me. So I got up. I took a shower and went to my internship and I tried to just forget.

The months following this, I remember feeling very confused and very angry. I told a few of my closest friends, but I still couldn’t say the word. Rape. I felt like my body betrayed me. I felt like I should have known this would happen. I felt like “I was the one who let him in. I opened the door”. I blamed myself for letting a snake into my sacred garden.

I would have trouble sleeping for months. I would go into a very deep and sad depression. I would start going on dates with random guys and hoping I would feel something again. I threw myself into it, because I was fearful that if I didn’t meet new people constantly, I would never want to meet anyone new ever again. So I met new guys and I tried to be present. But I wasn’t. There was only one new man after that that I would feel safe enough to come fully into my life after this. He is my life partner, and I am so grateful for him.

I don’t know what it is about power, and why humans need it. I don’t know why, when humans feel like they don’t have power, they feel entitled to take it. I can say, I have a strong bias against the military at this point. I know that isn’t fair. But neither is what happened.

I often find myself wondering, that at what point the switch goes of for someone that makes it okay in their mind to do this. I try to understand from their perspective, and there is never an answer. Because it’s not okay, and just because you wear a uniform, does not and should not give you a special pass. You do not have entitlement to the bodies and brains of others. You do not just get to take the things you want because you wear a certain color. I showed this person a small glimmer of who I was and like the wasp, he crept in and died. I felt dirty. I wanted to take my skin off and hang it up with the laundry. No amount of scrubbing helped me feel clean.

My therapist should be crowned a saint. She stuck with me through this in ways i will never understand, and that is even as a therapist. I was hopeless. I was calling suicide lines. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I was staying up until the early hours of the morning, calling my parents at 4:00 am because I was too afraid to be alone. I would sleep on the futon in my living room to avoid having to sleep on the bed.

I have mentioned EMDR on here, before but when I say it helped save my life there is no exaggeration here. My therapist and I completed at least eight EMDR sessions before I finally started to feel like I was clean again. I am learning about the pieces of me that have begun to bloom from within.

Why now? Why tell this story almost three years later? I was afraid. after this all happened, he called me again and I was home alone. I don’t know what his intention was because I didn’t answer, but I do know I slept with my doors and windows barricaded. My peaceful little home had become a dark place for me. I was not ready to tell this story in full. In my eyes, it was the past.

I never reported it. I think a part of me knew that my word would mean nothing against that of a man who wore a uniform. If this can happen outside of the service, it sends my head spiraling to think about what happens within. Vanessa Guillen’s story is the reason I am telling this story. There is a lesson here. People are people, no matter what they wear and who they serve and sometimes they are bad. We cannot trust that the people who belong to an organization or system are inherently good and that their intentions will always be to protect and do the right thing. We see it every day, more and more within our policing systems and now within our military. Accountability is the fruit that comes from deliberate intention. Like the fig, it takes time to rebuild an entire system. It takes devotion. It takes compassion and nurturing and communication with the plant and with the people. How can a nation stand on anything solid when the soil its planted in has rotted? What are we telling the world and the victims of violence and sexual assault about their worth? How are they ever supposed to “pull themselves back up” if the nation only cherishes those who pushed them down in the first place? Without taking a cold, hard look at where we plant seeds in this country, fruit will never fully ripen for everyone. And what is the point of planting seeds when the fruit will never fully nourish? There is no symbiosis here.

Here is what I know about reclaiming power in a system not made in your favor.
1. rest is rebellion. When you allow yourself compassion and rest, you are allowing the sun to kiss your leaves a little longer. You are filling yourself with nutrients.
2. You do not have to claim power alone. Pick your people. and if it doesn’t work out, pick them again.
3. Power is not anything but a feeling. It comes from real, authentic freedom. So rather than focus on power, ask yourself when you feel the most free. And do more of that.
4. If you do not want to do something, don’t fucking do it. “No” is a complete sentence.
5. If your gut is telling you you need something, listen.
6. Spend time alone with yourself. It will be hard to hear your thoughts. But your heart, and your head only ever want what is best for you. it will feel like a storm. It’s about what happens when the rain clears. Get to know yourself after this. Do not abandon you.
7. In healing, power is not definitive and loud. It comes in small, myriad ways every day. You can choose to turn left instead of right on the way home. You can choose to have an extra plate of something. You can claim power in the decisions you make every day.
8. If the very best you have for any given day is getting out of bed, then so be it. You do not have to honor anyone’s expectations of you.
9. You are not dirty. Your skin is clean because it is yours. You can bathe in mud and still be clean. recognize that your body did not betray you. Your body protected you. Your very flesh is a poem. Sing your praises from the mountain tops, even if the praises feel small today.
10. You can love people again. You can love you again.
11. Wear the textures that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with fabrics and pillows and make your environment yours.
12. When you start to leave your own head, call yourself back in kindness. You are not required to be mad at yourself for dissociating.
13. Feel. Own your feeling. You do not have to numb the pain to feel human again.
14. When you are fearful and act in ways you are unfamiliar with, it is a trauma response. You do not owe anyone an explanation for that.
15. Nourish yourself. With music, art, writing, meditation, dance, laughter. It is okay to do these things and in fact, they are necessary. If there was something you loved to do before your trauma, know that you do in fact deserve to do it again.

Try to find ways to refrain from punishing yourself for the things that were done to you.

I have claimed back my power in many ways, most of which are silent. It is what has worked for me. I feel stronger every day. I plant my seeds in soil that is rich, and full of nutrients. I spend time with my seeds before I plant them. My figs are sweet and full of honey. That honey belongs to me. It always has. That honey is mine. My flowers bloom more each day and I decide who gets to see them.

I will leave you with this:
What will you need to do for your soil to ensure your tree grows strong? What can you do right now to be gentle and tender in your process of healing? What does healing mean for you ? In what ways can you and the ones around you contribute to change? What do you choose everyday to re-claim your power? How will you refrain from self-blame? What does accountability look like for you ? How can we make sure that it happens? What allows you to feel safe?

Be will,
Gina

if you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and trauma and are seeking help:

RAINN- 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK


Call you local government to inquire about accountability for people in positions of power.
Write letters to government officials.
Donate. Defund. Be Vocal.

On trusting yourself, self-love, reclaiming yourself and closeness after trauma.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post explore mental, emotional and sexual trauma and its impacts on relationships with self and others. Discretion is advised.

“I have realized that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it.
That we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it.”

-Buddy Wakefield

Friends. Today, I come to you to discuss what has probably been the heaviest of endeavors of 2019. My partner came in to this room three times, while I prepared to write this one, and I had not yet started. I don’t know why these topics are so hard for me to explore. But I suppose I am about to find out. I’m going to get a little jumbly, and it is likely that I will jump around. I don’t know how else to do this. Here we go: Trust. Self-love. Closeness.

I have never been a touchy feely sort of person. I don’t recall ever being the kind of person who loves hugging. Maybe I was when i was a child, but if that is so, I have no recollection. I have, however, always considered myself a very trusting individual. It has only come to my very recent attention that, in fact, I trust no one. I don’t know how that came to be, but it is something I am looking at these days.

When I started writing this, I had planned to write about intimacy. But here is the thing. The word intimacy is something I am not yet comfortable even saying, and I found that in order for me to even write this post, I had to look at the most fitting synonym for the word. The word intimacy makes me cringe. I feel a very visceral bodily reaction to it, and I want to hide my body in a burlap sack and disappear into the darkness like some old maid from a movie based in the Dark Ages. I get chills. I do not like it. I get mad about not liking it. Intimacy. The simple of act of opening oneself to another in a way that exposes the realest version of who they are. Intimacy is not all about physical touch (though sometimes it can be). Intimacy is connection. Intimacy is closeness. It is deliberate closeness with a focus on joining in some way. It includes things like trust, and understanding.

I am a survivor. I have never not seen myself as a survivor. But the word survivor does not ever make me feel like less of a “victim”. I do that. I change my perspective on that. A title means nothing if you don’t own it. Because what is surviving if you’re not trying to live, and love, and trust, and be able to respect your own skin again?

When I met my partner, I thought I was fine. Our story is beautiful and cute, and honestly movie worthy. When we met, neither of us were looking for each other. He had just ended a long term relationship and I had been assaulted about a month beforehand. Weird timing, but it was meant for us. We connected in a way that is really not common anymore. We continued to hang out with little expectation. We found common threads, and all it was was friendship. He became someone I felt safe around. He showed me early on that I could trust him. He was the first person following my assault that was new to me who had no expectations of me. He probably will never truly understand the importance of that.

I have always been really upfront with him about my experiences and the things that have happened. I did that, initially, because in my eyes “he deserved to be aware of what he was getting into–about how damaged I was”. He was appreciative of my opening up to him. But it wasn’t so he could prepare himself emotionally. I don’t know if either of us realized it at the time, but it built trust. It built a closeness between us that allowed for us to see deeper into one another’s hearts and hurts. He has never once said that I am damaged individual. He understands that I have simply been hurt and asked to face challenges that many others have not. He is patient with me, and supportive. He is able to see me in a light that I am sometimes unable to see myself in. I am very well aware of how fortunate I am to have him in my life and I recognize that not everyone has this gift in their own lives. But that is why I want to discuss what is next.

Sometimes, when we do not have people or supports in our lives who can fully understand what has happened and what we have survived in our lives, we do not feel as though we are capable of connection. We feel as though there is a barrier always standing in our way. No matter how hard we try to push this barrier down, it stands there firm, in its power as a reminder that we “are not like everyone else”. It feels as though there is a mark on our physical being, a stamp indicating that not only are we fragile, but we have been declared as undesirable. That there is something wrong enough with us that we will never be able to form a close bond with anyone again. That in turn is what blocks trust. Trust in others and trust in ourselves. It destroys our ability to love ourselves again. We feel dirty, and unworthy. There is so much shame and so much guilt that comes along with this label. But what hurts most is that this label is silent. We disguise it by trying to disappear. Take attention off of who we are. Some of us self-medicate. Sometimes we feel as though nothing we do in life will ever be enough.

Speaking from my experiences, I can say I have come a long way. But in the days, years, and months following my abuse, and my assault I found it impossible not to categorize myself as a non-human. It was not out of choice, it was just what I was used to. That my body was meant to be an experience, some conquest for an angry man who probably has suffered his own hurts. That I would never hold any permanence in anyone’s life. That I could never exist as anything more than a tool to allow for temporary satisfaction, be it physically or emotionally. I didn’t feel like I deserved anything good in life. Like my skin was just a waste, and that my intellect, and love and courage were insignificant. That I had nothing to offer and that anyone who would try to engage in a closeness with me, would be risking their own being. I felt like I would become someone’s project. That I would exhaust them. That I was unlovable. My brain had gaping holes in it, with large gaps in time, and distorted thoughts.

It took years of therapy to re-claim myself. It has taken me a long long time to stop hating myself. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to grow into the little sprout of life I have become. I have good days. I have bad days. But one thing has never changed. On even my worst days, I chose to trust myself. Whenever I have been in the thick of my depression, I have found that the only person who really knows what I need is me. And you know what? The same goes for you. You are the expert in you. No one gets to tell you otherwise.

I used to believe that I had to forgive myself for my own traumas. But I had it wrong. I have only ever had to forgive myself for not allowing myself whatever I needed to heal right when I needed it.

We are not responsible for the pain the others have brought unto us. Read it again. It is not your fault.

Whatever it is, it is not your fault. I think what is most difficult is believing that. What is more difficult than believing that is allowing ourselves to trust who we are and what we need. Because if you are a survivor, there was a long time where others got to decide that for you. Your power was taken away from you.

Choosing to trust yourself is allowing yourself to take that power back. And you deserve that.

Trusting yourself. It is the first step in being able to build connection with someone else. It is the first step in understanding that you get to make decisions. You can decide what you wear. You can decide what to eat, and who gets to live within the synapses of your brain.

Trusting comes in parts. But I am a firm believer that if you are not in full support of trusting your own self, you might not be ready to give some of the trust that is leftover to others.

I want to give you an image. You are standing in a field. It is flat land, and it is beautiful. You look into the palms of your hands and notice three little seeds. You decide to plant these little seeds. You don’t know what plant will come from them, but you do it anyway. You return to this spot every day to care for these seeds. They start to sprout and reach for the sun. One day, you cannot make it to the field, so you ask the neighbor and they agree. You ask them again. Then they start offering, they don’t mind. Then they start going without asking. When you return to your field, you find your sprouts wilted and dried up. You ask the neighbor what happened and they report to you that they have done everything as you asked. When you start reflecting on your broken garden, you realize, the only difference on these days was that YOU weren’t the one to care for them. Perhaps then, the neighbor didn’t know how much to water your plants, or how much light to give them. Maybe they just made decisions based on what they thought would be best for the plants. Maybe they had ulterior motives. Either way, the plants are gone. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you can plant new ones. The moral being: your garden can never grow the way you need it to if you aren’t the one watering it.

This is what happens when we do not trust ourselves. We lose our fields. We lose ourselves. Others take over the gardens. Plants die and we will never have that exact plant back again. This is what happens with trauma and abuse.

You are the only one that is always going to show up for you in the way that you need. But the key is this: You need to let you do it. This can feel terrifying after trauma and abuse. But to do so is self-love. When you do this, you are not only helping yourself build trust in you, but you are demonstrating to others what they can and cannot do when you claim your part of the picture.

After my traumas, I did not know myself anymore. I couldn’t let myself into my own head for fear that I would not recognize what was in there. When I finally did, I was right. I didn’t recognize anything. So I had to do some digging. I found old chests with cobwebs on them full of memories and photos and things I had long forgotten. I found old clothes that did not fit anymore. I had to use a flashlight to find my way, for it was far too dark in the crawlspaces in my brain. I grabbed a broom and got to work. I got rid of the dust and started to transform the space again. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit. I reorganized. I filed away the the old papers and photos. I downsized. I locked the doors and opened the blinds. I made it mine again.

Those doors stayed locked though. Eventually I got so comfortable in my space, that I wouldn’t let ANYONE in. In fact, I put bars on the windows, and a deadbolt on the door and installed a high security alarm system with motion sensors and heavy artillery. I wasn’t ready for anyone else. I had work to do.

I spent time working in this space. Ensuring that I was addressing everything I had left untouched. Leaving no stone unturned. Now was the time to start to reconnect and become close with myself again. I re-acquainted with myself, learning all my new favorites, asking myself the hard questions, caring for myself. Giving myself time to learn that I am trustworthy. That I would never let anyone into this holy territory again. This, my sacred space, a nest for nurturing and working through. Learning my softness.

When I met my partner, it’s true, we worked together to build our trust in one another. It happened slowly. Eventually, I gave him the passcode to my security system. We have not gone without challenges. He has had to learn my softness. He has had to work hard alongside with me. There are days where I still have a bar or two on the window, and the I remember he is safe and he can come back in. What helps, is constantly discussing and checking in with one another. When something isn’t right, we discuss it. Sometimes, we lose sleep discussing it. But one night of lost sleep is worth an eternity of nights next to him. I have had to work harder on allowing space for him in my sacred little attic brain.

The reason I bring all of this to the table tonight, is in hopes that as the reader, you will recognize that healing from trauma and working toward intimacy and closeness and self-love is not linear. This journey has been one with ebs and flows and it sometimes feels like work more than I would care to admit. I had to readjust my thoughts around what survival meant. Around what self-love, trust, and closeness all mean in relation to my experiences and what I am capable of doing and expanding into for RIGHT now. Because this will change.

In five years, I may be in a better place for allowing people in. In five years, I may be living in a cottage on a mountain with my partner and my dog and you may never hear from me again. I’m not even kidding. It can be that extreme when trauma has been a part of your life. Trying to explain it to people feels like a hopeless endeavor. You don’t need to explain it to everyone. But if you feel up to it, sometimes explaining it to the person who knocks on your door every day, rain or shine, can allow for little sprouts of trust to build. I am not saying to let others be in control for your garden. I am saying, show others how to care for your garden when they show up time and time again. I am not saying let people into your attic brain immediately. I am saying, wait and watch to see who continues to show up every day at the same time. This is not testing. This is re-building. This is trusting yourself enough to acknowledge when it is okay to trust someone else.

When I think of trusting myself, I think about listening to what my body needs. Be it soft shirts, or quiet or vegetables, I listen. I don’t ask why, I just give it what it needs. That is building self-trust and self-love. Being so dependable for yourself that you never have to question if you are willing to show up for yourself, you just do it. Our hearts and souls require this of us.

Trusting someone else is choosing to let them see parts of you that you do not show to others, and being willing to take that risk within reason of what you are capable of doing right now. You are not required to do this for anyone. It is a choice. It is important and it is risky and sometimes it can be hurtful. There is no way to know how trusting someone else ends up. But that is why we need to be able to trust ourselves first–so we can choose to let others in when we are ready. It is worth it. And it is possible.

I do not believe in the phrase “love yourself before you love someone else”. It is unrealistic. Loving oneself is an eternal journey. It is an end goal with millions of little actions leading up to it. It is daily practice. It can never be made official. It is not measurable.

Trusting oneself before trusting others is a simple way to re-frame however, because it requires action. It requires measurable milestones. If I am going to go to my therapist to work on mental health issues, I can build my trust in myself by follow through. This leads to self-love, leads to stronger self-connection, leads to understanding of shared experiences, leads to vulnerability. This is the path to intimacy and closeness and healing. When you are able to show up for yourself so deliberately, intentionally and without fail every single time you need to, that you are able to trust your vulnerability in the arms of someone else.

Intimacy (closeness). I still struggle with it. I continue to do this work every day. Intimacy is terrifying. It requires a full-frontal plain-faced view of another person. It can involve cards and tables and throwing them into a pile and presenting them in an authentic way. If we are to do this honestly, we are not arranging cards into neat piles. We are throwing the deck in front of someone and saying “Here it is. I trust myself and my experiences enough to know that whatever you make of this does not change me. I am whole exactly as I am. I am choosing to trust you because I would like to be closer with you and I need you to be aware of what I have experienced as it may have an impact on how I let you in. These cards aren’t here for you to organize, they are only here so we know how to move forward”. That is real intimacy and closeness.

How do you know when you trust yourself? What do you do to ensure that you are maintaining your garden? How will you know when someone else has taken over? How do you actually define, trust, closeness and self-love? What are you doing to grow these seeds? What are you doing to clean out your attic brain? How will you know when it is time to give someone the passcode (keep in mind, this is not always a romantic partner)? How do you show up for yourself every single day?

Warmth,

Gi