I made a commitment…to myself, to my therapist, to a friend…to set up this blog and to write. “Find your way back to the things you love,” said my therapist. “Mark off the space in your calendar in big letters: TOTAL SELFISHNESS.”
So here I sit, stealing time away from my husband and child, from all the people who need me, from all the unfinished housework, drinking a peppermint mocha at Starbucks and slowly beginning to feel my way back over the keys of my laptop.
I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since I was a child – I remember being seven years old, and awake all night because of a never-ending panic attack. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was terrified to talk to anyone about how I was feeling. I was certain that I was crazy, and would be locked in an institution, never to be seen again (thank you, vivid imagination). They didn’t diagnose children with anxiety in the 1970s, let alone treat them, and though my parents knew there was something “wrong” with me, doctors and teachers just called me a melodramatic child.
(Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/51593568@N06/5111553020/ by Tjook, via Compfight. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 )
When I was a teen, depression oozed its way into my life. It was insidious, leaving a black smudge over everything that should have been good. The pain was relentless, and I handled it by punching walls (and occasionally windows), periods of binge eating followed by days of self-starvation, and other experiments in self-harm. And always, the anxiety was there, following me like a shadow. Strings of good days would be supplanted by the pounding heart, sweaty palms, and tingling in my lower back that signaled an oncoming panic attack.
I sought comfort in religion, and spent hours at church, trying to pray away what I thought might be demons inside me. In the depths of the worst panic attacks, I would read the Bible, and chant, “God will protect me,” fervently hoping for a release from the fear. The release never came. The fear would continue for days at a time, and I felt hopeless.
(Image Credit: Despair by Michael Brack )
Through it all, I never talked about it to anyone. Not my parents, not my pastor, not my friends, no teachers, no siblings, nobody. What would I say? “I feel sad and scared all the fucking time.” I was sure those words would reveal my brokenness, and result in horrible consequences. During my last few years of high school, the darkness receded a bit. The anxiety would be silent for months at a time. I believed that because I was growing up, I was becoming strong enough to beat it back. It has taken me more than 30 years to understand why those years were so much better, why I felt safer and stronger and more capable.
I honestly didn’t connect the dots until I started writing this post. That kind of breaks my brain a bit.
You see, from an early age, I was physically and emotionally abused by a family member on a regular basis. It began soon after my parents separated, when I was three years old, and was administered by someone I loved dearly. Someone who was as broken as I became.
My abuser moved away during my freshman year of high school. And for three glorious years, I didn’t have to hide bruises from my parents. I stopped most of my self-injurious behavior. I socialized and dated and slept over at friends’ houses, and only had occasional panic attacks (looking back, I realize the anxiety usually coincided with incidents of flirtation harassment sexual aggression by high school boys – aggression that was written off by our “boys will be boys” society).
I saw my abuser once during this time. They had gotten some help with their own deep dark problems, and did not harm me, physically or emotionally. I had the audacity to start thinking we would one day be able to address the abuse together, and I would again be able to love this person unreservedly, without guilt or fear. I got into a good college, and easily transitioned into being on my own, hours away from home. I was happy – miraculously, unbelievably happy.
And then one day, it all ended.
To be continued…