Strength

I am strong.

My strength has gotten me through life, and allowed me to continue beating impossible odds.

My strength allowed me to get through my childhood, broken but still alive.

My strength got me to get out of bed every morning, even when I knew the day would inevitably bring me  pain.

My strength carried me through to the day I finally escaped — the day that I needed all of the strength in the world to bring me to freedom.

Strength helped me walk away, run away, far away.

And my strength helps me still today, as I continue to choose to live rather than to die.

I’m not sure where my strength came from. Is it something inside me? Is it in my heart or in my head? Or does it flow through my body like a life force within me? I don’t know where it came from, or even where it is right now. But I know it’s there, helping me fight, helping me stand up when it is so much easier to just lay down and concede.

I share this strength with others every day. I share my story with the world; the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Because my strength isn’t always so easy to see. But they can see it, sometimes more than I can see it myself. When I feel weak, I am reminded of the strength it took for me to get away. Incredible strength, that not everyone has, but I have it. I always had it. And now my strength gives others hope that they can be strong, too — that they can survive even when it seems impossible.

I used to hate the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I believed my experiences showed weakness, not strength. I was standing, breathing, bleeding, but I was dead inside. That wasn’t strength. Strong people don’t feel the way I felt for so long. Strong people don’t feel at all.

But I was strong. My experiences may have knocked me down, but they did not kill me. They made me come back to life stronger than ever, with a will to live and the ability to share that will with the world, to change lives for the better.

My strength gives me hope, even when everything seems hopeless.

Strength is not about winning the battle. It’s about fighting, even when the odds are against you.

I wrote this in group today. I’m not even sure where it came from. I stared at the paper for a while before I even started to write, completely at a loss for words.

What specific attribute, quality, or skill distinguishes you from everyone else? How did you come to develop it? What positive things has it brought to your life? How are you able to share it with others?

What distinguishes me? Nothing. My thoughts automatically went to thinking that I was less than human. Unworthy. How could an unworthy person have anything special about them?

After 10 minutes or so, I started to think of things other people told me about me. I recalled many people speaking of my strength. Oddly, in those moments, I never saw myself as strong. I’d nod my head in agreement, yet inside my head, I was discrediting everything they were saying. I struggle with accepting positive things because I became so accustomed to hearing the negative that positive seems like a foreign concept to me.

I wrote down I am strong. Then it was like something clicked in me. I kept on writing without even thinking of what was coming out on paper. And I ended up with this.

Even after it was done, part of me wanted to rip it up. It doesn’t make any sense. No one will understand this. It’s horrible. I hesitated sharing it with the group because I believed the same thoughts I was having in my head were thoughts that they were going to have as well. Part of me was ashamed.

But I tried to stop the judgments. I took a breath and read it out loud. Even as my voice trembled and my legs and hands shook from anxiety, I read it through until the end. There was something different about reading the words out loud. I wanted to cry, but I held it in. This was my truth, spoken out loud. I made myself vulnerable. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to share.

But I did, and that alone is an example of strength.

I need to go

It was just supposed to be a regular doctor’s appointment.

I wanted to see if my doctor would change some of my inhalers, since my recent hospital visits indicate that something isn’t working right.

I was still sick on Monday, but I didn’t think anything of it. I took the train ride down and walked a mile to my doctor’s office. No problem. I made it just fine. I was still standing.

After a few minutes of waiting in the waiting room, the nurse called me back to the room. She took my vitals, and asked if I was okay. Of course I’m okay. I’m just here to change my meds.

The nurse practitioner came in, listened to my lungs, then left the room. Well, then.

A minute later, the nurse came back with an oxygen tank. Then the nurse practitioner came in. You need to go to the hospital.

I sat there, completely shocked. I just came for a followup. This was not in my planning. I had work in a few hours. I needed to get out of here so I could catch the train back home. I don’t have time for the hospital. I don’t have time for this.

But I didn’t have a choice. There was no air exchange in my lower lungs. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I ended up being taken by ambulance to the emergency room, in a hospital I had never been to, 40 minutes away from my home.

I couldn’t focus on anything but the time. If I could just get this over with, I can still make it to work. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I haven’t passed out. These people are just overreacting. I am fine. I can walk. I can talk. I am fine.

But I wasn’t fine. The breathing treatments hadn’t helped. The IV steroids weren’t helping enough. My oxygen was still too low, and they had to admit me. It was then that the panic started to set in. Once they wheeled me to my room upstairs, I started to lose it. The emergency room I could handle, but not this. I started crying.

I could feel myself starting to slip away. I tried to tell the nurse what was going on. I told her I had PTSD, that something bad happened to me in a hospital and that this was extremely difficult for me and that I would rather leave. I kept saying I need to go.

What did my honesty get me? A psych hold. As if I didn’t have enough going on, their response was to put me on a safety 1 on 1. I wasn’t suicidal. I was in a panic state.

I was humiliated. They forced me to take off all of my clothes, including my underwear. I explained to them that I was a survivor of sexual abuse and that I needed my clothing to help me feel protected. They gave exactly zero fucks. I asked if I could speak to someone about this to explain the situation, and they told me no. I asked again to speak to someone higher up, and was told there was no one to speak to. Once they put you on a psych hold, you have no rights. I asked for water for over an hour and couldn’t even get that.

I should have been at work that night. I shouldn’t have been laying in a hospital bed without my clothes and possessions being treated like I had committed a crime. I couldn’t even pee by myself. The aide had to stand there and watch me pee and wipe, just like my mother used to watch me before she decided she needed to “help”.

I cried off and on that night. I wasn’t even concerned about my lungs anymore. I wanted my protection back. I wanted my dignity. It was stolen away from me. Again. My therapist was trying to help calm me down, but I was so out of it I couldn’t process everything she was saying. I eventually got so tired of crying that I fell asleep.

I called my program therapist early the next morning to tell her what was going on and ask for support. I was concerned about the psych hold more than anything. I didn’t want to end up inpatient, and I wanted her to be able to advocate for me if needed. My experience with the nurses had been so horrible, that I had low expectations for the psychiatrist. I expected to have to fight. But I didn’t have to. I saw the psychiatrist later that morning and after two minutes, he had taken off the psych hold. I told him I  had explained to the nurses that I had previous trauma in a hospital and I had PTSD, and he said my reaction was completely understandable given the circumstances.

It was great that the psychiatrist realized that, but I had been put through 17 hours of unnecessary bullshit, re-traumatization, and cruelty. For nothing. I was punished for being a victim.

By then, I didn’t even care how my lungs were at all. I could have been dying, I didn’t care. I was not staying in that hospital any longer. The pulmonary doctor came to see me. She saw something on the x-rays and told me I needed a CT scan. Nope, sorry. I have things to do. My patience was already too far gone. Am I dying right this second? No? Then I need to go.

I told the pulmonary doctor I would come back for the tests. But I don’t need to go back.

I don’t need any more diagnoses. I don’t need any more problems. I don’t need any more humiliation. I can’t take any more.

Pink Puffer

I spent Thursday night in the hospital.

I was having a hard time breathing since Monday. I ignored it, because I didn’t have time to be sick. So it lingered and lingered.Then it got worse. But I still ignored it. I don’t have time to be sick. I have to go to program. I have to work. I have chapters to read, papers to write, articles to publish, people to help. I am not sick.

By Wednesday, it became an effort just to take each breath. I went to program despite my exhaustion, but I couldn’t hide my cough. I started running to the bathroom so no one would see me struggling to breathe.

I heard the nurse calling me on my way back. She seemed concerned. She said she didn’t even need to listen to my lungs to know that something was wrong; she could hear me breathing feet away. I told her I was fine. I’m not contagious, it’s probably just a mild pneumonia. I talked about it like it was a cold. Nothing major. I promised the nurse I would try to make it to the doctor, even though I didn’t really want to.

I wasn’t planning to end up in the hospital, but after three nebulizer treatments with no improvement, I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the next day. They started breathing treatments as soon as I got to the ER. No change. I ended up on a magnesium drip with IV fluids and Solu-Medrol. Blood tests, nasal swabs, and x-rays all came back clean. It wasn’t an infection. It wasn’t pneumonia. It was COPD.

I spent most of the night crying, eventually falling asleep only to wake up and cry again. I managed to get myself together enough to make it to PHP Friday morning. I made it through most of morning session just fine. Then I took a conscious breath and it all went to shit.

I don’t know if I can quite describe what it feels like. You take in a breath okay, but then it can’t get out. You feel like you’re drowning, but not in water, in air. I hurried out of the room to run to the bathroom again. I saw the nurse out of the corner of my eye, but I was coughing and wheezing so bad I couldn’t talk.

I spent several minutes in the bathroom trying to get back to normal. Shallow breaths. Just take shallow breaths and you’ll be fine. I went back to my group. A few minutes later, my therapist came to the door and pulled me out of group. Great. What did I do now? She took me to the nurse’s office and closed the door.

I sat there, surrounded, trying not to panic. The nurse sat across from me; my therapist sat on the floor. Oh, we’re all sitting. This can’t be good. Someone asked what was going on, if I had gone to the doctor. I told them I went to the hospital; that counts as the doctor. I tried to make it seem not-so-serious. They asked if it was pneumonia.

Before I could answer, I broke down crying. All the emotions came back to me again. The anger. The sadness. The hopelessness. I would have rather had pneumonia.

I didn’t want to cry. My tears did not feel justified. My pain wasn’t valid.

This diagnosis, it’s nothing new to me. I’ve known about the COPD for a while now. So why does it hurt every time I hear a doctor say it? Why am I still grieving? I should be over it by now.

It’s not fair. I went through hell. I got out. This was supposed to be my better life, my life without hurt.

Instead I ended up with this. I didn’t get a break. I got a punishment.

I could sense the concern in the room. I pushed aside my anger and stopped crying. They told me there were options. The nurse handed me a paper with quit assistance programs. My therapist said we could work out a plan. It doesn’t always have to be this way. It doesn’t always have to be a struggle to breathe. You are strong and resilient, she said.

I’m tired of being strong and resilient. It was the truth. What’s the point? Look where strength and resilience has gotten me. Look what I’ve become. A mess.

You need to take time for yourself. What’s that? I go to PHP from 8 to 3:30 every weekday. Then I go straight to work at 4. By the time I get home for the night, I have just enough time to put together a cohesive assignment for grad school. Weekends are full of more work, school work, articles, and errands. I don’t have time for myself.

I just want it to all go away. I want an easy life, even if it’s just for a little while. I don’t want to have to go to a program every day. I don’t want it to hurt when I breathe. I don’t want to be so tired all the time. I don’t want to struggle.

I want to pretend that I am healthy. I want to pretend this diagnosis doesn’t exist. I can breathe. This is normal. There’s nothing wrong with me. This has all been a mistake.

I managed to push it all away for a while. I can smoke a cigarette, nothing is wrong with me. My lungs are fine. My denial was fully engaged, and no one was around to tell me otherwise.

Later on that day, I sat across from my psychiatrist as he waited on hold to try to change my prescription at the pharmacy. I felt the tightness in my chest again. I took a breath and started drowning. I leaned forward and tried to get the air out as best I could.

As I sat back in the chair and tried to compose myself, I heard the psychiatrist say so, you’re a pink puffer. I looked at him, a bit confused. I never in my life heard of a pink puffer before. I asked for clarification. Your breathing, he said. That’s a classic forced expiratory wheeze of emphysema. I don’t even need a stethoscope, I can hear it from here.  Doctors would call you a pink puffer.

I don’t know how much longer I can deny the truth.

Take it all away


These are the gravestones my mother sent to me. I carry them with me, just like I carry the fear with me, every day.

There is no safety here, no sense of security. The very small amount I may have had is lost now. I spend every day waiting for her. I check for her behind the unlocked doors of the house I live in. I look for her down the street wherever I’m walking. I see her in my nightmares. I hear her voice in my head. She lives here, now more than ever.

Part of me wishes she would get it over with already. Punish me for my sins. End my life.

I was never supposed to tell.  And I spent so many years not telling a soul. But then I started to speak, only to be shut down.

I already knew that was happening. You’re just confused. You’re misinterpreting her love. Mothers don’t do those things. She’s not that kind of person. Your mother loves you.

My mother was right. No one understood. No one believed me. So I gave up the fight  . And then I escaped and I believed that I was free. I found my voice and I told the world who my mother was and is — I committed the ultimate sin, the most horrendous crime against my mother. And the punishment for that is death.

I wonder when she comes for me, will they all stand and watch, just as they stood and watched her abuse me? Will they cover their eyes and pretend like they can’t see anything, just like they covered their eyes and pretended they couldn’t see the scars? Will they turn and walk away, just as they turned and walked away from me all those times they knew what was happening?

Or will they see me on the ground, bloody and broken and dying, and give me a band-aid so they can say they tried to help me? Your bunnies, your prayers, your positive thoughts did nothing to save me. Bunnies didn’t stop the rape. Jesus didn’t stop the beating. Affirmations didn’t stop the pain. I needed help — not material things or spirits or empty words. I needed help and I got a band-aid. You can’t put a band-aid on a hemorrhage.

They want to hide me. They tell me they help me find safety. But they don’t understand that I will never be safe. They don’t understand that no matter where I run away, she will always find me. I will never be safe for as long as she is breathing. She cannot be stopped. She is a criminal free to roam, a monster in plain sight. No longer a captor of my body, but always a captor of my mind.

The damage is done. No one can help me now. The fear is a part of me; it runs through my veins. The pain cannot be healed; it lives on in every scar. That can never be taken away or erased. It’s permanent.

My mother thinks of my death as punishment, but I think of it as a reward. Killing me is the best thing she could do for me, the greatest gift she could ever give to me. It’s the only way the fear will end, the only way to stop all of the pain.

She’s already taken so much life from me. She shattered my mind, she murdered my spirit, she drowned my soul. There’s nothing left to take but the life from my body.

Take it all away.

I can’t change.

I’ve been trying to die for the last 24 years.

At six years old, I tried to drown myself. Six. Years. Old. It’s difficult for me to process, because I am entirely detached from the emotions of six year-old me. I remember what it felt like when the water filled up my lungs. I remember what it felt like to sink. I can’t remember the feeling, how sad and hopeless I must have felt to think that I could end it all by drowning. I wonder what it must have felt like to be pulled away, rescued from the ocean, but never rescued from what was really killing me, who was really killing me.

At ten years old, I tried to hang myself. For those few seconds, I felt what it was like to suffocate. I felt what it was like to have no air. I don’t remember feeling fear. I don’t even remember feeling pain; it was actually quite the opposite. I felt at peace. And then the strap snapped, and I fell to the floor. Instead of relief, I felt anger. The opportunity for peace had been ripped right out from under me.

At fifteen years old, I tried to bleed to death. All of my anger, all of my pain, and all of my desperation poured out through blood and tears. I couldn’t feel anything but the pain. Nothing else existed in that moment. My body was there; my mind was somewhere else. I sat in the bathroom alone and waited to die, but death never came. The bleeding stopped, and so did the tears. I became numb. I had no other choice.

At nineteen years old, I tried to stab myself. It was violent, fueled by the anger and rage that I had no other choice but to suppress. I so often dreamed of stabbing my mother, but I was too weak to make an attempt. I couldn’t stab the people who hurt me. So I stabbed myself. It scared me. The rage I had inside pushed me to a level I had never experienced before. And it’s a rage I can never forget, because those wounds turned into malformed scars that I see and feel every day of my life.

At twenty-two years old, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t going to mess it up this time. I planned it so carefully. I had a notebook full of calculations, weight conversions, lethal dosage levels. I triple checked to make sure it was going to be right. I took twice the lethal dose of aspirin and waited to die, with my family there, hiding me away, ashamed of what I had done. I didn’t die that day. I should have died. Instead of finding solace in death, I found hopelessness in life.

At twenty-five years old, I tried again, on the very same day I tried three years prior. A mix of three this time. If one isn’t enough, surely the others would do me in. I just wanted everything to end. I wanted her to stop hurting me. I wanted to stop crying myself to sleep. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to be free, and the only freedom was in death. But once again, death didn’t come to me. All that came was more pain.

At twenty-nine years old, I tried a third time, on that very same day. I thought of running into the ocean that night, getting lost and drowning before anyone would ever find me. But I couldn’t move. I was stuck in a bed in a strange place, drowning in my own memories. I took an Ativan hoping it would help me, but I was still drowning. So I gave up. I took twenty more and before I could do it again, someone saved me. They didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be saved.

At thirty years old, I tried to die. I ran out in the highway in the dark of the morning, in front of traffic, hoping that someone would hit me and end my life. If I couldn’t do it, I wanted someone else to do it for me. I wasn’t worried about the pain. The broken bones, the internal bleeding, the crushed insides — those possibilities were nothing compared to the pain and hopelessness that consumed me. Crush my body just like my heart has been crushed. Break my bones just like my mind has been broken. But no one hit me. They saw me, even through my invisibility.

All those times, I should have died. I wanted my peace. I wanted an end to the pain. Why couldn’t I get that? I don’t know. I fail at dying, but I also fail at living.

The expectation that I can just take away everything that has happened to me, that I can go on with my life without wanting to die — I can’t. I’ve spent most of my life trying to end my life. A pill won’t fix that. Group therapy won’t fix that. A new therapist won’t fix that.

It’s part of my life, ingrained in me since childhood.

A place to sleep

Here I lay again, at 2 AM, wondering what it must feel like to sleep.

I’m kicking myself right now, because I actually thought about renting a motel room yesterday, but I told myself it wasn’t going to be bad. I told myself I was going to be able to sleep. But I lied to myself. Why would tonight be any different from any of the other nights?

I imagine this is what it’s like living in a frat house. I did once say I wanted the experience of a real college life. Maybe this is it. Trying to study when you’ve got no sleep. Writing a paper and struggling to keep your head up. Getting no sleep because of the loud music, random yelling, and nonstop activity throughout the night when normal people would just be sleeping. Like I should be sleeping.

I’m fucked again. Do I go and sleep outside? Can’t. The cops will surely stop me, even though I’d be on my own back porch. I had already taken enough Ativan to knock me out for the night, but clearly that’s not strong enough against my current environment. By the time I get to a hotel and settle in, it would be time to start the day.

So now I just lay here. Awake. Pissed off. Trying my very hardest to suppress my rage, because it is growing so much right now that it scares me. I’m back to level 1 again. I can’t even meet my basic needs. This is not a home for me. This is shelter in the most technical sense of the word, but nothing more than that. I’m not living here. I’m just existing in this space.

It bothers me. I manage to make it through the morning on extra large iced coffees and cigarettes, but even that’s a stretch because I’m not really managing at all. I had two meltdowns this week at work. I spent most of Tuesday at work crying and staving off a panic attack (which I eventually ended up having). Wednesday I got so frustrated trying to do something that wasn’t even that hard, but I’m just 100 hours behind on sleep and my mind can’t function. I look at what’s in front of me and it’s all jumbled up in my head. Can’t think. Can’t do. So I fuck it all up and end up crying. How much longer am I going to keep my job? I would have fired me already.

I have important shit coming up the next two days and I’m not going to have the emotional resources to handle them because I’m running on no sleep and a lot of suppressed emotions. I have an obgyn appointment this morning, which is difficult in itself for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain. But now I am going to go there already a mess, already full of emotions, already drained. How can I cope with what’s going to happen when I’m running on empty? How can I make it through my last therapy appointment this afternoon?

I’m not. It’s going to be a disaster, much in the way my life has been these last few weeks especially. A fucking shitshow disaster.

But that’s what happens, right? I can’t blame anyone for this. I made this choice. And look how great it’s working out for me. I’m in a place I don’t even want to be, looking for somewhere else to sleep that’s not my own bed because sleep is no longer available here. Barely hanging on to a job. Struggling to get through school. Stopping therapy because I’ve become such an emotionally unstable fuck that not even my therapist can help me. I have to start a partial hospitalization program next week, but hell if it will make any difference because no matter how much therapy I sit through and medication they give me, I’m still coming home to the same place every night and having the same issue. 

I thought about finding a man online. It’s quite easy to find ads on Craigslist for places to stay in exchange for other things (non-monetary). I don’t care what they do to me, as long as they let me sleep. I don’t care anymore at all. I’m already ruined. They’re not going to take anything from me that I’ve already lost. And I’ll get to sleep. So how is it any worse than the life I’m living now? 

I have a recurring daydream in which the house is burning down, but I don’t run out of it. I stay locked in my room, laying in my bed, waiting to burn down with the rest of the house. Because I have given up. I’m too tired to fight. Literally, physically and emotionally too tired for this.

But hey, I’ve got a place to live, right? How about a place to sleep?

I’m fucking tired

I’m tired.

I’m really wondering how much longer my body (and my sanity) can go on with no sleep.

How much longer can I go to work, half out of it from exhaustion, before I get let go?

How can I write papers for school every week when I barely have the energy to sit at my desk?

How many times am I going to tell my therapist “I don’t know, I can’t think” because I’m literally so exhausted that my brain can’t function?

I wonder if I exist. Do I even matter here? Just carrying on life like I’m not here, locked in my room. I have needs. I need heat and warmth and quiet and safety. I need to sleep.

Anything is better at this point. Maybe I’ll just tell the hospital I want to die so I can get a bed and go to sleep there. I’m going to end up there, anyway, at this point. Exhaustion and desperation will push you to do things you have no business doing. And that never ends well for me. This is the beginning of a breakdown I don’t have time to have.

I just want to sleep for awhile. Is that too much to ask for?

I’m fucking tired.