One of the activities in yesterday’s group therapy was to create a Johari Window.

Each person chose six of the 57 adjectives listed to describe themselves, and then chose six for each other person.

It was so easy for me to choose adjectives to describe everyone in group. But when it came to choosing my own, I became frustrated. The adjectives on the list were mostly positive – too positive for my own liking. I struggled just to pick three. Intelligent. Nervous. Tense. Those words were definitely accurate for me. I could never deny my intelligence, even though I oftentimes wish I had less of it. Nervous and tense are words I associate with anxiety, and anxiety is my normal.

Well after everyone else was finished, I was still struggling to finish my own six adjectives. I quickly scanned the sheet again and choose three more: Knowledgeable, quiet, shy. I think knowledgeable pairs with intelligence. I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, probably more knowledge than I need. Quiet describes me sometimes, depending on the day, the amount of coffee I’ve had to drink, and how present I am. Shy, for sure. People scare me.

Then I received seven lists, each with six adjectives the others in group used to describe me. I went through the lists and wrote down each adjective in the appropriate window.

Not surprisingly, most people chose intelligent. At least I was right about something about me. I couldn’t argue with that.

Then I came across the words brave, bold, and independent. Everyone put brave. Me. Brave. Clearly they don’t know me, I said to myself. Brave would have been standing up for myself. Brave would have been fighting my mother and telling her to stop hurting me. Brave would have been hitting my father back after he beat me. Brave would have been running home at age 15, not at age 29. Bravery, no. Weakness, maybe.

Bold, I am not. Being bold is being fearless. Bold people don’t hide in the closet when someone knocks on the door. Bold people don’t get scared to check the mail, afraid a letter from home will appear. That is not being bold. Clearly these people don’t know me.

Independent, not me. I can barely decide what to eat for dinner. I can’t make my own decisions, or live my own life. I need other people to make decisions for me. I never had the ability to be independent. I spent more than 29 years in forced dependence on my mother, and now even though I am free, I feel lost without anyone here to make decisions for me.

Then I came across a word that set off a bit of internal rage. Complex. The second list I read through, and someone had circled complex. I blew it off, until the next list had complex circled as well, and then another list, and another. By then, I was just angry. At who, I am not sure. How could these people call me complex? I’m not complex. They don’t even know me.

As I sat with my own thoughts and slight inner rage, I realized the negative associations I had formed with that word. This wasn’t the first time I was told I was complex. I’ve heard it several times before, and never in a positive way. I heard it from therapists as their reasoning for not being able to help me. You’re too complex. Shit, I didn’t know therapists only worked with certain difficulty levels. I’m sorry.

Complex meant I was too complicated, too broken, too difficult to be helped. That word hurt me, multiple times. And here it was, coming up again and hurting me still.

I decided to share my difficulties with that word with the rest of the group. In response, some people explained what that word meant for them, and why they chose it. It wasn’t at all for reasons I had associated complex to be in my head. I was complex because there was more to me to get to know, more than what you see on the outside. I was complex because I was interesting. I was complex, as one of my therapists put it, because the gap between what I think and believe I can do and what I actually do is so large. I don’t believe I can do anything right, or even do much of anything at all. Yet I continually do these great things, and accomplish so much, despite the fact that it all goes against everything I believe about myself. I guess that it complex.

I guess, when I really think about it, I’m definitely not simple – the opposite of complex. Nothing in my life has ever been simple. I admit, at times, I desire simplicity. I crave ignorance. I want life to be uncomplicated. But that’s not going to happen, it didn’t then, it’s not now, and it won’t be in the future. And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s not so horrible to be complex.

Perhaps those people in my past were just too simple to deal with my complexity.

The Stones of What I’ve Lost

I had group therapy today for my support group. It is something I look forward to every couple of months, even though the topics are somewhat difficult and I always end up crying at least once.

Today was no exception. I was actually doing quite well until the topics of anniversary dates and grief came up. I thought to myself, anniversary dates aren’t a problem for me. I’m over it.

But I decided to write down something anyway. April 25th. The day I tried to end my life by taking a more than lethal dose of aspirin. The day my family found out, and did nothing about it.

The memories flooded my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I felt the pain again, the despair that was all too familiar. I tried to hold back my tears, and retreated back into myself. By the time the topic of grief came up, I was teetering in another place in my mind. I was back in 2008, reliving the pain of that day.

I was able to ground myself enough to work through the rest of the grief session. We each chose eight stones, and had to write something we lost on each one, something we grieved or are still grieving.

It didn’t take long for me to write my losses: Mother, father, family, purpose, self, love, hope, and support.

Simple words, that to the outside world, would never appear to be related to loss or grief. But they were, for me, the losses I still carry with me every day.

The loss of a mother, the mother I never had, the mother I always wanted, the mother I deserved, the mother I will never, ever have.

The loss of my father, not as much in his actual death, but the loss of the father he should have been, the man he should have been, the protector he should have been, the superhero he should have been to me and never was.

The loss of the family I no longer have. I didn’t just lose my parents when I ran away. I lost any connection to my brother. I lost the connection to anyone on my mother’s side of the family. I’m losing the connection to the very little family I have left, and I can’t change that.

The loss of my purpose. I believed so strongly that I was going to be a counselor some day. That is why I went through what I did. I was going to help people. I was going to right the wrongs that were done to me for so many years. But I lost that when my school showed me that my mental illness was all that mattered, not my skills or who I was on the inside.

The loss of self, the loss of my identity. Who am I? I still don’t know. I was never allowed to be anyone or anything other than what my mother told me to be. My identity is so fractured, both literally and figuratively. I’m not even sure that I lost myself, because I question whether or not I ever existed.

The loss of love, the loss of trust, the loss of ability to connect with people. I never experienced the love I should have gotten from the people who were supposed to love me but didn’t. I don’t know how to love because I never learned what love really is.

The loss of hope, strongly felt that April 25th night, when I sat alone, nearly dying, and my family didn’t care. The very little hope I had was shattered forever that night. I could have died, I should have died, and my family didn’t care. The loss of hope I continue to feel day in and day out as I realize the world wasn’t meant for me.

The loss of support, through 15 years of working with some of the shittiest therapists, the loss of support when I left everyone I knew behind so I could escape the hell that was my (former) home, the loss of support I feel when my therapist wants to send me away to the hospital, because even she can’t seem to help me.

I carry these losses in my heart every day. Now I have stones to carry with me, too. Because as much as I would like to throw the stones away, it’s not that easy.

I wish people could see these losses inside of me, and not just on these stones I carry.

My birthday, a name change, and various life events of the past few weeks

I took a short hiatus from blogging. There has been a lot going on in my life the last week or two and I just needed to refocus. Things should be returning to my normal soon.

I turned 30 last Sunday. I knew it was going to be a rough time for me, just being away from everyone (the good people, not my family). It was also the 10th anniversary of my friend’s death, which always brings up feelings for me.

Thirty was (is) a significant age for me. For years, I promised myself that if I hadn’t gotten out by the day I turned 30, I was going to end my life. I went through most of my late 20s waiting for that day. I had very little hope that my life would ever change; I just knew that 30 years was enough for me and that was going to be it.

But that’s not how turning 30 played out. I spent my 30th birthday as a free person. I may not have had a party or celebrated very much, but I was free. It was the best gift I could have ever gotten.

I did have a few small celebrations. I had a group therapy session two weeks prior to my birthday. During the break, the therapist walked in with a cake, candles lit and everything. I was completely surprised and overwhelmed with emotions. I got a beautiful card that everyone signed, and a butterfly nightlight (which is perfect). At one point, I had to hide my face in my hoodie because I started crying and didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m starting to cry now just writing about it.

For the first time ever, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake and made a wish that didn’t involve anyone’s death. In the years that I can remember, my wish was to die. I wished someone would kill me. A few times, I wished my mother would die; then I could be free. But I didn’t have to make those wishes anymore. I didn’t have to die.

The experience reinforced for me that I have support. Even though a good chunk of that support is coming from my therapists, it’s still support. It is the support that has allowed me to escape and to begin to heal. It is the support that brings me together with others who understand. It’s the support I need to glue my pieces back together.

I had to work on my birthday. That was okay with me, because I didn’t want to stay home and be miserable. My coworker bought in an ice cream cake. At 9 o’clock in the morning, our team gathered and sang happy birthday to me, and we all devoured the cake (with the excuse that ice cream is good for energy and increases work productivity, yes). This was my work family. People that I care for, and that care for me. It didn’t matter what happened the rest of the day.

As a gift to myself, and something I promised myself I would do during the new year, I decided to proceed with legally changing my name. A few people have been referring to me as Kyra for some time now, but I haven’t bothered explaining to most people why I want to change my name, so I let them use my birth name. I hate my birth name, though. I don’t think I should have to keep a name that was given to me by the very people that destroyed me. They don’t deserve that.

While I’ve been sure my first name will be Kyra, I’ve been back and forth about a middle and last name. For my last name, I wanted something with meaning, but not complicated either (my legal last name is a mouthful). I was open for suggestions, and received quite the array of responses. Finally, one suggestion sat well with me. It wasn’t too complicated of a name, and translated to courage, which is something I’d like to think I have.

For my middle name, I actually chose a name some time back, but didn’t tell anyone because I thought that people would be very judgmental about it. I “tried on” other middle names, but I didn’t like them the way I liked my original choice. Once I had figured out my last name, I decided to open up about the middle name I wanted – Jack. And everyone was supportive of it (at least to my face). I feel like it fits me.

I started filing the legal papers, but it’s time consuming and expensive, so the whole process will likely take months. For now, I am answering to any name someone happens to throw at me. I hope that once my name is changed legally, people will be receptive to calling me by my new legal name.

I’ve been a little overwhelmed with schoolwork. This week is Spring Break, so I am trying to catch up with the reading I am behind in. I also have a presentation due in two weeks, a paper due Sunday, a midterm due next week, and another paper due next week. Normally I use the weekends to get everything done, but these next few weeks are going to be hectic. This coming Sunday, I have to work from 6 AM to midnight, so there won’t be time for me to write my paper then (because I am definitely a procrastinator and do my best work in the hours before something is due). I really need to work on planning ahead.

I have a doctor’s appointment coming up next Monday. It has brought up a lot of anxiety. My therapist has been working with me the last few weeks in preparation, but I still feel scared about going. I don’t want to panic and shut down. I know I need to go, because my health is shit, but part of me just wants to avoid all the trouble, physically and mentally, that this whole ordeal is going to involve.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, but I’ve been asleep more than I’ve been awake. The other day I slept at least 16 hours within a 24-hour time span. It’s a welcome change in a way, since I had been suffering from insomnia so badly in the weeks before that I had slept just five hours over the course of three days. Maybe my body is finally catching up. Maybe I’m getting sick. Maybe my nutrition has gone to shit. Who knows. It’s probably better that I’ve slept through most of this past week, anyway. I just wish I could do my schoolwork in my sleep. Then I wouldn’t be so behind right now.

Oh yea, this past weekend marked 8 months of freedom.

Life is progressing a little too quickly for me.


Group workshop

I had a group therapy workshop today for my survivor group.

I wish I could have been fully there, but I wasn’t.

I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was fighting off the urge to self-destruct. There was so much commotion going on inside and I couldn’t quiet it down enough to sleep. Before I knew it, it was 4 AM and I had to get up for work. Then the commotion decided to quiet down. I managed to make it through the disastrous work day (everything that could go wrong, went wrong), changed my clothes, and caught the bus to make it to group just in time.

I made it through the first session okay. The next session was a mess. One of the therapists made a statement that no one is 100% evil, and that set something off. The commotion came back. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t even come up with answers. My therapist came over to check on me, but I told her I was okay. I wasn’t. I must have been drifting because she came back with a cup of water and told me to drink. I didn’t want to drink. I wanted the clusterfuck in my head to go away.

We had a break after session and the other therapist told me to stand up and walk around to help get me back to the present. I walked out to the waiting area and my therapist came out and checked on me. I told her I was fine (my default response to any question asking how I am doing). But she knew I wasn’t. She saw me struggling. I told her the voices were back and calling me evil, but that I was just going to ignore them. Then she reminded me that ignoring them hasn’t worked in the past, it only makes them worse.

My therapist didn’t think I was ready to go back to group, so I ended up missing most of the next group session talking to her one-on-one. She told me that I should tell the inside that they can be heard tomorrow during our therapy session, but that right now I had something really important I needed to focus on to help us all get better. I’m not very good at communicating with the inside. I tend to respond out of anger and frustration or ignore them because I just don’t have the energy to negotiate. I also still have trouble acknowledging that I am conversing with intangible parts that exist in my head. How does this not make me crazy?

I eventually went back to session, but my focus still wasn’t there. I was going in and out of it. I was feeling very negative overall and I didn’t want to share my negativity with the group. I couldn’t even think anymore. I just wanted some peace. I just wanted to go to sleep. All I could feel was the nausea that has become so normal for me. I couldn’t even connect to my own body. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to feel anything. I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that my mother still affects me. I didn’t want to acknowledge that my mother broke me as a child and completely shattered me as an adult.

We ended the group with coloring. Normally I love coloring. This time, I couldn’t get myself to enjoy it. It was too mentally draining. I ended up coloring in a picture of flowers with the word HOPE in the middle. I colored it black, the least hopeful color there is. I don’t even know why I did it. The therapist noticed and asked me about the reason for my color choice, and I shrugged my shoulders. If I could, I would have colored everything black right then.

As I was making sure I had everything before I left, the therapist came out and handed me the coloring set she got for us to color with in the last session. She told me she wanted me to have it. She knew my financial situation isn’t the best. It was such a small gesture but extremely difficult for me to accept. I don’t like receiving help from anyone. That wasn’t the end of it, either. I was so overwhelmed with everything – the session, the gestures of kindness – that when the therapist gave me a hug, I just started to cry. I tried to keep it in, but I couldn’t. I stood there, crying and sniffling into her shoulder as she tried to comfort me. I tried to wipe my tears away before anyone else saw me. Then my therapist came over and asked to hug me and I lost it again. I was such an emotional mess, I was shaking. I had to let go and leave before I completely broke down.

I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. But it was getting late and I knew it was dangerous for me to be walking around in the dark half out of it, so I walked home.

I’m still an emotional mess. I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep. I want to cry, but I’m too tired. I’m hungry, but the nausea is so bad that I can’t eat.

This is another example of how my life changes day by day. I was functioning fine yesterday. Today has been a train wreck. Now I have to see how therapy goes tomorrow. I almost considered not going because I just don’t want to deal right now. But deep down, I know avoiding will get me nowhere.