1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 4: Help

I would not be where I am, 1,000 days into freedom, without help from others in my life.

I’m fortunate to have these people in my life. They have helped me in more ways than I can really even count. Whether it’s listening to me vent, helping me with medical problems, or getting me through tough days, these people have made a huge impact on me getting this far.

I wanted to recognize them, so I got three blue starfish shells. Starfish have multiple arms to help support them. They need them in order to survive. Blue starfish also have their own unique defense system that helps them survive from predators. I found it similar to how my support system helps me defend myself from people and things that hurt me.

On one, I put the names of my parts on each arm of the starfish. I couldn’t fit all of the names of my system on one starfish, so I put them in groups. I recognized K, even in her absence; I know she did a lot for me before I even knew she existed. I acknowledged Charlie and Violet, who have come to the forefront to keep us going, even when it was hard. I thanked my younger parts, many of whom hold trauma for me and for us. Without my parts, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be functioning as I have.

On another starfish, I put the names of the therapists and doctors who have been there for me as I struggled through PHP and IOP. I spent five days a week with them for ten or so of the last 15 months. They helped me find a stable place to live, and even though we hit a few bumps on the road, we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own. They pushed me to make doctor’s appointments and reach out for support when I needed it. The psychiatrist worked with me through all of my medication reactions (and there were quite a few), and never seemed to give up even when I wanted to throw in the towel. The nurse was there for me through all of my medical issues; she was the first person to legitimize that what I was going through was real. She and my therapist helped me through my pregnancy and abortion, without judgment, and helped me see that I was making the right decision. My therapist sat with me and let me cry when I needed to. She told me it was okay to feel. She dealt with me when others would have given up.

I went through some of the most difficult struggles in those months, and they were there for me through it all, and helped me through the darkness when I thought I would be stuck there forever.

On the last starfish, I wrote the names of those involved most closely in my life. My therapists, both new and old. My best friend, who I’ve known for half of my life. Even though we’ve never actually met in person, she has been the voice of reason for me in a lot of situations. She also never fails to make me laugh. My friend who took me in when I was homeless, who has made sure I always have what I need, who has consistently reminded me that I am safe, and who has taught me what it’s like to experience a normal life. My online supports, who not only give me an outlet, but many were also there for me when I escaped, encouraging me not to give up and give in. The people I met through work and therapy, who have since become friends. They’ve been there for me, they’ve made me laugh and cry, and they’ve managed to deal with me quite well, as I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes.

These people are important to me, and will continue to be important to me, even if we don’t see each other. Their words and actions have impacted me in ways that will last a long time. They’ve helped me decipher the lies and discover the truth, and for that I am forever thankful.

(I did not show the names for privacy reasons)

Loneliness

I’ve been crying a lot this past week.

It’s hard for me. I’m someone who needs to prepare just to go to a routine doctor’s appointment. And now I’ve been faced with regular appointments and hospitals and tests. It drains me.

It’s been a waiting game these last few days. I went to the hospital Thursday for my CT scan and ultrasound. For two and a half hours, I pushed my anxiety down far enough to get through each test. I didn’t mind the CT scan. I couldn’t see what was happening — not knowing in the moment was comforting.

The ultrasound was another story. I could hear the sound from the blood rushing through my arteries. I could see the red colors flashing across the screen. Red was good. Sound was good. It meant that the blood was flowing. But then as the tech went further up the left side of my neck, the sound dissipated. The loud rush turned into the lightest whisper of sound. The red color flashes were blocked by blackness. Something didn’t feel right, but no one could tell me anything. You have to call your doctor.

I managed to make it out of the hospital with a brave face. My therapist had me commit to calling a support person after the appointment, and I’ve only been able to trust a few people there closely enough to reach out to them. I walked over to the coffee shop and called the nurse. She didn’t answer, so I left a voicemail. I’m not even sure entirely what I said, but I know I started out with “I’m sorry” and ended in my usual “I’m okay”.

She called me back ten minutes later, and I hesitated to answer. I did answer, but as soon as she asked me how I was, I started to cry. I was scared. She asked me to tell her what happened but I could barely make sense. I remember her saying you can’t change it now, it’s done, you can’t change anything.

I wanted to change everything. I wanted to rewind my life to a point where I never had to feel pain or know sadness, or sense fear, a point in my life when I had no problems. But that point has never existed.

I went to work later that day and ended up crying again. My boss asked me how the appointment went and I just cried. I don’t understand. I don’t have high cholesterol, I don’t have high blood pressure, I don’t eat junk. Why is this happening to me? I don’t understand. I’m scared, and I don’t understand.

In that moment, she comforted me. She said it was okay to be scared. She said she’d be scared, too. She wanted to be there for me, through the surgery, through whatever I needed. She told me to call her this weekend just to talk if I needed.

But I never called her. Even in the moments that I found myself overwhelmed with fear, sadness, and loneliness, I couldn’t pick up the phone and call her. Why? This woman was genuine in her offers of support. This wasn’t the first time she has been there for me. She took me in on Christmas when I had nowhere to go and no family. She made me a part of hers. But when everyone gathered together to take the family photo that night, I sat out. I’m not part of this family. I felt like an intruder. A welcome intruder, but an intruder none the less.

And I still feel that way. I can’t call her because I’m intruding. I’m bothering. I’m being a burden. It’s a barrier I still can’t seem to break down. She has her own family. All of these people I know have their own families. And I am not part of that. Even the people at PHP keep telling me they are there to support me, but I can’t do it. They have other things to do, other people to support. I don’t matter. I am KJ, party of one.

The hardest part of all of this hasn’t been the appointments or hospital visits or the anxious wait for answers. It’s the loneliness that exists through it all. It’s going to appointments alone. It’s sitting waiting rooms alone, looking around and seeing others with their spouses or older children or friends. It’s laying in a hospital bed and staring at the empty chairs beside it. It’s the uncomfortable silence that occurs every time someone asks for an emergency contact. There is no one. No spouse, no children, no parents, no siblings. I am alone.

It’s times like these that remind me how alone I am. I should have my family by my side at my appointments. I should have a mother to hug me when I’m shaking in my bed at night because I am so afraid of what else could be wrong with me. I should have my father’s shoulder to cry on. But none of that exists, and it never will.

I cry alone. I shake alone. I worry alone. I bear the pain alone because I’m so afraid to share my burden with anyone else.

My tears are not from sadness. My tears are from loneliness.

I don’t want them to drown me.

She doesn’t know

I sat on the toilet Thursday afternoon, fully intending just to pee and go back to work. Instead, I ended up crying. Alone. In the bathroom stall. For 15 minutes.

I was okay before all of that. It was Thanksgiving day. I went to see a movie in the morning just to engage in something to pass the time. Then I went to work, and I was busy but being busy was good. It kept my mind occupied as much as it did my body.

But it was in that moment, sitting alone in the bathroom in silence and inaction, that my mind began to wander. Then my reality sank in. It was Thanksgiving day and I had no one. Everyone else was eating with their families, and here I was alone, crying on a toilet.

It took me awhile to get myself back together. I managed to stop crying a few times before bursting into tears again. I told myself if I just went back to work, if I went back to being busy, that I wouldn’t have to think about the sad stuff and I would be okay. I got up, washed my face, and went back out.

I noticed my manager looking for something in my area, so I went over to see if I could help. She was checking something I had already fixed. No problems. Then she looked up and noticed my face, still red from my earlier crying. She asked me if I was okay. The question I’ve always dreaded.

I could have lied in that moment. I could have said I was fine just like I said I was fine so many cries before, for the last 30 years. I could have pushed her away and that would have been that. But I didn’t. I stumbled with words for a minute, before I finally said no, this is a hard time for me.

I felt myself starting to cry again, but I tried to contain it.  She came forward to give me a hug, but then stopped. Then she asked me, is it okay to touch you? I could have cried in that moment, but not out of sadness. Here was someone offering me support. Here was someone respecting my boundaries, respecting me. This was different.

I told her it was okay, so she continued to give me a hug. I needed the comfort, as awkward as if felt for me. I felt supported and cared for. I knew I didn’t have to hide. If I needed to cry, I didn’t have to go and do it alone on the toilet.

And I did cry, a few more times that afternoon. But the sadness didn’t consume me. I wiped the tears away and went on. My coworkers supported me. They told me it was going to be okay. You are here with us, now. They were right.

There were several hugs that night, in the moments I desperately needed them, but also in the moments I didn’t know that I did. My work people were there for me. They made sure I was okay. And even though I was only scheduled to work until late afternoon, management let me stay a few more hours so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

When I finally made it home that night, I sat in my bed and cried. But I wasn’t crying from sadness. I was crying because I realized I had found what I thought was missing. I thought I had been without a family, but I have a family. It’s a family made up of amazing coworkers, great friends (online and offline), support groups, sometimes frustrating roommates, and weird people I’ve met along the way. But it is my family, and more of a family than my parents ever were.

And that’s what my mother doesn’t know.

She only knows the weak little girl she hurt and abused.

She only knows the broken woman she took advantage of.

She doesn’t know I have love and support and acceptance and understanding and all of the things that I didn’t have before I ran away.

She doesn’t know I found strength.

She doesn’t know I’ve been gluing myself back together, piece by piece.

She doesn’t know she can’t break me anymore.

It won’t work. I won’t let it. And neither will they.

Support me, but don’t support me

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the waiting room of my therapist’s office, admittedly a little fearful and pensive. I had just withdrawn from graduate school the day before and I was still dealing with new memories about my father.

The other therapist came out and talked to me for a bit, and offered to give me a hug. I accepted. Within seconds, I started to cry. She continued to hold on to me and comfort me, but I couldn’t stop crying and I pushed her away. In that moment, I needed that comfort and support and warmth and love. But I pushed it away.

I always push it away.

I lived for so long without any support, without any comfort, without any love. I managed to survive because I never knew what support was. You can’t miss something you never knew to begin with.

Now I have sources of support and I don’t know what to do with them. It doesn’t feel right. I want it, but it still feels so foreign to me. And I don’t know how to ask for it, either. It feels so wrong just to want it, let alone to ask for it.

After I read my Father’s Day card out loud to my therapist in our session on Monday, I found myself crying uncontrollably. My therapist assured me that it was okay to cry, so I did. But I couldn’t stop. My therapist asked what she could do to support me, and I just went blank.

“I’m okay.”

Yea. Really, self? You’re okay? I’m sitting there, nearly blinded by tears, with snot running out of my nose, and I still feel the need to say I’m okay. I don’t know if I’m trying to convince myself when I say it, or trying to convince everyone else.

My therapist told me again she was there for me, and asked what she could do to support me.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Inside, I did know. I wanted a hug. I wanted her to sit next to me. I wanted her to hold me. I wanted that comfort so badly. But all I could say was “I don’t know.”

I was afraid to ask for what I needed. I was afraid of being rejected. It’s easier to not ask at all, then to ask and be turned down.

It bothers me that I still can’t ask for what I need.

It bothers me that I still have trouble acknowledging that I have needs.

Strings

I feel like a marionette. Each string is a connection to my life, a piece of who I am. I need those strings to perform. I need those strings to live. But those strings are thin and weak; they started out that way. I started my life out with a disadvantage. 

But I continued to perform, I continued to live even with those weak strings. Now I’ve lost so many strings that all I can do is sit there and twitch a few limbs, waiting for that last string to break, the moment when I lose myself completely.

Some of my strings, I cut away myself. I had to. My parents were not supportive strings. They had to go. They were taking complete control over everything. The other strings couldn’t work right. I needed some freedom. 

In doing that, I weakened some of my other strings. The strings of people who I thought were there for me, they ended up snapping. They were only helping me alongside my parents’ strings. Once my parents’ strings were gone, so too were those others.

And then the strings of people in my old life, my friends and acquaintances. I feel them weakening as time goes on. Some of them have broken already. Some are splintering, seconds away from complete disconnection. I look up and see the damage, but there’s nothing I can do. So I have to watch as my strings continue to break away.

The strings of people I called my family – they are weakening, too; they were weak this whole time. I’m seeing now that those strings are not supporting me. They are there. I can see them. Everyone on the outside can see them. They appear to be strong, maybe a little colorful, but it’s all for show. They are not doing anything for me. They’re just there.

There’s one strong string. That is the string of my therapist. She’s holding me upright, even as all of the strings around me are snapping and breaking away.

But now that I’ve lost all of my other strings, all of my other resources, And I have nothing left to help her; I have nothing else left to help me.

Soon, that string will be cut from me. And I will have nothing. My supports will be gone, and nothing will be there to hold me up anymore. So I’ll fall to the ground, limp and lifeless.

I’ll no longer have a purpose.