Life can be serious business.

In His Honor — I Surrender to Vulnerability.

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“It was a gift he gave to you wasn’t it?”

I looked at my therapist dumbfounded.

A gift? How could she say that? There is no silver lining in someone that I love being murdered. I don’t understand how she thinks I could have possibly benefitted in any way from this tragedy.

***

A month before my cousin was murdered, I started therapy again with a woman who is very skilled in trauma-informed recovery, to help me work through an increase in PTSD symptoms. With feet that are always bare, she radiated peace. She taught me how to breath through anxiety and frustration. She reminded me that I am safe now, each time my body responded to a memory with tension.

About a month in to our work, we began digging in to the trauma that was my childhood using EFT tapping, also known as psychological acupressure. It was awkward at first but halfway through the session I started to sink in to the motions.

When I returned the next week, my therapist had an unusual posture and air about her. She said, “I have to be honest with you. I have been doing trauma work for many, many years and I have never seen anyone respond to EFT the way you did.” I thought Oh that must mean I did something right!

She continued on to say, “I watched you going through the motions, but there was no emotion or reaction at all. You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just trying to understand your response and what is blocking you. You show incredible insight and resilience with what you say, but I’m feeling like despite that, I am getting very little to no emotion or feeling from you.”

Immediately, I responded with “Well, I think…”

“Stop right there” she said. “I’m asking you to feel, not think. How do you feel right now and where in your body do you feel it?”

I became frustrated right away. What does she mean?

I told her that it’s very difficult for me to hear her say I have no emotion. I am a very emotional person. I pride myself on my sensitivity and ability to empathize. I’ve built a life and career out of these strengths and I’m not sure where she is coming from.

“Dawn, you rationalize instead of feel when it comes to you. You keep yourself safe by staying in your brain. You learned at a very young age to disassociate from what you’re feeling in order to survive. You knew how to protect yourself and that is a miracle. But you don’t have to do that anymore. This coping mechanism has allowed you to tap in to helping others heal, just not yourself. You empathize for others, but not yourself. In order for you to work through the trauma, you are going to have to give yourself permission to feel.”

Her comment left me confused, angry, sad and defeated. I knew she was right. And it was a physical feeling that assured me of that–the tightness of my muscles, the hotness in my chest and shoulders, my short breathing pattern. Anxiety–the high alertness that I function on. It’s the one feeling I recognize within myself as confirmation of something–vulnerability. And I felt incredibly vulnerable in that moment.

***

It was less than a week after that session when I got the call that my cousin was maliciously and methodically murdered. I walked around that evening in a complete fucking haze. I didn’t cry and I could barely talk. I eventually took something to help me sleep.

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As the sun began to beam through the window above my bed, tears began to pour from my barely opened eyes. The realization of what I was told yesterday hit me like a direct blow to my chest. I sobbed. I knew I had to travel back to my home town for his funeral, even though that meant coming face to face with my childhood traumas, including my abuser.

***

As I started to see the Georgia red clay out the airplane window, the pins and needles started to race up my arms. I began mentally preparing to barricade my tears. I had to be strong for the those who are hurting, unaware of what I was denying myself of in the process.

Stepping inside the funeral home, I saw more familiar faces than I ever cared to see. It’s not that I don’t care about these people, it’s just easier to live my life across the country from them because to no fault of their own, they trigger me. I’ve stayed away from this place and these people because my mental stability has depended on it.

Despite that, I passed out hugs and offered my shoulder to catch tears because I wanted to help others hurt less. When I spotted my abuser across the room, I froze. I fled to the bathroom and tried to ward off the burning in my chest with deep breathes and an internal pep talk.

Don’t lose it, Dawn! You need to stay strong.

I walked out of the bathroom as they were inviting family in to a private room to view the body. There he was. Lying there so still. I held his sister and father as sorrow seeped out of their every pore. My body shook as I tried to hold it together. All the memories became an avalanche on my heart and my mind began to release it’s grip.

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The pain and grief I felt in that moment extended from my heart to my entire body. I could feel myself losing it. The childhood memories, the only good ones I have, involve the young man that is now lying lifeless in front of me. I wanted to run out of there. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from the vulnerability bubbling to the surface.

I don’t know what my uncle was thinking when he reached for me in that moment. He looked into what I imagine were hollow eyes. Being the only positive male role model in my life, I felt security and protection as he hugged me. He said, “It’s ok to cry.” A stubborn fear of feeling was shattered by his permission to grieve, and I came undone.

***

It’s been almost seven months since my cousin’s passing and my journey back to my roots. Many, many tears have fallen since that time. Tears for his life, and mine. Anger has crept in and out. Sorrow has brought me to my knees. Memories have at times flooded me with emotion; I have accepted them, unapologetically.

There is truth in my therapists observation. My cousin did give me a gift. The loss of his life has left a gaping hole in my heart, but in his passing, he gifted my spirit with permission to feel – the pain, the love, the angst, the truth.

So now, when I recognize my old patterns creeping in, and I find myself fighting to feel, I give in. I strip off the emotional armor and embrace the moment — good, bad or ugly. Randall had a way of always making me feel safe. As I carry heavy grief with me on this day, the day he would have turned 34 yrs old, I will not let myself check-out any longer. In his honor, I will feel — without fear.

Happy Birthday, Houston.
Happy Birthday, Houston. xoxo

Life can be serious business.

Depression and Motherhood: This is My Truth.

Tom Gauld
Tom Gauld

My truth about struggling with depression and being a mom is not pretty.  It’s not a feel good story. It’s a story that continues to evolve.

My depression started at a young age.  As a child, I was exposed to a type of environment where my predisposed genes didn’t have a fighting chance to stay hidden.  I was never put in treatment and I don’t believe it was even recognized by the adults around me.  It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early 20’s that even I recognized it.

My depression was masked a lot in my 20’s by numbing myself with alcohol.  A shitty day just meant I really needed to get drunk.  If I look back at my 20’s, I was a damn good functioning alcoholic that balanced school, work and partying quite well.  Until I didn’t.

Around my mid to late 20’s, the effects of the depression became harder and harder to bury or ignore.  It was like anything in life, you can only bury your demons for so long and then boom.  I started to have bad weeks instead of days.  I wanted nothing to do with anyone, including myself.  I finally gave in and began taking an anti-depressant in conjunction with psychotherapy.  It worked for the time being.

I began working in the field of mental health after graduating college.  Do what you know right?  Being the one who evaluated countless people in the ER, I knew the lingo and the symptoms that usually led to an admission on the mental health unit, a place where I also worked.  This created so much internal conflict for me.  I loved what I did and was good at it because I could truly empathize.  But it also created a lot of fear in regards to dealing with my own struggles.  I couldn’t even be completely honest with my therapist because I was scared that if I admitted to certain things such as having suicidal thoughts and any sort of plan, I would be seen as a safety risk.  I couldn’t let myself fall in to the broken mental health system, even as broken as I was.  So I continued to work harder at dancing around my symptoms instead of trudging through the heartache of admitting to myself or even a professional what was really going on in my own head.

I was so angry.  I lashed out at complete strangers.  I fell apart over spilled milk.  My work became impossible because everything triggered me.  The individual’s stories became too difficult to hear and I was no longer helping anyone, especially myself.  I literally fell to pieces.  I thankfully had a primary care doctor at the time that was more than just a normal doctor.  I trusted her so I went to her office in the middle of the day during work.  I could not pull myself together and I didn’t really have an explanation as to why.  She took me out of work for the next few days.  I called my husband, scared to death what he would think and say.  He, being the man that he is, told me not to worry about anything and to just take care of myself.  I went home and went to bed.  I didn’t get up for three days.  When I did I felt better but knew I was right back where I had been before.  It was time to start taking medication again and get back in to therapy.

Shortly after that, at the age of 27, I got pregnant.  Although I wasn’t a lover of being pregnant, I have to say I was never happier.  The boost of hormones were fabulous and I felt great.  And then the third trimester happened.  I plummeted.  I hated myself because how could I be so awfully sad about and ungrateful for the life inside me.  I hated that I hated myself.  I felt bad for feeling bad.

After my daughter was born, I had the normal baby blues but thankfully it passed and within a few weeks I had fallen in love with my little girl.  But then something flipped that switch.  The switch that I have learned I have no control over.  I became numb, her needs became overwhelming.  I became an auto pilot mom.  I did what I needed to do but that was about it.  This wasn’t the normal, over tired, overwhelmed, new mom effect.  This was joyless motions.  It was feeling like a failure with every action.  This was irrational.  I can remember thinking what a piece of shit I was that I wasn’t happy about my beautiful life.  To me, at that time, nothing was beautiful.

I reached a point where suicide seemed like a valid solution.  I was just existing anyway.  I wasn’t bringing anything good to the world around me, including the people in it, so what was the fucking point.  I cried so hard when no one was looking.  I couldn’t look in mirrors because I hated what I saw.  It is a scary and very lonely place to be. I felt like I was different than every person/woman/mom around me.  I didn’t dare admit to having suicidal thoughts to anyone, even my husband. What kind of mother or wife am I if I admit to feeling like I need to leave him and my children.

I don’t know how I got through that particular rough patch if I am being honest.  But time went on and I survived.  My relationship had good days and bad days.  On the bad days, I just knew my husband was going to leave me and I didn’t blame him.  Who wants to live with someone that can’t seem to get her shit together and falls apart or blows up when the wind blows to the east.  I tried so hard.  I would take medicine for a while, stabilize and then go off of it because I felt like I had it under control.  Which is madness in itself.  I was the one encouraging people to take their meds with over used scripts like “if you had diabetes you wouldn’t not take your meds, well depression is no different”.  I was actually fighting everyone elses battles, with a vengeance, to help erase their pain and the stigma of living with a mental illness, but yet couldn’t take my own advice.

After my second child was born, I was on a high fueled with love and what felt like a completion of my family.  I chose not to take medicine with both of my pregnancies and have yet to go back on them since having my son, who is now 15 mths old.  I’m starting to feel the need and see the signs again.  I hate it.  I hate that I need a pill to be of sound mind but I’ve ridden this roller coaster long enough to know how dangerous it can be with out it.

It seems like my depression has gotten more intense after each of my children have been born.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it is the added stress or the changes to my body’s chemistry.  Even though I am able to recognize that funk that seems to cling to me when I am sliding down hill, I can’t prevent it.  I have days where I busy the kids with some sort of something so that I can cry in another room where they don’t see me and ask questions.  I feel so unworthy of my children’s forgiving love some days.

It’s not everyday or even every other week but I still have times when I question why I should continue with this misery.  It is insanely disabling to be in a place where you believe in your heart that a life without a Mom is better than a life with a Mom like me.  I say that with tears in my eyes because I know the damage of both.  My Mom was in and out of my life because of her mental illness and when she finally got on a healthier path mentally, she died of a physical illness.

People that say suicide is selfish are right.  It is.  However, for the person contemplating it or living with pain so great that it is seen as a reasonal option, it feels as if it is more of a gift.  A blessing to others.  Because now the people surrounding you no longer have to feel the effects of your broken being.  This has been my truth for so long.

I would like to say that I have overcome and gotten through the worst of it, but I know better now.  I have; however, come to terms with what this debilitating disease is capable of and am much more likely to ask for help when I need it.  One of the best things a therapist ever said to me was to question whether or not how I am feeling is rational.  If I can’t explain why I am feeling so sad or angry or worthless then it’s time to take better care of myself.  And that doesn’t mean a day at the spa.  I fucking hate it when people say “well make sure you are taking time for yourself.  Go get a massage”.  That is a band aid and if you suggest it you need to better educate yourself.  Taking better care of myself really means to admit to myself and those closest around me that I need an ear, support, a break, compassion and/or a shoulder.

There are all these stigmas attached to women with children that admit to having depression.  A big part of that is because of what is portrayed in the media but also because of the lack of education around mental illness as a whole.  So here, let me clear up a few.  No, I have never had thoughts to hurt my children (in a psychosis kind of way).  Yes, I am fit to raise my children, even on a bad day.  Yes, my kids friends are safe at my house, I have depression, I’m not neglectful.  Please don’t ask me how I am doing with a sad, overly concerned look on your face.  I know what you are really asking and it’s condescending and annoying.  No I don’t “check out” on my kids.  I may not be the lively, playful mother every day of the week but I’m not hiding in my room while they run loose and mold themselves in to psychopaths either.  Yes, I have bad days that are just that – a bad day.  And guess what, I am entitled to those.  If I flip someone off or cry over a commercial, it’s more than likely due to my hot head or exceptionally thin skin, not my diagnosis.  Yes, I have good days and no, I’m not pretending to be happy.  I am a genuinely happy person by nature.  And here is a big one.  Please take note of this one because it is the worst thing you could ever say to someone like me.  Don’t ever assume that a person can “snap out of it”.  It’s impossible and you’re being naïve and downright hateful if you think ANYONE would choose to feel the way I have attempted to describe.

Depression looks different to everyone that suffers from it.  However, I have learned through personal and professional experience that those that live with it have one thing in common – loneliness.  I wish people talked candidly about it.  I wish women felt more comfortable and less shame about admitting these type of thoughts and feelings.  I just hope that by sharing my story, someone will feel less alone and less shameful.