I’ve talked about a lot of things over the year that have resulted in people responding “I thought I was the only one!” or “Wait, this is normal?”

It’s generally been about Brazilian wax farts, my uterus, chin hairs, nipple hairs, orgasms on the treadmill, and those weird stinky things that get caught up in the back of your throat.

I’ve also covered crummier stuff: secondary infertility, antenatal depression, regular ol’ depression, endometriosis, and a marriage attempting to survive graduate school.

However sexual assault, rape, PTSD, multi-diagnosed mental illnesses, sociopathy, triggers, shock…well those are things I’m still navigating. I can’t say a whole lot about them with certainty because I have yet to come out of the other side of them, and while I’ve made it awfully far, I still have a very long way to go.

Good news? I have a therapist who can sit across from me every week and give a name to what I’m experiencing. I never considered my experience worthy of being called PTSD. PTSD is what happens to people who have been in war. Shot at. Lost limbs. Watched friends die.

Not for girls who got raped. Girls who got raped did something to deserve it, right?

Wrong.

Someday when I’m strong enough there will be many, many words on rape culture and raising girls in this mess we’re currently in.

There have been several instances in the last year that have left me in shock. Literal shock, not just figurative shock. Have you ever experienced something that wasn’t quite traumatic, but was incredibly upsetting? For me, I am able go about my daily tasks feeling as though I am floating above myself, “Clearly this can’t be real. Maybe it isn’t that big of a deal? This feels like it should be a big deal. But look at me functioning! (Kind of? I think?)” only to completely and unexpectedly fall apart several days or weeks later. That’s shock! It’s not very elegant or obvious, it’s simply a clever way our brains protect ourselves until we’re able to deal with whatever happened. Knowing that at some point I’m going to fall apart after something really stressful happens makes it much easier to be patient with myself when it does happen. (And much easier for those around me to understand. I also try to stay out of public because my let down from stress generally comes in the form of the ugliest, loudest, most guttural sobbing requiring no less than half a roll of double ply toilet paper or one small box of tissues.

So far nothing I’ve been through has been completely solo. Someone has been able to relate to every part, just not all of them collectively.

Blech. This has been really hard to write and it’s getting harder. So I’m just going to stop right here.

Grace.

In the meantime, someday I will do something like this.

 

 

 

 

For decades my mom has said  I grew up in an entirely different world than everyone else and she was never quite sure what to do with me.

I spent most of my childhood and well into my adulthood wondering what was wrong with me, why was I so different from my family? Why was I so odd and why didn’t they seem to like me very much? I often felt like the heart-shaped, hulked out strawberry with three humps on the bottom that makes all the other strawberries look dainty and normal.

Earlier this year my therapist asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about being a highly sensitive person (HSP.) Sensitivity has such a negative connotation anymore, so to be highly sensitive sounded awful. But as she asked me questions about my childhood and current reality it became very clear that I most certainly fall into the category of highly sensitive. It turns out my mom wasn’t completely wrong, while my sister and I grew up in the same house with the same experiences — the way I experienced the world was, and continues to be, entirely different than those closest to me.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain is with a football game.

Cody at a football game: Watches the players play the game. Is happy when his team scores, is unhappy when something bad happens.

Me at a football game: LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE! LOOK AT THE SEA OF COLORS AND ALL THE DIFFERENT SHIRTS PEOPLE ARE WEARING. Look at all the relationships and friendships and interactions! THEY LOOK SO HAPPY TOGETHER! OH! The must be in a fight. LOOK STRONG PEOPLE ON THE FIELD PLAYING A GAME! Wait, what are all those lines for? What is that guy doing over there in the corner with that stick? CHEERLEADERS! I smell popcorn! SOMEONE IS SMOKING BY ME I WILL END THEM. I wonder where the cameras are. These benches really do make your rear go numb. Wait, where did we park? Look at the shadows on the field! I hope it will be a good sunset. When is my next dentist appointment? THEY SCORED! EVERYONE IS SO HAPPY AND LOUD! Look at that cute baby coming up the stairs, I wouldn’t bring a baby to a football game. When was my last period anyway? Is Cody having a good time? I really like that girl’s hair. Did I go to high school with that kid? OMG COTTON CANDY! I always forget which is offense and which is defense. I wish football season lasted longer, it’s so much more entertaining than baseball. Do I correct the people behind me who think the stadium was built in 1998 or do I keep listening to the couple in front of me talking about where they’re going to eat after the show? OH! That guy over there brought a flask! I CAUGHT YOU! I wonder what it would be like in a suite. I wonder if we’ll ever be in a suite. Is football the same everywhere you go? That player has nice arms. WAIT WHERE DID THE BALL GO? Why is it called ‘seeding’ or is it ‘seating?’ Neither one makes much sense. OOH BAND! AND CHEERLEADERS! Wait, who’s that guy with the flag? He looks out of place. How much longer? I do love how cozy this sweatshirt is, I’m glad I brought it. Cody smells good. Whoops, forgot to watch the actual game again and now everyone is cheering so I’ll just go along with it. FOCUS ON THE GAME! Oooh, but look at her hot dog, I could go for a hot dog. I wonder if they have dill relish. Sweet relish is the pits. Should I go to the restroom now or wait until halftime when everyone else goes? Maybe I don’t even need to go? What if there was an earthquake? Would we make it? If there were a stampede where would I go? How would I find Cody? *check pockets for ID and cash just in case*  IT’S SO LOUD. THERE’S SO MANY SOUNDS. A CACOPHONY OF FOOTBALL NOISES! But wait, wow, it’s getting really loud. I’m kind of overwhelmed. Whoa, I’m exhausted.

And that’s just the first five minutes.

So take this example and apply it to any number of situations. Concerts, holiday shopping, church, backyard BBQs, road trips, the DMV, watching TV or even getting a pap smear. All five senses are on all the time, which is rich and wondrous in many settings, but absolutely exhausting in others. Sometimes even scary.

Tulip Time-2947

You see, up until a few years ago I didn’t see the worst case scenario in every situation. PTSD will really eff with you in that regard, anxiety will turn up the volume, and sensitivity will have a person completely and constantly on edge and high alert. Fight or flight all. the. time.

I’ve never known anything else.

I’ve only found two others in my orbit who score higher than me on the HSP test, and both of them practice reiki. So I’m just sensitive enough to know when you’re having a shitty day, but not sensitive enough to heal your life energy. It’s probably a good thing too, as I’m the only extroverted HSP I’ve come across as well. If you give an extrovert the power to heal through energy they’ll likely crumble in a heap in an attempt to save the world. (Or at least that seems like what would happen.)

Most of the time I like being the giant strawberry. Means I can show the other strawberries what they’re missing out on (when I feel like sharing, that is.)

tl;dr: If you’ve always felt like a hacky sack in a world full of tennis balls, you may be highly sensitive. And if you are? Cool. Me too.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned about mental illness over the last eight months:

1. If you really want to get better, mental illness needs to be treated aggressively and constantly maintained. If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer you know there’s no “casual” way to treat cancer. Treatment is fast, aggressive, and constantly monitored. I’ve had therapy in the past, I’ve been on medication under the care of my regular doctor for ages, but the truth is I had slipped so far these treatments could barely be considered bandages on a shark bite. Since January I have been relentless in trying to get better. I have added, changed, and upped different medications more than a half dozen times under the care of a psychiatrist. I have appointments scheduled with both my psych and therapist through the end of the year with a treatment plan that ends no sooner than next summer. It’s been a holy damn marathon, and I’m exhausted — but I can finally start to feel the pieces falling back into the places they’re supposed to be.

2. Healthy coping mechanisms can be pretty boring. However, after awhile, the unhealthy ones have become less and less appealing. For the first year or so after the terrible thing happened, I drank. And drank and drank and drank and drank. Today I told Cody that over the last three years I had felt so uncomfortable with my own existence that anything that changed my state of mind was a welcome escape, dumb and drunk was better than sitting in my own emotional mess. One of the first things my doctors and therapists told me to do was stop drinking and stop sleeping my life away, there was a time I would cry and cry every night because I had no immediate escape from how miserable I was — I just had to sit in it — and it was awful. Little by little I recognized little things I could do that made me feel better. There were still times I drank, or crawled back into bed when no one was looking. I learned to give myself some grace in these situations, and as I’ve become stronger the ability to resist feels less like a burden and more like a conscious choice to take care of myself.

3. The brain has a magnificent way of protecting itself from things that hurt. Mine has developed emotional and mental cushioning around the really hurty parts that has kept me going (albeit not very well.) When I read about my diagnosis now, I don’t feel overwhelmed and broken. I realize my brain has done exactly what a million brains before mine has done in an attempt to survive. Unfortunately, to really heal I’ve had to go back into those tender places and poke until the blisters pop and take very good care of myself while it heals properly. Only two of my diagnoses are actual chemical imbalances. the others are a result of trauma — they have all done this magnificent little dance together in a desperate attempt to protect me from getting hurt again. Final count is major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, complex post traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

4. When I first started receiving treatment, a therapist told me that there would come a day when the terrible thing wasn’t my story, it was only part of my story. Over the last several weeks I can finally feel this becoming a reality. I could have come here plenty of times and declared “I’M BETTER!” and I hesitate to even claim I’m doing better now because I have fallen back down a dozen times throughout this entire process, but I’ve gotten up at least one more time than I’ve ever fallen down — and that’s a big deal. Back in January I gave myself a year to notice a difference, and now that I’m coming up on 8 months I don’t have a problem adding another 6 months to that year to really make sure I’ve given myself sufficient grace to not only get better, but also stronger.

5. If I could pick one thing for people to realize from what I’ve been through it’s that trauma of any sort sucks and there’s no way to know how it will affect you, and there’s no one way or even a timeline for getting better. It doesn’t matter what your trauma was, trauma is trauma and trying to compare them is useless. My life fell apart in 2014, it may have not been obvious to anyone watching from the outside, but the evidence is there. The pattern is present.

I don’t know what’s next. There are  so many options, places where I could attempt to pick up the pieces of my old life and begin building upon them again. New opportunities that never existed or occurred to me before. The scariest part is simply getting started.

These 830 words are my attempt to do just that.

 

It’s a pretty solid sign of the times when your once thriving little corner of the Internet displays ‘ACCOUNT SUSPENDED’ because you have successfully (albeit accidentally) avoided adding auto-pay to your account for over a year.

Since you’re reading this rather than ‘ACCOUNT SUSPENDED’ I’ve clearly accomplished something today.

I’m starting out this year 40 pounds heavier than my clothes are used to. I’m not terribly upset about it, I know how I got here, I know how to get out, I know obsessing about my weight in the past has never done me a darn bit of good and I also know from looking back at old photos of myself that I had/have some serious body dysmorphia issues and missed out on a lot because I thought the size of my thighs mattered.

When talking about safety weight* with a friend she told me a therapist once told her “Sometimes the vessel has to be big enough to carry the burden.

These extra inches and pounds have been through a lot with me, and I like the visual of tucking my pain and sorrows into the extra soft bits I’ve accumulated, then sweating and pounding them out of me in various and assorted ways. Some days I will need to be nicer to myself with a leisurely walk and guacamole, while other days will begin with kale and burpees. (Kidding! Kale is disgusting.)

2016 was the year Cody and I finally figured out how to be really good at being married. That doesn’t mean we didn’t fight (we did) or that we won’t fight again (we will.) It means we still have a whole lifetime ahead of us, and it only took 15 years of practice to finally feel as though things are humming along. (Please note this does not take into account all the other grown-up stuff grown-ups are expected to do, it merely means that I really like the guy I get to (have to?) do all those grown-up things with, like raise kids and schedule appliance repairs.)

2016 was also the year I learned I had very unhealthy boundaries so I got myself some much healthier ones and said peace out to the people and things that didn’t respect them. I also stopped apologizing for things that weren’t my fault.

2016 also proved to me that vulnerability is both my greatest strength and most exposed weakness — and of all the strengths and weaknesses to have, vulnerability suits me.

Here’s to new beginnings.

*Safety Weight: The weight gained after a traumatic event (see: sexual assault) to make one feel less noticeable and desirable.

 

 

 

*cracks knuckles*

Okay Internet, let’s do this.

What I’ve realized is that someday, maybe even today, my girls are going to ask me what I did the day I found out Donald Trump was to become president.

“You want to know what I did? I cleaned the oven door. I looked over a few pins, made my own little door-scrubbing-cocktail and got to work.”

You see, taking control of something small and manageable is a coping mechanism for me. Dealing with the weight of the world? Detail your vacuum!  Can’t trust anyone anymore? Give yourself a pedicure! Worried about the future of everyone who isn’t het-cis-white-male in America? PULL OUT THE MAGIC ERASERS IT’S TIME TO GO TO WORK.

And so I scrubbed. I calmed myself down and reminded myself that no president is going to be directly involved in raising my girls. But *I* will be directly responsible for raising the next generation of female leaders, thinkers, and voters. So I’m going to do just that.

I’m going to teach them that when they go low, we go high.

raising good kiddies

I’m going to teach them that women have been pushing for years on the glass ceiling and it was other nasty women like me who made sure that we were all pushing together for the same thing.

 

There’s still so much more to this, but for right now, when I found out how wrong things went November 9, 2016, I got to work.

 

I just came from two hours of a very emotionally intense sexual assault support group I’ve been attending for the last six weeks and I’ve learned two things:

1. Don’t get raped. Now I realize it’s not a choice, that assault and rape are about taking away the control of another person. But if you find yourself in a situation where you think “Huh, this isn’t what I want…” but either the voices in your head or the voice of your attacker says “You asked for this/this is your fault/you owe this to him/me.”

fuck.

that.

shit.

You imagine me right now, full of impassioned anger with my hands on your shoulders and you FIGHT LIKE HELL. I wish I would have fought.  The worst that would have happened is he would have gotten angry and hurt me. But hey, he did hurt me. And he did knock me unconscious — and I’ve been working through a thousand layers of guilt, shame, and blame ever since.

“Don’t get raped” may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever said in my almost 10 years of doing this, but if ONE person reads this and finds themselves in an assault situation I hope they know that fighting is an option. Yes, you may get hurt, but I would hope any physical wounds that may occur would heal faster that the emotional and mental pain of a consent violation crossing over into a sexual assault.

I’d take broken bones and a black eye over what I’ve been through the last couple years.

I may know you, I may not…but I do know this — I don’t want to see the magnificence of any more of you dimmed by the selfishness of another. You are so magnificent in a way that is unique to you, and I hope you believe that that magic only you possess is worth physically fighting for if it ever comes to that.

2. If you have already been hurt, or for whatever reason you aren’t able to fight back if something does happen to you: GET HELP. Cody left work today to drive me to therapy because there was no other way I was going to go. Therapy sucks. Individual, group, all of it. It sucks and I hate it. It hurts and it’s raw and it’s vulnerable and I freak out a little bit every time I have to go.

But I am getting better.

I am so. much. stronger.

I never could have imagined I’d be where I am now with everything in less than 4 months. When I first met with someone they told me there’s no possible way of knowing when things would get better, but if I did my work things would eventually improve.

I saw improvement as an impossibility.

I was convinced my only option was to learn how to cope with this entirely new and uncomfortable life.

If you’re here in Indianapolis the place I’ve been going to is called Prevail, it’s completely free for victims of domestic or sexual abuse and the advocates there have changed my life. I’ll never be able to repay them for the life they’ve helped me reclaim, but someday I will be able to do something. All I can do now is be an example that the work they are doing is working and that it is worth it. To the donors and foundations that keep Prevail free for everyone, thank you.

This post won’t mean much to many of you, but to one of you it may be everything. The thing that keeps you safe, or convinces you to get help.

You’re totally worth it. I promise.

Four years ago my sister had her first baby, Tayden.

Long story short, all 9 pounds of him made it out after 36+ hours of labor, 2.5 hours of pushing, and a dozen other complications that basically left my sister a wreck both physically and mentally.

I got to the hospital just after her early Tuesday where she was already 90% and a 5. (For those of you who don’t speak birth, her body had already done half the work of getting the baby out before she even changed into her gown.) Her epidural was set within a half hour and before an hour had even passed she mentioned to the nurse she was feeling a lot of pressure.

The nurse checked her and said “Oh. Well. That’s because there’s a baby down there trying to throw herself a birthday party.”

On came the lights, in came two nurses, a doctor and our mom and my sister was pushing within minutes.

Only this time instead of 150 minutes of pushing, she pushed for around 17.

And instead of her baby being rushed off with nurses to be attended to by a doctor, she was placed skin to skin and able to remain there for over an hour.

It was amazing.

It was everything she deserved.

I’m fairly certain she couldn’t believe that was all it took.

That’s really all there was to it.

Just like that I had a perfect little niece to call mine.

Her name is Jovie, her middle name is Kay after her grandpa that passed in December, and she shares a birthday with the best aunt that ever existed.

She also managed to come 21 hours before my flight departed SLC, so she’s already proven herself to be a punctual people pleaser.

Jovie? I love you. I love your mama, your poppa and that crazy brother of yours. My heart swallowed you whole this week and I can’t wait to see who you become.
Miss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss JovieMiss Jovie
Miss Jovie

Think of the most terrible thing that has ever happened to you.

Think of what changed after the terrible thing happened.

Are you able to see the good things that happened in the wake of (and as a result of) disaster as genuinely “good” things?

To the point you wouldn’t go back and undo the terrible thing that happened because what you have become since is so much more?

Or do you see them as rewards for surviving?

I would never undo my depression, my difficult pregnancies, or my battle with infertility — the lessons learned and benefits gained are too great.

But I would undo my assault in a heartbeat if I could. There is nothing I can point to that makes this much pain worth it.

Yet, at least.

It's my 30th Birthday. (April 28th)

Hi. I’m Casey, a recovering optimist.