Editor’s Note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or self harm, or have experienced sexual assault, the following stories may potentially be triggering. You can contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 from anywhere in the U.S. or call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to reach RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.
I am living with Complex PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and recovering from Anorexia Nervosa B/P type.
I've known mental illness for a really long time now. I try to put my blindfold on though so we can pretend it really isn't there. I struggled with intense separation anxiety from my mom and it started when I was 7 years old. Why? Most people around me will either choose to deny my screams and cries walking to my first grade classroom or I’ve built a wall so thick and so high around me that no one can get in. I tell myself, "This wall protects me. If no ones inside, I can't get hurt."
I want to tell you that there’s this earth shattering, positive moment in my life when my wall came down. But there's not. I still have my wall but I built an opening so I can let some people in. And to me, that is progress. Oh, right, separation anxiety — I get distracted easily when something starts to hurt. When I was 7 years old, my oldest cousin sexually abused me for a short period of time. It was scary. I got so upset at school because they wanted me to change for gym. My brain wasn't fully developed to know that just because I'm changing here doesn't mean I'll get hurt. My brain is learning that now though.
First grade ended and I stopped crying so much and moved along through school. I was outgoing, I played sports, I had friends and I did well in class (except math, but who knows math, right?).
I guess I have always had this preoccupation with the way my body is, feels, and looks. Maybe that's because my body is a physical reminder each day of my life that it has been violated. Around the 8th grade, I decided I would try out a diet, just like every other 13-year-old girl in America. However, I tend to take things a little too far. I started to restrict. A lot. My weight dropped and no one noticed, except Mrs. K. She was my outlet for the entire year and I don't know how I would have gotten through it without her. Having someone who can be a light in your darkness makes healing doable. That's what I've learned in my journey towards growth and healing. Towards the end of 8th grade, I began to self-harm and the idea of suicide started to come into my head. It was because I was scared. I had to leave the school I’d been at for 8 years.
I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be pretty like all the girls in my class. I wanted to be valued. I have this thing inside me, my 7-year-old abuse and I can't dare to tell anyone about it, really, unless your name is Sharon. I cried after school all the time the last couple months. I thought my teachers would forget about me. I thought they would leave me. I thought my friends would leave me — they did. Everyone moves on. People don't like to wait. I graduated though. And I moved into the unknown: high school. The unknown is terrifying and I've learned it doesn't have to be so bad after all.
I started high school. I was on the volleyball team. I was making friends. It was a new start. I didn't need my restriction or self harm anymore. This was good. Volleyball became an outlet for me and my eating disorder didn't really serve a purpose anymore. Until the end of my freshman year. My eating disorder came back in full swing. I restricted, I started purging, and I was playing volleyball almost every day. I'll spare most of the details. Sharing this with you all is one of the hardest things that I know will help me heal. I have a fear of not being heard, seen, or believed. I want to put this lightly and I want to minimize what happened to me and I know I can't anymore.
This is my truth and my story, as painful and distressing as it is. I survived. A man 39 years older than me brutally sexually abused me, beat me, tortured me, and got me pregnant. I like to think this pregnancy has a happy ending to it. But it doesn't. I was forced into an abortion. During this time of my life, my eating disorder was out of control, I was constantly self harming, and I thought about methods to kill myself daily. Nothing in my world made sense. I hated my body and I wanted nothing more for my body to disappear because then maybe he'd stop hurting me. I felt worthless because I was being treated like I was. However, in 2019, I have learned that I am not a worthless human being. I was still the same person before he touched me. I was still the same outgoing, carefree, funny Kaitlyn. I'm just trying to find her.
Thankfully, my parents were able to help me in some way. I was put into an eating disorder inpatient. And my treatment cycle began. Hospitals, residentials, day programs, therapy — sometimes two sessions in one day, ECT treatment, every depression treatment you could think of, every trauma treatment you could think of...although, I'm not entirely sure how you could do trauma therapy with me if I wasn't going to tell you anything about my trauma. And that's where I got stuck. I refused to speak about anything remotely painful. No one understood why I didn't want to be touched, why loud noises made my entire brain/body shut down (I can finally name it, it was a flashback), why I got so angry if you got close to me and then you left, why I cried in the corners of the hallway, why I touched my face searching for the tape that's no longer there. No one really got it. So I kept losing weight, returning to the hospital and gaining it back and well, you get the picture. It wasn't working. I wasn't actually being helped. I wasn't truly invested in my treatment. I told them I hated myself but I never told them why. Until I spoke my truth. Until I decided that the tape wasn't on my mouth anymore and I realized I deserve to have someone hear me, listen to my pain, reassure me. I wish I could say it happened immediately. It didn't. It took 5.5 years for me to tell someone why I've been so sad and so sick for so long. Now as I actually work through this, I realize I have to grieve the time spent in treatment hiding, playing, resisting. I have to grieve that sick person that protected me for so long. We hear "it's okay not to be okay" when we're in treatment all the time and sometimes I need to hear, "it's okay to heal."
Life hit hard in 2018. I rang in the New Years on a feeding tube and sitting in a wheelchair. I pulled out my tube. I ran away. I ran to the nearest bridge. My hands covered my ears and I repeated, "I killed my baby." I got to the bridge and decided I was going to jump off and ultimately end my life. Obviously, that didn't happen because I'm here telling you about it. Some days I'm so grateful that I'm living and breathing and some days I am furious. Some man I will never get to meet, grabbed me from the railing and held me and said, "Be quiet. It's okay." And then police and firemen and an ambulance all showed up. I told the cop I killed my baby so I needed to jump off this bridge. So the Chicago Police went around the city looking for a dead baby. I was hysterical because my brain couldn't understand the past from the present. The officer called my mom and my mom had to explain what I meant. I was not in reality. He continued to hold me as I cried. I got into the ambulance and my parents were both sobbing. I didn't understand why. I wanted to be dead.
I got admitted to the psych ward and back to residential. I got kicked out. I went back home and the cycle continued. Constantly having flashbacks, being suicidal, not eating, bottles of laxatives, and living in a state of depression and fear. I ended up on an emergency detention from the police to the state psychiatric facility. I had to have a court hearing for the facility to release me. Thankfully, the judge and the doctor said I had a treatable psychiatric diagnosis. They said that I also needed to go to Timberline Knolls to receive PTSD treatment and that if I didn't or did not complete the program I would be detained and have a court hearing for my commitment to the state facility.
Off to TK I went. When I first arrived, I didn't want it to be real. I hated every person and every thing that tried to interact with me. My flashbacks were at an all time high, I was experiencing my trauma in full, not being aware of the present and where I was, up to 17 times a day. I let my guard down. I let the staff help me. It wasn't easy though. A staff member who will forever have a special place in my heart found me in the back hallway, crouched down, eyes closed, my fingers digging into the back of my neck. She repeated to me "Listen. My name is Ashley. You are safe. You are on Willow Lodge. It is August 21st, 2018 and no one is hurting you." She grabbed my hands tight and kept reassuring me. I finally opened my eyes and we sat in the hallway with her holding my hands to prevent me from hurting myself and we looked at each other and tears streamed down from both of our eyes. She made me feel like I wasn't alone. She made me feel like my life was valued. That I was worth fighting for. She responded to my vulnerability with so much compassion. She let me know my courage.
As the days went on, I started to let in more people. I can't name all the people who helped me at TK because the list is far too long. I stayed at TK for a long 3.5 months. I learned how to help myself. I learned that it's okay to put my sick self to rest now. I learned I deserve better — I deserve better than what I'm telling myself, than what other people have told me, than what the world has shown me. I learned my true self is accepted. I came out as a lesbian to all the residents and staff and I led a group called Rainbows and Recovery. Someone came up to me and said, "I've never felt so accepted before." My therapist, Sharon drilled into my head in a million and one different ways that what happened to me was not my fault, not ever my fault and I need to working on reducing the blame I have for myself. Sharon texted me the other day to remind me it wasn't my fault. I successfully completed TK's residential program, something I thought wouldn't be possible because history shows that I'm unable to complete programs. I went into a trauma day program near my house and then lowered my hours eventually.
For the first time in my life, I have used my voice. I recall all the times when the tape was over my mouth and I never thought me being able to speak about my pain would be possible. I have faced things that I thought would destroy me. I have created choices for myself. My voice is important and if I allow my words to carry I can be a powerful force in the world. I'm taking control of my life again. I'm going back to college to pursue my dream of becoming of a therapist, to help someone like me who didn't think recovery was possible. I have let people in, which includes my family. I tell people what I need and why I need it. I took suicide off the table until November 1st and I will hopefully take it off again. I grieved the loss of my baby by blowing bubbles into the sky with someone who meant so much to me. I continue to do that when I start to wonder what life would be like with a child. I'm able to be a help to my family. I'm able to joke around and make fun of my brothers; I couldn't do that before because I took everything so seriously. I am discovering my ability to connect with others. I speak my opinion loud and clear when I feel something isn't just. I'm not saying recovery is rainbows and sunshines and Friday night pizza whenever you want it. Because this journey is still a battle. I still have flashbacks at night but I always wear my lavender necklace and keep an ice pack handy so I can ground myself. Sometimes it takes me two hours to convince myself to shower but I shower anyways. Most days, I still hate my body and I try to hide it with baggy clothes but I'm buying jeans next week. I still feel drained and exhausted and have a lot of doubts about my ability to succeed in school, in recovery and frankly, in the world, and I realize the unknown is terrifying. And I'm moving on in spite of it all. To reveal myself felt horrifying and it is when my healing began.