Everything I wrote in those articles, as well as other things on mental health here on this blog and on my side blog, Waking Dreams, is spoken with utmost honesty and transparency. I don’t sugarcoat these things.
My main point in everything, ultimately: The world grossly underestimates the reality and debilitating nature of suicide and mental illnesses, and you can never truly know if someone is going to end their life or not.
Please check on your friends if they go silent. There is a belief in some circles online that if you don’t hear from friends, you should give up on them because it’s assumed they don’t care. That’s very dangerous thinking. There are many reasons people go silent — mental health being one of them.
Likewise, I saw an alarming trend on my personal Facebook for quite some time. At the risk of pissing off some people by being honest here, I would often post when I was suicidal in the past and the most I’d get, a lot of the time, were heart reactions. It’s mostly why I left. The like, or heart, button felt empty.
Sometimes a friend would reach out. My mom did months ago when I last posted there about it. I often didn’t hear anything more going forward, and while it’s no one’s job to look after me, I felt like I didn’t matter. It’s what my suicidal thoughts already told me, true or not.
When I become silent for long periods of time, mostly due to not having the energy to reach out, all I want sometimes is for someone to just message me, comfort me, and confirm that I’m not a burden or a pain in the ass. To be someone’s random thought. To feel like I have value and deserve to live.
In the far past, I disappeared one time for a while and heard from almost no friends at all. This happened around 2009-2010. I had my boyfriend at the time and that was it. No one checked on me. No one messaged me. When I came back around, they said I’d dropped off the face of the planet and they’d noticed, but no one reached out.
Let me reiterate: It’s no one’s job to look after someone else. Sometimes it’s too hard. At the same time, if you call someone a friend, and you see them disappear or struggling, why wouldn’t you reach out? Why would you ignore it and pass it by?
Again, I am not criminalizing anyone. I’m not shit-talking anyone. I’m not angry at anyone. I’m not defaming anyone. I’m not accusing anyone specific of anything. (Did I cover all bases? I’m tired of people getting mad at me for just being honest, even when I feel like shit.)
Which brings me to another issue. When someone is suicidal or depressed and they express their feelings, it’s not the best time to be angry with them. Step outside of yourself and your ego to try to understand why they are hurting and where the hurt may be coming from.
Social media has made people extremely detached from reality. Mostly, it’s because we see so many bad things from day to day, and the people behind the numerous screen names and profile pictures become characters in a reality show. Our brains detach. It’s too much information.
It’s why we need to remember what people mean to us, how long we’ve known someone, and remember that there are real human beings behind the static profiles. Real people whose lives could be lost.
So please, if someone is suicidal or writing about their trauma, don’t lash out at them in judgement. You could be the final push that sends them over the edge. And please, if you have the spoons, please don’t ignore them. Sometimes all they need is for someone to reach out, say they care, and to be told that life is better with them in it.
It’s so simple and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. And please don’t stop there. Check on your loved ones the next day, even if they appear to be doing better. The day after that. The things that go through our heads when we’re suicidal amplify when we have so much silence.
Another disclaimer pause. I don’t talk honestly about this stuff often anymore because every time I do, I piss someone off and I lose more people in my life. So if you’re pissed off by this, let’s talk. Try to understand and don’t make snap judgements or assumptions.
Suicide is often a symptom of many severe mental illnesses. Often, severe mental illness debilitates people and as much as they want to function, they simply can’t on their bad days. This is why abandoning friends who haven’t reached out in a while is damaging.
Not everyone has the bravery, the energy, or even the safety to speak up about their mental health diagnoses or trauma. Don’t assume a friend is fine just because they haven’t spoken about any of these things. Don’t assume these issues don’t exist if the person looks fine.
I desperately want people to regain empathy. I desperately want this coldness that social media has become to change. ‘Not my problem’ causes so much harm. I’ve reached out to complete strangers before to make sure they’re okay after seeing something concerning, and you can too.
It really is just as simple as that. A comment on their art, writing, music, or other creative endeavor. A comment on their post crying out for help, directly or indirectly. A simple… something… rather than silence.
Maybe I feel too intensely. Maybe I care too much. But I’d rather care too much and try to make a difference than remain silent when I could have possibly helped someone. I’d rather speak than be silent because I’m scared someone else will misinterpret or cherry-pick my words without communicating.
So again, if you are upset by anything I’ve said, or you have an assumption about anything, ask me for clarification. Talk to me. It’s that simple.
I feel like I should add one more thing to be responsible: You are never obligated to keep speaking with somoene if they are treating you badly. If they’re calling you names, verbally abusing you, or otherwise treating you like shit in direct conversations, you have to look after yourself. Nothing justifies being verbally abusive and hurting someone else.
Likewise, if someone feels you haven’t been there enough and mentions that, or mentions a short-coming that is causing them grief, it’s not okay for you to be an asshole. There is a huge difference between someone bringing up concerns and worries about you and just straight up verbally abusing you. Be willing to talk. Be willing to see your shortcomings and work on yourself too.
Please take care.
A resource I always like to share is 7 Cups. The website offers the ability to find affordable therapy, as well as online peer support. There is always someone there to listen.
This entry contains mentions of suicidal thoughts, mental health crises situations, self-harm, and traumatic hospital experiences. If you are not in a good place mentally, please seek out help. A great place to start is 7 Cups, where you can find free peer support and low-cost therapy. If you are in crisis, please consider calling your local crisis line, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255. If it’s possible, reach out to a close friend or family member who will be understanding as an alternative. Your life is important, and the world is better with you in it. I promise.
“Have you recently thought about killing yourself?”
“Have you made plans to kill yourself?”
“Have you had an urge to act upon them?”
“What would your friends and family think if you went through with killing yourself?”
“Have you harmed yourself? How?”
“Name two reasons for living.”
The list of questions becomes longer the more at risk you are, and although I understand a certain level of bluntness is needed to determine the safety of the person in crisis, this could be handled so much better. In my case today, I had difficulty answering several of these questions, felt ashamed, embarrassed, and extremely irritated. It didn’t really help me at all.
I haven’t accomplished much in my life. I have quite a bit of experience with being told I’m too much, overwhelming, or just horrible. I have years of trauma resulting in BPD, PTSD, a panic disorder, OCD, and other issues. I’m autistic. I keep to myself and often worry if people truly like me or are just being polite. I’m always concerned that I’m a burden.
When the above questions were asked to me, among many others as they built off of my answers over the phone, I recoiled. I experienced very real physical sensations of my skin crawling, jolts of anxiety, and burning irritation. I have always found the questions intrusive, although that’s not necessarily the professional’s fault.
When asked what caused my crisis I’m currently in, my head spun. I became annoyed. It would take hours to explain. There has been a ridiculous amount of trauma in my life and when I’m feeling suicidal, that’s the last thing I want to go into detail about with my case manager. Again, that’s my issue, not theirs. They’re not doing anything wrong. I should be able to be open because I truly do want help, and I seek it out when I can as I need it.
I feel there could be better tact in the way required questionnaires are worded, though. Such blunt terminology, and open-ended questions I can’t possibly know the answer to (hello, autism), bring me more stress than comfort. I don’t know what my friends and family would feel if I died. Personally speaking, I often feel as if it’d be a weight off their shoulders. They may be relieved. They may be distraught. I can’t answer that question. Thinking about it just reinforces the negative feelings I had because it brings on guilt, and then I feel selfish for being in crisis. That’s not the intended effect, but this has been a part of the conversation around suicide for a while now.
Centering a suicidal person’s struggles on how others would handle it, or be hurt by it, isn’t helpful.
Likewise, using such blunt language can be a huge trigger. “Are you currently suicidal?” “Have you thought about taking your life?” While still blunt, there’s a huge difference in wording that sounds a lot easier on the ears, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been hit with a battering ram.
“What are two reasons to live for?” is another question I struggle with. I truly don’t have a lot in my life to name. I stick to myself, I don’t have anything going on, and the only reason that pulls me back from the edge every time is that my cats need me. They can’t take care of themselves, and I love them too much to let them go without.
All of the questions are delivered in a formal manner. I feel like I’m at a job interview rather than trying to keep myself safe. Again, I’m not harping on anyone trying to do their job. I just wish there was something more to this whole crisis prevention thing.
Instead of asking me to name things, or asking me to figure out how other people would struggle due to my problems, why not just… give me hope? The most important thing a suicidal person can hear in the moment isn’t anything they tell themselves. It’s what they hear from others.
Often, when suicidal, it’s important for someone else to say, ‘I would miss you’ or ‘be sad if you died.’ ‘You’re not a burden.’ ‘Think of (this thing) and (this thing) you may not have thought of that you’ve accomplished!’ Often, others see things we’ve done in ways we can’t, especially in crisis. Having to answer these things myself just makes me irritated and want to withdraw even more because I can’t think of anything, which furthers the reinforcement of the initial feelings that put me in crisis.
The questions are for clinical purposes, but in the end, the way mental health crises are handled in America still needs a lot of work. It’s a very blunt, and often traumatizing, experience for the already traumatized. Often, we will say we are safe at home when we really aren’t due to the poor quality of treatment in hospitals.
We also may fear emergency help at our door, which could take the form of a crisis prevention police officer or an ambulance, which adds loads of stress to what we’re already experiencing, and then we have to hope they have training and don’t hurt us, put us in handcuffs, or force us to do something we don’t want to, such as being involuntarily committed.
Thankfully, I’ve never had to face a crisis intervention on that level because I’m aware of the possibility. I don’t lie, but I certainly skirt the truth. I’ve been in the psych ward a few times, and while it kept me from dying from a suicide attempt or from even going through with one, it is a cold and sterile place with nurses that may get frustrated with patients. I watched a helpless old man, who had been homeless, have food thrown on the table by a nurse who got frustrated, yelled at him, and left after he kept dropping things.
If I needed my PRN (as-needed) medication for anxiety because I was shaking like a leaf and terrified, I was handed one through a window guard and sent to bed alone. I spent a few nights crying by myself in the dark with no one to check on me, only to be woken up at the crack of dawn and threatened with the reality that if I didn’t get up, eat, and go to group, I couldn’t go home.
When first admitted, I had to strip down into a backless gown so a team of nurses could come in and look at my naked body to make sure I didn’t have injuries anywhere else, and the entire time I felt ashamed and embarrassed because complete strangers were looking at my nakedness. No one bandaged the wounds on my arms. They left me to redress and head out into the community room while I had to ask for my sweater so I didn’t bleed on the table.
The first or second time I’d been admitted (brain fog makes it hard to remember things), it was late at night. I had medications in my bag in a pill box because I had to take my medication to work at night, and I was met with policemen — two of them — who walked into the community room while I tried to eat a snack. They stood over me and questioned me, and I said the medication was mine prescribed by my doctor. I simply took it to work because I worked at the same time I had to take it.
One remained with me with his hands clasped over the table, sitting across from me and staring me down. The other went to the nurse’s station to confirm what I said was true. The entire time I was terrified. I’d never done anything illegal in my life. I’d never been in trouble with the cops and was as straight-laced as they came. I had no record of any kind.
Finally, they left and I remained in the dimly lit community room. I felt less than human. In a matter of minutes, after the nurses scoped my naked body and left my injuries unattended, and police officers coldly interrogated me, I felt institutionalized in every sense of the word. There was no love. No care. It was all quick and cold, and merely to be sure there were no problems.
Don’t get me started on group therapy, in which religion was forced on me that I didn’t want, and the art therapist argued with me about the meaning of my drawing. And the sexism. Women weren’t allowed to shave, but men were. If one floor of the psych ward did something bad, we were all punished. We had our coffee machine taken away because someone on the floor below us threw theirs across the room.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going to the hospital if they are a danger to themselves or others. The hospital truly did keep me from going through with the inevitable. Despite how awful my experience was, that was one place. There are far better hospitals I’m sure, but since I’m low-income and on state insurance due to being disabled, my choices are limited.
If you are in crisis, please get help. Do what you can to protect yourself. That’s far more important than the current imperfections in the system. Surviving is key.
But many of these reasons are why people don’t seek out help. The whole process is cold and controlled, and very institutional. It’s a system. And I understand the need for a system, but in reality, what someone in crisis really needs is someone who cares — or at least acts like they care.
In the case of being transgender, the process can be doubly bad. Not only do we have to fear discrimination, but the act of being forced to strip and be looked over, which will out us and possibly open up awkward questioning, is traumatizing in itself.
If it must happen, it would be better handled by well-informing the patient of the intentions and the necessity, asking if there is anyone they preferred to do the inspection, and simply just letting us wear a pair of fucking underwear during it.
Things need to change. In times of crisis people have to respond quickly, but it should also be possible to be humane and compassionate while responding quickly.
If we want people to continue to seek out help, we have to make help a non-threatening thing.
Word questions in a way that are sensitive to the person who may be moments away from taking their life. Give us reasons to continue instead of asking us to figure that out ourselves, since we obviously feel we don’t have reasons or we wouldn’t be in that position. Don’t make our struggles about other people and what they feel or would have to say about it.
Treat us like humans who are in pain. A lot of people with trauma have a serious lack of love — or a sense that they are not loved. Going through the motions and being blunt, distant, and cold may enforce that we feel like a burden, are in some kind of system, and that no one cares.
To the doctors, hospitals, and crisis prevention people who are doing it right and are compassionate, thank you. Ultimately, a person in crisis is someone who needs love and handled with care, even if they may not want it. It’s far better than the alternative, which will lead to less people seeking help, and will end in more lost lives than there needed to be.
It’s important to remember that PTSD isn’t just an illness experienced by veterans. PTSD can result from years of traumatic abuse, sexual abuse, and other things that can scar a person for life, such as a car accident or the loss of a loved one. I have PTSD from years of several kinds of abuse.
For the longest time, however, I didn’t take my diagnosis seriously because ‘I’ve never been to war or in the service.’ That line of thought caused the utter horror that PTSD is to fester until it finally went full-blown in 2020 due to isolation. So we need to clear up misconceptions.
Not talking about the many ways PTSD can manifest and come about causes victims of it, who only see one experience, to suffer longer and harder than they need to. If you have experienced real trauma, I urge you to get help by at least talking to a counselor.
PTSD is often waved off by people who think it is just an illness from being in the service or being involved in war, which is dangerous considering what it can do to your brain.
Symptoms I experience:
Poor short and long-term memory
Suicidal thoughts and attempts
Visual disturbances like hallucinations
Night terrors and disturbing lucid nightmares
Flashbacks of traumatic events
OCD and cyclic thoughts of self-hate and self-blame
I have never been to war or gone into the service. I experienced trauma from an early childhood age, and continued to experience repeated and prolonged abuse — sexual, physical, and mental — for many years. I received a PTSD diagnosis as a teenager for the first time.
PTSD with any cause, no matter where it came from, is a horrific diagnosis in varying degrees, and we need to raise awareness for the wider scope of it to save people’s lives. Misconceptions cause people to suffer in silence and denial like I did.
I wrote a blog entry about what my experience was like with PTSD while being isolated for the majority of 2020 here: Living alone in 2020.
I hope we can continue to have conversations about PTSD and it’s roots, which is, ultimately, trauma from any source. If you’ve experienced intense trauma, or trauma of any kind that is disrupting your life, please seek out help. A trusted counselor can help you figure out if you have PTSD, what the source was, and to help you cope and possibly recover from it. You may need a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication if it’s extremely disruptive, and from a personal account, medication can make your symptoms much more bearable so counseling can work.
A good starting place is 7 Cups, where you can search for a therapist or someone experienced who can listen and guide you in the right direction.
**This was originally a thread on Twitter. I decided to post it here to make it more accessible and easier to read. Grammar corrections and basic changes for readability were made.There are helpful resources at the end of the article.
When I saw this comment today about people with BPD, or borderline personality disorder, among many others I’ve seen over the last several years since my diagnosis, it truly got under my skin.
People with BPD are not monsters who deserve to be ditched and locked up in an institution. Those are cruel comments to make and very telling that someone knows nothing of the diagnosis. So, I’d like to educate since I have BPD and have gone into remission with it.
BPD is, commonly, a trauma diagnosis. People with it have often been abused — sometimes severely — from an early age. It shifts how you view others and the world, and it involves cyclic behavior and emotions due to trauma responses. Many people with BPD self-harm and act on impulse.
Many also regret their actions deeply and hate the idea of hurting anyone, but due to abandonment and trust issues, may lash out in ways they normally would not. To be transparent, I developed cyclic behaviors of starting a goal, failing due to my diagnoses, self-sabotaging — which included self-harm in the way of cutting — and I pushed people away because my emotions were so intense from self-hatred, I wanted others equally near and away from me. I experienced painful turmoil at the smallest failures. I felt like I deserved nothing, not even life, when I hurt someone or failed a goal, such as not being able to keep a job.
Let me follow up with something important. Those I affected negatively and hurt had a right to leave. No one’s diagnosis gives them a right to hurt another person. Please keep in mind, however, that not all people with BPD lash out at others. Which brings me to the other type of BPD.
‘Quiet BPD’ is more internal. The person is more likely to hurt themselves rather than others, and often have comorbid diagnoses like PTSD, depression, anxiety, or others that exacerbate self-harm behaviors as well as the cycle of self-sabotage and inner turmoil.
Before I knew how the world treated people with BPD, when I got the diagnosis, I was happy to finally have an answer as to why I couldn’t function. I was still living in an abusive environment at the time, however, which didn’t help. I attempted suicide three times, before and after a diagnosis.
I admitted myself each time voluntarily to the hospital. I couldn’t handle the constant trauma that wouldn’t stop that started in my childhood. And it continued as I lived with abusive people who at first did not accept my diagnosis.
I soon got a good psychiatrist, a counselor, a case manager, the right medication, and attended a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group that lasted for a year. I was horrified when I realized what I’d done, how I’d treated people, and how serious the trauma was that affected my life. I’d always made excuses for my abusers and reasoned out why I deserved the abuse, so not only did I have c-PTSD and other mental illnesses, but I had a diagnosis that would be a stain on my record forever according to a lot of people on the internet. The trauma I experienced, and the BPD label I unfortunately gained, are not anything I asked for or wanted.
It doesn’t matter about the amount of work a lot of us do. It doesn’t matter that I’ve learned and become a better person, and I no longer do the things I used to. It seriously sucks to do all that work for so many years, and go through all that turmoil, only to be talked about like we should be abandoned and institutionalized by default. That’s inhumane. It’s cruel to generalize and further verbally abuse an already traumatized group of people who are doing all they can. Especially those who have worked hard to recover.
I realize not everyone with BPD will recover, and I realize BPD makes some people do horrible things. But that’s the only part of the picture people want to see. That’s like saying, ‘my abuser was named Jesse, so all Jesses are abusers.’ That’s absolutely asinine. No one does that.
It’s extremely triggering to work so hard to become better only to still be placed in a box of defeat — only to be despised because you have a certain diagnosis. To be told you won’t and can’t recover when that’s demonstrably false. It’s reinforcing the traumatic cycles people with BPD have. Stop doing this.
People who stigmatize us and say cruel inaccuracies about BPD, as a whole, are no better than the kind of people they claim we are.
Finally, here are a few links to some good resources to round this out.
“The support of family and friends is critical in the treatment of BPD, as many people with this condition may isolate themselves from relationships—even when they need them most.” — Borderline Personality Disorder, NAMI.
Resources for those supporting, and caring for, loved ones with mental illnesses are very important as well. You must take care of yourself first so you can care for others. — Family Members and Caregivers, NAMI.
“Research has shown that outcomes can be quite good for people with BPD, particularly if they are engaged in treatment. With specialized therapy, most people with borderline personality disorder find their symptoms are reduced and their lives are improved.” — Overview of BPD, NEABPD.
Since impulsive behaviors and addictions are common in people with BPD and other mental health diagnoses, and have been for me, something that really helps is tracking behaviors to stop them. I Am Sober has been a life-saving app (iOS and Android!). It also tracks self-harm habits, which can become a dangerous addiction. That is what I use it for. — I Am Sober.
I hope more and more people with BPD can feel brave enough to speak up about the truth of our diagnosis. We are tired of being abandoned by doctors and caregivers, verbally abused by the internet, and being treated as less-than-human simply because we are sorely misunderstood.
When I started watching Bo Burnham’s special, Inside, it was late evening but still sunny outside. When it ended, my apartment was dark and I sat for an amount of time I can’t remember in awe. I finally got off the couch to write this post.
I’ve rarely seen anything that made me feel so many things that intensely. It was nothing short of genius, but what really hit me the hardest was at the end of the film. I empathized with Bo’s story about agoraphobia and panic attacks.
From late 2016 into 2018, I remained inside due to severe anxiety and agoraphobia. I lied in bed most days, not eating, too afraid of my own body’s mysterious illness. It later turned out to be a severe case of GERD, and my anxiety only made it worse. I became anorexic during that time.
When 2019 came around, my life started to improve. I was finally on medication and had a doctor who, at last, believed me about my stomach. I gained weight back and was no longer weak and dizzy. My fear of the outside receded slowly but surely, and in middle to late 2019, I started going to the coffee shop almost every day to write. I couldn’t afford a laptop, but I had a tablet with a keyboard. My agoraphobia was gone.
I had been on testosterone for my transition for a year at least — finally on the right kind that my body wasn’t allergic to and could handle well. Everything looked so beautiful. The holidays were equally as great, and I spent them with my family. I remember being happy more often than not, and my manic states and mixed episodes were non-existent for the first time in my life. I hadn’t felt suicidal or severely depressed in some time, and I was so busy with friends I didn’t have time to think about the mental health issues I’d struggled with my entire life.
I thought I had recovered. I finally was able to live a life full of friends, happiness, and I was on my way to accomplishing my goal of becoming a better writer worthy of being published.
2020. It came quickly. I watched as my personal sunshine dimmed more and more as the months dragged on. PTSD hit me full blown, and I was, once again, not only dealing with severe agoraphobia that made me shake and nearly pass out every time I left the apartment — it still does to this day — but past ghosts and actual PTSD hallucinations and dissociation from isolation, which I’ve written about in detail extensively here and on my side blog, Waking Dreams.
I got a year of recovery in 2019. 2020 was going to be the year I accomplished everything I didn’t think I could before. Now, half way into 2021, even though things are looking a little bit better and I’m vaccinated, 2020 not only set me back to stage one, it left me worse off than I was before with many more shadows I can no longer stuff down and hope they go away.
I am starting to see a bit of light again, but the end of Bo Burnham: Inside, as well as the scenes about depression, resonated with me and gave me a sinking feeling not only in my stomach, but in my chest. I know. I know what that feels like. I know the absolute trauma 2020 caused when you were so close. When you were right there and everything was so damn beautiful for a minute.
I am definitely going to watch Inside again. It’s a truly honest look into what 2020 was for so many of us who remained inside. The music, all of it, is fantastic and there isn’t a single song I disliked, but the message was the most important thing in all of it. It was so painfully true. Sometimes humorously true. Sometimes ironically true.
I hope Bo can find his strength to perform, and if not, I hope he continues to make music when and where he can. I hope he realizes just what a masterpiece he created and how it’s touched so many people.
This contains triggering subject matter, including mentions of dissociation, PTSD symptoms, hallucinations, gaslighting, self-harm, and suicidal ideations.There is also art with visual depictions of these things, including non-realistic blood, and it may be disturbing for some to see.None of this is posted to be shocking, but as an honest reality that is not explored in popular media for the sake of mental health awareness.It is not my intent to defame or bring grief upon anyone, so names and locations have been left out for the sake of the privacy of everyone mentioned. Some things are intentionally left vague.
By the time 2020 came around, my mental health had been the best it had ever been. I was going out every day, drinking vanilla lattes at the café while writing on my laptop, attending a group with a close friend, and enjoying the company of my friends quite often. I was losing weight and felt healthy, and I was finally fixing the problematic teeth from when I’d broken my jaw at the age of thirteen.
My life was taking a turn after the hellish years between 2016 and early 2018, in which I’d been diagnosed again with GERD, lived through anorexia and didn’t eat for days at a time, had severe stomach and intestinal pain daily, and soldiered through acid reflux that didn’t let up for months, turning my throat raw as I wasted away in bed while no doctor could find anything wrong.
The beginning of 2020 was a continuation of the light of 2019. When I first heard about the new virus, COVID-19, in early January, it was thought to still be in Wuhan, China and wasn’t a threat here in the states yet. I had a bad cold in February I was nursing, and while I was concerned it might be COVID-19, I wasn’t worried because, well, I lived in America. Surely we’d get it under control and things would be fine. Thankfully, it truly wasn’t COVID.
Fast forward to March. People panic bought toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soaps, and cleaning supplies. Everyone glared at you if you coughed in public. No one was wearing masks yet, but we were still ignorant to the times to come. Despite being afraid, it felt like the equivalent of panic buying before a bad snow storm. It’d pass quickly in the night or a few days, and we’d be fine again.
Downtown grew empty. The last weekend before the stay at home orders were issued, a Pride event was quiet and scarce of people. More and more people were getting sick, and science was only beginning to grasp what exactly we were dealing with. The true numbers of the virus’ victims were stifled, and politicians gave mixed information, including the start of the second threat during the pandemic: misinformation and conspiracy theories.
We were quite confident. But yet, the virus reached us and spread throughout the world like wildfire, prompting many governors to issue stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and some countries issued harsh lockdowns. People started working from home as more and more people died, and children were pulled from schools. We no longer saw a stranger’s expression beneath the mask as we passed them in the store, and those of us who took the news seriously began to feel dread. The hopeful days began to die by the end of May. It was no longer ‘just a few more months.’ It became an unknown. We settled in for a year at least.
Protests and violence broke out between warring sides. Police murdering innocent Black people became more wide spread, and hate crimes against Asian Americans grew in number. America was crumbling, and every dark fault was put on display. We were a broken system with a narcissistic leader who had dreams of being a dictator, and our national security was compromised. Transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community were erased from the White House website and further from discrimination protection. COVID-19 wasn’t our only enemy, and the world was literally on fire as forest fires raged.
America fell. The world was scrambling to survive and cope with demand for medical equipment. Frontline workers — nurses, doctors, and EMTs — were experiencing so many deaths in a day — in a weeks’ time — that they surely would be traumatized for years to come. Their job had become like a warzone. And more than a few lost their lives to suicide because it was too much to bear, and their leaders failed them.
All of this, as overwhelming as it is to relive in brief text again, weighed on those who took the pandemic seriously. Those who masked up every time they left their front door and had bleeding, raw hands from washing and sanitizing. Those of us who watched the partiers and deniers were slowly losing our sanity, and many of us broke down in tears because we just wanted to be safe. We wanted our friends and families to be safe. We were dealing not only with a fear of a deadly disease that was unforgiving — that didn’t care whether we believed in it or not — but also the weight of civil unrest and abuse from the White House on a daily basis.
I rarely left my home in 2020. I last saw a friend in March of that year, and was dedicated to staying safe to do the right thing. I live alone with my two cats, and I’m plural and have alters and spirit guides, so I felt I could make it through. I knew if we just stayed inside we’d make it. I had Twitter. I had Facebook Messenger and a phone. It would be okay.
As the months dragged on, I began to see sides of friends and family that broke my heart. Some became downright mean as they denied the pandemic at first, and others couldn’t understand why I refused to let them visit. I’d started to learn about online grocery delivery, and I’d set up a good system as I was finally given extra food stamps to compensate for the expensive cost of delivery fees. I had set up my own little hermit bubble of safety, only leaving to get top surgery in July of 2020. My mom was with me then, and it was the last time I’d see her for some time. Until recently.
My mental health started to decline. I knew it would be rough having depression and anxiety, but there was a quiet beast I’d never confronted in waiting at the dark corner of my mind. Many closed doors started to creak open again, and as I became more and more trapped in my own mind due to isolation, I delved down darker internet holes until I stumbled across a strong trigger. A dark genre of music I’d never heard before that normally wouldn’t bother me, but as the doors were creaking open in my mind, the buried trauma quivered at the dulcet and droning tones of the deathdream genre, and before I knew it, I was dissociating, experiencing intense fear, a floating sensation, and gaps in my memory.
At some point, I’d moved from my chair to the kitchen and stared into space, but I had no recollection of it. My vision dimmed at the edges, and the shadows that were always hidden finally came out to play.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. Dissociation was as far as my knowledge of my own symptoms went, but the shadows that had been creeping closer became clearer as I ventured into trauma art tags on Tumblr, and I related to many of the liminal space images found there. They were images encompassing past nostalgia, traumatic thoughts, and dreamlike images. They emitted the energy of isolation and loneliness I felt, and in my desperation to relate to something since I couldn’t see anyone, I became obsessed with what was familiar to me.
Depression. Suicidal thoughts. Trauma. They had been there and always would be, and I’d often found an odd comfort in my depressive states. It was like a warm, weighted blanket wrapped around me to welcome me home again while the rain poured outside. A comforting melancholy that made me want to lie in bed and daydream about strange worlds that I came across in dreams. And the dreams always became nightmares, but in isolation, they triggered panic attacks and became more real due to the outside world growing less and less real to me.
I began to see hallucinations. They were always shadows, and some of them had large eyes that watched me. I often felt as if a figure were standing behind me, watching my every move as they stared into the back of my head. I felt as if something was closing in on me. And the more I fell into my past trauma and my hyper-creative mind took over, the more I realized these shadows were not only physical manifestations of trauma, some of them were from another plane of existence — the realm of the dead — watching me closely because I was often suicidal.
As I analyzed these shadows and started to dissect, as I often do, why they existed and what or who they were, I delved far back into my history. I started a side blog where I explored darker theories and ideas about why I was so at home within the dark, and I realized that even at birth, I had just barely escaped Death’s grasp. It was deeply embedded in my psyche.
It was a prime time for these entities to seek me out again. Because there were days when I was most definitely ready to say goodbye. My own mind became a prison, and I was haunted by these visions and flashbacks, and nightmares, on a daily basis. I was paranoid, afraid, and trapped in a darkness I couldn’t escape. No friend could come and save me from them or bring me back around because no one was allowed in my safe bubble. I did not want to chance the suffering COVID-19 would bring.
My spirit guides did all they could. I started to come out of it. My heart was growing lighter and I was finding an interest in things I once loved again, and I felt as if I was finally turning the corner. The shadows started to fade with time as I looked for better distractions, and I finished writing a book that explored many of these things to cope with past trauma.
I hadn’t expected the events that followed. I’d carelessly mentioned not feeling important to a group of friends and was hurting since my birthday had been a lonely one, and I’d seen them celebrating theirs online. I quickly realized it was wrong of me, but the damage was done. I was infantilized, gaslit, retraumatized, and left a mumbling, catatonic mess after verbal abuse. They trapped me into a corner and made me believe I had turned into my abuser, and I stopped eating for two days.
The shadows came back, my mind kept blue-screening and erasing itself, and I fell into states of catatonia where I stared at the wall for minutes — sometimes an hour — at a time. I worried they were right. I worried I’d become the man who hit me, raped me, and abused me for years. When they called me an abuser, I believed them. I already had low self-esteem and hated the idea of hurting anyone, but it seemed I’d hurt them. They weren’t clear on everything I’d done, so I was also left reeling for answers.
I went back over my blog entries. I realized many vague things they could have assumed were for them as I explored my trauma on the blog I’d started a few months prior. It was my mistake. In trying to protect people’s privacy and identities while exploring and processing my trauma and feelings, it seemed they’d placed themselves in my entries where they were never meant to be. And my chance to show them that they were wrong was gone. They’d shut me out. Refused to let me explain. They’d already thought I was a monster.
Everyone struggled in 2020. It was a difficult time for many people, and a lot of us were trapped in our own heads with too many negative emotions from the constant overload of the world falling into chaos. And this, unfortunately, turned a lot of people into someone they weren’t before, me included.
I went through shock for days. I saw my abuser every time I looked in the mirror despite what all of my other friends and counselor told me. They said what happened to me and what was said was wrong. They told me I’d been gaslit and bullied. I didn’t believe them. I believed those who tore me down. I planned my suicide and had written a detailed letter with my passwords to my computer and online accounts. I planned where my cats should go, and explained I’d leave food down and some sinks full of water until I was found. I planned where I’d be, in my bed. I remembered sitting on the toilet and staring at my phone, blank. I wasn’t a person anymore.
PTSD symptoms had resurfaced in a frightening way, and I saw vivid images of my abuser as he walked around the corner of the hallway and smiled at me. I heard his voice clearly as if he’d been standing before me as a real person. I had repeated dreams of him and the friends who called me horrible things. I was convinced I was a monster and I needed to destroy myself to save everyone from me. If I couldn’t figure out what I’d done over time that was so bad, I must have not been conscious of it.
I broke my clean streak from self-harm. My spirit guide Byleth stopped me by taking control of my hand and making me drop the knife into the bathroom sink. Zagan Lestan came up behind me, hugging me while in tears. As Byleth forced my arm under the cold water, the red wouldn’t stop.
We wrapped my arm and I sat on the couch. I hid every single picture of my face from Instagram, changed my image on all social media, and refused to look at my face in any way. I was talked about on Facebook as a friend called me an abuser on their profile, and a mutual friend called me to console me and tell me he didn’t understand when he saw it. That in all the years he and others have known me, he’d never thought that of me. Everyone close to me tried to tell me I was a good person, but none of it was working.
I’d been trapped in my own head for too long. The isolation had gotten to me, and I’d spent too many days spiraling down an unstable void of madness. I’d lost my sanity, and the gaslighting sent me so far over the edge that I no longer trusted myself, my memories, or my sense of self. I was no longer a human being.
I was afraid to say or write anything. I had been accused of using everything for contents’ sake and attention, so I felt as if I had no right to say anything at all. If I vented or expressed suicidal thoughts, I deleted them again quickly due to paranoia. I felt I was pathetic and an attention-seeker. My mission to be an advocate for mental health awareness didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t trust my own mind or what it produced.
Those who gaslit me made it into my nightmares. They took the form of PTSD dreams alongside my abuser, and I started marking my symptoms on my calendar because I could no longer trust my memory or keep track of days. At this point, the outside world no longer existed. I had slipped into another reality, one that mirrored our own but lurked within shadows that wouldn’t let me sleep. Closing my eyes brought them to my bedside, and I lied awake for hours scoping my room to be sure nothing was really there.
I still, to this day, cannot get a proper nights’ sleep. Closing my eyes sends my pulse racing, and my mind conjures many things that I know, logically, aren’t there. I am afraid to dream. I’m afraid of the shadows. I’m frightened when night falls because the shadows are harder to avoid.
I finally got both of my Pfizer vaccine injections as of April 21st, 2021. I also found out that I am autistic, and that alone began to help me find a sense of self again, and to realize why I struggled with proper communication and expression. I finally started to listen to my friends and family and their positive opinions of me, and although the shadows are still here, even today, and my mind hasn’t recovered and I find myself in that dark space regularly, I am starting to see some kind of respite.
Today, for the first time in a year, a friend visited me. And although I dissociated and had to check out at least once or twice due to vivid visions and PTSD symptoms, I knew that this was the start of getting a grip on my mental health again. Yesterday, I got a hair cut as well, and it was all so surreal. It’s been very strange. We aren’t out of the woods yet, though.
I haven’t seen much in the news or anywhere at all about the effect of the pandemic and isolation on those with mental illness. Especially those with PTSD. Being trapped in your own head, which becomes a dark prison, can exacerbate anything that comes along. If I hadn’t been isolated for a year and having a resurgence of symptoms — symptoms I’d never had so intensely before — I wouldn’t have reacted so badly to what happened going into 2021. I truly don’t feel I would have.
I worry 2020 rewired my brain. When I spoke in person with one of my closest and oldest friends, I didn’t feel like the same person anymore. I felt completely different from the last time we met, and I was thankful he’d already known of my darkness and remained. Agoraphobia and anxiety have taken the wheel again, and my vision is always blurry. I’ve developed a chronic fatigue syndrome flare up for the first time in years that is robbing me of my ability to function. My poor memory has me losing things and taking actions I don’t remember later.
Many others dealt with worse fates due to COVID-19. And many continue to deal with the crushing reality of it because it isn’t over yet. I acknowledge that and at times, I feel guilty talking about my own struggles with isolation.
There are many who suffered in silence, some with fewer resources than me. We lived in shadows and trauma and fear. We were locked in a prison of our own minds, and as time passed with nothing but these four walls and a history full of trauma, it became our new reality. The outside distractions were gone. It was time to reckon with the dark that we pushed aside to survive for so many years.
In isolation for a whole year, living alone, your mind is all you have. And when that mind is a ticking time bomb of things you’ve pushed aside to be able to experience and enjoy life, when you remove the distractions — the reasons you had to shower and clean and be presentable for people you couldn’t see anymore — the shadows resurface. You overthink. You fall into nights of deep introspection. You click off of social media because it’s too much. 45 was too much of a trigger for trauma victims as he gaslit and verbally abused an entire nation for four years.
And you lie there at night with only your mind to entertain you. You haven’t seen another face in person for months. You forget what time it is, what day it is. And you realize just how much even an introvert requires of human interaction to stay sane.
I often lose sight of my future. I always have. The thoughts take many forms that cause me to pause for too long at times, and at others, the thoughts have nearly made me stop existing all together. Although those thoughts are far and few in between now, I still have those hopeless moments that cause me to stop everything. Except for writing.
I’ve written so many pages of dark emotion that are painful to read back. I’ve written so much fiction that at times it seems so real, and there are some things in my life that may seem like fiction to others on the page, but it’s very real. And through all of this, no matter how hopeless I feel, no matter how much I feel like no one will ever care but me, I can’t stop my fingers reaching for the keyboard. Just like they’re doing now.
When I started writing stories for fun as a kid at seven — shortly after learning to read and fall in love with books — I didn’t think too much about why I wrote. I just knew that it made me feel happy and it took me away from the real world for a while. So many amazing things could happen on paper that couldn’t in real life. I could spend time with my friend who’d moved away again. I could continue the stories of my favorite cartoon characters when the episodes were over for the afternoon. I’d forget there was even a reality around me at all.
I wrote during the lunch block in elementary school as the other kids stared at me and laughed, and to give myself something to do so I didn’t have to know that I was being bullied. I was the quiet kid everyone avoided because I was strange. I wrote all the time and had too much anxiety, and I was perfectly content being left in the corner of a room with my notebook and pen. None of the other kids understood it. They were busy sharing HitClips of Britney Spears and N*Sync and playing with Sky Dancers. Sharing Beanie Baby collections and making plans to hang out for the weekend. I liked that stuff too, but never really had anyone to share those things with.
As I got older, I learned that the reason I didn’t have any friends and I was bullied so much was because I was quiet, and that made me creepy. I’d given up at some point, I think. I didn’t try to make friends anymore because the ones I had were mean, and the kids who bullied me just caused me physical pain.
I had a Windows 95 Packard Bell in my bedroom at this time, and although I didn’t have access to AOL on it like the family computer did, I had a small collection of floppy disks and Word Pad. I can’t remember most of what I wrote about back then, but I stored more than a few stories on those floppy disks. And when I wasn’t writing the stories down, I was living them through my toys as I acted out so many different plot lines.
As an adult now, I’ve recently finished an urban fantasy book exploring that part of my life. It brought back the fears I grew to have over the years, as I was often overlooked for writing prizes in school or was the last minute replacement for someone who couldn’t make an event, like Young Author’s club. The spelling bee. My father told me often that I needed to grow up and stop writing stories and drawing. No one else was going to care and I was going to end up penniless on a street corner with no support, eating peanut butter sandwiches to survive.
I’ve always had the fear that I’ll end up on my death bed having written a plethora of books, but never accomplished my goals. I want to be published. I want to have others read my stories and appreciate them, as all authors do. More importantly, I want to tell my own story. I want to change minds and make people think — to understand that even the weirdest kids — and adults — can be someone amazing if they’d only gotten to know them. That sometimes the quietest people have the most to say. That sometimes, our preconceived notions about things we fear, like religions and beliefs different than our own, are simply another person’s unique life experience and nothing to fear at all.
I want parents to see that kids and teenagers get hurt in ways they don’t always talk about — that not many will explore with unabashed honesty in writing. I want to help the world be a better and more understanding place with my books. And sometimes I write about things that I know will make people uncomfortable, but that’s the point. That discomfort is the start of change. And I’m not shy in the way I deliver things bluntly, because sugar-coating things isn’t going to accomplish anything worthy.
And there lies my fear. The fear that I’ll die and never accomplish anything like that. That I’ll never have touched anyone or helped anyone, or made a dent in changing the world for the better. And I’m not so full of myself — in fact my self-esteem doesn’t even exist — to think my books will be popular or change the world. On the contrary, I often worry my books really aren’t as good as I feel they are. That I’m the only one who’s ever going to get so damn excited and passionate over the content in them.
And even if that were the case, I’d keep writing anyway. I have to. It’s an addiction I can’t stop, even when I want to stop. During the three times I attempted suicide, I wrote something before or after the attempt. I wrote during the days that were my worst, and I’ve written while being heavily symptomatic with PTSD. I recently finished my current work in progress while having psychotic depression symptoms. And that’s because I just simply can’t stop no matter who cares or doesn’t care.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to breathe. I’ll get to hold at least one of my books in my hands and know that I accomplished my dream. Even though I’m disabled with severe mental illness and am often in that same quiet corner as I was when I was a kid, maybe I’ll be able to do something that can help someone or change something for the better.
I spent my entire life wondering why people did the things to me that they chose to. I was bullied. I had my identity questioned. I was a freak. I was physically, mentally, and sexually abused. I became a ball of depression, anxiety, and hate for so many years.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD after years of trauma. I am also plural, which means I have more than one person who exists through my body sometimes. My alters and spirit guides are my supportive, loving family, not my enemies. At some point throughout my life, sometimes more often than not, I was doubted and not believed. It took years to be believed by mental health professionals, and just as much time to get others to see that I wasn’t faking it. That I wasn’t too young and attractive to be disabled.
When I came out as a trans man in 2015, I knew that my life wasn’t going to get any easier, but a huge change was going to take place. I was finally discovering who I was and I learned to accept that. I spent a long time learning new ways of existing and living on my own and being self-sufficient. I also had to cope with rejection in many different and painful ways.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve hurt people I didn’t mean to hurt. I’ve been too loud and too honest with the wrong people, and I fell in love with my melancholy. My depression was like a toxic lover I tried to shake off but found comfort in. It was familiar. It was in my own head. The conversations and time spent with my alters and spirit guides through it wrapped me in a blanket of comfort, and it created a bubble around me that no one was allowed to enter.
I’ve nearly died a few times, and they were self-inflicted injuries. I’ve been in psychiatric wards — one time for a week at least — and I thought my life would remain static and unchanging. Always fighting for something. Fighting just to be able to live and experience life like everyone else. Fighting to be believed.
I wish I could’ve appreciated the change sooner. It felt so slow and impossible. In reality, the change for the better occurred over a five-year span — five years out of the thirty-one I’ve lived. In that perspective, it really didn’t take so long after all.
I’d taken dialectical behavioral therapy classes and learned mindfulness. I stopped drinking every day and I eventually stopped smoking to start my medical transition with testosterone. I’d found a counselor who finally understood me and believed me when I opened up about being plural, as well as other things that I often struggled to find someone to empathize with. I got my own place and started paying my own bills and I got the assistance I needed to get things done for myself. I became self-sufficient over these five years.
And now, after butting heads with an insurance company for three of those years and dealing with discrimination, I walked into the hospital on Monday, July 20th, 2020 at 8AM to get top surgery.
It’s been about a week and a half since surgery and everything went well. My mom has finally come around and accepts me, and she was sitting right beside me before and after coming out of surgery in the hospital. She’s cared for me at home until I can do things myself, and that’s been very important for my mental health. My dad has also come around, as she’s told me, which is unbelievable for someone so old-fashioned and resistant to change.
Two days ago mom said something that I thought I’d never hear. I’d confided in her that I always felt like the family failure. I was the only one who couldn’t work a normal nine to five job. I’m a disabled writer with severe mental illness, and I certainly don’t have it all together. I always felt like the strange one — the black sheep that didn’t belong.
“Oh, you think everyone else has it together?” she said. She then told me something I never knew about a family member I thought had it right. Who was accomplished in my eyes. And I realized then that I was living a false reality in my head.
I pay my own bills on time every time. I take care of my health and am compliant with therapy. I am working on a writing career I hope will take off with a bit of luck so I don’t have to rely on disability, and the hours and money I put into my books take up quite a bit of time and resources that I manage mostly alright. I rarely have to call anyone to ask for help, if ever. Most importantly, everything I have right now — my home especially — I fought for and got myself.
I looked at her for a moment before it hit me. I haven’t failed at all. And that was the weirdest feeling in the world. It was as strange as waking up after surgery to realize I didn’t hate myself anymore. I’ve spent my entire life hating who I am, hating my body, and feeling like I was destined to always fail. That I would never be good enough. It was all so horribly wrong, and it made me realize how much of my life was dedicated to gaining my parents’ approval and acceptance I thought I would never get. That, and I’ve lived my life based on the hateful statements and identities others placed on me.
It’s a bit scary to gain closure. Everything in my life that was horribly wrong I now understand, have worked through, and I’ve finally closed that last door that kept leading me backward. Now, I have a clean slate to work from. I’ve never had this much freedom and clarity in my life, so I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m used to being on guard and wondering when something will go wrong, or watching my back at all times because I didn’t know who was going to hurt me or abandon me next. Now, I don’t really care about all of that stuff. I realized it really doesn’t matter.
With this blank slate, I’ll lay out who I am now. I’m an artist, a writer, and a gay trans man. I struggle with mental illness sometimes, but I have my head family — my alters and spirit guides — to get me on the right track again. I have an amazing and supportive healthcare team and a family that accepts me. I have a few close friends, but that’s all I need. I’m single and mostly fine with that, as being single is what allowed me to find myself in the first place. I am self-sufficient and most importantly, I’m safe and in control of my own life.
I have to stop looking back. None of that defines who I am now. What matters is living in the present and making plans for a future I once thought I wouldn’t see. And I have so many things I want to do if we survive this pandemic.
A few years ago, I spent an entire year in isolation due to fear.
Back then, there was nothing to fear but what anxiety was doing to my body. My stomach was in knots and twisting and squeezing to send me into bouts of pain, and acid reflux scarred my esophagus on a daily basis, sometimes all day every day. Coping with anorexia added to this struggle, and I spent a lot of time speaking with my alters and spirit guides — we wrote down almost all of our conversations at the time. They were my only company some days.
Now that I’ve overcome all of it, I’m in isolation again, but not by choice. This time there is a real fear I don’t have any control over, and my anxiety is just on the precipice of falling back into old patterns. My alters and spirit guides are with me and support me as they always have, but Depression is blocking them out due to a lack of mental energy. This is not good for me or them.
I’m introspecting on all of it; the irony that I’ve been through this song and dance when there wasn’t a real threat, and here I’m reliving those awful years again as they come back to haunt me. My stomach problems are coming back and my energy levels are low, and my agoraphobia is back. I’d overcome all of this just to be challenged by it again due to the pandemic keeping everyone inside.
When all of this is over, I will once again have to relearn how to be a person as I did those few years ago. I’ll have to teach myself, again, that it’s okay to leave my apartment. Most importantly, I’ll have to remind myself that I still carry some of the progress I’ve made. While this quarantine has set me back quite a few steps and undone what I’ve accomplished with my agoraphobia and anxiety, I have knowledge I didn’t have before.
I worry for those who have mental health challenges right now. I hurt knowing that people with problems like mine will be affected by this quarantine long after it’s over. Nightmares. Anxiety attacks. Fear of the outside. Fear of people. Trying to regain a sense of positivity again. It’s going to stick and we’ll have to go through exposure therapy all over again.
But we can do this. It will be safe again and we’ll conquer these beasts that we’ve had to face down before. I may not feel that sentiment while typing it, but I have to think it, say it, and look forward to a day when it will be true again. One day I will be able to grab my backpack and leave my apartment to go to the coffee shop downtown I love so much, and I’ll continue where I left off.
This is a pause. Life will resume again. It has to.