Unforeseen Developments

I sat in shock, the words registering fully and yet still beyond belief.

“I think it’s time for you to move out.”

No questions asked, no attempts to mediate the situation. Simply pain and anger transmitted over hundreds of miles through the phone. My father had just kicked me out.

I cannot write about this without difficulty. The truth is that I am still grieving what happened that day and during the rest of the summer in a deep painful way. I am sharing my heartache with all of you. Please don’t take this lightly.

Only days before my father made this choice, I had no clue that anything of that kind was going to happen. I was enjoying the long-anticipated visit of my best friend, who made her second annual trip to our home in June. I had a wonderful time with her, visiting a local zoo and spending hours just talking.

One night, she was working on her computer as I finished my homework from my summer class. Upon inquiry, she informed me that she was signing up for a Christian online dating site. I was intrigued. That sounded interesting!

A few hours later, I had my trial account set up and was happily considering whether or not to purchase the membership. Of course, I wasn’t sure what my parents would think, but I went ahead with my plans.

A few days later, following my friend’s departure, I began to have a serious guilt-trip about not telling my parents about the dating site. I reasoned, according to the culture in which I grew up, that I was not being honest and that I owed them the information.

I told my mom on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Encouraged by her rather silent but at least not openly negative reaction, I decided to break the news to my father shortly thereafter.

The rest is history.

It wasn’t just that I signed up for the dating site. I told him that I wanted to do casual dating. In other words, I would date without first practically committing to marry my date, and I wouldn’t be asking my father’s permission. He couldn’t handle those ideas.

So he kicked me out. He didn’t even bother to make sure I had a place to go. In his bitterness over this newfound loss of control, he suggested that the friends whom I had consulted in making my decision might be willing to take me in.

I immediately called my sister. The rest of that day was Hell. I lived through my parents’ trying to frame the decision as my own. After all, they merely extended me an ultimatum (I could either agree to allow my father to be involved in my dating process or I could leave). I was the one who made the choice…in their minds.

So I left. My sister came and picked me and a good deal of my belongings up that night, and she whisked me away to her place to cry and worry and feel the sickening hurt and loss of losing the people I love most in all of existence. We picked up the rest of my belongings that weekend, and I left my family’s house, not to enter it again until who knows when.

I am not going to share all the details of the summer that followed, for various reasons. Suffice it to say that I went through agony. I don’t say that dramatically or without serious thought. My pain over the loss of my family has been deep and lasting. My parents forbade my younger siblings’ communication with me for a time (that ban has since been lifted). They also managed to keep in just enough contact with me to cause me additional frustration and alarm, as they pressured me to shut down the bank account which my mother had cosigned for and encouraged me to find an alternate health insurance.

Oddly, my professor was more understanding of my situation than my parents, and, with his help, I was able to finish my summer class with flying colors. I cannot tell you how many days I alternated tears with reading assignments or found myself unable to work at all. Somehow, that class got completed.

In the meantime, a second and happier narrative was building in my life. I will share more about the wonderful circumstances which led to my current situation in the next post. Feel free to share your thoughts on this latest portion of my story. Join in the conversation.

A Rather Rapid Journey Into My Future

“What are you going to do with all of the space that will open up in your mind as you heal?”

That question turned my life upside down. I laugh now, as I recall the way I first responded to the challenge. The day after my counselor posed that question in our first session, I decided, after a grand total of ten minutes of rather obsessive consideration, that it was time for me to return to school. I was not sure exactly what I wanted to study, but I felt sure that I wanted to work with people. To be properly equipped, I was going to need an education. Within a day or two, I had started calling universities.

Despite its rather impulsive nature, that decision proved to be one of the best I’ve ever made. I believe that some of the rapidity with which I fixed my path into the future was merely the reflection of my growing self-knowledge which had been forming for over a year of healing.

Over the next few months, I grew more and more certain of my desire to pursue an education. Within a few weeks of deciding to return to school, I chose counseling as my field of interest. I began voraciously scouring the Internet, using my iPhone, for information on a higher education in psychology and counseling. This effort was more significant than you may realize, since iPhones are not designed yet to provide all of the accessible conveniences that a computer screen-reading program affords to people with visual impairments.

At the same time that I was running full speed towards my future, I had to relive much of the past. My psychologist helped me identify the fact that I had skipped much of a normal growing-up experience, due to having a disability and a mental illness. I began to rush headlong through this delayed experience, much to my embarrassment on many occasions.

I can laugh, now, but some of my recent growing up has been frankly mortifying. Most people get to experience their first real crush, be socially awkward, and learn how to make better decisions by making rather not-so-good ones as teenagers. I have gotten to live through those experiences as a fully grown woman. I can personally testify to the fact that people are somewhat less understanding of these phenomena in an adult than in a teenager.

Meanwhile, my parents watched my “adolescence” in growing alarm. They were very supportive of my desire to return to school, but, when I announced that I wanted to find my own church, they were less enthused. I am puzzled to this day as to how they managed to verbally accept my decision as okay and yet make every aspect of that decision wrong or a battle in some way.

I started changing my ideas and thoughts secretly. I knew that my parents would not approve of the new-found freedom I was gaining inside my mind or of the mounting criticisms I entertained towards their treatment of my siblings and me. My father openly advocated the idea that independence was not an ideal state, for instance. My mother was more initially supportive of my process of finding myself, but she later felt that I had gone too far.

Meantime, I registered for a summer philosophy class at my local community college and enrolled at a Christian university for the fall. Little did I realize how dramatically my life was about to change in the next couple of months.

I will continue my story in my next post. How many of you were already familiar with the idea of a “delayed adolescence?” I’d be curious to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Join in the conversation.

My Recovery Begins!

I am so excited to share this post with all of you! I finally get to begin telling the part of my story that explains how I went from having a mental illness and being trapped in an abusive environment to pursuing my dream as a full-time student at a reputable university.

After my discharge from my final hospital stay, I returned home, where I muddled through the next three or four months. I was not quite as dysfunctional as I had been before my hospital stay, but I was still very sick. The best thing about those months was that my parents finally allowed me to stay on a mostly regular regimen of medication. I attribute what followed to that fact.

In early January, things began to change. One night, I had a long talk with my younger sister. The fact that I talked with her for a while was a sign of improvement in itself, since I often became incapable of responding verbally when I was most ill. With hindsight, I can see that I must have been improving at some unexpressed level of my mind and brain during the months between my hospital stay and this conversation, but that night marked my first obvious, dramatic step towards recovery.

That night was the first time in years that I was able to acknowledge that I actually was a Christian. As I described in earlier posts, I was tormented for years with the thought that I was not saved, despite the fact that I had accepted the Christian faith as a child. When I talked with my sister that night, my brain evidenced its months-long healing by allowing me to at last acknowledge the beliefs I had held for so long.

My mind and brain continued to show marked improvement during the following year. After finding the psychological relief of resolving the question of my salvation, I began to act much more healthily. Although still tormented with irrational thoughts and patterns of thinking, I began to pursue the life I’d lost for so long with a vengeance. I began building friendships, socializing, reaching out of the prison I had known for years. I talked and moved and exercised. Every motion, every morning that I could get up and shower and get dressed was a small miracle to me. I was regaining existence itself.

I remember the nightmare-like quality of the years before. My mind is just now looking more honestly at some of the tortures of my internal state during all those years of mental illness. I cannot describe to you the horror of what I experienced or the desperation of the feeling of being trapped in such an experience, unable to break free, unable to get out. Now, I found that I was free, somehow, and I marveled at and relished every moment of this life restored.

Over the course of the next year, I healed. I found that I had several friends, and I began to grow more established in my social circles. I started to help with educating my younger siblings. I engaged in communal events and activities. I got my first cellphone in years.

The recovery did not stop with this period of natural healing. I still felt very trapped in obsession, and, in the January following that first, significant conversation, I began counseling with my current psychologist. That counseling has changed my life in the most real, fundamental sense possible.

I will share more about the wonderful recovery which I am still experiencing today in my next post. Until then, please feel free to share your thoughts on this post. I’d be especially interested to hear about any experiences you may have had with mental illness and recovery in your life or others’. I know that question is really personal, so please only share if you feel comfortable and safe doing so. Join in the conversation.

Social Labeling: Casual Disparagement of Intellectual Disabilities

What does one do when one’s professor labels a particular group of people as either “retarded” or “evil”? I am facing that situation right now, and these are my meditations on the subject.

I found my professor’s comment offensive on two counts. Personally, I happen to be associated with the group he labeled. But I also found it highly offensive that he used the term “retarded” to describe a group of people he despised.

I cannot claim originality in the thoughts I am about to offer. Many of them I have gradually gathered from various sources over the years, but, specifically, my sister put these ideas into words this summer far more eloquently than I ever will. With her permission, I will borrow from her for this post.

I have a close friend who has Down syndrome. This individual has an “intellectual disability.” (I believe this is a recommended term to describe the kinds of mental challenges which those with Down syndrome and other similar conditions face ***{see the note at the end of this post}).

“Retarded” is not just a medical term anymore. It has become a derogatory term used to compare people who do not truly have an intellectual disability to those who do. Thus, it degrades those who have an intellectual disability, and uses a group of real, marginalized people to insult others. If you have an intellectual disability or an edducational delay, you can be labeled as “retarded.” *** (see the note at the end of the post)

Apart from the general offensiveness of being labeled, this practice is extremely offensive to those who have an intellectual disability. Why should this particular group of individuals be the standard for an offensive label? Why should they be inherently insulted in someone’s effort to disparage a different individual or group who do not actually fit the medical description of having an intellectual disability?***(see note at end of post)

My sister expressed these ideas beautifully this summer, sharing her pain at seeing a young woman who has a true intellectual disability label herself as “stupid.” What have we done? As a society, we have taken intellectual ability and made it a standard for pride or shame. Those who find themselves with an IQ of a certain level also find themselves in a place of extraordinary privilege. Those who do not find themselves marginalized and despised, fit only to be used as an offensive label by the upper class of intellectuals. Worse yet, these marginalized individuals are taught to despise themselves and their own mental capacities.

I am not advocating that we should despise those who have more intellectual or educational abilities. I am, however, saying there is no individual who should not have the right to hold their head up and be able to embrace themselves and their own intellect and education. We should accord the same basic human regard and dignity to all individuals, regardless of the state of their intellect.

I often find myself failing miserably in this respect. When describing my friend with Down syndrome, I often hasten to assure my listener that this individual is very “smart,” listing all the reasons why I should be able to make this statement. I don’t think these statements are inaccurate or wrong in the sense that they do describe this individual without error, but I should not have to defend my friend’s intellect in order to affirm my friend’s worth as a person in someone else’s eyes.

The fact of the matter is, people who have an intellectual disability are fully human, just as those who do not have an intellectual disability are fully human. Both groups deserve our highest care and deserve to have their worth affirmed in our words and actions.

As to what I should do in the case of my professor, I am still considering. I find it easy to share my thoughts in the public arena, but, when I am face to face with the man who holds my grades in his hands, I find my courage greatly diminished. I do not feel that this is a case that necessarily requires either action or silence, so I will have to make my choice with proper care and thought.

For now, I am challenging myself to consider more carefully the labels I use to describe myself, my actions, those around me, and their actions. Am I using terms that insult individuals from one of the many marginalized groups in our society? Do I accept and affirm all individuals regardless of their mental capacities, societal status, etc.?

I hope each of you will consider the subject and contribute your own thoughts and experiences. Join in the conversation.

***”While it is still clinically acceptable to say ‘mental retardation,’ you should use the more socially acceptable ‘intellectual disability’ or ‘cognitive disability.’ NDSS strongly condemns the use of the word ‘retarded’ in any derogatory context. Using this word is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent.”

You can find this quote on the National Down Syndrome Society page, “Preferred Language Guide – National Down Syndrome Society” at http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/Preferred-Language-Guide/.***

Personal Update

Hello all I’m very sorry I’ve been gone so long. I did not fully anticipate the stress I would undergo in transitioning to my university.

I am going to postpone my regular blog posts for one to two weeks in order to ease the remainder of that transition. In the meantime, I will be releasing personal updates to inform you about how I’m adjusting.

First, I have to say that I love my university! I am relishing every moment of academic and campus life. I love the constant interaction with new concepts, new environments, and new people. I am very happy.

I began classes last week, and I am genuinely interested in each of them. I am taking introductory courses in psychology and neuroscience, a basic statistics course, and a music appreciation course. I am really excited to have the majority of my coursework this semester in my major (three out of those four will be useful to me in my career). I also take a personal interest in the music appreciation course, since I love music and the professor is an excellent teacher.

I am starting, slowly but surely, to make a few connections with classmates and some of the individuals in my apartment complex. I have found that most of the people here are extremely caring and helpful, (or at the very least, reasonably polite). I frequently stop and ask total strangers for directions and find myself a couple of minutes later being walked across campus by a new-found acquaintance.

The faculty at the school are also exceptional. The students are frequently urged to take advantage of the faculty’s office hours to get help with classes, etc. I have already met one-on-one with two members of the faculty, for varying reasons, and they have been extraordinarily helpful.

I am continuing to explore volunteer and research opportunities in my field of interest (advocacy for those with mental illness and/or disabilities). While I am not certain what experience I will end up obtaining, I am already exploring a couple of possible options for both present and future experience.

Keep me in your thoughts, or, if you are so inclined, your prayers. I am still adjusting to this experience and am dealing with some stressful circumstances which I cannot discuss publicly, for other people’s confidentiality’s sake.

If you wish to contribute to my September funding, please visit my Donate page above or continue to check my Amazon wish list for updated practical needs. Thank you to each of you who are supporting my education and future.

Please feel free to comment with any questions or well-wishes you may have for me. I will answer as openly as possible, without compromising my safety or that of those connected to me.

My Hospital Stays

“I think you’re doing this on purpose.”

The psychologist leaned towards me across the table as he half-whispered the words. I sat in the common area of the hospital ward, feeling all the hurt and anger those words evoked. It would be months, however, before I would identify his behavior as abusive and acknowledge those feelings.

I had been admitted to a mental health facility for the last time. This stay would be my longest and the most helpful to me. By this time, I had stayed in four other mental health facilities, beginning with my forced admission to the local clinic near my college. During these stays, I experienced a variety of living conditions and treatment.

Two of my more positive experiences were at hospitals in Illinois. I was treated more humanely at these facilities, although they still made many of the errors in treatment to which I was so frequently subjected.

One of the classic mistakes which hospitals made in treating me was prescribing too large of a dose of medication. As I discussed in an earlier post, I believe this mistake arose from a desire to rapidly intervene and to improve my condition. However, the doctors consistently failed to first ascertain how large of a dose would be effective in my individual case. I happen to be extremely chemically sensitive and unusually responsive to remarkably low doses of medication.

I also suffered abuse from staff at one of the hospitals where I stayed. I was completely incapable of caring for myself, even in matters of basic hygiene. The staff at this facility were forced to help me shower, etc. Instead of doing so respectfully, more than one staff member mocked or rebuked me for my inability to take care of myself.

Multiple staff members at this facility also expressed the belief that I was choosing to behave in a sick fashion. I am still uncertain whether they were encouraged in this belief by my parents or whether my case, for whatever reason, invited such a conclusion. Whatever the reason, the psychologist was not the only staff member who accused me of such malingering behavior.

My privacy and dignity were frequently disrespected during this particular stay. In general, I found staying in mental health facilities to be a dehumanizing experience. While I was completely incapable of behaving in a healthy manner, I had not lost any of my human thought and feeling. I felt all of the humiliation and hurt of the treatment I received at the hands of hospital staff, even though I seemed to be completely mentally incompetent.

How do you think that we as a society could work to affirm the humanity of those suffering from mental illness? Please feel free to share any knowledge or experiences you may have concerning today’s mental health system. Join in the conversation.

First Month Funded!

I’m stunned by the response from all of you over the last few weeks. You’ve raised over $650 in cash donations and purchased the vast majority of my most needed items from my Amazon wish list. I’m absolutely floored. Thank you SO much! You’ve funded my first month of college! I so appreciate your ongoing support, care, and personal interest. I’m so excited to arrive at my university with my expenses so well taken care of. Thank you to each and every one of you for making this happen.

All future donations will help to cover the remainder of my first semester’s expenses. See my Donate page or my Amazon wish list.
Thank you again.

The Attractiveness Lie

I am going to interrupt my series on my personal story this week with a post on some of my recent developments in thinking. I flew out to my university yesterday and will not resume that series until later this week or next. In the meantime, I am excited to share this particular post with all of you.

One of the great lies of the culture in which I was raised is that we need to be physically attractive. This lie is one of man’s most terrible and destructive creations, in my opinion.

I was raised in the Christian conservative home school movement. This movement taught its young women that their primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. This idea, combined with the culture’s emphasis on courtship and physical modesty, created a dreadful delusion under which I have lived for some time.

This focus on marriage and family as my chief end in existing twisted my mind in some really unhealthy ways. First and foremost, it taught me that my value lay in my future marriage to a man. This idea stripped me of inherent worth in my own eyes, placing all that worth in my currently non-existent relationship to another human being.

Imagine the terrible uncertainty which this idea created. I could not be sure of my own worth and happiness, because I could not be sure of my future marriage. This uncertainty further encouraged a sense of desperation to attain that all-important marriage, in order to be assured of my own worth and purpose.

But, the modesty/courtship culture in which I was raised simultaneously caused this desperation and encouraged its alarming growth, since I, as a young woman, was told that I was not allowed to actively pursue marriage. Given this teaching, it’s no surprise that I developed the idea that I needed to be very attractive. After all, with no way to actively achieve marriage, what else could I do but make myself irresistible to my potential spouses?

But I was limited in this ability also. Although I was taught to desire to be attractive, modesty condemned this desire as wrong and limited my ability to passively pursue marriage by trying to be attractive. Thus, I was once more left powerless to achieve the ends I so desperately wanted.

Guilt awaited me at every turn. I was told how wrong I was to objectify men while at the same time being told that men were my only possible source of worth and happiness. I struggled with looking at men only as potential spouses while also feeling intense shame for not being able to accept them as human beings.

When these ideas finally came clear in my mind, I was frankly shocked. The only relief was that all of these views were so obviously lies that it was not difficult to reject them, in thought, at least. Emotionally, I will struggle with the repercussions of this destructive upbringing for years.

So, what is the truth that I’ve found instead? My worth and happiness lie in who I am, not in my ability to be attractive and get married. The sense of relief and self-love which I am experiencing as I embrace this realization is really incredible. It’s wonderful to realize that I am a person with inherent value and purpose, apart from any other human being. I don’t have to wait in miserable uncertainty for marriage in order to live a fulfilled and happy life. That life is what I am experiencing right now.

Men are not objects. They are people with the same inherent worth and right to happiness which I possess. I am free at last to enjoy them as friends, since they are no longer my sole ticket to personhood and a fulfilling life.

Many others are writing wonderful posts on this topic. For one excellent source, visit Hannah’s blog at Wine and Marble. For another, see Emily Timbol’s recent article at the Huffington Post. My ideas are not original. They are, however, personally transforming, and, I hope, relevant to some of you. Please feel free to share your own thoughts on this topic. Join in the conversation.

My Father’s Violence: Part 2

Trigger Warning: I now come to another of my most difficult posts. I am about to recount some of the horrible abuse that I suffered while I was mentally ill. These experiences are the subjects of my flashbacks and my nightmares, so be forewarned that this post will be difficult to read.

Then there was the night when I first realized that I was being abused, the first time I was subjected to such severe physical violence that even I knew what was happening.

I had developed an obsession with getting saved and then having to tell someone that I had been saved. I used to spend hours in the middle of the night standing frozen by my bed, trying to pray the perfect prayer of salvation. I would then go downstairs and stand outside of my parents’ door, still trying to get saved so I could tell them about it.

After many incidents of this kind, after many times when he opened the door to find me standing there, silent and frozen, my father made a terrible choice. As he came to the door that night, he warned me, “Sarah, if I open this door, I am going to hit you.” I remained immobilized, terrified but too sick to move.

He opened the door, and, true to his word, he hit me across the head with the flat of his hand. I still remember my head ringing. Then, he took me upstairs and climbed into bed with me. He started hitting me over and over, my head ringing, pain and fear filling me.

When he was done hitting me, I climbed out of bed and stood there, chilly and miserable. My father began crying, begging me to get back in bed, but I refused. I remained standing there for hours, until the early morning when the light started coming through the windows. My feet were cold.

After this incident, my father’s violence escalated. One day, he took me upstairs and tied me to the bed with duct tape. He told me that this was what I was doing to myself.

Another night, my father came into my room and sat down on the bed next to me. He grabbed me around the neck and started choking me. I struggled. My father was so much bigger and stronger than me. I still feel the helpless fear for my life which I suffered. At last, he let go, and I think I must have screamed. My mother came to the door to find out what had happened. I screamed at her that my father had choked me.

My father angrily informed me that this was what I was doing to myself. I was killing myself in front of him, torturing him. He was showing me what I was doing to myself.

Minutes later, my parents had me lying down on my back on the bed and were forcing water down my throat as I choked on it.

To this day, I can feel the feelings. I feel the hurt, the rage, the betrayal. How could my own father treat his little girl this way? How could he do it?

I still know the trauma of these events, as well. This summer, I have had to process that trauma, living through uncontrollable flashbacks. I have relived the horror of those moments, knowing all the terrible wrongness of my parents’ actions.

So, before you blame someone for their mental illness, think about what you are doing. Before you strike your child, think about the irreparable damage you are about to inflict on that child for the rest of their lives. Before you twist another’s suffering to be all about you, think about the living Hell they may be experiencing every minute.

If any of you would like to share thoughts on this post, please feel free to do so. Join in the conversation.

My Father’s Violence: Part 1

Trigger Warning: I now come to one of my most difficult posts. I am about to recount some of the horrible abuse that I suffered while I was mentally ill. These experiences are the subjects of my flashbacks and my nightmares, so be forewarned that this post will be difficult to read.

After I was released from my first stay in a mental health facility, my mother and my older sister took me home. I recovered slightly for several months before I crashed once more.

My father had been physically abusive almost from the very beginning of my mental illness. When he came to bring me home the first time, I once jumped out of the van (it was parked) and started running away. My father had just said something that made me very hurt and angry, and I wanted to get away. He ran after me, picked me up, despite my protests and screams, and roughly dropped me on the step of the house where we were staying. I still remember the helpless indignation I felt.

That was just the beginning. After I crashed again in 2010, my father began to grow steadily more violent and inappropriate towards me.

The night before my older sister’s wedding, my parents and I met her and her future in-laws for a little dinner. I hardly ate anything, having fallen back into self-starvation as I grew sicker. I still remember the guilt I felt at not being able to be normal, at not being there for my sister.

When we returned home that night, my father reheated my leftovers and attempted to feed me. When I refused to eat, he took the food and smeared it on my face. I still remember the disgusting feeling of the potatoes clinging to my hair. My mother took me upstairs to clean me up, but I felt both of my parents’ anger and blame. It was obviously my fault that I had been treated this way. I sunk even lower into my guilt-ridden existence.

I was so convinced that I was too evil to live that I felt that the only righteous thing left for me to do was to commit suicide. I never seriously attempted this, although I did scratch my wrists with broken glass on one occasion.

Everything was my fault. When my father bit the finger with which I was compulsively reaching into my mouth (I was having obsessive thoughts that demons were entering me and needed to be pulled out), I was to blame. When he sat on me because I refused to rise from my chair, it was my fault. When he threw food on me and then took me outside to spray me down with a freezing cold garden hose, it was my fault. I still remember him ranting at me about how terrible my behavior was as I stood there shivering, miserable, in obvious suffering, unable to move even to run away from the horrible treatment.

As hard as it may be to believe, my father’s behavior only grew worse. I will release the second portion of this post later this week. Feel free to share your thoughts on this post or any experiences you may have had with abuse in your life or others’ lives. I recognize that this can be extremely triggering and is highly personal, so please share only as you feel comfortable. Join in the conversation.