My Story – Part 6 (Trying to Survive)

Continued from My Story – Part 5 (The Aftermath)

In glancing back over my old journals, I realized I may have my timeline a little confused in my mind. I rely on my journals to keep my memory in check because I wrote honestly and directly about the things that were going on at the time of each entry. Time has a funny way of distorting memories even for the most sane among us. When a person’s mind fragments in the way that mine always seems to during difficult times (this is very hard for me to explain, as I don’t even understand it), it makes life feel a lot more chaotic, leaving me to question reality and struggling to understand what feels like misplaced emotions. My emotions are very detached from my story because I simply compartmentalize emotions differently than memories. In my journals, however, the memories and the emotions are written together, in black and white, often times very raw with brutal intensity.

The particular journal I’m reviewing for this time period (the end of 2002 through 2004) is strange because the entries seem to lack any consistent order; and the entries are sporadic, at best. However, by November 2002, I had moved in with my boyfriend at the time, P.I., while struggling to attend classes at APSU. I dropped a couple of those classes early on in that semester. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I began missing classes and getting further and further behind in my school work. By the middle of November, I quit going to classes altogether which resulted in receiving an “F” in each one. Ten or so classes away from my Bachelor’s Degree in graphic design, I dropped out completely. I fear the debt that I incurred as a result of my mistake in going back to college will follow me to the grave. When I left college, I was a little over $20,000 in debt just on student loans. Even after making payments on these loans for much of the last 11 years, I still owe right at $23,000. I still struggle to understand how this is possible.

Sometime in September, I quit working at the beer bar where I had been working since May, following several instances of sexual harassment from bar patrons. One of these instances, I wrote about in my journal on August 11, 2002 (again, the day before my birthday):

I am getting so tired of working at the bar. Tonight Corona Bob pinned me up against the sink while I was washing dishes. He kept touching me and feeling me up. I got away from him and called [the owner of the bar] to close up early. Later, he did it again and I lost my temper after telling him to stop several times.

Unfortunately, this was a common occurrence while I worked there. Several different men who frequented the bar made similar advances. My guess is that this is fairly “typical” behavior in environments like these and even considered part of the job description. However, that does not make it okay (men, for God’s sake, look but don’t touch!!!). At the time, I really didn’t connect these experiences to triggers of PTSD, having very little knowledge of the condition (re-reading my journals, now, makes me realize that I was experiencing many of the symptoms of PTSD). In 2002, I was still in denial about having been raped in 1998. I blamed myself not only for the rapes, but also for these unwanted advances. I thought I deserved to be treated badly, confirmation that I was nothing more than an object. Looking back now, I can see why I was struggling so much to maintain my sanity and concentrate on college classes.

After dropping out of college that second time in 2002, the depression and anxiety continued to worsen. I became mostly nonfunctional through the remainder of the year. My therapist added either Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizotypal Personality Disorder. I just know I heard of both at different points in therapy with one of the two being added around this time. By this point, I wasn’t really keeping track of labels anymore because they changed so frequently. My psychiatrist continued to up the dosages of my medications and add more. At this point, I was taking a cocktail of Abilify, Effexor, Seroquel, and Lexapro. I found myself constantly exhausted with living, my mind in a hazy fog. I didn’t have the motivation to do anything, let alone find another job. I was also feeling extremely suicidal at the time, as expressed in a poem I wrote in my journal on November 12, 2002:

I pray that when I close my eyes,
Sleep will come and break the ties
To all earthly things that hold me here
And all the people I find so dear.
Never let me wake again.
Let my soul find freedom then.
Take me away from all the pain.
Give me peace, and break the chain.

By January 2003, my boyfriend, P.I. placed so much pressure on me to find a job that I ended up going back to work at the beer bar because I could find nothing else. This job was even worse the second time around. The sexual harassment from bar patrons escalated into my becoming very promiscuous again. As I completely lost the will to live due to the extreme situations I often found myself in, I gave-in to the pressures that surrounded me at this bar. Much of this time is lost with no memory, while other parts come back in frightening flashes. No journal entries exist, either. I completely stopped writing in my journal from June 2003 through December 2004. Because of the things I was doing to myself (self-harming through drugs and alcohol, starving myself, and promiscuity – even though I was in a relationship with P.I.), I knew that my lifestyle prevented me from having a relationship with my son. I had given up hope. I struggled through life the best way I could, the only way I knew how. Marijuana was my drug of choice, and I never had to pay for it because the patrons of the bar so often left it as a tip. I’m ashamed to admit that I also tried cocaine, crack, ecstasy, and snorting prescription drugs – each briefly, for the experience, hoping one would kill me. I self-medicated right alongside my alcoholic boyfriend almost the entire time we were together. (To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against marijuana. Honestly, I feel that it is far safer than prescription drugs and alcohol, and far more useful. The abuse of drugs and alcohol is in the mindset of the person using these substances in order to escape reality. And during this time period of my life, I was using anything I could get my hands on to escape reality.)

Then, on April 14th, 2004, my dad died from complications with diabetes. He had been on dialysis for many years, and his body finally gave out. P.I. and I were there at the hospital with him when he died. Everyone else had gone home for the night. I, honestly, did not realize how much my father’s death affected me until years later. His death truly devastated me. My dad always seemed to be the only person in my family who really understood me. We never really needed words because it only took a look to understand what the other was thinking or feeling. Daddy’s funeral was one of the few times that I actually got to see my son. In the years leading up to my father’s death, things between my sister and I became particularly strained. She blamed me for not helping her deal with Mom and Dad and their health issues. I had so much going on in my life (much of which I was too ashamed to even acknowledge); and I lived 5 hours away. Much of that time, I didn’t even own a reliable car, let alone being able to take time off from school and work. I know she became overwhelmed with caring for our parents, but I also couldn’t drop everything to go home every time she called. I did go home whenever I could manage it and when things became serious with Daddy, but I couldn’t go every time.

In May 2004, I quit working at the beer bar after a night of drunken brawls and an out of control crowd tested the strength of my courage. Life working at that beer bar became way too intense. I hated that job, more than any other I’ve ever had. It left me with far more emotional scars than I care to admit. The owner of the bar was furious with me for quitting (as was P.I.), threatening to report my under-the-table status to the district attorney who was handling my ex-husband’s child support case. I didn’t care anymore. I just knew I had to get away from the drugs and alcohol and sexual abuse that I was enduring while employed there.

The relationship with P.I. became increasingly unpredictable over the next few months, especially after his parents moved in with us. As he drank more and more, his words cut like knives. Our household became extremely chaotic. I began the disability process for the first time at some point in 2004 with his mother’s encouragement. I was denied later that same year. P.I. grew impatient with me, continuing to pressure me about finding a job. I felt I had no choice but to find work again; no one else would take care of me, despite my instability. The first job lasted no more than 3 days. The second attempt was not much better. I went back to work at Wal-Mart, only lasting two weeks. The stress of working with the public was too much. That evening when he found out I quit, P.I. was furious with me, scolding me like a small child. This scolding was reiterated the next night in a second round of beratements, pushing me over the edge when he basically told me to “get out.”

In an act of complete desperation (as is common in those of us diagnosed with BPD when faced with abandonment), I attempted suicide again (Suicide attempt #4 – overdose – and Hospitalization #6). The suicidal thoughts had been constant for the majority of 2002 through 2004. That’s a long time to feel suicidal. It’s difficult to explain the depth of despair and hopelessness that one feels at the moment of a suicide attempt, but this is the best description I have ever written of what I was feeling at the time:

Cold darkness fills my soul as death creeps closer to my inner being. Scratching, tearing, ripping away at the small amount of esteem that exists at my core. Swallowed by darkness, I feel ever so close to death’s grips, falling deeper, deeper into a hole of nothingness called Hell. The farther I fall, the less connection I have to this reality known as life. Life falls away as easily as leaves fall away from dying trees in autumn. Only, there is no hope of rebirth during spring. Mythical creatures loom in the darkness away from my sight, waiting patiently for the call of death’s screams. No light can be seen in this ominous abode, this destructive cavern of Hell’s inferno. Agony awaits my soul’s defeat. Perdition, the abyss of darkness, looms over me ready to devour my spirit. What affliction possesses me and won’t dismiss my pitiful essence to be free? Suicide is its name. Depression is the affliction. Death, the outcome of years of struggling to free myself from that spiraling hole that swallows me like quick sand. No hope left, I give in….

I think I’ll stop at this point today and continue my story in another post as this one has already reached over to 2000 words. I almost hope that no one reads this part of my story because it is very depressing, and I’m sorry for that. Unfortunately, suicidal ideation is part of my battle; and my story would not be complete without addressing it in this way.

To be continued….

My Story – Part 5 (The Aftermath)

Continued from My Story – Part 4 (The Second Half of My Year of Hell)

By the end of that first semester at APSU in 1999, my now ex-husband, C.F., decided to move back to our hometown in East TN. Visitation with my son was sporadic at best while we all still lived in the same city. After they moved to East TN, I only saw my son on rare occasions. Not only was it a 5 hour drive to my hometown from Clarksville, TN, but transportation was also an issue, as well as taking time off from work and school. Each visit lasted no more than a couple of hours each time. Much of the time, I didn’t even know where they lived. Before they left, C.F. told me not to worry about the child support until I finished college. In defense of my naivety, I took him at his word.

However, in May 2001, C.F. reported me for failure to pay child support. My life quickly spiraled out of control again due to the added pressure and financial stress. The owner of the printing business where I worked was primarily an attorney. He took my case to court for me. Finally, someone with a heart, or so I thought. Every single attorney I had spoken with, told my story to (including this one), told me the same thing, “You should give up your parental rights.” Just because I gave one child up for adoption under completely different circumstances (or perhaps, similar depending on how you look at it) and struggled for so many years with mental illness didn’t mean that I had no right to be in my son’s life. At that point, I would have been happy with any type of regular visitation, even if that meant the supervised visitation declared in the divorce decree. That was never to be an option as the courts were only concerned with the child support. My life was to be tied up in the court system until spring 2007, unable to leave the city of Clarksville without fear of imprisonment.

I took any statement regarding my parental rights very personally, equally to those callous, judgmental comments that others made to me, stating that I should have made more of an effort to be in my child’s life. I so desperately wanted to be. No one else saw the sleepless nights I spent worrying where my child was because his father moved yet again and didn’t contact me with his whereabouts. No one else saw the rivers of tears I cried or felt my gut wrenching heartache that smothered the life out of me. No one felt my helplessness, my hopelessness, that led me down roads of despair that would frighten even the most sane. No one heard the horrible, awful things I told myself, berating my self-worth. Things, I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. No one fell to my level of despair that cried out for death to take me, let me fall asleep and never wake up. None of these people understood. None heard my voices. They only heard their own.

I did the best I could given the emotional support I had, which was very little. I raised my son for the first 4 years of his life with very little emotional support from C.F. or any family member, for that matter. Telling me to give up my parental rights literally ground my stomach into knots every time I heard it. It was like stabbing darts into my chest. It was like I had a sign on my chest announcing my worthlessness as a person and my failure as a mother. (My God, I lived the Scarlet Letter!) The hopelessness I felt of having a relationship with my son or watching him grow up ate away my soul piece by piece until I was blinded by despair. But anyway, this attorney represented me in the child support case in court. As a result by October, my child support amount was raised and my wages and income tax garnished. More than half my paycheck each week was taken directly.

Then, jets crashed into the World Trade Center…

I didn’t personally know anyone who was there that day or involved in the aftermath. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply, shook my world and beliefs to the point of questioning absolutely everything; but it did. My journal entry from September 11, 2001:

“What a day it has been! America is under attack. Around 8:00 [actually 7:46, Central Time] this morning, one of the World Trade Center towers was hit by a commercial aircraft. About 10 to 15 minutes later, the second tower was hit by another commercial aircraft. A little while later the Pentagon was hit by a third aircraft! And finally a fourth commercial aircraft crashed outside of Pittsburgh near Camp David. This was a totally horrific day. Thousands of people, civilians, have been killed today. People were jumping from windows to get away from flames. Both towers ended up collapsing a couple of hours later. It is estimated that 266 people died as a result of the plane crashes alone. The twin towers can hold as many as 40,000 employees as well as any visitors in the buildings. It is unknown how many survivors there actually are. Life as everyone knows it, changed today. As crazy as it seems, the events of today actually happened.”

I remember that morning quite clearly. I was driving to work when I heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. The radio announcer seemed to think this must be some crazy fluke. Moments after I reached work, still sitting in my car hanging on every word coming from my radio, the second plane crashed. The radio announcer no longer thought this was a fluke. I rushed inside to tell my coworkers. They had heard about the first, but not the second. The three of us just stood there in shock.

On my way to classes that afternoon, I stopped by where my boyfriend at the time, who I will refer to as K.R. (because seriously, he looks like Kid Rock), worked because they had a television there. This was during a 3 year period that I chose not to own a TV. I can only describe what I saw on TV as pure chaos combined with complete devastation. I felt the most gut wrenching pain and sadness totally overwhelm me. As I watched people jumping from those towers, I felt their despair, their hopelessness. Those images are embedded in my mind and my heart. Even now as I write this, I cry when I think about it. We all sat stunned, asking how did this happen? Why did this happen?

It was around this point that my grades started slipping. I began skipping classes. I constantly felt distracted, emotionally drained, and stressed out. This was the last semester that my grades were average. The next two semesters ended with me dropping out each time. Some days I would drive onto campus, look for a parking spot, become so frustrated from not finding one anywhere that I would turn around and go home! I was a mess.

I continued to try to survive the best way I knew how, working my part-time job, attending college full-time, and trying to maintain a few friendships/ support system along the way. Classes were becoming harder and harder to sit through. Work was a distraction, at best, but felt like I was working for nothing because I couldn’t financially support myself on what I was making. I was very close to losing my apartment and the small amount of control I had left in my life. The financial stress became too much again, resulting in another breakdown. At the first of March 2002, I ended up in the hospital for the fifth time due to thoughts of suicide (Hospitalization #5 – suicidal ideation).

While I was in the hospital, K.R. made arrangements with a friend’s father to move us into their home. I will refer to this friend as S.W. (again, not initials for her name, but Spiritual Warrior because she and I shared similar beliefs at the time). Her father and two younger siblings were moving to Virginia, leaving S.W., 18 years old, behind to finish high school. We were supposed to move in to keep an eye on things until the house sold; but shortly after he left, everything spiraled completely out of control very fast. K.R., bless his heart, was only trying to help by finding us another place to live. I was furious that he didn’t bother asking me about the move; or if he did, I was too emotionally compromised to remember it. Much of the time from 9/11 up until hospitalization #5 (even afterwards), I was completely dissociated from myself.

K.R. and I broke up as a result of this move. Maybe, I was mourning the loss of my independence, my loss of control, brief as that control lasted. I guess it came down to my feelings of inadequacy, and my low self-worth only fueled my inability to handle a relationship at that time. By the end of March, I was fired from the printing business where I was working, partly because I had missed so much work due to the hospitalization and partly because I had no transportation due to bizarre circumstances. S.W.’s house was in a very rural setting, not on a bus route. Even though I had a car at the time, shortly after I returned to work at the printing business (after the hospitalization), I somehow lost my car keys. A few days after I was fired, a neighbor from down the road showed up at our house, higher than a kite on something, and returned my car keys to me. Apparently, I had dropped my keys in the driveway where she said she “found” them a week earlier. At least, that was the final story we got out of her. She must have changed it 5 or 6 times while she stood there talking to S.W. and me.

S.W.’s house quickly turned into a party house. All of her high school friends came there to drink and get high and do whatever else they pleased. I realized very quickly that this was a very bad situation for me to be in due to the constant access to a self-harmer’s smorgasbord of choices. To make matters worse, I found a job working part-time at a little hole-in-the-wall beer bar. Normally, I don’t claim this job at all because not only was I working under-the-table for a boss who threatened to use this fact against me; but a lot of things happened while working there that I still can’t discuss. So many things happened in the short time I lived with S.W., about 5 months total. I found myself slipping further and further into chaos again. For the first time in my life, I began using drugs and alcohol to cope with my emotions in addition to the psychiatric medication I was on. I sporadically used alcohol during my marriage for this purpose, but nothing like the summer of 2002. S.W. ended up dropping out of high school. I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t prevent this. By the time I had enough and decided to move out, I pleaded with her father to do something to help her. Thankfully, he agreed that this wasn’t working for her and moved her to Virginia with him.

In August, I moved into a small house on my own, but found I couldn’t afford the rent after I quit working at the beer bar. I had used part of my student loans to cover my living expenses, but there just wasn’t enough to survive. By October, I began dating a guy who I will call P.I. (named solely for his profession at the time). I met him at the bar where I worked. We had only gone out a few times when he offered me a place to stay. It was a kind of weird, messed up relationship from the beginning. Oddly enough, a friend and I caught him spying on us right outside my kitchen window one night prior to my moving in with him. I suppose I should have cut off contact with him at that point, but I was desperate again. After only a couple of months living with him, I realized that he was an alcoholic. I guess you could call him a functional alcoholic, not a mean alcoholic; but he drank up all his money (beer mostly). And he mostly blamed me for never having any money.

I struggled to continue going to my classes; but by this point the stress was too much to handle. I shut down, and I never finished my degree.

To be continued….

My Story – Part 4 (The Second Half of My Year of Hell)

Continued from My Story – Part 3 (The First Half of My Year of Hell)

In the months that followed the first rape, I became promiscuous, no longer caring about my self-worth or the consequences of my actions. I stayed with a friend for about a month, until she kicked me out of her apartment due to my bizarre behavior. I left the area and moved in with my mom and dad in my hometown. I was only there for a little over a month before I received the divorce papers. I don’t know why I even thought I had a chance of beating the “supervised visitation” clause that my husband’s attorney put into the divorce decree; but I knew I needed an attorney of my own. An attorney I saw in my hometown told me I needed to obtain an attorney where my husband, C.F., and our son were living; so I went back there, having no idea where I would live and no income or savings to support myself, let alone to obtain an attorney. I ended up staying in a homeless shelter for an entire month while working for an inventory service; but I was never able to afford an attorney of my own. Pressured by C.F. and coerced by his attorney, I signed the divorce papers as they were; and our divorce became final several months later.

This brings me to the second incident in 1998 that forever changed the course of my life. My job with the inventory service required us to travel to various locations in Middle Tennessee in order to count inventory for retail stores. The inventory service provided the vans we were required to ride in order to get to these locations. Depending on how many people were needed to count the store, we would take anywhere from 1 to 3 vans. Because of the nature of the job, we were required to work during the early morning hours, leaving sometimes as early as 2:00 am to get to our destination. The homeless shelter where I was living required its residents to vacate the premises during “normal” working hours, from around 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; so I was only getting maybe 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night, if I was lucky. After about a month of this, it finally started taking its toll.

The morning of the second rape (August 11, 1998, the day before my birthday), was hectic. A friend I had made at the homeless shelter, who I will refer to as T.S., worked with me at the inventory service. We were late leaving the shelter that morning which got us to the van’s pick-up point just before the vans pulled out. For some reason, T.S. and I got separated onto two different vans. We normally, always rode together. It was an hour’s ride to our destination in Donelson, TN. I was completely exhausted and quickly fell asleep on the van on the way to the store we were counting that night.

The people who I worked with were an unsavory crowd, to put it mildly. For instance, I was asked to drive the work van one day while the girls in the seat behind me rummaged through my purse and stole my debit card right out of my wallet without my knowledge. Another co-worker had exposed himself to me, not only once, but twice! However, I never expected what happened that day I fell asleep on the van…. I woke up to someone inside me, the van still moving on its way to our destination. I was so exhausted that I didn’t even feel him pull down my pants. He had covered us in his jacket. I was frozen in fear. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even say “no” or “stop” or anything at all. I looked around the van embarrassed that this was happening to me and in disbelief that no one saw.

There were at least 4 or more other people on that van with me and my rapist that day, 2 of which were our supervisors at the time. One was driving and the other was sitting in the passenger seat. I remember looking at the backs of their heads screaming in my mind, “Help me! Help me! Help me!” But I could make no words leave my mouth. The two girls who stole my debit card were also there. To this day I find it hard to believe that no one saw anything out of the ordinary that day, that no one saw this man raping me. If anyone witnessed the rape, no one ever said anything; and I was too ashamed to ask.

I don’t remember my rapist saying a single word to me before, during, or even after. Prior to the rape, I never really spoke to this particular co-worker. I didn’t even know his real name, only the nickname Chug (and no, I don’t feel this man deserves the privacy of not having his name mentioned, at least the name I knew him by). He made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable from the first time I ever met him; so I avoided him. On the van, I couldn’t. I was sitting next to the window, and he pinned me in by sitting next to me, purposefully moving seats after I got on the van. And he was a very large man. When he finished, I felt completely mortified and sick to my stomach. When we arrived at the store, I ran to the restroom to get myself cleaned up… and vomited.

I’m not sure how I made it through that day. I was in shock and in a panic. But I had to pretend nothing had happened and concentrate on doing my job for the next few hours.

I only told one person about what had happened that day, T.S., the friend from the homeless shelter who would later become my roommate when we left the shelter. I found her when I finally left the restroom. Her response was, “I can’t leave you alone for a minute!” I don’t think she really believed that I was raped. Even my own family didn’t (still doesn’t, as far as I know) believe that I was raped in that van when I finally broke down and told them months later. I didn’t want to talk about it because talking about it made it feel too real. I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. I pretended that it was just a bad dream. I tried to put it out of my mind.

Less than a week later, I quit my job. The humiliation of having to see my rapist every day was too much! A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. Can you say insult to injury?! I was still self-harming through promiscuity, so I had no idea who the father was. Three possibilities: 1 – my rapist, who obviously used NO protection; 2 – my, for lack of a better word, fuck-buddy who told me that he had a vasectomy; and 3 – a one night stand the weekend after my birthday (we used condoms). Could things possibly get any worse? I wasn’t even divorced yet. I was so ashamed of myself. And by the way, never ask the Universe, “Could things get worse?” because I guarantee you, they can and will while in this state of mind.

While I was pregnant, I found out that I had contracted genital warts from HPV. My doctor told me that my case was one of the most severe he had ever seen. He told me the worst case was a 3-year-old little girl (yeah, we live in a sick world). I had to have laser surgery to remove them, but not until long after the pregnancy. My life felt like a bad dream before the first rape, a nightmare after. But the second rape turned my nightmare into one of those night terrors, the type of nightmare that leaves you paralyzed in fear and gasping for every breath!

I wanted to get an abortion, but I had no money for that. I became increasingly suicidal and ended up at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute due to suicidal ideation (Hospitalization #4 – suicidal ideation). After a two-week stay in the hospital that relented only after telling the doctors I no longer wanted an abortion, I was finally released (what can I say, TN is the belt buckle). A couple of weeks later my car was repossessed. Hopelessness set in. My roommate pressured me about finding a job. One night the pressure was too much; I gave-in to the hopelessness and took all of the medications I had stockpiled. I attempted suicide for the 3rd time (Suicide attempt #3 – overdose). I woke up a few days later in a strange house, having no idea how I got there. I have no memory of those missing days. Only what I was told by the creepy acquaintance who found me passed on my bed and took me to his house rather than a hospital.

T.S. moved out of our trailer by the first of November, leaving me to face all of the bills alone, still with no job. By the end of November, I finally got a job at Wal-Mart; but it wasn’t soon enough to prevent my eviction from the trailer I was renting. Facing homelessness again, another acquaintance, who I will refer to as D.L., allowed me to move into her unfinished basement. It was so cold down there! I lived in her basement for almost three months in the dead of winter, sleeping on my sofa, and walking the mile and a half (one way trip) back and forth to work at Wal-Mart. There was one night in January that I walked home during a tornado, but at least it was unseasonably warm that night. When I received my W2 in the mail, D.L. handed it to me opened, telling me she had mistaken it as her own. A couple of months after I left D.L.’s house, I found out that she had stolen my identity, no doubt from that W2 she had opened. She had taken out a credit card in my name and maxed it out. I found this out later when the credit card company began calling me to collect for non-payment.

My divorce became final in January 1999. I wasn’t even present in the courtroom. C.F. told me to go one place, but I found out too late that it was in another. He found me on the courthouse steps, crying, after it was all over. And just like that, our marriage was over; and I no longer had a say in my son’s life.

Finally, at the end of February, I moved into my own apartment in Lincoln Homes Projects (government housing). This move put me 4 and a half miles away from where I worked, still at Wal-Mart; and I still had no vehicle of my own. Most days, I could simply take the bus to and from work; but on Sundays, the bus didn’t run. I either had to walk the entire 8 mile round trip (which I often did), hitchhike (which I often did), or ask someone for a ride (people get tired of that very quickly). And the bus quit running around 11:00 pm. There were plenty of times I had to walk that 4 and a half miles home from work late at night after a 6-9 hour shift because I had just missed the last bus. And keep in mind, I was also 7-9 months pregnant during all this walking.

Shortly after I moved into this apartment, one of the guys I worked with at Wal-Mart, became increasingly friendly, i.e. offering me rides home from work or to the laundry mat. Out of desperation, I often accepted these rides; but he became increasingly creepy at the same time (very strange behavior). I made it clear to him from the beginning that I was not interested in a relationship with him or sex or anything else, for that matter; but he was persistent in his advances. A neighbor mentioned to me that she saw him driving up and down our block at all hours of the day and night. He would often show up at my door unannounced. And this man, who I will refer to as “my stalker,” followed me over the course of 6 moves, where I was often told of his presence by neighbors or people who lived with me. Seriously, he stalked me for years. He still sends friend requests on social networking sites, which I always block! And NO, I never had sex with this man. Creepy is not a turn-on.

Now, all that walking I did throughout the entirety of this pregnancy must have seriously sped up my labor and delivery time. I called my contact through Caring Choices, the adoption agency I was using. I told her there was no hurry, but I thought I might be having consistent contractions. Half an hour later when she got there, she found me breathing heavy and barely able to speak. She quickly drove me to the hospital. My water broke in the elevator on the way up to labor and delivery. No sooner had the orderly gotten me out of the wheel chair and began undressing me, the baby crowned. The orderly yelled, “Somebody come quick, she’s having this baby!” A nurse delivered him because the doctor didn’t even have time to get there. From the time I called my contact until the time I gave birth was no more than 1 hour (April 27, 1999).

I got to spend 3 very emotional days with this little bundle of joy. His adoptive parents and I chose his name together. I felt honored that they would share this experience with me. His parents (and all the people at Caring Choices, too) were truly the first kind faces I had seen in a very long time. They showed me such compassion that I knew I had made the right choice. On May 15, 1999, I signed the surrender of adoption, giving up this child to his adoptive parents, who took him home from the hospital 3 days after his birth. This was truly one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made; but I felt that it was in his best interest to find more suitable, stable parents to raise him than what I, myself, could possibly provide. This was one very special gift that I was able to give in this lifetime, and I can only hope that karma rewards with compassion.

While I was in the hospital giving birth, my apartment in Lincoln Homes was broken into. They stole everything of value, which was very little, and ransacked the place. I still miss my class ring and the little golden Buddha statue. It wasn’t even real gold! I was furious; but I was also scared. My contact from Caring Choices took me home with her, and I spent the night. Then, my sister and her husband took me back to my hometown for a few days.

I tried to piece my life back together, making plans to attend Austin Peay State University that fall. I decided to major in graphic design in order to get back to my love of art. Prior to going back to school, on July 4, 1999, my apartment was broken into again. At this point a friend of mine took pity on me and moved me in with him and his roommate. Still, my stalker was following me. He even keyed my friend’s truck one day when I drove it to work. My friend chased him off several times from where we lived together. By spring semester, I moved into my own apartment close to the college, a small studio. When I got this apartment at the first of the year, my stalker began showing up on my doorstep again. With no help from management at Wal-Mart where we both worked and feeling overwhelmed with the unwanted attention from him, I quit my job. I changed jobs several more times after that, none lasting more than a couple of months at a time, until I began working part-time as a graphic designer for a local printing business in October 2000.

I could end the story here because things calmed down significantly in my life when I began focusing on me and what I wanted to achieve by going back to college. However, this wasn’t the end of my roller coaster ride of emotions, chaos, and battle with mental illness. Throughout the entire pregnancy, I was taken off all of the antidepressants. My mind cleared of the fog that deadened my emotions and my creativity. For the first time in years, I was actually feeling the emotions that were suppressed by the medications. By September 1999, my psychiatrist prescribed Effexor and Seroquel for sleep because these emotions became so overwhelming.

To be continued….

My Story – Part 3 (The First Half of My Year of Hell)

Continued from My Story – Part 2 (Off to College & Getting Married Too Young)

Shortly after we moved to Clarksville, TN, we bought our first home, even though my husband and I were still struggling financially. Things continued to get worse in our relationship as the financial stress suffocated it. By February 1997, I began working as a preschool teacher again and managed to hold onto that job for a total of 6 and a half months before all the stress made me shut down. Even something as simple as my wanting to attend an Unitarian Universalist Church in Hopkinsville enraged my husband to a point that by the first of the year, he forbade me from taking our son to church with me with no real reason given. That was even worse than my sister calling me a “Satan worshiper” because I attended this church. I still have no idea where C.F. and my sister came up with such far-fetched ideas about Unitarian Universalists.

From this point on, the psychiatrists kept raising the doses of my medications and adding more pills, a pattern that continued up until the time I quit taking medication altogether in March 2008. At this point looking back, I sincerely believe the psychiatric medications were at least partially responsible for much of the uncharacteristic behavior that I was exhibiting; but there were many contributing factors. My mind was constantly in a fog. And my diagnoses changed as many times over the years as my medications did. A couple of weeks after I quit my job at the preschool, I ended up hospitalized a second time for about a week (Hospitalization #2 – suicidal ideation) due to suicidal thoughts. It was around this time that the diagnoses, Borderline Personality Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa NOS, were added. While I was in the hospital, C.F. made the decision to let his 19 year-old cousin, who I’ll refer to as L.T. or the cousin, come live with us, a decision that drove us further apart than anything else.

In one year – my year of Hell – everything fell apart. A lot of events and problems with mental illness led up to 1998 being the worst year of my life; but two particular instances stand out in my mind from that year that forever changed my beliefs, my reality, and how I perceived life. It was the year that destroyed my marriage. It was the year that resulted in lost custody of not only one child to my husband; but I also gave a second child up for adoption the following spring, 3 days after he was born. 1998 was a complete nightmare. I was “out of my mind” during much of that year. I don’t mean this figuratively. I am very much an introvert who requires more self-reflection and time to process thoughts and emotions than most. Chaos in my life makes it extremely difficult for me to stay present at any given moment. And 1998 was pure chaos. I spent a lot of that year completely dissociated because so much changed in such a short amount of time and kept changing that I was in a constant state of fight or flight where I simply froze.

Alcohol, in addition to the medications, factored into the mix. I had made a couple of female friends who took me out clubbing on a regular basis. I knew mixing antidepressants with alcohol could be deadly, but I simply did not care anymore – my illness would not allow me to care. My life was so chaotic at the time and the relationship with my husband, C.F., so bad that all I could think about was death and dying. Up until that point our marriage had been rocky at best. Our relationship suffered from serious communication problems and explosive arguments. His controlling behavior, even the inflection of his voice and choice of words, sent chills down my spine. I’ve often said that my husband was the only person I’ve ever met in my life who could say, “I love you,” yet sound like he’s saying, “I hate you,” at the same time.

We constantly fought about sex (he wanted it; I didn’t). Also, we fought over money or the lack thereof. Financial stress was taking its toll, and bankruptcy was inevitable. Shortly after L.T. came to live with us, I developed some serious issues with eating, not because I wanted to be thin but because C.F. and I were having such financial problems that I would forgo eating to be sure that our child had enough to eat. I think by this time C.F.’s brother also moved in with us; so there was a total of 4 adults and 1 child living in my house at the time, not to mention pets. I began stockpiling food under our bed to be sure there was enough food to feed our son. However, what began as an instinctive mother trying to protect her child (no matter how irrationally), resulted in my developing what my psychiatrist in ’98 termed Anorexia Nervosa NOS (not otherwise specified). She and my therapist just referred to it as anorexia, though… control issues, blah, blah, blah, whatever. Basically, after several months of restricting my food intake for the main reason – to feed my child – something snapped. I began obsessing about food – what I ate, when I ate it, how much I ate – until I dropped down to 88 pounds for my 5’3″ frame. It’s at that point that my therapist called Child Protective Services because she was concerned that my eating problems were interfering with my ability to take care of my son. My husband was furious with me! I was angry, but I understood her concerns and was happy to take the extra parenting classes that CPS offered me and C.F. He refused. I began having constant panic attacks that would last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours – gasping for breath, hyperventilating, and a racing heart that sent me to the ER one night.

Oh, but it gets worse….

Trigger Warning

The climactic night that changed everything was the night L.T. asked me to take her to a club, the day before Easter. I had eaten nothing for 3 days straight, was barely sleeping 3 to 5 hours per night, and spent that whole day doing yard work. That night was only the second time I had ever smoked marijuana, too, (I remembered the one other time was when I was, ironically, also 19 years old). I was so clueless that I didn’t even know she had it in the house! Not only had I smoked pot, but I had several drinks over the course of the night at the club (on top of my prescribed medications). The ER doctors even speculated that I had also been slipped a roofie that night because my memory was so sketchy about the events; but I think that if that was the case I would have no memories of the night whatsoever. And I do remember feeling like a limp rag-doll with little to no control over my body.

Needless to say, I was completely trashed. So trashed that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when a couple of guys in the army that we had been dancing with that night asked me to go back to their hotel room with them to “party” for a while longer after the bar closed. They were Army Special Ops soldiers on TDY from Ft. Bragg, NC. Somehow, I remembered this tidbit of info to make a note of it in my journal while hospitalized a couple of days later. It’s possible that I was told this by the police who were investigating the incident. However, I ended up not filing charges because I felt that it was my fault. I still struggle with a lot of self-blame over this rape; and yes, by legal definition, what happened to me was RAPE.

My memory of events now is even less reliable than it was then. In order to write this, I had to refer to my journals that I kept religiously back then because much of those memories are locked away, probably for good reason. After leaving the bar, it was like I was in a daze. I don’t even remember the walk to the hotel. By the time we got out of the elevator on their floor, they had to help me to their room; but I barely remembered them taking me by the arms to half-carry, half-drag me there. I was in and out of consciousness for the rest of that night, until I finally, completely passed out. I know that there were 4 men in the car the next day when they dropped me off at my house, but I honestly don’t know how many of them I had sex with. I was that out of it. I don’t know if I was angrier at myself for being so stupid or angrier at L.T. for telling me to “go have fun;” but nevertheless, that night changed everything. This is part of my journal entry from April 14, 1998, where I wrote about the rape:

“As soon as we got to their room, it began. Both guys repeatedly had sex with me. Another guy came in the room later and watched for a while. After he left they continued. After about an hour and a half of this, I passed out. The next thing I know, it’s morning and I wake up to one of the guys having sex with me. A little while later the other guy did it, too. About 11:00 that morning, I got a shower. While I was dressing, the third guy came in to watch, again. They, 4 guys at this point, drove me home.”

C.F. was away, in the field on a training mission for a month. Thankfully, the sitter who I left our son with the night before was responsible enough not to hand him over to the drunken cousin when she got home from the bar that night. When I finally got home that afternoon, I somehow learned that L.T. came home briefly and then went to her boyfriend’s barracks room. The sitter stayed with my son until about 6:30 am; and then, she took him over to our mutual friend’s apartment. While this friend was at work that morning, her husband watched him. The shame I feel in regard to putting my son and my friends through all of this is greater than any other emotion I could express.

That morning was such a blur that I barely remember taking handfuls of pills (Suicide attempt #2 – overdose) and lying down with the hope that I would die. But I got a phone call from my very angry friend to come pick up my son. I honestly don’t even remember the drive to her house. I really could have hurt someone. I’m thankful that I made it to their apartment safely, in one piece. My friend and her husband knew something was wrong almost immediately and called 911 after talking with me for a few minutes. An ambulance came and took me into the hospital on post. I barely remember talking to my therapist briefly on the phone and having to drink charcoal; but then, I passed out. After pumping my stomach, oddly enough, the hospital released me into my friend’s care.

The following morning, I saw my psychiatrist who had set up a phone call to C.F. My psychiatrist forced me to tell him everything that had happened. He began crying, asking me how I could do such a thing to him. I didn’t know how to answer that. I still don’t. They were going to admit to the hospital then; but I bolted. I got scared. I felt trapped. I was so scared of what my husband would do to me and so confused that I literally ran out of the office. I drove around for about 6 and a half hours. Later, I found out that the police and even my friend’s husband’s Commanding Officer had been there looking for me.

The next day, my friend convinced me to go to our group therapy session; and they convinced me to go to the hospital for a 72 hour hold (Hospitalization #3 – 72 hour hold) where they finally did a rape kit and tried to get me to press charges against the 4 men in that hotel room. Even though I had many rips and tears and remembered telling them to stop over the course of the night and next morning, my guilt and shame of what I had done prevented me from even considering the possibility that it was rape. Even to this day, 15 years later, I have trouble saying that I was raped because I do feel like it was my fault. I put myself in a compromising situation that had extremely detrimental effects, not only for me, but for my entire family and friends as well. Were the 4 guys in the hotel wrong? Yes, they should have never taken advantage of my naivety or my drunken state which is a crime (being intoxicated takes away your ability to consent); but I still blame myself more than them for what happened.

A couple of weeks later, I left my husband and son due to the intense guilt and shame I was feeling. I didn’t know how to process those feelings or manage my life any longer. Hell, I still don’t. I struggle to this day. Needless to say, there were plenty of good reasons for C.F. to get custody of our son due to my well-documented psychiatric illness, let alone my indiscretions that ultimately led to our divorce, which became final in 1999.

To be continued…

My Story – Part 2 (Off to College & Getting Married Too Young)

Continued from My Story – Part 1 (Childhood Background)

In 8th grade I was voted “Most Shy” along with a boy in my class. I was always very shy throughout school; but by middle school, I was pathetically shy. Despite my shyness, I made a few close friends in middle school who were there for me throughout middle and high schools. For them, I am forever grateful. They showed me kindness, compassion, and joy that made the last 3 years of high school fun and memorable. My freshman year of high school really wasn’t much fun because I was worrying with all of the medical tests and questioning life. I never really dated while I was in high school. Like I said, I was shy; so I didn’t have much opportunity. I went to the occasional dance with someone, but my first and only long-term relationship before marrying began the summer after I graduated high school.

On questioning my religious upbringing: By the time the new church was finished (not sure what year), the congregation at the Assembly of God we had been attending grew to over a hundred people. The music department included drums, a bass guitar, an electric guitar, piano, keyboard, trumpet, and the husband and wife song leaders. The “praise” service would sometimes go on for hours. There always seemed to be some drama going on with the music department (gossiping and fussing, mostly) to which the pastor said the devil was attacking the musicians and prayed for them. But then again, this is also the same church that laid hands on and prayed for my mom’s car, a Plymouth K car, because they thought it was possessed by a demon when, in fact, it was just a lemon! Daddy ended up replacing the car a few months later. Despite the craziness that was my church, I really looked up to my Sunday school teachers. I read my Bible daily and prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I thought for a time that I was (during my freshman year of HS), but I was still skeptical. At some point, I began asking questions. At first, I pretty much accepted the answers everyone gave me; but by my senior year in high school at age 17, I began having serious doubts.

I also had an excellent English teacher my sophomore and senior years (I dropped back from advanced English my senior year, just so I could have this teacher again). In our literature discussions about poetry, we turned to the Psalms briefly which led to a memorable discussion about the Bible and the Christian religion. My English teacher dared to tell us that King James added the parts about witches to the Bible or that it was, at best, a mistranslation. I’m not sure if this is actually true or not; but more recently I have discovered many reasons in the history of Christianity to warrant further skepticism. Nevertheless, my ever-questioning mind got me thinking, first about the people of other religions and their fate, and secondly, about the possibility that the Bible was not the “true and infallible Word of God.”

To make matters worse, I chose the topic of speaking in tongues (Glossolalia) for a research paper in this English teacher’s class. My research paper made me start questioning the validity of this experience that I witnessed so many Sunday services. I read that it was not actually a language, that it was a learned behavior, and most likely the result of a kind of mass hypnosis due to extreme emotion. I began watching the people closely who spoke in tongues and the ones who “interpreted.” Observing these behaviors in a few of the children at my church only seemed to confirm my suspicions that this research on the topic of Glossolalia was indeed true. I had no doubts that the faith of this congregation was very strong. These were kind, honest people. However, the doubt in God that I was experiencing caused me an enormous amount of shame. The answers I received to the questions I asked my Sunday school teachers and the preacher’s wife made me question even more, “If God would condemn all other religions to Hell, then how could He be a loving God? Why would He be worthy of my praise?” Questions like these made my doubts grow and my self-worth plunge. I thought, “If I’m questioning God, then I must truly be evil.” It was right before graduation that I took the first step in accepting my doubts by not attending church so regularly anymore; but this was also the beginning of an unconscious “rebellious” phase in my life.

During my senior year, I had already become interested in Hinduism and Buddhism, even tried out meditation for the first time, which many at my church frowned upon. A New Age bookstore had opened up at East Towne Mall in Knoxville, a store that I dearly loved from the first time I saw it. My Sunday school teacher and I often argued about this store. She swore that it was Satanic, as did most of the congregation at my church; but I found it spiritually enlightening and began reading as much as I could about the New Age movement. From then on, I continued searching through many different paths and philosophies, as I still do. Personally, I find the topics of religion, spirituality, and belief incredibly fascinating – to the point of obsession; although, I no longer consider myself Christian.

In the spring before I graduated high school, my dad had a heart attack. His heart attack actually, coincidentally occurred on the exact same day one of my best friends had a very serious car wreck. They were both at the same hospital in Knoxville. Things changed pretty drastically in my family life. My dad had to take time off of work to recuperate; and Mom went to work part-time at a local fast-food restaurant. I also found a part-time job working at a local grocery store. For the first time in my life, I had to concentrate on two things at once – work and school. Somehow, I managed to keep my grades up that last 9 weeks; but I remember feeling overwhelmed and pressured in a way that I never had before. 

Shortly after I graduated high school, *C.F. asked me out on a date. We both worked at the same grocery store (he was a stocker, and I a cashier). We dated that entire summer before I left for University that fall. That first semester of college was wonderful, exciting, scary, and overwhelming, all at the same time. I absolutely loved East Tennessee State University’s campus. It was beautiful. Even the library left a lasting impression with its secret hideaways on the upper attic floors. Sharing a dorm room with my best friend from high school and a another girl, who we quickly became friends with, I found it hard to get the level of alone time that I required to settle my nerves, to self soothe, and process emotions. In addition to being shy, I’m also an introvert (they’re not the same thing). About mid-way through the semester, I began feeling overly anxious and occasionally depressed; but I fought hard to remain focused.

An example of my mindset that first time away from home: When I took karate to fulfill one of my college physical education requirements my freshman year, I remember one particular day in class when we paired up, sparring. The girl I was sparring with hit me right in the solar plexus, not hard, barely a tap; but I started crying! Of course, everyone (including the teacher) thought I was hurt and gathered around me for assistance. And of course, that made it even worse! By the time the teacher sent me back to my dorm room, I was in a full-blown panic attack. I’m not a fighter. Dare I say that I’m a total wuss? Yes, probably so. Needless to say, that semester ended with me becoming so homesick (or lovesick?) that I returned home spring semester to attend a community college close by. I even changed my major from art, which everyone told me held no future, to early childhood education. Nearing the end of fall semester, C.F. asked me to marry him in my dorm’s common area, which probably influenced my decision to move back home more than anything.

EVERYONE told us we were making a mistake. To be honest, I had second-thoughts from the day he asked me to marry him; but I was rebellious and stubborn. And I felt like getting married was what “I was supposed to do” next. C.F. and I were married in the winter of 1991. Looking back, now, I agree. We got married way too young. We were only 19 years old. I realized early on, like within the first month after we moved in together, that the man I married was a real jerk. He was hateful. It was as if the tone of his voice was enough to just tear me away. It’s hard to explain. We moved into an apartment in Morristown to be close to the community college, where we both were attending spring semester. Those first few months of our marriage were stressful, to say the least. Financially, we were overwhelmed. Neither of us had a clue as to what we were doing or how to make things work.

In June 1992 C.F. enlisted in the army. While he was away at Basic Training and AIT, I moved back in with my mom and dad with the intent of saving money for the move to our first duty station, which was taking us to lovely Hawaii. I was so excited! By Christmas 1992, our household goods were packed and on their way. The trip for household goods took anywhere from 3 to 6 months to reach Hawaii. I found myself on a jet for the very first time in my life. I was moving 4,270 miles away from my home, my friends, and my family. Other than my first semester of college away from home, this was the first time I really left home, let alone moving out-of-state… so far away from everything I knew. I broke down into tears as the jet took off. I must have cried the first 500 miles, before excitement finally took over. From CA to HI, I had a sweet little girl sitting next to me who was absolutely captivated by my southern drawl. If I could, I would thank that little girl for lifting my spirits on that flight.

I arrived in Hawaii the day before Christmas. Getting off the jet, I immediately caught the scents of salty air and the most-heavenly-flower-gifted-to-humanity-by-Mother-Nature-herself, the Plumeria blossom. I spent Christmas Eve, 1992, sitting in the moonlight on the beaches of Waialua Bay. It was gorgeous. I absolutely loved it there! It was certainly a culture shock to a naive, very sheltered 20-year-old; but I was fascinated by everything. We settled into our apartment, and I began working as a teacher’s aide at a preschool. I didn’t have the chance to finish my Associate’s degree before we moved. By June of 1993, I found out that I was pregnant with our son. Financially, we were not prepared for this; but we were so excited and happy.

A few months after our son, M.A., was born in 1994, our names came up for military housing. It was a new townhouse unit in the middle of a pineapple field closer to the North Shore than where we were previously living. Especially with the move, our finances were out of control. Our relationship began to suffer. By December, 1994, we decided to try couples counseling on post because things between us had become so very tense. C.F. and I were racking up some severe credit-card debt; but he just wouldn’t listen to me that we were getting in over our head (I was raised to steer clear of credit, that it’s a trap.) Marital counseling only lasted briefly. After only 3 visits, our therapist said she could not work with C.F. To be honest, I think his abrasive nature intimidated her as it often did me. She told him to seek individual therapy through his unit division, which he never did, to my knowledge.

My therapist continued to see me alone. I was feeling very overwhelmed, having severe mood swings, a lot of anger towards my husband, and constantly second-guessing my abilities as a parent. Honestly, I was a complete nervous wreck. I questioned everything I did and had moments of total paranoia. I think this actually began while I was pregnant because I had this irrational fear that a worm was growing inside of me, something my friend and I laughed about in labor delivery after he was born and I counted all his toes and fingers to be sure. Nine months after our son was born, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and dysthymia. I refused medication at the time because I simply didn’t trust it.

Throughout several months of individual sessions, I questioned my childhood relentlessly, which to be honest, really wasn’t that bad. A lot of people have had it a lot worse. At my worst, I felt neglected some of the time; but there was no history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse that I could recall. However, in the course of therapy, my therapist concluded that I had been sexually molested at an early age due to memory gaps, problems with dissociating, anger and shame issues, and whatever other reasons she gave at the time, even though I had/have absolutely NO memory of anything like this ever happening (I have discussed this with no one since that time, not in all of the remaining years of therapy I received). Shortly after she reached this conclusion, my therapist had me attend a women’s group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I continued therapy and attended the group briefly, for only a few weeks, before I quit going to both altogether because I questioned the validity of her assumption.

A couple of months later, C.F.’s tour of duty at Schofield in Hawaii was over; and his second duty station took us from beautiful Hawaii to an isolated military post in the middle of the Californian desert. Sierra Army Depot had only 40 military personnel, total, and their families. This post has since been decommissioned. Everybody knew everybody. I seriously cried the moment I got out of our car when we arrived at billeting on post and saw a tumbleweed blow past my feet. The nearest town in one direction was Susanville, California, which was about 40 miles away; and in the other direction about 55 miles away was Reno, Nevada.

It was a demolition post, so that meant there was at least one huge explosion every single day while we lived there. You could set your clock by that explosion. It rattled the windows and shook everything in our house. I began to get severely depressed as the isolation began to wear on my nerves. At some point my husband had me see the PA on post who prescribed Prozac. I finally gave in and started taking them. Exactly 5 weeks from the day I began that prescription, the depression worsened to the point that I attempted suicide for the first time in my life (Suicide attempt #1 – overdose). I was hospitalized for two weeks (Hospitalization #1 – suicide attempt), diagnosed with Major Depression; and the army gave C.F. a “compassionate reassignment” to a post closer to home – Fort Campbell, KY.

*All names in my story have been omitted in order to protect the privacy of the people involved. 

To be continued….

My Story – Part 1 (Childhood Background)

I was a child that did not like change. I didn’t play well with others. I lashed out like a cat with more than one cousin who wouldn’t leave me alone while “I” was playing. I had severe separation anxiety and cried relentlessly for months every time Mom dropped me off at Kindergarten. I can remember lots of weird little quirks like this about my childhood – panic attacks sparked by the school librarian; painfully shy; struggled to learn to read, to do multiplication tables, and completely failed to grasp the concept of time; every single day from Kindergarten all the way through 6th grade, I took the same thing for lunch in my lunchbox – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a little bag of chips, one of those Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and a thermos of tea (did I mention, I hate change.) By second grade, I learned to love school, even looked forward to going.

Other than school and my family (large extended family), my mother’s religion influenced my life greatly (and in some ways, detrimentally). Going to church was definitely a big part of my life growing up – mostly Pentecostal churches. The earliest church I remember from my childhood burned to the ground sometime around the age of 4 to 6. I don’t really remember too much about it; but it was a small church comprised of mostly members of one family and their relations.

The next church was a Church of God. Again, this church was comprised of mostly the same family and relations from the previous church, related to my mom’s step-mother. In case you’re not familiar with Churches of God, this was one of those churches where all the women wore their hair in huge “beehive” hairdos and were not allowed to wear pants or makeup or jewelry, not even wedding rings; but my mom did put her foot down about that one. I remember dressing in these long “maxi-dresses” to go to church. These dresses literally came down to my ankles. The services could get a bit lively. This church, like so many others I attended later, believed in speaking in tongues, laying on hands in prayer, and sometimes took to running up and down the aisles, “dancing in the spirit.” Things like this were quite common. For a young child of 6, however, they could be quite terrifying.

We attended that church for several years. Every Saturday night, my dad dropped off my mom, my sister, and me at church while he went grocery shopping. I never got to ask my dad why he never went to church with us; but I’m fairly certain that his beliefs differed from my mother’s. He is buried in a Methodist cemetery. Occasionally, he would go with us to tent revivals or gospel singings; but it was a rare occasion that he would actually attend church services with us. But every Sunday morning, my parents regularly watched The Mull Singing Convention and televangelists during breakfast. I remember once going as a family to see the evangelist, Oral Roberts; but all I remember about this Christian gathering was that it was very crowded and held in a huge stadium, we got to go to Knoxville that day, and it was really boring.

At some point my mom began looking for another church. I’m not really sure why, though. There was a long break between that Church of God and the next church. During this break between churches, Mom sat my sister and me down in the living room for Bible study. Around age 11, we began attending an Assembly of God. It had a much smaller congregation that met in a storefront building next to a gas station, not far from where we lived. The services were much quieter and calmer, except on rare occasions. Assemblies of God are not as strict about hair and clothing as Churches of God; but they still have the same basic beliefs of speaking in tongues, laying on hands in prayer, and dancing in the spirit. My mom taught my Sunday school class for a while; but there were only a handful of kids my age. It was during this time that I went through the motions of accepting Christ as my personal savior; however, I still don’t think I really had a clue as to what that actually meant at the time. I just knew I didn’t want to go to this place they called Hell. I was baptized a while later in a river somewhere in East Tennessee. Was I supposed to feel any different??

The most memorable (and funny) experience I can remember from the years at this church was around the time that JR Ewing got shot on the television program, Dallas. A lady in the church actually asked the church to pray for JR Ewing because he had been shot the Friday before. Oh… and she was dead serious too! The pastor, a very kind and gentle man, blushed bright red and smiled as he repeated her request. He quickly moved on to the next person’s request as he glared at all of us kids who were struggling to subdue our giggles.

After only a couple of years attending this Assembly of God, the pastor decided to close its doors. I’m not really sure why. I wasn’t told. Everyone was very understanding, though. The pastor did, however, recommend another church which is where my religious upbringing gets a little more interesting. Also, the pastor showed me a great kindness as his church doors closed. He gave me the church’s old upright piano which I put to good use, teaching myself to play by ear and read music. We always had an organ in the house, which I taught myself to play; but I was excited to continue learning on a piano. This random act of kindness is one that I will never forget and forever be grateful for. Playing piano has been a great source of comfort for me throughout the years.

I think I was 13 years old when we began attending the next Assembly of God, the one the previous pastor recommended. This church also held its services in an old storefront building; but at that time the church had bought land to build a new church, which was finished a year or two later. When we started going there, I think the usual attendance was somewhere between 50 to 75 people. Everyone was so nice and friendly, but so Pentecostal. They were proud to be “holy rollers.” Now, they had some wild services. They did have the best music of all the churches I’ve ever attended! As I got older, I kind of pushed aside the craziness and scariness of the whole being filled with the Holy Spirit belief and began to get curious. For the first time, I began to listen more to the preacher and Sunday school teachers as I read along in my Bible.

This church provided lots of activities for the teens. We often attended Christian rock concerts to see entertainers like Carman or Phil Driscoll and the later discredited, Christian comedian, Mike Warnke. There were sleepovers and camping trips, roller skating, and “Hallelujah” parties that took the place of Halloween parties. I remember watching Fire By Night videos in Sunday school and a few debates that resulted in more questions than answers. They also had puppets that the teens practiced on Wednesday nights, putting together songs and silly skits to travel to area churches to proselytize to young children. I guess it was mostly for entertainment, but the overall goal was to “win kids to the Lord.”

The Summer of 1986

The first truly traumatic event that I remember from my life began the summer before my 14th birthday. I had to have a complete physical before I started my freshman year of high school. My right knee had been badly swollen for a couple of months; and of course, the doctor noticed it. He took x-rays, fluid off my knee, urine, and blood. He diagnosed me with Lupus (from the rash on my face that I thought was just acne, and protein in my urine) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (from the x-ray of my knee). He sent me to UT Medical Center for further testing. Throughout my freshman year of high school, I underwent several tests, including more blood-work, 24 hour urine tests, and even a skin biopsy.

After all of these tests were completed, I’m not really sure what the conclusion was because I don’t really remember anyone ever explaining anything to me or if they did, I just blocked it out. Afterwards, I just remember feeling incredibly terrified about it all and wanted all the tests to be over. Even though I remember the doctors telling my parents to schedule a follow-up for later, I was glad when they did not. I never knew why until a few years ago. To be honest, I thought they must have misdiagnosed me or something. I figured it was a stronger possibility that my family just didn’t have the money for the continued medical expenses.

Over the years (and at the present time), I continued experiencing problems that are indicative of Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis, i.e. severe joint pain, a recurring butterfly rash on my face that worsened with sun exposure, and serious problems with getting enough sleep. The exhaustion has been by far the worst symptom; but I’ve learned that when I need the extra sleep, if I take it (even if it’s 10-12 hours at a time), I feel better and my mood improves. Even the psychiatric issues that I’ve struggled with my whole life, depression and anxiety, can be neurological symptoms of either Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis; but I’ve only learned of this recently.

During the summer of 2006, I was sure I was having a flare-up because the butterfly rash returned over at least 80% of my face. The worst it has ever been. In addition I was constantly exhausted, and the joint pain spread from just my knees to every other joint in my body. I was also experiencing a new symptom, problems with my menstrual cycle, that may or may not have been related. It was at this time that I finally asked my mom why they never took me back to the doctor. She simply said, “God healed you of that horrible disease,” in a very matter of fact manner and changed the subject.

Since the physical symptoms were never horribly severe in the beginning, I just didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to think about it; but sometimes, I had to wonder if what was going on with me physically and mentally had something to do with Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. I mentioned it to my doctors every time I went in for physicals and during both of my pregnancies; but no doctor has ever taken these diagnoses seriously since I have no record of them (or like House says, “It’s never Lupus.”). After high school, I tried to get a copy of my medical records; but UT told me that they had been archived and would not provide them to me. The last time I saw a doctor was 4 or 5 years ago, when I found out that I was having problems with my thyroid. I now have a healthy fear, no – phobia, of doctors that prevents me from rationally seeking medical care or taking any prescription medication whatsoever, partly for this reason and partly due to my experiences with psychiatry.

Looking back at this period of my life in my teens and the reason for me telling this story is that it provides a context of my religious upbringing. I have come to realize that my fear of being diagnosed with an illness and having to contemplate my own mortality at such a young age caused me to become a real “holy roller” during my high school years. I remember the church laying hands on me to pray and how often people kept telling me that I was healed; but in reality, it felt like they were trying to plant a delusion in my head to fit their beliefs of God versus my own which were much more metaphorically based than literal, even back then. My symptoms in high school, while not as bad as now, still were there; but I was as determined then as I am now to not let these symptoms take over my life. It has taken me as many years to come to terms with this illness – whatever it is – as it did for me to understand why religion affects people in the ways that it does.

I think this is probably a good stopping point for today since this post is already so long. So many things influence us in our lives, but none so much as our childhood experiences. Even though I have a few blank spots in my childhood memories, my childhood was relatively normal. I grew up somewhat naive and sheltered (okay, very naive and sheltered), but for the most part, happy. I think a lot of the anxieties I felt as a child were due to my shyness which is probably where I’ll begin part 2. It’s going to take me several posts to get my story written out like this; but I think in the end, it will be worth it to me for a little clarity in my life.