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The Walk Back

Fall is coming. The leaves are changing, and people are talking about Halloween and Samhain. I think back to a year ago. I spent last Halloween in bed, crying. I couldn't deal with the kids and the parents in the neighborhood. I couldn't deal with being the house on the block that didn't give out candy, either, so my husband poured it all into a bucket and left it hanging from our front door. I had visions of the kids in the neighborhood egging our house or TP'ing our trees. None of that happened, but a family across the street did stop and knock to introduce themselves.

As I laid in the bedroom crying, and my husband stood around confused, I realized I couldn't continue like this. I'd been down this road before. I've been running my whole life like demons are chasing me. Medications help, but I was still letting fear rule. Fear of my neighbors, fear of fucking up my marriage, fear of being a failure at my job - again.

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In 2010, I had four different psychiatric hospitalizations. I'm open about it because I'm not ashamed. I'm amazed that it took me so long to really see how much help I needed. I'm 35 years old now and only just coming to the realization of how much I've spent my life under someone else's thumb. When I was growing up, encouragement wasn't the name of the game so much as shame for everything I wasn't. I was told, and shown, that what I thought and felt didn't matter. Not to my mother, and certainly not to her boyfriends. Not to my grandparents, who had all of the answers to life without realizing they were wrong. I wasn't told to follow my dreams - I was told not to be a burden.

My sister was the one who came to my rescue. I was unhappy in my marriage, and I hated myself for it. I had married a good, kind man who loved cats. He didn't hit me, and I thought that was as much as I could ask for. I also hated my soul-sucking job, where my coworkers openly mocked me. I hated living in Silicon Valley, where I couldn't afford to buy a $650,000 run-down crapshack. I bought a Lexus instead with my tech job money, and couldn't understand why I was just as miserable after fulfilling that lifelong dream. (Did I mention I was super poor as a kid?)

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I left it all behind. My sister bought me a plane ticket for what was supposed to be a two-week visit to see her in Washington state and to get my head together. I never left. I hated her for it at the time - it felt like a bait-and-switch to tell me it was a visit, and then tell me when I got here that I couldn't go home. I was on disability at the time and money was tight, so I couldn't afford a plane ticket home. I would've gone, too, right back to the crucible if I could have. I missed the sun. I moved to Washington state in October, just in time for the rains to start and the sun to start setting earlier and earlier. I spent most of my time in bed. I slept away Thanksgiving, despite multiple knocks on my bedroom door summoning me to dinner.

It feels like a lifetime ago, and like a blink of an eye ago, all at once.

I found a new psychiatrist when I moved up here, who floated the notion of bipolar. Not type I or even type II, but what she called "type III", or what the DSM calls "not otherwise specified" or NOS. I started some new medications that helped a lot with the random anger I'd feel, and could only direct at myself. No one but me deserved the kind of rage I could unleash. All I was ever shown as a kid was that it was okay to hit me, to beat me, to scream at me whenever anything in life didn't go as expected. As my abusers left my life, I picked up those torches and carried them to the finish line and beyond. I let their message, that I was worse than the shit under their shoe, filter into all aspects of my life.

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I understood intellectually that I was perpetuating the abuse, and that I had become my own abuser. I couldn't figure out a way to make it stop. I had a new boyfriend (now Mr Simon), and even his unconditional love couldn't seem to sink down to the roots of my self-loathing. I felt fat and tired and stupid. I went back to my old habits of not eating and letting myself be my own worst bully. "Stop eating, you fattie. No one wants to see a fat girl eat. Maybe if you stopped eating, you'd lose weight. Everyone knows being fat is calories in calories out. Fattie fat fat stupid bitch."

Of course I couldn't say it out loud, not where Mr Simon could hear anyway. I knew that he would give me The Look, and I'd feel terrible about beating myself up. No matter what I did, I felt like a failure.

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Last Halloween, and the couple of weeks following where I flaked on my best friend, showed me that it wasn't sustainable. I looked on psychologytoday.com for therapists near where I work. I found a few whose profiles suggested they may be able to help me work through these issues, but it was the smiling photo and kid-focus of my therapist that I really latched on to. At first I had no idea why I was drawn to her, but it became clear after working with her for a few months - the root cause of my issues stems from my absolutely awful childhood, so working with someone who has experience with kids makes sense. There was also an immediate rapport between us, and I finally felt safe to tell all the horror I'd been holding in for so long. She'd say, simply, "What happened to you is terrible and there's no excuse for it." I'd spent so long telling myself that I deserved all of what I got that it was hard to hear, and harder to believe. I still have days where I don't believe that I didn't bring it all on myself.

I thought that the answers to my self-loathing would be grand, sweeping gestures. Big, huge changes that would show everyone - and myself - that things were different now. Essentially, I thought I'd become a different person, one who wasn't broken, who had never had to doubt her own worth. Of course, that was pretty much the opposite of what happened. With therapy and my husband's undemanding love, I started viewing myself as someone who deserved to be loved, as-is, with scars and flaws and faults.

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It's been a series of small changes. First, I stepped outside of my own head. I tried to think about myself the way my husband did, and treat myself no worse than he did. It seems strange to say - that I had to think about what someone else thought about me. It seemed counter-intuitive to my years of trying to tell myself that I didn't care what other people thought. It turns out, I do, but it's a closed set of people. I am now the one to choose whether I give a shit what people say or think about me.

Next, came the realization that I was bullying and abusing myself. My self-talk was overwhelmingly negative, and there was no one in my head to stand up for me. So I started "talking back". I'd try and bring the rational: "Do you really deserve that?" "Okay, well, what can you try for next time?" "Stop talking about yourself like that." Ultimately I had to try treating myself like I would my best friend or kid sister.

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Another change that ended up bringing me great rewards was simply the act of eating. It became clear over time that my mood and my relationship were infinitely more stable when I actually ate lunch. When I let myself fat-hate, it's really easy to skip lunch. "I'm not hungry and anyway I'm fat and fat people should stop eating for the good of humanity." I once asked my doctor why he never lectured me about being fat. He looked at me and said, "Well, it's not really a problem that science knows how to solve right now." I almost hugged him. These days, I ask myself: "Do I want to fight with my husband tonight? No? Then EAT LUNCH DAMMIT."

I don't have all the answers. I don't know if this will help anyone, or just seem self-aggrandizing. Ultimately the story of my recovery is no one else's but mine, but my hope in putting this out here is to help someone - anyone - who's struggling and thinks that hope is worthless. No matter what you think about yourself, people love you and care about you. You are my fellow human being and I want to help you find your way out of the darkness. I leave this as a golden thread.

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