Ten months ago today my son was born. Normally I post a letter to him here, but I am unable to come up with the words. I am buried under so much other stuff.
I've decided to do something a little daring and very, very personal. I'd like to share my history of depression here, in pretty painful detail. I'm not sure what the outcome will be, only that I can't keep hiding behind this screen pretending that everything is okay. I feel that my blog is dying, because I myself, or the Leslie I used to be, has died. I'm not sure who I will end up being or what will become of this space here. I am in this awful in-between state, and wow, it just sucks to be here.
These words, they've been wanting to burst out of me since November. They need to be said. I hope that you'll be gentle. I'm not looking for pity. I'm not sure what it is I'm looking for, only that I know I need to share this. I'm tired of feeling ashamed.
(The paragraphs in italics below were written on November 10, 2009, which is a pretty significant anniversary for me.)
Who am I?
How many times have we asked ourselves this question? Me, I've asked it multiple times. I asked myself that question today, and here's what my 30-year-old self came up with.
I am the daughter of a man who was left empty after surgery to remove a vascular brain tumor. I was three years old at the time, and so many of my first memories are associated with my dad's illness and recovery. I remember throwing up in a drugstore bathroom in Houston, the city where my dad was hospitalized and treated. I remember blue curtains in our hotel room. I remember my dad's snake-like scar on his head from where they operated. I remember how my dad threw up quite often at dinner once he was home and recovering. I remember swallowing some of my dad's pills on accident, and I remember big hands in my mouth trying to scoop out the chewed-up bits. I remember fights, angry fights full of screaming and tears and threats of suicide. I remember the heaviness of depression that invaded both my parents.
Despite all this, I grew up a pretty happy, well-adjusted kid - on the surface, at least. I got good grades, was involved in lots of activities, had no real problems making friends or acquiring boyfriends, got into a healthy amount of trouble in high school, but underneath it all, I was beginning to boil over and fester. Looking back, I don't really think I had the coping skills to really understand and deal with what had happened to my dad and how it had affected our family. Naturally, that came later, after I became someone else.
I became someone else on November 10, 1997 - the day I was raped. I was an 18-year-old college student, fresh out of high school and ejected into the real world. My entire life up until that point had been built on denial, and becoming a rape victim forced me out of my safe little bubble world where everything was okay as long as I didn't think about it. I was overcome with anger, sadness, shame, guilt, and hatred towards myself and the world. I almost immediately began to self-destruct, thus leading me to make some of the worst decisions of my life. I entered into a state of deep self-loathing, and I stayed there for several years. Those four years are what I call my Great Depression. Looking back on them, I don't remember many good things. I do remember the rawness of everything I felt. The world had changed, and I had been born into emptiness. Everything that I had built had fallen apart.
Being raped forced me to think, to feel, to become. I will never say it was a blessing in disguise. Because it wasn't. It was quietly violent and shameful and dirty. It was the most horrific thing I have ever experienced. But out of all the pain grew the woman who moved to California, finished college, married a wonderful man, and birthed a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Through all the tears, the rage, the sleepless nights, the thousands of angst-ridden poems, the four years of therapy, I became me.
But who is that?
I used to know that pretty well, but now I've realized that I don't. Not anymore. Because then Charlie was born. And I don't think I really understood right away how much his birth had transformed me. I still don't think I've completely grasped it. I am a different person. And while I am over-the-moon happy with Charlie, there's a black cloud called Traumatic Birth Experience hanging over me. And honestly? I think that Charlie's birth has led to postpartum depression.
The further I get away from Charlie's birth, the more parallels I see between it and my rape experience. There were the cries for help that went unanswered. The real fear that I wouldn't make it out alive. The knowledge that I was completely powerless and that my body was not my own anymore. In the OR, I was strapped down, out of my mind with pain and fear, and there was not an ally to be found anywhere. I was separated from the people I loved while a man cut me open and took out my insides. And when I came to, I was not the same person anymore. A fundamental part of me was missing.
Someone took what should have been an empowering experience and made it ugly and violent. In doing so, I was stripped of all my power and agency. I will never have that experience back; I will never be able to make it right. Am I sad? You betcha. Am I angry? FUCK YES.
After I was raped, I went looking for the part of me that I lost but I never did find it. In time, something else grew in its place. I feel that the same thing will happen in regards to Charlie's birth. That I will come out of this a better person. I hope so, because honestly I do not like who I am right now. I don't like this sadness, this anger. This alienation. This bloody mess.
I was in the middle of writing this when I got the news that my dad has been moved into a nursing home after a series of alarming incidents. I found out this information through email, and I instantly deflated. And burst into tears. And made frantic phone calls.
As problematic as my relationship with my dad is, I am not ready to face the fact that his condition is (probably) rapidly deteriorating. I find myself wondering if I should prepare for the worst. But there are no answers. There are never any answers.
And that's the kicker. There's no closure. These events, they just linger on and on. I never get to close the Book of Rape and proclaim it done. I never get to say, "Yeah, it's real tragic what happened to my dad, but I got over it." And I will probably never understand why Charlie's birth had to unfold in such a horrific way, and I know I'll never be able to say, "I'm just so grateful to have a healthy baby that all the birth trauma I went through means nothing." These are things that will always remain with me, that I will carry with me for the rest of my days. Most days, they'll be just a normal part of the burdens that life offers us, and I will be okay.
And then there are days like today. Twelve years after rape, and my dad's on the verge of I-don't-know-what, and my Cesarean scar burns with anger and shame. I feel like things are falling apart once again, and as prepared as I am for this, I'm just not prepared for this.
Today I don't know who I am. I don't know if things will be okay. What I do know is that these same damn annoying wounds hurt - they hurt so badly.
As you can see, life has been unbearably tough lately. Of course, I am so grateful for all that I have, but things do feel like they are falling apart. Because, you see, the past has a way of worming its way back into the present. It is so damn maddening to know that we can do all the right things and work our asses off to heal and become better people, but that something can happen to take it all away. It sucks that often those who hurt us the most get to go on and lead their oblivious lives, while we are left cleaning up the mess. The hardest thing is that I am back to feeling so hurt and scared that there is no doubt that I am nothing but a victim, when for years I struggled to become a survivor. I prided myself on surviving being raped and all the emotional fallout that resulted from it. That pride is gone. I have been stripped of myself. I have so many moments when I don't know how I will go on. I love my son, I love my husband, I love my family and friends, but they can't save me. The only thing I can do these days is take baby steps and hope that in those small movements lies the key to healing.
Thank you for letting me share.