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I spent 23 days in a psych ward and that’s okay.

stigma

I’ve written previously about my life-altering suicide attempt when I was 22 years old and touched briefly on my 23 days spent in inpatient treatment but in efforts to continue to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek the help they need I want to go a bit more into detail about my stay at a psychiatric hospital.

They have a really bad reputation.

No one and I mean NO ONE wants to shout out from the rooftops that they’ve spent 23 days in the psych ward.

But why?

Stigma.

That’s why.

We have no problem sharing our stint in the hospital when we have our gallbladder removed or when we have a heart attack scare because we were sick and we got the help we needed but when it comes to mental health it’s hush hush.

We worry about what people will say.

That she’s crazy.

That he should steer clear of her.

That she didn’t pray hard enough.

That she is clearly not cut out to be a therapist.

Stigma is the worst. 

These barriers to treatment are a huge reason people kill themselves.

There is such great hopelessness and such great worry of living with these new attributes that people choose to end their lives instead of seek treatment.

It is heartbreaking.

When I sliced my wrists on that bathroom floor I didn’t think there was help.

No one ever asked me if I was okay.

No one ever offered treatment as an option to my reckless behavior and clear substance abuse.

I was lucky.

I survived my attempt and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

It wasn’t that bad.

There were people just like me there.

And some nothing like me.

But the people there didn’t matter.

The therapy, the groups, the medication- that’s what mattered.

Don’t focus on hospital food. Or people “crazier” than you. Or big pharma’s hand in treatment. Or the stigma of checking yourself in.

You don’t need to lie and say you went on vacation.

Or took a break from social media.

Or went on a mission trip.

TELL PEOPLE YOU GOT THE HELP YOU NEEDED.

That you stayed in psychiatric treatment for 23 days and it changed your life.

Talking about our struggles, our triumphs, our REAL LIFE experiences can help reduce stigma.

It can help reduce the number of suicides.

It can help people get help.

More often than not people look at me like I have things figured out. Like I have it all. A great marriage, a wonderful son, education, opportunity, support- but I didn’t always have this.

I’ve been broken too.

On my knees in a bathroom with a broken razor in hand.

Watching blood pool around me.

We are the same.

We all struggle and we all have the opportunity to overcome the emptiness, the hopelessness, the heavy depression.

We just need treatment.

Counseling.

Medication.

Support.

Self-Care.

Maybe inpatient treatment.

Are you okay?

Because I wasn’t always okay. And I won’t always be okay.

But now I know how to get the help I need. And I’m not ashamed.

Copy and paste this, share it, it doesn’t matter. I hope everyone that reads this will share that treatment isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or defective. It means you have the introspection to give your life another chance.

It means you’re strong.

Powerful.

Capable.

Stop the silence to reduce the stigma.

Share your story.

Your struggle.

Be real.

Seeking treatment changed my life and I know it can change yours. Or your friends. Or your brothers. Or you Mom’s.

Is your thinking faulty? Go to war.

Have you ever felt like the Cheshire Cat?

Fading away.

Slipping away.

Until you are no more.

Lately I’ve felt like the disappearing cat from a beloved children’s book. Fading, fading, gone.

Does anyone notice?

Can you still see me?

I feel as if I’m floating.

Barely here.

Barely there.

Stretched so thin that I’m now Gumby.

At what point will I snap?

Am I as indestructible as I hope to be?

Nothing can kill me.

Not even myself.

Pull. Pull. Pull.

You grab one arm.

You grab the other.

My stretchy, indestructible green arms will let you pull and pull but they will not snap.

I will reappear.

My grin wider.

More present.

I am reinventing myself.

Will you like me?

Can you recognize me?

My costume is the same.

Blonde hair.

Spray tanned skin.

Hooped earrings.

But I am not the same.

The strength and indestructibility I feel growing within me is superhuman.

You can’t break me.

He didn’t break me.

Nothing can break me.

Pull and pull with all your might.

This little girl can put up a fight.

Lately I’ve been battling demons.

Calling myself names.

Damaged.

Worthless.

Never. Good. Enough.

But I’ve won the fight. I’ve knocked down the demons. Changed my language.

Vulnerable.

Raw.

Trying.

The. Best. I. Can. Be.

Are you battling demons?

Fading into the background?

Until you’re nothing?

Being stretched every which way?

Me too.

What can you do about it?

Try what I did.

Change your language.

Fight the demons.

Reframe your negative thoughts.

CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING.

Ask yourself- is this true?

How accurate is this thought?

Because I may be damaged but I’m trying.

I am not worthless.

I am hopeful.

I am not always good enough but I am good enough for the people who love me.

Fight the demons.

We are at war.

I am at war with myself. But I’m winning.

I am resurrected and stronger than ever.

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Grief is not an event in time

me and dad

Today marks 14 years since my father died by suicide. It seems like an eternity ago and as if it were yesterday at the same time. This is the tricky thing about grief. It bobs along in the past and guts you in the present. No matter how much time passes by these notions still ring true.

Grief is not an event in time.

Grief is like love.

It is a life-long, ever-changing experience.

It evolves.

It expands.

It changes in depth.

Volume.

Intensity.

But it never fades.

It changes us.

For always.

Forever.

14 years ago when I heard the words fumble from my Mom’s mouth that my Daddy was dead, I was forever tied to this grief.

Anchored to its weight.

Bounded by its presence.

For always.

Forever.

It is both the past and the present.

Moments of gut-wrenching intensity bring me to inconsolable tears even 14 years later.

Today consisted of a few of those moments.

Seeing his photo grace my social media timeline today (even though he didn’t live to see Facebook- or Instagram- or my blog) brought me to tears.

His brown eyes reflecting back at me in the mirror brought me to tears.

Even though I see these eyes every day.

Explaining to an audience full of grievers that my son’s middle name carries on my Dad’s legacy brought me to a drive home with tear-streaked cheeks.

Grief is in the present.

It is the now.

Grief is for always.

Forever.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

These gut-wrenching moments are because I love my Dad.

Because I hurt that he hurt so badly and no one rescued him.

Because I didn’t rescue him.

Because I love him.

No matter the years that pass by my grief will never be in the past.

Not completely.

This grief. This love. Is a part of me.

It’s who I am.

It’s the best of me.

The worst of me.

My brightest light of hope.

My darkest depression.

This grief is me.

This grief is present.

For always.

Forever.

If you are missing someone you love and wondering why your grief is in the present and not the past- don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.

Because you aren’t.

Grief is not an event in time.

It is the present and the past.

It is a lifelong, ever-changing experience.

Just take it one day at a time.

For always.

Forever.

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I’ll try again.

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I feel as if I never really got better.

The depression will always hang heavy over me.

My limbs have been fighting against it for as long as I remember.

Lifting it up.

Pushing against its weight.

I couldn’t hold it up forever.

It’s as if I painted myself with gold paint.

For so long I was shiny and new.

Reborn.

Strong.

Sparkly from the outside.

But the paint was a thin layer.

That’s peeling at the edges.

Underneath is nasty.

Black.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Paint doesn’t last forever. Over time it begins to discolor or chip in places and then what was once there is exposed for the world to see.

What I’m wondering is how I fooled everyone with this shiny layer? 

Could they not see my darkness peeking through? 

Did they think I truly changed?

Healed? 

Grew?

I didn’t. 

I’ll always be broken. 

Dingy.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

The moment that monster crawled on top of me.

The moment she turned on that dryer. 

The moment I heard our dogs yelp in agony. 

The moment my Dad fell asleep in a room filled with carbon monoxide.

The moment I cut my wrists on that bathroom floor.

The moment I said I do.

The moment my son was born.

The depression has always been there. Growing. Lingering. Forming. In remission.

I’ve been broken.

Through everything.

The good and the bad.

The paint is peeling.

I don’t know what to do. 

I feel like giving up. 

Throwing in the towel.

Dropping the act.

I feel so ugly.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Broken.

I don’t want to do this anymore. 

How can I expect someone to paint on another coat? 

It will just peel again.

Or discolor.

I am unfixable.

I came off the manufacturer line fucked up from the beginning.

They should of threw me away. 

Why won’t I give in to the darkness?

Who I really am? 

Why do I keep getting myself repainted only to find the paint peeling in the future?

I am throwing away my used paint brush.

Will you throw me away?

It’s for your own good. 

Just let me go. 

The weight of this darkness, this depression, reminds me of the monsters body. Heavy. Suffocating. Never ending. 

I want to be done. 

But here I am…

Purchasing a new paint brush. And a sander. 

Sand me.

Buffer out my darkness.

Smooth out my flaws.

Then paint me up.

Make me new.

Help me heal.

Take my hand. 

Pull me out of this darkness.

Make me shine.

Or maybe I should paint myself this time.

This darkness is not your burden.

You are not a hired hand.

It is not your job to fix me.

It’s mine.

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You might not like what you see.

More and more, it feels like I’m doing a really bad impersonation of myself.

My facade is cracking.

Splitting open at the seams.

What parts of me might spill out?

My flame is flickering. The wax is pouring over.

Almost dripping on the carpet before it dries out. Forms anew.

Hardens there for everyone to see.

candle

Don’t look at me.

You might not like what you see.

The impersonation is usually flawless.

Cunning.

Creative.

Charismatic.

But the drying wax is ugly.

Messy.

Clumped up.

Destructive.

The facade is usually captivating.

Bringing awe.

Attracting attention.

Providing hope.

But the flameless candle is dark.

Brings fear.

Attracts similar souls.

Provides escape.

My facade is cracking.

You removed the bricks.

What parts of me have spilled out?

What parts of me do you wish you never saw?

Are you dark like me?

Did your darkness find mine?

Help me light my candle.

Sew me up at the seams.

Watch me drop my impersonation.

Meet the real me.

The messy me.

The self sabotaging me.

The dark me.

You might not like what you see.

But this is me.

The real me.

 

 

 

 

 

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You are good enough.

you can

Two steps forward, one step back.

The hesitation pattern of my life.

Second guessing.

Overthinking.

Two steps forward, one step back.

I am my own worst critic.

You will fail.

You will embarrass yourself.

You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.

The thoughts that cloud my mind.

I have never been a good friend to myself.

I can pick myself apart.

Any award or accomplishment I have received has been ripped apart in my mind.

Luck.

Chance.

They felt sorry for you.

The thoughts that cloud my mind.

When I was in fourth grade I was awarded the honor of student of the month. Some girls at school snickered behind my back. In a bathroom stall I heard them gush about how the teachers felt sorry for me.

Words of judgement slipped through their nine year old mouths rather quickly.

“Did you notice her bruises?”

“Her hair is always a mess.”

“Does she only own one pair of shoes?”

Walls built, my heart as guarded as can be. I remember walking out of that stall with my head held high.

The front I show to the world is confident.

Controlled.

Powerful.

Motivated.

Gritty.

But I can pick myself apart.

You will fail.

You will embarrass yourself.

You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.

Two steps forward, one step back.

It could be worse.

It’s slow movement but its movement.

GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD, BRANDY.

Stride.

Move.

Try.

Hesitate no more.

Life is too short, too fragile, and too uncertain to take so many steps backward.

I want the front that I show the world to be my reality.

Confident.

Controlled.

Powerful.

Motivated.

Gritty.

Maybe one day I’ll be her. Until then I’ll admit to the world that I pick myself apart.

Because maybe I’m not alone in this.

Maybe we are all criticizing who we are instead of loving ourselves as we should.

You will succeed.

You will be proud of yourself.

You ARE good enough.

You are not alone. 

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Guarded by a Fortress.

locks

I’ve been told I’m difficult to get to know more times than I can count.

I wish I could give better first impressions.

But the real me is guarded.

Protected.

Locked up tight.

The keys to my castle are hidden in the depths of my mind.

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

I put on a good show.

Hair, makeup, nails, clothes, education, employment, dinner, dessert.

But it’s all a show.

Who am I?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

When I was in fifth grade some girls in my class cornered me. They made fun on my beat up gym shoes and my frizzy strands. They bestowed upon me the presidential title for the IBTC. All fellow girls cringe at that committee. No one wants to be President. But what those girls didn’t know is I didn’t care. My walls were higher than their words could go.

Before fifth grade I built my castle walls. In the streetlight lit room of my childhood I built a fortress around myself.

I realized at a young age the importance of protecting myself. From the monsters. From the mean girls. From the frigid air of our unheated home.

Protecting myself meant that no one could hurt me. It gave me power. Control. Safety.

All the things I didn’t have as a girl who grew up in chaos.

Taller and taller the walls went following each night in my pale pink room filled with snow made of baby powder.

All I needed was a key and I swallowed it whole.

Although this fortress protected me over the years, I’m afraid that I’ve blocked out too much.

Too much possibility. Too much hope. Too much Brandy.

I want to let her shine but I fear the mean girls.

I fear the rejection

I don’t fear the monster because I could take him down if I wanted to.

I don’t fear the chaos because I now have power. Control. Safety.

Should I remove a brick?

Will you remove a brick?

Will you know me?

I swallowed the key. Can you find it?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

 

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I slaughtered her.

Do you ever scroll through old Facebook updates and cringe at the utter embarrassment you used to be?

Because I have.

On a daily basis I am able to capture a narrow glimpse at the person I used to be.

you've changed

It’s no wonder I don’t have lifelong friends.

I changed.

I grew.

I stood on that alternate Brandy’s shoulders and claimed the territory.

I slaughtered her.

I grew anew.

Updates like a lost car that was never lost or declarations of being on house arrest because of my troublesome behavior and my parents attempting to salvage my reputation and mental health are plastered across my memory page on Facebook.

In the past I allowed myself to cringe.

But not anymore. I have new eyes to see these updates with.

Although it is still slightly embarrassing to remember the person I used to be….

It’s actually reassuring at the same time.

It assures me of the capability and possibility of change in each and every human.

My hope for humanity is, oftentimes, restored amongst the feelings of shame buried deep inside of me.

For who we are now took a journey.

And on my journey to myself I’ve been so many people.

Along the way I have nurtured my soul.

I have attempted to the best of my abilities to feed and fuel myself with grace and care.

Although the slaughtered alternate Brandy still lives somewhere deep inside of me. She is kept at bay. She is the roots of this Brandy. The very beginning of her transformation begins with a drunk night and a lost car. With declarations of being on house arrest after a night full of secrets.

Do not cringe at who you once were.

Remember your roots began there.

Fuel your soul. Allow yourself grace.

Water your roots, for they may grow into flowers.

 

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Shame on me.

brandy

I grew up in a rickety house on Jackson Store Rd. in the middle of no where.

I didn’t come from money.

There were days I can remember eating a mayonnaise sandwich for dinner and longing to get to school the next day for breakfast.

The constant fear I lived in was sometimes overshadowed by my MaMa’s sweet tea or my Mom’s frozen grin as I sung on stage during a beauty pageant.

I used to hide in my closet in the dark until the shouting would stop.

Well into my adulthood, these memories sometimes flood me like a tidal wave.

I find myself thinking of the way things used to be and then the next thing I know I’m bobbing along a turbulent sea. Struggling to keep my head up above the water. Stopping myself from blurting out some narrative about a pageant interview where I talked about the dogs I used to have and how they were punished when they wouldn’t stop barking or if they got out of their cages. Stopping myself from telling people the cringeworthy shit of my childhood. The dark, black, nasty stories that no one wants to hear. The stories that bring me such great shame and embarrassment that I wish I couldn’t remember them.

Not long ago, I wouldn’t have considered writing about the shame and ugliness of my childhood.

I didn’t want anyone to know.

To judge me.

To judge my Mom.

To automatically slap a label on my family that would no longer be accurate.

To allow people to gossip about “why didn’t she leave”.

Shame is a corrosive emotion.

Oftentimes, we give shame too much power.

Brene Brown, researcher and social worker by trade, describes shame as:

“the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

No wonder we don’t want to talk about shame.

However, I feel that the less we talk about it the more power we give it.

Telling my story- my ugliness- my flawed self- allows me to have the power- I’m in control of this narrative.

So here it goes-

My name is Brandy Leigh Chalmers and I’ve spent upwards of 20 years feeling humiliated and embarrassed of my childhood.

I come from a broken family.

A broken home.

A large chunk of my childhood memories involve physical and emotional abuse.

I’m not ready to talk about the other kind.

We struggled financially and used a kerosene heater for warmth.

I can remember big sheets hanging to try and keep the warmth in around the doors in our home.

I mainly owned hand me downs from my friend, Polly. And I weaved in and out of feeling ashamed to wear them to ecstatic to own the newest barbie doll threads.

Not everything was dark and ugly.

I had a skating rink birthday party that was one of the greatest days of my life.

I was good at pageants. I loved being on stage.

I owned a sky dancer, an easy bake oven, and a polaroid camera.

I moved away from the violence when I turned 11.

Things really, really changed then.

For the better.

But then my Dad killed himself and I was back at square one.

My experiences left me, for a long time, feeling unworthy of love.

They led to self sabotaging behaviors and constant searching for additional experiences to validate that I, in fact, was unlovable.

But I’m done with that. I’m done with the shame.

I was seven years old the first time I realized my life at home was not normal. I had a sleepover at a friends house and it was magical. There was no shouting. There was no empty beer bottles. There was no tear streaked eyes. There was just love.

I was a child.

I didn’t ask for this baggage.

I didn’t ask for any of it.

But you know what I did do?

I allowed myself to feel ashamed. Unlovable. Not good enough.

For many, many years this is what I carried.

Embarrassment.

Humiliation.

Family secrets.

No more. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not the same seven year old that begged to not come home after a sleepover. I’m a grown woman who chooses her future. I am in control of my own narrative.

Are you?

Don’t let shame hold you back. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be you.

 

 

Friendless.

Today I ate lunch, alone, in my car, again.

In the recent years I have realized that my friends have moved away. Or we grew apart. Or maybe we were never close to begin with.

The loneliness kills me sometimes.

My husband has been gone for 105 days and the number of times I’ve been asked and/or invited to do something I can count on my left hand.

Feeling unliked isn’t a stranger to me.

I’ve never really felt like I belonged anywhere.

I’ve never had a clique. Or a group. Or a circle of friends. For more than a season.

When I was planning a wedding I found myself bridesmaid-less.

With a crew of disconnected friends.

Sometimes I feel like I am the only girl in the world without a squad.

It’s not that I feel unloved.

I feel loved by my husband and our families and our beautiful son.

But I do feel alone.

I shop alone.

I watch movies alone.

I eat lunch alone.

I’m sick of being alone.

I just wanted to write this pity party for one for all the girls out there that feel alone.

Squadless.

Friendless.

You’re not alone in these feelings.

I feel them too.

And I’m here to chat if you need to.

Maybe we can FaceTime lunch in our cars?

Because I know I can’t be the only one… right?