Have you ever felt like the Cheshire Cat?
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.
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.
I am reinventing myself.
Will you like me?
Can you recognize me?
My costume is the same.
Spray tanned skin.
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.
Never. Good. Enough.
But I’ve won the fight. I’ve knocked down the demons. Changed my language.
The. Best. I. Can. Be.
Are you battling demons?
Fading into the background?
Until you’re nothing?
Being stretched every which way?
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.
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 changes in depth.
But it never fades.
It changes us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sparkly from the outside.
But the paint was a thin layer.
That’s peeling at the edges.
Underneath is nasty.
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?
I’ll always be broken.
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.
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.
I don’t want to do this anymore.
How can I expect someone to paint on another coat?
It will just peel again.
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.
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.
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.
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 of 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.
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.
It’s no wonder I don’t have lifelong friends.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t let shame hold you back. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be you.
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.
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?
When I was 22 years old I tried to kill myself.
I was crying on my knees in a communal bathroom and remember breaking a razor and slicing my wrists. There was a lot of blood. Sometimes in my dreams I still see the red pools on the floor around me. I remember shaking in shock that this time I had actually done it. After years of toying with the idea and overdosing on tylenol or swerving my car recklessly, I had actually done it. I felt panicked but was glued to the floor. I thought of no one. And things went dark.
I woke up in a hospital room the following day. Alive.
Let me back up a bit.
As a child, things were no walk in the park. My family was dirt poor and broken. There was violence in the home I grew up in. For many years I was ashamed to discuss this because I was dealing with years of family secrets and shame. I didn’t want anyone to think of me as less than. I was hurt as a child. However, I was also loved. It’s not fair for me to gloss over the good in my childhood. I loved singing in pageants and spending Saturday’s at my MaMa’s house. But there were days I feared my Mom would be killed. Or things even worse would happen to me.
Things improved around middle school despite my frizzy hair and constant awkwardness of my life.
Then, my Daddy killed himself my sophomore year of high school.
Feelings of blame, shame, anger, hatred, disgust, abandonment, insecurity, and guilt consumed me.
I became overwhelmingly depressed for years to come.
I battled with depression. Long and hard.
I also had good days. Days I smiled. Days I thought I could do this. Days I moved forward.
But the bad days. They hung heavy. They became me.
I was unfocused.
I was barely existing.
I was more insecure than I feel that words could ever justify.
My existence depended on other people.
If they loved me enough. If they cared about me enough. If they texted me. Then I would live. If they didn’t I would swallow as many pills as I could get my hands on and try to sleep. Hoping for a long, dark sleep.
And then I hit rock bottom.
I joined the military to escape everything. I was shipped off to basic training and 9 days later I slit my wrists in a bathroom with blue walls. This is the day that changed everything for me.
I spent 23 days in the hospital. TWENTY THREE.
I got on medication.
Resisted treatment. Then began to open up.
I let myself feel all the emotions I had pushed aside all those years.
I began to heal.
And I decided I needed a change. I wanted to live. I deserved to live.
Much like an addict, I decided this shit has got to stop.
The victim act.
The poor me spectacle.
The shit had to stop.
And it did. I became determined.
Even though I hid my suicide attempt from most of the people in my life (who so graciously believed my lies surrounding my medical discharge from the military), I was empowered. I knew I needed to work in mental health. I knew I had a purpose in life.
Seven short years later and my life is far from perfect but it is absolutely perfect to me. Perfectly imperfect.
I am married to the love of my life. The only person who knows every, single secret that I spent years hiding and loves me anyways.
I have the most wonderful son. With the brightest blue eyes in the world. He is so worthy of life.
I have my work. Where I’m able to empathize to great lengths. I’m able to use my experience to truly understand how shitty life can be but also know how beautiful it can be.
So, if you’re like 22 year old me. Know you’re not alone. LIFE IS HARD,
but it can also be beautiful.
So, so, so, so beautiful.
I thank God daily for my second chance. Not everyone gets that.
I wonder if we had found my Daddy earlier what would things be like. What if we had barreled down his bedroom door and released all the poisonous gas that would fill his body and take him from us. Would he feel the same way? Would he say THANK GOD I FAILED AT THAT. THANK GOD I GET A SECOND CHANCE.
I like to think he would.
Because we could have proven him wrong. He would have held a grandchild in the future. One with big, bright blue eyes who giggles with all the joy of the world.
Don’t do it.
A second chance isn’t guaranteed.
Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need someone to talk to.
No one else can play your part.
Since starting this blog I have received messages from those close to me and from those I wasn’t sure knew I existed, concerning the content of blog posts, personal experiences they have had, and even outcries of hopelessness.
It was never exactly my intention to help others through my writing. More so, an outlet for me to become more transparent and process my own life.
However, it has ended up accomplishing both.
One of the messages I received came from a girl I barely knew in my high school years. We continued being connected on social media but hadn’t spoke at all for the ten + years since we walked the same hallways of our youth.
The message she sent me eloquently explained that she always assumed there were two types of people in the world: people who needed help and then those who had it all together. She was honestly shocked to see someone self-proclaim themselves as a “counselor with a counselor”.
And here I am- weeks later- stuck on the idea that people truly believe this notion. You either have it together- or you don’t.
Everyone has baggage.
Everyone, from the most broken to the most obviously successful, has baggage.
However, our society STILL encourages people to hide their crazy.
In a training I attended today, the speaker discussed how we should not post on social media things we wouldn’t post as a banner on our homes. She gave the examples of relational problems and financial struggles.
It took everything inside of me not to interrupt. Not to scream. Not to rush to the front of the room and say BUT WHY.
Why must we hide our crazy?
Why must we be one or the other- needing help or having it all together?
Why must we continue the facade of our lives on social media?
We don’t have to.
We can have it together but need help sometimes, too.
We can blast our crazy.
We can become transparent.
We can work to stop the isolation that the facade of social media creates.
You are not alone.
Social media is our highlight reel. Not reality.
We all have baggage.
I have baggage.
Years of abuse.
A traumatic loss.
A fractured family.
Chronic mental illness.
But I am not ashamed.
For, you can have it together but sometimes not.
My baggage is packed nicely. Neatly. Its contents organized and previously examined. I’ve thrown some things out over the years. The bag is zipped tight. Stored under my bed.
You can have baggage and still get your life together. Trust me.
Tomorrow I’ll make my banner: “Counselor with a Counselor”. I’ll hang it above my garage. Because everything I share on social media can be shown to the world. I am human. I have baggage. And so do you. Stop hiding it.
Be real. Be vulnerable. Be brave.