I am good enough.

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

I didn’t come from money.”

I penned that once before in a blog post but that rickety house came back to me today in a wave of shame, humiliation, pride, and gratitude all wrapped up into one.

Today was the first day, in the last 368, that I enjoyed living in South Carolina.

This move has not been easy on me. Change never is. The chaos of my childhood and the constant debilitating fear of what may happen next has made change a foe of mine. They say that chaos brings comfort to those with traumatic childhoods because it’s what they know. But I don’t know any good quote that covers the notion that sometimes a child finds safety and stability in a new space they deem home but then are uprooted. I tend to believe the chaos/comfort line is out the window and the little girl is hanging on with everything she has to what brought her perceived safety. Moving brought chaos to me. I hang on. Still.

I have resisted this move because the change brought grief and unsettling questions. Because change is scary. Because this move brought me closer to all of my nightmares. Because this move brought winding roads and trailer homes that replicate the roads of my childhood. Because this location is too close to that rickety house.

This morning it snowed.

And I mean snowed!

Mother nature brought us 7 inches of beautiful white snow that brought wonder to my son’s eyes and warmth to my heart.

I snapped a snow photo this morning of its glory (before the other 3-4 inches came). Here’s my winter wonderland of a neighborhood:

My beautiful suburban street

I came inside and happily browsed through my snow photos. This photo struck me like a ton of bricks.

The beauty. The size of the homes on my streets. The suburban-like nature of this very photo.

It slapped me in the face. I felt overwhelmed with disbelief.

How could this be where I live? How could this really be my life? How do I deserve this?

I get that this may look like a normal neighborhood to you but remember I grew up in a rickety house?

Let me give you a glimpse at my childhood home:

The rickety house

Granted, I took this picture in 2020. Moved out in 2000, I think. I know the house had windows intact and a flowerbed out front. I know it was not as dilapidated as it appears here. But I think you can get the overall picture. The tin roof looks untouched. The steps up to the house are the same. It now looks as atrocious as my memories that pour out of its broken window panes.

Not feeling deserving of good things is connected with a core belief I have that nothing I do is good enough.

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.

Maybe we are all looking at what we have and doubting our worthiness.

I do deserve this home. This family. This life. This goodness. The suburban-like nature of the photograph of my street.

I deserve to be out of that rickety house. I deserve to grow with change.

I worked for everything that I have. That rickety house had walls and a door with a key. It tried to keep me in. Hold onto me. But I escaped. When that rickety house comes up in my mind and covers me with shame- I can fight against it. I can change my thinking. I can try.

I am good enough.

You ARE good enough.

You are not alone. 

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I have a flesh eating virus.

The soft tissue of my body has been overtaken by a flesh eating virus.

Or so it feels.

Anxiety making its way up and down my arms.

He is no friend of mine.

He hurts me.

Hurts the ones that love me.

Eats me alive.

Conversations with myself spiral.

Who said that?

What do you want from me?

What is wrong?

Something.

Can you be more specific?

Something is wrong.

NOTHING is ever specific with anxiety.

It’s a flesh eating virus that induces spiraling self-conversations that never get anywhere.

Anxiety is not a friend.

It is a foe.

Equipped with battle gear to fiend off your efforts to rid yourself of him.

A virus without a cure.

Eating you alive.

Anxiety makes everything difficult to understand.

To navigate.

To piece together.

Anxiety fogs reality.

Where are my wipers?

My battle gear?

My cure?

But there is not cure for anxiety.

No quick fix.

No all-protecting battle gear.

Instead, fighting off anxiety takes persistence.

Tenacity.

Grit.

It takes showing up each and everyday ready to take it.

Ready to face the all-powerful, all-consuming anxiety.

Ready to strip it of its power.

The flesh-eating virus puts up a good fight.

But I can handle it.

I can make it through.

I’m showing up everyday and I’m ready.

I won’t back down.

My track record is 100% for surviving my anxiety.

The flesh-eating virus never consumes me.

If I don’t fight back its as if it loses its power.

Anxiety is not all-powerful.

Anxiety is not all-consuming.

Anxiety is an ugly liar.

And anxiety does not win.

My track record proves that.

Does yours?

 

 

We are survivors and we will survive.

Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

I have the great honor of sharing my testimony at a candlelight vigil today at 2 PM.

But I wanted to take it step further so that I could reach more people with my testimony…

So here I am, posting my story on my blog- in hopes that someone who is hurting and feels all alone can know that I am standing with them. We are survivors and we will survive.

So here it goes:

Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, knows that it forever changes your life. It rocks your world in a way that no other death can. It can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and completely lost. The emotions can be overwhelming and the “whys” and “what if’s” can consume you. You can become overcome with anger as you question how the person you loved could have left you here. Grief after a suicide is complicated.

It has been 15 years since my father died by suicide. I was 15 years old when he hooked up a hose to the exhaust of his truck and connected the hose to his bedroom window. His truck ran all night as he fell asleep in a bedroom filled with carbon monoxide. I was a young, naive teenager when I became a suicide survivor. Losing a father to suicide quickly began to define who I was. I was filled with turmoil and unanswered questions  and I quickly began turning to the wrong comforts. I dabbled with alcohol and drug use for a few years of my early 20’s while living with the heavy weight of depression. I seemed to have forgotten the man my father was during my childhood and defined him by his suicide. I was quick to call him selfish. A coward. A disappointing father. I was hurt and not coping well. I think this pattern of self-hatred, guilt, and shame is easy to get wrapped up in when you’re a survivor of suicide.

For suicide survivors, after the initial shock of learning of the death, the “whys” begin- terrible, unending “whys” that we play over and over in our head. The first being “why did he do it?” followed by “why did I not see this coming”. They can spiral from there to “What if’s”- “What if I had called him” … “What if I had seen the signs?”

I currently work as a grief counselor and recently worked with a young girl whose father died by suicide. When the topic of “whys” came up she had a particularly brilliant answer. She said “you know, all we have is our best guess, and our best guess might be wrong”. Our best guess might be wrong- yet; we spend such a great deal of time pondering over these questions. If only we could approach it like this 9-year-old girl.

I spent about a year in counseling working through the shame and guilt I had taken on. I had to work through an abundance of negative self-talk including things like “no one will love me- not even my Dad did” and “I’ll never be good enough- my Dad didn’t think I was worth living for”. I worked through the “What if’s”. Like the self-blame I internalized for not calling him the night he killed himself. The night my Dad killed himself I had picked up the phone with the intention of telling him about me ordering my class ring that day. However, when I picked up the phone my boyfriend was there. The phone didn’t ring. Just coincidence. Remember how that could happen with landlines? I forgot to call my Dad back and the next day I found out he was dead.

I never imagined that I would be standing here- telling my story 15 years later. At some points of my life I wasn’t sure that I would even exist 15 years later.

Now, I can stand proudly and share my story of being a suicide survivor. For I no longer feel ashamed that I am the daughter of a man who killed himself. I now have a new understanding of suicidal ideation and mental illness. I have my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and have worked as a grief counselor for the last few years. I now know that those who die by suicide are not selfish, nor a coward. They are amazing, wonderfully loved people who see no other way. They are sick and hopeless. When I explain suicide to a young child I may tell them that suicide happens because of a brain attack- much like a heart attack. It’s very physical. The brain is very, very sick and can not see any other way to survive.

My father had a brain attack. He was a warm, funny man who was an amazing Dad. His name was Buddy and he was only 35 years young when he died by suicide. I’ve had time to reflect on the amazing father he was since healing through my grief journey. We would sing karaoke together in my brother’s bedroom. We played hide and go seek and shot a bb gun in the woods behind our house. He scratched my back when I was sick and held my hand when I was scared. He was quick-witted and made me laugh until I cried. He was very intelligent and worked as an electrical engineer. He had a wonderful set of parents and a brother and a sister who loved him dearly. He didn’t live a charmed life by any means. He was divorced three times and suffered from chronic pain for most of his adult life. I don’t remember him being depressed. I was shocked by the suicide and still am to this day. There were no signs we could have seen. There was nothing I could have done.

Unless you have lost someone to suicide, you have no idea what survivors are going through. The degree of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and confusion we are left with is indescribable. For me, going to counseling and talking about my feelings and hurts and disappointments helped me heal.

Another way I have found healing through my grief journey is by turning my pain into a purpose. I use my struggles to help others however I can. I can’t go back in time and save my Daddy but I can do everything in my power to let other people know that it is okay to ask for help. This outreach ranges from me posting bits of my personal journey on social networking sites to presenting at conferences to help other counselors know how to best work with suicide survivors. I find that my personal experiences have fueled my passion for suicide prevention and awareness and will continue forward with my efforts for as long as I’m able. I encourage you to find a way to turn your pain into a purpose. I’ve known people who do this through blogging, through checking in on friends, or just sharing a suicide hotline on their social media sites. You can do this by smiling at strangers or giving a meal to homeless person. The ways you can utilize your struggles is endless. I also encourage you to tell your story. Memorialize the person that is no longer with us today. Tell stories about them. Don’t let the shame, guilt, and unanswered questions stop you from remembering what you loved about the person. I believe we suicide survivors are strong.

If you are listening to me talk today and wondering how it is possible that I am all better after losing my Dad- let me clear things up. I’m not cured. I am better. But I will always grieve. 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. My grief will always be a part of me. Because grief is love. Someone I love died and my life will always be different because of it. But my grief looks different now. My grief encourages me to help others. I have decided to allow my grief to encourage me. What will you do with your grief? It’s up to you.

“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself”

-Walter Anderson

The shit had to stop: the day I stopped trying to kill myself.

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 chaos had to stop.

The self-destruction.

The victim act.

The poor me spectacle.

It 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 cover-up story 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.

And..

Over a decade later (don’t try and add up my age, please) 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 hard 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. 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 988 if you need someone to talk to.

No one else can play your part.

no one else

Up, up, and Away

As a child, I was the kid in class with the highest Accelerated Reader (AR) points. My star on the bulletin board far surpassing all the other children in my class. I was also that nerdy girl who competed on a Battle of the Books team and read every single book on the list. Reading was one of the greatest joys of my childhood.

Reading transported me to another world.

A world far away from the violent screams of my ex-stepfather.

Far away from the home I lived in that was heated by a measly kerosene heater and sheets hung up in the doorways to keep every last bit of warmth from escaping.

Far away from my hand-me-down clothes from the girls I went to school with.

Far away from the nightmares that plagued me by day.

Far away from the panicked pleas of my mother to please not hurt her.

Far away from the world where my father took his own life.

Books were my escape.

In a different sense, they still are. Reading is my own version of self-care. When I want to make time for myself all I picture is a good read and a beverage (coffee or green tea preferred). As a new mother, reading time is scarce. Between my regular work and my two side jobs I stay busy, add my coursework in the mix and reading time is almost nonexistent. However, I know as well as anyone- you make time for the things you want to make time for.

So here I am, in 2018, making time for reading.

No excuses.

I decided to follow the Books-A-Million Book Club list for the non-fiction and literary selections.

bam

I started a bit late so I’m wrapping up January’s pick for the non-fiction category and will shortly be moving along to February’s selections. If you need a review just let me know and I will try to get to you.

 

 

This is one of my self-care strategies for Randy’s deployment and just for life in general.

Although I am no longer that 2nd grader with a time traveling machine that transported me as soon as I turned the page- I am a 29 year old woman who enjoys diving into another world.

Trauma may have been what facilitated my love of reading; but escaping reality is what maintained it.

Books help balance me. They ground me. They saved me as a child and they delight me as an adult.

What’s your escape?