Unsteady

I am doing a two sided post. I’m sharing some facts, I’m sharing a story. And I am doing so, so that perhaps, it will be made clear why I am so vehemently passionate about my life choice of pursuing law school. I’ve been pretty vocal about my stances for a while, but in light of recent events (and verdicts) I want to make my voice heard. Please stick around for the whole story, it is long, but maybe it will shine some lights on something very important.

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No one asks to be sexually assaulted. No one. And from the numbers, it looks like people are just trying to live their lives-not being “promiscuous” or “engaging in binge-drinking”.

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No gender is safe. No orientation is safe. No age is safe. It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed, what you’re doing, where you are. No one asks for it. No one.

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Ages 18-34 are the highest at-risk group. Of any gender.

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And how many of those victims do you think internalized the guilt?

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Moderate to severe distress. And I wonder if that accounts for the people who experience that distress later-perhaps decades later-after the event.

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I wasn’t sure I was ever going to make this information public. It is something I have struggled with mostly in silence, and just as I originally felt about my mental health diagnosis, I thought that it was a source of great shame. But as I listened to Kesha’s statement those couple months ago and as I cried over the statement of the Stanford victim, I knew that there was no shame in my story. And I knew that just as with my stance on mental health, if I do not take the time to let people see, there will never be any change. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not wish to take away from either of those cases or people-or the millions of others which are similar. I just want to present a different side of the struggle, to shine a light on a social issue.

I got a phone call when I was a child (maybe around 11) in the middle of the night. There was a man on the other end, asking me where I lived, what I was doing-very personal information. I was awake in an instant and told him nothing. The next morning I had my mother take me to the police department, told them everything and they called the number back, giving the caller a warning that I was a minor and that they’d come for him if he called again.

I was babysitting at the age of 14 or so and the mother was driving me home. She got a call from her boyfriend and he asked to talk to me. He then asked me if I was dating anyone, if I was having sex, if I’d been “fondled” yet and so on. I said I had a boyfriend, and that was all I said (I was lying). I quit the next day. I never told anyone why-not even my parents.

As a young teen looking into colleges for the first time, I remember being told about how since I’d grown up in a small town, I needed to be more aware that there was a greatly increased risk of sexual assault on college campuses. I brushed the idea off-I was responsible, I was modestly dressed (always), I’d only casually dated people in high school and at the time, was with a guy who respected me. What did I possibly have to worry about? I knew the “risk” factors: late nights, walking alone, dawdling, dressing a certain way. I figured I’d be fine. Of course, I would still be safe, make sure that I always let people know where I was going and the like. I was sure I would be fine and that everyone was over reacting. I wasn’t a child. I could handle college.

Turns out, I wasn’t ready for the big city just yet. I figured I’d go to a smaller campus, I’d get back on my feet and get a job, which I did-somewhere with a uniform. I wore a polo, dress pants and tennis shoes every day. Let me reiterate that. I wore a polo, full length pants and tennis shoes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Everyone I worked with was a woman. I could not be more safe, right?

My parents, from a young age, told me that I should be nice to the elderly. They were alive much longer than me, they deserved respect. So I did my best to implement this at my job. There was a man, who I will not be naming, who was completely alone, retired and quite old. I was kind each time he came in-because I was being respectful. One day though, I was busy and someone else was helping him. He asked me if he could give me a piece of wrapped candy and I said yes. He told me he didn’t see any pockets on my pants (I was in dress pants, my back facing him) and he reached around, under my apron and placed the candy in my hip pocket, with lingering hands. I backed away, didn’t eat the candy and waited for him to leave.

It was December that year that he was talking to me about my grades in school and asked to see them. I (not being completely naive) cropped the part of the page that had my address, phone number and other pertinent information. He congratulated me but immediately noticed that none of my information was present and commented about it. I told him that that was just the way the picture had been taken, but that those were my grades. He tried to give my $2o, which I refused. He did put $5 in the tip jar though.

The January following, he came into my workplace with a small bag. He asked to see me and I walked out from behind the counter. He told me that he felt that he should get me a present because I’d been so nice to him. He’d positioned himself back far enough that no one from the front end could see us, but no one from the back end could either (a detail I noticed only later). I opened the present right there, to find a datebook/organizer. I thanked him and he reached in his pocket. It was a small patchwork heart, which he held up and pressed to my chest (without asking me first) and said that I would always be in his heart. He asked if he could hug me (I said yes). He proceeded to grope me and kiss my neck-from collarbone to cheek before I struggled away-and ran into the back of the building, through the doors and into the back office.

Immediately I called my boss and told her what had happened. She agreed that whenever he came in, I could go to the back and not have to be around him. It was only in the days following that the real devastation began. As it would turn out, not only had the old man sexually assaulted me, he’d also been stalking me. He knew my schedule, what car I drove and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew where I lived and all the information I’d tried to hide from everyone except my boss and school. Without fail, he came in and asked for me each day I was there. Each day my coworkers denied me being there, or told him that I was busy and couldn’t be bothered. Some days he would wait to see if that was true. Some days he wouldn’t.

I remember getting laughed at and blamed for the situation that I had “gotten myself into”. I remember taking 3 showers a day for several days in a row because I felt dirty.

The thing is, that before I’d even begun to deal with what had happened, my brain decided I couldn’t take it and hid it away. What I didn’t understand immediately was why I felt so connected to the Ke$ha case, which you can read my thoughts on here. I mean, I didn’t know her, I didn’t have anything in common with her. Why was I so devastated?

I mentioned several times over many blog posts that my brain was breaking apart barriers that I hadn’t realized were there. This is what I meant. The reactions from people since remembering all this have been pretty polarizing. (Up until now I’ve told less than 5 people.) I either got the “how can I help?” question or I got the “it must not have been that traumatizing if you’re only now talking about it” or the “you weren’t raped, you’ll be fine” speech.

Let me break it down for you.

I am the survivor of harassing phone calls which happened as a minor. I do not answer phone calls to this day because of them. It’s been like that for years-you just didn’t see it. That was the first time, at age 11 that I realized I wasn’t safe.

I was NOT raped. I know that. And that makes me “lucky”. But that doesn’t mean that my experiences aren’t worth noting and taking seriously.

I WAS sexually assaulted. I WAS stalked. I WAS vulnerable. And you not being able to understand that only reflects on you. I was 20 at the time I was assaulted. And because the justice system in my state states that I (the victim) must prove that it was unwanted and there wasn’t any physical evidence, I know that I must live with that. (This is how the law was explained to me, anyway.)

Of course there wasn’t any physical evidence. That doesn’t mean that sexual assault shouldn’t be paid attention to though. Here’s the textbook definitions of sexual assault and rape. They’re both criminal offenses. As you can see, rape is the forced penetration. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact/behavior.

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We all experience trauma in different ways. I wasn’t able to connect mine to past events at first-I just assumed it was part of my bipolar diagnosis. The signs were there from day one-but I didn’t have anyone to properly put them in place. But let me list the symptoms which have been present for years:

-I cannot go into new places alone

-I cannot “do” large crowds

-Sometimes I cannot go into restaurants and order food, especially if I haven’t been there before

-I will not use the restroom if it looks too close to a group of men

-I do not pick up phone calls. Even from people I know. Unless I know you’re calling me. And even then, I get a mini-panic attack when I do. EVEN FROM PEOPLE I KNOW

-I do not do well with the elderly. I panic

-I refuse to be alone with anyone I do not know

-I am polite and courteous, but I will rarely go out of my way to talk to strangers

-I do not share personal information which may allow someone to find me

-I vary my schedules

-My nightmares (if I dream at all) are often reminiscent of SVU episodes

-It takes me hours to get to sleep

-I let someone know where I am at all times-even going to the rest room

-I scout out everywhere I am for lines of sight

-I have been known to barricade myself in

-I do not smile at strangers (followed by periods of uncomfortable laughing and panicked smiles to prevent strangers from murdering me or worse)

Those of you with a mental health diagnosis may understand why I assumed this was all part of my disorder-at a depressive point, it’s classic isolation, at a manic point it’s classic avoidance and paranoia. But the thing is, it was so much more than that. A quick Google search will show you that these behaviors also sound a little too much like a different diagnosis: PTSD. I’ll go ahead and include a screenshot for you.

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So no. I wasn’t raped. I don’t know what that does to your mind. But I am 1 in 6-I am a survivor of sexual assault and I am devoting my life to protecting other victims. No one should have to feel like they aren’t safe. No one should have to defend the right to their own body. No one should have to defend their right to say no.

 

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10 Things Bipolar People DON’T Want You To Know

I can’t count the number of articles I’ve come across with the title # Things Bipolar People Want/Wish You Knew or the List Of Things People With Mental Illnesses Wish People Understood. And for the most part, they’re pretty spot on. But I want to come at it from a different angle. I’ve done my best to keep it pretty similar in format, but if you feel I got something wrong, or missed a key point, drop me a comment! (Images thanks to Google-I own nothing.)

  1. We’re scared of our symptoms too.

bp2There’s nothing quite like the dive between (hypo)mania and depression when you feel like you can see the world crumbling around you. Or the emptiness that makes you feel like a dead (wo)man walking-no cares, no love, nothing. Or the darkest parts of depression when it hurts to cry because you’re trying not to wake anyone, so you silent sob but then you realize you aren’t breathing either and your chest is on fire, but it also feels like you’ve got a ton of bricks on top of you. You wonder if it’s possible to be so sad that you die from it. You walk around with the stress of what could happen if you have a manic episode. The way you lock up your credit cards, carry around only a limited amount of cash because you know you can’t stop yourself from spending everything you have. The way you stay home because you know you’re bound to get into a bad situation because you’ve been manic for a few days and now you’re bored. No matter how “together” we feel we’ve got it, there are days when we are genuinely concerned that

2. We’ve given up hope for ourselves more than you

We know that sometimes we’re a hot mess. Hearing you say “I’m done.” when we have a bad day (or too many in a row), or watching you go for a drive because you “can’t handle” us at the moment just reminds us that we’re alone. And as many times as you’ve grown tired of us, we’ve done that twice as much with ourselves. bp7 If we trust you enough to open up, it’s because we know that we’re eventually going to fail ourselves and we need you to pick up the pieces. It’s not fair of us to smother you in our problems, but if we could figure out how to not make them problems, or how to deal with them on our own, we wouldn’t need help so much. In the end, when the words “I suck” are said, it’s our inner demons speaking and we need you to tell us why we shouldn’t believe them again.

3. We genuinely don’t need a reason to be upset (in any mood) and it makes us trust you less when you yell at us that we DO need a reason.

If we knew why we felt the way we did, we could fix it. We have a mood disorder, not an analysis-of-the-situation disorder. If we’re showing you we have a problem, don’t force us to talk about it before we’re ready. It just makes it worse and we’ll lie about why we’re upset because we just want you to be happy that there is a reason-even if there isn’t. If we have to lie to you, then we don’t respect you as much, because we already fell like we’re lying to ourselves. And lying to anyone else is just a repeat of what we’ve wanted to get away from.

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4. We feel like actors. A Lot. And no, we don’t want to “remove our mask”.

bp1Feeling (hypo)manic? Better find a reason for being able to put in all the extra work, being extra chatty, being extra social. Feeling depressed? Better find a reason to feel sad. Or, better find a way to hide it behind the words “tired”, “sick”, and “allergies”. No one think to question the high-functioning worker or student, especially if it’s peak work time-end of the year sales, there’s a special on at work, it’s final’s season. We blame it on too much caffeine, the hyper form of exhaustion, being really excited for a goal or even wanting to get something done so that you can do something else (the key “give aways” here are goal orientation and chaos). Everyone avoids the depressed, especially if it’s the grey-faced, bags-under-the-eyes, slow-as-molasses individuals who seem to act like that for days. Everyone asks about the first day- “what’s wrong”, “need anything” and so on. But even the answers to those are lies. “Just tired”, “stressed”, “coming down with something”. It’s easier to just go on with the lies than it is to explain everything to every person. Because inevitably we’ll get the “avoidance” treatment ALL the time.

5. Looking at other, more successful people with Bipolar Disorder makes us feel like a disaster.

It is both a blessing and a curse to see the people who have come before (or are presently) and were (are) successful AND bipolar. Van Gogh. Lovato. Van Damme. Cobain. Churchill. Nightingale. Sinatra.Woolf. Artists, Singers, Actors, Leaders and more have graced history with their talents and their diagnoses, some of them succumbing to their disorders, some becoming great advocates. bp6 Not everyone with Bipolar Disorder is going to go on and be famous and we KNOW that. But it hurts quite a lot that some of the people who were most successful at their craft had it and we share a condition and aren’t sharing in the capabilities. It’s easy for us to start a painting or sculpture, musical instrument, novel, poem, whatever and then destroy it because we listen to the voice that says “you’ll never get noticed.” While we’re happy for the successful people with bipolar disorder, we want to be like them too and that usually doesn’t happen.

6. We’re absolutely normal-just in a more spectacular capacity.

successsWhether we want to admit it or not, we’re completely normal. We eat, drink, breathe and exist the same as anyone else. But we do so in a broader spectrum. We experience great sorrow at the loss of a friend, or freedom, or innocence. We experience great anger at perceived injustices, at inequality. We experience pure joy at the birth of our best friend’s first child, at the sight of a rainbow or a thunderstorm, at the realization that we succeeded at a task we’d never tried before. Where other people may feel confused, we feel it more. Where others may feel concern, we feel the weight of the world. It’s not about the Hollywood stereotype of the best-friend-turned-serial-killer. We have jobs that we fight desperately to keep, we have friends and families and we go to school. Just the same as any body else. We just live it more.

7. We become specialists in our diagnoses and we don’t appreciate being compared to your “crazy aunt” or your “moody neighbor”.

It’s nice when people have had genuine contact or a relationship with someone who actually had bipolar disorder. It’s nice to know that if you have an episode, you can talk to them and they can help you through it. It isn’t AT ALL nice when people pretend they understand. We aren’t like your “crazy aunt” who threw your uncle’s things out of the house because he broke her favorite plate. And we aren’t like your “moody neighbor” who doesn’t smile when you say good morning and cackles over his cup of black coffee at a kid who falls off their bike. We just experience life in a deeper spectrum (see number 6). bp4 And while we’re on the topic, STOP calling the weather bipolar. That’s offensive to the people who actually have bipolar and that’s altogether not hilarious. We get it, you have problems with the weather. Bipolar disorder has the capacity to destroy our lives. Pack a sweater and an umbrella. You’ll be fine.

8. We could write a dissertation on suicide and the types of suicidal tendencies.

bp9Everyone, just about, is familiar with the concept of suicide, and there may even be people who have experience with it on a more personal basis. A person with bipolar is exceptionally likely to thought about, if not tried suicide. But there’s more to it than being depressed and then dying. There’s plenty more motives than people want to discuss. And then there are the latent forms of suicidal tendencies. Because most people are familiar with the “I don’t want to live anymore” version. Not as many people think about the “I want to sleep and not wake up” kind or the “I wish I could just cease to be” kinds. We could write novels about this subject in particular and probably come pretty close to making it the encyclopedia of suicidal tendencies and things you never thought to associate with them.

9. We go between being really proud of who we are and feeling like a giant mistake

bp3.jpgWe know it’s a hassle. But some days we wake up feeling like we run the world. And those days are so few and far between that we run with them in the farthest possible manner. Because soon enough, we know there will come a day when we just can’t seem to do anything right. It isn’t that the days when we feel epic are the truth and the other days are lies. It’s more fluid, more layered than that. We are experts at living in all the times (past, present and future). So when we say “We rock” it is at that moment, we feel we have reached a milestone of success which can be seen at that moment. When we say “we suck” it is because at that moment all we can see are the failures. It doesn’t mean we’re completely failures or completely successes, it’s just what looks more prevalent at that particular moment.

10. We don’t know how to live our lives.

The sentence that seems to pop up the most lately is that of “adulting is hard”. There are even renditions which say “I’m done adulting. If you want me, I’ll be in my pillow fort with my coloring book.” At some point, we have come to realize that we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing. We can find things which help us manage our symptoms safely and in a positive way. We can avoid triggers. We can accept only what we can reasonably handle. But in the end, we don’t know what we’re doing. There is no manual for living with bipolar disorder. And even if there was, not everyone is the same, so it might not work for us. Funnily enough though, not too many people (with AND without the diagnosis) know how to live their lives. Turns out, people with bipolar disorder just might be the firs tot admit the way that everyone is feeling. No one knows what’s going on. And that’s part of the fun.

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Why Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

I don’t know about you, but I look through Pinterest and there are days when I get so revved up about what I see that I have to stop looking at it for a few hours, or I’ll keep going back to it and get all worked up. Especially when I look at the feminism stuff or mental illness pins. And I am very much for both of those sections. But you know as well as I do that any old fool can post things without having an inkling of knowledge to back up those words. And it is that ignorance that gets to me. So, let’s jump in the time machine and I will tell you all about why.

I’m a proud Pinterst fanatic. I have over 20 thousand pins. It’s taken LARGE amounts of my time to get that far, but I consider it an invaluable resource to my life. For those of you (are there any?) who don’t know what Pinterest is, it’s kind of like a networking site for ideas. You “Pin” ideas to a “board” and save recipes, DIY projects and so many things. But it can also be used for keeping ideas together. I belong to both camps. Today, I’m going to focus on how social media (specifically Pinterest) perpetuates incorrect information about mental illnesses and disorders: namely EDs (Eating Disorders).

I doubt there are in here, but I know how this works, so just in case.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Some symptoms, stories and elements may cause flare ups of conditions. The author does not condone or suggest any actions which may cause bodily harm.

I know that if you go into Pinterest and type in “Eating Disorders” into the search bar, you will most likely get a different result list than I will. So I’m going to do this the only way I know how: screen shots! I will caption them with WHAT I want you to pay attention to and then WHY it’s important to today’s blog. This is going to be a personal one today, and I hope that means it helps more than I rant.

  
First off, I like this. I mean, I’m not really sure why I couldn’t immediately connect to Pinterest, but I’m ultimately glad I didn’t. And it goes to show, that the moment I try to prove my point, something inevitably happens that changes my mind. Sort of. So thank you, Pinterest for being on the ball. I appreciate that.

  
 
I want you to look at the top left “hand” picture AND the one right beside it. Those two pictures I am calling into question because although you cannot sum ANY disorder up into a single picture, these only scratch the surface. ALL of these pictures do. The focus is on being skinny. But this screen shot shows my point as well. Looks can be deceiving. And the truth is, you really may not ever know who you are until you break away all of the pieces you thought you were made of.

  
 
This time, focus on the gentleman , and the woman at opposite corners. The great thing is that it highlights men having EDs too; a topic we need to focus on more! The problem with the gentleman’s picture is the same as above: it focuses on the skinny issue. And granted you could argue that that is the “basis” of eating disorders, but I would argue it is merely a facet of some of them. The problem I have with the second one actually requires more than a caption so I’ll bump down a paragraph.

Yes you do. You absolutely do decide one day that that is the course of action you are going to take. It may be subtle, like backing off, extreme dieting or eating less and less. It may be abrupt and one day you just stop eating solids, or anything at all. But you DO decide it. And it basically happens in a day. You just can’t take the pressure or the shame or the guilt and you decide you’re going to do something about it.

I was 14 when I first started dabbling with EDs. Almost a decade later, I’m not sure I’m any better.

The first thing I tried was Bulimia. I can make myself purge on demand and I enjoyed the taste of food so I thought: At least I can still taste the things I love. But the thing is, I HATE puking. I really do. And no matter how much I convinced myself that it would help, I dreaded each meal for the sole reason that I would have to throw it up. I maybe lasted in this phase a grand total of 2 weeks. Any extraneous symptoms were not entirely present. (Or had been present BEFORE onset.)

  

So I moved to Anorexia. By the “height” of my time in this disorder, I was only eating an apple a day and that is why I became a caffeine addict. I fought so hard to stay awake every day. And since I have many years worth of experience in this disorder, let me tell you some things.

  

First. While the motivation to be skinny is a big draw into this disorder, it isn’t the thing that keeps you there. You become trapped, like you cannot stop. You feel like it’s your life now and that is all there will ever be. And did I mind that my collar bone stuck out, that my ribs were exceptionally visible? I lived for those signs that I was making progress. But those are the “sexy” side effects. I’m here to tell you about the not-so-sexy ones.

I began to pass out. Sometimes at home, sometimes at school, always without knowing it. It was kind of like narcolepsy-it just happened. And on top of the literal black outs, I began to loose whole chunks of time. There are, even still, very large portions of my memory that are not clear because I didn’t feed my brain enough to make them last. On top of that, I have little hairs all around, which were not there before. You wouldn’t know it, because I take care of it, but even now, they remain. And the hair on my head falls out in great clumps, just as it did before. I missed menstrual cycles-sometimes for 6 months or more. Not because I was pregnant, but because my body couldn’t succeed in normal functions. My fingernails would constantly chip and break, but the worst thing was how weak I felt. I felt slow, my head felt too big, it was like being stuck in extreme gravity for months on end.

And the thing is, no one even noticed. I wore baggy clothes, bundled up, and tried to hide from everyone. This photo was taken of my in my junior year, I believe. I was trying to catch up on some caffeine, clearly. (I said I was a caffeine addict. And I remember this. It was during prom planning, when I had to try hardest to fit in.) The shirt I was in was a medium. 

  

I was 5 foot 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall at that point, as I am still,  and “look healthy”. But what you can’t see are the constant struggles with food, the endless exercises,  the constant state of pain. All you can see is laughter. A facade.  The me that I outwardly projected. Which is exactly what my primary care physician saw when I went in with the complaint of forgetting chunks of time and passing out. She told me that it was all menstruation related and that I needed to “focus harder”. She could have inadvertently killed me with those words, but luckily I saw a psychiatrist soon after.

And now?

That’s what everyone wants, right?  The triumphant “I survived. And now I’m better. ” story. But I don’t think that’s the story I have for you.  Not today.

I currently fall into the “obese” category of the BMI chart. And does that bother me? A lot. I stay so far away from the starvation diet that I jumped right into the other band wagon. 

  
Puts an interesting spin on things, doesn’t it? Like a big fat slap in the face. I didn’t even know there was a name for what I was doing to myself. And the thing is: I’m not so different than I was before. I spend a day eating whatever I want followed by a day of not really eating, or by a week of heavy dieting. And the people who know me know that I diet a LOT. We’re talking everything shy of weight loss pills. And the cycle repeats. And I’m almost afraid to call it what it is, because I still can’t decide if it’s a lack of willpower, self control or if it’s just lazy, “emotional” eating. With Bulimia and Anorexia, I could relate to 90% of the psychiatrist’s symptom list, but only about 80% of the list I supplied. (More with AN than B.) But I can check off every single symptom up there for BED) and if that’s not saying something, I’ll tell you what is.

I’ve had some variety of ED for HALF MY LIFE (almost-we’re short by 2 years). My hair, even though it is thick (as we discussed a couple posts ago) falls out in large clumps. My nails break often (but I try to compensate with the vitamins I take). My body still has little hairs from being anorexic, I feel sluggish and exhausted a LOT, and I cannot say that I enjoy these decisions. By being anorexic, I ruined my body. I broke who I was as a person and watched the pieces slip away. But with B.E.D., I’ve hidden any growth behind a wall of food, shame and pain trying to avoid crushing my soul into oblivion (all while sabotaging it instead). 

So all in all, what I have to say can be boiled down into two parts. First, the Pinterest issue. Not all EDs are about being skinny. I didn’t even touch on orthorexia. Not all EDs are publicized, but ALL of them need to be taken seriously.

And second, I make a public promise to myself, that I will never stop fighting for people who need it, even if they do not look like anything is wrong. Because for years the only thing people were concerned about was the physical harm I was inflicting on myself, and noone even saw the neglect and torture behind it.

So although this isn’t an update for you all, I’ve been working on this post for over three weeks, and I want everyone to know that I am getting help I don’t know the future, but I have to take back control.