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Introducing the Author: Jess

I’m Jess (they/them), a (mostly) adult who’s been searching for ways to connect with the world. I’m glad you decided to join me!

I could easily keep all my thoughts to myself in a personal journal. In fact, I do! So why bring all that out into the world? I believe that the world is in need of education, about all sorts of things. But educating the world is almost impossible. Have you tried educating just one person? You have to fight uphill to push past their society ingrained biases and previous understandings of the world. Trust me, I know learning that the world doesn’t work the way you thought it did can be overwhelming. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve sometimes chosen not to educate others, even though I could. But how else can I expect other people to learn, to grow, if they aren’t confronted by people within their own lives who can tell them otherwise? So, in an effort to provide information to people who otherwise may not have it, and in an effort to preserve my own emotional and mental wellbeing, I’ve chosen this format for education. My hope is that it will be real enough for others to connect with and also be removed enough for me to take a break when needed.

Another aspect of opening up on a public format is for all of you who’ve ever felt the way I do. Those of you who have felt removed from society, family, and friends. Those of you who have sometimes wondered if anyone truly cares or notices you. I want you to know that I’m here too. I feel these things and more. So my hope for you is that you realize that within all of those feelings, life can still bring many good things. Take your time and don’t rush. If you’re stuck in those feelings, know that you’re still okay. And know that I’m here.

This blog could go places or absolutely nowhere. I don’t know how it’ll turn out and that’s okay. For now, I plan on discussing interpersonal topics such as familial relationships and social connectedness. I also plan on delving into things that are pretty personal and dear to me: childhood trauma, self-concept, and living with life choices. Take what you will from this: all, some, or nothing.

There’s an aspect of sharing myself via this format that doesn’t exist when I’m journaling for myself: YOU. You’re here, and no matter the reason, I am really grateful. As much as I hope that this blog can reach others, I know it’s a two-way street. So any time you want to reach out, please do. I look forward to hearing from you, talking with you, and using your feedback to create the best impact I can.

Finding Yourself: Laying Down Your Defenses

All trauma leaves traces behind, some which can be felt for a lifetime. But childhood trauma creates an impact so large, so consuming, it’s difficult to escape. The relationship you have with your caregiver is the foundation for all your future relationships. You take what you learn in your childhood forward for the rest of your life.

Now imagine a childhood full of suspense. You may never know what your day is going to look like. You don’t know if your caregiver is having a good day or a bad day. And even if you do know, it can change with the blink of an eye. Imagine that how you see your caregiver interact with others is in a violent way, a way that includes yelling, anger, and hurt. Imagine living each day like you’re walking on glass: you must tread lightly so you don’t upset anyone. You must ignore the tiny cuts you get along the way when you wade through broken areas. And when that glass does break, because it always will, you are the one who has to fix it up.

Your childhood teaches you how to protect yourself. You develop defense mechanisms in order to manage your day-to-day experience. And once you find the ways that work, you hold onto them like they’re a lifeline. Because they are. And even though they eventually stop working so well (or at all), you hang on to those defenses because that’s the only way you know how to survive, how to live.

My biggest defense mechanism is vigilance. I am constantly prepared for almost any scenario, because being prepared means that I can protect myself from what may come. Sometimes vigilance means that I’m running through possible scenarios in my head, calculating how to diminish or avoid them, or how to get out if I need to. But as I’ve grown and changed, this mechanism has shifted too. Now vigilance often means second-guessing others’ intentions, their words, their feelings. Preparing myself for the actions of others to not match up with their words. Believing that no one is there to support or protect me, and then trying to avoid any situation where I could be hurt.

It fucking blows. I don’t want to believe that everyone will betray what they say eventually. I don’t want to believe that life is full of constant disappointment and pain. And let’s be real here: it isn’t. Life doesn’t dole out only bad hands. Not all people are abusive. The universe does not deal in absolutes.

This should be reassuring, right? It would be, if we as humans didn’t create frames for future experiences based on what we’ve experienced in the past.

So where does that leave me? Constantly using a broken frame of trauma to see every new situation? For a long, long time that’s exactly what it felt like. Until recently, I didn’t realize that I could view things any differently. I’ve learned though that there are people out there who get it, who’ve studied it, who’ve lived it. And those people are absolute godsends. It makes a world of difference to have someone recognize your defense mechanism for what it is, to not reject it or you out of hand, and instead say “what can I do to reassure you?”.

Let’s be clear: this is not a magic fix. But it was a magic moment for me. Because it got me to thinking, what do I need in order to move past this? And while I had originally thought I needed others to be or act differently, I realized it was me who needed to change. I needed to decide if I was ready to be vulnerable. And once I made that decision, that incredibly painful decision to open myself up to possible hurt, I was able to move past my vigilance. Rest assured, it was still not a magic fix. I almost constantly have the same vigilant responses that I did before. Except now, I can recognize who I am comfortable being vulnerable with and make the conscious decision to do so. I can tell those people when I’m having a trauma response and ask them for their reassurance that they mean what they say, that we are on the same page. Because the people who want to support you and stay in your life, those people will never turn you away for disclosing your past. Because, for the people who belong in your life, you and your past are never too much.

So ask yourself: What do you need to move past your trauma responses? What do you need to sit in them, recognize them for what they are, and decide that you can lay them down? How can you decide to be vulnerable in ways that maybe make you uncomfortable, but don’t jeopardize your safety? Because, I promise you, the comfort you think you get from those outdated defense mechanisms is nothing compared to the real comfort you find from allowing yourself to be seen for who you are.

Sending you love and support to be the strong person you have always been, just in new ways.

Finding Yourself: A Series of Learning Experiences

We’ve all had those moments where we couldn’t sit with our thoughts, where we needed to get out of our own heads. Well, I seem to be permanently stuck in mine. Working from home and living under a stay-at-home order for the past few weeks has not helped…or maybe it has.

I’ve never felt at ease with myself. Any time my brain was not occupied, a litany of thoughts pass through my head: What if that never happened? What if I didn’t have a mental illness? What if I never experienced trauma? Why am I this way? Why do I keep doing things that I don’t like, that I know don’t get me to where I want to be?

If you’ve ever experienced something similar, you know how uncomfortable it is to be stuck with these thought spirals. But I’ve learned something in the last few weeks of being stuck: those spirals end. Whether they end in a draw, a loss, or a win, they all end. And in the process, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and made connections I’ve been missing for the last 24 years of my life. I’ve recognized defense mechanisms that are so outdated they are actively working against me now. I’ve been able to verbalize experiences that were previously muddled in my head. I’ve connected with others in ways I haven’t been able to before. And I’ve opened myself up with faith that others will treat me kindly.

I personally work through things best when I’m able to talk them out. So over the next however long we’re all stuck inside with our own thoughts, I plan on working them out with you. Because I know that I am not alone in living through childhood trauma. I am not alone in living with mental illness. I am not alone in living through oppression. And if I’m not alone, neither are you. So let’s find ourselves, together.

The Walls of Depression

The walls of my home protect me. There’s no need to act within the safety of these walls. I don’t need to be happy, be productive, be okay. I can let loose the apathy, the devastation, the sadness, the tears. I can let loose the rage at myself, the feelings of unworthiness and isolation. All the things I have to hide away during the day, they’re allowed within these four walls.

There’s the walls between me and you. I tell myself the wall is to protect you. So you don’t have to deal with this. But that wall is for me too. It’s to keep me from being vulnerable in front of you. To keep me from dealing with the rejection I’ve experienced too many times. The wall is there so that I can keep myself hidden, the way I feel safest. Sometimes I wonder what this wall looks like to you. But the fear of losing you by letting you in overcomes my curiosity.

Then there’s the wall between me and action. The base of the wall is littered with half-finished projects, chores, and conversations. This wall is covered with the words of texts I’ve started, but not been able to send. But those words are buried underneath the mountains of “I’m sorry”s that I’ve sent over the days, months, and years. The “sorry” that really meant “I can’t do this and I’m ashamed”. The “sorry” that tried to convey my disappointment in myself for not being and doing better, for not being more alive. The “sorry” that was the only thing I could find to say.

Depression is a life of walls. It’s sitting in the middle of the maze you’ve created to protect yourself, to keep yourself hidden inside even more than to keep others away. It’s walls built in order to section off the parts of yourself you don’t want others to see and the parts you’re not willing to deal with yourself. It’s walls made of coping skills that you don’t know how to dismantle. It’s the walls the keep you propped up when all you want is to sink down to the floor and give up.

But within those walls, there lives a flicker of hope. Hope that someone will notice. Hope that someone will come. Hope that someday, someone will sit next to you within those walls. Hope that they’ll stick with you as you go down the twists and turns, hitting dead ends and having to start over, until you’re able to walk out of the maze that has governed your life for so long.

What’s the point? And why does any of it matter?

YAY – You’re here! Whether you’ve diligently read through my introduction post, browsed over it while rolling your eyes, or skipped right to this page – you’re probably wondering why any of this matters. Sure, I’ve explained why I’m typing this here and not writing in a personal journal. But that doesn’t really explain the inspiration behind the blog, the justification for my being here, or why I chose a picture of the Greek Parthenon for my homepage.

Living With Mistakes. Those pretty words probably give you some indication of how I view life. But what does it mean? Hannah Montana got it right when she said “everybody makes mistakes”. It’s one of many things that connects as all as human beings. We’ve been making mistakes since the very beginning: collectively as a society since the beginning of time and individually since the beginning of our lives. At some point, we started making mistakes that came along with consequences. And that’s how we learned to do differently, to do better. So those pretty words absolutely mean we have to live with our own mistakes and the consequences they bring.

But what about other people’s mistakes? What about those mistakes that have consequences for us and not the person who f-ed up? We have to live with those mistakes too. And sometimes, we have to live without an apology or changed behavior from the person who screwed up. This can have long-term consequences for us in multiple aspects of our lives.

I definitely make my fair share of mistakes (sometimes ones that have negative consequences for other people too). So when I named my blog “Living With Mistakes”, it was a reminder to myself that mistakes will continue to be a part of my life – my mistakes and others’. It’s why I consider our world a work in progress. As an individual, we have never-ending opportunities to learn and grow. As a society, we can always do better. I hope that through this blog, I can learn to do and be better and I can positively impact some small part of the world.

Still curious about the Parthenon? The easy answer is that I spent a year in Greece and am a lover of Greek mythology (which is absolutely true!). The full answer is a bit more complicated. The Parthenon, a symbol of faith in ancient Greek civilization, has stood for 2,000 years. It’s gone through its share of difficulties and destruction throughout that time. Yet if you look closely at the photo (which was taken in August, 2019), you’ll see materials for reconstruction. Despite its difficulty in withstanding the effects of time, the Parthenon still stands and descendants of those who originally built it are doing their best to preserve and restore what is left! That’s pretty awesome and, in my opinion, a wonderful parallel to what we do as adults.

Our parents, families, and society build us from the ground up throughout childhood. Some of the pillars of who we are get knocked down as we transition to adulthood, as childhood interests disintegrate and are replaced by new ones. This is part of the “normal” process of maturing. But we aren’t built to expect disappointment and hurt. Those are things we learn about along the way. And sometimes those experiences can knock down the pillars of trust, openness, and love that have been established since our childhood. Yet as adults, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and start rebuilding some of those pillars in order to move forward.

This blog is a part of my attempt to rebuild the foundation and pillars I’ve had knocked down in my life. I’m really grateful you’ve decided to be a part of my journey!

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