My Room Is Illuminated and Bright. A story of personal growth and overcoming self harm.

I woke up this morning to this this Facebook reminder. When I looked at it I smiled and was briefly reminded of how much this day was a catalyst to where my life is now. Now less than an hour later, on the 1 train headed to the Apple store, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel sad. You see, I had to just count on my fingers how many days it had been a year ago (when this post was made) that I first started self harming. At this point a year ago it was a week straight; my troubles started December 8, 2016. This is a day that I remember like an anniversary, like one would remember a birthday or death (perhaps this was a rebirth?) On this 1 train at 1:21 pm I am listening to my playlist “December 2016” which consists of all the sad songs I used to listen to for almost 10 months. Just as a little taste some of the songs on this pit-of-despair-in-music-form playlist I’ve got:

⁃ Hurt, Johnny Cash (a personal fav when the self loathing of cutting came in)

⁃ Under The Knife, Icon For Hire ( I think we can all guess what that’s about)

⁃ Creep, Radiohead

⁃ Hurts Like Hell (which, shockingly enough is NOT about cutting- it’s about people leaving you)

…Anyway. You get the hint. #sad #angst

SO! On December 8, 2016 I began to cut, on December 16 school let out for Christmas break, and Christmas Eve I left acting training.

It wasn’t another 4 months until my violent, life threatening behavior ended and I stopped hurting myself in March 2017. I can greatly attribute my recovery to my constant cognizance that what I was doing was dangerous, in addition to my willingness to go to therapy 4 times a week. Now I’m down to 3 because I don’t need to meet with my psychiatrist weekly anymore- we are now on a 3 month in-between period to touch base.

It’s sad because that moment in the status above mentioned a teacher grabbing my face and saying those words to me “you are worthy of love and belonging” was in response to me simply saying I probably wouldn’t return for the third year of training (a whole semester away from where we were now in training.) What I was really saying was “I know I don’t have you as a teacher next semester in the first place, I know I would have you again next year but I can’t do this anymore. Goodbye.” Same thing happened when my classmates and I went out for drinks after class was finished for Christmas break- I knew in my heart that I wasn’t coming back. I sat there, detached at the schools haunting grounds, mildly dissociated trying to quietly let on I was leaving.

I guess word spread among the staff at Atlantic because I soon revived a message from the student affairs director on December 23 and then eventually we had a phone call on Christmas Eve discussing my “options” even though we both knew it would be in my best interest to leave the rigorous training program that I was no longer mentally capable of meeting the demands required for success in the program. It’s funny, I was going through my old phone a few days ago and found the exchange between this human and I over Christmas break:

Looking at the conversation I see the resistance, anger and embarrassment I was harboring at the fact that she had found out what I had been doing to my body. It’s clear the amount of shame that I had considering this is the woman that took me to the hospital in the middle of a school day and ended up saving my life when I came to her and told her that I had tried committing suicide the night before back in September 2015 .During our phone conversation on Christmas Eve with her I decided to leave school. So there I was, in the north woods of my Wisconsin lake house in 18 degree weather, I felt as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I KNEW it was the right choice. I wrote a blog post that was called “Christmas Eve Drop Out” that I posted on Facebook and my WordPress blog. That night my post was read over 100 times and I received over 30 comments from people, some current classmates, some classmates in the grade below me who I never got a chance to know, family friends, teachers, and some private messages etc. In that moment I felt loved and supported. Part of my post:

“I had deep undercurrents of sadness and a sense of mistrust in myself and my ability to succeed at this school. By the final two weeks of school I had cut myself near 100 times on my wrists and legs as a way to deal with my feelings that I couldn’t express. I made it through to the final day just barely, missing classes became a pattern for me which is a no no at my school. I had begun to fall down the rabbit hole each night that I took a razor to my skin and inflicted such pain on myself.

I am lost and weak. I have lost who I am. Yesterday I wrote saying ” An inferno of sadness as engulfed my soul.” In this moment however, I don’t feel that way. I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room. This is the reset button. I will leave school to undergo intensive psychotherapy and get the help I desperately need but more importantly, want…. It is time that I stand  (shakily) on my two feet and walk into the light of recovery. It’s time to rebuild. “

After I came home from the lake house it was time for an action plan. We looked into hospitalization back in New York because I refused to move back to Wisconsin- cutting or not New York is my home. My therapist was in way over her head and told me she couldn’t help me anymore. Luckily that’s when Callen Lorde came in and saved my life. Callen Lorde is an LGBT community health center in Manhattan– the place I make the 2 hour commute 3 times a week to better myself.

So. That’s all in the past, yes? Well happily the answer IS yes. I haven’t cut myself in 286 days (and for those of you that are mathematically challenged *not judging, so I am* OR too lazy to figure out how long that is- it’s 9 months.) I still have sooooo many clinical diagnoses that are listed in the charts by the many mental health professionals I see, but guess what? I am working on it. Although these conditions will never go away, I am finally in a very stable place where my days aren’t soiled with the acrid taste of regret (usually alchohol) and sorrow that used to wake me in the mornings (and by mornings I mean like, 2 pm because I was a depressed mess.)

I have written about my past of self harm and depression extensively on my blog ‘The Rilen Files’ on WordPress (shameless plug. )Most notably the post called “56 Little Marks” that has a (horrifying) 486 views where I document the 56 scars left on my body that still remain a year after my 3 month fall apart-who-the-fuck-am-I-help! period in my life. Below is the beginning of the post (a good read if I may say so myself)

It’s nice that I’ve gained allies throughout that horrific time in my life. I’ve sustained friendships that have weathered my tornado. Friends I’ve met online across the world on different continents who I talk to daily,and trust inherently. Not your every day Joe Shmoe could’ve been sucked in and devoured by my sea of despair because they simply weren’t strong enough or had the compassion to deal. Cuz seriously, what the hell would YOU do if someone was texting you at 3M, drunk, depressed and (sometimes) angry telling you they a) have a knife next to them and either they want to cut themselves or b) they are already bleeding????I don’t even know how I would react to that.

So, to those friends, and therapists (that will never be able to read this- unless I decide to take the whole session to read this novel) thank you. Thank you for your friendship and unwavering love.

It’s been a year and then some but as 2018 approaches in (counts on fingers again- I told you I wasn’t kidding) 16 days, despite the haze that used to cover my eyes and cloud my thoughts, the darkness that consumed me, the vicious thoughts and voice in my head that whispered and sometimes screamed at me to cut deeper and give up, I am excited to see what wonderful opportunities are headed my way. On December 24,2016 I wrote “ I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room.”

And now on December 14,2017

My room is illuminated and bright.

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A Christmas Eve Drop Out

It’s 5:40 pm in Tomahawk Wisconsin. I traveled from Waukesha to Tomahawk, a couple hundred miles beginning at 7:18am this morning. So far today I have taken a nap, drank a dark and stormy, had 2 pizza puffs, listened to sad music, dropped out of school and played with my dog.

I sit here writing in the basement of my dads vacation home, aware of my blessings. A Bose sound system blaring Johnny Cash’s rendition of hurt “ I hurt myself today 
To see if I still feel .I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real ” clothes covering my back, a scarf at my neck, a dog at my toes. Bandages cover my wrists, a hat covers my head.I am grateful.

I left one of the nations most prestigious and rigorous acting schools today, but this isn’t the first time, but this will be the last. What was supposed to be only a month hiatus has now turned into an eternity of time where I will no longer be a student at the Atlantic again. When I first moved to new york in August 2014, I began the acting conservatory 4 months after my mom tragically and unexpectedly died. I entered school, lost and broken down, but determined to make my new york dreams come true. 1 week into the school year I did a jumping jack and tore my ACL. I had to leave new york to have knee surgery.I moved my things back to Wisconsin to under go surgery. Over the time I was home in WI, I came to the realization that I was transgender and began hormone replacement therapy.

I went back to school again for fall 2015 with a new out look on life, my emotional healing had been done and I was in a better place with my moms death and my knee was fully healed. 2 days into the school year, I was sexually assaulted on September 5, 2015. My whole life crumbled down. On September 19, I tried killing myself and spent a week in a pscyh ward upstate new york. I battled dissociation, cutting, drinking and losing any sense of self and safety I had for the first half of the semester. I some how was able to make it through the days at school, somehow still able to memorize lines, smile and laugh. I decided I would spend the entirety of my winter break to fly back to WI in order to undergo intensive therapy to go over the trauma that I underwent. I went to therapy twice a week for over a month. I rehashed every detail of my assault and grew stronger from it even though with each memory of his touch that flooded back into my senses I felt broken again.

I got though the second semester much better than the first. My teachers noticed a difference and so did I. I rarely dissociated and was able to do some meaningful work that I will forever be proud of. Now, if we rewind 15 weeks ago at the beginning of this school year and how I got here, seemingly no singular event has triggered me to leave this time.

I started the year hopeful and excited to see what was actually possible now that I had my life seemingly put together. I was excited to meet the first years, a few I had the privilege of to get to know quite well. I loved my group, a dynamic jumble of people from all over the world with an immense amount of talent. At times I felt like a true ant among giants. I felt working with some people so utterly small and insignificant. I thought from the moment I started my second class on the first day that I wasn’t good enough to go there or continue. I thought I sucked and wasn’t good enough to show up and do the work that was being asked of me. I proved myself wrong. I did some of the best work that I have ever done in my life in my final semester at the Atlantic. I achieved things in scenes I had only dreamed of being capable of. But this story doesn’t end on such a happy note though does it?

Despite making strides in my acting, I was still restricted and struggling with my various mental illness. I was crippled by anxiety and unable to speak in one of my classes called “speech.” I have been diagnosed as having bipolar since I was 22 and more recently have a name for the disorder that plagues my life on a daily basis, which is what brings me to the end of my time at the school I love so much; borderline personality disorder. I had deep undercurrents of sadness and a sense of mistrust in myself and my ability to suceed at this school. By the final two weeks of school I had cut myself near 100 times on my wrists and legs as a way to deal with my feelings that I couldn’t express. I made it through to the final day just barely, missing classes became a pattern for me which is a no no at my school. I had begun to fall down the rabbit hole each night that I took a razor to my skin and inflicted such pain on myself.

I am lost and weak. I have lost who I am. Yesterday I wrote saying ” An inferno of sadness as engulfed my soul.” In this moment however, I don’t feel that way. I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room. This is the rest button. I will leave school to undergo intensive psychotherapy and get the help I desperately need but more importantly, want.

I believe I am put on this earth for 2 reasons. 1 is to act and 2, (and what I think is more important,) is to help others. God gave me many gifts, the ability to write, speak and write songs. I am aware I have been helping people by the tens of thousands of views I have on my youtube videos.The daily messages of gratitue of people reaching out to me saying thank you for making my video. I need to get better so I can accomplish both of these things. I want to be a beacon of help to those around me that don’t have the voice I have. I want to break the stigma that mental illness is not a death sentence, without proper help it sure as shit can be, but help is out there. I refuse to be held down by my illness anymore. It is time that I stand  (shakily) on my two feet and walk into the light of recovery. As much as I have to do this for me, I believe I have to do this for others so I can help more in the future.

Thank you to all my classmates for your love and support. Thank you to my teachers who love me endlessly.  firmly believe I have more teachers phone numbers than classmates because of how loved I am. I am blessed.

It’s time to rebuild.