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.

The process and picture documentation of a panic attack

I’ve grappled with whether or not to share this picture with the world out of fear, embarrassment, being accused of being ‘dramatic’ and ‘attention seeking’ or perhaps looking for pity- and here I am, going against those voices in an attempt to teach and inform.

I truly believe I’ve been put on this earth for two reasons: one of those reasons is to act but, the bigger purpose of my life I believe, is to help people and spread awareness about mental health and mental illness. I talk about my diagnoses on YouTube and write about it, but until last night I didn’t have any “proof” of how this manifests its self (besides a video I have of me dissociated)

The reason I timidly and nervously am posting this picture is because I want to show people how erratic and unpredictable mental illness can be and help end the stigma. The top picture of me when I’m smiling and happy was taken at 5:59pm on my way to see a friends play- I was eager and excited to support my friend-what could go wrong? After intermission when the show started, within minutes I began to have a panic attack based on an OCD obsession and compulsion. Because I was not the able to carry out the “ritual” of what was triggering me I began to crumble during the second act of the show which was over an hour and began at 9:02 pm. I sat in my seat with tears rolling down my face,l had racing thoughts trying to figure out a way out of the situation; do I leave? Do I text my friend?

After the show was over and I was waiting for my friend to come out, I started texting one of my friends letting them know what was going on. As I was texting, my hands were shaking making it difficult to type, I was starting to get dizzy and I was beginning to hyperventilate which is when the second picture was taken at 10:48 pm—I wanted to show them what was going on. My friend from the show came up to me to greet me and saw that I clearly was not OK and grabbed his coat and we went outside. As we were walking down the street I began to lose it and was hyperventilating and crying. I was embarrassed and kept apologizing for my behavior because I felt so out of control and crazy. At the time I didn’t tell him what was going on and what triggered the attack, however now he knows—but I’m not comfortable explaining what happened on here. But I have to say I’m grateful for my friend for normalizing my behavior. He didn’t act like the way I was acting (even though he didn’t know the circumstances) was wrong,weird or crazy.

This is the first time I can officially attest to the fact that I’ve had a full out panic attack. I’ve had minor things like this happen such as hyperventilating and feeling like my chest was tight and had trouble breathing but nothing like this before. The third picture was taken 2 hours later after the initial attack at 11:02pm on the subway home when I was still in a state of crisis. And now, the last picture is of me 20 minutes ago, a day later. The fact that this was based around something around my OCD is something that I never thought I was capable of, or rather my brain was capable of creating.

So the reason that I’m sharing this picture is I want everyone to know that mental illness has a mind of its own and can truly paralyze someone and we need to stop stigmatizing people with mental health conditions. These diseases of the mind are inconsistent and things hit when they want to. People think that having mental illness is a sign of weakness or maybe attention seeking behavior, however what happened last night was truly terrifying and I felt powerless. 40 MILLION americans struggle with some type of anxiety disorder- that’s 18% of the population. This picture is meant to show that this shit happens to MILLIONS of people. I wish that more people were like my friend and would normalize this behavior and not have such a stigma behind it.

I hope for those of you that are reading this and struggle with mental illness whether it be OCD or type of anxiety disorder, bipolar, ptsd or whatever you’re struggling with is that you’re not alone, these things are normal, you’re not crazy and there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re perfect.

Now Is The Summer of My Discontent

July 7, 2017 1:57am

I try to turn my pain into hope for others. While this can be fulfilling at times, it can be exhausting for me. Try to keep a smile on my face and add levity to my situation but everyday it seems to get harder and harder. 10. 10 mental illnesses I am now diagnosed with. bipolar.borderline.ptsd.ocd.gad.complex grief.soical anxiety.adhd.edenos.body dysmprphia. Maybe that’s 11. I’m too tired to count.

I know suicide isn’t the option because I am able to help others though my pain, I still believe I have a purpose. But I get tired of fighting sometimes. Like now, my brain, body and soul is tired of fighting- of putting on a brave face for the “public” in a vain attempt to selflessly help others. I don’t lie, I don’t put on airs. I don’t try to act happier than I am but I am tired. I am 96 days clean of self harm. 96. When I think of that in number 96 is a temperature I hate, it’s too hot for me. I wish I could give up, cave and give in, remind myself that I am alive and here. My days are filled with lonlieness and dissociation. I drink and drink but I find it harder each day to get drunk and fully turn off. Instead my brain decides to dissociate and detach from reality and any semblance of being human.My face becomes emotionless, my words mean nothing and I am unable to communicate let alone feel. My sadness engulfes me, maybe thats what keeps me going. My sadness. My sadness gives me fuel to keep going because at least I know I am alive.

I wish I had something profound to say, like this is just a phase, things will get better. People tell me I am in a rough patch, but truth be told, I have been in a rough patch for 3 years. My mom died, I realized I was trans, I was raped, I began cutting, I dropped out of school- it doesn’t end. Now trauma from childhood assault begins to plague me and memories and nightmares begin to haunt my dreams. Restless from lack of sleep I toss and tun in my firm bed. I try to forget but my brain isn’t allowing me to. I want to rest, to feel whole and complete again. I wonder, what does it feel like to feel whole and not addled with pain and hurt? What does it mean to be happy and full? The only thing these days that gives me purpose is acting. Every time I get called in to audition I feel like I a doing something right. Like I am meant to be here for a reason. That when I step into that room in front of a table and someone hears me speak, I get to do what I love for 90 seconds. Those 90 seconds are mine to shine, to let my light shine and glow. I am reminded why I am here when I get to perform. The promise of being able to support myself solely though acting keeps me going and I allow myself to fall into fantasies of success and money. Not even fame, or recognition, but content–purpose.

I haven’t felt so low since December- February when I was self harming everyday. I don’t know what it will take to “snap me out of this.” Therapy 3 times a week instead of two? I don’t have the answers.

Sparkling Eyes and Golden Hair: A Mothers Day Reflection

Sunday may 14, 2017 3:33pm

What is it like not having a mother on mothers day I asked myself yesterday? How does that feel? How does that manifest itself in me? It’s been 3 years since my mom died and it has been 3 miserable sunday’s filled in loneliness, emptiness and jealously. I made the mistake the past 2 years by logging into Facebook and seeing everyones posts about how they have the “best, most beautiful, giving, generous, funny mom in the world.” I am staying away from social media today because I get angry and resentful seeing the posts. I even see some people having memorial posts about their moms that have maybe passed. But then I get angry because I know people whose moms died from sickness and had time to say goodbye to their moms, unlike me, where mine was tragically and suddenly ripped from my life. I don’t like feeling bad for myself, its a feeling and state of mind I try to steer clear of but today sucks and that is okay for me to say that.

I wish I could go to my moms favorite resturant or sit on my patio by the pool and wrap my arms around my mom and kiss her softly on the cheek. Tell her how much I love her. Tell her just how much I take her for granted. I wish I could spend one more day with my mom. To ask her all my questions and to hug her endlessly. I don’t remember her hugs or kisses, I barley remember her smell. But I remember her golden curly hair and sparkling green eyes. I remember her playing solitaire on the computer late at night and casually smoking a marlboro special blend 100 that rested between her acrylic nails.

I can’t help but think of all the things that have changed since my mom died. My dad moved to a new apartment, I moved to new york, my sister owns a restaurant… It appears life has moved along smoothly for all. But when I truly reflect on my life, I don’t think I have moved on as swiftly as I would like to think. I am still haunted by nightmares surrounding her death, I am still reminded of the sight I saw and I still have PTSD. It seems like my family has moved on, built new relationships, forged new bonds and I am stuck in the past. That’s the the topic we don’t touch in therapy. Talk of my mom hurts too deep, it’s so surreal, too fresh and raw.

I’ve often questioned if my mom would be proud of me today. If she would like the person I have become, if she would be proud I went to acting school and live in new york. If she would understand and support my transgender identity. A large part of my identity is based around her, my name is gaelic for island meadow. I wanted to chose an irish name because I think my mom would have liked that. I have an irish tattoo on my arm in memory of her. So much of me is infromed by her and how she fit into my life. Today my question isn’t whether or not she is proud of me, I will save that concern for a dark, gloomy day when I feel sad again. But today is just full of sorrow and loss. The feeling of something missing inside, a hole that has formed inside my heart and still has not been patched up.

I didn’t want to wake up today. I wanted to pretend like the day didn’t exist and like I could pretend it wasn’t happening or real. But anytime I woke up to go to the bathroom I was reminded of what today means. I can’t run from today. I can’t run from my sadness. I just have to sit with it and deal. No tears to be shed, no pictures to be looked at, just a silent hurt that will permeate this sunday in May.

56 Little Marks.

56 little marks. 26 on my thigh. 16 on my left forearm. The rest scrambled on my wrists. Little reminders of how sick I was. Some are long, some are short, some go vertical, some go horizontal. Some are crooked, some are neat. All these little lines mark my body for the world to see. 60 days have passed since I have since picked up a knife and sliced my tender, soft, carmel skin.

There aren’t words to express how crazy it is to know that 2 months have passed since I last hurt myself. When I was self harming it was a daily habit. The longest I could go was usually 2 or 3 days, then I would cut again. Then I would make it a week then relapse. I was in so deep I thought I would never get out of the hole I found myself in. I thought “Okay, this is your life now. This is how you deal with your feelings, get comfortable.” What a relief to know my dirty little habit only consumed a short 3 month period of my life.

What a relief it is to not have to wake up to the massacre on my wrists after a night of excessive drinking and cutting. Half of the time I forgot I even hurt myself until I woke up and saw bandages on my wrist. Bandagaes carefully placed by my drunken self the night before. I would peel back the layers of gauze and bandages to reveal my shame from the night before. Guilt, weakness, shame and embarrassment would flood my body as I would see the risen mark and dried bits of blood stain my skin. I felt helpless, lost and alone. I’m glad I no longer have to go to walgreens and spend money on bandages and tape to cover up my cuts to help my body heal. It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about being caught stealing another knife from a store because I am too embarrassed to buy a new, sharper, shiner one. What a relief to no longer wince in pain as hot water runs over my skin as I try to wash away the hurt and pain the next day. It’s nice to know I have moved on and have found better ways of coping.

To this day, I still don’t know why I cut. I know what caused the first incdent- a boy I liked didn’t text me back for 13 hours and I thought he hated me and abandoned me. But why it continued for 3 months is a mystery to me. I’m not sure which of my traumas I was trying to deal with when I dissociated every night and hurt myself. Was it my mom dying? My sexual assault? Or just a mere “symptom” of my mental illness? I tried in therapy to piece apart why I was doing this, and I still don’t have an answer. We have moved on to other things, things that still stand in my way.

If you asked my why or how I stopped I would simply say cutting myself served it purpose and I have grown up, out and away from needing to do that anymore. I no longer spent my nights as a drunken, dissociated mess of a human being. Instead I lie in my bed, watching netflix and talking with friends. I didn’t know who I was for 3 months. It’s like I completely disappeared under the knife, and only now am I beginning to resurface. Air is being breathed back into my lungs and I am starting anew. I don’t ever want to feel that low again, but I know my reality. I know that I have very serious mental health problems and disorders that very well may place me on that road again in the future. While I am aware of that possibility, I am not going to sit here patiently waiting for it to all crumble down around me again. I am going to stand in the light that is just beginning again to illuminate my skin. I’m going to bask in the light that I searched so hard, fought so hard to find again. I am glowing. People say they see a change in me, that I am happier. Thats because I was lost and now I am found again.

If I listened to my borderline mind

If I listened to my voice of borderline all the time, I would have no friends and I would have pushed everyone away, of that I am sure. If I were to tell every person when they take more than 2 minutes to respond to my text if we are texting back and fourth, I assume I am not important, worthless, small and not worthy of your time. If I were to tell others that when I sense a change in tone even in writing whether that be simply by the lack of punctuation that I think they hate me and I did something wrong, people would say that I am crazy. People would argue that I am paranoid and need to calm down, smoke some weed. If I told people how attached to them I got after hours of talking to them they would think I am their stalker and a lonely loser. Sure, this does not happen with everyone but with new friendships and romantic interests this is most always the case.

I hang on to peoples word, my mood hanging by a thread on what is said or isn’t said. If I were to tell people how thoughts of abandonment turn to vicious thoughts in my head, people would tell me to seek help. If people knew that when someone does not respond to me I think I am fat, gross, ugly and worthless they would feel bad for me. I don’t want pity. I want a world where it isn’t bad to ask for what I need without the stigma of seeming crazy for having these thoughts. I try to explain these feelings to others and they don’t understand, “take it slow” they tell me. There is no pause or slow motion button in my head or for my thoughts, it’s full steam ahead all the time. How am I supposed to date someone or get to know someone when quickly they become my everything? How am I supposed to be in a normal relationship when I am waiting for the inevitable moment when someone tells me they don’t like me and I am a ruiner. That I have a pretty face, I’m sweet and kind but “too intense” and I “come on too strong?” How will anyone get to love me past my illness when it causes me to push others away? I will never be free of bpd, this is my life- I’m stuck with it.

I just wish there was a world I lived in where I could tell someone all my truths and not be thought of as aggressive or too much. I just want to be freely me and then have someone decide if I am right for them. If I listened to my borderline mind I would have been dead at 22. If I listened to my borderline mind I would have stopped in traffic already or jumped out a window just to see if I would die. If I listened to my borderline mind I allow myself to whole heartedly believe I am crazy and unwell. If I listened to my mind, I would believe that I am unworthy of love and affection because I am too sick. I want my mind to be quiet. To be at peace. To allow things to naturally unfold and not have a ticking time bomb clicking away, making everything so intense and urgent. I want to feel what it’s like to slowly fall in love with someone, and not crash into it. I want to know what it’s like to grow fond for someone overtime instead of them becoming my everything after a day. I want to know what it’s like to have normal, healthy relationships.

When My Innocence Was Stolen

Monday March 6,2017  12:45am

The Loss of Innocence

I thought of writing this post 2 days ago but put it off because I was too scared. I was too scared to see what would come out of my fingers, what I would say, what would I think, but evermore, what would I remember? I want to talk about innocence and the loss of it in my life. Innocent by webster’s dictionary is defined as “lack of guile or corruption; purity.” When I think of the word corruption, I see 2 events specifically and one long term event that corrupted me and caused me to lose innocence.

The first turning point of me losing my innocence was when I was 16 and was dealing with a very sick, alcoholic mother. The memories are hidden and buried deep, and to turn them up to please the eyes of strangers that will read this and never comment seems sadistic, so I won’t say much. I will say from the age of 16 which was freshman year in high school is when my life started turning into shit. My mom was verbally and more importantly emotionally abusive for her last decade on this earth. Those that may be reading this that knew her will be shocked and maybe saddened to hear this, but I have to speak my truth. I strive to preserve her memory of the wonderful, beautiful, empathetic person she was but her disease took over and ruined her. That is the part my family refuses to talk about and acknowledge in public. But I won’t say silent. My mother would call me names, make fun of my body, swear at me, sometimes hit me, bang on my door, break my things, stand in front of my car while I was trying to escape and blame me for her problems and I was the reason why she drank. I got the brunt of it, not my dad, not my sister but little 16 year old Rilen.

I remember one of the first times I made myself sick to try to deal with the pain I was feeling was when we were in ixpapa mexico on vacation at an all inclusive resort. We went to a the fanciest restaurant on the grounds called “Don Quitoe” and I ordered the spaghetti pasta. Mom was impaired and ruined the dinner. Eventually everyone left the table before we even had our meal and I sat there alone at 17. A beautiful meal ruined. I went to the bathroom and stuck my fingers down my throat to make myself feel more balanced and better after the turmroil that unwound at the table. To this day I don’t remember what was said or done, what specifically happened, but I remember my mom leaving first, then my dad, then it was just my sister and I. But the specific moment of innocence lost was when I called the insurance company to find a rehab for my mom at 20 years old. We were trying to plan an intervention for her. My dad and sister didn’t do anything. I was in community college for communications and on a Sunday afternoon at my apartment I was on the phone with my insurance company trying to find rehab facilities for my mom. Why my dad didn’t do this still to this day bothers me. I was a mere child trying to save my mom, I thought I was her superhero, destined to save her. Because I failed, she died. She couldn’t stay sober and I feel guilt because of that even 3 years later. The logical part of my brain says, she needed to have wanted to recover, but the other part of my brain says you didn’t try hard enough.

My innocence then took another dive when my mom died when I was 23 and I discovered her dead body. You can’t recover from that or go back, that chips away at you, it forces you grow up before you were ready. You always picture your parents dying when they are old and grey, after you have given them grandkids, not when they are 56. Seeing her in bed…I can’t describe in words what that did to me or how it forced me out of my youth but it changed me greatly.

When I was sexually assaulted on September 5,2015 any semblance of innocence I had left was savagely ripped away from me. For any survivors out there that are reading this, you know as well as I you were forced to mature wise beyond your years because someone decided they had the right to your body. I thought I had seen it all and was mature and had seen enough for two lifetimes but when that happened I had reached the point of no return, I was now an adult and no longer a child. Any sense of self and security was taken from me, my body was not my own— it was tainted, used and foreign.

Do I wish these things would have never happened to me? Of course. Do I wish I wouldn’t have had to be an adult and sometimes the parent at 16 years old, sure. But there is nothing I can do to change my past. I have to accept it for what it is. I am wise beyond my years. I’ve been forced to deal with very traumatic and difficult circumstances that some people will never have to be exposed to. I guess through my stolen innocence I have learned who I am and what I am capable of. I know that I am strong, ruthless, intelligent and a fighter. So many crack and crumble and never return to who they once were. I am not 100% and haven’t totally retuned to who I was before these things happened to me and I know that even through therapy the chances of getting my childhood back will never happen. I was an adult at 16 and I am even more grown at 27.