Reclaiming my Body

“How am I reclaiming my body?” I am asked by my friend, Haley for a challenge she started. This challenge is the whole reason you are even reading this right now. I ponder the question. A few answers pop up, then push them away thinking they are too personal, so I say I will go to back to thinking about it later. I mindlessly watch Tv, zone out, but the tantalizing question keeps whispering in my ear and finally an hour later I finally confront it.

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Just now- posting that first picture of my mostly naked body…I could stop typing right now is reclaiming my body because I feel like I am going to throw up and my body is hurdling through space and my head is spinning. Am I going to post this? My grotesque body for the world to see? We will see if this post ends up on the internet. But I digress and push all feeling of utter detestation, distaste and revulsion for my body and I’ll post what I originally wrote:

I reclaim my body everyday that I no longer cut it’s beautiful, unique shade of carmel- honey-brown-sugar and in return, the counter on my phone applauds me by tallying another day clean. I reclaim my body with every morsel of food I eat to nourish my body. Is it fun to have to force yourself to eat sometimes? Or realize it’s 10pm and you’ve gotten though another day without food and find satisfaction in that, but also sadness because it’s not fair to yourself? Absolfuckinglutly not. With every sip of water I drink my body silently thanks me. Every cigarette I don’t smoke anymore and pollute my lungs with is a victory after 7 years of wasted money, stinking clothes and rotting breath. I reclaim my body when I remind myself that it is mine and nobody else’s and that *I* am in control from here on out. It’s revolutionary when I have the small “it wasn’t your fault” moments and feel that I no longer have to feel like a victim- they are few and far between but those are moments to be cherished. I reclaim my body when I see myself as more than my physical body and include my beautiful, brilliant, creative, afflicted mind as part as my whole self. I am not the sum of my physical parts.

Even in the moments when I all I can see are is damaged parts; the fat, hideousness, disgust, shame, laziness, loneliness, mental illness and sickness that swallow me whole, I try to salvage the idea that I am not a failure. I am intelligent, well spoken, educated and have an alacrity and appetite to learn more and more about the topics that interest me. I always say, (especially when it comes to dating) “I would rather be respected for my mind than my body.” Body shapes and sizes are ephemeral, intelligence is forever.

I reclaimed my body and soul when I declared my trans identity and express that in a plethora of ways because of the fluidity of my gender expression is infitie. On August 8, 2016 I surgically reclaimed my physical body.

I reclaim my body when I write because all the neurons and synapses in my brain are firing at once. When words surge at the speed of light out of my fingertips and onto a page and simultaneously thoughts erupt out of my brain like lava exploding out of a volcano–I must find a way to express myself because spoken words won’t suffice. My body is reclaimed when I speak about my mental illness because I can use my brain, (a seemingly endless mocking dichotomy of strength and weakness) as a beacon of hope for others because I am articulate, open and honest. I can show my scars, tell my stories, share the trauma and what lead me to who I am today. I use my lips that I once hated because people, men, used to make sexual comments about them to share my message of hope.

I am reclaiming my body when I go to therapy 2 times a week to work on the skewed and sometimes illogical beliefs I hold about myself and my body. I am challenged by a brilliant therapist to really look at myself and thoughts and notions about myself and the world and question if what I am thinking or feeling is coming from an emotional place or a place of logic.

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I am in a perpetual state of evolution.

#ReclaimingMyBody

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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.