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.

Hospitalization: I want to live.

I’ve fallen into a hole and haven’t been able to climb out of it. My fingernails are covered in dirt as I struggle to get out of this pit of despair I have fallen into. I am a fighter. I am fighting for my life every day I have walked this earth, more recently the last year, and even more specifically the last 2 months.

The week started off pretty bad. I was triggered by my sexual assault. A book I was reading about a young trans teen was sexually assaulted for the same reason that I was, because some fuckers were trying to figure out what anatomy they had. I ended up cutting myself over 30 times that night, on my forearms, wrists and thigh. I scared myself because for the first time I cut vertically, I say it was because I wanted to see more blood, but if I am honest with myself I know part of the reason I did that was because I had a severe case of the “fuck it’s” and didn’t care if I accidentally bled out. So to say the least the week didn’t start off well. I then spent the entirety of Wednesday contemplating suicide and decided whether I wanted to go, to press harder that night and eventually reach my half formed goal of bleeding out. I decided against it, because I realized I still had some fight in me. I think I just ended up cutting instead. I went 4 days without cutting, the longest I’ve gone in over a month. Then Saturday based on a chain of events, partly due to money, I cut vertically again with the half intention of not caring if I bleed out on my queen sized bed in my Brooklyn apartment.

There is a difference I realized between the fuck it’s and actually wanting to die and intentionally trying to die. I was concerned enough that I would try to hurt myself even more than the night before so on Sunday January 22, I checked myself in The Brooklyn Hospital. I checked in around 1:20pm and was promptly placed in the ER on a 1 to 1, which is suicide watch where a nurse sits with you every second to make sure you don’t try to hurt yourself. The nurses were amazing, I felt taken care of and a sense of protection. I did however, feel like I was being babysat and felt like a failure for being a 26 year old man having people watch my every move. Around 5:42 pm I was transferred to my own room. I requested a private room because of my transgender status. I wasn’t comfortable sharing a room with a male or female as I look androgynous at this point in my transition and honestly, don’t feel like I fit clearly in either box at this point. I got dinner, and made conversation with my favorite nurse, Adolph. A young 30 something african american woman. We laughed and made jokes, talking about pizza, grilled cheese, hurricane sandy and other things. All my nurses with the exception of 2, one of which fell asleep, snoring while I was laying in my bed were incredible. My room was a freezer, probably about 30 degrees, my nurse was wrapped in a blanket like a nun and I had 2 blankets on. I was woken around 4am to the caring hands of a nurse tucking me into my third blanket.

The thing about being placed on suicide watch is everyone tells you how much life is worth living, they spout knowledge and hope saying, you’re too young and pretty to want to do this to yourself. They told me that I wasn’t crazy which lead me to semi believe them and form the new opinion that while yes, I do have many diagonseses, I am in a somewhat healthy spot. I always laugh when they ask me if I hear voices or see things that aren’t there, and scoff when I am asked if I am homicidal. Which is kind of a dick move because there are people that feel that way. So I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned what is that I’m not crazy. I was able to laugh and joke and carry on coherent conversations. Which given the horror stories of nurses being spit on, chairs thrown or piss cans being thrown on them, I would say I was doing pretty well.

I realized I have too much to live for. About a month ago I made a 3 and a half page list taking note of all the reasons I shouldn’t kill myself. My list varies from a few people that I know would be devastated, to cupcakes, pizza, the opportunity to not be able to help others, playing piano, hot showers and rainy days litter my list in colorful colors by my felt tip pens.

For those of that have depression will be able to understand this statement, there is a clear cut difference between actually wanting to die and imagining it and reaching a point of carelessness if that were in fact to happen. What is referred to as suicidal ideation litters my mind. What if I jumped in front of that train? Ran into traffic, slit my wrists so that I bled out, jumped out of the 31st floor of building I am inhabiting? These are fully formed thoughts but with lack of intention.

I am glad I went to the hospital, because for one night I was safe from my mind. I wasn’t transferred to a psych facility because I wasn’t a threat to myself. My psychiatrist said he wasn’t concerned that I was going to go home and slit my wrists with the exacto knife that sits in the pringle cup next to bed.

I guess the 25 hours I spent being continually watched gave me perspective that I want to live. I was going to fight it if they made me go to a psych facility. You see, I have this bandaid theory about the hospital situations I’ve been in, as this is the second time I’ve voluntarily checked in for my mental health and sucicidal ideation. I look as hospitals as a band aid that cover the safety part of my recovery, I can’t hurt myself, which is great. But that isn’t the bigger problem. The bigger problem needs to be discovered through therapy, to find out why I am hurting myself, was I assaulted as a kid? How has my moms unfortunate death and sexual assault shaped me into who I am? Thats where the healing has to be, not under some 24 hour lock down facility with cardboard veggie burgers and small juice cups that are gone in 3 sips.

I am a fighter, I am covered in blood, I have soot on my face, my body is broken and bruised, but I continue to stand tall in the face of mental illness and trauma.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An inferno of sadness has engulfed my soul

An inferno of sadness has engulfed my soul

I am sounded by the fires of loneliness and sorrow, pain and fear, numbness and awareness.

I say I am a  work in progress as a way of shying away from what I really am, which is a full out mess. I have fallen apart. I am still stitched together somehow, getting through the days, able to laugh and smile. Perhaps I am just so numb I feel normal? But there is nothing normal about what is going on. My wrists prove it. The perpetual marks that continue to show up night after night. I asked to have the knives to be taken away. I found a pair of scissors. Threw those out. Found another pair. When is it going to end? When will I wake up a week straight where my wrists will not be sore and tender? Will that day ever come, or have I fallen down the rabbit hole, forever lost, unable to crawl out? Usually when I feel depressed I feel like I am drowning, but I feel like I am floating just fine. I go though my days in an unaffected daze. I am sick. So sick and I don’t even know it. It doesn’t dawn on me until I feel my wrists and look at the newly forming scars, the purple bruises that are trying to heal from my self inflicted trauma. I know I am sick from the bottles that hide in my backpack that I hide from my family. A behavior I said I would never exhibit. But here I am, at my essential lowest. Why does this feel different from before? Why don’t I feel depressed. I should be worse, but I guess maybe it’s so bad I don’t realize it until I have those moments of realization and regret. I don’t know what happened. How did I get here? How do I get better? How do I emerge from this inferno of sadness that has engulfed me by its hot, hateful flames. I want to be better. I want to be held, I want to be treated as the fragile person I am at this point. I’ve gotten so good at pretending like everything is okay. If only they knew, if only they could see inside my withering soul. I am hurt. I am hurting.