Trigger warning: Mentions of physical abuse, emotional abuse, and suicide ideations.
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October 10th is #WorldMentalHealthDay. Today kind of crept up on me. I woke up and saw all these posts about mental health awareness and scrambled to find something to talk about. But I mean…it didn’t take me long to find a topic.
Like anyone else, my mental health journey is not one singular path. It is full of detours, dead-ends, and roundabouts. Every path is covered with layers of complexities – intergenerational trauma, gender-based rules, filial piety, patriarchy, capitalism, colorism, racism, and so on. Sometimes the right direction is hard to find when the faults in my foundation is covered in layers of intersectionality. And sometimes the answer is right on the surface, but I keep trying to dig deeper.
Over the last year, I have been able to map out how my emotions, triggers, and memories intersect. But there are still so many hidden paths that I’ve yet to discover and in order to find my true self, those are the ones that I need to explore.
I have to go deep into my past, rumble with my shadows, and reconcile with my inner child.
These are some of the topics that I’m exploring –
- My abandonment beliefs. I have a fear that the people I love will leave me.
- My belief that love is associated with pain. Since I am afraid of it, I am heavily guarded. A simple example of this is when I don’t allow myself to fully believe compliments from people. I’m scared it might be untrue and I don’t want to get hurt.
- The grief I carry from the loss of childhood at an early age and from mourning a family that I want but will never have.
- The belief that sitting in sadness is unproductive after witnessing a traumatic event that gave me this message.
When I was about 3 or 4 years old, my mom had left the house after a really bad argument with my dad. An hour or so later she called home and my dad and I got into the car to go see her.
We arrived at a parking lot of a mall and pulled up next to her car. My dad told me to get out. Confused, I slowly opened the door and then I was pushed out of the car. He drove off with the door still wide open.
My mom and I spent the night sleeping in her car next to the Charles River. She woke me up in the morning to look at the sunrise and said something about it being a new day.
This memory informs my abandonment beliefs. In that brief moment of not knowing which parent actually wanted to take me with them, I had felt abandoned.
After that night, my parents got back together. They are still married but things got worse.
My brother was born and my grandmother (mom’s mom) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. These two big life events stressed my mother out and her stress manifested in physical violence towards me and my brother. The abuse finally stopped after a really bad incident with my mom and brother that I won’t share publicly (not yet).
My grandmother passed away when I turned 7. Since my mom is an only child who did’t know her father, her mother was her best friend. The loss of my grandmother was devastating. At this time, my mom was 27 and my grandmother was just about to turn 50.
My mom and my dad started fighting a lot again. One night, my mom had been crying for hours while my dad was out with his friends. She took this anger out on the walls of their bedroom.
When my dad came home, he saw the mess, and my mom crying on the floor. Without acknowledging my mom, he walked towards their bed and went to sleep. That’s when she came into my room, which was adjacent to their bedroom and tried to jump out of my window. I held onto her and begged her to come sleep with me on my bed. She agreed.
The next day we all pretended like nothing happened. They cleaned up their bedroom and I spent the day in mine.
We have never talked about what happened.
When my therapist and I talked about this memory in one of our sessions, I wondered about its significance. I admitted to thinking about that night often and writing poems about the incident. But I was never really sure why this memory was so important to me since it was my mother who was the main character. She was the one who had been hurt.
I remember my therapist slamming her clipboard on her knees and sternly said, “Haylee, you stopped your mom from killing herself.”
Hearing those words in that tone was eye-opening for me. That was the first time I saw myself as a significant part of that story.
This memory followed me into my adult life and my adult relationships.
Remembering my mother crying for hours on end and seeing my dad reject her feelings, gave me the message that crying is unproductive. That no matter how loud I cry, nothing will change. So as an adult, I let myself cry for a few minutes or so, but I rarely let myself get deep into a cry unless I’m intoxicated (we’ll more talk about this later).
I don’t let myself really feel sadness. I’ll have moments of sadness but I don’t sit in it.
I don’t spend a lot of time feeling grief. I don’t think I really understand what that means.
All of these unhealthy things that I do is because of this painful memory.
I have a lot of healing work to do.
And here’s the other scary thing about your past following you into your present –
Last January, I had strong suicide ideations after a really bad fight with my ex-boyfriend. One night, he had return home a little drunk and I expressed feelings of disappointment. He got angry with me, started yelling and showed physical violence by smashing our front door with an object.
I ran into our bedroom and cried for what felt like hours. As things calmed down between us, he decided to spend the night in the living room. I sat in our bedroom alone while my thoughts were racing. Later in the evening, I started to spiral. I blamed myself for getting him angry. I felt misunderstood, unseen, and unheard. I felt that my needs weren’t being addressed. I felt that my feelings were being ignored.
Suddenly, I started hearing voices in my head to just end my life. I thought about other aspects of my life — my career, my friends, and my family. I started to feel insignificant, a burden, and that all I was doing was causing pain to the people around me. The voices kept telling me that if I ended my life, the pain would stop for everyone.
In that moment, I saw my mother.
In that moment, I saw what pulled her towards the window.
I am so grateful for the friends and community that reached out to me after that night.
Thank you for reading my story.
For a number of different reasons, suicide rates are on the rise across the United States.
If you feel that you know someone who might be at risk, please reach out to them. Check-in on them. Take them out on a walk. Let them know they are not alone.
If you don’t know where to start, visit www.afsp.org for more tips on how to reach out to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.
I am working on a personal project with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that I can’t wait to share with you soon.