0153: Scarred


Content warning: The following piece contains references to depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, abuse, and suicide attempts, which may be triggering for some readers. Also, note that all names have been changed by the author and are replaced with letters.


"Scarred," Anonymous

I am scarred. I’ve had my essence cut away since birth. I’m not even supposed to be here and I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. My life has consisted of so many ups and downs. Saviors and damnation. Friends and abusers. Significant others and cheaters. Family and monsters. Honesty and deceit.

I was born with a rare genetic illness that I almost died from. I spent 10 days in the hospital when I was just 1 or 2 weeks old. No one knew what was wrong, they just knew I may not make it. But I was saved after 10 long days. By a doctor I don’t know the name of. A doctor I hope to one-day meet. To tell that I’ve made it this far. As a reminder I have a scar on my stomach. 3 inches long. Ugly. Abnormal. Weird. Different. Anytime someone sees it they want to know about it. I always told them because they were curious. I leave out how it makes me feel. Undeserved. Mistake. Undead. Survivor. Fuck up. The one bad gene.

I was born to my mother and father. A loving mother. And a fucked up father. A mother who stayed with me no matter what. A father who left. A mother that talks to me weekly. And a father who hasn’t reached out in 18 years. A mother who has been there for me. And a father that tried to run me and my mother over with a car. One who loved me. And one who drank. One a nurturer. The other cursed me forever. One who has been hurt and survived time and time again. And one who went crazy and left.

It was soon after the divorce that a new person entered my life. My dad. Not my real dad but my adopted dad. He was strict, aggressive, had money and… urges issues. He also had a daughter, my crazy sister. But… he loved me. But I guess my mom didn’t love him enough. He went off a lot, he was in the military. My mom would sometimes go off on business trips. Trips to R. The only business was sex. My mom cheated on my dad. Someone who loved me enough to adopt me. To try and give me a father figure that I wouldn’t have ever had. He brought home my first dog, he introduced me to video games which quickly became an escape for me. The funny thing is… after my mom destroyed their relationship, my dad never left me. Another funny thing. No one ever told me he wasn’t my father. He wasn’t blood. I didn’t know until I was 10 or so.

My family has a history of lying to me. When I was young I had to take pills regularly. “Allergy pills.” Code word for ADHD meds. I took allergy meds too but these brain altering pills were fed to me as well. It wasn’t until much later maybe 12 or 13 that I found out I wasn’t normal. I wasn’t like other kids. I was a special case. Unique. Different. Sick. Mental. Fucked up. A wild card. A menace.

The lies continue.

My family lied to me about my genetic illness. They told me it was a simple birth defect. It was much more. They told me the truth this year. I almost died. I could pass it on to future kids. I don’t think I want kids. What if they’re as fucked up as me? What if I’m like my real dad? I go crazy and try to kill them? What if my genetics kill them before their birthday? My mind is a monster waiting to infect any offspring I have and my genetics are a weapon waiting to kill them. I couldn’t do that to a child. But now with the knowledge of my genetics… if I ever wanted kids… its much scarier. What if they die? What if they can’t be saved like my uncle? What if they’re scarred like me? An ugly ugly scar. It would match mine.

After the second divorce my mother stayed with R. I despised him. He was mean and evil I could tell. I was beginning to get good at reading people. They were dating. They were in love. Honeymoon phase right. I knew there was something wrong. It was confirmed when the beatings started. He would hit me for mouthing off, for not using manners, for making bad grades. I quickly learned to follow orders. To do what I was told. My mom found out. What did she do? Married him. He never hurt her. Just me. Sometimes she would see. Sometimes not. My mom tried keeping me away from my dad at the time. R never attempted to be a father figure like my dad did. He’d just give orders and beatings. Never drunk either. He was always knowledgeable of it. He knew, he was in control, he was powerful. One time he dragged me on a hunting trip. I accidentally got mud in his truck. I tried to act like it wasn’t me. I lied. But he didn’t believe me. I got a special hit that time. He took the butt of a gun to me. Cracked my chin open. I needed stitches. 4 I think, maybe 5, I can’t remember. But what it left, was another scar.

After a year or so my mom got pregnant with my brother. My half-brother. Their marriage ended a year after he was born. Now he’s forever in my life. The son of my mom and a monster. They got a divorce because I guess hitting me wasn’t enough anymore. He started hitting my mom too. That was when she had enough. Her… not me. I was so alone. This divorce left me with a scar, a devil spawn half sibling, and the feeling of being empty and alone.

This divorce left us with nothing. Barely any money, low amounts of food, my mom had a terrible job. I was 9 or 10 by now. Already been through so much right? Guess not. Around this time was when I was first introduced to bullies. And the word fag. That word stuck with me for a while. I never knew how mean other kids could be. About everything. Even the little things. Whatever made you different. And boy was I different. I was small. I was the shortest kid in class and I had my ugly scar. Kids are mean. They shun the new and the different. They made me hurt. They made me hate myself. And the bullies never left.

A year after the divorce with R my mom met a new man. M. I could tell he was just like R. But my mom wouldn’t listen. He hated me, I could tell. I had gotten very good at reading people. I hated him too. It wasn’t even a year that they had shacked up. My new step dad. Dad number 4.

I was right about him. He was just like R. Hit less, but just like him. He also only hit me when he was drunk. Otherwise he would just scream or call me names. By now I knew how to handle people like him. Stay away and act like I don’t exist. I thought my mother would act different this time but she didn’t. Thinks were okay financially after almost a year. But things weren’t alright in my head. I don’t remember what set it off, maybe it was learning about my ADHD, maybe it was one-time M yelled too much or hit too hard, maybe I was just feeling too empty. I took a knife to my skin, and dug. Right on my right hand. Just over my right wrist. I didn’t want to die, maybe I did and was scared. All I know was I was 13. And I had scarred my body once again.

The feeling was… sad. It didn’t make me feel. I cleaned it. I played it off like it was something dumb. I picked at it. It scarred. It has never gone away. It’s hard to see. But I see it. I look at it. I know it. It’s another ugly scar that belongs on my disgusting body. Middle school the bullying kept going. It got worse. I was a fag. I was short. I was new. I didn’t play sports. I read and played video games. No one wanted to be my friend. I was an outcast.

High school was the same. The bullying got worse. So did me cutting myself. And upon coming into high school I had 2 friends to my name. 2 friends that didn’t turn out to be fake, or backstabbers, or bullies themselves.

High school got better in some ways though. I eventually met amazing friends that helped me have a reason to stay alive. To ensure the knife never went too deep. I delved more into video games as an escape from reality. I also learned about comic books and dungeons and dragons. More escapes.

Nightwing was my favorite super hero. He was funny, charming, daring, an older brother to the other Robins. He was everything I wasn’t but also everything I wanted to be. The best thing was he was normal and he had a terrible upbringing like me. I related to him and his story. He was important to me. Comics still are. I have a huge collection now. I hold each book, each story, each escape close to me.

Dungeons and Dragons was amazing. It was a chance to leave life and delve into a fantasy world where I was a hero. I always liked being a paladin. I liked being righteous and a destroyer of evil, a defender of the week. My love for dungeons and dragons only grew. Now in college I play with 5 close friends and I have written my own fantasy world and story for them to experience. Now I act as the dungeon master. I make them the heroes.

These escapes kept me alive.

The knife was different. I had gotten smart. I knew to cut under my sleeve where no one saw. I would leave the marks alone. I would treat them. They didn’t leave visible scars. But even now it’s as if I can see them. The ugly invisible lines from where I hated myself enough to tear away at myself. Ugly invisible scars. Disgusting, awful, different, ruined, terrible scars. My body a canvas and a blade as a paintbrush. The art I made was disgusting.

One time on Christmas I got a knife as a present. In a moment of disassociation, I pressed too hard and it slipped. It cut my thumb open. Boy, did I bleed. It got stitched up quick. By the time I was 15 I was scarred in so many places. Some intentional. Some accidental. I was a dumb kid and I didn’t care if I got hurt. What’s another ugly scar on my disgusting body? My knee from a fall. My chin from roller-skating, running at a pool, and a wrestling mistake (they were in the same spot as the one from the rifle. Cover up one scar with others I suppose. My shoulder from a skin thing. My thumb from a burn. Next to my eye from a friend being stupid with a sword.

Numerous scars everywhere. I’m disgusting. Undeserving of life. Ugly. Awful. A monster.

I think I was 15 when it happened. M cheated on my mom and they got a divorce. M cheated on my mom with 3 other women at the same time. Funny right. I guess it comes full circle. Maybe she deserved it. We were once again left with nothing. This time even worse than before. My cutting got worse, I gained weight, I got acne. I was ugly outside and inside. I was disgusting, scarred, a burden. My anger issues developed around now. I got angry, I would scream and break things. I was terrifying. No one saw me like this. I made sure of it. This year was a time that I had begun to seriously contemplate suicide.

My mom eventually found a job. It was steady enough. Around this time, I got my first girlfriend. K. She was amazing and I thought the world of her. It was long distance. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school when we started dating. I saw her every chance I could. She was the first person I fell in love with. Someone I trusted. The first person I told everything too. She made me promise to stop self harming. And I did.

High school finally ended and I was off to college. Everything was changing and looking up. I was off to New York for school all the way from Alabama. My mom had found a better job and was moving. I had a girlfriend and we loved each other. We were going to be closer to each other when I moved. I lost weight, got help for my acne, and finally stopped self harming. I was finally out of the place where I had been tortured and abused all my life. I was beginning to be happy. In the first week of college I met people that I still consider my best friends. Hell, I met my closest friend ever. My best friend C. He’s like a brother to me. I never drank the first year. I never did drugs. Never smoked. My whole life I was against it. Then it was the end of the first semester.

Around the middle of my first semester my sister, my dad’s daughter decided to disown the family. She left and went to Texas. I haven’t seen her in years. Anytime she talks to me she just wants money. This year she got pregnant. She’s 19 or 20. About a year younger than me. And pregnant. She’s not married either. The dad is her ex-boyfriend. The baby is due very very soon.

Towards the end of my first semester of college I had been dating K for almost 2 years. I had begun to notice changes. Emotional distance, less talkative, spending more time with other people. I felt distant too. My feelings changed. I was a different person. K was too. So… I broke things off. I felt like my world was ending. We tried staying friends but that didn’t work. We just drifted apart. She dated someone else. I dated around before finding my next girlfriend Ra.

Ra was cool, dangerous, punk rock, awesome. Everything K wasn’t. She fed the darker side of me. Encouraged me to go out, encouraged me to have fun, fed my anger, fed my lust. It was fun while it lasted. 3 months I think. She ended up dropping out, moved back home, left me alone. After that… I started drinking. I drank a lot. Every time I got the chance. I also developed an interest in men. I came out to my friends as bisexual.

During both my relationships I was always scared to take my shirt off. I didn’t like them seeing my scar. I didn’t like it when anyone saw it. I didn’t want pity or anything. I was afraid of my own disgusting self.

School ended and I went home to Alabama for summer and sometimes I’d snag a little alcohol from my mom. She was dating someone new. Terrible guy. She had horrible taste. It was that summer I found out I had been betrayed again.

My ex K. Cheated on me during our relationship. She was dating this new guy. We broke up 7 months ago maybe. She made a post saying happy 9-month anniversary to her and her boyfriend. To my knowledge 9 is more than 7. She had been dating him 2 months before we broke up. I was destroyed. I broke a chair, screamed, took a knife to myself but I didn’t cut. I wasn’t going to let her scar me like so many others. Someone like her wasn’t worth it. It was now that cheating became a taboo to me and honesty became a must.

Coming back to school was amazing. It felt like my real home. I was an orientation leader for this year. My sophomore year. It was this time that I met someone important in my life. I met N. My third girlfriend. I also began cosplaying as a hobby.

N and I started off slow, we would drink together, hang out, we had fun. It was nice. I drunkenly kissed her and I would never take it back. We started dating. My friends disapproved, I didn’t let that affect me though, at least not yet.

That first semester of sophomore year was perfect, wonderful, amazing. I was really and truly happy. It felt like something I had never had before. N was the second person that I told everything to. My entire life story. Some parts I told her that I never even began to tell K. She was also someone that I didn’t care if she saw my scar. I never felt embarrassed around her. She never pitied me. Just… loved.

Then came second semester. I met new people. New friends. New backstabbers. New manipulators. New cursed awful people. Under the guise of friendship. I met them through cosplay. The worst one was A.

N and I had our share of problems but this semester I grew to distrust aspects of her life. She didn’t seem to understand; she didn’t really care to. And I never really gave a good explanation. During our problems, A was there for me. He would talk to me about any and all of my problems. He was great. And twisted.

Any time I had a problem with N, A would feed it he would manipulate me and tell me the worst things, things I didn’t want to hear or believe. But I trusted him so I let him sow the seeds of distrust into me. N and I argued more and had 1 or 2 huge fights. By the end of the semester I had had enough. But I didn’t realize that there was nothing that I had had enough of. I left for a while to Canada. I left after an unresolved fight with N. During my time in Canada N and I could barely talk because of cellphone restrictions. Our fight never got resolved. The entire time every chance he could A would tell me horrible things that were probably happening with me away. He made me distrust N more. He played me. He pushed my buttons. I was stupid.

When I got back still nothing was resolved with N. And I believe a week or two later it finally happened. We broke up. Over... nothing. It was stupid. And one of my biggest mistakes. I’ll never forgive myself for how those words hurt her. And after A made his move. He told me he loved me. And he wanted to be with me.

I was week. I was stupid. I was so alone. I fell into it. After the breakup N got drunk and screamed at me. A used this as an opportunity to confirm everything he said. And I believed him. A and I lasted about 3 days. Before it all came crumbling down. He told me he had no feelings for me. Later I found out all of it was a plan to make his ex-boyfriend jealous. Additionally, it turns out that while he was in love with me and we were having a very very short thing he was sleeping with his ex as well.

I had had enough. I contemplated suicide. I took the knife and I dug it into my hand. The blood was fresh and new. It had been so long. I broke such an old and well-kept promise. I had never felt so dead inside. I had messed up with someone I really and truly loved and who loved me back. I had been betrayed by someone who I thought held me so close and dear. I had never in my life wanted to die so much. I thought N despised me and wanted me dead. I wanted A dead. I felt so alone. So very very alone. And once again my scar was present again. I picked at it to keep from cutting again. Another scar. Another reminder of how ugly I was. I was so cruel. Disgusting. Awful. Abusive. Terrible. Unwanted. Alone. Ugly. Scarred.

Summer passed, I dated people. All the dates were empty. Just to waste time. I felt nothing towards anyone. I was empty. School began. N and I began talking again. But it was angry passive aggressive talking. She despised me and I still had the seeds in my head from A. One night. She invited me over and we got so very drunk. We almost had sex so many times that night but we didn’t. Not that night anyways. Later N and I talked. I was ready to confess that I still had feelings for her. Before I could say anything she told me there was nothing left between us and that she moved on. About a week later we began having casual sex. We were friends with benefits. It was awful. Because I still had feelings and I wanted to be with her. This felt like the only way how. So I kept quiet about my feelings, played them off, it hurt. I didn’t even understand how much it hurt until later.

This semester was bad. I drank more, I tried weed, I had self harmed again. N and I argued a lot during our time as friends with benefits and eventually broke it off. She confessed she thought she still loved me. I confessed too. But we didn’t do anything. Other things happened with her and other guys. I began slowly trying to find dates very unsuccessfully. But the whole time I was still madly in love with her and it was driving me crazy. Not to mention the amount of school work and stress I had. So I cut again. 2 gashes under the sleeve. But this time they were noticed. N noticed them. I had to tell her. Tell someone. I picked at them. I picked at them to keep myself from cutting more. But picking at it made them scar over.

Two more ugly reminders. Ugly. Disgusting. Bad. Evil. Awful. Reminders.

The semester was coming to an end and I confessed everything to N. I begged for another chance. I got it… I think. A small chance to remedy us before it’s too late. It was my first step to bettering myself.

I’ve decided for myself that I have to seek help. I have begun regular counseling appointments. I will be attempting a trial run of anxiety medications. I have close friends I love and trust. I have my mother who is finally dating a nice guy that I like. N and I are friends again with hope for a possible future maybe. I also finally learned about my genetic illness. I learned things about my biological father. Things that one day I can use to find him and get answers. I am also contemplating possibly being demisexual.

So many times I have thought to myself that I should end it all. I’m disgusting. I’m a burden. I’m ugly. I’m too scarred for this world. But… I’ve never let myself go too far. I’m not dead yet. For some reason. I have hope, goals, dreams, aspirations. I have people in my life that I never want to leave.

I’m determined to get my life on track this year. I know I can. This time I promise to myself to never cut again. To never harm myself again. I want to learn to trust again. To love again.

I have been beaten, broken, cheated, bruised, bullied, scarred…
I am P. I am 20 years old. A junior in college studying what makes me happy. Apart of the LGBT community. And I have survived.


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About the art:

This survivor gave an incredibly detailed account of a life filled with trauma, illness, and perseverance. The survivor told me that he was a big fan of Nightwing - a character in the DC Universe, connected to Batman and an alter ego of Robin. So I whipped up a piece that contained a quote from Nightwing and his brand/logo in the background. I did it in a more expressionist approach in hopes it'd look less realistic and more beaten and battered to resemble the struggle our survivor has experienced.

- Craig.

0144: How I'm a Survivor


Content warning: The following story contains references to domestic violence, violence, depression, drug use, anxiety, and body dysmorphia, which may be triggering for some readers. 

"How I'm a Survivor," Morgan Murdza

I really am not sure where to start.

This has been a hard thing to write about, along with being super disorganized. There has been so much in my life that has shaped the way I look at the world. So, I guess I will try my best to explain to you how I’m a survivor. 

Murdzas:
My father has never been a good man. Before I was even born he was wicked. He tortured my mother. He would lock her up, he would isolate her from the world, he would beat her, try to push her out a window, and humiliate her. He even mentally abused my older brother. Now, I had no idea of this happening because I was just an idea. When I was born, things only grew worse for my mom and him. There were times of her leaving, only to have him harass and abuse her from the outside. One day, he almost broke my mom’s back with his fist. This was the end. Around the age of two, my mom met someone else. This is another story. My father wanted nothing to do with my until I was four years old, when my stepfather had wanted to adopt me. This created visitations every now and then. I liked it because I had two new sisters who were older than me. I loved them.

My mom and him were civil, but I could always feel a tense vibe from her. As I got older, I began to see his true colors. He was a cruel man. He belittled his workers, belittled practically everyone. My sisters had a different mom. He beat her too before he got with my mom. She wasn’t much better though because she abused her own daughters. Megan, the oldest, got the brunt of my father’s anger. He would belittle and even abuse her, right in front of my eyes. This was tormenting. We drifted when I was about 12 or 13. My sisters lost contact with him too after awhile. Megan, got pregnant when she was 18 years old. This strengthened our lost bond. I loved her and my unborn niece. We grew together.

She miscarried only weeks before being due. This was traumatizing for her. She then got into heavy drugs like heroin and heavy drinking. She got pregnant again. She had the baby. A perfect little boy. She used throughout her entire pregnancy and after, making her a horrible addict. She began to act like my father. I cut off ties with her. She lost custody of her son and the daughter she had years later. My mom had told me about what my father had done to her. I couldn’t believe the man who I had been around could do all of those horrible things.

We talked again when I was 16, forgiving and trying to move forward. He was still the same and lies would continue and eventually, I cut it off. My other sister, Ashley, was really nothing but a leach. She didn’t want anything to do with anyone unless they were useful to her, thus cutting off our relationship. They ruined me in a way.

My loving family:
As I had mentioned before, my mom moved on from my father. She then met the love of her life, Frank. I immediately fell in love with him. He was the greatest man to walk the planet. He loved me and my older brother as we were his own. I was so young when we met. He wanted to adopt me and make me officially his, but my father wouldn’t allow it. Oh well. My mom and Frank married, making him my stepdad, the closest I could get to him being legally my dad.

I loved having my family like this. We moved to a beautiful home in upstate New York and I couldn’t be happier. Not long after was I blessed with a baby brother! I was thrilled. It was finally perfect. I loved my life. I never thought anything bad could happen. Of course, I was wrong. As I was hitting my teen years, I began to watch my favorite love story crumble before my eyes. Frank and my mom were arguing and there was talk over divorce often. Well, it happened. It was ugly and sad, but eventually the friendship happened between the two. We all still saw Frank as our stepdad and saw him whenever we could. Not long after that did I lose my grandma.

My first death ever.

I never thought I would feel a pain like this. Again, I was wrong. In 2009, my stepdad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Small Cell Lung Cancer. I was devastated. He really didn’t get much time. How could I lose my best friend? We got a year with Frank. One last year. One last everything. I watched my hero deteriorate in front of me, one of the most traumatic times of my life.

The accident:
In 2013, my little brother and my uncle were going for a ride in Galway, NY. My mom and I got the call hours later hearing that a van double crossed the lines and hit them head on. My uncle was instantly killed and my little brother was flung to a near death experience. I had almost lost my then, nine year old, little brother. Months in the hospital, months in surgeries, months of watching my mom grieve what had happened to our family. How could I recover from this? How would we? Eventually, my little brother pulled through flawlessly. He can walk, talk, function, everything normally again. It’s a blessing. I, unfortunately, never really healed.

My own problems: 
Ever since I was little I had problems with anxiety. I was constantly a ball of worry. I always worried if people liked me, I always worried if I would do well in school, I always worried about everything. I would make myself physically sick at the constant worrying I had. I worried about people dying around me. I worried about the world ending. I felt that I was always in a crisis situation. As I got older, the anxiety didn’t help with my new found body image issues. This was a constant struggle from the time I was eight until today.

It didn’t matter.

I could have been average, skinny, overweight, anything, and I would still hate who I was. I never lifted myself up, ever. This created negative attention seeking. This created a girl who couldn’t love herself, so she sought it out in other ways. This tormented me and made me loath who I was. The anxiety worsened and I began to suffer from panic attacks and fits of depression. There were days where I wouldn’t want to get out of bed and days where I couldn’t release the negative energy, making me act recklessly. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and today I still am not sure. 

I know these all seem like little things, but to me, they were never-ending. All of this has shaped me into who I am today. My mind has been molded into a mess of trauma, grief, and constant anxiety and self-hatred. Despite all of this, I pushed on. I tried my best to make something amazing of myself.

I made friends. I helped others.
I did amazingly in school and even went onto college. I am now entering my Senior year, ending my last semester with a 3.9 and a scholarship. I want to rejoice in all that I have accomplished, but my demons continue to haunt me. I am a survivor and I will continue to thrive for happiness and positivity. 

Thank you for reading my story. 


About the art:

Morgan shared this story with us months ago and I couldn't find the right place to share it. But now that we are moving away from topic-based months, this is a great story to encapsulate the complexities of the multiple forms of trauma that exist in some of our lives.

For everything that Morgan has been through, I wanted to create something that she wanted real bad. So I asked her what would make her happy everyday, and she suggested this quote from Grey's Anatomy - along with a desire for pastel colors like pink and purple. She also mentioned a love for glitter, so I used metallic paints in the background - which don't show through THAT well, but the pieces does shine when you pass by it or tilt it a little bit.

I hope this piece helps Morgan heal a little from her many traumas, and I hope her story helps our readers as well.

- Craig.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive" (Community Post)


Content warning: The following community post contains references to suicide, depression, anxiety, and sexual assault - which may be triggering for some readers.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive,"
Boston Emo/Pop Punk Community Post

Hello friends! Craig from Art of Survival here!

We're taking a break from our July vacation to share something very special we had the opportunity to participate in over the weekend!

But first, some context -

After the news broke of Chester Bennington's suicide on Thursday, we were shattered - as were many other people from our generation. The lead singer of Linkin Park - the band that spawned a reawakening of rock music in the late 90s/early 00s - had died by hanging.

I cried. A lot. I also sat in much confusion.
And I tried to grasp how we lost another great musician so young.

We've received a great bit of information concerning Chester's personal life over the last few days, and it's clear there was a lot we didn't know about him. I hate knowing he suffered so much in private, and yet, music is where he vented it all - even on the band's latest/most stripped away album, "One More Light." While I wasn't a fan of it musically, I went back through it the other day and truly, he poured himself into that album.

The signs were there.
And today, Linkin Park released a heart-breaking letter to its fans.

As a two-time suicide attempt survivor, I understand, to a degree, how difficult it can feel to live with varying levels of depression, anxiety, trauma, and a desire to live anymore. I came up with Linkin Park - from 2000-2005, I could be found screaming Chester's lyrics into my bathroom mirrors. So this loss really impacted me harder than any of the recent celebrity deaths.

That brings us to this weekend.

In Boston, the we have a booking collective called Coach and Sons Old Time Family Booking. These great human beings put on a near-monthly event called "Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke." It is exactly what it sounds like - there is a live band, filled with loads of talented humans from various Boston-based bands, and they play setlists like the ones below. And audience members all have the chance to perform their favorite emo/pop punk tracks of yesteryear.

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We were asked to table at the event and supply information on suicide prevention in our community, as well as collect donations for the night's special charity song, which was aptly chosen as "In the End," by Linkin Park.

We raised $309 for the Trevor Project through just this one song! And you can watch the performance that Francis threw down by visiting the event page - Click here.

Throughout the night, we asked people to share their stories of how emo/pop punk music impacted or saved their life - or, they could share specific bands or songs that got them through the hardest time of their life. We would then take their card and place it on the wall behind us so that people knew to add to the wall.

As you can see below, the wall filled up throughout the night, and it was beautiful. More and more stories were added and Katy and I were continuously holding back tears as we put a new piece on the wall. And it was even more powerful to watch folks in the crowd come over to read the cards as well.

There was an air of solidarity that evening.

These are their responses...

 

Some people shared how the emo and pop punk scenes have impacted their lives...

Lots of people shared specific bands that have meant a lot to them and/or have saved their lives...

Others shared the song or songs that has helped them through the difficult times in their lives...

...while many paid tribute to the band and man that helped many of us discover ourselves...

Ultimately, the theme of the night was perfectly summed up with one comment...

Throughout the night, we spoke with hundreds of people who had been impacted by this music scene in one way or another. We're used to fielding stories here - we've shared nearly 150 in just over a year, so you can imagine that we've heard a lot. And creating a space where complete strangers felt comfortable sharing these stories - and many others that were not written down - was amazing.

Our scene was still reeling, still in pain from this recent loss of Chester, but there was so much optimism in the air as well. So many people were willing to talk with each other that night and it was so inspiring.

We love doing this work, and a night like Saturday completely confirmed it. We paid homage to the music that has helped us heal over the years - the music that has kept us alive. We also paid homage to a man that made music that helped many of us discover ourselves.

We don't get paid to do this, we do it so that people know that they are not alone in the various struggles we all face and are often afraid to confront or discuss.

But that's how we saved ourselves and save our friends - we must be willing to discuss our mental health in order to destigmatize the taboo behind the issue.

I want to heal,
I want to feel,
What I thought was never real
I want to let go of the pain I felt so long

- "Somewhere I Belong," Linkin Park

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!


About the Art of Survival:

We are a Boston-based nonprofit that serves to share the stories of trauma survivors in hopes that story-telling will help our community heal. We then make a unique piece of art for each survivors thanks to the generous work of our talented team of artists!

If you'd like to share a story with us, please visit SHARE YOUR STORY!

0140: She Wanted It


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with rape, incest, suicide, depression, and PTSD, which may be triggering for some readers.


"She Wanted It," Cathrine Holt

My story begins with three words that still haunt me today, “She wanted it.”

Almost two years ago, I made an appointment that would change my life completely. I made an appointment with a therapist that just so happened to be coming to my small town from her practice in San Antonio one day a week and was taking on new patients. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, it is actually pretty hard for me to remember a time that I was not feeling this way. I also suffered from suicidal thoughts, I thought about ending my life on a daily basis. In fact, I don’t remember when I began thinking about ending my life, but I do know that for more than ten years of my life it was the only way to get some peace into my head.

I came to a point in my life where I could not take it anymore, physically, emotionally, mentally and in just every way possible, I was done. I was so tired of being a prisoner of my own mind that I knew if I did not get help; it was only a matter of time before I jumped off the cliff that is suicide.  That was until I met my therapist, she saved me. From that first day I met her I knew she was going to change my life. For the fifteen years prior to meeting my therapist, I had been carrying around a debilitating secret.

When I was thirteen years old, my biological father began molesting me. He raped and molested me from what I can remember for about two to three years. This man would rape me in the bed that he shared with my mom, while she was in the bed sleeping; I was in the middle between them with no way out. I don’t remember the reasons why I began sleeping with my parents at thirteen, but I was and that is when he would rape me. He would wait until the Tylenol PMs that he gave to my mother would kick in and she would fall asleep and then he would rape me. I hated myself for it and blamed myself for many years. I wanted to tell my mom what he was doing and when I told him, he picked up his revolver, put it to his head and said “Let’s go tell her.”

I chickened out, I could not watch him kill himself right there in front of not only brother but also my mother and me. I remember that as this was going on and my menstrual cycle was even one day late that I would worry that I had gotten pregnant. I would stress out to the point of a panic attack, then one day he whispered into my ear “don’t worry I use condoms when we play.” That’s what he called it when he raped me. It was then that I remembered that when we had gone to Wal-Mart that I say him purchasing them, I thought that it was odd since my mother had had a hysterectomy a few years prior. However, I was too young to connect the dots.

After my appointment, I told my husband, who has never thought less of me. His thoughts went immediately to the protection of our son and myself. I told him that if he wanted to divorce me, I would understand and never hold it against me. He looked at me as if I was crazy, he didn’t care that I was in my mind “damaged goods.” He has been amazing, through this entire thing. He has to put up with a lot and we have had to learn together how to communicate. Me especially I never learned how to communicate not only with my partner but also with others around me.

One week after my first appointment, mother was talking to me and she knew something has changed in me. She was crying on the phone, begging me to tell her. So I ended up telling her what my father had done to me. At first, she did not believe me but after we hung up, she called him and confronted him. He told her “She wanted it. She liked it.” She left him that day.

Later on this day, I was talking to some of my family when they informed me that CPS had investigated my father when I was three years old for molesting me. I immediately called my therapist, she asked me how old my son was, when I told her three, she told me that it made sense that I had come forward then. I do not know exactly how to explain it but she said that it was connected. It was such a shock to learn that he had being abusing me my entire life.

In August of that year, I filed charges against my father for raping and molesting me, in Texas there are no statute of limitations for these crimes. In March of the following year, he plead guilty to nineteen charges from indecency with a child to aggravated sexual assault of a child. As part of the plea, deal received ten years probation, lifetime sex offender registration, ninety days in jail and he will have to pay for $10,000.00 of my therapy costs. When I read my victim impact statement in the courtroom, he never looked at me, he kept his back to me, his head bowed as if he was sorry the entire time. He wasn’t sorry the only thing that he was sorry for was that he was caught and I told the truth.

Since his sentencing, I have been focusing on myself and the journey to fix the damage that was caused by the rapes. I learned so much about myself and why I am the way that I am. I have learned why I do certain things and why I avoid certain things. I have learned to stand up for myself and I have learned to set boundaries. I know what healthy relationships look like and I can recognize the signs of ones I need to leave behind. I am ever grateful to my family and friends for their love and support, during these difficult years.

These days I am living my life and I write about it on my blog: myscarsandtears.com.

I know that what was done to me was not fault. I intend to change the perceptions of incest victims. I want to give a voice to the survivors of sexual assault. I want others like me to know that they are not alone.

 

About the art:

Catherine came to me without an image or picture in mind for her piece.  She wanted to leave it totally up to me, and see where reading her story takes me.  After reading her story, an image of a lotus flower came to mind.

The lotus flower begins its growth underneath the surface of the water in murky, muddy conditions.  Maintaining it's strength, it slowly grows, pushing aside these obstacles and making it's way to the surface.  Once above water, the lotus flower blooms and opens up in the clean air, rising above the harsh conditions in the water.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of potential, representing spiritual awakening, growth, and enlightenment.  It may appear fragile and delicate, but the lotus flower is strong and resilient.

In many ways, Catherine is the lotus flower.  She never gave up.  She pushed on and learned to thrive despite the world around her.  Out of the murky waters of her past, she continues to grow and bloom to the beautiful, wonderful lotus flower she is.  She is strong.  She is resilient.  I hope that whenever she is feeling down, she can look at this painting and know that she is the lotus flower; beautiful and strong.

- Emily

0139: The Postpartum Blues


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experience with postpartum depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"The Postpartum Blues," Alyssa Voyles

 

Hey there. 

I know it’s late. 4am is rough…especially when you are bouncing a grumpy baby in your arms, pacing the bedroom and begging the little one to go to sleep.  The front of your shirt is wet with leaked breast milk, you have ice packs tucked into your bra, your hair is falling out of the bun you twisted up yesterday, you’re wincing in pain with each bounce because you are still recovering from the delivery, and a few weeks after that delivery – you are still bleeding out of your wherever. 

I see you. 

I see you trying to keep your sobbing quieter than the baby so you don’t wake up your husband. 

I see you frantically reading any and all parenting book you can find on ebook through your library app while the baby nurses, hoping to find some nugget of wisdom – some catchy phrase you can rely on to get through the long nights. 

I see you fighting back tears when your husband brings the baby into the bathroom while you are taking a bath, because the baby is hungry and upset and needs to nurse RIGHT NOW. Because the baby doesn’t care if you have finally settled into the tub. Because the baby doesn’t care that all you want is to close your eyes and shut out the world. Because the baby needs you.

I see you struggling. Struggling to convince yourself you are enough for the baby, that you are doing things the right way, that the decision to bring a baby into the world was a good decision. 

You have friends on Facebook telling you both “congratulations” and “the first 12 weeks were the worst time I’ve ever experienced” in the same post. The Facebook group of women you met on the “What to Expect” app is full of women gushing over their newborns, and how they are feeling deep, immediate bonds with their babies, and you feel an immense wave of guilt. 

Guilt over being frustrated, or tired. Guilt over your decision to go back to work part-time at 8 weeks. Guilt over feeling a sense of relief after dropping the baby off at daycare. Guilt over just wanting a break. 

When you thought about what it would be like to be a mother, you never expected to feel this much pressure. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, but no one knows your exact situation. You are the only one awake right now, at 4 am, pacing with the baby. 

Through all of the guilt and pain, one prevailing thought comes through: “does this get better?”

It does. 

And it doesn’t. 

It changes. 

Right now you are struggling with going back to work and putting him in daycare. Later you will struggle with guilt that your time with him at home isn’t as engaging as his time in daycare. 

Right now you are struggling with breastfeeding, and feeling like you are tethered to your baby by your leaking sore nipples, and like your body isn’t yours anymore. 16 months later, the little guy is more independent and self-weaning, and you are struggling with the looming prospect of giving up this sacred time between the two of you. (and spoiler alert. I googled it tonight – apparently “post weaning depression” is a thing….and you can’t catch a break!)

Right now you are scared that you will always feel frustrated, and that these feelings will dominate any happy ones. Later, you will look back on photos from this time and see how happy and content the baby is, and how comfortable you look with him. You remember the frustration, but you also remember marveling at how his tiny bum fits in the palm of your hand, and how brave you felt when you mastered nursing in public, and the sense of accomplishment you feel after your first successful trip to Target with the baby. 

Right now you are wondering if you will ever feel the  “overwhelming love” that other moms feel for their babies. Later you will still wonder why you don’t feel a strong wave of emotion when you look at him…but then you catch yourself sneaking into his room at night just to look at him, or looking at photos on your during a quiet moment at work, or being so excited when the baby learns how to give hugs and kisses, even if those kisses come with a large glob of baby snot. 

Right now you feel overwhelmed with guilt and sadness, and lost. Later you will learn to manage these emotions when they come up. You will learn that it’s okay to put the baby in front of Sesame Street so you can have a few moments to breathe, or to let him sleep in the car seat for a little bit while you sit in the parking lot of your apartment complex for a few minutes while you scroll through Facebook. 

Right now you feel like you are trapped in the house with the baby, and all of his gear, and your healing body. Later you will take the baby on grand adventures all over the place. At 4 months, the baby will go to his first late-night event at your school. At 11 months, the baby will go to a NASPA conference.  At 16 months, you will spend your second mother’s day at work, with a pack and play by your side while you work at Summer Orientation. And…thanks to pokemon go, you and that baby will spend weekends going all over the Seattle, trying to catch them all. 

Right now you are rocking that grumpy baby, wondering what is wrong with you. Later you will be diagnosed with Severe Postpartum Depression. You will see a therapist. You will try some meds. You will slowly open up – first to your mom, then to your best friends, and then a few more people. You will read everything you can on the subject, and will try to seek out solidarity with others. PPD will be a part of you, and will be connected to most all of your early memories. But it won’t be your only memory. You will think of crying over frustration when the baby won’t sleep, but you’ll also remember how peaceful it was to nurse the baby – just the two of you in your own little world. 

It gets better. It gets harder. It changes. 

Through it all, your baby will still be there. Right now he needs you to make him feel safe, help him sleep, and keep him fed. Later, he will need you to cuddle him when he falls down as he learns to climb the couch. He’ll tell you to keep tickling him by waving his little chubby hand in the air, and he’ll give you a hug and a big sloppy kiss. 

One day at a time, mama. Just take it one day at a time.

And take all the photos. 
 


About the art:

I've known Alyssa for a while now - we both went to Oregon State together and did student leadership together, and she has always been a wonderful person to be around. After college, I saw that she had gotten married and eventually had a child! I saw nothing but smiles and happiness from Alyssa. So, I did what most people living on the periphery of the lives of others, I assumed everything was okay.

Clearly everything wasn't okay. Alyssa shares a story - wonderfully written in second-person, which is no easy feat - with us on a topic that we've never covered before! After 138 other stories, we've never had someone share about postpartum depression. It's such a valuable and necessary story and I'm so thankful that Alyssa was willing to share this with us.

Alyssa said reading this Buzzfeed article inspired how she would eventually craft this story. And upon discussing what she might want for the art, she said that something for her child's room would be great. There were a few songs she pitched, but nothing felt more powerful than the bright message that ended up on the canvas.

Thank you again for sharing this piece with us, Alyssa! Continue taking all the pictures!

-Craig.

0138: Robbed from Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Robbed from Me," Elisabeth Rivera

I had everything going, ya know? Until it was all robbed from me. 

This is the reality of anxiety, depression and PTSD for me.

[Note: In case you missed Elisabeth's previous story, check it out here!]

I fear being raped again, reality is it can happen again, who is to promise me that it won't?To this day I face sexual harassment online also in person from cat-calling, sexualizing to men being creeps in the store. Behavior like that only provokes fear in me it triggers my anxiety, that behavior reminds me how vulnerable I am.

Sadly, I am very skeptic of all men rather I know or don't know them, even if I feel comfortable I still worry. I heard of a girl being raped at my brother's old job - a place where I thought of working - and that taunts my anxiety. And on top of sexual harassment & sexualizing I face, this makes it hard for me to get out there and not be paranoid, which is a reason I have been unemployed. I fear for myself in public and at work, anywhere that makes me feel vulnerable. But at the same time, I have this passion to conquer & rise, I want that future I had going for me, I can feel the rise in me trying to come out, because I'm so passionate about my goals, I want to inspire. I am so much more than what the eye sees & the minds of those who think I am just "bumming in life."

But, then some love to add more weight on my shoulders as I try to climb out this hole, by making me feel as I am the perpetrator in my story because we live in a world that is all about status, victimization, the belief that you have to be successful to be valued, and that what happened to me can be avoided. I have came across relatives, friends & men who made me feel like I wasn't good enough of a person or they were embarrassed to be with me cause of my mental baggage & my incident the fact I am not successful yet, sadly having a good heart & mind wasn't important, what happen to accepting someone & helping them be better? But I am thankful for those who accept me, don't make me feel hard to love, don't make me feel like the perpetrator in my life.

"Time to move on"
 "Can it really still be bothering?" 
"Try therapy?" 
"Can't let it control you" 
"You just need to get a job already"
"You're dressing like you weren't raped"
"You too pretty to be a bum in life"

It hurts. I don't mind being told "Elisabeth, you know you can do this, I know your mind may hold you back that's understandable, but I know you have so much to show for in the world, it's going unseen because your mind taunts you, I want you to conquer and rise, I believe in you" there is ways to encourage people & be supportive without the insensitive lack of understanding comments. Or narcissistic opinions on how I should look and act after enduring rape or how I should handle my situation when they can't relate. This is also why I don't do therapy.

I never really had that type of positive support from most, just some. I felt rushed to heal, I felt I was being unrealistic with my mental struggle, I can't say I 100% felt understood by most, let alone supported or believed.

When the world makes you feel like the perpetrator of your own story, you bounce back-and-forth in your fight "I can do this / No I can't." But my mental struggle doesn't just affect my success in life it affects me in so many ways sexually, socially, etc. 

People don't realize, how hard it is to be in a mental war, while trying to pull it together to get back on your feet, while battling my health, my case, the idea of going to trial, other personal issues. I am carrying a lot of weight, I am not always happy. I seem fine on social media, but I am not, especially when I feel I have to prove myself worthy to the world. I know many are watching me like "let's see if she got back on her feet," because society is so status-driven and has no understanding of trauma.

Then again, people can't understand what they've never experienced. But I know one of these days I will conquer and rise. Yeah, I will still have fear. I will always be affected, but I won't let it get to the point of consuming me from living the life I had robbed from me. Time isn't promised; I don't want to keep letting it pass me by, I did try giving up on life but I haven't yet. I'm struggling, yes, but I really do want to live & be happy. I'm trying.

I am greater than my past, that's why God makes sure I keep pushing. Life is beautiful even through the bad. Even through the bad, I never let it change my spirit for the worse. I hope my story changes perspective on mental illness - let alone how affecting and consuming sexual assault can be. People in my life need to stop making me feel like my worth lays in success. I'm worthy without status, I am a good soul without status. Stop making me feel like the perpetrator in my life. Don't judge what you haven't been through. And even if you have, understand everyone is affected differently and mental illnesses can affect everyone differently. 


About the art:

Today's story is a follow up from Elisabeth's story last month, so it's nice to have her explore how her mental health has been challenged due to being sexually assaulted. Her tenacity for survival is inspiring and I was glad that I could make her art based on both her story and a song that she finds central to her survival.

So I took the words from "Phantom Bride," by Deftones, and put them in the background as usual, and went with some brighter colors that are inspired by the Deftones' album art for Gore, it's recent album from 2016. I then took some of Elisabeth's words from her closing paragraphs and formed the two lines that stand out on the front. I toyed with used some of the lines from the song, but I felt her words were strong enough for the piece.

So thankful for Elisabeth sharing two important stories with us over the last two months, we hope it inspires more folks to share their stories with us!

-Craig.

0137: Keeping Small Promises


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone's experience surviving with depression and anxiety.

“Keeping Small Promises," Ryan Ribeiro

I’ve spent the last couple days reading through some of the brutally honest and unbelievably brave stories that have been shared at The Art of Survival. My friends Katy and Craig have built a truly inspiring and breathtaking project that allows folx to tell their stories and begin the arduous, but necessary work that survival often is.

When Craig hit me up to suggest that I write something after talking with them about recent bouts of depression, I initially said sure, but within minutes I was sweating it. I was unsure of how my story would stack up with these other ones. These are brave people, I thought (and think) to myself, I am nothing in comparison. 

What have I done? What can I share? Who could possibly learn from me?

Depression is a condition that, for me, thrives on doubt. Years ago, I unknowingly built an ideal environment that it needs in order to exist. Using self-deprecation and distraction as the ultimate defense mechanism, I deflected the ever-loving shit out of anything that could come close to affecting me. One of the problems with deflection, is that ultimately, it’s not an effective strategy to overcome anything because you are always on the defensive. I’ve trained myself to assume that near everything is an affront to me and my existence, and as a result, I’ve hunkered down and become a trampoline; everything bounces off me.

For some of my friends that struggle with depression, this might begin to sound familiar. But for those that are still not following where I’m going with this, let me get down to it:

I’ve turned self-preservation into an art, to the point where I am fearful of anyone and everyone, treating all of you (yes, you) as a threat. I have terminated endless relationships, both platonic and romantic, because of my unwillingness to be vulnerable and authentic. Despite my natural proclivity to crowds and performance, I put up countless walls and I remove myself from potential social situations because it’s so much easier to hole up in my apartment and watch The X-Files. I’ve doubted the actions of those who reach out to me with kind words and actions because I’m suspicious of their motives. Worst of all, I’ve begun catastrophizing every, single, possible thing that crosses my path; to the point where I don’t know where to turn or what to do.

This is a waste of time and energy. Who would possibly want to read this? These are cool people and you’re embarrassing yourself. Make room for someone who has something more meaningful to share. YOU’RE TAKING UP SPACE.

Here’s the thing: my depression has been a relatively recent diagnosis. Within the last three years. But it was present long before that, and it’s honestly a miracle I was able to get through college and graduate school (and everything else) without disaster. And when you start learning a crucial fact about yourself and your mental health, you start understanding your behavior a little more as well.

You start understanding that your constant need for napping wasn’t laziness; it was a combination of undiagnosed sleep apnea and depression. You realize that when you were lashing out at your romantic partners over the course of the past few years; it was because you weren’t being honest with them, fearful that they won’t understand and will leave you. You learn a little bit more that the reason you are feeling more and more isolated isn’t because people don’t like you or are avoiding you, but that you are heading them off before that even happens; opting instead for another night, bored and alone. You hate yourself and call yourself names because if you do it, than it hurts just a little less when someone else does.

And that’s overwhelming. It’s almost too much. You realize just how much you have been fucking your life up, and you don’t know how to control it, and even worse you don’t know what to do about it.

Look at what you’ve done. You piece of shit, you’re nothing. GIVE UP.

I’m gonna be honest with you, because you deserve it. I don’t have an answer for you, and while The Art of Survival is as much a place for inspiration and affirmation; it is also a place for authenticity and honesty. Depression is fucking stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful. 

And I’m still going to struggle with it, because although this parasite has tricked me into thinking that I’m stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful; I’ve found a therapist who has worked with me to find a way to cope. Almost in spite of myself, I’ve reached out to old friends and I’ve made new ones because I know that the more I’m alone, the closer it becomes a death sentence. I’m learning to take solace in small victories, and to tell myself that patience when working on yourself is the path to meaningful change. But most importantly, at least for now, I didn’t back out when I told Craig that I’d “try to nd put something together.”

SUNDAY, 1:45 AM: Maybe I can try to put something down.

So, is this a story of survival? No, not really. It’s more of a stream of consciousness/essay of survival. I think maybe my struggle with depression has gotten in the way of being able to create meaningful stories … But, fuck … I love stories. Stories, especially ones like those featured in this project, are narratives that display the growth, change, and strength of those who have worked hard to survive the stupid shit that they didn’t deserve. That no one deserves. Stories are proof that we fucking did it, that we’re still here, and that we’re going to continue to be awesome and continue to survive with the help of storytelling, art, companionship, inspiration, etc. 

I went to college originally to become a better storyteller. Perhaps writing this and submitting it is an opportunity for me to make some stories and taking the time to share them. I haven’t been doing much of that lately. This, though, this is a start.
 


About the art:

So my buddy Ryan is one of the best dudes that I know. He is full of ideas, energy, and knowledge. When I saw him sharing his mental health stuff on social media, I asked him to share his story with us! This wonderful and honest stream-of-consciousness piece is the result!

For the art, I wanted to infuse Ryan's love for Jeff Rosenstock's music into the painting. I asked him which song would be best for this piece and he sent me "Teenager," a wistfully sardonic track that encapsulates Rosenstock's brand of dynamic punk tunes.

So I wrote out all of the lyrics on the back of this piece, like I often do with song paintings. And combined two of the lines that get to the heart of both the song and Ryan's story - "I Know I Have Too Many Feelings" (perfect line), and "I Know, I Don't Care." Putting these together created a wonderful juxtaposition on the painting.

I'm so incredibly proud of Ryan for sharing this story with us and I know that it was therapeutic for him and I hope that it helps other people!

-Craig.

0133: Subhuman


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experiences with depression and drug use, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Subhuman," Michael Maluk

I've always struggled with what is normal. Since the beginning of highschool I've always wondered how everyone else seemed to be able to seem so well put together. I never realized that I was different or struggled, but always just assumed everyone else was just better at dealing with the day to day. It wasn't really until after I enlisted in the military that I realized something was wrong. 

It started out with huge bouts of depression, worse than I've ever really experienced before, typically followed by periods of energy. I'm not talking red bull wired, either. I felt on fire. Everything was beautiful. I could do anything and help everyone. All I wanted to do was share this gift. I'd go days without sleep, without even noticing it. Then, I'd crash. Hard. The contrast made the depression unbearable.

After a few years of this, I managed to get into drugs to get out of my head. Nothing incredibly hard, or that would show up on a drug test. But, it did help. I was able to take vacations from my head. Was it healthy? Probably not, but it worked for a little while. 

I ended up opening up to my mother about what I had going on mentally and how I wasn't sure it waa sustainable. I think this scared her as she gave me the ultimatum of getting help or she'd call my supervision herself. A few months of psych drugs later and I was lower than I'd ever been. Seroquel, zyprexa, abilify... All these drugs managed to do was steal my sense of self. There was no color in my life. Everything was flat. I didn't feel happy or sad. I just didn't feel.

That's when I decided to take my life. I was home alone on leave. I spent the last week lying face down on the couch. I remember the moment when I decided I had had enough. I rummaged through the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Percocet and took as many as I could manage and washed them down with a beer. The next memory I had was waking up in a hospital bed. I was apparently conscious before this, but I don't really remember it.

Then came the inpatient care. I've never felt as helpless and hopeless as I did in the days that followed my failed suicide attempt. I remember being put in a psych ward and watched 24 hours a day. They took my shoelaces and drawstrings from my clothes. I felt subhuman. There was very little empathy given and I felt extremely alone. It was hard.

Fast forward a few years and I'm about to separate from the military and go back to school to study music. I'm moving to a great area in KC and I honestly can't remember a time I've been this excited. Things get better. There are people that love you. Ask for help, it's not a sign of weakness. 


IMG_8928.JPG

About the art:

Michael submitted this story us WAY back in October, and also threw a kind donation our way. But I held onto this piece for May because it fit the mold of Mental Health Awareness so well.

Michael's story is all-too-common among men in American culture. Seeking out all other sorts of comfort and coping strategies beyond reaching out for help. I know I struggled with drinking due to my depression, so it brought back some of my own memories to read Michael discuss his drug habits like this.

For the art, I was given free reign. I wanted this piece to be a bright reminder for Michael. So I used some vibrant blues and pinks, and for the quote, I altered the last line of Michael's story. I hate that we had to hold onto this story for so long, but it was worth it in the end!

-Craig.

0130: My Body is the Crime Scene


Content warning: The following story contains graphic details about someone being raped, which may be triggering for some readers.

"My Body is the Crime Scene," anonymous

It was my freshman year of college—March 5, 2015. My freshman year was a little crazy, not going to lie. I was experiencing parties and meeting new people and in high school I was always the shy one and never really found my place. From some mutual friends, I got invited to an off-campus house party. I went with five of my friends and really didn't plan on drinking too much.

By this time I knew my limits, as I went to parties before, so I was pretty confident that I could watch myself. When we got to the house, it was packed and there were tons of Jell-O shots and a huge cooler of "askew juice.” I clearly remember this girl telling me to only take one shot of it. I'm not sure what was in it and I remember feeling very weird like I was already tipsy after just that one shot.

I ended up meeting a guy that lived there and thinking how cute and so nice he was. We had a really good conversation, and he was friends with my best friend’s roommate so I felt safe with him when he asked me to help him bring down some more Jell-O shots from his room.

I went in first and crossed the room to where he said they were in the fridge. I never noticed him locking the door. He started kissing me and pushed me onto the bed and I felt so weird I just remember staring up at the multicolored lights he had strung in his room. I started to freak out when I realized how heavy and slow I felt I got drunk so quickly, but I was still pretty coherent it was just my body not reacting.

He ended up taking off my clothes and I told him I didn't want to because I was a virgin and saving myself for marriage. His response to that was it was okay because he was a virgin, too. I couldn't even cry as he raped me. I just kept my eyes closed and repeated over and over again how much I wanted my friends.

One of his friends started banging on his door nonstop and he helped me put my clothes back on and stand behind the door as he talked to him. I know I could have said something but at the time I was just so numb. It was over and I was relieved that I had my clothes on, so it wasn't going to continue. I remember him telling me he had to take care of something upstairs and he would meet me downstairs in a minute and then he kissed my forehead.

I remember not being able to breathe and trying not to fall down the stairs I just walked out the door and somehow my friends saw me and followed. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I puked and then just laid in the snow and made my one of my friends call my roommate to come get me.

I was already struggling with depression when this happened and I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family by having them know what happened. I went to the hospital not knowing it would only be free if I went to the cops and the nurse told me "if you don't press charges, this will happen to other girls. Do you want that to happen?"

I ended up leaving crying, as my friend cussed the nurse out for what she said to me.

It's now been two years and I'm still in therapy, I'm slowly getting better and for the first time I feel like my body is mine. I deserve love; I'm not disgusting or broken. He used me and violated me but I'm strong and I will be okay.

I do have really bad days when I don't want to get out of bed and I just want to cry. I remember everything from that night. I know exactly what I wore and I could give you every detail of the house down to what the lamp in the corner of the room looked like.

I know I'll never forget but I'm slowly overcoming it. My body is literally the crime scene and I can't get away from it. I refuse to be called a victim, I am a survivor.


About the art:

This story is incredibly powerful and the survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, deserves so much love for sharing this piece with us. I wanted to make a dynamic piece for them because they gave me free reign for this painting. I took the last two lines of the story and made a piece of out them. Repeating the line, "I refuse to be called a victim," added a very cool layer to this piece! And then I blackout some lettering for the "I AM A SURVIVOR" to make sure it stood out prominently. I really like how this piece turned out and I'm stoked to send it to this survivor!

- Craig.

0100: Enough is Enough


Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to some readers.

“Enough is Enough,” anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page

My first memory of being bullied was in 5th grade. The first time I seriously considered killing myself was in 6th grade. Sometime after that, while in high school, my mother would “jokingly” refer to me as bipolar. From there, I moved onto college, and later graduate school, continuing to alternate between depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. During all this I never sought out the help of a therapist to help me with my mental health issues. I’ve just endured and waited for it to pass.

My first recollection of being bullied starts back in the 5th grade; I was at a new school after being moved away from what I had grown up knowing. I started over-eating because I was being bullied and I was being bullied because I was overweight. Circular, I know. Time kept moving, I kept gaining weight, and sometime in the 6th grade the idea of ending it all became more and more appealing. I can’t remember specifics but it somehow came out that I was thinking of killing myself, and while I don’t remember everything that went down after it came out, I do know that my parents never took me to counseling.

Life kept going, I continued to be bullied, and I continued to deal with suicide ideation, but I kept it to myself just trying to endure it all and lived with the glimmer of hope that it would get better someday. Things seemed better in high school, but it really wasn’t; the bullying had just changed forms from being outright to being subtler in the guise of exclusion. The glimmer of hope started to waver as I kept trying to endure it all and anxiety threw itself into the mix. Anxiety joining the party was when my mom started to “jokingly” refer to me as bipolar. Yet while she called me bipolar, she never sought out counseling for me, but constantly reminded me that I wasn’t the only one to be bullied in the family and I just needed to deal with it. So I kept enduring.

I went out of state to college, hoping for the best and praying that things would get better. It did get better, but I never stopped struggling with suicide ideation, anxiety, and sometimes depression. I think the worst bout of suicide ideation was my second semester during my first year of grad school. I didn’t go a week without considering ending my life, because it didn’t feel like anything was getting better. In fact, things were getting worse, but something kept me holding on. Thankfully I did because one thing that I desperately needed turned out in my favor which gave me the strength to keep going until the next thing turned around.

Now here I am, over a year into my career field, and I am still struggling with my mental health. This weekend was the most recent bout I had with anxiety and suicide ideation, but this weekend is also the weekend that I finally told myself it’s time, “You have to go to see a therapist about this, because this isn’t healthy.”

I don’t know why I haven’t ever seen a therapist. I don’t attribute a stigma to taking care of your mental health, but for some reason, stubbornly, I have never gone. Enough is enough, though, I am tired of enduring, because enduring isn’t living.


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About the art:

My inspiration for this piece started with the the meditation on the quote "this too shall pass". The story rumored to be behind the quote was that a king set out a challenge for someone to come up with a single sentence that would make him sad when happy and happy when sad. This relates to the two sides of anxiety. Anxiety never completely goes away. Even behind the most joyful of moods, it's there. Likewise, on the worst days, it's comforting to know that eventually it will fade away.

The blue/green koi fish represent joy and perseverance while the orange koi fish represents anxiety. Each of them are an aspect of this survivor and all are in a constant circular motion. At times, anxiety seems to be all-consuming, but like the quote, it will pass and joy will come around again.

While this painting was inspired by the quote, it is not the one I chose for the painting. The quote I chose, I chose because I wanted to include an uplifting message for is survivor. Anxiety is tough. It's even tougher when you're harsh on yourself. I'm really grateful that this survivor shared her story and I hope she enjoys her new artwork.

- Emily

097: Skin of my Teeth


Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying and violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

“Skin of My Teeth,” Eve

In my short life I have been no stranger to bullying and harassment. Some may shrug, others dismiss it as a part of childhood, some say that’s so sad, me? I say it’s a chance to grow and learn.

As early as middle school, seventh grade, I was unfortunate enough to have one of my best friends turn on me just three days after my Bat Mitzvah by sending me nasty email and spreading rumors around the school. She told people I was pregnant; I hadn’t even dated or kissed anyone at this point. She succeeded in turning one friend against me and tried to make others hate me as well. Together these two former friends “pushed” me against lockers by basically body-checking and tried to do the same with the trashcans. They did this right in front of teachers who just stood by and watched.

Somedays, I just went home and cried and I took my little candle cleaner to my arm but I couldn’t cut myself because I was afraid of more pain, so I just cried some more. I had chat logs from emails and instant messages and when I took them to the guidance counselor he told me that he couldn’t do anything other than a mediation or tell her a faculty member saw the way she was treating me. This actually got her to stop, thank god, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still afraid until high school when she went to private and I was still in public.

I was lucky enough to use this experience to become a peer counselor in high school, it helped me decide that I wanted to be there for other students and not just as a peer but as a teacher too. My middle school teachers cared so little about what I was going through and my high school teachers cared so much I wanted to be a teacher like the ones I needed in middle school and the ones I had in high school.

Now, you would think that bullying like this wouldn’t happen to a college student, let alone someone that had already been through a friend turned bully, but it did. My sophomore year of college was a living hell for me that I am still recovering from. End of freshman year I thought I met a great guy and a good friend but the following fall I learned that was not the case.

I was told by the basically ex-boyfriend that the female friend I made didn’t like me, that it was just something about my personality that didn’t mesh with her. This was after she had been slightly mean to me about my performance in a video game consistently over the last couple months of summer. He told me to just not play with her but that meant isolating myself from other friends too. He told me something similar in the fall when it came to hanging out with people. He said that I would only be able to hangout with people when she was not going to be there because it was obvious that she didn’t like me or want to be around me.

When I told him how that made me feel second-rate, he got defensive and said they weren’t attached at the hip. Know how many times I hung out with him after that? Twice. That whole semester up until that point he had been blowing me off afraid I’d “make a pass at him” and then he’d tell me he’d need space only to tell me a month later he missed me and then that he was “overwhelmed with school” only to have her tell me a had a girlfriend, which he later confessed was a lie he had her tell me because he had actually felt overwhelmed by me.

Meanwhile this ex-friend was still bullying me and harassing me in the Facebook group about the aforementioned video game and belittling my skill and even though we weren’t friends, she was going off on me and harassing for me playing certain characters in that game that she played. The facebook group was meant originally as a way for us at this school to share our experience of the game with each other and when she started referring to everyone in this group as part of her “club” her “team” and wasn’t letting me be involved at all and basically forcing me out of this group of friends and these people to play with I felt so isolated and unlike in middle school I couldn’t go home away from this, I was home…

The hardest part was seeing these other people in the group in a way let this happen. My ex saw how she was acting during the summer and told me to just not play with her instead of being like “hey chill, it’s a game” and others jumped on board when saying “you’re *insert level here* “ and basically saying I wasn’t good enough to be in that current conversation. My ex also started one of the worst posts where only one person in that main group defended me in any way and then a couple of other people thankfully jumped in with him. That was the first time in 19 years, my entire life, that anyone ever stood up for me and I know I won’t forget it.

While this was going on other things were going on as well, I felt another group of friends at school had forgotten about me or didn’t want me anymore and my father was in the hospital again. I was broken by the end of fall semester. I had thought of suicide at least twice that semester I was so depressed but somehow I held on by the skin of my teeth. I hate to say it but I feel that part of how I held on was based on spite. The girl had that said that the club was hers but I kept thinking how it wasn’t an official club at school and I was going to beat her to the punch. As I was working on the club constitution I kept thinking to myself nobody else should suffer like this, I was bullied and harassed by friends and peers about a game! Nobody else. Not while I’m here.

I was the only one at the approval meeting and it was everything I could do not to cry. I cried when it was approved and I cried when I received an award the following year for all the work I put in to try to make sure my clubs were as bully-free and safe as possible.

That night I knew I made it out again stronger but still broken and that I owed a tiny thanks to my ex and that girl for what I accomplished that year. There is something I always say and I still after all these years to be true, “it is good to forgive but just because you forgive doesn’t mean you have to forget."


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About the art:

Eve shared a powerful story, and wanted the last quote of her piece to be reflected in the art. It reminded me of a simple quote, one that captured the message clearly. Eve suggested that the image associated with the quote represent helping to lift others up, and requested a calming blue palette for the art.

I imagined the many different ways we show support and help others rise, and wanted to embody that forgiveness is a skill that needs building. So the bottom of the piece includes a climbing rope, a hard place to start. By the top, the ladder represents an easier route to forgiveness that often comes with practice.

- Beth Paris

095: Body Count: a self-summary


Content warning: This poem features discussion of depression, self-harm, as well as references to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the shootings of countless black and brown bodies each year by police.

"Body Count: a self-summary," Maggie Roque

In considering the prompt of survival as it relates to suicide and self-harm, the concept of "self-care" immediately came to mind. Often times, I am prompted to assess my mental health and practice self-care in my roles as a student services professional and as a community organizer focused on racial justice.

Having struggled with depression and cutting, assessing my mental health can be a complicated task, especially when coupled with my identity as a queer woman of color.

I wrote this poem to give life to my experience, to speak to others who experience this too, and most importantly, to remind myself that survival does not mean always being healthy and never reliving past trauma. Survival, for me, is committing to believing I am worthy, in all that I am, of love, of life, of hope.

"Body Count: a self-summary"

Is it oppression or depression
knotting my mind,
filling my body to the brim
with wet sand, sluggish.
Cumbersome. Heavy. My heart
pulls and breaks
strings stretched too taut from hurting too
deeply too often.

Is it oppression or depression
cutting into me like shards of broken mirror
echoing reflections that sigh
out, “I am enough.”
A therapeutic exercise turned habit.
A phrase we crave, but rarely hear.
A mantra necessary for resilience
for enduring
for walking through this world
brown and queer and womanly.

Is it oppression or depression
fueling motivation for the ink on my skin?
Tattoos dancing with each shift of muscle
and underneath them
near them
somewhere scars. I’m covered
in sentimentality
in stories of creating space, my refusal
to be defined by it, of temporary
feelings and impermanence,
of celebrating love and life.

Is it oppression or depression
counting in my mind?
Four tattoos to reclaim a body littered
in deliberate scarring.
Four times submitting to the healing
sting of a needle, soothing the bone deep
ache of an abandoned blade.
Four sweet stories to whisper
away self-hatred
I can’t wipe clean. 41,149 deaths
by suicide in the US last year1,
but not me, not me.

Is it oppression or depression
whispering anxieties in the dark?
Telling me things will never change,
asking me why I’m fighting
wondering does it make a difference?
682 people of color killed by police this year,
more by the time these words find life.
49 killed in Pulse with names like mine
with skin like mine and loves like mine
with the desire to live life intensely,
to find community as I seek mine.
And all the while, the quiet voice
crying what if? What if?

Is it oppression or depression
dictating my worth?
Undressing me with predatory eyes
with cold hands
raising gooseflesh on my skin
chastising me for wearing my bumps and
bruises so easily, so openly
for wearing my ugly so honestly
for finding my beauty amidst brutality.
Brown skin golden in the sun
and hair shorn short and soft,
it’s just too much.
I’m meant to be seen, not heard,
but no, hold on
I’m not meant to be at all.

Is it oppression or depression
distorting my world into one where
existing is resisting?
When each breath I take is an act
of defiance, each word spoken
a step further away from comfort, from home
each heart beat a rally cry
for justice for equity for safety for space,
I won’t let hope leave me again.
She’s worth the chase.

1 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 - http://killedbypolice.net/

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About the art:

I read Maggie's poem several times over and over to fully grasp the meaning of this poem to herself. I asked her about any motifs, stanzas and lines that stood out to her the most.

Though this poem does speak a lot about oppression and the depression that people of color may feel when tuning into different media on a daily basis, the last stanza, specifically the last two lines 'I won't let hope leave me again. She is worth the chase.' stood out the most to me.

The questions that remained were 'how do you define hope? How do you define oppression?' In this instance, oppression is a shadow that looms behind us. It appears time after time again and lurks behind you, or even in front of you. Hope is represented by the sunrise, which symbolizes a new day-- a new perspective and new ideas and approaches to overcoming oppression. Maggie told me that her favorite color is yellow and I thought of the sun when she told me this.

I am honored to have worked on this piece. The poem that this picture will accompany is a very powerful one and I recommend everyone to read.

- Elenna Geffrard

091: Keep Fighting


Content warning: The following post contains references to self-harm (including hanging), suicidality, anxiety, and depression, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Keep Fighting," Brady Turner

I don’t really know where to start. For me I had always had a tumultuous childhood. My biological father left my mother and I when I was a toddler. When I was told this I was seven and my life changed from that moment. Who would want me if my own father didn’t? Why am I not worthy of love? From that moment I had trust issues and have always been concerned with people leaving me. Of being abandoned by those who promise to cherish my life.

Fast-forward to my teenage years. I was highly anxious and engaged in self-harm habits of hitting myself, rocks, and believing that I was worth nothing. I watched as my mother’s second and third marriage dissolved and felt torn apart by my family. That following summer I met, whom I believed at the time, was my soulmate.

She was my first girlfriend the first person who I thought really cared about me and wasn’t forced into it. However, she threatened to kill herself if I ever left her. That she would self-harm if I made her too nervous. This exacerbated my anxiety as I felt that I had a human life in my hands. Eventually the relationship deteriorated and I broke up with her and in part because I had tried ending my life.

As I looked up on the ceiling the broken belt in my hands, bruises around my neck, I felt utterly hopeless. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I felt that my family wouldn’t care. I was wrong about that. I told an aunt who got in touch with my parents who made sure I got treatment where I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Near the end of being an undergraduate student I felt the happiest I’d ever been. I was in a committed relationship and things were going well. However, my past demons soon reemerged as her feelings changed. Having the conversation was incredibly difficult as I did not know where we stood or how I would live my life.

For me this brought back on the feelings that I thought I had under control. Looking back upon my experience I realize I had kept busy. Avoided addressing my feelings and had stopped seeing a counselor. I wept uncontrollably whenever I wasn’t at work. I felt so lethargic and my thoughts drifted back to that belt. About how it shouldn’t have broke. How I deserve to hurt and that nobody would ever want to be with me. People were commenting how I wasn’t being “normal” and for those I did confide in they said “think happy thoughts.”

I pulled away. Isolated myself even further. Why would I want to burden others with my depression and anxiety? When I get like this I know it’s wrong. That there are those that care and support me. My anxiety and depression are like demons in my ear pulling me away from what I know is true.

I fought for a long time by myself falling further into depression. I found some solace in working out, my mind and muscles being able to focus on something else. Exhausted I would go to bed after barely eating anything. I wrote a suicide note planning to go through with it. Not immediately, but in my head I knew it would be soon. Finally, I looked in the mirror one day and saw myself. I saw how exhausted I was. I was one person going to war and I was losing. I couldn’t keep the war up by myself. I knew what would happen if I did. So I reached out. Not to a relative, but to friends who are as close as family. They listened and didn’t judge. They offered to be a shoulder a cry on or to be someone who I could yell to the world my frustrations. 

My mind is my own enemy taunting me begging me to an endless war that has no end in sight. For far too long I’ve been fighting this war on my own, not utilizing the support that I have around me. Friends and family have shown me that while I may be in a war I’m not alone.

I struggle with depression and anxiety every day. It’s a battle which I lose some days. I cry immobilized in bed my anxiety and depression pulling me in two different directions. Sometimes I look at myself ready to strike to beat the battle inside of me. I think about giving in and just giving up on the war. I stop and I look in the mirror at the demons taunting me to give up, to lay down my life. 

I think about who I would hurt by doing so, and how I can work to make the world a better place. Suicide is something that I think about on a daily basis. When things get bad I reach out now so I’m not alone. Being alone in your own thoughts can be the worst torture. I’m writing this story so that others can know they aren’t alone. That their biggest enemy isn’t out wandering the world. It’s themselves. I’m writing so that those who haven’t struggled with suicide can understand the pain we endure. 

You can help those fighting suicide. Don’t just say you’ll be someone they can talk to. Be there and be present. You don’t have to say anything your presence will make all the difference. People can’t fight this war alone. Don’t ignore the soldier on the ground. They just need someone to help pick them back up.

Keep fighting.


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About the art:

This painting is for Brady. Brady had a vision in mind for his piece of hills and mountains with a path in the middle and the quote "Sometimes even to live is an act of courage."

This quote is perfect for his story because it really speaks to the strength of his character. Some days it takes it takes a lot of energy and courage just to make it to the end of the day. The starry sky I painted to represent the endless possibilities that are out in the universe for each of us. The winding road signifies that no path through life is straight and easy.

There will be bumps and unexpected turns and even forks in the road. Sometimes it is necessary to stop and take a breath once in a while. I hope Brady loves his artwork and it inspires him through tough times.

- Emily

Tattoosday 004: I'm Only Human;


Content warning: The following post contains discussion of anxiety and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"I'm Only Human, pt. 2" Rachel

If you were to ask my 18-year-old self what I thought about tattoos, I probably would have said, “That’s not for me." Interestingly enough, several years later, I now have three tattoos, with a few others in mind. The idea of wanting a tattoo solidified when the band Switchfoot saved me from the deep recesses of my mind during my junior year of college.

My school had transferred from the quarter system to semesters, and I was struggling with a lot of things that caused chaos: I had a crush on a guy who I worked with but felt that people like him never date people like me, I didn’t get the job I wanted (at the time, I got it later the following semester), I was working around 2 or 3 jobs at the time since I felt the pressures of having a financial arrangement with my parents if I didn’t get a 4.0 GPA, and I had just found out I failed a prerequisite course to my major. All of these thoughts of self-loathing turned into depression, and that is when I experienced my first major anxiety attack.

The band Switchfoot, which I would classify as alternative rock, saved me from the deep, dark thoughts that would haunt my mind at times when I least expected it. My roommates, of course, had no idea that I was struggling so much. I had reached out to very few people, because my 20-year-old naïve self believed that I was invincible and I did not have any issues with my mental health. It wasn’t until a couple weeks after I graduated that I got my first tattoo, much to my parents’ dismay, and I was immediately hooked. Self-expression is so important, that the ink that penetrates my skin each time I got my tattoos slowly became a part of me, as if I was born with them. The most recent tattoo, however, gives me hope that I can overcome the anxiety and depression I have been officially diagnosed with while I was completing my second and final year of grad school.

I can’t explain the shift I felt inside my head, but I know that something changed inside of me that makes it hard to explain what it feels like to have both anxiety and depression. The best way I can describe it is like a light switch, where it turns on and off whenever my brain decides it’s the best time to cry over something. Grad school was rough as it was, being that the culture was not the best for someone like me and there are some people that caused me to doubt myself in ways I never thought possible. I cried almost all the damn time. I blamed other people for how I felt because I was too insecure about myself. I was sick of it, so goddamn tired of all the bullshit I put myself through and how my brain operated, that when I reached my breaking point, it was right when I was trying to find a job in Higher Education.

When I didn’t find a job, I hated myself. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror each morning as I got ready for work, and it got to the point where I didn’t understand why I getting up each day to help my own students. I had reached an all time low when everyone else was getting on campuses and I had nothing. The anxiety and depression told me I was a piece of shit, and I believed it to be true. No one could console me, not the love of my life, who even now when I experience an anxiety attack, he still tells me I’m beautiful, to my best friends who have been there for me since the very beginning. I couldn’t even tell my family how much I hated myself, until my boyfriend told me I needed to call them after avoiding them for weeks.

Fast forward to April 2016. Around my birthday, I decided that I had wanted another tattoo. I had heard the song “Human” by Christina Perri a while back, and fell in love with it. She got it. She had sung all the pain I was going through. It was a few months earlier when I had stumbled upon Project Semicolon.

While I have never been someone with suicide ideation, I did get diagnosed with depression by my therapist this past year after I had something said to me that caused my anxiety to shift into something darker. After reading testimonies and crying from relief that I had finally been diagnosed with something that made sense as to what I was feeling, I made the decision to get the tattoo inspired by Christina Perri: “I can fake a smile. I can force a laugh... I can hold the weight of worlds if that’s what you need. Be your everything. I can do it. I can do it. I’ll get through it, but I’m only human.”

The concept of humanity proves that I can make mistakes. I am not perfect, even though I am desperate to be the perfect friend, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect daughter, and the perfect employee. I set myself up for failure. The anxiety and depression turn into self-loathing, which turns into despair. I will be fine one minute, talking to you about whatever topic comes up, then BAM! I get self-conscious, I think I’ve said the wrong thing, or feel like you’ve taken too long to respond, and I fully believe that I’m unworthy and unlovable.

The anxiety tells me that my boyfriend, whom I love with my entire being, is going to leave me because I cry too much and I am the ugliest human being in the world, and who the hell would want to be with someone who looks like me? Who would want a daughter who couldn’t manage to get a decent GPA as an undergrad? Who would want a friend who is always self conscious about the way she looks, and knows that every goddamn time we go out, men will always notice the friends and not her? Humanity is tricky, because I have to admit that I have faults, and understand that I am not perfect, even though I try my hardest to be so.

Self-expression and music saved my life. It saved my sanity. Do I still get anxiety attacks and depressive episodes? Absolutely. It can take up to 4 hours for me to calm down from an anxiety attack, and even after it happens, numbness kicks in and I can’t even get the energy to get up off the floor. The light at the end of the tunnel is seeing my tattoos. Particularly I’m only human;. It gives me strength, even when people tell me that “Everyone gets depressed” or “Why are you getting anxious about this? It’s no big deal.” You do not have to tell me about my flaws. I can do that all by myself, courtesy of the anxiety and depression. What I want you to acknowledge is I’m human. I am far from perfect. But by accepting my humanity, I am one step closer into realizing that I was put on this earth for something great. I just haven’t found what that is, yet.


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About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!