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.

0112: Feel Peace


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with anorexia nervosa, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Feel Peace," Becca Meyers

During my first year of college I developed an eating disorder. I had no idea that's what it was for the first few months, until I was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the end of the school year. I was destroying myself in order to attempt to have control and fit into a mold that I felt was forced upon me. But attempting to have control over my body and food only made me lose myself. I was put into a partial hospitalization treatment program at the end of the summer, and that was where I took the first baby steps in my journey to healing.


I took a year off from school, once I admitted I needed the time to focus on myself and my recovery. That year had its ups and downs, and my personal relationships were tested as well because of the changes I was trying to make and the struggles I encountered. Luckily I had a nutritionist and a therapist helping me along the way, and I learned so much about myself and the nature of my eating disorder.


The following year I transferred to Lesley University in Cambridge, MA to study art therapy, which I had first discovered through eating disorder treatment the previous year. I struggled with body image and self-esteem on and off throughout that year. At the beginning things were rocky; I was treated poorly by my first roommate and felt personally attacked and unable to maintain my recovery, which led to an overnight hospitalization due to suicidal ideation. I was able to get back on my feet thanks to my family and the friends I had made, and got a roommate switch which was a much safer and more fun environment.

However, I still had many demons inside that continued to haunt me and make me feel worthless. That winter, I made myself throw up for the first time, and started self-harming as well. Once again I felt like I had no control over anything, and the only way to cope was by controlling what went in and out of my body. I developed bulimia, and I lied about it and hid it from everyone. I was lying to my therapist, and to the school's health services nurses about all the eating disorder behaviors I was using. I was ashamed, but I couldn't stop. What I remember most is the feeling of hating my body so much, all the time, no matter what I did to try and control it. When I finally confessed to a few close friends a couple months later they helped me get rid of my self-harm materials, and continued to support me in trying to seek help. But right before the end of the school year I reached my breaking point. The eating disorder was out of control, and contributed to my depression and worsening suicidal ideation.

I felt hopeless and full of only self-hatred. I was brought to a psychiatric unit briefly, before being transferred to an inpatient treatment center. I was there for a week, and one of only 3 people on the unit with an eating disorder. My mental health was focused on and treated, but the eating disorder side of things was barely addressed. I could have gotten away with a lot of behaviors while I was there, but I resisted. Some part of me was determined to fight the eating disorder.


After being at the inpatient unit for a week I stepped down to the partial hospitalization program back where I had been in treatment the very first time. However, this time felt different than before - I think I was more determined to recover, and I was stronger mentally.

This time I was ready to really fight back. I still had a difficult time at first, and struggled to stop using behaviors for a couple weeks, and gave into the urge sometimes - until I used a behavior for the last time shortly after I had gotten out of treatment. I was so mad at myself that day for making myself throw up, after all my hard work. But I didn't let it take me spiraling downwards that time. After that last bout of treatment and that last behavior, I worked each day to just make it through just one day at a time without using an eating disorder behavior. I treated each day as a new opportunity, I reached out for help, I surrounded myself with the help and positivity I needed to combat the negative body image and eating disorder. I got farther and farther from that dark and miserable place, and the further I got, the more I realized that speaking about my experiences and being an advocate was another way to fight the eating disorder and make me stronger in recovery. 


It has now been more than 2 1/2 years since I have engaged in an eating disorder behavior, and I have gained many more skills in my tool belt for a healthy and happy life. For some time now, the eating disorder part of my life has felt less relevant, and far less inhibiting. Food really isn't an issue for me anymore, and my triggers around food and body image have decreased significantly. I started a graduate program this fall for art therapy and counseling, and in one class I chose to do a project surrounding how I treat myself and my body, and worked on ways to be more loving and gentle with myself. I actually have noticed more positive outcomes than I thought possible. Even though I have been in recovery for a few years, I am still growing and learning how to be kind to myself and love myself as I am. I have worked hard to get to where I am now, and that hard work and determination has helped me stay in recovery. I have had some wonderful professionals work with me, and incredible friends and family who share my values and keep me motivated and supported. 


I am really proud and happy to be where I am now, and to finally have a more loving relationship with my body and with myself. The hard work and the struggles have been worth it, because my life is so much richer and I am stronger because of those struggles; and having known those difficulties, I believe I can better help others struggling with similar issues.


Now I can say to myself with confidence that I am enough, I am worthy, and I am more than my looks or my eating disorder. I am beautiful and healthy and strong, and worthy of my own love and the love of others.


If you are struggling, I encourage you to seek help, because you deserve it; if you are in the helping profession, you play an important role in many peoples' lives and I hope you continue to make a difference; for everyone out there, you matter and you are beautiful and valuable exactly as you are.


May we all be happy,
May we all be safe, 
May we all feel peace.


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About the art:

I was really excited that one of our artists, Becca, was willing to open up about her experiences with an eating disorder this month. I wanted to create a peace that had lots of warm colors, to mirror my experiences with Becca while she was at Lesley. She's such a warm, loving human, so I wanted to capture that in the colors. Juxtaposing this, I wanted lots of white to mirror the chaos of living with the anxiety of an eating disorder. Having one, myself, I sort of understand to a degree how Becca may have felt, or does feel about living with theirs.

I chose the quote, "May we all feel peace," because it seemed to fit most as a piece of standalone art AND because it captures the essence of what Becca was portraying throughout this story. The black creeping from the right side is to symbolize the ever-present existence of our insecurities that may still pop in and out of our lives while we seek this peace, while we seek some form of comfort. It's a tough balance, but I applaud Becca for working hard to accomplish it.

- Craig.

096: Black Sheep


Content warning: The following post contains references to bullying, self-harm, depression, and anxiety, which may be triggering for some readers.

“Black Sheep,” Zack Scheibner

Ever since I was old enough to speak, I have been tormented, publicly ridiculed, and laughed at. For some awful reason, I developed a speech impediment at a very young age, and 24 years into my life later, it hasn't gotten even remotely better. 

Ever since then, I have experienced emotionally the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. The first time in my life that I remember it being a problem was the 4th grade. My nickname was "Professor Quirrell", the professor in Harry Potter that infamously stuttered. Little did I know that this would affect me for the rest of my life to this point.

I am just like most every other decent citizen of the world; I try to be the kindest I can be to everyone, and I accept everyone for who they are. While growing up, it felt like nobody understood me (speech impediments like mine weren't exactly common), and I felt like an outcast from the rest of society. The lowest point that I reached was in the 9th grade, I would get thrown into a garbage can at my high school literally every single day. I just learned to try to accept it.

After the 9th grade, I moved to Redmond, OR which people were a LOT more accepting of me, despite my faults. It was a breath of fresh of air. From an outside look, I had no more excuses to be as self-conscious as I was about my speech. 

I kept thinking, "Wow..everyone is so nice here. Why does my speech keep slipping up?" While the overall experience was positive, it felt like I was constantly afraid of getting bullied or teased again. My speech continued to affect my way of thinking. It was taking over my mind.

I have had many highs in my life--I graduated high school and college, I have fallen in and out of love, and I've gotten to see and experience many cool things, but only one thing in my life stayed constant, and that was music. Ever since high school, music has spoken to me in ways that nothing else could. 

For 20 years, I have been at war with my brain. To the day that I type this, every single day is an individual battle, and I'm afraid that at some point, my brain is going to win. 

In the 9th grade (in the midst of all of the bullying and being trash-canned), I started to cut myself. It was nothing serious--suicide never crossed my mind. I just felt that experiencing physical pain would make me much better off than the mental pain that I have been experiencing every day of my life. I continued to do this until I discovered August Burns Red.

I am a huge fan of modern metal music, and August Burns Red is the only group that I have been able to relate to, and they have helped me through the entire process.

In August Burns Red's "Black Sheep", the lyrics state: "Pain must exist in order for healing to survive, neither one will serve their purpose alone". This message has stuck with me for a very long time. 

There hasn't been a day in 20 years where I haven't been completely humiliated by my speech. It is mentally taxing and has taken its tole on my anxiety.  My speech gets worse because of my anxiety..my anxiety is worse because I'm afraid my speech is going to slip up. 

It is an endless cycle every single day, but those lyrics from August Burns Red have helped me get through a lot of the struggle. If you are experiencing something along any of these lines, I can honestly say that you need to do literally what EVER makes you happy. I have come to terms that my speech impediment may never go away, but as long as I continue to enjoy life in every way I can and enjoy the company around me who accepts me for who I am, it will just make it more and more tolerable.

As August Burns Red also said in "Composure", "Life can be overwhelming, but don't turn your back on the strongest crutch you've ever had". 

For me, this crutch is happiness through friendship, music, and overall positive life experiences.

Every single day, I think about where I would possibly be in life if I would be able to speak normally. I have gotten very bad social anxiety because of all of this, and I am doing my absolute best every single day to combat this. I am terrified to speak publicly to people (including my friends), but in the end, I know that it's all going to be okay. 

I know that it's all going to be okay because without pain, there is no healing. I have learned that you can't ever reach an all time high if you haven't reached an all time low, first. 

Every single day, I think to myself, "Why do I do this? I know exactly what I want to say, but why can't I say it? And why do people tease me for it?"

Through pain, there is always recovery. August Burns Red taught me this, and this band is one of the main reasons that I'm able to stay afloat the way that I do. 

I could have chosen to give up at any point, but I have always chosen to keep fighting,

I am at war every single day with my mind, but I have found things in life that have made me happy, and I combat my social anxiety with personal happiness which has improved my life so much. Whenever I have doubts, I always think about those lyrics and what truly makes me happy, and that alone motivates me to just keep fighting.


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About the art:

I actually met Zack during his first week as a first-year at Oregon State University. He was wearing an August Burns Red shirt, and since I was in a metal band, I made sure to introduce myself to him. We chatted a bit about music, and then connected on Facebook.

We would cross paths every now and again on the OSU campus and some shows, but never too much else. So when he reached out to share this story, I was pretty excited to see that he had something to share. But in reading his story, I hated to learn that he has struggled with some pretty painful experiences.

I wanted to do something outside of the norm for me for this project. So I went to doodle something for Zack. I went off of the album art for August Burns Red's album, Messengers, which contains both songs referenced above. The cover is pretty iconic in the metal scene these days, so it was cool to put my own spin on it.

I used a couple black pens to complete this piece and some watercolor reds to give it a splash of color. It was a lot of fun to explore with this drawing.

And interestingly enough, Zack initially reached out to share his story back in July. And i made this piece almost immediately since my drawings often take me FAR longer than my paintings do. But this one flowed so quickly and I got it done pretty fast. So he has had this piece of art for a couple of months already.

Incredibly thankful for having Zack's as our first story for the month of October. I hope it helps someone heal in some way. Thank you, Zack.

- Craig Bidiman.

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

093: Voice from the Darkness


Content warning: The following story contains references to self-harm and suicidality, which may be triggering to some readers.

“Voice from the Darkness,” Raquel Lyons


I tried to kill myself. 

Wait for it.

I tried to kill myself.

There, that’s more accurate. 


I was listening to “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran when I wrote my suicide note poem titled “May Our Souls Rest Tonight” back in May 2015. 


I’ve attempted suicide twice and yet I don’t consider myself a suicide attempt survivor. I would have to have made a “serious” attempt on my life in order to be considered that term. I’m talking multiple broken bones and permanent side effects kind of suicide attempt survivor stuff. 

Even though when I look up close to things my eyes move back and forth rapidly and THAT’s because of a suicide attempt, I guess, it just doesn’t “count.” 

Not in my brain. 


Let me formally introduce myself to you--hi, hello, welcome, over in the far right corner is OCD, behind them is secondary depression and self-harm obsessions/thoughts and suicide obsessions/thoughts line all the bloody walls in this place. Now, that’s an introduction! 

I don’t want this piece to be about the recovery side of things--I’ve already written and write daily about that before. No, instead, I just want this to be a talkative piece. Where I share with you my darkest days, where suicidal ideation ran rampant and I was convinced I was going to die by suicide. 

I just want that story to be told--because it hasn’t been, not yet. And it’s time I stepped away from the shadows and found my voice, and used it. 

So, let’s begin, shall we?


As someone dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on self-harm and suicide obsessions--by the textbook I never should have acted them. Yet, even when I was “just” dealing with OCD, I was acting on the obsessions. I thought, maybe if I did what the OCD said, it would go away. 

So I sat on a ledge. So I jabbed myself with car keys. So I scratched myself. So I took one pill of an old prescribed painkiller. 

But still, the OCD came back. In fact, it came back tenfold worse after I had acted on the thoughts. 

I wasn’t trying to hurt myself (except when I was); I was just trying to find freedom. Everything in my world had turned upside down, I didn’t know what was right or what was wrong anymore and the doubt was getting on my nerves. I was tired of the emotional whirlwinds--spiraling from anxiety to depression to anger to apathy. I just wanted it all to end, to pause for even the simplest of moments. But I didn’t have the “guts” to kill myself.

And, let me be clear here: Suicide doesn’t take “guts”; suicide isn’t a “brave” or “cowardly” act. Suicide just is. That’s why I’ve used the quotations here, because even with quotations those accusations are just such utter bullshit. And, it’s about time someone called them out for what they are and not prance around pretending like it’s anything other than bullshit. 

Secondary depression set in during the time my therapist “Steve” was away, during the winter break. On the night before New Year’s Eve, I felt depression speak up from the shadows. It told me that suicide was my only way out of the hell that was OCD. It told me that there was nothing I could do to make my emotional pain stop. I had tried every possible positive coping strategy for four hours that evening, just so I could get some blissful, sweet sleep. 

Yet the sleep never came. 

No matter what I did, nothing was working. Nothing would ever work; there was nothing I could do to make the pain stop, and all I wanted was the pain to stop, right? 

For six days, I planned my suicide. That was all I thought about: suicide, suicide, suicide, suicide. Details from what I’d wear to where I would do it, to who I could tell to stop myself, to not believing at all that I would even follow through with it. I dreamt of suicide as my release, my freedom. It was my fantasy of releasing me from the hell that I was stuck in. How sweet, no, how beautiful suicide would be to me. I yearned for it even as I read articles upon articles about suicide prevention, trying to convey their warning signs into my daily life. 

I wanted my freedom and I wanted it desperately. 

I thought, because of the nature of the OCD that I was dealing with, that if I told someone about the thoughts that I was having on suicide, the fixation of it, that they wouldn’t believe me to be a danger to myself. I thought they might just think I was talking about the OCD again and that they’d respond with thoughts are just thoughts. 

I thought that I had to prove I was a danger to myself. And the only way I could prove that, my brain said, was to act on my suicidal thoughts. The only way I would prove I was serious about dying from suicide, was if I died by suicide. 

I remember the discussion between my brain and myself. I remember it taunting me, telling me if I didn’t ingest the pills, what I was dealing with was “just” OCD. But, if I ingested the pills, then it was something else. So, was it “just” OCD or was it something else?

I remember my own self-awareness that I knew my true self would recognize that ten pills, twenty pills would be a genuine threat to me, and therefore I would step in to prevent myself from acting on my suicidal thoughts. So, I had to trick myself. I had to get myself to ingest some smaller amount. 

Suicide had to be better than the hell that I was struggling to breathe in. Breathing was exhausting, moving was exhausting, everything had just become exhausting. 

I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t open my damn mouth to let somebody know--anybody! The secondary depression stole my voice, the OCD my will to live. There had to be a way out of that life and the only alternative that was always on my mind, playing like a charred weapon throwing out bullets, was suicide. 

However, first I had to convince myself to let go of life. Before I could act on my suicidal thoughts, I had to ask myself permission to kill myself. 

I knew the first hour of the OCD telling me to kill myself would be met with a firm no. But after the three hundredth time, then, then I would waver. And then a little more time after that and I’d be considering and I’d finally, finally give myself that sweet, glistening allowance: Okay, I’ll do what you say. 

All in the disillusionment that the OCD would give me reprieve if I just did what it said. 

This led up to the first time I tried to kill myself on Tuesday, January 6th 2015, when I ingested five pills of that same painkiller from earlier. I walked into 2015 with the promise to myself that I wouldn’t see the end of the year, because I’d be dead. 

But, I lacked conviction. 

In sharing my story for this piece, someone told me that I couldn’t prove death. That I couldn’t possibly prove I was serious about suicide if I died by suicide and stayed dead. If I stayed dead by suicide I wouldn’t be able to live my life another day, and some part of me wanted to live life another day. Death doesn’t work that way, though.

And, I think that’s the worst part. 

The worst part is not in all the action that I did manage--sticking a pen in an electrical outlet, how I tried slitting my wrist on the toilet paper dispenser after I placed a bag over my head for ten seconds, how I skipped class because I was trying to hang myself in the bathroom about ten feet away from the classroom. 

The worst part is certainly not lying within the three hospitalizations I had from the end of January 2015 to June 2015. 

The worst part is that no matter what I act on it is still not considered “serious”, not really. 

I’m still seen as someone who didn’t really want to die--and you know, yeah, that’s true. Wanting freedom and wanting death are two different things, but when they seemingly align to mean the same thing, you’ve got some serious problems going down. 

Sometimes I wish I didn’t lack such conviction. Some days I wake up and think to myself, “Damn it, you should have killed yourself when you had the chance.” 

These are no easy things to admit. But I’m being honest about my experiences, because there are not enough voices out there who are sharing these words, words others can relate to and feel less alone because of them. Because talking about suicide is important, especially when it comes to preventing another suicide from happening. 

More days I’m glad to have survived my suicidal crises. I may not completely, or even partially, consider myself a suicide attempt survivor, because of the low doses of painkillers I ingested, but I acted on it. I followed through with suicide plans. And by mental health professionals’ standards, that IS serious. 

Sure, that’s not what the OCD tells me, but the OCD also tells me to go kill myself so really I shouldn’t be listening to its bullshit anyhow. 

I can say though, with certainty, that I hate it when people suggest my suicide attempts weren’t “that bad”, or “I wasn’t really trying to kill myself” or “it was a cry for help.” 

Way to kick me when I’m down, bro! 

I hate it because it fuels the OCD, because in my brain it’s confirmation that it was right all along. But I don’t want to die to prove that point! 

And worse, no one wants me to go acting on that either. What they say is intended to make me think of the part of myself that wants to live and recover and be happy. But I interpret it as “Oh, you weren’t really serious otherwise you’d be dead.” 

And, that sucks. 

When it came to my second suicide attempt I immediately felt regret. I was filled to the brim of the thoughts: “Oh shit, what did I do? What if I die? I don’t want to die.” 

That fear was palpable when I thought I might die, and I found out that the OCD, the depression, everything in my brain had LIED to me. 

Suicide wasn’t freedom. Suicide wasn’t relief. Suicide was painful. Suicide was shit. Suicide meant releasing pain onto others and taking away any chance of the future possibilities of life getting better. Suicide meant never seeing some god damn rock formations in the future, not getting to smile again, to laugh, to listen to music, to just feel and be and breathe. Suicide was painful and sickening and meant ending my life just when I realized how much I had to live for.

For six months I had been lied to, and I had believed those lies. And when I found this out, when I found the truth, I was beyond pissed off. I was also disappointed, because now the one thing I had believed in so much wasn’t true, and there was a loss in that.

That loss has brought me back to the present moment. I haven’t acted on thoughts regarding scratching myself, self-harm in general or suicidality in at least a month, but many more for other aspects of that list (i.e. scratching myself and the suicidality). 

While I haven’t acted on them, I have wanted to. Oh, how I have wanted to. But I don’t, because in losing suicide as a fantasy, the reality of suicide has hit me square in the face.

There was something that I told myself when I was suffering through my suicidal crises that I’ll share with you now: 

“Some people make it through their suicidality, and some people don’t. We lose some people to suicide, and that sucks. They likely felt some inkling of what I feel right now and that may have been the last thing they ever experienced. So am I going to be someone who makes it to recovery or someone who doesn’t?” 

For me, these were sobering words. They allowed me to see the reality of the situation, there was no foolery or bullshit, just blatant fact. 

There are times, today, where I think to myself that my voice and my story matter more when I’m alive than when I’m gone. And likely, with society as it is today, if I were to die by suicide? I can’t imagine anyone would be told it was that because suicide is just not spoken about, and that’s bullshit at its finest. 

It’s at this point in the story where I elude to the fact that there isn’t an ending. Where I elude to the fact that I am an ongoing story (loose leaf pages, by the way) and I thank you for reading and spending some time visiting this old noggin of mine. Expect OCD to take a swing at you on your way out, and depression to yell at you some unfortunate words. Don’t worry; they do that every time I have a guest over. 

And, finally, if you are someone struggling with suicidality, I encourage you to choose to live another day. The future days may not always be rainbows and sunshine, yet they may be days’ worth sticking around for. Of course, the choice is up to you. 

Stay safe.


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About the art:

The inspiration from this painting came from the idea that suicide is a "fantasy" in Raquel's story. The trees, clouds, and sunset in the center are the fantasy and the inner peace you think you will achieve.

However, as you move to the outer edges of the painting, the "fantasy" starts to unravel and fall apart.  I used sponges to create a chaotic feeling for the viewer.  I find a lot of quotes for paintings through Pinterest and I came across this one by searching for "voice."

It is very fitting for the piece and to Raquel's story.  We all think we are trapped in the current life we are living, but what we often fail to realize, is that it is all in our own minds.

It takes an incredibly strong person to not only to recognize it, but to actively make a change because of it.  I am honored to paint this for Raquel and I hope whenever she views it, it gives her comfort.

- Emily

092: The Rebellion of Loving Yourself


Content warning: The following piece contains references to self-harm and suicidality, which might be triggering to some readers.

“The Rebellion of Loving Yourself,” Craig Bidiman

This is my first personal entry for my own nonprofit movement.

Last month I tried to write about my struggles with living with an addictive personality, but the piece got away from me after about 2,000 words. So I gave up. I might revisit that in the future—but for now, here we are.

I wanted my first piece to be something pretty personal.

So I wanted to share about the concept of self-love as someone who lives with depression and suicidality.

This month, we have shared so many powerful new stories, and some from previous months, that all focus on the struggles and triumphs of living with self-harming tendencies and suicidality.

One trope is common—living with these issues is very hard. It’s hard because our brains are at constant war with our body. In spite of that, I am here to shed light on something that which took me YEARS to become comfortable.

Historically, the conversation on self-harm has been centered on the idea that those who harm are selfish, simply looking for attention, or acting out. And that’s ridiculous.

Many individuals use self-harm as a way to get the release they need from their own anxieties, and I would never think to accuse a self-harming person of being selfish. Because living with an inclination to self-harm is not a joyous circumstance. People don’t wake up with the desire to just hurt themselves. It is brought on by any number of environmental, physical, mental, and psychological aspects.

None of which, in my opinion, are selfish.

I live with suicidality. [Note: I've written about this before, here.]

I have a history of cutting, drowning, bulimia, and starvation in order to harm myself. My self-harm stems from a number of things—depression, anxiety, body image issues, being an alienating ADHD kid growing up/also as an adult, and from being queer.

It’s not an easy life whatsoever. But it is my life.

I often felt like an outcast among my friends growing up and even though they were nice to me, I never truly felt like I was accepted by any of them. My depression as a teen led me to attempting to take my own life, and I survived. Obviously.

I now have a tattoo covering the scars from the first attempt.

My second attempt came after a rough breakup during my third year of college.

My attempts did not make feel any better about my circumstances, if anything I felt worse. And if I was trying to get attention, it didn’t work because I still felt sad and alone.

However, I found myself able to push through the darkness to continue through my days and surely I would feel better and better. But even on my best days, the darkness creeps in and I break down. I have no idea how many plans I’ve had to cancel because my depression or anxiety was acting up.

Living with suicidality means confronting the darkness every day. I have to constantly repress the feelings of sadness and the inclination to hurt myself in various ways.

One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through practicing self-love.

Now, there is no Self Love Awareness Day, but I would argue that every day SHOULD be Self-Love Awareness Day.

Finding ways to promote self-love in your daily life is an important goal in which to strive. LifeHack has a wonderful piece on 30 ways to practice self-love and be good to yourself, in which the author writes, “Practicing self-love can be challenging for many of us, especially in times when we face serious challenges. It’s not about being self-absorbed or narcissistic, it’s about getting in touch with ourselves, our well-being and our happiness.”

Again, this is not about selfishness, it’s about literally taking care of yourself. Taking care of your happiness and wellbeing. To me, that’s the most important aspect of alleviating feelings of self-harm. Self-love is as simple as leaving yourself positive messages in your lunch box, or removing yourself from toxic mindsets of comparison and/or competition with others.

Much self-harm resonates from places of comparison and it is imperative for your health to focus on being the best you instead of trying to compare to anyone around you.

Our society often fuels these comparisons—you aren’t sexy enough (so buy this makeup, or get this surgery, or lose that weight), smart or motivated enough (so put yourself in debt with college, or buy a house), or cool enough (so buy these Beats headphones, or this BMW), or man enough (so get jacked, or takes these supplements)!

Photo:  Katy Weaver Photography.  From when I had far less tattoos.

Photo: Katy Weaver Photography.
From when I had far less tattoos.

In a world constantly telling us that we aren’t enough, being proud of ourselves is revolutionary. Truly, self-love is an act of rebellion. To embrace our imperfections and inconsistencies as beauty is courageous and vulnerable. And vulnerability is a strength, never let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have had the hardest time with comparison and jealousy throughout my life—constantly comparing my life to the lives of my friends, never feeling like I truly fit in or fit anywhere. I was constantly lost, searching for some sort of answer to why I hurt so much inside, even as I would mask this hurt with seemingly unceasing happiness and exuberance.

But that’s exactly what it was—a mask.
The mask is now off and I rebel against my feelings of self-harm by loving myself.

In removing this mask, I have learned many things that are central to how I take care of myself and promote self-love in my every day life—

As much as I say “yes!” to life in many regards, I have learned to say, “no” more often. I have learned that taking time for myself is important. Saying, “no” is so empowering—try it!

I have prioritized eating tasty and healthy foods that don’t bog my down every day. I stay away from sugar and caffeine, and focus more on fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

That doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, because my issues with food are long-standing and even a current struggle today. But I try to maintain an optimistic outlook on my diet, even when I’m not completely happy with how I look and feel everyday. I’m forever a work in progress.

I paint and make music, which are two ways that I am able to exercise my brain instead of constantly thinking of self-harm. Art has been so impactful for my mental health that I don’t believe I’d still be alive if it weren’t for my art. I get out a lot of my frustration and anger in my music, and it’s very therapeutic.

I make time to appreciate myself. Looking in the mirror is hard for me. But sometimes I do it just to give myself a pep talk. Like, “hey Craig—I know you’re not particularly happy with your appearance today, but you’re here. You’re alive. And you’re a fucking badass.”

And then, I can take a step back and think, “You’re right, I am a fucking badass.”

Only you can take care of you, but sometimes it is important to reach out for support. Which is why I also suggest making time to be present and vulnerable with your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—chances are that you’ll find more love than rejection if you are honest about your situation.

You are enough. I am enough. We’re all in this together.


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About the art:

Craig had me read his story, and work on this piece while he was gone at a concert. I wasn't really able to brainstorm with him, which gave me some silly creative freedom. Since we live together, I get to see the struggles Craig deals with on a daily basis.

I know he really struggles with his body image, and it was great to hear him talk a bit about what he does to stay positive when it comes to looking at himself in the mirror. I wanted to do something happy, cute and simple. I researched some self-love art pieces, and found something similar to this that inspired me to create a version of Craig giving himself positive affirmations.

His tattoos were a little too complicated to fit the aesthetic, so I just lightly drew some of them. I sent it to him, and his immediate response was laughter. I'm glad it was something that could make him smile and put something else positive in the force against his struggles.

- Katy

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 005: Still I Rise


Content warning: The following post contains references to self-harm (involving cutting), which may be triggering to some readers.

"Still I Rise," Robert Alberts

This tattoo was something that I knew I needed for a long time but I didn't know how I wanted it to look until it happened. During high school, I went through a lot of pain and suffering and the only way that I could get through it was cutting myself. Specifically my arm. I've always been extremely self-conscious of those scars and they've made me so cautious of my body. I got this tattoo to remind myself that even though there are tough times and that they may leave marks behind, you can still make something beautiful from it. 

From the first time that I read Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise, I was captivated. That poem is still something that I go back to when I need to hear it the most. There is a line that stuck out to me and that was what I started with "And Still I Rise." I needed to remind myself that when it feels like I'm drowning--when my mental illness is getting the best of me; all I have to do is look at that quote and remember that I've always came back up for air. 

I knew that I needed more. I needed more color and more design and something else to remind me that there are always beautiful things to look at in the world if you just focus on them enough. There was one night that my mania kept me up and I watched the sun rise. That's when I realized that I had a new chance to sleep; a new opportunity. That's when I understood that's what I needed to add into my tattoo. I went to my artist with admittedly, no real design. I could just explain what I was looking for. 3 weeks and 2-4 hour sessions later and I had the largest and most colorful piece of ink that I ever got. 

There are days that this tattoo is my life raft and it helps me just maintain and there are other days that I thrive. I have gotten plenty of other tattoos for therapeutic purposes. This was the first tattoo that I really felt that some part of me was getting put back together. Every single line and color that was added to my arm was a gentle acknowledgement to pieces myself back together. This tattoo is a reminder from my past-self to my future-self, a reminder to love myself more.


TATOOSDAY POST.jpg

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!

090: There's Space for Something Beautiful


Content Warning: The following post contains references to suicidal ideation and self-harm, which may be triggering to some readers.

"There's Space for Something Beautiful" 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.

Imagine your life as a time capsule. 

Every moment deemed worthy carefully stowed away to be looked back at with nostalgia. Mine is filled with many things. Open it, and you’ll hear music that sounds like the wind off the beach, like my siblings laughter, like a movie soundtrack that never ends, being watched by me and the people I love. You’ll see sunlight in mason jars, you’ll see constellations engraved on the walls. In all honesty, you’ll find a busted laptop, some video games, a pair of headphones covered in blush and and a special lighter. 

You’ll also find blood. It will cover everything. No matter how many times you wash and scrub it away, buckets and buckets will flow. You’ll find lethargy and numbness. You’ll find Xacto knives and you’ll find restriction. You will hear me weeping. You will hear me screaming. 

Mental illness has always been a large part of who I am. 

My first time I felt suicidal was when I was 7. I looked up at the purple metal of the bunk bed above me, and imagined smashing my head on it over and over until I was dead. Vivid fantasies like this have always been right beneath my skin, and believe me, ever since then I’ve done everything you can imagine to get them out. 

Being depressed at a young age really distorts your life. Instead of a fluid timeline I can follow, my past consists of hazy vignettes that tirelessly replay in my head, foggy memories where details are dropped or remembered incorrectly, and blackout periods I’m not sure I want to remember. 

This time capsule of pain needs to be unpacked, but how? 

How do you let go of cigarette burns, neatly tucked away on the inside of your thighs when they found out you liked a girl? Years of abuse with a sticky note attached: “I’m sorry.” How do you fill it with the food you refused because you were terrified of drawing attention to yourself, terrified of being a burden, terrified of not at least being pretty? Do you throw out your rape that’s sitting right at the top of the box, or just bury it, like you do everything else?

If I tell the truth, I had convinced myself I would just throw the whole thing away. I’m 19, and if I told 16 year old me I’d get this old, she’d laugh. “No,” she’d say “you’ll be dead before the end of the year.” If you sorted nights in high school into different section in my capsule, more of them than not would fall into the “I-might-kill-myself-tonight” pile. Three pendants would hang around lock for the nights I tried. And yet, here I am! Sorting my box, sorting my life. 

So, where does that leave me? Some days it hurts too much to open the lid. Never thinking it would have to me picking through this box looking for anything of use. My friends now look through it with me, tossing the things that hurt too much for me to touch. But it’s different now. Even at my worst I don’t want to get rid of it all. MY depression, MY anxiety, MY eating disorder, all of these are MINE.

Don’t get wrong, I want to heal! I want light and happiness and the pain to end, and I’m working towards that! But my past happened. No matter what I do I cannot go back and undo all the wrong done unto me. All the wrong I have done unto others when all I wanted was to alienate and distance those who loved me. What I can do now, is look at how much I’ve grown. How much of what I love has had to go away, and how many people I have had to leave behind. And put it away. 

There is a lot of space left for the beautiful, and the only way to fill it up is to keep on living, and keep on unpacking and repacking until everything fits together perfectly.


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About the art:

This has been one of my favorite stories shared so far, because of the writing. I was able to vividly imagine said time capsule through the vivid imagery, and I was able to go through a few ideas before I landed on this one. I was able to incorporate pieces of the time capsule surrounding the message of survival.

I loved that this survivor found a way to make sure they made sure there was always a bit of hope even after going through trauma. This inspired me, and I'm definitely going to take this mantra, and apply it to my own life. 

- Katy

Tattoosday 001: It's Okay


Content warning: The following story contains references to self-harm, anxiety, and drug use, which may be triggering to some survivors.

“It’s Okay,” Kait Darling

I recently got "IT'S OKAY" tattooed across the insides of my fingers. Out of all of my tattoos (which cover about 70% of my body at this point) this is by far the most meaningful one.

I got this for ME.

It's a constant and permanent reminder that no matter how bad things may seem, that at the end of it all, it's okay. I've suffered from anxiety since I was a small child and my depression set in as I got older.

Coming from a family with an alcoholic father and a heroin addicted sister, my childhood and teenage years weren't exactly ideal. All while they were struggling with addiction, I was battling some pretty serious demons of my own.

The end of middle school was when I really hit rock bottom. I resorted to cutting myself on an almost daily basis in order to deal with my feelings and my home life. High school got even worse for me when my anxiety became absolutely crippling and going to school every day was a fight.

An eating disorder also grabbed hold of me, adding more fuel to the fire. Three high schools and a drop out later, I finally started to gain some control over my emotions, along with the help of some medication. Suicide always seemed like a good option to me, and after a few attempts but to no avail, I figure there must be a reason that I'm still alive.

Here I am, all these years later, almost 25 years old and soon to be married. Every day is still a struggle but I refuse to stop fighting.

I hate to see that there are other people that have to deal with this stuff as well but I'm glad that my trials and tribulations can be used in a positive way to help others get through their dark times. If I had to go through the hell that I went through in order to help even just one person, then it all will have been worth it.


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!

055: The Liberation of Queerness


Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as queer, there is sexual content, suicidal ideation, and the word, "dorm," which might be triggering for some readers.

"The Liberation of Queerness," Kaitlin Winters

I was 17. I lived 17 years of my life internalizing a feeling of “I’m not normal” and asking myself the questions, “why do I have crushes on girls?” and “what does gay even mean?” It wasn’t until 17 that I decided to gradually come out and explore my sexuality.

Before we get started, a brief history of my life.

I had crushes on girls since I could remember, even in kindergarten. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I just suppressed the feelings I had towards girls. I didn’t say anything to anyone and I covered it up by “going out” (I use this term lightly because it wasn’t something I was a fan of) with boys. I suffered from severe depression in high school following the flooding of my family’s house in Hurricane Ivan and my mom being hospitalized for a few years. My depression followed me as I transitioned to college. I was 17 when I entered my first semester (at a school in the middle of Mississippi) and was a student athlete and lived in an all-female dorm (bring on all the stereotypes).

When I got to college there was a girl on the soccer team I was super into and I disclosed that to one of her teammates. Before I knew it, I was intertwined into a circle of gossip. People kept coming up to me and asking, “are you gay?” I had built up the courage to tell someone and I ended up being lead on, manipulated, and used by many individuals I called my “friends.” On top of that, some family problems were occurring at the same time and my depression skyrocketed. I stopped caring about school, I quit the golf team, and I was unmotivated about everything.

The week of finals, I contemplated suicide and ended up harming myself for the first time. I was sent home and had to reschedule the rest of my exams. Home wasn’t much better. My mom was in the hospital and I was miserable. I couldn’t stop thinking about telling my parents about the semester, particularly coming out. However, I hated being home so I decided to leave a day early to go back to school. I didn’t want to go back, but I didn’t want to stay there either. The night I left I wrote a note to my parents saying I was gay and then ran out of the house in tears. My parents had no idea what was going on and I just told them to read the letter that was in my room. I got in my car and drove. After reading the note, they called and told me they loved me and that they didn’t care if I was gay, they just wanted me to be safe.

I went back to school, but was still unmotivated to do anything. After a couple of weeks, I stopped going to class. I would get ready in the morning, wait outside the classroom, but then I just wouldn’t go. I took naps a lot and my eating habits changed drastically. I told myself I needed to start going to class or go home. I knew things weren’t going to get any better if I stayed so I decided to go home. I did a medical withdrawal and took the semester off. It sucked, but it had to be done.

Before I left to go home I decided to come out to my friends via a Facebook note (such a millennial, I know). I had some supportive friends, and some, not so much. I had friends tell me they couldn’t be my friend anymore or that it’s a sin to be gay. I was being judged for something I couldn’t control. 

After I got home I started reapplying to schools. It was a horrible time. I was doing nothing and I was still depressed. All of my true friends from high school were off at college, except for me. I was also still navigating feelings about my identity and was unsure about everything. 

When I transferred to the University of West Florida, I decided I wasn’t going to come out to anyone. I didn’t want to face the judgement all over again. The first year I struggled with the idea of being accepted in my church as a gay individual. Before I came out, my faith was extremely important to me so I was in a stage of self-exploration. As I entered my sophomore year, I found a great group of humans who I still call my family. I knew they accepted me for me. The second semester of my sophomore year I ended up coming out to them and nothing changed. It wasn’t a big deal. They still loved and supported me just as much as they did before I came out. 

The rest of my undergraduate experience was extremely amazing. I became a support person for so many of my peers who were LGBT and were still in the closet or in the process of coming out. I also continued to explore my gender identity and expression throughout the years. My senior year of college is when I started wearing suits and ties to events instead of dresses. It was the most liberating feeling because I finally felt like myself.

Today, I am proud to be a queer, masculine of center, tattooed person. My parents are super loving and supportive and over the years they have met most of my girlfriends. Coming out isn’t easy and timing does matter. But I am forever grateful for the people who stood by my side through my darkest days. I look back at the experiences I have had and realize they truly made me who I am today. 


About the art:

My fellow tattooed Student Affairs colleague, Kaitlin Winters, and I at the NASPA National Conference in New Orleans in March 2015. So glad Kaitlin shared their story.

My fellow tattooed Student Affairs colleague, Kaitlin Winters, and I at the NASPA National Conference in New Orleans in March 2015. So glad Kaitlin shared their story.

So, I absolutely ADORE the hell out of Kaitlin Winters. I actually reached out to Kaitlin to share their story because I knew she would have a powerful and thoughtful story. And I wasn't wrong!

I loved reading through Kaitlin's story, and it inspired me to go a different route with her painting. I wanted to be a little more intentional with how I laid out the colors, and the words. And to be perfectly honest, I have been getting bored with my art, even though a lot of people have come to expect a specific style from me.

SO I TRIED SOMETHING NEW for one of my favorite people int he universe. And went with some watercolors to create a wispy rainbow effect across this canvas. I wanted the lines to mirror a combination of flames and waves. I really like that juxtaposition. I think it shows up here pretty well. I had a lot of fun doing this style.

I chose the quote after trying to seek out something that I felt truly encapsulated Kaitlin's story. This quote, "Far from who I once was, but not yet who I'm going to be" felt perfect because it mirrors Kaitlin's existence as a queer human. She has gone through many evolutions to finally find a version of herself that feels right, that feels comfortable. And I admire the hell out of that. Because that sort of self-discovery is hard to accomplish.

And I feel the second half of the quote really hits hard, too. Because there is always time for more growth, more evolving as a person. And Kaitlin is exactly the person to never stay content with one form of existence. I expect there is much more in store for her.

Thanks again, Kaitlin! I can't wait to cross paths again soon.

- Craig.

050: The Gift


Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual abuse, mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and queer experiences, which may be triggering to some survivors.

"The Gift," Lynne Marie Meyer


I was freshly turned six years old when I discovered the truth about Santa Claus. I was in my parents’ bedroom, hiding away from the chaos of the Christmas party my parents were hosting. Being naturally shy and much younger than all but one of my cousins, I appreciated the quiet that I found behind closed doors. For some reason, I took a peek under their bed, and found a stash of presents marked “from Santa”. I don’t remember being bothered by my realization. What I do remember is that this was also the night that the abuse started.

My oldest brother is 11 years older than me. My abuser was a friend of his, and the same age. He’d also gone into the bedroom, ostensibly to rest away a headache. I didn’t mind the intrusion. In fact, I welcomed it. This was a trusted member of my family-by-choice. My parents had a fondness for unofficially “adopting” my brothers’ friends; my oldest brother was “son #1”, the next brother was “son #2”, and then the various friends were sons #3, #4, and so on. My abuser fell into this category. As far as my family was concerned, he was one of us. And so, I trusted him. 

I can also admit that I loved him. As children are prone to do, I’d developed quite the crush of sorts on him. He was funny, rather charming when he wanted to be, and unlike my teenaged brothers, really seemed to enjoy spending time with me. Little six year old me found it flattering to have the attentions of a 17 year old. When I realized he felt unwell, of course I wanted to make him feel better. When what he asked for was a kiss, I thought nothing of it, assuming it would be on the cheek. When instead he suddenly thrust his tongue into my mouth, I thought… well, the truth is, I didn’t know what to think. 

This was the 1970s, and literally no one had ever spoken to me about such matters. I had no frame of reference whatsoever to understand what was happening, or how to navigate the incredibly complicated emotions that were coursing through me. It was flattering -- a first kiss! -- but wrong, and I knew it. He capitalized on my ambivalence, of course, and I was told to keep it “our secret”. 

I did.

Over the next three years, the abuse continued, and escalated. When the first rape happened, I couldn’t tell you; I also can’t tell you exactly how many there were. By the time I was 11, I’d pushed the worst of the details to the deepest recesses of my mind. Every time I looked at the necklace he’d given me -- a faux-ruby heart shaped pendant -- I felt inexplicably uneasy. I became suicidally depressed, but couldn’t exactly explain why. I knew something had happened, could remember portions of it, but because the specifics were gone, I felt that I was a fraud. And because I didn’t speak up at the time it was happening, because the parts I did remember were tinged with pleasure, I was terrified that if I did say anything, my parents would find out that I was no longer a virgin and label me a whore. 

More than once, I tried to kill myself (notably, never doing so badly enough to even warrant my family’s realizing it; I was unconsciously calling out for attention and failing badly). My grades plummeted. By the time I was in high school, I was skipping school every day. Me! The girl who loved learning more than anything else, the girl who was skipped a grade in elementary school, the girl who always scored at the top of her class! But I couldn’t be there anymore. I couldn’t be anywhere anymore. Everywhere I went, there he was. And everywhere I went, there I was. As much as I tried to escape myself, I couldn’t.

At some point, I admitted to my confused and concerned parents one part of what happened, an incident that had never fully left my mind. Though they have yet to understand or admit the severity of that assault (even today they regard it as something that should have been minimally impactful on my life), they were more outraged than they let on at the time. I found out later that they'd relayed the information to my brother, who apparently gave my abuser quite the beating. After years of enduring his presence almost daily, even his accompanying us on out out-of-state vacations, I had some relief: My abuser was finally banished from my home. His name was never mentioned again, and neither was what he had done. This silence did not help me. In fact, it made the pain, depression, and internalized shame worse.

One day, for a reason I don’t remember, a friend voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital for a brief period. I asked to go with her. My parents agreed. I’d hoped this would help, but how could it when I wasn’t even able to tell the truth to myself let alone a therapist? The doctors slapped a diagnosis on me that I knew wasn’t accurate, and put me on pills that at least helped to manage the depression I was experiencing. I pushed the memories of the rapes further and further away. After a while, I started to function again.

By the time I started college, I actually thought that I’d healed. I was in school, doing well academically again, and although I was still extremely shy and had no social life to speak of apart from a few close friends, it seemed that life was pretty good.

And then, I started dating. Or at least, I’ll call it dating. It really wasn’t. While it was always consensual, it was also exploitive. In my mind, I was still a virgin (since what happened before wasn’t by choice, it didn’t count somehow), and so at age 20 when I made the decision to engage in sexual activity, I initially felt empowered and that I was reclaiming part of my identity. Yet, again and again I found myself agreeing to things that made me uncomfortable, and allowed him to treat me with a staggering amount of disrespect. After the third date, he decided that he would no longer kiss me. He’d still sleep with me, mind you, but he wouldn’t kiss me. My 44-year old self would kick someone to the curb for that, but back then, I accepted it and kept sleeping with him. 

This unhealthy arrangement lasted, on and off, for a few years. I broke it off finally around the time that I got accepted into my second Master’s program and was headed out of state to the school of my dreams. Once again, I thought I’d put my past behind me; I was away from home and living on my own for the first time, making new friends, and pursuing my scholarly passions. Once again, the presence of a man in my life would prove me wrong.

I hesitate to even call what developed a “relationship”. It was brief and intense and sexual, and ended badly and awkwardly -- partly because of him, and partly because of me. Being with him, coupled with the stress of grad school, triggered every last one of the unresolved issues from my childhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, and I couldn’t see any of it for what it was. The last year of my program was a struggle. It was nearly impossible to focus, and for the first time in ages, I started getting sick. I was worn out in body, mind, and spirit. Graduation was a relief, but felt like a hollow victory. I had no idea what to do next. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole somewhere and hide from the world.

For the next few years, that’s basically what I did. I took odd jobs to pay the bills, and all the while fell deeper and deeper into the shadows. 

I found myself again in a relationship. Like the others, it was less than healthy. But unlike the others, it lasted for years and marked the first time in my life I could actually say that I both gave and felt love, however imperfect. As much as I may have hoped that would save me, it couldn’t. Eventually, the PTSD hit me full force.

Flashbacks and nightmares brought forth long-forgotten details; I suddenly knew why I loathed the color pink (the color of the sheets on the bed the morning he first raped me), why as a child I was both drawn to and terrified of the basement, why I hate the smell of alcohol and being around people who have had too much to drink. Then the somatic symptoms started. Insomnia, headaches, pains that froze in my tracks as my body seared from the memory of attacks from long ago.

No one understood, least of all me. Turning to my partner was in vain. At the time, I couldn’t understand his apparent unwillingness -- his utter inability, really -- to offer even a modicum of support. What I now know, long after his death from cancer, is that he too was a survivor. He was much older than I was, a man who had come of age in the late 1960s, when there was even less support for male victims of rape than there is now. His was of coping was to tell a different story, to reinvent his past and himself and to pretend that nothing had happened. But it did happen, to a child barely 10 years old when he was taken into the foster care system. My recovery, and my bringing to conscious light the details of my own past, was far too painful for him to contend with.

With virtually no income at this point, since I could barely work, it took me a long time to find a counselor I could afford. I did find one, though, and with her I started making progress. She was good, but there turned out to be someone else who, in many very important ways, was better.

Her name was Buffy. 

I know, I know. You're probably thinking really? Yes, really. Buffy the Vampire Slayer saved my life.

She was one of the best gifts that my partner gave me during the seven years that he and I were together. He had been a fan of the show since it debuted in 1997 (the very year that my grad-school relationship triggered the onset of my PTSD). By the time he got me into the program, it was season three. Tuesday quickly became my favorite day of the week.
The vampires and demons that she fought each week were perfect metaphors for the ones plaguing my nightmares. Her every victory over the forces of darkness gave me hope that I could do the same.

Without my consciously realizing it, in Buffy I began to see myself. I began to redefine a woman’s capacity for power, even in the face of uncertainty and fear. When my demons tried to convince me to end it all, Buffy made me feel brave enough to go on.

This is a show that celebrates the strength of women, perhaps most vividly exemplified in the final season’s episode “Chosen”. One scene in particular brought me to tears -- healing, powerful, tears -- as I watched girls and women finding their strength and fighting back.

And somewhere along the way, as all of this unfolded season after season, it transformed my understanding of women and womanhood and in the process undid decades of internalized misogyny. I had spent decades of my life angry at myself for being, in my eyes, weak. For allowing the rapes to happen. For not fighting back. For not telling. I’d also been angry at my mother, for her weakness. For not seeing what was happening. For not stopping it. For leaving me in his presence for so many years and never hearing my stifled cries for rescue. As the stay-at-home parent, she was the one I’d seen as the person who was supposed to know what was happening in our home -- but didn’t. As I grew up, I rejected seemingly feminine things. My strength and my survival rested in embracing “masculine” ways of being.

In season 4, the character Willow falls in love with another woman. Their relationship becomes one of the most beloved of the entire series, and became a favorite of my subconscious. At first, I thought this was just another example of a metaphor at work in my psyche. I was dreaming of making love to Buffy because I was reclaiming my power. 

I thought.

It would take me a while to come to terms with the fact, but I did eventually realize that this was not a metaphor. It was the authentic me emerging. I love men, but I also love women. I just never knew it before because I was unable to love myself.

So many people falsely think that being abused makes people turn gay. In my case, it made me think I was straight. All those unhealthy relationships were me trying to work out the issues of my past according to the only framework I knew and could perceive. Heterosexuality was assumed by everyone and everything around me; I was almost in high school before I even heard the word “lesbian”. Given my attraction to men, I knew that label didn’t fit me. It wasn’t until the late 90s that I heard of bisexuality, and when I did it was because I met someone who was brave enough to out themselves to me as bi. That was the final gift, the final piece of the puzzle. It made sense to me. That fit. The first time I kissed a woman, I knew it in my bones. I had come home to myself, decades after my abuser made me forget who I was.

I was whole. 

It’s been thirteen years since Buffy went off the air. Today, I’m married to my best friend, a man I love deeply, authentically, and who knows and supports me in all facets of my being. I’m still bisexual, finally happy, and a survivor who has found her peace.


About the art:

I'm a big fan of Lynne as a human being. So when she reached out to share her story, I was pretty excited because I knew it would be full of heart, courage, and expert wording. And Lynne delivered JUST THAT!

Lynne actually contributed this story at the beginning of April, but I felt it covered ALL THREE of our first topics, sexual assault awareness, mental health and queer pride, so I asked Lynne if she would be comfortable if I pushed it to the end of May to serve as a transitional piece for the project.

Clearly, she obliged with that idea. So here we are!

Lynne loves Buffy, so I wanted to use a quote from Buffy, and Lynne chose this quote from the episode featured above. I asked what colors Lynne liked and she said shades of purples, so I through in red and blue, you know, because they make purple...so yeah! Had fun splattering this one, too! Lots of dynamic colors.

I am glad Lynne wanted to share her powerful story, and I'm thankful I got to create this piece for her.

-Craig.

046: We Don't Quit


Content Warning: This post contains information about an individual's experience with systemic racism, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering to some survivors.

“We Don’t Quit,” 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.

We don’t quit.

My grandfather didn’t quit life while growing up in the Jim Crow South. He easily could have been the White man’s pawn, doing the dirty work that was relegated to Black men. Nah son, my granddaddy fought and scraped to build his own house, raise his family, and see a daughter off to an HBCU and a son into the Air Force. My pops didn’t quit life. He easily could have just taken orders and coasted into retirement like many of his peers. Nope, he took every promotion exam he could. Retired at a full 20 years, then got a consulting gig.

Even with this heritage, I’ve tried to quit life. I’ve thought about it more times than I’ve actually tried it, but man, I’ve wanted to give up. Men of color are supposed to be the strong ones, the people families rely on to provide and support when times get tough. We don’t show weakness and we rarely ask for help. Racism is supposed to motivate us, so that we can “overcome” any obstacles put in our way.

Generations had to do it, so there’s no excuse for quitting. But I’m not supposed to admit that in grad school I was diagnosed with clinical depression and a severe anxiety disorder. I’m not supposed to admit that my diagnosis made me feel weak and like I wasn’t living up to the standard society set me up for. And I’m not supposed to admit that for a better part of my life, I’ve wanted to kill myself.

The first attempt was scary. I was at my first professional job that I hated, living in a city I despised, stuck in a relationship that was going nowhere. I had a very bad day at work talking about racism and how it wasn’t an “issue” in my office, then I get into a nasty argument with my ex-partner about something completely stupid. I’m a Black man in a White world, and I knew my colleagues and neighbors looked me like I was a suspect. I existed in a world I felt that it really didn’t care if I was alive or not. I was standing in the kitchen and just said, “fuck it.” I reached for a knife in the drawer and pulled out the first blade I could reach. I was going to cut my wrists and bleed out in the kitchen. But, the knife I grabbed was a serrated steak knife, and my only thought was “this shit’s gonna hurt!” I threw the knife into the sink, sat on the floor, and just cried into the morning. At that moment, I was weak, and men aren’t supposed to be that. 

The next day, I dragged myself to work and pulled up my favorite song from A Tribe Called Quest called “Stressed Out.” I sat at my desk and played the intro on repeat:

I really know how it feels to be stressed out, stressed out
When you’re face to face with your adversity,
I really know how it feels to be stressed out, stressed out
We’re gonna make this thing work out eventually.

Since that day, for every thought of suicide I’ve had, I crank this song. For every moment where I think people are looking at me funny, or my mind tells me that I’ll never go far in student affairs because I’ve got more melanin than my co-workers, I play this song. It got me through working in an incredibly racist workplace at my first job, and it’s gotten me through all the other times in this field where an interaction with a colleague or a nasty e-mail from somebody on campus makes me want to quit. When I was running my office this past summer and wanted to drink a bottle of Jameson and eat a bottle of sleeping pills so all the stress of doing my job alone would go away, I put on the song to keep me from getting in my car and going to the store.

Yo I know the feelin, when you feelin like a villain
You be having good thoughts but the evils be revealin’
And the stresses of life can take you off the right path,
Jealousy and envy tends to infiltrate your staff,
We gotta hold it down so we can move on past
All adversities, so we can through fast.

Someone once told me that racism was a disease and it is lethal, and I truly believe it. Combined with my anxiety and depression, I’ve found it damn near impossible to exist in student affairs. Let’s be honest; our field is only a microcosm of our messed up society but with people who went to school for longer. For all the degrees we carry and “intentional conversations” we have about racism, we are incredibly racist and ignorant.

We don’t care about how our marginalized communities feel within the field, and we’re now just coming around to recognize that some of our colleagues have to contend with their mental health as they do their work. For me, as a pro of color with mental illness, it makes life damn near unbearable. It makes me feel like my professional experiences, my past history, and my dreams for a better future don’t matter to anyone.

For as much as I want to quit, I can’t. I’ve got a wife who adores me for some reason I can’t quite figure out. I’ve got a little brother who’s raising his son the best he can. I’ve got a father who’s proud his oldest son is about to get his Doctorate, and a granddaddy who’s happy I’m living a good life. The persistent racism and intolerance I get at work (not to mention the world in large) has made me want to no longer walk this Earth. It has made me feel worthless, despite my degrees, my new house, and loving family. And that makes absolutely no sense. 

I can’t quit. I can’t feel like I’m worthless anymore. I can’t let my mental illness rule my life, and I won’t let my racist colleagues and pervasive intolerance in this field stop me from moving forward. Grandaddy didn’t quit. Pops didn’t quit. And even if my mind tells me otherwise, I can’t quit.

Don’t worry we gon make it,
I know we gonna make it,
C’mon baby we gonna make it,
We gonna make it.


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About the art:

I first encountered this survivor when we got into a Twitter chat about Pacific Northwest sports, so we were both a little outspoken to say the least. He has always been a vibrant voice of reason in many conversations on higher education, race, and Kendrick Lamar.

Now, when this survivor reached out to me, I was very excited because I knew he would bring a uniquely real approach to telling his story, and he did! I was stoked to read how poetic his words are and how well he weaves his family history and the issues of systemic racism into the piece.

The Quest song this survivor continuously repeats during the song was obviously going to be what I used to influence the creation of his painting. I chose the words, "Don't worry, we gon' make it. I know we gonna make it," because of the clear beauty of progress. With such racial history constantly going against this survivor, it was important to me to create an image that would remind him of the audacity that comes with progress. 

I chose the colors to mirror a combination of Pacific Northwest sports teams colors, red for the Trailblazers, and the teal/metallic blue for the Seahawks. Granted, they might not be the survivors exact teams, but that legitimately why i chose the colors. AND I genuinely wanted to see how the colors would look together. They came out great!

I'm very glad this survivor shared his story and i hope it inspires other folks to do the same.

- Craig

045: To Know Myself Again


Content Warning: This post contains information about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, which may be triggering to some survivors.

“To Know Myself Again,” MacKenzie Dumas


Finding out that I am bipolar was not surprising.  The negative aspects that come with being bipolar have not surprised me.  But, the positive things that have surfaced since becoming more vocal and open about being bipolar have surprised me.

I have struggled for a while with my mood, but I found out just over a month ago that I am, in fact, bipolar. I will briefly write about the negative things, just to let people know that it is something that people, most of the time invisibly, deal with when they have bipolar disorder.  But, the main purpose of me writing about living with bipolar disorder is to bring light to my situation and hopefully, remind bring a little light to others in the same boat as me.

Both ends of the mood spectrum when it comes to being bipolar are scary.  They are scary because I do not know I am there mentally until I leave those places.  When I dip into the depressive state, I find it more than difficult to pull myself out of bed—

I don’t call my parents.  I don’t eat.  I don’t do the things I typically enjoy doing.  I sleep and can’t convince myself to pull myself up and live.  I do find the time to talk down to myself, and for a person who is hard on herself even without being in the depressive state, this can be astonishingly harmful to myself. 

When I go into the hyper stages, my mind is going a million miles per hour.  I can’t concentrate.  I have driven places, forgotten I drove there, walked back to my dorm, and forgotten my car overnight.  I can’t sit still.  I can’t sit in class without having to leave to go do something.  I crave to run.  I want to run 1,000 miles.   I want to run at 1 o’clock in the morning.  I do not know where I want to run to, but I can’t stay here.

I want to be there, and there, and there.
I want to do that, and do that, and then do that. 

I will sleep for 2 or 3 hours a night and not miss it the next day. I get angry at myself for not having the ability to do multiple things at once and not be able to be in multiple places at once. I forget to eat, because I am too busy trying to accomplish a month’s worth of tasks in a day. I will do that for a week straight and when that hyper time is over, I am mentally and physically exhausted.  

But, I can either focus on those parts of bipolar disorder, or, I can choose to see the great things that have happened.  

The first time I was actually told that I am bipolar, it scared me for about a second. But then, I realized that it explained so much and that there was so much I could do to cope with it and help others deal with mental illness.  I decided to make this a vehicle.  I can drive it anywhere I want.  I can either decide to leave the car in park and not use it for anything.  I can put the car in neutral and let it cost wherever it wants to, dragging me along with it. OR, I can put the damn car in drive and I can travel and go places and bring others along for the ride.  And if anyone decides that they don’t want to go with me, then they can leave, and that’s fine, but I am driving and I have places I need to be. 

So stay or get out—but I. Am. Going. 

I have a blog that I started as a medium to write about my transition into being an adult and start life away from where I grew up.  I decided to use the blog as a way to document my experience with bipolar disorder.  My first post has been my favorite.  

Back when I was in a really depressive state, I decided to get the phases of the moon tattooed down my spine.  For me, it represents that even when I do not feel like all of me is there – when I feel like parts of me are missing, big or small—I am always whole.  I am constantly transitioning.

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This tattoo is monumental.  I am cratered with imperfections, but I am whole and I am strong and I am beautiful. 

For my first post, I connected my mood transitions with the phases of the moon.  The moon has been a very important element in connecting my mood with something visible and real. But think about it, the moon is allowed to constantly change, in fact, so is the weather, so why is there such a stigma about my moods doing the same exact thing?

"Phases of the Moon," MacKenzie Dumas

New moon.  This is the beginning. 
I feel like I have not found myself but I have not lost myself, yet. 
I have not lost myself again.
There is so much possibility and probability and potential. 
But everything feels ambiguous.  
And just as the crescent begins to show, so do I. 
A new revolution. 
There is so much to believe in. 
I begin to feel familiar to my own self. 
My skin feels like it is of me. 
I remember, just for a moment what I am made of and how to once again
Catch My Breath. 
Half Moon and the glass feels half full. 
I recall in a way that I could not in the previous moments of being
The semblance of a working soul
Everything can only get better, bigger, stronger. Real. 
I am almost there and so is the gibbous moon. 
Only a crescent-sized piece of me is missing
And maybe I can live without it. 
If only I could stay here, and live with the compromise of myself
I could
I can
Live without the missing piece but I don’t know what it is and my mind is racing
And I can do almost anything  
And then the unmistakable feeling emerges
I am whole
Bright and visible and illuminated
Cratered by imperfections
But they are beautiful and
My soul is beautiful
Nothing is lost
When I look at my reflection, I am within
I am familiar with those who surround me
My thoughts are my own
With ease
I can change the tides of the ocean
And with the victorious awareness of liberation
Comes the inevitable and calamitous
Darkness. 
Because everyone knows that even when the moon is full
Half of it is in darkness and waiting its turn
And we try not to be selfish.
Once again, I become a gibbous. 
One again, a piece of me is missing. 
Still, a piece I feel I can live without
If only I can stay here. 
Functional and thriving. 
But just as quickly, 
I am at half once again. 
Half Moon, half empty. 
Still proportionately the same as before,
But diminishing
Half is okay. 
We can do half. 
And a little light is lost. 
And then a little more. 
And soon a crescent sized piece of myself is left. 
And I think
I just need to keep this little bit. I just need to know that some of me is still here. 
Because if this leaves, what if I never come back. 
And pretty soon I am in my own darkness
All that is left are the stars and a glimpse of our galaxy
And I am lost somewhere in there
Just hoping that I get another chance
To know myself again.

I created the post, and then decided to share it to my Facebook and to Twitter.  It was very terrifying for me because almost no one in my life knew what I was dealing with.  But, I really want to use my experience to help others cope with their own experiences, and hopefully foster an environment for others to understand what people are going through.

Posting that poem has been such a positive experience.  I had people messaging me, people who I’ve never met or known, to tell me that they were so happy I posted it.  People were able to connect with it and sigh a breath of relief because someone else on earth knew what they were going through.  

I have told friends and family and for the most part, people have been extremely supportive of me.  I have found that becoming vocal about it has changed my relationships with people, and they have changed for the better.

Here I was, afraid that people would stigmatize my mood disorder (only 1 person did) and I was the one underestimating people for how they would react to me telling them.

If you surround yourself with positive people, your experience will be more positive.  My message is that, you can either surround yourself with people who only go outside to see the moon when it is whole, or, you can surround yourself with people who appreciate the moon during every phase.  Remember to love yourself, no matter what phase you are in.  Learning to love yourself when you are whole is hard, learning to love yourself when pieces are missing or hidden, is even harder.  It’s a beautiful life and I just want everyone else to make the best of theirs. 


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About the art:

I was inspired by Mackenzie's poem about phases of the moon to create this piece.  The colors are inspired by the cool, calming colors of the ocean.  I started to paint the phases of the moon, but the quote I chose to use from her poem is about the full moon phase.  With this idea, I painted full moons in different colors and shades.

It's funny that the quote is about imperfections, because this painting is actually upside down.

I painted the moons with the idea that the light source (or yellows) would be at the bottom right of the piece.  After adding the quote which I fell in love with, I noticed that I had painted it upside down.  I loved how it turned out and I think it fits better with the moon orientation this way instead of the way I had originally planned.

Sometimes the picture in our mind isn't what the final product ends up becoming, but I am very grateful for that because it created a more beautiful painting than I had thought it would become. This relates to the events that shape our lives along the way.  It may not have turned out how we thought, but it's even more amazing than we'd imagined.

I hope Mackenzie loves this painting as much as I do and it inspires her to be true to herself, because she is amazing.

- Emily Lopez

040: Everybody Lies


Content Warning: This post contains information about depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering to some survivors.

"Everybody Lies," Raquel Lyons


“I don't know if I'm strong enough to keep on living. I don't know if I'm strong enough to stay alive.” - From May 28th 2015

“Goodbye doesn’t come easy,
But letting go can be so beautifully freeing. 
I’m one with the stars now,
Mixing into the universe,
There’s always so much more that could be said,
But I hope these words have fed some comfort,
Some understanding,
It will be okay, I know it. 

Letting go doesn’t have to be bad,
It can be releasing. 

And we all need to be released.” - From ‘May Our Souls Rest Tonight’ written May 29th 2015.

“The biggest thing I want to say is a HUGE THANK YOU to so many of you who have reached out to me in the past week, through comments or notes, genuinely you aided me in finding my own strength to get myself help.” - From June 2nd 2015. 

 

I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on self-harm and suicide obsessions by my university’s Counseling Center in the fall of 2014. Featuring journal entries from my deviantART account, this is a part of my story. 

“There’s something in my head. Something that tells me: Kill yourself. Nobody cares about you. Nobody would know. Jump off the building. You're just lying. You're full of shit. What if - ? Are you sure? But I don't want to, right? Or do I? Do I want to do that? I don't think I do. I don't...right? Nobody should know about the nothing. Don't tell anyone. It's just you and me. Why can't you just jump? Why is this so difficult? So pathetic. So weak.” - From November 22 2014. 

Within that semester, the OCD was rough. I once missed my class because I got stuck in the stairwell for forty-five minutes, sitting on the floor too afraid to move because I might have pushed myself down the stairs--even though I had absolutely no intention or desire to hurt or kill myself. I withdrew from my friends to spend more time with the OCD in my head, because it told me it was such great company and that I only needed it and no one else. I stopped showing up at Photography Club meetings, which I was President of and all other management had fallen out, which left people frustrated and upset by my lack of absence and more by my lack of integrity. People said they would help, but I had too much doubt for the both of us to know whether or not to believe them. 

When I could manage the suicide obsessions, self-harm obsessions appeared. Then I tried scratching myself to see if the thoughts would go away (they didn’t--and came back tenfold worse), but it took me a while to use that method of self-harm. I hit myself with car keys, bit myself, scratched--before I settled on the scratching and stuck with that. It was a constant oscillation between the two obsessions, and I felt I couldn’t handle both at the same time. My emotions would swing from anxious to angry to depressed to apathetic. It was a frequent cycle of emotions and obsessions and compulsions and I don’t know how I didn’t drive myself up a tree and off of it. 

I remember wishing I could kill myself but being so anxious by that same thought that I knew I wouldn’t be able to. So then I wished other people would kill me. I remember thinking that suicide was out of the question, but self-harm? Self-harm was doable. 

I recall once sitting on a ledge at school when it was damp outside from rain and the semester was rearing to a close. I remember what it felt like to dangle one foot over the edge and that while some people passed me by, only one person told me not to do it. And no one else said a thing. 

“But it was cold and I felt bad for calling the self-harm hotline because I don't cut myself and I felt bad if I'd call the suicide prevention hotline because I certainly wasn't feeling suicidal either. I know a lot of this was precipitated by such an intense feeling of desperation, of "needing to do something".” - From December 31st 2014

That desperation; that moment where darkness seized my vision as the thought crept into my brain: “There’s nothing you can do.” That’s what suddenly gave me those so called ‘guts’ to kill myself. I knew then that suicide was the ‘only way out’ and that it was such a marvelous idea, and I didn’t know how I hadn’t thought of it sooner. 

What I thought was merely OCD at the time, turned into the monstrous combination of intense OCD and depression. The next day I woke up and for eight hours I didn’t move an inch on my bed, curled up in a fetal position, dreaming of death as an escape. The glorification stunk from miles away, but I was too deep in it to see it. 

“I tried to kill myself on Tuesday, January 6th. Those are still strange words to utter from my lips, let alone type or see upon the screen. I'm glad I'm alive; I'm annoyed it didn't work. I'm horrified, disturbed, nauseous; it gives me a headache - why did I take the pills? Why didn't I take more?” - From January 18th 2015. 

But then things started to change, slowly, gradually. I started one round of medications, that didn’t work well for me, so I started on another. That one did. We upped the dosage. I was hospitalized on January 29th and March 2nd. I got a psychiatrist. I started coloring--drawing, practicing art therapy. I started to learn about treatment, about SMART goals, about recovery. I started to grow in strength.

“Additionally, I am hopeful about the future. One of the things I've come to terms with in the past couple of weeks, is that I need to be there for myself, my true self, as I have before when I only had OCD. That means, saying "No" to intrusive thoughts about harming myself. Saying "No, I will not do that. I will not harm myself, I will not try to kill myself." And, even further, the most difficult thing: "In this moment, I am choosing life. I choose to live another day. I choose to stay alive, in spite of the part of me that wants nothing more than for the pain to end. Today, I choose to lay compassion and kindness over my pain - not more pain over pain." - From March 18 2015

“Give yourself credit today. You're getting through this moment, and you're going to get through the next one. You're working through this the best way that you can based on what you have available to you right now. Treat yourself well, kindly. I believe in you.
And, genuinely, I'm glad that you're still here. I'm glad that you exist, I would be sad if you left.” - From April 29th 2015

The spring semester was winding down and life was taking its toll. I made it through finals, but by the end of May and a three month waitlist ahead of me for the OCD-Institute, I felt suicidal again. 

Yet, I got help. June 2nd began my third hospitalization. 

“It has come to my attention by various professionals that I have in the past glorified suicide and self-harm, to myself, and since what I say comes out in writings or artwork or journals, you guys probably got a whiff of that too. My apologies! 

Speaking of.... It also has come to my attention that I lost myself somewhere down the line of having OCD, having depression, having suicidal ideation and just became them. Or, put another way, I started identifying myself as OCD/Depression/suicidal” - From June 15th 2015. 

And here, I began writing journals about positive music that inspired me and gave me hope, positive coping strategies, focusing on my recovery, doing art features. In November 2015 I was admitted into the OCD-I for five weeks where I got much help, treatment, wonderful groups and the ability to be my authentic self. 

In December I created a group on DA called Recovery-to-Wellness. At the end of January 2016 I returned to school. 

At this point in time, I’m somewhere around ten months clean from repetitive self-harm, with three lapses to that timeline. I’ve joined NAMI In Our Own Voice as a presenter spreading mental health awareness across Massachusetts. I’ve written articles for the Mass Media, our school newspaper, regarding my own experiences with mental health. 

While I’ve been feeling safe more of the time, I’m recognizing I need a bit of a reboot with a partial hospitalization. I dream of giving a TED talk a couple years from now about my mental health experiences. I’ll paint my own front door with a pastel iris over a green background. And I’ll keep on recovering, because I am strong enough, after all. 

Stay safe. 

(P.S. http://h-everybody-lies--md.deviantart.com/)


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About the art:

Raquel is one of my students at UMass Boston and I see her every day. I know her story well. So getting to her writing from her DeviantArt page—another topic she often discusses with me, as it being an incredible outlet for her to share her experiences. So it was wonderful to read more of her progress to this point in her life. I also used her DA screen name for the title of this story, as it is also a reference to the TV show, House, which is one of Raquel's favorite shows.

Raquel is a very brave human being that shares her story with many people and I admire that about her because it's so necessary in our culture. Raquel is active in the recovery community in the Greater Boston area and spreads the ideas of coping strategies and self-love while also managing her own struggles with her mental health.

Which is funny because in our Share Your Story submission page, survivors are given the option to be anonymous and Raquel responded, "You can plaster my name on a billboard if you'd like =)" So that should give you an idea of the type of person Raquel is when it comes to sharing her story.

So when it can to creating Raquel's piece of art, I knew it needed to be bright just like Raquel's smile! Raquel did request a tree and had the wonderful idea of having me mix the word, "recovery" into the roots of the tree—which I thought was a great idea! So I had fun with it. I love doing this sort of line work and am glad I got to do some for this piece.

I'm so thankful for Raquel sharing her story and I hope it inspires more folks to do the same. Raquel and I are hard at work on the UMass Boston campus, spreading positivity and coping strategies and I can't wait to see what happens next! Stay tuned!

- Craig