0156: I Was a Statistic

Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence, slut-shaming, and suicidal ideation as result - which may be concerning and/or triggering for some readers.


“I Was a Statistic,” Anonymous

I was a statistic. I was 1 in 6.

My story is not unlike many others. They were people I knew. People I trusted. People that have the opportunity to live their lives without any guilt, pain, or repercussions from their actions. I was a freshman in college at a small institution about an hour from home. When I stepped on the campus for the first time, with the intention of playing college athletics, I felt at home. A family member I looked up to attended there, so I was driven to also attend. The family member I looked up to had also joined a sorority while there. I fit in perfectly with that sorority and instantly bonded to those girls. I instantly felt at home again, especially since I hadn't felt as connected as I initially thought I would. I bonded with my pledge class, felt instant trust and love among my fellow sisters.

I was fun, I laughed, told ridiculous and dirty jokes, drank, smoked, danced, wore clothes I'd never dare to wear at home with my family and friends. I lived outside of my comfort zone constantly. I pushed the boundaries. I had also just discovered sex. And I loved it. If I liked someone, I flirted. If they flirted back, I flirted harder. I was really good at it, flirting that is. Well, I was also pretty good at sex. And it felt amazing. I guess I built up a bit of a reputation for myself. I enjoyed sex. I lived outside of my comfort zone. I flirted. I laughed. I had fun. Until I didn't.

I attended a fraternity event, called Formal. I got all dressed up with a borrowed dress from a friend and a brand new pair of red high heels I begged my mom to buy me. I did my hair in curls, I had my friends do my make up. I drank a little beforehand. I drank a lot during. Honestly, I drank most of a handle of rum. Mixed with soda, mixed with water, mixed with rum. I drank to a point where I couldn't remember drinking anymore. I don't remember how I got outside. I don't remember how these two males got me outside. I don't remember who pulled my underwear down. I don't remember who bent me over. I don't remember who penetrated me from behind. I don't remember who put their penis in my mouth.

I do remember realizing what was happening and saying no. I do remember staggering away, confused, barefoot, back inside. I remember seeing my "sister" and immediately crying. I remember being put into a car and taken back to campus. I remember trying to explain what happened, through tears and vomit. I remember waking up the next day, feeling the pain in my head, all over my body. I remember feeling disgusting. I remember my "sisters" explaining how much I drank, how the guys who did it were physically assaulted by their "brothers" for what they did - specifically that they tried to have sex with another brothers date. I knew that it wasn't just sex. Because I didn't remember it. I didn't remember flirting. I didn't remember liking it. How was it really sex?

I remember being approached in the dining hall by one of the guys, who told me "If I knew you were that drunk, I wouldn't have let that happen." I remember nodding my head and saying "okay."

I remember approaching the school counselor, explaining what happened because I couldn't remember much, but I didn't think it was sex. I remember being asked "what were you wearing?" and "how much did you drink?" and "what did you do to make them have sex with you?" I remember feeling like I was the one to blame.

I remember in the days to come, my "sisters" turning on me. They "heard the real story". How I threw myself at both guys. How I'd had sex with one of them a few weeks back, so of course he thought it was okay. How I had drank so much that I was putting myself at risk.

I remember being slut shamed by an ex-boyfriend. I remember getting text after text from him one night about how I was a SLUT, WORTHLESS, ASKING FOR IT, and that I should KILL MYSELF.

I remember feeling so alone. I remember wanting to die. I remember trying to die.

I also remember finding strength in those who believed me. I remember the time that it took for me to realize that it wasn't my fault. I remember hearing the stories of other victims, of other survivors, of other people just like me. I remember understanding that I was more than my experience. And now I know that I am not simply a number. I am one person who overcame. I am one person, among many, who experienced trauma, survived, and thrived. I am one person who takes each day as it comes, and understands that I will never really feel okay, but I will be okay. I am more than what I remember.

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.


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.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive" (Community Post)

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

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

Hello friends! Craig from Art of Survival here!

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

But first, some context -

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

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

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

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

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

That brings us to this weekend.

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

set two.jpg

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

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

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

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

There was an air of solidarity that evening.

These are their responses...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- "Somewhere I Belong," Linkin Park

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

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

About the Art of Survival:

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

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

0140: She Wanted It

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

"She Wanted It," Cathrine Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

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

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

- Emily

0133: Subhuman

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

"Subhuman," Michael Maluk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

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


Tattoosday 19: Don't Cut the Butterfly

Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with suicidality and cutting, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Don't Cut the Butterfly," Kelly Campbell

When I was 13, I started cutting myself. I was in so much emotional pain because of what I went through when I was younger, & cutting myself was the only way to relieve the emotional pain. It helped me get away. Not only was I cutting myself, I was suicidal too.

For 5 years, I didn't want to see another birthday.
Believe me, I tried, but God had other plans!

When I was 15, my mom found out about my cutting. I told her about the butterfly project & how it helps me, so we went out of town to go shopping & basically have a girls day. She bought a whole pack of markers & drew the butterfly on my arm. (If you've never heard of the butterfly project, it's when you draw a butterfly where you cut & if you cut it dies, if you don't cut it lives.) my mom checked the butterfly everyday to make sure it wouldn't fade. It helped me so much.

I not only looked at it as killing the butterfly, I also looked at it as killing her a little on the inside. So, for my graduation present, we got matching tattoos of the butterfly, & it's helped me ever since. I'm thankful for a mother like mine.

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!

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.


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.

Tattoosday 017: Zeus & Hermes

Content warning: The following story makes reference to suicide, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Zeus & Hermes," Rosie Heller

Many people think this is a Harry Potter tattoo. Totally valid misconception, and it doesn't bother me when that's what people assume. This tattoo-my smallest and least flashy and visible, is my most important. It's for my Zeus. I'll explain that right now. 

When I was 11 years old I went to theater sleep away camp for the first time. I was cast in a stage adaptation of Disney's Hercules, for kids ages 7-11. Clearly this is where I peaked. I was cast as Hermes, the loyal attendant to the mighty Zeus, played by 10 year old, Andrew. We instantly connected, as two theater nerds do. We stayed friends, and we would always joke about when we were in our prime: Zeus and Hermes. 

Andrew was magical because no matter who he met they were instantly drawn in to his witty and playfully cheeky sense of humor. Everything he said there was a twinkle in his eye where he made you feel like the most important person in the room, even when he was making a joke about you.

One day around the age of 13, he decided, and proclaimed in front of all our friends, that we were going to get married. This was on his birthday, which was the 4th of July. He then asked me non stop for a birthday kiss. I rolled my eyes and joked that he was "such a baby" and our recurring playful exchange was born. Every year on his birthday he would ask again, and remind me about our upcoming marriage. "Zeus and Hermes are destined to be together!" He would shout across the dining hall. The day would end with fireworks and a teasing kiss on the cheek from me, his faithful Hermes. 

I had never heard a negative comment from him. He was funny, friendly, and committed to those he cared about and his passions. After graduating high school he went to a fantastic school in New York City and started working with organizations that helped the homeless, as well as continuing his passion of theater in college. 

We would text and see each other now and then, and one summer, while I was 20 and he was 19, I decided to visit him in the city. Our summer camp days were over, but I had missed our friendship. We saw an improv show, got dollar pizza (his favorite), and drank Long Island ice teas at a bar where he knew the bartender. We talked about our lives and how simple they used to be back at summer camp, but how the future was exciting and unknown. When walking him back to his place, maybe it was the nostalgia or maybe the alcohol, but I felt compelled to kiss him. We did. It was friendly and comfortable. He smiled and said to me, "but it's not even my birthday!" We laughed, hugged, and went our separate ways. 

A week later I got a call from a mutual friend that told me Andrew had committed suicide. Nobody had known, and it was sudden to everybody in his life. I was shocked and instantly began thinking about what I should have said or done when I saw him. Nobody knew he was struggling, but through his laughter and optimism he was hiding something from all of us. 

The lightening bolt is for my Zeus. To remind me to stay optimistic, laugh, and positively affect those around me, just how Andrew did. 

To Zeus, I miss you. I hope I'm making you proud. Love, your Hermes.

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!

Tattoosday 012: Fight & Win

Content warning: The following story contains references to suicidality and mental health, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Fight & Win," Sylvester Gaskin

For most of my life, I’ve always felt out of place. I’ve never really felt like I had a community to connect with. I moved around a lot as a kid, so it was hard to keep friends. I’m a multiracial dude with a bad anxiety disorder, so trying to talk about both wasn’t a great conversation starter. However, the one thing that made me feel like I had a place in this world was with the faithful of the Seattle Sounders FC.

I heard about the Emerald City Supporters during one of my cohort meetings for my Doctorate program in Seattle. A colleague of mine went to a match, was warmly welcomed by the ECS, and told me “go…just do it and you won’t regret it”. So, during my last cohort weekend, I got two tickets for my old roommate and went to a match. Seattle vs. Portland. MLS Playoffs. I marched with the crowd from Occidental Park to CenturyLink Field, bought my first scarf, learned the chants, and just enjoyed the whole experience.

The one chant that stuck in my mind was “COME ON SEATTLE! FIGHT AND WIN!” For some reason, “fight and win” moved me. Maybe it was because I was struggling with my program and wondering if I could actually earn my degree. Or it was because my anxiety disorder had taken over my life and I was questioning my existence. Earlier that week I had contemplated suicide, however the thought of attending my first Sounders match gave me the strength to keep moving forward.

Once I sat with the Royal Brougham Faithful and felt like I had a family. I didn’t know any of the chants but some ECS members taught me. They were jazzed that a guy from Iowa would come all the way to the Pacific Northwest to drink Hefeweizen and take part in an amazing sports experience. Pretty soon after we scored our first goal, I’m high-fiving people, drinking beer and screaming at the top of my lungs. I felt at home.

Last summer, I was left in charge of my office during our busy season. I had little support from my superiors and was told by colleagues that they didn’t care for my opinions or ideas because I was just filling a seat until someone else took over. I was doing whatever I could to maintain a high standard of work and I was struggling. I had never felt so alone and my suicidal thoughts came roaring back with a vengeance. However, I took a trip to see Seattle play New York City FC in the Bronx with my partner. Once again, I was with my ECS family. I was a member of the faithful, yelling, cheering, singing “Roll on Columbia” and having a great time watching us win. That victory had me on a high for the rest of the summer. And I kept telling myself “fight and win” through that busy time.

I told myself that I was going to get “fight and win” on my arm so I could look at it and remind myself that I’ve got the inner strength to fight whatever anxious or suicidal thoughts come into my head. I purposely asked the tattoo artist to get as close to the blue and rave green of the team colors. I also had the semicolons replace the “I” in both words to represent the fact that I can keep going. I can honestly tell everyone that since I got the tattoo it’s saved me many times from all the negative thoughts that run through my mind. I stare at it at the gym when I need motivation to lift more and get my body right. I rub it before meetings where I know I’m going to be ignored. I read it before I sit down to my thesis and I prepare to defend my proposal and submit my research paperwork.

I can’t wait to go to my next match. It will be another chance to sing, to drink, to feel like I’m a part of something, and to yell “FIGHT AND WIN!” at the top of my lungs with so much meaning.

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!

0100: Enough is Enough

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

“Enough is Enough,” anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

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

- Emily

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.


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.

094: Finding the Comfort of Yourself

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

"Finding the Comfort of Yourself," Brian Walker of A Day Without Love

Since the age of 14, I have never felt exactly comfortable with who I am. In someways you can say it's because of growing up in an environment of where I was bullied, I witnessed urban violence and saw gunshots time to time in my neighborhood. But at 14, I moved to a safer neighborhood. I moved to the suburbs and I transferred to a suburban school. Did I change much? No things got worse. 

My only outlet was martial arts, I didn't have many friends but I felt empty. I was bullied, I was not exactly considered dating material and beyond all of the outside factors in my life that were not going very well, I did not feel very good about myself. 

At the age of 15, I started to verbally speak out about my own self hatred and how I did not like who I was. I did not like the fact that I was black because of the racist jokes that were made against me. I was not accepted by people in my own community and people of other races did not accept me. No matter what it was I didn't feel acceptance with myself. I then started to drink alcohol and found fairweather friends. 

Many of these people were not real friends, at 16 I started to find a deeper sense of hatred. Not only was I poisoning my body, I tried to kill myself. I tried to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash and took pills from my grandparents closet hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day. I wanted to kill myself in my own high school, I wanted to get run over by a car. I confessed these thoughts to my friends and started to get into therapy. 

At 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given pills to "fix me." These pills did not fix me, they destroyed me, I tried to take these pills with alcohol in hopes I would kill myself. I continued the therapy and I found out later that I was misdiagnosed. I switched doctors and was diagnosed with major depression. 

I found out that I had issues with trusting the person that I was and not being comfortable with who I was. My behaviors manifested this depression through insomnia, overeating, addiction to alcohol, and living a relatively balanced life. 

Ages 16 to 20, I went to therapy to try to improve myself. In some ways I made progress, but in other ways I still remained dependent, depressed and rife with self hatred. 

I didn't wake up feeling like I wanted to die everyday, but I still hated myself. Sometimes I medicated with alcohol. Other days I medicated with sex with strangers that I wasn't intimately or emotionally involved with.I looked for a medicine and nothing worked. I started playing music at 18, but I wasn't confident in whether I had the ability to even help anyone. 

You can check out Brian's new album,  Solace , as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here:  https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

You can check out Brian's new album, Solace, as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here: https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

At the age of 20, I stopped going to therapy, mostly this was due to the demands of my academic work. I haven't been able to go since because of time or the lack of financial abilities. But I have found a very healthy coping skill, music. 

Music has opened doors for me that I never thought I could have done and because of music among many other life changes and growing pains I have learned how to forgive myself and learn about myself. I recognize that my illness should not hold me back and I should never be a person who latches on to the idea of hating myself. I am learning how to think outside the box of myself and trying to tell a story to help people. I am taking strides to live healthier and treat my body better by living a non drinking lifestyle. I don't engage in harmful actions, I try to engage in more healthy intimate relationships. 

I still have hard days, but through music, playing and sharing my story I feel that my pain is less, and I am learning to find safety in my own body by trying to improve and allowing myself to feel. For so long I never allowed myself to feel and I am now more aware of what my depression has taught me and how I can now help others with the gift of music.


About the art:

We've held on to Brian's story for a minute. He submitted it back when we first interacted in July, shortly after I came across his powerful piece on being a black man in a white DIY scene, which you can read here.

I find Brian's writing incredible reflective and evocative of an experience that I can relate with on a number of levels, but also have no idea where to begin conceptualizing. I think that's the power in the storytelling approach that both he and I equip within our writing and our music. There's a vulnerability, a comfort in letting it all out and being free to share the innermost frustrations and fears.

I took to creating this piece by focusing on Brian's new A Day Without Love album, Solace. It's a gripping and heartbreaking exploration of a life riddled with anxiety, grief, love, and peace. I took the lines for this piece from the opening lines of his song, "Capacity." Which funny enough, I misquoted on the painting - instead of "brain," he says, "mind." But in talking with Brian, he said that "brain" was actually in the initial lyrics. So perhaps he and I aren't as dissimilar as lyricists as one might think.

I tried to emulate the color scheme from the album cover as well, which makes this piece pop in a way that many of my other pieces haven't. And I like that. It's an imperfect, messy, and vulnerable piece. Which I feel is all the more fitting.

- Craig.

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.

IMG_5862 (1).JPG

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.


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.


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