Strength is Found in Awareness & Help

C/W suicide, depression

Hello friends, welcome to our newest time and place. If you didn’t see the memo yesterday I am officially posting my blog on Thursdays because I have just found myself extremely tired on Wednesdays, so I have been using those days to heal. Healing looks like many things right now. Resting, first and foremost, but also scheduling my therapy on that day to help process what the last 7 days had brought me. Since I didn’t write last week, I’ll catch you up on what the last 14 days brought me.

The last two weeks were filled with a lack of energy to do much of anything. I felt completely void of motivation. I cried A LOT, more so than usual- which is A LOT, A LOT for “regular” people. My shower schedule went from every day, to every three days. I still brushed my teeth every day, twice a day which is honestly the biggest win of them all. I ordered takeout food every night, most of which was fast food, and most of which could have fed two people.

It is mental health awareness month, and with that I want to make people more aware of my experience with depression. This is something that I have sprinkled throughout all of my posts, but it is rarely the star of the show. Depression was a side character to enhance the more “important” story. I quote important here because in reality discussing depression is just as important as the other parts of the story, but the thing about vulnerability in writing is that it can be easier to write the story and hope the reader can read between the lines. Today, I don’t want there to be any messages between the lines. I want to be raw about my experience. I would also like to be raw about my experience of healing and processing and the journey that my life has taken.

This last week was a reminder that healing is not linear and as much as I hope and wish that old habits have died hard, I know they are still there, lingering around. In fact, the last couple of weeks my depression has been the worst it’s been in a year. I felt numb and tired. Anytime a person asked me how I was I would respond “Oh, ya know, just tired.” There it is again, the reading between the lines, hoping that someone recognizes the fact that I’ve been tired for two weeks and that isn’t normal. Praying for someone to ask me again, “how are you really though?” There is this fear that if we say how we really are we won’t get the response that we really need. We know we need the help though, so we leave context clues and hope one day someone picks up on it. It is interesting how subtly people ask for help because of this fear. I’ve picked up on it a lot in the work that I do. If you have someone always saying they are are tired, or when asked how they are always respond with the same answer, try asking them again. I like to call this phenomenon the folly of small talk. Sometimes people really don’t want to know how we are. So, there are these automatic lines we sprawl out like a red carpet for others to feel more comfortable. I loathe small talk. It is devoid of any real meaning and I think it should be canceled. In my opinion, if you don’t want to really know how someone is, don’t ask.

Okay, I am getting a little bit off topic, let’s circle back to my depression. Spending most of my life with, I’ve gotten good at hiding it from others and having my automatic answers lined up. My experience with depression has been a long and winding road, escalated by trauma. I have wished to be dead on countless occasions. Again, no reading between the lines. I would pray and cry and beg to go to sleep and not wake up. I recently read online somewhere (I wish I could remember where so I could give them credit) which said suicidal ideations are often the hope of getting rid of your current life for a new one. Meaning, people don’t necessarily want to die, they just want the life as they know it to be different. I wanted my life as I knew it to be different. The older I get the more my depression ebbs and flows, and the less I want a different life. I can go a long time without feeling any of it’s lingering effects and then one day I am triggered by something and it sets off this downward feeling. A feeling that is both slow and fast at the same time. I’ve done a lot of work around this and working through triggers. My recovery time is actually much quicker nowadays. Something I am proud of.

Working through depression though, is a battle. If you have watched Game of Thrones, you can recall the scene where Jon Snow is being trampled to death during the ‘Battle of the Bastards’. For those of you that haven’t seen it, he’s literally under a pile of humans all stepping on him, as he is gasping for air. While watching it you’re like “Oh yeah, he’s definitely going to die” and then somehow, against all odds, he comes out. Yeah, that is how I would describe battling depression. In fact, it’s a great title for the battle of depression as well. Those bastard voices in my head trying to keep me down and I have to come back ten times harder. It’s a muscle though and I know that the more I keep coming out of it and fighting back the easier and easier it gets. I think an example may help to get a better idea. I’ll walk you through a day of my worst depression this week. I’d also like to note that this experience is vastly more doable than what my depression looked like when I was younger. I have done a lot of work.

My alarm goes off, although I’ve only been partially asleep because my body can’t seem to shut all the way down. The sound of the alarm is not jarring, it is just irritation. I calculate how much longer I can stay in my bed, how much longer can I push the time? If I skip showering.. again.. I can lay here for another 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes I am not resting. I am thinking through a million different thoughts. ‘I wonder what today will bring? Why can’t I just get out of bed, it’s not like I’m actually sleeping right now? You are so lazy. I wish I didn’t wake up today. I wish, I wish, I wish..’ I finally role out of bed. I go into the bathroom where I convince myself that brushing my teeth is necessary. As I brush my teeth I look in the mirror and stare at the bags under my eyes. ‘Why do you look the way you do? Maybe because you didn’t wash your face again last night?’ I then talk myself into washing my face. I go the kitchen to get breakfast. All I want is junk food. I eat left over, cold pizza. I take my vitamins, hoping that they are the magic pill to make this feeling go away. I realize I only have 10 minutes to leave the house and then I rush around picking out an outfit, looking in the mirror at my hair realizing there is no time to fix it and leave. I bike or walk to work, knowing that it is good for me to get the exercise. That this will help with how I am feeling. It actually does. I get to work, where I know I have to have space for others trauma, so I leave mine at the door. Before I enter I remind myself that my pain is not important right now, this space is for them. Once in that space, I feel a little break. I hold space for other people, and my pain feels lighter, but by the the end of the day I am exhausted. I now I have my pain on top of there’s and I don’t know where to put it. I bike or walk home, again knowing that this is the most helpful thing I’ve done all day for myself. I get home and want to turn it all off. I turn on TV and watch something that I know will numb my thoughts. I order take out. Most likely shake shack for the 4th time this week. I eat the food in front of my screen. I eat it so fast that I barely remember what it tasted like. I feel full to the point that it hurts. I stare at the screen wondering why I just ate so much. The pain is so familiar and it makes me feel good, in the worst kind of way. I try to stay on my screen for as long as I can, so I can avoid hearing what I know I am thinking. I know those negative thoughts are swirling in there- you’re horrible. you’re disgusting. you’re unloveable. I finally make it to my bed where I spend another 30 minutes on my phone, trying to avoid the moment the noise all stops and I have to hear those thoughts. I finally turn the phone off and count down from 100. This helps me fall asleep and avoids the noise further. Finally I am asleep, but not really.

This is what a day with really bad depression felt like recently. Each step is hard and it is something that I mentally need to tell my body to physically do, otherwise it would just stay in that state, in my bed, not moving. I usually give myself a day, when I am feeling that way. I call it my depression day. It’s like a staycation for pain. I recognize that I’ve pushed my body far and it needs a break for a moment. I just kind of melt into my feelings and give it some space. I then spend the following 24-48 hours pushing back hard. Every negative thought has an equal and opposite reaction. This last spell though was a bit longer than 24-48 hours of pushing back. I think because there is just so much going on at once. Like COVID, depression, dating, trauma, drama is a lot for one girl to handle. But I still pushed back and I finally feel like I am finding a clearing. BLESSED.

What really helped me find the clearing though is therapy. I reached out to my therapist, who I hadn’t talked to in awhile, because for awhile I was doing really well. The second I realized this time felt a little different though I sent that email. I knew I needed support and I knew, as much as I love my friends and family, I needed a different type of support. The moment she came onto the screen I burst into tears. Not because I was sad, but because I knew there was space for me to just be. It was tears of relief, of all this pressure being lifted off. We talked for the full hour. I honestly could’ve talked to her for two hours. She reminded me of my strength and my ability to reach out when I need help. I had forgotten to recognize this as a strength. She helped my brain process in a way that felt like all the static was clearing and I could get a good image. She reminded me of different ways I can help myself, ways I didn’t even think about.

The most interesting part of our session was when we discussed my work. We were discussing how I should hold space for myself between patients. When talking about what I could do I said I have a meditation app and I could listen to that between each person. She looked at me with a puzzled face and said “Sarah, that really won’t help you. When you are experiencing trauma, even vicarious trauma, you are being heightened. You are disconnecting from you body. Meditation will only make you go higher. In those moments you need to remind yourself of where you are. You need to be in that room wholly.” She said “the best antidote for trauma is embodiment.” I was shooketh. All this time I’ve been told that meditation is basically the end all be all and here is my therapist being like ‘nah, that is not what you need.’ She talked about literally tapping my body to remind myself that it is here on earth, in that chair, in that place. So, for the last 24 hours, anytime I could feel myself leaving the room, I began to tap. My face. My chest. My legs. Tap. Tap. Tap. It brought me back every. damn. time. Brilliant and simple. My favorite kind of healing technique.

The thing with healing through, and depression, and mental health is that our stories all look different. Yet, we all have pain, we all have mental health, we all have feelings and we are all constantly trying to heal. The reason there is a month dedicated to awareness is because there continues to be this stigma that nobody else experiences these things and if you do experience this you are “not normal”. I have to argue the exact opposite. I can’t think of one person in my life that hasn’t experienced pain or that couldn’t benefit from therapy. We go to the doctor when we break our leg, but when we feel pain, when our hearts shatter into a million pieces, we think we have to heal it on our own. This is cultural. There are people trained in healing broken hearts. I beg, urge, and plead with you to help me break the stigma. Tell people that you hurt too, just like every normal human being, and that there is ZERO shame in seeking support in that. Isolation creates and perpetuates negative self-talk and feelings of depression. Culturally, we think we are being strong by not getting help, but in reality we are actually harming ourselves in ways we don’t even know. The reality is that being strong means we know we can ask for help and then doing just that.

Today, be strong- reach out for help and tell your story.

A[wo]men

P.s. Not sure where to start? May I suggest right here.

tap. tap. tap.

you are here 

in this space.

you are breathing

in this space.

you are living 

in this space.

you are

in this space.

-grounding

 

The Opinion of Others in the Context of Me

Hello and welcome to day 10 million of lockdown. I’m your host, Sarah Lorraine Robinson, and on tonight’s top stories we have murder hornets and rain. Let’s send it over to Tracy with the details.

Okay, so there is no Tracy and I will be damned if I am talking about anything with the word murder in it today. There is actually something much more important to discuss and frankly more vital to the world right now: Mental Health Awareness Month. This is absolutely one of my favorites months. Not only because we celebrate the ending of stigma for mental health and because people are especially honest and brave during this time; also because it is not too hot and it is not too cold… all you need is a light jacket. May has great weather.

In all seriousness though, this is something that is near and dear to my heart. Mental Health Awareness is all my blog is about. I celebrate everyday in the conversations I have and the own way I take care of myself. Mental Health, at least for me, is a constant, ongoing focus in my life and I feel so lucky to work in a profession that allows me to follow that passion. To all my fellow mental health professionals I just want to honor you and say thank you for working to end the stigma. This work is so very needed.

For this weeks post there is something specific I wanted to talk about when it comes to mental health. I was scrolling through instagram the other day, for several hours as one does during quarantine, and I came across a picture that said “who are you without the opinion of others?” I stared at the post that was just written in bold, black letters; no fancy image drawing my eye in, just plain text, and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t look away because I didn’t know how to answer.

I am, in layman terms, a people pleaser. I want people to like me, constantly. I am always concerned about how I am making other people feel. I spend A LOT of time and energy wondering what other people are thinking of me. Honestly, it can be one of the most exhausting parts of my personality. Who am I without the opinion of others? My own brain didn’t even know how to comprehend this question. This led me into a downward spiral. I spent literal days pondering this question. Eventually, the only clear idea I could start to see was that my mental health apparently lies directly on top of the opinions of others.

Well, then I became even more disappointed and when I become disappointed in myself I become mentally abusive. ‘What is wrong with you, Sarah? Why aren’t you stronger? Why don’t you know who you are? Can’t you just stop being a people pleaser? Can’t you just think for yourself? It’s no wonder you are depressed. You only care about other people. Do you even really matter?’ See what I mean by a downward spiral?

I’ve gotten a lot better at those thoughts being momentary and drifting in my life. I hear them out and then they float on by. This time though those voices started to make a connection for me. What are the opinion of others in the context of me? In reality, I don’t know. I’ve never been told by a person they hate me. I’ve rarely received negative feedback. I’m sure they are out there- the haters that is- but I haven’t spoken to them directly. So, this tells me that the opinions of others, those opinions that I am so terrified to hear, are actually just the projection of my own fears. This, my friends, was a lightbulb moment. Of course I am going to think a bunch of random people, who I don’t even know, hate me for a variety of reasons, because apparently I hate me for a variety of reasons. Okay, I don’t hate me, but there all these fears I have about myself, just like any normal human person. I.e. I’m scared of being annoying, so what do I think people are saying behind my back- that I am annoying AF.

What if I were to then change that narrative? What if instead of being scared that I am annoying, I am excited to be brave today? And then maybe someone else gets inspired to be brave today. What if I focus on the things I am striving to be and not the things I am striving not to be? CAN YOU IMAGINE? I can. Over the last day or so I have been trying to do just that, focus on what I want, not what I don’t want. I have to admit.. it has done wonders for my mental health, even in just two days. I’ll provide you an example from my morning run:

I woke up thinking about how today was a running day. The last time I went for a run, I wasn’t able to complete my goal and I became frustrated. This was coincidentally a day I was really thinking about that damn quote. I remember that run being filled with thoughts of ‘how would I run without the opinion of others? would I run at all? why is the sun so damn bright today?’ yada yada yada. So, today I used my new approach. I thought about what I wanted. I didn’t say things like “I don’t want a repeat of last time.” Instead I said things like “I really want to make this goal. I bet it will feel good to meet it.” I even (and this is real hippy dippy, so get ready) imagined myself finishing the goal. That’s right, baby, manifestation at it’s finest. This all led to me being gentler during my run. I said things like “I know you can do this. It isn’t a race, so take your time. You can complete this at any pace you’d like.” And guess what? I did it. I finished my goal and felt so freaking fantastic.

If we add this all up, I guess what I am trying to say is that in reality my mental health did not lay on top of the opinion of others. My mental health was and is about the opinion of myself. It’s those voices, the inner child wounds, the narrative we tell ourselves- those are the opinions we are hearing. The strongest people I know, the ones that could be told to their face that they smell bad and look ugly and they just shrug it off and say ‘eh, guess I wasn’t their type’, they are the ones that have those strong inner narratives.

I am working on that inner narrative. I am working to understand that the most important relationship I have is the one I have with myself and that the opinion of others are irrelevant in this context. If you find yourself in a similar position, always wondering how others see you, try taking some time to sit in those fears and then flip them on their head. What do you want to be? Not, what do you not want to be. And as always if that sounds like too much right now, just try for a moment altering one small word or opinion.

You may be surprised on the impact even the smallest changes can make.

A[wo]men

boom. boom. boom. boom. boom.

it helps to know your heart beats,

only for yourself.

-where to start when changing the narrative

Our Own Best Ally

Hello friends. It feels like it has been years since I last wrote even though it was only a week ago. The reason for this is I had the… FLU… dun dun dun. It was awful. I didn’t leave my house for two days, everything hurt and I thought my life was ending. Obviously, I don’t do very well with being sick. Most of the time I use my sick days for mental health needs or bad headaches. I don’t usually get puking sick. So, when I do I am a total wreck. Today though, I am feeling totally better and it feels good to be sitting in front of my computer in a Starbucks, in public, even if I am sweating profusely because that is the most I’ve moved my body in awhile. It is a nice change of scenery and my body is happy to be in a different setting as well. I love my apartment, but one can only watch so much Netflix. Didn’t know I had my limits until now.

While I am excited to be writing, I also know I don’t want to push it, so this may not be the longest post. I am just going to listen to my body, trust myself- a practice I have been working on for awhile and through this flu was reminded of.

While I was sick a lot of things came up for me and some of those thoughts took me aback and I want to process them with you all because I have a feeling I am not alone in this. As someone who has been through different eating disorders and struggled with my body I sometimes get these automatic toxic thoughts. For instance, when I started to puke my first thought was, ‘well, I bet I’ll see the scale go down at WW’. As soon as I thought it I felt sad. Sad that those thoughts still consume pieces of myself; sad that I was trying to justify my bodies pain; sad that I was even thinking about weight in that moment.

I then took a deep breath. I rubbed my stomach and I apologized. I said how sorry I am for thinking that way. I then dove into where that thought came from. This was also a way for me to not think about my nausea for a brief moment. I sometimes struggle with this idea of honoring all my thoughts when in those moments I want to beat those thoughts with a bat. I know though that they are there for a reason and I need to give them the space. So I asked myself “why did you think that?” I took another deep breath and closed my eyes. Maybe WW is too much for you right now? Maybe I watched too much romantic reality tv shows and feel gross compared to them? Perhaps dating is bringing up a lot of insecurities in myself and I tend to equate thinness to love? Perhaps, I feel guilty about not being at work and I want to think about anything other than not being there? This went on for a while. I just let all these thoughts cross my mind and swirl in and out. I sat there for about 15 minutes with a million thoughts crossing.

Then, I opened my eyes and sat in front of the mirror. My sick face, drooping, white, sickly; my eyes bulging and blood shot, unable to stay closed due to the fact that I needed the toilet every 30 minutes; my hair drenched in sweat, stuck to the sides of my face. I just sat there looking at every inch of myself, reminding myself that my body takes care of itself. I am sick because something needs to get out and my body knows that. I thought about how powerful that is. How innate it is for our bodies to just care for us, no questions asked. So, I used that when I looked in the mirror. I said out loud “I want to take care of my body- innately and unconditionally.” Those other thoughts are just leftovers from a time I didn’t trust my body.

I then got up and puked.

After I finished that up, I laid on the couch and rubbed my stomach. I called my mom and told her how much pain I was in and she told me to just rest and that it will pass and, of course, she added “if it doesn’t pass in the next few hours, go to the ER.” It did pass though. Just like that thought, the pain subsided. I rested and healed just as I knew my body could.

Yesterday, during that healing, while my body felt like it got run over by a bus, I decided to do some Yoga with Adriene for illness. It was nice to gently move my body and stretch out the parts of myself that were crunched up for 24 hours. The thing I loved the most though was how the video ended. She said when she is sick she uses the affirmation ‘my immune system works perfectly’. With our hands at our hearts we both repeated those words. As I spoke those words into the universe, I recalled my moment from the day before. A sense of relief just wafting all over myself.

I think all of this is to be a reminder that A) things are always changing and B) we can/should learn to trust our bodies more. I used to push those thoughts away, not give them the time of day. Now, letting myself explore why I had that thought and all the things that came along with it allowed me to realize that I am not in that same place. It gave me a moment of self-reflection that I wouldn’t have gotten if I just shut it down immediately.  I suggest learning to trust yourself- I promise it feels so much better than being an enemy of yourself. “They” always say you are your own worst enemy, but I would argue that we are our own best ally. 

I would also argue that we could all do better at washing our hands.

A[wo]men

a reflection
in the water,
in the mirror,
in the window,
in the puddle,
in the broken glass.
always-
you
-wherever you go.
rooting for you.
-your number one fan

The Battle of the Secrets

Hello beautiful souls. Welcome back and I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts of 2020 thus far. I just wanted to start by saying that I will not be having an interview piece for the month of January, but they will be back and better than ever starting in February. Which reminds me, if you are invested in telling your own story feel free to contact me and let me know.

Okay, now that housekeeping is out of the way, let’s get to the goods. I have been feeling some type of way and I’ve enjoyed exploring those feelings more as of late. Interestingly, I have started a new form of birth control that I swear has evened out my hormones. I know a lot of people say they feel more mood swings with the pill, but I have never felt more even keeled. I am sure there are a lot of factors that go into why I am feeling like this, but I really think that is one of them. Now, when I say more even keeled, it does not mean I am not emotional. I still cry on the regular, don’t you worry y’all, gotta get that release somehow. However, those low-lows that I used to have, get less and less. I haven’t had a real low-low in about a month, which is impressive, if I do say so myself. Plus, that low was triggered by alcohol which I have been avoiding as well. So, I am sure that has helped a lot. While I do feel more stable there is an area of my life that is bringing up a lot of feels and a lot of what I’ve been exploring this past month.

Ey-yo, low self-esteem check! (Tiktoc reference, for you oldies. JK I’m old, but I like to stay up-to-date on what the cool kids are doing). But seriously, I’ve been feeling not very powerful and it has been really interrupting my groove. As someone with a history of eating disorders, the new year is the hardest time. Everyone around me is talking about their diet; the weight they have gained over the holidays; the desire to be thinner, thicker, taller, shorter, beefier. Every “I just need to loose 5 lbs, 10lbs, 100lbs” scatters about me and I don’t know how to respond. I oscillate between wanting to be happy with who I am and wanting to be thin. Should I want to loose weight? Should I not? How do I feel about myself? So many thoughts constantly echoing in my brain. “The Biggest Loser” flashes across my screen and  brings me back to the image of fat people puking while a thin person berates them. I play Demi Lovato’s new song Anyone on repeat while I think about all the things she has overcome and how glorious she looked on that stage at the Grammy’s.

Last night, with Demi in mind, I stared into the mirror and I saidyou are worthy of everything you want’ and I began to cry because I didn’t know if I believed it or not. Everyday I wonder if I am loving myself correctly. In this instance, is self-love admitting that I want to change? Is it wanting to feel okay in my current skin? Is it both? I think it is both… No, I know it is both. Why can’t I have a desire to change while also loving who I am? Both can exist at the same time and both can be a beautiful admittance. My worth does not depend on whether I want to change or not. My worth is a value that comes from  inside of myself, even on the days I get self-love wrong, I am worthy.

This morning I stared into the mirror and I said ‘you are worthy of everything you want’ and I began to cry because I knew it was true whether I believed it or not. That’s thing about being gentle with yourself. It’s okay to be exactly who you are at all times, even when it feels like you might be a walking paradox. It is hard to feel worthy, unless you start to accept pieces of yourself that might feel scary to accept.

In light of this revelation, there is a secret I have been keeping to myself that I feel I need to let out. I joined Weight Watchers again and typing that is really scary for me. There it is, out in the open. Even just typing it out loud feels liberating. I think this is scary for me to admit because it feels like I am failing in some way, like wanting to change means I don’t just fully embrace who I am now and that means I am doing self-love a disservice and everything I’ve said before is a lie. The thing is though, that I do love myself as I am today and I want to be able to eat more reasonable portions and I wouldn’t mind losing weight. I do not want to feel shame or guilt in that. Weight Watchers, to me, is a place where I find community, where I can talk about my struggles with eating and feel no judgement. It feels so good to not be holding that in any longer.

Keeping secrets is a heavy weight to carry around. As a social worker, I think the number one phrase I’ve heard in my position is “I’ve never told anyone that before“. After they say it, their change in body language can only be described as amazing. There is always a deep breath and a feeling of relief. The power that I witness firsthand in letting out a secret is one of my favorite parts of the work I do. I feel that feeling each week as I sit at my computer. Each post accompanies a deep breath and feeling of relief.

There are pieces of me that are hard for me to admit, but with each blog post, with each conversation with a friend, with each confession, I feel more and more worthy of what I want. It all starts with ripping the bandaid. Telling your secrets to the air, your pet, a piece of paper, a computer screen, a trusted friend, a stranger, your therapist – is powerful. Scream it out or whisper it quietly. Secrets that we keep inside are the real parts of ourselves that we need to battle. Today, take out your sword and be brave- tell a secret you’ve been holding on to. If you don’t have anyone/thing to tell, you can tell me. Just go to my contact page and if you want to remain anonymous just make up a name and email. I just want you to know that you have a place here that is safe. I feel safe in telling you my secrets and I hope you feel the same in return.

Today I am going to be brave alongside you and I am going to tell three more secrets before the day is done. You will be able to find them on my Instagram page.

A[wo]men

i feel the aching-

today in my chest,

yesterday in my bones,

tomorrow in my stomach.

it will always linger,

always want out.

i close my eyes,

open my mouth,

let the words

escape my lips

i’m free.

-letting go of secrets

 

 

 

 

 

Gut Reactions

Hi friends, it has been a wild ride these last 7 days and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Well, if I am being honest I can’t wait to just let it all out and maybe it will make me feel better and more at ease. Before I dive into the events of the week though, I would like to say that I got a lot of feedback about my winter appreciation post and there are definitely great things about winter that I forgot to include. Most importantly, the solitude found during a winter hike because everyone else is at home afraid of the cold. That is a solid addition to that list.

C/W sexual assault and violence

Now that I’ve updated that, let’s just dive right in shall we. On Friday morning I was in a fantastic mood. I had a delicious breakfast and a great nights rest and it was Friday. Even though I work on Saturdays, Fridays are inherently great because everyone has good energy about the weekend. It rubs off on ya. Here I am boppin’ along, when I get to the train station and realize the D train is crowded AF. I was already cutting it a bit close with getting to work, so I took a deep breath and said ‘Sarah, ya just gotta get on this one. You don’t have time to wait for the next one.’ Some context to this fear of crowded trains might be needed.

My first year in New York I had an internship that required me to take two trains and a bus. It was a nightmare, especially for a new time New Yorker. One day I entered this extremely crowded train. About 2 minutes into the ride, I could feel a man groping my ass. The train was so crowded, I could barely move. I froze. I just remember making eye contact with the woman across from me who could see what was happening and we both had a tear in our eye. In our fight, flight, or freeze response we both seemed to freeze. I couldn’t breathe and immediately got off at the next spot trying to catch my breath. It felt like I was being suffocated. In that moment, I made a vow to never get on a crowded train again if it didn’t feel safe to do so.

Fast forward to Friday, where I felt uncomfortable entering that train, but did it anyway. I even thought to myself ‘Sarah, we don’t like crowded trains.. can’t we just wait for the next one’ but then I was like ‘no, we’ll be late to work then’. There I am, denying my gut response. DAMN YOU CAPITALISM. Then, I get on this train and I was doing everything I could to focus on being calm. This train was so packed I couldn’t even manage to move my arms to take my backpack off, so I left it on not thinking anything of it. I had meditation playing in my head phones, I was rubbing my fingers together, and I was doing some heavy deep breathing just to keep my cool. Then it happened. I felt movement on my back and my brain immediately had me freeze. ‘It’s happening again’ I thought ‘this man behind me is trying to touch me.’ I focused even more on my breathing as the train conductor announced “folks, we are stopped due to some train traffic ahead of us. Should be moving shortly.”

When I get in situations where I start to feel panicked I repeat to myself ‘you are safe. you are safe. you are safe.’ I also knew I had to do something to get this man to stop what he was doing. I made eye contact with him and began to shift my body so he wouldn’t have access to my backside. The movement from behind ceased after the eye contact and the train began to move again. As we pulled up to the next stop this man said ‘oh, is this grand street?’ in a very booming voice. All I could think in my head was please leave, please leave. He bolted off the train and I felt like I could breathe again.

The following stop was my own. I took another deep breathe said ‘you are safe’ and started walking to work. As I was nearer too my job, I went to pull out my ID to get into work. Moving my backpack forward I noticed my zippers were open and I realized what had actually happened. That person behind me was not trying to touch me, he was stealing from me. I dug into my backpack to find my wallet was missing. I was upset, but also very aware that the things in that wallet are replaceable. Except for the business card I kept in there from my first job as a real life social worker, but what are ya gonna do? I cancelled my cards. I took a deep breath, I tried to move on with the day. I even saw a patient. It was helpful to talk to someone else. After my first patient I went to grab my chap stick from my front pocket… That’s when I realized, he also stole my keys.

I couldn’t breathe. Again, I didn’t care about the keys themselves, those are replaceable as well. However, all I could think was that this man now has my address and my keys. He can get into my building. He can steal more of my things. He can hurt me. I made eye contact with this person and knew exactly what he looked like. My imagination is incredible, both a blessing and a curse. I went into full blown panic attack mode as images of this person entering my home and hurting me kept sweeping across my brain. It was like a scary movie that I couldn’t turn off. Anxiety looks different for many people. For me, it is often in the form of images that play in my head over and over and over. I try to use mindfulness and deep breathing to “let the images pass like a cloud” but sometimes that bullsh*t doesn’t work; sometimes all I can do is let the anxiety take over. And I think it’s okay to let it take over. It was telling me that something wasn’t okay, and it wasn’t okay.

I left work and started to break down the things I had to do. Call landlord, cry, get locks changed, cry, go to police station, cry. FYI, my landlord, who was extremely unhelpful, shared that she would not be changing the front door lock because “it’s too many keys to replace”. Welcome to New York, where money is more important that the safety of humans.  So, this man does not have access to my apartment but can still get into my building. Also, the cops were just okay. I am scared of police stations and that made me cry more. They also couldn’t decide who has jurisdiction for like a full hour because I was on a moving train. COOL. I am not exhausted or anything. Thanks for your speedy assistance.

So what is the point of all of this? Well, many people have told me it’s a lesson. A lesson to not keep all your credit cards in one place and to not keep your backpack on your back and you know, all the blaming done to people that have a crime done to them. I, of course, think I learned all of these things, but that wasn’t the real lesson for me. The real lesson for me, and that I want to share with all of you, is about listening to the gut.

9 times out of 10 when my gut is telling me something, I tend to ignore it. Perhaps it’s from years of being told I was “crazy” “overreacting” and “stupid” when my gut would start to tell me something. Now, I often chalk it up to anxiety or being dramatic or the moon. I would like to call bullsh*t on it right now. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for about as long as I can remember. Both are significantly better, but are also used as an excuse to not listen to how we’re feeling. It’s a fine line understanding when it’s your anxiety and when it’s a man actually stealing from you and invading your personal space. Where do we draw the line and is it even a line? Does it oscillate between the two, combining reality and fears? How do I know when to listen to myself and how do I know when to not?

I think that is it really. We should always be listening to ourselves. There shouldn’t be a time that I think my thoughts are irrelevant or not important; whether it is my anxiety or not, my brains only goal is to protect myself. My anxiety is a part of me and all my parts of me care if I survive. Why shouldn’t I listen to that?

I want to clarify- I think we should do things that scare us. I want to jump out of a plane one day and I know my anxiety is going to be like ‘girllll, you cray,’ but there is a difference between feeling comfortable with the fear versus feeling frozen with fear. If I am to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe, I need to be able to listen to that. I need to be able to say something is not right here and I don’t have to brush it off or take a deep breathe to change the way my brain is working. I want to be able to say that I don’t think I should get on this train and then no get on the train.

Society today seems to be so insistent on quick changes, on deep breathes, and slowing down. Sometimes, it doesn’t help to slow down; sometimes we need to be alert and respond. This is all to say, that you, my lovely reader, are the expert of your own being. You should listen to your body and trust that no matter how you are feeling, there is a message behind the feeling, a message saying ‘I want to keep you safe’.

Stay safe my friends and maybe don’t go on crowded trains. I am re-entering that vow with myself.

A[wo]men

Go f*** yourself.

-A poem for my robber