Back to Me By Miriam M.

While growing up, I always thought that I would meet a guy, fall in love, get married, and have a beautiful family. I never thought love would be complicated, and to this day, it is still somewhat of a foreign subject to me.

I never dated in high school, so college was where I’d fall in love. He was a wonderful person. Smart, ambitious, kind, and down for any adventure. My family loved my boyfriend; they welcomed him in with open arms. He had his issues, but I was the perfect person to fix them. He had just gotten out of the military, so his PTSD became a problem. He couldn’t handle stress well. The smallest things could set him off. I would be a bystander to his destructive behavior, all while going to school, working two jobs, and still getting to know him. 

Selflessness quickly became my favorite poison. Seeing my boyfriend struggle with PTSD alone, without his family, only left him with me. Without his request, I slowly began to give up parts of myself to mend his broken pieces. I was there ready to hold his face between my hands, to bring him back from whatever tormented him that day. Everything and anything he wanted, I made it happen; I was addicted. I wanted him to trust me, to know I genuinely cared for him. I loved him. But I was playing a role, running into battle, needing to be the superhero, and forgetting it wasn’t my war to fight. 

Parts of me died; un petit mort, which came with letting go of the one place I enjoyed the most, school. It was a euphoric feeling walking into campus with my books and backpack in hand. The area was always buzzing with students eager to learn like me. I can still feel the cold morning against my young face—the first in my family to attend college. I was ready to take on the world. I had my path set. It would lead me to CSUF, or if I was brave enough, to my dream school, the University of Washington State, go Huskies. Yet with one phone call, I would leave my favorite class to go find him. Before I knew it, I was officially a college drop out. 

“It’s just for now,” he would try and comfort me.

I became his assistant/number one fan. Together we commanded an ocean of stories and art for his work projects. I was all ears for his ideas and creativity. I applauded his talent and became a critic of many designs. I rushed here and there, keeping track of what he needed, all while “making sure my energy was calm” as not to disturb his meditation, per his request. 

Don’t get in the way of my career; I want you to know that I will always choose it over you,” he spoke truthfully. 

I believed him. I kept my distance, waiting for him to look for me because I knew that I could get burned if I reached for him. 

It was only a matter of time before I found myself saying my goodbyes to my mother and siblings. My mother had to see me go once again as I would make my way up north to be with him. She was happy for us, and I was excited to follow him to the Evergreen State. Washington State had been my second home even before I lived there. So green and clean, so fresh and beautiful. This was it, our antidote. Even if it came with the price of being miles away from home, the furthest I’d been from those I loved.

Loneliness crept in, depression a comfy blanket. My strength was gone; my weight tipped the scale. Even though this man was with me, in reality, I was truly alone. In his eyes, I had no reason to be depressed, so he left me there alone. I should have known. Nothing was going to make him happy. My heart weighed heavily when those blue eyes judged me. So he was right; I was ridiculous. Me, depressed? How pathetic. I made myself useful. I woke him up to his favorite breakfast: eggs, bacon, and toast filled the weekday mornings. I bought good coffee; dark chocolate cherry was his favorite. The coffee was ready to go by the time he drove up to Seattle. Its sweet aroma would dance around the car and relax him on his long drive to school. 

When he was gone, I scrambled to occupy my time with anything; I had to beat my debilitating depression. A depression that made me breathless brought me to tears and momentarily stripped me of strength. After he left, I survived. I sat on the window sill that overlooked the lake. I drank my coffee and watched the sun climb up the horizon. Its warmth settled within me, burned through the loneliness. But the thought of him returning home tormented me.

 “What did you do today? Did you take the dog out? Is the room clean? Did you do something productive since you stay home all day? Leave me alone; I had too much of a stressful day to hear about what it is you claim to need.” 

I was trapped with no family near, no friends, and no money. I couldn’t drive anywhere because I didn’t have a car. 

“Honey, how are you guys doing? I miss you,” my mom’s concerned voice came through the phone. 

I’m fine, mom. We are doing good. He is going to school, and I’m here. You should see the view from my window right now,” I choked back the tears.

“Good. Well, I’m glad you have him. He is a good man, and it seems like he is supportive and taking good care of you. Tell him I said hello,” she said with relief.

Right, I will,” I said blankly, staring at the glistening lake as I scratched Zeus’s ear. 

Zeus was well cared for, his dog. I knew how much he loved him. I did too; he was my only affection at my weakest moments. The pup’s earthy brown eyes would stare into my soul, reassuring me this sadness was momentary. 

“I sure hope so, Zeus. I don’t feel well,” I wondered if he understood me as he set his furry face on my shoulder. 

My loneliness became a thing of the past when we met Angela and Jacob. They were married and had come back from their trip to Peru. Angela is Peruvian, a strong, independent Latina who never stood quiet in the face of injustice. Por fin!! A person I could speak Spanish with. A person who understood my struggle. Washington wasn’t as diverse as California. Our Latinx blood was our instant bond, sharing our favorite Spanish songs, novelas, and our cultures’ delicious food. 

Tuesday morning, rainy and gloomy, just like yesterday. Perfect! Angela and I made our grocery lists. We both grabbed our North Face raincoats, Angela’s jade green, and mine an onyx black. I weaved around my neck, the colorful Peruvian scarf she had gifted me. We were both excited about our morning grocery shopping trip. As usual, we drove through the rain and reached our favorite coffee shop drive-thru (part of our grocery trip ritual). 

“We would like two 12 oz. Strawberry white on white, please,” Angela said. 

With our coffees in hand, we made our way to Fred Meyer. Together we moved from one food section to the next. I spotted some caramel popcorn and rushed to it. 

Angela sighed.

“What? He loves it! And I like getting him little treats,” I said.

“Nothing, I remember when I was like you. It’s the honeymoon phase. I used to treat Jacob like a king, but it has to go both ways,” Angela smiled. 

Right, I silently thought as I looked at the popcorn I held in my hands. I looked up at my friend, and in her eyes, I could see a question bubbling up. So I waited.

“Can I ask you something?” She asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Do you enjoy it?” Angela asked.

“Enjoy what?” I was confused.

“Do you enjoy doing all that you do for him? You cook, clean, go shopping, have two jobs, and still please his every need. I understand you are supportive of his dreams, but all he gets to do is take care of Zeus and write. You do everything else. I talked to him last time, and he said you like doing everything else.” Her eyes were intense as they searched for the truth.

“No, I don’t enjoy doing everything,” I admitted.

“Then why-” she got cut off as she looked past me.

“I’m open over here, miss for check out!” A cashier interrupted, waving at us.

My heart ached; what Washington had to offer didn’t suffice. Again, we found ourselves saying goodbye to our friends. With a heavy heart, I had agreed to move back to California with him. The clouds were replaced with sunny blue skies—Mount Rainier and the luscious green trees by palm trees. I was happy to be home, but I still longed for the constant rain that once kissed my face every day. He went back to school but soon felt he was beyond it, so he dropped out. We found stable jobs and life settled. Unsatisfied yet again, he asked for a year off to focus on his acting and screenwriting career. I agreed. And since I would be the only one working, we would go live with my family. 

My family was a handful at times. We often found ourselves arguing about them. There was a language barrier for him, so I translated everything and included him in everything that I could. 

Maybe you should learn Spanish. I can help you, and we can start having conversations to practice,” I excitedly suggested.

No, learning Spanish isn’t a priority,” he shot the idea down.

He pushed me out and started to argue with me more. He’d say that I didn’t understand him or how I wasn’t supportive enough. I began to stress out more. I had issues with my family that I refused to share with him because he would bring them into our relationship and arguments. 

“Why are they so inconsiderate! Don’t they see how they are affecting us?!” He angrily exclaimed.

“I don’t understand why we are arguing about this again! I was just venting! What I said has nothing to do with us,” I cried. 

Here I was again, alone. I stopped sharing my thoughts. He no longer asked. 

“You know you aren’t obligated to be with him. If you aren’t happy, you can leave the relationship,” my cousin Jenny said. I couldn’t hold it in any more people were starting to notice.

What was wrong with me? 

I mean, was I really a crazy jealous woman like his ex? I didn’t think so, but I fixed that. 

I showed him I cared, but he said I didn’t, so I fixed that too. 

Standing in the way of his success? I fixed it by making myself small, which always seemed to be helpful for him. 

I’m not good enough for you? That one hurt. Mostly because your actions shouted this before your lips tore at my heart. 

I used to think maybe someone else could better fit next to you. The image tortured me as I compared myself with her.

But I never left. 

I tried harder. 

Before I knew it, I had given more than I should have. I was dreaming of freedom but never strayed from the plan: love, marriage, and a happy family. Besides, I didn’t know what my family would say. I didn’t want to be alone. But I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Who was this empty woman, wearing my brown eyes? Walking around like a zombie. 

I felt ashamed to want to let him go. But I had a month to think and clear my head, and so did he; we were on a break. Anxiety bubbled up within me:

“There is a distance between us. I know you feel it,” I searched his blue eyes, “I think it would be best if we parted ways. I’m so sorry but I can’t-

So that’s it! You are giving up on us just like that?” He asked. 

I felt guilty. His eyes were full of pain. Pain that I still couldn’t make go away. I was just making it worse.

“I’m not giving up. I just don’t feel the same anymore. I’ve given every part of me. I have Nothing left. It’s the best for both of us,” I tried to make him understand.

You won’t find anyone else out there. You know what?! I always thought you weren’t worth enough to be with me,” He spat. 

I know,” I held in my tears.

“At least I won’t have to deal with your troubles anymore…” He scoffed. 

I didn’t defend. I didn’t fight. I froze, letting the man I love take his final blows. In my mind, I remembered Angela’s concerned light brown eyes questioning everything I did for him. “Why do you do so much for him? Does he do the same for you? He is fine. He needs to pull his weight now. It’s your turn to be vulnerable. It’s your turn to have him behind you.” These old words burned with truth, my blindfold falling softly to the floor. 

I began to open up more to my friend at work. I would catch her on her break. Up until that point, I started feeling like a wildfire. I was set ablaze, uncontrollable, refusing to burn or destroy anyone but myself. I didn’t want to be alone amidst the loneliness and chaos reigning within. But once my friend shared her experiences with me, I wasn’t alone; instead, reassured that everything would be okay. It helped that all my friends were supportive of the decision I had taken. And though the fear of loneliness and failure still had its grip on me (Will he be okay? What now?) I remained vulnerable. 

Letting go was difficult. The change was even scarier. I was beginning to take root, and all of me wanted to blossom. My family was shocked when I told them about the decision I had made. My mother questioned if I was using sound judgment, but said she would support me either way. My aunts and uncles were behind my choice, supporting my growth as a person, which they understood I wanted and needed. My friends were happy that I was finally choosing myself. I was finally putting me first. 

 “I’m proud of you.” Angela had seen me through. 

But one of my dear aunts was sad to hear the news. She thought I was making a mistake; she still thinks it’s a mistake. She said I could have been married and with a child by now, but that I’ve let such an essential part of life go.

“Do you know what is the most important thing in life?” She asked me.

“Yes, my happiness,” I answered her. 

I wasn’t mad at her for saying this to me. It was part of our culture, where she grew up and how she’d grown up. I understood her. She was unmarried and had no children. She didn’t want what she felt was a lonely life to be mine as well. And to be honest, I share her fears. I fear I won’t find a man to share experiences with, who will admire me and love all my scars. I fear that the spot next to me will remain forever empty on the adventures I have planned. Fearful that my belly will never grow to give life. But those fears have been tossed aside; those fears won’t eat me alive. 

In the course of my growth, I have continued to lose some relationships. I have discovered what is needed for my good. Others are awed at my change and wonder where the old me went. She didn’t go anywhere. The old me just sprouted wings to fly into new skies. Ending my four-year relationship to focus on myself was just a baby step in my long journey to self-love. A journey I still struggle with today—many steps forward and some steps back. As I push onward in my growth, my friends and family cheer me on. I’m slow to learn how to self reflect and be proud of how far I’ve come. I never think its enough. I’m my worst critic. I know I haven’t fully healed from my previous relationship. Some wounds have been wrapped and ignored, only now nursing myself back to life again. Painfully and slowly. I stare at the bits and pieces of the person that once stood in my shoes. I fear her. But because I fear her, I fight for her. 

My friends pause me from time to time, to hold the moment and say cheers. Cheers to me. Cheers to my smile that rises with the sun every day. Cheers to these wings that have begun to take me places. Cheers to the love and kindness I have shown to myself. Cheers to the strength I didn’t know I had—here’s to the amazing person I am and my ability to continue. 

Miriam M.

Dear Miles by Jessica A.

The past few months without you have been the best and worst days of my adult life. I made the mistake of making our relationship my identity, and by losing it, I lost myself. I had no idea who I was without you, but I’m discovering her now, and she’s amazing. The journey to get to this point has not been easy, though. I lied to everyone for months after you left. I was terrified of finally letting you go. And if I told my family, it all would have become a part of my reality, I couldn’t go back, and part of me still wanted to stay in the dream I created to survive.

I knew I needed to finally tell my family about you, but this time everything. I had been living a second life for the past eight years protecting you, us. I never wanted to burden others with the weight of my pain, not even my own family. You always made me feel like my emotions were a nuisance. I didn’t feel safe with you, my supposed “other half,” so how could I feel safe with anyone else? I didn’t want people to know I needed help, I didn’t want to look weak. You made me feel like I was weak. You denied me the strength I so desperately begged from you, and I couldn’t find my own, so I relied on you for everything but truly got nothing from you.

The night before my plane ride home, I felt an overwhelming amount of anxiety. My anxiety used to irritate you, remember? You never supported me when I needed you most. You never educated yourself on my mental health conditions; instead, you belittled me for them. And I exhausted myself trying to fix them for you, trying to be perfect for you. I had so many other struggles I was going through alone, but I worried most about losing you. I loved you. We had built a life together regardless of that life’s semantics and significant letdown. I worked for it, I put my everything into creating something you only ever benefited from. Why couldn’t you do the same?

On the morning of my flight, I requested an Uber and gave them a heads up that I had Nala with me, but they said they couldn’t take me if I had her. Remember Nala? She was our baby. The puppy I planned on raising our kids around. I know she misses you. Do you miss her, at least?

I requested another Uber and called to confirm that my puppy would be okay with this driver, and they said, yes. We started chatting about his dog, and eventually, he brought up his ex-boyfriend. I then brought up you. It felt safe telling a stranger who didn’t know you. I didn’t feel like I had to water down the truth to protect you. He, too, was once in an abusive relationship. He said life really began for him after he decided to chose himself first. I felt so excited about the idea of finally getting to where he seemed to be: happy without you. You have been breaking me down for years. I can’t remember the last time I was truly happy with you. God switched my Uber. He reminded me life gets better just by meeting this man, that happiness exists without you.

Mom picked me up from the airport. We had an entire hour drive home to her new place. She sold our childhood home—the place you picked me up from on our first date. The home you would visit me in when I was naive and thought the distance was our biggest problem. The place we would laugh and celebrate holidays together in. The place I cried myself to sleep in countless nights because of you. The place you and I had so many memories in is now gone, and so are you.

I continued with the lies when she asked me simple questions about you and about us. I wasn’t ready, I wanted to feel safe at home first. Between you and me, I needed to hold you just a little while longer. I couldn’t say goodbye to you just yet. She gave me a tour of her new place. I was genuinely excited, but I couldn’t focus. All I could think about was you. Faking it the past few months while I was alone was easy. I could force a laugh through the phone, then hang up and cry to myself. Now I had nowhere to hide. We sat at the dinner table, snacking on chips and salsa. My heart was trying to rip out of my chest, the knot in my throat was unbearable, and I could feel the surge of tears ready to burst. I felt the same feelings when I would have to bury my emotions for your comfort, my body remembered, but I pushed forward. Mom could see I was crying and asked what was wrong. I started hysterically crying, and I started telling her everything and couldn’t stop once I did. Like word vomit, every detail came out of my mouth. I didn’t want to tell her everything, I didn’t want her to hate you. I still wanted to protect you. I needed her to understand this.

She was angry with you, understandably. You hurt me so deep for so long. Just like I wanted to defend you, she wanted to shield me. I needed her to be patient with me, though. I still care about you. I still worry about your health. I still wonder, “Is he eating, right? Is he stressed about money? Is he happy without me?” These thoughts were interrupted by her asking me,

“Are you happy?” 

Why had I not been asking myself that question over the last eight years? My happiness had become secondary to yours for so long. My mental health was deteriorating because I cared more about you. My friends and family seemed to know that I wasn’t happy for a while. I guess I wasn’t so good at hiding it like I thought. You were good at hiding everything.

Parisia flew out to me in the middle of a pandemic. She was there for me during what would have been our anniversary. That day used to mean so much to me, now it’s just like any other day. And I honestly doubt you would have done something like that for me if, by some chance, we were physically apart, and I needed you. But I remembered you never wanted to be my friend, we didn’t have that relationship according to you.

I’m back in what used to be our home. Julia lives here now. It would have been the three of us, like old times. That was when I was the happiest, when it was me, you, and her. That can’t happen now, she’s mad at you, but I know it’s because she’s sad. You were like her older brother, but you’ve let her down.

Mom checks on me every day since I’ve been back, we are processing you together. You knew her very well, you can imagine the things she has said about you. But I’ve told her I’m not quite ready to be angry with you, I’m still grieving you, bargaining your return. I’m stuck in denial and depression. She’s accepting of that and acknowledges my need to take this healing slowly. I need to experience every stage of losing you to the full extent. I rushed our love, and it imploded on me. I can’t handle making that same mistake.

I should have come to them sooner. I should have told my family about you years ago. I should have trusted them with accepting my healing. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so traumatic. God planned this for me, I can assure myself of that. I have so many people on my team, but you were never on it.


The one who gave her all.

Unforsaken by Jalen S.

As I think about the definition of restoration and renewal, I think of being brought back to self, of returning something back to it’s former or original state. For me, I have experienced recovery and renewal. But my journey hasn’t been comfortable. And even though I’ve gained a better sense of humility from my growth and from a tragic situation, it wasn’t easy.

It was the beginning of my fall 2019 semester at Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was beginning my sophomore year of college. I was very confident that this year would be unforgettable. I had the perfect room, a roommate I trusted, and a self-esteem that led to a positive outlook on life. Despite all these great qualities, mentally, I was suffering. The worst part is I didn’t realize this until the first weekend of the school year on Friday, August 23, 2019.

After getting back to my dorm that night from attempting to go to a party with my roommate and his friends, I had experienced unexpected symptoms of bipolar depression and mania. I started to feel severely depressed. I started sobbing and crying various times without any reason or explanation as to what was upsetting me. Overnight, my symptoms worsened, I experienced insomnia and couldn’t sleep well at all. Through Saturday, I continued to feel depressed and overwhelmed with racing thoughts and emotions. By Saturday night, I would find myself broke down and crying in a way I never had before in my teenhood. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. The next day I was still in a bad mental condition. Despite running on little to no sleep, all I wanted to do was go to church. By the time I got to the church, I had experienced the mania again. I still felt spiritually present, but the symptoms were more present. While singing in the choir, I was way more joyfully involved than I had ever been before. During the sermon, I felt the preacher had been speaking directly to me and my situation. It was all a shock for me. I had been praying so profoundly, the person holding my hand, told me after that they had felt the spirit when we prayed. These events made no sense to me at the time, but reflecting back to what I truly believe, that though I was mentally struggling, God was with me.

I left the church and went back to my dorm. It was almost immediate, the arrival to a very low point of depression. It was a feeling of sorrow that craved death. Sleeping felt like the last thing I would ever do as if I would die if I slept. I called some of my family, and they became terribly worried about me and my current condition. Not to my surprise, they called the school. Now Morehouse, my dream University knew about my suffering. I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night, I stayed up all the way until my next class at 10 AM. I wasn’t even ten minutes into the period before I was pulled out by a campus police officer accompanied by the dean and taken to the campus psychologist. Not only was this session not helpful, but the psychologist cut it short due to a meeting he had to attend. I wasn’t sent to the hospital to receive help, and I wasn’t diagnosed with any mental condition. So after this happened, I went back to my dorm. But the exhaustion, anxiety, and fear remained. I didn’t know what was next for me. I was worried about my education at Morehouse being cut short due to my mistakes and behavior. I continued to carry out my day by attending some of the classes I had left on my schedule. But my ability to focus was gone due to a severe lack of sleep for the past three days. By Monday night, I had decided I should leave Morehouse, and so I did.

I contacted my family, and in little to no time, I was on a flight to my father’s house in Chicago. I left Morehouse at one in the morning with most of my belongings. I got to my dad’s house at 7:00 AM. We immediately had an intense conversation about everything that was going on with me. And once our conversation was over, I finally got to sleep, even if it was just a quick hour nap. But once again, when I awoke from my rest, I was met with my mania. I tried to shower and get ready to go with my dad and uncle to eat food, but I was suddenly engulfed with the motivation to walk out of the house and leave. So after getting dressed, I left my phone and wallet and simply walked out of the front door.

I went missing until the next morning.

From what I can remember, I took the bus that was on the closest main street to the end of the line, and then walked all the way to another city called Evanston, Illinois. I wasn’t found until Tuesday morning because I tried to break into someone’s car, and the cops were called. I had the illusion that I would be able to drive home if I got in that car. Soon enough, the cops showed up to where I was and arrested me. As they questioned me, looking back, I feel grateful that I could articulate simple things like my name, where I lived, and the names of family members.
For this reason, the police were able to figure out that I had been missing because I matched the missing person’s photo that had gone viral. I was taken straight to the hospital. It was there that I became overly anxious and concerned that my family didn’t know where I was or how to find me. But sooner than later, I was met there by them for a very emotional reunion. I started crying, especially when I saw my grandma, who I hadn’t seen in person since I was two years old. I felt ashamed that my bad decisions, like drugs and partying, had led me to lose my mind. I didn’t want to be seen in that way, for the first time in more than a decade. My mom and aunt soon came from California to see me; they were crying a lot, it was all very emotional for me.

Soon I was examined and diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and quickly admitted to the psychiatric inpatient hospital. On the first night of my stay, I became enraged. I wanted to leave the hospital. I wanted to go home, so the doctors had to sedate me and strap me down. For the next two weeks, I was kept in that hospital. There were ups and downs, especially with the hard psychiatric drugs they were pumping into my system. I made bonds with a lot of the patients, which helped us all deal with the boredom. We often joked around, played games, ate together, and talked about the experiences in life that brought us here. I tried to bring light to everyone’s day so that we could all feel less alone and isolated. My dad would visit me as much as he could, bringing me food, which made me happy. I was discharged from the hospital on September 9, 2019, and finally allowed back into the world.

I stayed at my dad’s house for two weeks, and then I decided to come back to California. Coming back home for me was hard, I was embarrassed. At times, I became very depressed and suicidal because I felt I had lost all hope and purpose. But for the next few months, I continued to grow and heal through my relationship with God and the humility I gained through my struggles. For some aspects of this process, my family believed I was improving and doing well. However, they still believed I needed to seek continuous professional help. I would sometimes disagree with them because I felt that by growing spiritually in my faith, I would be healed mentally at the same time. I still seek professional help, but I truly believe that through God’s grace and power, I will continue to be healed and restored. I believe it’s enough. My family sees a lot of changes within me due to my revelations of God’s plan for me. Still, sometimes they think I’m not genuinely healing but rather running from my past. Even though they think this way, I do my best to remain patient and trust God because my transformation can only be understood by God and me. I am overly thankful for this journey that I have survived to tell. No matter what my family thinks, I know that evolving is the best way for me to grow and to battle the obstacles that I will face in the future.

Personal growth is about doing what is best for me, not others. I think I made bad decisions so that I could learn to change and become a better person. Striving for righteousness has caused me to be criticized at times, but it’s worth it because I stand in my convictions. I am thankful for the journey I’ve survived to endure. I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for dying on the cross and resurrecting for me to be forgiven for my sins and poor decisions. My personal connection to God has grown so much from this trial. One of my favorite scriptures that helped me understand and trust Jesus through this experience is 1 Peter 5:10:

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

1 Peter 5:10

If you are feeling depressed, lonely, suicidal, you aren’t alone. Talk to someone now (24/7)

Ever Growing, Ever-Changing by Antoinette L.

At the age of 13, you’re supposed to have a sense of freedom and independence, but that wasn’t me. During my adolescence, my mother had become very religious. No more secular music, no pg-13 movies, no more Halloween, it was all now deemed “The Devil.” She was only 29, and doing what she felt was best, but I felt I was being suffocated by the walls she had chosen to build around my life. You see, for the first seven years, I grew up with a fun, adventurous teenage mom. She was the one who wanted to try every roller coaster at the park and pushed me to try everything new. But she felt she needed more structure in her life; she found a husband and dedicated her life to Christ. Our lives changed drastically. And before such an abrupt adjustment, it was ‘us against the world.”

I remember we sang SWV and TLC on our pretend microphone pens in the car as we journeyed from town to town. I loved to dress up as a fluffy bunny or prim ballerina and carry a pillowcase door to door engorged with treats on Halloween. In my mind, my mother was Glenda, the Good witch from Wizard of Oz. She always knew what would happen and call it mother’s intuition, but my mom was magical. Things were different, and I felt different every day. As I yearned to learn from the world and navigated the pressure, my frustrations soon grew into anger. I didn’t really know how to voice my needs, and my mother didn’t recognize them within me. I was stuck being perceived as the perfect angel I previously was; she was now the clashing parent figure in a teenager’s life.

When my best friend was going through the same feelings with her mother, we decided we were fed up and could do it on our own. We hatched a plan to run away. After school, we’d meet at her house (since it was closest to our escape route), pack her bags, write a letter informing her mom she was at my house, and then do the same for me. To our benefit, her mother and aunt loathed one another, so after a few bus changes, we’d make a pit stop at her aunts’ house to load up on food and water before heading to nowhere. Everything went as planned until my friend couldn’t remember how to get to her aunt’s. Annoyed with her, we found a Carl’s Jr. to sit and try to figure out the next bus route. I guess I should’ve blamed it on the lack of cell navigation in the early 2000s. I barely had enough minutes from the prepaid card I bought at 7-11. Upon arrival at our destination, we were greeted with a “what are you doing here?” Mind you, it was close to midnight. My friend replied with a quick,

“Oh, my mom wanted to see how independent we could be.”

Her answer seemed acceptable. We gorged on snacks and filled our eyes with television. But once we awoke, well-rested, and sprawled out on the aunt’s couch, we were greeted by two police officers, my stepdad, and baby sister. Honestly, it was a good thing because our runaway plan had no plan after the aunt’s house. There went our imagined thoughts of miraculously becoming the best strippers we could be—the type of strippers who made a ton of cash without sleeping with anyone because we were thirteen.

It was there in the aunt’s driveway, where I learned about my punishment from the officers: Probation because I was now in the system as a “runaway.” But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for me at home. My mother didn’t speak to me for three months, not even to talk through my stepdad to me. It was all extremely devastating. We were so close that to feel nonexistent in the world was detrimental to my soul. Deep inside, I felt exhilarated and exonerated after running away. It was the first independent thing I’d done, and I just wanted my mother to understand and embrace it. I wanted her to realize I was on my way to womanhood and to let me journey towards it.

Even as an adult, others have tried to lock me back into their perceptions of who I should be. It’s a challenge when it’s family because you can’t escape their chains, especially in the role of the “good wife.” My ex-husband had his own idea of what that meant for me, and I received backlash when I couldn’t and just wouldn’t comply. During the time our son was less than six months old, we’d meet my grandparents and help them clean the salon my mother owned at the time. This particular day, my husband was exhausted; he had gone to lie on a bed in the salon’s rear. I couldn’t help clean because I was holding my baby, so I decided to free my hands by setting up one of his portable playpens. The floor was dirty so I couldn’t just place my baby on the floor. I opened the door to the room and asked my then-husband if he could hold our son while I put up the playpen. He refused. I asked again, and he refused again. Each time I asked, his voice escalated with rage, so I thought, “if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.” I plopped my son on my left hip, facing him away from me while I strong-armed the playpen with my right hand. Two sides up and two more to go. On the third snap, I heard my baby boy whimper.

In a rushed manner, I flipped him around and examined what had gone wrong. There was a drop of blood on the top of his left hand, so I quietly walked to the restroom to further check it. I wiped it clean and examined his hand but couldn’t find where the blood came from. During my examination, my ex-husband burst open the bathroom door; he gave me a glare and screamed,

“Oh, my God! “

He ran out. Confused, I slowly turned my head, my eyes swelled, and my heart dropped. I screamed bloody murder. Blood was spewing straight up around the exposed bone from my baby boy’s middle finger on his right hand, dripping down my back. It felt like a murder scene from a scary movie.

Seeing my panic, my grandfather motioned for me to come to the shampoo bowl to rinse my angel’s finger once he noticed the blood. When he turned the water on, the hose swayed and danced in the air, throwing water around like a World of Color water show at Disneyland. My grandmother walked onto the main floor from the back room, calmly shut the water off, and shouted, “EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP!” We all froze while she instructed us to go to the hospital. I held my baby in the back seat as his head started to droop, he was no longer crying, and his body was going limp. It’s the most terrifying feeling holding your child as they begin to slip away. He had lost too much blood.

The years following this event, my husband shamed me. He blamed me for the entire accident. He had a cookie-cutter view of me as his wife and as a mom. His displaced frustrations just made it worse, and his molding of me just hurt. I was learning, and so was he. Parenting is individualized and scary enough. I needed a teammate, not a judge. But it took his unacceptance for me to realize that it wasn’t personal, rather his issue and his judgment of himself.

In my formative years, I needed my mother’s acceptance of my growth. And although it was detrimental to me, those 3 months of silence were necessary for her growth as a parent. Once my silent treatment ended, she finally did understand me, and we were bonded even closer together. I could sing Mariah Carey again, and I was allowed more freedom to just be myself. I could now reveal some of my layers without total judgment.

And as for my son’s finger, it grew back, you can barely tell anything happened. He’s 13 now. He understands boundaries, and I understand his need for growth and independence into the man he’s bound to become.

I now understand how much I needed to heal and grow. What if I didn’t face change? I would have stayed stuck slowly, letting others wither me away. I’m not meant to hold onto everyone or even to my past self. I’m meant to keep an open heart, to share my gifts with you. At age 33, it’s hard enough to go through change and even harder for family or friends to accept it or not. No matter where you are in your journey of transformation, it’s unavoidable and imperative for an enriching life. Be the change you want to see in this world, and don’t be afraid to show it off.

Thank you, God, for holding me while I change into who I was meant to be: for my son, for myself, for the thirteen-year-old me.

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living”

-Gail Sheehy.

Reflections from the Beginning by Luke M.

The process of unlearning this collective loneliness can officially restart.

The pain for me was loneliness. It was a cold searing burned deep in my chest, ever-present and smoldering. I remember it silently manifesting while pondering over who my friends would be when I was an adult. Even as a young teenager, I worried I would arrive at adulthood and find myself unmistakably alone.

Worse off, I would gauge the future of my relationships based on the quality of friends my parents attuned. During my late middle school years, my parents were spread pretty thin. Between losing their jobs, the 2008 financial crisis, and losing four grandparents quite suddenly, they had little room for both parenting and maintaining dynamic friendships. The friendships they did have existed, but they unsurprisingly were not from a diverse background. They met and mingled over the fact that their kids went to the same, mostly white, roman catholic school. All of this paired with a lack of meaningful connection, and I was sold that my life’s future would look and feel more of the same. They did the best they could, but my childlike mind painted this truth as incredibly isolating and boring. 

But where did this loneliness come from? When and how did it manifest? Had it always been there waiting to be amplified while I continuously found no solution? I found a piece of the answer in my turn to science and education. In the early 2000s, a team of psychologists (John Cacioppo, Dr. Nicholas Christaki, and James Fowler) published a series of studies showing that emotional states and behaviors (like happiness, obesity, and smoking) can propagate like a wave throughout a network of people. In 2009 they published Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network, which I stumbled upon late into 2015.

At this time in my life, the natural ups and downs of loneliness were coming to an all-time high. My new college environment had me surrounded with a new group of strangers, bumping about blindly. More of the same white heteronormativity I had been unable to escape before. I had just come out to my family and left them alone in our hometown to sit with the fact that I didn’t know my sexual orientation and that I definitely was not straight, only to arrive back where I started. 

When reviewing the data, the researchers found a trend of loneliness scores in the community; they noticed if one person reported feeling lonely at one evaluation, their closest connections (family or close friends) were fifty-two percent more likely to report feeling lonely two years later. The effect was most substantial among those in intimate relationships, waning as the connections became more distant, but remained significant up to three degrees of separation. This data plainly shows us that our feeling of isolation affects our friends and their friends as well. It shows us that for some, the pang of loneliness can become a persistent condition.

I felt lonely when my mother told me she cried when she rationalized that I was gay. This moment shared between her and her friend, who also had a queer son coming into his own. Our families were both liberal but blissfully unaware of the expressions of queerness. I imagine them on the phone together, my mom and her confidant. The two of them bonding over the fact that they both had gay sons, and both had a new set of challenges to overcome.

“Katherine told me she wept when Jack came out. I know this sounds bad, but I really know what she is going through.”

A cold shiver shot down my spine, my chest all of a sudden heavy and achy. I admit this was a dramatic reaction from my body internally, but yet, externally, I had both imagined feeling and appearing healthy. 

I thought it was normal.

” Well, it’s okay to be sad, mom. I know that things are going to be different for me.” 

I thought she was sad for me. I assumed she thought that growing up gay would be hard and that moving through space would require a certain amount of bravery and authenticity. 

I was wrong. 

Without much probing, I remember noting that she was sad I would never meet, marry, and love a woman as a wife; she was sad about her reality within that statement. Stranded in my thoughts, I wondered where that sadness had manifested. Was she now denied the potential of being a grandmother? As if me being gay meant she would no longer be able to be a grandma to the kin of her own. Our imagined mutual futures no longer lined up as we planted seeds of our homophobic insecurities and emotions deep inside one another. Looking back, I never wondered which one of these seeds would grow into their own burden. I didn’t anticipate that my mother would develop a new fear for my safety. Or loneliness in that she couldn’t provide a home for me anymore. Additionally, how could I predict that my isolation would foster further insecurity in my ability to have a meaningful, loving connection with my future family?

I think about why my loneliness and her loneliness misunderstood each other at that moment. I sat with the feelings of being misunderstood as I read Alone in The Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network. The more I began to understand the social forces at play, science showed me the critical driver of loneliness: the network of people around us unintentionally teaching our bodies how to look and feel lonely. In realizing that the phenomena of loneliness spreads through transmission from person to person, I could interpret loneliness like a virus and as a public health crisis. 

My plan with how to deal was first to reduce the isolation given to me. I realized I needed to state my feelings plainly and openly. By teaching myself the vocabulary of self-care, I could have improved conversations with those around me. By opening up about my feelings, I could connect to those around me. 

Secondly, I learned how to cultivate healthier relationships. By connecting with others that felt similar, I began to hear their needs and intrinsically know how to advocate for them. Through this work, I was able to advocate for individual growth and interpersonal pattern change.

From there, I realized my next step was to enable the strengthening of my friends’ social health and the growth of their social connections to reduce the spread of loneliness. That this is what would carry my ability to create and fundamentally exist within a healthy community. 

Finally, by allowing myself to show up fully for others and championing a non-judgemental attitude, my authenticity began to build in other’s lives within my community. As my friends modeled healthy dynamics with each other interpersonally, we began to show up to each interaction without fear of being judged. This transparency is secure because it’s mutual and brought by every member in every interaction. Trust now grows, and from here, the process of unlearning this collective loneliness can officially restart. 

I encourage you to try this process out for yourself. Iterate the steps to make them your own. Access to vocabulary and education are always strong starting points. Build empathy and bridges, elevate the voices of the people around you, and slowly the world will open itself up to you; to me, it has been beautifully queer.

“Queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”

— bell hooks

Rest and Release by Jessica A.

The sensation of pain may be temporary but the memory of the pain lasts forever.

For as long as I have memories, the pain of anxiety has been present. The first recollection I have was in third grade: I am in my childhood home trying to fall asleep in my daybed. It was a school night, so I would have had to wake up early the next day. I can still feel the breeze from my ceiling fan and the silky pink sheets I slept in. Before I could truly embrace comfort, I had to listen to the voice in my head telling me to complete the routine

“What routine? Why am I doing this?” 

No answer. 

All I knew was that I absolutely needed to complete the routine for me to get any sleep.

Step 1: Jump up and down 60 times.

Your ankles touched; you have to start over.

Step 2: Make sure both sides of the closet are closed. Touch them in the RIGHT spot.

You did it wrong, start over.

Step 3: Open the bedroom door all the way to the RIGHT spot.

Okay, good, that time was perfect.

Step 4: Push your homework chair into the desk.

“Please do this right, I’m tired, and I don’t want to start all over.”

Step 5: Fix the trashcan so that the butterfly is facing you correctly.

No! That’s not right, start over! That’s not RIGHT! That’s not RIGHT! That’s not RIGHT!

Step 6: Touch the RIGHT spot to make sure the window is closed.

“I’m never going to do it perfectly. I’m never going to sleep.”

If I made a mistake during any step, I would make myself start again from step one. I would spend close to an hour or two perfecting this every single night. I wouldn’t allow myself to sleep until it was perfect because it controlled me, the routine.

Eventually, I would put it to rest, but new anxieties surfaced in my head as time went by:

A drop of water touched your left hand, balance yourself, and put water on your right hand.

You can’t touch the bed or clean clothes without washing your hands first. Don’t be dirty. There are so many germs, everything around you must be cleaned.

Your relationship is failing, you have to fix it. We have to make it right.

You just have to be perfect for him.

You will fix everything yourself, even if he doesn’t want to.

“I can’t lose this relationship. I worked too hard to make it perfect…”

No answer.

Without realizing it, I carried over this routine of pain into every aspect of my life. I had a dire need to control and make everything around me perfect. 

I have now lost control. 

But what did I really lose… 

I lost the weight of this burden that has dragged me down for twenty years. 

I lost you. I couldn’t control you, so I had to control something else in my life. 

But I’m learning to let go, I’m slowly regaining back my freedom. I no longer have unnecessary routines or phobias crippling me. I no longer feel the agonizing pressure to be perfect for you, or for me. 

I can finally rest.

Jessica A.

Read Part II of my story here