deafening whispers

we all have voices inside of us that speak to us.

in whispers or in screams.

and those voices came from somewhere.

and they need to go.

 

Sometimes I try to remember when the voices started.

Sometimes I wonder when they’ll go away. Or if they’ll go away at all.

It’s better not to think of that last one though, because there’s one voice that whispers an answer every time that I ask.

An answer that I deeply hope is a lie.

But what if the words it tells me in that whisper are true, after all? The thought of that scares me.

So I try not to wonder about that.

 

I can’t even remember a time when they haven’t been there.

They have made my own voice so small, it’s almost impossible for me to find it..

So quiet and hesitant that it barely even tries to be heard anymore.

When it does, it is swiftly shut down and swept away by the collective voice.

A singular voice now, born of the multitude of voices that took up residence throughout the years.

 

I would hear them, inside of me, in their own voices when they spoke to me.

They were voices that were not mine but I knew them all the same.

They were teachers, friends, aunts, uncles, doctors and strangers even.

The voices of those closest were the easiest to believe and allow in to stay.

My best friends, my lovers, my partners.

My mother.

 

Critiqued and judged, found to be lacking. A disappointment and of little value.

Their voices would scold, judge, shame and humiliate me.

Every doubt that my self mused over would be violently wrenched from my grip and

tossed amongst the voices like a game of hot potato.

The intensity and pain of the doubt growing stronger and more powerful as it went from voice to voice.

The self-doubt changed and shaped into a truth in their grasp before it was given back to me where I would accept it and hold it tightly to me.

It was mine now. True and indisputable. Believed.

 

My voice wouldn’t lie to me.

MY voice.

I wonder sometimes when the voices stopped being “them” and became “me”.

When did they start to speak in my voice, sounding like me and not themselves anymore?

Their whispers and shouts no longer familiar or known, but now in my own voice.

The cadence and nuances of what spoke to me made up of the very fibre of my self.

Sometimes I try to remember when the voices started.

Sometimes I wonder when they’ll go away. Or if they’ll go away at all.

 

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Sick Day

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

A phrase that we hear, and might say ourselves, from time to time. You know the feeling; tired, run down, maybe some sneezes and sniffles or a scratchy throat that are the unmistakable hints that you’ve caught something and you’re getting sick.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me, you start loading up on vitamin c and drinking more water. Add in a wonderful brew of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to help battle the germs. Make sure to rest more and try to take it easy so that my body can fight off the bug that is running rampant inside my normally healthy body. I’m lucky enough to have access to a sauna and that’s always part of my arsenal of wiping out the illness. Take some time off work and get better.  In short, I turn my attention to doing whatever I can to help make myself get better as quickly as I can. It’s what we have been told we should do, need to do, for ourselves and for the most part we do. Even I do, and I’m not great at taking care of myself.

So let’s flip this from physical to mental health.

“I am burned out and done. Just done.”

A phrase – or some variation of that gets said fairly often too. Words that convey the simple fact that things are just too much right now, or that our ability to meet the mental or emotional demands on us are just not up to it. Whether it’s work stress or personal issues, whether it’s the tap out from depression, anxiety, grief, exhaustion or any myriad of mental health issues – chronic or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do once we have hit that point.

So what do we do? In a perfect world, you would look at what it is that’s the main issue and address it. What do you need, right that moment, to make things better? Then do that. What do you need, long term, to help yourself? Then do that. You would find support or take yourself away from what is causing you stress. You would get help in the form of counselling or medication or therapies that work for you. You would take a day off, maybe a few if you can and take time to get better.

What actually happens though?

We cough and sneeze and call in or email and say we’re sick and stay home. Everyone tells us how much they hope we get better soon and that we should rest and not push ourselves – just take it easy and get better.

 

or….

 

We don’t think we can get out of bed because of the heavy and dark depression or the anxiety that is crippling today or *insert your own version here* but we do it anyways; we get dressed in between panic attacks and sobs that ruin the makeup we’ve already had to re-do twice and we put on clothes that we feel like we can hide inside of. We pull ourselves together and we became masters at faking being “okay” or “fine, just tired” so that we don’t have to try to explain.

Or we don’t get out of bed. We call in or email and say we have a migraine or stomach flu – anything that can be gone in 24 hours so that there won’t be too many questions tomorrow when we do manage to pull ourselves together and make it to the outside world again. We become masters at lying and hiding what is really wrong.

Why? Because making a call and saying “I’m not okay today. I’m not well and it’s not my body that’s the problem.” is not something that we know how to do. It’s also not something that we know how to hear and respond to either. That’s okay though because the only way things will change is if we start changing them after we admit that there is something that needs changing.

So today I did something I never do. Today I called in “sick” and didn’t lie about why. I said I was taking a mental health day and that I was just simply burned out and needed a day to rest and recharge and get my head screwed on straight. You know what? The reply was “good for you, do what you need to.”. Yes, I was nervous about being that honest but I also know that I need to start walking the talk about getting rid of stigma if I really mean it – and I do. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky that I can do that and that not all of us can. Not everyone has time off available and not everyone works in an environment that you could say those words and not worry about how it will affect your job security. But if you do, and can, please do it when you need to. It’s the only way that taking care of our mental health will start being seen as just as normal and necessary as taking care of our physical health.

Ellipsis

Ellipsis

 

It is an indication of words omitted, unwritten, silenced.

Words. Thoughts. Feelings.

Expressions of love, hate, fury, passion, apathy, joy, rage, loss…

Never to be shared, never divulged.

A single whispered word of bliss or an ocean’s worth of tears shrunk down to nothing.

It is the beautiful shadow that the chosen words can hide deeply inside of.

Secreted away, far from the person who will never know what is just out of sight.

Its brevity belies the enormity that it cloaks in its marks.

 

You ask, and I answer.

 

“I am …”

Tired

Exhausted

Weary from trying

Barely holding on, still living with too many days that I just want to let go

Smiling when that is the last thing I want to do

Cold

So very cold, down deep where I used to be on fire

Hurting, still – again – more, and for longer, than I ever thought I could

Screaming inside, the deafening sound of pain drowning out the small talk

Scared

Terrified that I won’t make it

Afraid to show you this darkness

Frightened by my desire to just give up some days – and by how easy it would be

Not fine

So definitely not fine

So far from fine that I am doubtful some days that I ever will be again

Weary from trying

Exhausted

Tired

“Doing pretty well, and you?”

Judgement

“So, Lola, have you been cutting up your arm?”

That was the comment from the Customs and Border Patrol guard at the USA/Canada border last Friday.

While my partner and I sat in our car and answered the usual questions, that one was unexpected. We were all set for the usual questions about her status as a permanent resident and her non-Canadian passport. All ready for the direction to park the car and head in for her to get the required entry document. All set for that. Standard procedure for crossing the border for her.

Not at all ready for the question directed at me regarding the scars on my arms.

I had no choice other than to answer his question though. So a simple answer of “yes” and I hoped that he was just a not-so-sensitive person who chose to make a not-very-appropriate comment and that would be that. No such luck.

It was followed up with, “Looks like those must have hurt”. Again, my measured and as-simple as-could-be response was provided.

“It was so long ago, I don’t recall”. Trying to hide that I am incredibly uncomfortable with this attention and line of questions. He, I’m sure, knows exactly how uncomfortable he is making me though. Which starts the feeling of anger that I know is not going to be helpful.

He flippantly hands back our documents and directs us, as expected, to park and head in for my partner to get her document.

As we park and walk, I try to pull myself back together from the shock of the two questions and my partner and I agree as we chat that it was out of line and inappropriate. But, we also agree, what can you do? They can ask what they want. There is a huge line up inside and it takes enough time to get to be seen that we have both calmed a bit.

We approach the guard to have the usual done. The standard questions of where are you going, what’s purpose of your trip,how long are you going? His demeanor is a quiet mix of boredom, annoyance and general irritation towards the entire process. He dismissively tells us to sit and he will get back to us. He keeps our passports and documents and the paper I had given him with the address of where we are heading for the weekend.

We expect the next step will be, as usual, my partner to be called back up for fingerprints and a picture and the paper slip to pay and then we will be on our way.

Not today though. After a few minutes, he calls me up.

“Lola, come here”. I look at my partner and we both are a little taken aback but I get up and go to the counter again. The questions come fast and bluntly.

“Tell me the story of what’s up with the cuts on your arms?”

There’s no story. They are scars from some cuts.

“You need to tell me more.”

I’m not sure what you mean. They’re old scars from cuts, that’s all.

“Were they self-inflicted”

    Yes

“What medication are you on?”

None

*He looks up from where he is sitting and tilts his head*

“You expect me to believe you aren’t on any medication?”

Yes, I’m not on any medication.

By this point, my heart is pounding and I am doing my best to keep my voice level and my mannerisms as normal as possible. It is becoming very clear where he is going with his questions and my mind is racing along with my heart.

“What’s the name of your psychiatrist?”

I don’t have a psychiatrist

*again, he looks up at me and sighs*

“The name of the physician whose care you are under?”

I’m not under a doctor’s care

“Were they from suicide attempts?”

No *I briefly think of making a joke that if they were, I could win the prize for worst attempt ever for where I cut, but I think better of it and just go with the “no”*

“Then why did you cut yourself?”

It was a particularly rough time in my life and I just did

“Were they done more than 5 years ago?”

Yes *lying, it’s clear at this point that I am actually running a risk of not gaining entry is how it is starting to feel*

“If I check your permanent medical file, will I find records of suicide attempts that you have not told me about here?”

No. There aren’t any.

*He sighs loudly and asks me to read out loud the address where we are going that is printed on the paper we are heading* I do so and think the questions are done. No, they are not. He’s not giving this up that easily apparently.

“What do you do for a living?”

I manage a clinic. A paramedical clinic in Victoria BC

*He smirks a little* “You hold down a job huh?”

Yes

Now at this point I am seething with anger inside but trying to stay calm. He then starts asking again about medications in the car etc and brings my partner up. After some standard but still insulting questions, this time directed to her (“16 years in Canada and STILL not a citizen huh?”), she is fingerprinted, photographed, pays her fee and we are on our way.

There ends the most blatant example of judgement and what I took as a personal harassment.

When I try to take apart the layers of what exactly it is that I am so angry about in that interaction, I find that it is so many things.

The fact that two border patrol guards felt that they could openly and without any reason, interrogate me on something that has nothing to do with my legal request to enter the country is clear. They felt that they have every right to question me, or anyone, on anything – no matter how personal or applicable (or not)  to the situation. The disgusting truth is that they can do just that. They hold the power to deny entry, to turn you away. Possibly for more than just that one time even. As my partner pointed out when I asked “who the hell does he think he is???” … he has the uniform and the gun and the power. It really is that simple. And it really isn’t right, but it is the way it works.

It was tears that I held back as we left the building and made our way towards the car to leave. As we walked past other guards I made a point of smiling and chatting and looking as unaffected as I could. Acting as opposite as I felt inside. The overwhelming sense was to just get as far away from there as I could, as quickly as we could. I felt embarrassed and I felt shame, but most of all anger was building up.

By the time we reached a rest stop two minutes away, the tears hadn’t come and they weren’t going to. Instead I had discovered just how furious I was over the questioning. Who were they to make a judgement about who I was based on my scars? Because the truth is, that is what they did. They saw scars that are clearly from self-inflicted cutting, and they made an immediate and decisive judgement that I need to be, essentially, screened. Screened for what? To determine if I am mentally ill? If so, how so? Am I going to be a danger to myself or others? Am I going to harm myself – or kill myself – while in their country? Is my mental health status something that should be a deciding factor in whether or not I can be given entry to go camping in their country? If I go by the questions that I was asked, then the answer to that is yes; and that is disturbing.

I have struggled with shame about my scars. I do hide them at work, and for reasons similar to this. I know people judge and assume when they see them. I know they are viewed as physical evidence of mental instability or weakness. So I keep them hidden when I am at work because I am in a position of management. I can’t be seen as weak or incapable or unstable. All things that we all are, from time to time, and all things that these scars are perceived as proving. My moments of weakness do not, in any way, diminish my strength. Ever. Yet that isn’t how our culture sees this.

So we drove away and I was angry and felt violated in a way. I was offended and indignant at how I was treated and questioned. I am a 44-year-old woman, I know and own my strength. I know what demons I fight and what road I walk every day and I am finally at a point where I hold my head high and rarely ever feel shame anymore. I have my moments but they are fleeting. What if I had been a young person though and had to face that? What if I was still very much in the midst of trying to not look at my scars because of the repulsion I felt towards myself when I saw them? What if I already was judging myself and feeling myself to be unstable, shameful, broken and wrong, like those guards tried to make me feel? What then? Who gives them the right to humiliate and belittle and almost casually decide to cause that kind of hurt to a person?

I could walk away and, while those feelings swirled and whispered, they were silenced and soothed by my resolve that I know I’m not those things. Even with that resolve though, I slipped on a long-sleeved shirt today to go into the store. Last week I wouldn’t have. And that makes me angry. Angry that no matter how I may see my scars and no matter how much I know I cannot be judged by what society says they mean – I still will be.

End the stigma of mental health concerns? Still looks like there is a hell of a long way to go.