Friday, May 25, 2012

The Follow Up

Well, I'd say I've been missing quite long enough.  Here I am.  Bask in my... here-ness?

So, I wrote these pretty heavy/serious/unhappy posts and then I disappeared.  What gives?  It took a lot out of me to write all of that, and I guess I just needed a break before coming back to explain.

I have 3 main reasons for writing those posts.  The first is completely selfish: it was therapeutic.  My closer friends already knew most of what I went through (or, at least the parts they were around for), but I haven't talked much about any of it in a long time.  When something like that sits inside of you, it feels kind of like a bowling ball sitting in your stomach.  (OK, maybe something smaller, but you get my point.)  Writing about it and getting it all out there felt so good.

The second reason (slightly less selfish) is to share my gratitude.  I was (and still am!) lucky to have people in my life who loved me and cared enough about me to take some action.  Not everyone is so lucky, and I'm utterly grateful to everyone who has touched - and saved - my life.  Without some of you, I couldn't have become who I am today.

The third reason is (I hope) the least selfish and most important.  There are people out there with stories like mine who should know that they aren't alone and that it can get better.  It doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen without some effort, but it can happen.

If my story can touch one person, I've achieved more than I could ever hope for.  My pursuit of a degree in Psychology isn't just because I find it interesting, but because I want to use it to change a world.  Not necessarily the world, but a world.  

What's the difference?  The world is a big freakin' place.  It's a whole planet.  With billions upon billions of people, each with his own issues, worries, dreams, regrets, and everything else.  A world is much smaller, more personal.  My world, for example, encompasses me, my friends and family, and the things I cherish most in life.  Many people have helped change my world, and in return, I want to help change some other world.

Maybe I'll help change one person's world.  Maybe I'll help change a community's world.  Maybe I truly will help change THE world.  The best I can do is try.

So with these posts begins an epic journey to change things, one world at a time.  If I've changed your world, thank you.  Thank you for letting me in, thank you for believing in yourself, and thank you for being you.  And if I haven't changed your world, I know someone else out there has.  Be sure to thank them, please. :)

Have a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, lovelies! <3

Friday, May 11, 2012

Riki's History Part 5: Living & Loving

I won't pretend that things were smooth sailing after the "Shane" incident.  I dated a few guys (using the term "dated" pretty loosely here) between fall 2005 and summer 2006.  Remember the old friend from my middle school days who would later introduce me to my husband?  Yeah, I was "dating" him when I met Hubby for the first time (six years ago this month... wow!). 

Hubby and I started dating in September of that year, and things were (usually) great.  He treated me like a queen, and I loved every second of it.  In early 2008, we got an apartment together, about an hour and a half away from where I had grown up and lived for my entire life.  I had very few friends out here, and Hubby had lots of them.  I would get lonely, feel unwanted, and cry.  It sort of sucked.

There was one time when I dropped the box of mac and cheese I'd been planning to make on the kitchen floor.  I started yelling and swearing, saying dinner was ruined and I had fucked it all up.  Much as he tried, Hubby couldn't convince me otherwise.  I wound up sobbing on the kitchen floor for awhile.  Same thing happened when a vase broke.  These are normal occurrences, but I was completely incapable of handling them normally.

In late July, I decided it was time to try the meds again.  I contacted my doctor (who is quite possibly the most understanding and least judgmental doctor I've ever met) and she put me back on Fluoxetine.  I started taking it again beginning in August, and I was already feeling happier just knowing that things would get better soon. 

Then came The Break-Up.  (Dun, dun, dunnnnnn.)

In August, Hubby and I were planning a camping trip, so I had worked "summer hours" that week (9-hour days Mon-Thurs, half day Friday) so we could get a head start.  Instead of trying to recall all of this, I'm going to copy/paste from my journal entry a few days after it happened.

We packed, we had lunch, we packed some more... He seemed a bit strange, but I wrote it off as lack of sleep combined with 3 cups of coffee in less than 3 hours (he stayed up late to play video games and drank a lot of coffee at work just for fun).

Then, when I asked him if he was OK again (I'd already asked, and his arm hurt, so I'd given him some ibuprofen), he said he had a lot going on in his mind. He seemed serious, so I took his hands and encouraged him to talk... He started with some stuff about how there was a lot of talk about marriage lately... and apparently he decided that he really couldn't see marrying me. I told him I wasn't looking to get married right now or anything, and we talked a bit more.

I asked at one point if he still loved me, and he took a long pause. Then he said, "I guess my silence sort of answered that..." He didn't say it in a mean way, just said it. I remained as calm and collected as I could, and continued talking to him about how we could work on things. He would say things that I found encouraging, that I thought meant we could work through it. Things about if we had hobbies together (I had recently told him I'd be happy to come out and hang with him while he worked on the car, and reiterated this, and agreed that I'd even try getting my hands dirty in the process), or if I had friends to hang with (I told him I could try being friends with [insert she-who-will-not-be-named here], and that once the meds kicked in, that I could look for a new job and have new coworkers to hang with)...

But all in all, he just wasn't sure he loved me anymore. He'd had doubts for weeks, he said. Did he still care about me? Yes. Deeply. He even said he "likes me a lot". At some point I started crying a bit, but was still trying to reason with him. Neither of us knew what to do. I told him that the logical thing might be to see if things get better with the meds, you know? But, there's nothing logical about love.

And so, I began to pack. He helped for awhile, but I couldn't stop myself from crying and saying the stupidest things. Things like, "I can't believe you went on vacation with me and didn't love me!" and "I just want you to love me again..." Lines that happen in a bad book or movie, but I just couldn't help it."

It was the worst pain I've experienced yet, and thankfully my sisters were there for me and I flew out to Las Vegas for a few days to recover. 

In my opinion, that break turned out to be one of the best things that happened to our relationship.  I got to spend some time back in my hometown, reassuring myself that I wasn't completely dependent on him, and finding that my meds were making things I normally couldn't do seem much more possible.  His time away from me made him realize that he truly did love me, depression/anxiety/insanity and all.  We were back together soon, and have been together since. 

As of this post, I'm on 40 MG of fluoxetine and 150 MG of bupropion (generic Wellbutrin), and I'm doing really well.  I used to think that being on anti-depressants meant I was dependent on them, and I hated that thought.  My mom put that into perspective for me.  She asked me, "Well, are you dependent on your glasses to see?"

"Uh, yeah..."

"The glasses don't change your eyes, they just make it easier to see.  The pills do the same thing.  They don't change who you are, they just make it easier to be you."

I still have my moments, and some days are harder than others, but it's mostly within the realm of normal emotions.  When I get sad, it's usually because something sad has happened instead of just out of the blue.  When I get frustrated, I don't yell and swear as much anymore.  And when I do have a particularly bad moment, I use some of the techniques I learned back in my days of therapy and some other relaxation methods.  I'm a nicer person to be around overall.

I've been back in school since August 2009, and am on track to get my BA in Psychology (go figure, right?).  I'm married to a wonderful man, and have a great house and an adorable dog.  I have friends who love me and family who always has my back.  I even have a hobby that I'm passionate about (photography is the most therapeutic thing I do)! 

A lot of people have contributed to my happiness and well-being.  I don't have the time or space to thank them all individually, but more than likely, you know who you are.  Thank you.  From the very bottom of my heart... Thank you.

The bottom line is something like this: Depression (and other mental illnesses) sucks.  It's trying for you and everyone around you, and some days (many days... sometimes every day) it feels like nothing will ever get better. 

It will. 

If you give it time, it will.  If you work at it, it will.  If you allow your friends and family to help you, it will.  If you find goals you want to achieve, it will.  And eventually, those days will become rarities, and when you slip back into old ways of thinking, just remember that it did get better.  And it will again.  Don't give up.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Riki's History Part 4: Depressed & Desperate

Even after the past three entries, I know this one is going to be the worst.  I'm reliving some seriously messed up stuff and I honestly look back at my life and wonder how I let it get to that point.  The best I can do is try to learn from the past and keep moving forward.

So, when we left off, I was about to leave college for the second time and had met Shane.  Shane was a 19 year old guy I met online.  He was from Missouri, and we had a few things in common.  At college, I didn't date much (or really at all; I was seeing one girl for awhile, but nothing really came of it), so the attention I got online (AOL, baby... I'm that cool) made me feel special.  There were a few guys I IM'd with frequently, but Shane was my favorite.

After I had gone home, my parents insisted I get a job.  I half-heartedly looked, thinking I'd be back for the spring semester, but it wasn't to be.  For a couple of weeks, I lived with my best friend L and her family because I just couldn't take my own family anymore.  "You're breaking your mother's heart, you know," my dad told me.  I knew.  But at the time, I just needed to get out.  On top of this, I had stopped taking my anti-depressants.

The first time we talked on the phone (January 2005), Shane had told me he would sound funny, something about altering his voice.  It should've been a ginormous flag, but I just figured he was being goofy.  That's what we did!  We had fun and flirted and laughed.  Shortly thereafter, I finally got a part-time job.  A few weeks in, I bought my very first cell phone so I could talk to Shane any time I wanted.  By that summer, I was racking up some hefty phone bills (mostly because of texting).

I considered Shane my boyfriend.  I talked to him more than anyone else I knew, and we had such great conversations.  Most of the time.  Sometimes it felt like he wanted me to do nothing but sit around at home and talk to him or (in his absence) think about him or just do nothing.  One time that bothered me in particular was my 21st birthday.  He didn't want me to go out to drink, but there was no way I was missing out on hitting the bars for the first time.  Between texts and phone calls, he kept bugging me all night until I finally stopped responding.

A few times we had broken up (the first time having been a few weeks before my 21st birthday) and then gotten back together.  We were in love, and someday we would get to be together in person.  The drama kept mounting, though.  Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, and looking back, I can't believe how gullible I let myself be.  I believed all kinds of things. 

Want an example?  Once, I believed that he was at a water park and hit his head, giving him some form of amnesia.  I learned this through texts that were supposed to be from his friend telling me this, and warning me that Shane might not remember me.  I was devastated (K probably remembers this; we were over at D's for movie night, I think) and didn't know what to do.  Miraculously enough, everything ended up OK and Shane was fine.

Every day, every week it got harder and harder.  One day we'd be happy and all would be well.  The next we'd be fighting or breaking up and I'd be sure my life was over.  For awhile, we were "engaged" and were planning to get married in a few years.  I even started picking out dresses and rings online (it's the closest I ever got to dreaming of my wedding before I got engaged to Hubby).

For a year this all went on.  My friends thought I would be better off without him.  I know my parents thought so.  But he was the only person I was certain loved me at that point in my life.  I didn't get to go back to school that fall (I hadn't earned enough money for my parents to give the OK), and soon I found out that my sister (K) was moving across the country.  Nothing felt right except for Shane.

So, naturally, that's when my world came crashing down.

In November 2005, more than a year after I'd first "met" him, Shane called to say there was something important we had to talk about.  20-year-old Shane was in fact a 15-year-old girl (we'll call her Girl X).  Her parents had found out about how she had been lying to me (and them) and made her own up to things.  As I talked to her mom and things unraveled, everything started making sense.

The reason "Shane" was always at the local high school ("he" told me he worked there, but Girl X was really a student there).  All the times I heard people call her by her real name (a unisex name).  The extravagant stories meant to force us to break up because she couldn't simply do it.  The excuses for why we couldn't meet (because she wasn't who I thought), and the "altered" voice (in my defense, she had a very gender-neutral sounding voice over the phone). 

Girl X wasn't to contact me anymore, but she did.  She apologized and told me that she really did love me.  And being as depressed and desperate as I was, I kept talking to her because I loved her, too.  I don't care about gender (it's one of the perks to being bisexual, I guess).  A body is just a body; I was in love with the person inside and the body wasn't even a factor.  We secretly kept talking for a day or two until her dad found out.  At that point, it came down to this: Either I stopped contacting Girl X, or they were going to essentially flag me as a child predator and things would've gotten U-G-L-Y.  I opted for the former.

She kept trying, though.  I'd get texts, but I kept ignoring them.  Her or her friends would keep emailing me or IM'ing me.  Within a week, I changed my phone number.  I had blocked her on AOL, along with all her "friends."  At least once she tried to trick me into talking to her.  I had gotten an IM and was chatting with some guy when things started getting weird.  It dawned on me that it must've been her, and I said goodbye and blocked that name, too.  A few years later, I think she might have tried again, but I can't say for sure.  The last time I know I talked to her was 6 and a half years ago.  

This whole thing sounds insane.  I'm aware.  It's hard to believe that I didn't see the signs, right?  You only see what you want to see sometimes, and all I wanted was someone who loved me and made me feel worthwhile.  I sometimes suspected that maybe "Shane" was in high school, but I figured maybe he was a senior and just didn't want me to write him off as being too young.  Never did I suspect he was female, nor that she was only 15. 

At first, I missed her.  Terribly.  My best friend/sister was moving away, I'd lost the person I loved, and I was feeling utterly alone.  But as time went on, I realized that she had lied to me for a year, and instead of being sad, I was just plain old pissed off.  Mostly, I think, at myself for being so trusting, so blind to everything.  I was embarrassed and hurt, and I told very, very few people the truth about what happened.  Now you all know the truth.

My depression and low self-esteem can't take all of the blame for what happened, I know, but they played a pretty major role in things.  Had I been a happier, more confident person, I wouldn't have been spending my entire life online talking to strangers who (at least seemingly) accepted me without question.  I probably would have found more joy in the world around me, I might not have felt like the only way someone could love me was without having to be physically with me, and maybe I could have found happiness in loving myself instead of seeking someone else's love.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Riki's History Part 3: Ups & Downs

Well, like I said, the rest of high school was fairly uneventful.  Toward the end of my sophomore year I started dating a great guy (thanks to my old camp friends, we already have a nickname for him - Beefy).  We were together for a year and a half (until I inevitably messed things up), and he treated me like a princess.  

My mom's side of the family has a history of severe headaches and migraines, and sadly, I didn't escape this fate.  Sometime during my junior year, Mom took me to the doctor to see what they could prescribe for my headaches.  At one point the doctor asked, "Do you have any symptoms of depression?"  Without hesitation, Mom and I both answered yes.  Based on that and a few other questions, I was prescribed Celexa.  

To this day, one of the most meaningful gestures a significant other has made for me was shortly after this.  I had told Beefy about the appointment and the name of the medication, and told him I'd be starting it soon.  The next day when he picked me up for school, he handed me a bunch of paper.  He had gone online and researched Celexa to learn more about it and gave me the results.  He wasn't exactly someone who goes out of their way to read a lot, so it was pretty amazing to know he cared so much.  I'll never forget that.

Eventually, my dosage got bumped up.  And again.  And again.  It would help for awhile, and then slowly taper off.  Beefy stuck with me through a lot of ups and downs, as did a few really amazing friends.  The real problem came if I didn't get the pills refilled quickly enough (and, being a teenager, I was terrible at being on top of things).  The results weren't pretty.  At one point I went three days without my meds and found myself curled up under a desk in an empty classroom, crying and talking to my friend's mom on the phone because my own mom wasn't being any help (so I thought).  Part of it was anxiety about getting things back in line, and part of it was my system being fairly dependent on the Celexa to function.  

I was on Celexa for a few years.  Before I started college in fall of 2002, I went to see my first proper psychiatrist, who threw some wellbutrin in there as well.  Even with that added in, things didn't go so well.  

I don't want to bore anyone with all the details, so I'll just hit on a few things.  The first is that I became an insomniac.  I would be awake for 22 or 23 hours of the day, crashing just long enough to get wired up again.  I was always online, and as much as my roommate tried to involve me, I preferred the world wide web to the actual world around me.  I was dating First again, but he never came to visit and around October I broke things off for good.  (When I broke up with him, he said he had been trying to find a bus out to see me before getting the crap beaten out of him.  I do know that he was severely hurt for awhile, but in my eyes, it was still too little too late.)

Worst of all was the suicidal thoughts.  You know that disclaimer on commercials?  The one that says children and young adults are susceptible to worsening depression and thoughts of suicide?  Yeah, they're not kidding.  There were times I would find myself sitting on the floor in the showers, holding my razor and thinking about how easy it would be.  There were other times when I would lay in bed for hours, missing class, not eating, not sleeping, just crying or aching.  I started burning myself with my lighter (I had recently started smoking at that point).  Things were bad.

They reached a peak in late October when I decided it was just time to do it.  Bestie (who was at college about an hour away) had been wonderful to me, and I felt I owed it to her to say goodbye and to let my boyfriend (who went to her school) know what was going on.  I don't know if I was hoping she could talk me out of it or if I just wanted to talk to someone who loved me or what, but I pretty much scared the ever-loving life out of her.  She told her mom, and they were telling me they would call the police if I didn't stop talking like that.  So, on Bestie's advice, I took my knife to my downstairs neighbor and told him to hold onto it for awhile.

I was too late, though.  Her mom (I think) had already called the police, and soon they showed up at my dorm.  An officer peaked into our room (our door was usually open) and said, "Do you know where I can find Emily?"  Since we actually had an Emily on our floor, I pointed him down the hall.  I was trying to decide if I should make a run for it when two more officers came into my room, asking if I was Erika.  Within 10 minutes there were 4 officers (with 3 squad cars; don't you people carpool or work in partners?) and an assistant dean in my room, all asking me questions.  They almost took my scissors away (until I showed them just how dull they were), and then asked if they should take my pills away.

"My antidepressants?  Uh, I need those so I DON'T hurt myself..."  They weren't thrilled with my response, but they let me keep them anyway.  As the crowd was tapering down, my RA showed up.  He'd been at the library studying, and noticed the cop cars.  He was just curious until he realized they were parked in front of his dorm; then he was alarmed.  He was a great guy, and he made me laugh when he came in and we had this exchange:

RA: I saw all those cops and you know who I thought they were here for?
Me: [Insert other resident's name here.]
RA: Yep.  And for what?
Me: Drugs.
RA: Yep.  

When my roommate came back, she guessed the same things I had, and we joked about it, saying next time they'd be here for the other resident.  After reassuring him that the night's events were over, my RA told me to watch The Muppet Movie (I did) and that the next day he'd take me for ice cream (he did).  Best RA ever.  

The very next night a friend committed suicide.

All I could think was, "That could've been me."  My world was shaken and I finally realized that I didn't actually want to die.  A few weeks later, my roommate helped me tell my parents what was going on and that we thought I could use some time in the hospital.  Mom and Dad didn't agree, but they did agree that I should come home.  They took me to a new psychiatrist, who tried a few different meds with me and referred me to a therapist.

The combination of behavioral therapy and Fluoxetine (generic Prozac) were good to me, and in January 2003 I went back to school.  I kept going through fall of 2004, at which point, I started falling apart again.  This time, my major problems were migraines and falling asleep at the drop of a hat.  I honestly couldn't stay awake, and would find myself sleeping while sitting up with my laptop trying to do homework.  (Eventually, we found out I had sleep apnea, and that was a big part of the problem.)  I was missing classes left and right, and in late November, I decided that it was time to leave again.

But just before this happened, I met Shane.  And that, my dears, is for next time. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Riki's History Part 2: Pain & Panic

High school, I had thought, was a time to reinvent myself.  The first day of classes, I woke up at 5:30 to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready.  My fingernails matched my sunglasses (which I wore as a hair band, thinking I looked cool), my outfit was great, I was ready to go.  Plus, I finally had a boyfriend, so I thought this would be my year.

My mom always said that most people have a pretty miserable freshman year.  Mine was more miserable than most*.  Things got off to a decent start, but quickly turned sour.  My boyfriend - we'll call him First, since he was my first real boyfriend - and I broke up about 2 months in to the first semester because I had been flirting with another guy. The other guy and I "dated" for six days before I was back with First.  

Things went fine until right around winter break.  I had been putting up with quite a bit of verbal and emotional abuse from First in those few months.  One example that always comes to mind is the time he offered me some of his fries.  I turned them down because I knew he hadn't been eating much lately and I didn't want to take away from his lunch.  Another friend (a guy, of course) offered me some of his fries, and I took a few.  First started yelling at me, asking me why his fries weren't good enough for me, calling me a bitch/slut/etc.  I ran away crying, and when he came after me, he apologized profusely, begging me to forgive him and telling me how much he loved me.  Incidents like this had become our norm (thus earning me the nickname of "Biggest Crybaby at East"), and I put up with it.  

Until the time he used physical force.  I was running away crying one of the times, when he caught up to me, grabbed my arm and yanked me toward the wall.  Fortunately, a few upperclassmen were passing by and told him to let go of me.  It only resulted in a bruise on my arm, but I knew it could get worse, and I knew I had to break things off.

I worked up the courage to do it.  I'll never forget that day.  He was wearing a jacket designed like the American flag and I had dressed up to boost my confidence a little.  When I told him I wanted to break up, he begged me not to.  I stood my ground and the next thing I knew he was walking away from me, telling me he was going home to kill himself.  I cried out to him, told him we could keep dating, and he came back.  I told him we'd talk later.  All day we did this dance.  I'd try to break things off gently, and he'd threaten suicide.  I was frantic, and eventually wound up having my first panic attack.  

Panic attacks are insanely scary.  Your heart races, you start breathing heavy and sweating.  The world around you feels surreal, almost fuzzy.  Everything's a bit tingly (probably because of the breathing), and in my case, I wound up hyperventilating myself into an asthma attack.  Friends got me to the nurse and I had my first nebulizer (sp?) treatment.  While sitting there, trying to relax, they sent in one of the school's social workers, as my friends had tried to explain the circumstances to the nurse.  When I was able, I told her what was going on.  They managed to find First, call his dad and get him home safe, and I thought maybe things would be OK.

In January, when school started up after break, I started dating a new guy.  First caught wind of this and was having none of it.  At first, he just kept trying to give me presents to win me back, including a ring (to this day I don't know where he got it, but it wasn't from a store), but I kept turning him down.  Then he began confronting New Guy.  New Guy and I tried ignoring him and his threats, but things just got worse.  At some point, the three of us ended up in a mediation session (New Guy thought it was a good idea to get everything out in the air with an adult present).  It was actually going well until the mediator stepped out of the room for a minute.  First pulled out a knife, made a few threatening remarks (about New Guy, and about taking his own life again) and ran out of the room.  We told the mediator what happened, and they managed to find him before he really got anywhere (it's a big school; no quick escape routes).

For months, things like this would come up, and I didn't know how to deal with it.  I'd have more panic attacks (and resulting asthma attacks) and wind up at the social worker's office or in the school psychologist's office.  New Guy and I broke up, and I felt more alone than I ever had.  I felt this intense pain that came from so deep inside of me, but never physically came out, and I was frustrated.  I was mad because there wasn't a way to fix the pain, to make it stop.  And so, like too many others, I started cutting.  

It was never anything life-threatening.  Just shallow cuts up and down my arm.  After I'd made the cuts, I'd pour rubbing alcohol on my arms and I'd cry while it burned.  It was a release for me, a pain I could control.  It was a pain that went away.  So much easier to explain than the pain inside.  Eventually, First found out about this, and told some staff member at school.  Word got home to my parents, but the most that ever came up was a brief conversation in which my dad told me they knew and that I was to stop doing it.  They checked my arms at school for a few weeks, but eventually I was off the hook again.

There's a taste of my freshman year.  The rest of high school was relatively uneventful compared to all of that, but I'll save that for next time.     

*Due to some feedback, I feel it's necessary to say that I assume my freshman year was more miserable than most (relative to my peers, anyway).  I certainly know that people had worse years than I did (at 14 or 15, life can really suck), but I also know a lot of people who had much better years.  I'm not saying that my life was so totally awful, blah blah, wah wah.  I'm just saying that it wasn't so grand.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Riki's History Part 1: Depression & Anxiety

I've been trying to figure out how to work up to a certain entry, and I think this is probably the best way to begin.  It'll take a few installments, but, I feel like it will help me deal with some things and bring some lesser-known info to light.

When I was six, I started having terrible stomach aches every night.  I'd wake my mom up and she'd sit in the bathroom with me while I waited to puke, but it never came.  After awhile, I stopped waking her up, and I stopped rushing to the toilet and accepted the fact that my stomach hated me.

We tried different diets, as suggested by my doctor.  The no-dairy one was the hardest, because I'm a true Sconnie.  I missed milk.  And cheese  And ice cream.  (Oddly enough, they let me have yogurt, so I didn't have to miss that.)  The worst part was that none of the diets worked.

As years passed, the stomach aches either became less frequent/bothersome or I was so used to them that I didn't notice anymore (most likely a combination thereof).  It wasn't until I was an adult that we discovered the most likely cause of my stomach aches was anxiety.  Maybe it had been more apparent if I had told my mom about the recurring images in my head of someone murdering my family and leaving me behind.  Or if I had told my parents that every night I worried that our locks weren't good enough or that my parents wouldn't wake up if someone broke in.  Or if I had told them that so many of my nightmares didn't come while I was sleeping, but while I was laying in bed hoping to fall asleep so the thoughts would stop.  But I didn't tell them, so they never knew.

When I was thirteen, the topic of suicide came up.  I don't remember how or why.  I didn't exactly want to try it, but the idea intrigued me.  Around this age, I started to write poetry.  Two poems in particular threw up a bright red flag.

Life is like a nightmare,
in which I have come,
it grabs me and holds on tight,
until the morning sun.
Don't smile, don't laugh, don't even cry,
not a hint of sympathy,
life is like a nightmare, 
it has gone and embraced me.
Life is never easy, 
life is never fair,
life is like a nightmare,
so why do I even care.

And the more succinct (and scary) 4-liner:

Life is never easy
Causes lots of stress
Life is all my problems
The answer must be death.

My friends were, needless to say, concerned.  I tried to assure them that they were only words, and they backed off for awhile...

Until some of my friends on the school newspaper decided to start an advice column.  They asked us to submit a few questions to get the ball rolling, and along with the more trivial, "I like this boy, but I think he likes someone else.  What do I do?" questions, I submitted one about  contemplating suicide.  Big mistake.

My friends took this as a cry for help (and, maybe it was... I'm not sure what my 13-year-old self was really thinking or capable of doing) and alerted a teacher or two.  Next thing I know, I'm being hauled off to the school's psychologist to take what I now know to be a simplified depression screening test.  "I am happy... 1) Rarely or never. 2) Occasionally. 3) Sometimes. 4) Most of the time. 5) Frequently or always."

Here's the thing... I was a pretty smart kid.  I knew I couldn't flat-out lie and say I was all sunshine and sprinkles, but I knew that if I let them think I was miserable, I was in big trouble.  So, I answered with mostly 3s, threw in some 4s and 2s for good measure, and asked if I could go back to class.  I had to go back to the psychologist's office once a month or something for awhile.  Every time I would make sure to wear sparkly makeup and do my hair up fun.  I'm not sure if it was an attempt to say, "See?  I'm fun and fine!" or "Look!  I'm different and weird!"  Either way, they eventually stopped making appointments for me and all was well in the world of Riki.  If my parents knew about it (and I have to expect that the school called them), I don't think they ever mentioned it.  

The worst part about this experience was the friends that I lost.  For a year or so, I had been hanging out with the other 4.0s (other straight A students), even though I think I had a 3.8 or something.  We all had a passion for writing, and would stay in at lunch, reading each others' stories and plays, developing characters, all sorts of things.  It had been one of the 4.0s who had told on me, and while I wasn't mad anymore, she and the others were apparently scared or bothered enough by the ordeal that they stopped reading my plays and stopped hanging out with me.

I latched on to another group of friends, and while they weren't interested in writing their first novel, they were nice to me and accepted me.  Those few friends were my lifeline for the rest of that year, and some of them for even longer.  In fact, ten years later I met my husband through one of the people who helped me through that time.  

Since I could write a whole mini-series on my high school issues, I'll save that for the next installment.  Until then...    

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thanks For the Memories

I was really hoping that I wouldn't have to write another entry like this for a long time.  But here I am.

The first time (of many) I injured myself at school was in first grade.  I was running around the corner of the building - on blacktop, of course - and hit some gravel.  Down I went.  I think I only skinned one knee that time (many times it was both), and the friction tore right through my tights (white - what was my mother thinking?).  I looked at my knee, skinned with bits of gravel sticking to it, and started crying.  I don't remember who got the teacher on duty, but as soon as I had gotten myself to the door, she was on alert.

Standing next to her was a short girl with a cast on her arm.  "Erika," the teacher said, "this is Rachael.  She's going to take you to the nurse's office."  I sniffled and nodded, then looked at Rachael.  She beamed at me and opened the door.  

On our trip to the nurse (which was a bit of a hike for a six-year-old, since it was in the middle school half of our building), Rachael did the talking.  She told me how she already knew where the nurse's office was because she was in first grade last year, but she had to take it again.  She showed me her cast and kept smiling the whole way there.  I'm sure she told me other things, too.  I just remember that smile. 

By the time we got to the office, I think I had forgotten all about my knee (unless they poured alcohol on it - FCOL, that shit stings!).  Rachael waited for me while I got a band-aid and she walked me back to the first grade rooms.  With one more smile, she waved and turned into her classroom.  

Time went on, and I continued to run into Rachael (small school; it happens).  Though she got teased a lot (didn't we all?), she never quit smiling.  Sure, eventually you could piss her off (I think I only did that once; I'm a quick learner), but it was pretty rare.

I was never all that fantastic at making friends, since I'm terribly shy, but I hadn't had to think about it with Rachael.  She just became my friend. 

And we stayed friends for a long time.  It wasn't until after a party at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school that we really started to separate, and I haven't seen her since I graduated high school nearly 10 years ago.  

This week, she died.  When I heard about it, I could only think of two things: scraping my knee when I was six and that party when I was 15.  In a way, those were the beginning and ending points of our friendship.  (Though I saw her pretty often after the party, things weren't quite the same, and we weren't the friends we had been.)  After that, all I could think about was how I regret not trying harder to stay in touch.  

I will, however, always have some great memories of Rachael, and for that I'm thankful.  But now I'm starting to wonder who might be next...

RIP, Rachael.  Keep smiling.