I have lived a difficult life. My struggles may not seem severe to some, but my life has been hard. I have lived a life full of fear because of the trauma I have endured. I have never known a life that was fluid or easy. It was never in the cards for me. I have spent the majority of my life struggling to find ways to be comfortable and content. But it was never for all the right reasons. I never wanted to be comfortable with myself because I was so busy trying to make other people around me comfortable.

My mom passed away when I was two years old and because my family is well-known, every one in the city knew. Parents told their kids. And those kids bullied me. They thought it was funny that my Grandparents were raising me. They thought I was a freak. We were in kindergarten and first grade and kids went out of their way to my make experience uncomfortable. I was the freak with no parents. And no one–not even my family–ever let me forget that.

In middle school, my Grandparents and I relocated to Indiana. Where I was bullied some more. My hair wasn’t right, my clothes weren’t stylish enough, I was too quiet.  I wasn’t pretty enough. I remember being grade a C- on the Appearance Report Card. But that grade wasn’t low enough for the classmate who consistently groped me in the middle of my last period art class in 8th grade. I was 13. No teacher ever came to my rescue. My Grandfather had just died and I didn’t want to burden my Grandmother.

In high school, I had trouble adjusting to being back in Rhode Island.  At the end of my sophomore year everything around me just started to crumble. I felt myself splitting in two as the familial issues arose. July 3, 2007 is a day I will never forget. My cousins and I call it “The Big Bang.” In Spring of my junior year, at age 17, I was homeless. I found solace in working and playing sports. Circumstances forced my hand and long story short- -I had to live with the source of my anxiety. I developed insomnia, ended up in counseling, and my grades slipped. I started skipping school regularly. Then, again, in Spring of my Senior year, we were homeless again. My Grandmother’s health was all over the place during this time, so I had that pressure on my shoulders in addition to the regular stressors of teenage life.

After I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. I thought that would be the cure-all for my PTSD and its symptoms. I was wrong. My freshman year of college consisted of going home every weekend to work and living alone in my dorm because the roommate I was assigned didn’t work out. I was always in my room and I hardly ever went to campus events. I stayed on campus to work the Summer of 2010 and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. That Summer I met new people–who I’m still friends with to this day–and came out of my shell. I still went to counseling and my Grandmother’s health was still all over the place. By my junior year, I was working 3 jobs and going to school full-time. I got into a relationship with someone who was older than me and I thought I was in love. That’s what we all think, right? Young and dumb, I guess. At the end of my junior year, I knew that I was not mentally prepared to go back to school in the fall. But I went anyway. And then I had a nervous breakdown. And I allowed myself to break down in front of my Grandmother for the first time. She was spooked. It’s crazy how people are always surprised when the strong person can’t be strong for those few months. She cried with me and told me that she supported me no matter what I did. She let me know that it was okay to take care of myself. Shortly after that, I got out of the mentally/emotionally abusive relationship that I had been in for almost 3 years.

Fast forward a year or so, I was working at a group home for teenage girls and found that I loved working with kids. But I paid a price for it. I worked there for 5 years and I was assaulted and injured. I worked 40+ hours a week. A few years later and my Grandmother’s health starts to decline and I decide that it was time for me to move back home to help her out. The very same day I began moving my stuff back into her house, was the day she died. She had no idea I was even moving back home. It was a surprise. I self medicated with sex and alcohol–but ended up back in therapy because I found that I wasn’t coping in healthy way. It has taken me two years to come to terms with the fact that she is gone. I have my moments, but I am not in the deep abyss that I used to be. Two years later, and I got the courage to leave a job I loved because it wasn’t good for me–mentally–anymore.

My whole life I have lived in some sort of fear. Always afraid of what people think about me and how they perceive me. I have difficulty forming relationships because ultimately, I believe that people will leave me. The way each of my parents did. The way most of my family has. I fear being lonely so I put up these walls–brick-built–so no one can get in. I thought it was safer this way. But in hindsight, it hasn’t been healthy. It hasn’t been easier. I’ve just made it harder on myself. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being touched so I used to stay in the house all the time. But there is an entire world outside waiting for me to explore. So now I spend my days living and exploring. I want to live my best life.

I say all this because someone out there needs to hear this the way I needed to hear this 10 years ago. IT GETS BETTER. But ONLY IF YOU WORK FOR IT. You create your happiness, it doesn’t just fall into your lap. The fear of missing out on your dreams has to be greater than the sum of your other fears.

Present day, I help homeless families find stable, affordable housing. I still work a lot, but I enjoy what I do. And every day off I get, I am doing something that scares me. I want to be fear(less). Fear less. If you told me 10 years ago, that I would be where I am today, I would have laughed. I came close so many times with thoughts of suicide. But I don’t allow those thoughts to permeate my self talk. I have learned that you have to trust your fear. There is a reason you are afraid. But some fears have no reason other than preventing you from living your whole life. I don’t really care what people think of me. I still get anxious in public, but I don’t allow it to prevent me from living my best life.

I am so grateful for all of the experiences that have shaped who I am today. Without fire and ashes, I couldn’t be the Phoenix that I am today. They key is to persevere. Rise above your fears and self-doubt and let that fire push you to your full potential. I’m not where I want to be, but I thank God and the universe that I am not where I was 10 years ago.  

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