And I’m Ready to Hope

I’m going to apologize upfront for the formatting of this post. While I’m going to attempt to make it as coherent as possible, the reality is these topics lead me to follow a more “stream of consciousness” style of writing that may be disjointed at times. Bear with me.

When I was in college, I had a breakdown. It wasn’t a quick onslaught of crazy the way most people think breakdowns appear. It was a slow and steady decline from a rather narrow and precarious plateau. It started small and it creeped in slowly over the course of my 3 years at Wittenberg.

I had an extremely rough set of teen years. Well above and beyond what most people experience. It wasn’t bullying or classmates that made it so, it was my home life. My dad, a long time alcoholic, hit rockbottom, after years of slipping, some time around my junior or senior year of high school. He didn’t just suffer from alcoholism though, he had a hodge podge of other compounding issues that only served to make things worse for him and for us kids. While I can say I was never physically abused (with the exception of that one time), I was mentally abused at every turn and feel now that my life was a living hell I didn’t quite comprehend the scope of until years later.

The icing on this very nasty cake came one evening in the form of my dad suffering pancreatitis and alcoholic DTs. DTs make people see, hear, and do crazy things. My dad? He felt he was possessed by the devil. I always checked the driveway when getting home to know how to prepare myself mentally. If the car was in the driveway, the walls went up. That afternoon, there was no car so I breathed a silent sigh of relief and went in to wait for my brother, do my homework, clean, and get dinner started. But my dad was there. He was off. He was rambling. He cornered me and, in the most eerily calm voice I have ever heard a person in real life use, said, “Evalyn, I swear to you I think I’m possessed by the devil. I’m scared. There’s a gun in the house. It’s mine. I’m afraid I’m going to use it. I’m afraid I’ll kill you and your brother first. Then I’ll kill myself. Do something. I won’t be mad. But get help.” I will remember that verbatim for the rest of my life.

While that moment encompasses the lowest point, it wasn’t all of it. For years I’d been busy shielding my brother from the worst of my dad’s crazy. I’d been acting as the mother not only to myself and my brother, but also my dad. I had taken on the brunt of the housework, cooking, cleaning, and caring for us all while following an advanced and AP track, maintaining a high GPA, and joining way too many clubs and organizations in high school. I didn’t get to party, sneak out, or do a lot of the things I witnessed classmates doing. I had a small core group of friends and an amazing high school sweetheart who kept me sane at the time, but I lost that when I went to college and I think that’s where my breakdown began.

If you haven’t been, Wittenberg is a stunning campus. The students, professors, and staff are (usually) incredibly friendly. It’s easy to fall in love with it. And I did. I was determined to go there despite my family’s terrible financial ruin and my need for a break from the craziness of my life to that point. While I don’t regret the people I met or the time I spent at Wittenberg, I know now I made a terrible mistake in going there and forcing myself to stay there as long as I did. I’m stubborn and pig-headed. What can I say?

You see, Wittenberg is easy to get into, but the programs are strenuous and it’s much harder to stay. I started struggling very early on. When my high school sweetheart left me to be with someone else, a mutual friend, I was understandably devastated. He had been my rock for so long I didn’t know where to anchor myself anymore. The fact that many of our mutual friends also disappeared at the time made it even harder on me. I chose to throw myself in to meeting people and joining a sorority in order to hide my hurt from that and my residual pain from my situation waiting back home. I got incredibly ill with something the doctors couldn’t diagnose (though we know now that was probably the first showing of my gluten sensitivity issues) and I gave up on making it to class but 50% of the time. For the girl who gave herself pneumonia from refusing to stay home sick during high school to the girl unwilling to get out of bed for a 10am class, it was a mighty hard fall.

Sophomore year, things got worse. I struggled harder with my grades. I struggled harder finding money to pay for the school and the sorority I had committed myself too. I started falling back into my very disordered eating habits and exercise bulimia routine. I started having strings of one-night-stands to try and make myself feel even just a little bit better. I became a mess.

Junior year was the worst though. I was living in my sorority house and I was sick nearly all of the time. I had strep throat or tonsillitis at least once a month for a solid 12 months and had to have my tonsils and adenoids removed. Thinking that would make me all better was an error. I was still sick most of the time. Never anything truly life-threatening (apart from one bought with a 104+ fever and several asthma attacks that landed me in the ER) but constantly annoying. I was also suffering from migraines more often than I had ever before. They went from a once a month annoyance to a twice a week debilitating condition. When I wasn’t having migraines (and sometimes when I was, if I’m being 100% honest), I was having ever escalating panic attacks and terrible bouts of insomnia. When I look back on it now, it is a damn miracle someone didn’t approach me sooner or even begin to catch on to my mental state. I’m not sure how I functioned well enough to hide the bulk of what’s going on. I know I didn’t hide everything well because I heard the whispers from my “friends” and sorority sisters from time to time (“She’s such a faker.” “She’s a hypochondriac. She can’t be *that* sick.” “She’s just crazy.” “How’d SHE get a little.” and on) but I hid it well enough that that’s as far as the speculated.

My primary doctor was monitoring me as closely as he could from two hours away. He was running all kinds of tests on me to try and diagnose whatever was causing my cornucopia of mismatched symptoms but always coming up short. When I think about all the different disorders we thought I had, everything from certain types of cancers to pituitary brain tumors and moderately rare and serious autoimmune diseases, I can’t help but shake my head. I was definitively diagnosed with extremely bad generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), mild hypomanic (or type II) bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality traits (not to be confused with actual OCD), extremely bad migraines, and some autoimmune disorder of unknown name. And still I kept pushing.

In the fall of 2006, I hit my lowest point. I couldn’t function. I had a small absence seizure precipitated by all the stress, anxiety, and a particularly bad migraine. It scared my mom pretty badly. She and my doctor decided enough was enough and issued an ultimatum. I either had to go home and stay home until I was sorted out or they were going to admit me to the hospital against my will. As the control freak I was then and a person who has never done extremely well feeling comfortable or sleeping well in strange places, I decided being home was a better option. After three years and way too much money spent, I left Wittenberg for good.

I write this and share it with you all now for one reason and one reason alone, I’m beginning to back slide and I’m scared. Being unable to find a job despite my best efforts and stellar recommendations; being forced to take unemployment money from the government; losing my health insurance and thus my care for my (now finally diagnosed) autoimmune issues, migraines, and anxiety is well, quite frankly, taking a very big toll on me. I’m less afraid to admit it now than I was in college, but I’m really worried and I’m scared. I catch myself regularly thinking thoughts I know I shouldn’t; thoughts I’m not comfortable putting out there and having linked to myself. I’m pouring myself into cheap crafts and hobbies, reading, wedding planning, anything to try and force myself not to allow the disordered thinking in, but it’s getting harder.

I don’t know what the future holds and right now that makes me incredibly anxious (go figure) but I’m trying really hard to remind myself every day that I have things to look forward to; that it’s going to get better. Again I find myself relying heavily on someone else to get me through this (much to my chagrin) and while I know we’re engaged and that’s “what husbands are supposed to do,” I feel incredibly guilty for it. To be honest though, I know without John, I’d be so much worse off. He really is the best partner I could have ever asked for.

When I was suffering through this in college, two songs really “spoke” to me. I listened to “Let Go” by Frou Frou and “Be My Escape” by Relient K on near repeat. I’m not doing that now, but the lyrics for the song “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine move me in the same way right now. The line “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is something I’m trying to drill into my brain. Say it enough and it’ll be so, right?


7 thoughts on “And I’m Ready to Hope

  1. Evie , first you are a strong capable woman who I believe in and surround with all the love that I can send your way. You and my Jennie have weathered horrible odds….terrible ugly awful times. You now both have partners who have your backs , who help in the dark times when the terror is the worst even when the do not and cannot understand . You have more moxie than you know. You both have the ability and life lessons to help many others who cannot see the other side. Use that talent to reach out to a community of children who hurt volunteer , be camp kids who have lost a parent .You will see what a friend can do. You can be the change , you can survive , we who know the good the bad and the ugly will walk beside you.I send healing vibes .Take a balloon write down all your hurts and fears then LET IT GO…..look forward to your wedding , all the plans , all the hopes , all the dreams . Come to Athens and have lunch with me . To heal find a group , i know being solitary and all me all the time is out of your comfort zone but please take care of you. Take a baby step not a leap . Call on your friends . Hard , yes , will it be Easy , indeed not. BUT try , please try. I am here for you , Jennie is also . You for years had the weight of the world on your shoulders , like a scarf , unwind it slowly bit by bit and drop it……I know these are buzz words but I mean it with love , sweet love . with hope , sweet hope , with encouragement , sweet encouragement . and all hugs I can send from Athens …..Mama Libby

  2. Evy, I can’t pretend to know what those years were like. I had (thankfully) been released from Hell already (e.g. had already moved out). But I can say that I understand, on more levels than you might realize.

    First, dad didn’t just become difficult one day – he got worse, yes, but he was always a bear. I remember once, when I was 11 or so, he didn’t like how I’d unloaded the dishwasher and stacked the pots and pans, so he took them out of the cabinet and THREW them across the townhouse at me! Mom wasn’t there (at work, I think) and I was too afraid of him to tell her. He would have only said it was my “bad attitude” anyway; that was always his fall-back when I did try to tell her about his erratic behavior and borderline abuse. So I get living in fear. In Virginia Beach, my room was above the garage. When he would come home and pull his car in, he would clear his throat. I became so adept at sensing his mood that I could tell by the sound of this simple action whether I should hide in my room or come downstairs and be social.

    Second, I also endured a horrible downward spiral. Only someone who has can ever understand Trent Reznor’s work (seriously). The root of mine was my thyroid, true, but I became unruly and sporadic and…what can only be described as a simulated mental illness. I did the most self-destructive things. But I didn’t realize. My insides were running so hard and so fast… I was constantly shaking and anxious. My mind never stopped running. I was paranoid, sad, happy, furious – all at once! It is sheer terror to feel so out of control in your own skin.

    I love you. If I can help in any way, tell me and I will do whatever I can…even if it just to talk. I doubt anyone can understand “those years” better.

    • What the hell was with that man and dishwashers?!? The one, and only (that I can remember), time he got truly physically abusive revolved around the stupid dishwasher. Instead of not unloading, it was my loading that set him off. I don’t even remember how it broke down, but it ended with him taking off his belt, chasing me around the house screaming, and eventually pinning me to the wall by my throat while screaming in my face. That belt probably hit me a few times, but I think I’ve blocked the vast majority of that out…

      Anywho, yeah…

      • Yes, he definitely had a thing about dishwashers. 😦 Maybe, as disorderly as he felt inside, he latched onto order of any kind externally. Regardless, I’m sorry you had to go through that. Having an adult who is so much bigger than you, and is thereby an intimidating figure, is very disturbing. I really hope he finally found peace.

    • Who would ever have known how much you can tell by the way someone coughs? I wouldn’t have thought it possible, if I hadn’t lived it.

      I’m so sorry you both had to go through these things. I am sorry I had to go through my own version. While I am grateful I finally woke up from the nightmare and realized that it was reality and not just a bad dream, I am sorry it took so long to recognize just how “not right” it all was. It is amazing how growing up in a highly dysfunctional situation can make it so hard to see that you’ve fallen into another. I am glad both of you have learned how to turn around and walk away from seriously flawed relationships. I am still learning.

      • I think it’s hard for people to walk away from relationships. It’s easy to say what someone should have done from the sidelines, but there is always the reality: you wouldn’t be in a relationship if you hadn’t seen a glimmer of something. I’m sure by the time a partner does behave horribly, you’re so confused as to where the “wonderful person” you first met went to that it takes a long time to realize they aren’t coming back.

        A lot of his behaviors were “classic”: divide and conquer, isolate, diminish self-esteem. I was mid to late 20s before I really repaired mine. Then, it was because my profession had begun to teach me that I was really, really good at something…so the confidence blossomed. My old therapist said I just needed that “one thing” to show me that Dad was “full of crap” (about my lack of worth) and then the whole house of cards he’d constructed through insults and criticisms fell.

        I don’t know if any of that makes you feel any better. He had a good side. We all saw it. But his demons were eating him alive. It was unavoidable that we would see that, too.

  3. Jeez, Evy! I had a feeling you were collapsing; I guess that’s why I needed to spend the day with you yesterday. You can talk to me about these things, you know. I might sometimes feel a little guilty for not being able to support you more in your teen years, but I can’t help now, if I don’t know what’s really going on. I love you. If I can take on living with Austin and trying to help him find a reasonably healthy path, I can handle listening to you. I’m glad you wrote this, though, since now I know.

    When I was in high school, I had many a dark hour, day, week, month(s). Sometimes I felt like Charlie Brown holed up in his room with the shades all drawn. Instead of becoming uber-responsible as you did, I missed a lot of school. I would stay home reading; I think I read most of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I also read a lot of my mom’s books and the Bible. I was partial to the Psalms, especially the 23rd, because they were poetic and soothing. There was a book of poetry (I forget who wrote it) that was a go to. In it, there was a poem which I read over and over again, when I couldn’t sleep. It contained the quotation, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn,” and discussed that no matter how dark it got and how the darkness lasted, the light would always come back in the morning. The original phrase comes from Psalm 30. I clung to those poems as if they were life preservers, and I was a lone survivor of a ship shattered by a violent storm in the darkest hours of a night so covered with clouds that no stars could be seen. (Thank the gods there are now SSRIs and NSSRIs.)

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