Last week I was fortunate enough to meet a new Lighthouse, the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I was at peace, enamored, almost euphoric. It’s been a week since I took these photos and I’m trying to find the light in me again.
(this was the first poem I ever published online. I have slightly revised it, but sharing this over a year ago was a big step in my journey so I would feel inauthentic if I rephrased all of its’ flaws)
Hair in my hands,
Everything around me
Lonely, self-loathing trash
Became my personality.
I found residence in rock bottom.
Only music understood,
Freed me from the burden,
And provided arms of comfort.
Then came the sparks:
There were moments of community,
Unexpected offers of help,
People willing to listen
And keep me company,
Concerts that spoke what I felt,
Vinyl records that put me at ease.
For the first time,
I had a place in this world.
My presence is valued.
I am not a waste of space.
Ignite a light within me,
And remind me
That hope is real.
Sparks that seemed small
Became the motivation
To get better.
To take that light
And become a beacon
So that others
May not feel so broken.
A few months ago, To Write Love On Her Arms wrote on their Tumblr that they were looking for writings to potentially be shared on their blog. As I hold this organization in a special place in my heart, I immediately responded to their request and sent them my story.
Here is how I introduced the submission:
My name is Mary Kate and on my better days I consider myself a warrior. I have grown up with anxiety that develops into depression. This especially got worse when I lost all my hair due to alopecia totalis. I once was near ending my life, but I kept living because I wanted my story to fuel a purpose in this world, to spread light.
Anyway, aside from the cliches, below is a draft of my story. I would love to write something specific to body or self image, but wanted to contact you in advance to ensure that I have the kind of story you are looking for.
Below is their response to my email. I have added their message to my collection of things I keep tucked away to refer to on my darkest days. They understood me. They found my story valid. They believed in me. My favorite organization believed in me. Words cannot describe how much their email means to me.
Hi Mary Kate,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write in and share a part of your story with us. We are so inspired by your words and bravery. Thank you for your patience in hearing back from us, we have a lot of blog submissions and take our time to read and respond to each one.
It is so great that when you posted your story on Facebook you got so much praise and support. It is wonderful to hear that you even had someone reach out to you and now you two have each other for support. We are firm believers in the power of people connecting with other people, we are so proud of you for speaking out.
We think your story is beautiful and are so thankful you shared it with us. Our blog posts are typically 700-900 words of text. We also will not post blogs with content that could be triggering to some of our readers. You are welcome to submit us a blog, we just want you to be aware that we unfortunately cannot post most of the blogs submitted to us. The blog, Why I Choose to Celebrate by our former Intern and now staff member Rebecca, may give you some ideas on what it looks like to write about a physical illness for us.
We are so glad to hear that as you chose to own your story, a weight began to lift off of your shoulders. We hope that you are continuing to open up to professionals about your thoughts and feelings. We firmly believe in the power of counseling and we hope your doctors are encouraging the same thing. We hear you when you say you thought of your problems as a burden. We want you to know that we as people are meant to take up space in this world. You are worthy of help and support and we hope you never forget that.
We think your line “Our outer shells will never depict the beautiful minds we possess inside of ourselves” is such beautiful text. It is so true that our beauty cannot be measured by continuously changing hair styles or makeup trends. Our beauty is inside our hearts, and Mary Kate, you have a heart of gold.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write in and share your story with us. We are honored you have allowed us to be a small part of your journey. While you may only consider yourself a warrior on your better days, we consider you a warrior everyday. Warriors do not give up, so when you are having those extra difficult days, know you are proving your warrior title even further. We believe in you and we see your unfading spark.
I’d like to say 2017 has been a journey of self-awareness, reflection, and tying up loose ends thus far. After several random spells of anxiety with accompanying fatigue, nausea, and a general feeling that the weight of the world was falling down on me, it became clear that I was holding a lot of emotional shit back. As much as I preach and praise vulnerability, I hate being vulnerable myself. I share things about my life like a third person narrative, often omitting the emotions and insecurities that are buried beneath my actions and reactions.
But what makes a story relatable if we don’t talk about the feelings associated with it? How can we authentically connect with others when we can’t even be honest with ourselves, nevermind with those around us? How can I be the beacon of light I’ve longed to become when I feel more like an anchor, dragged down by the weight of my suppressed emotions and worries about everyone around me?
When I became intrigued by the idea of the Lighthouse, one of the first quotes I came across was “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” I couldn’t understand this quote. What do you mean they don’t go running looking for people to save? That’s all I felt that I was capable of doing, finding the broken and carrying their emotional burdens while I save them. I once mistook this for love, but “You can’t just sit there and put everyone’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love.” I’ve grown up always giving and putting others’ needs before my own because someone was always worse off than I was. Yet, I convinced myself that I was a horrible human being and that my very existence was a burden to everyone in my life. I suppose this is why I became especially obsessed with this idea of saving growing up, because who would consider a saviour a burden?
I’m a people pleaser. I want to make people happy. Is that care-taking, or just me acting on my fear of abandonment? I made everyone’s emotional well-being my responsibility. Offering a helping hand became offering a whole arm and eventually my entire body. I masked my brokenness for the sake relieving others. I’ve always been more of a caretaker, my amiability is a gift, but what happens when you run out of pieces to give?
I ran out of pieces recently. A lovely alopecia flare up came unexpected and I was terrified for what the future could bring. I isolated myself, refused to reach out for help, and felt myself falling back into old bad habits that I swore were gone for good.
My therapist once asked me “Who are you if you aren’t helping people?” and I immediately said “nothing.” She then asked me the question “What if you were in some awful car accident and had to be taken care of? How would you feel?” Guilty. Burdensome. But why do I feel this way when I know there are people who love and support me in this world? I am blessed with light around me, words of encouragement, and hugs of validation. I’ve found my calm in the chaos, and it’s kept me from completely drowning. However, everything is temporary, and that is terrifying. If my candle is being lit, I should be lighting every candle I possibly can right? Perhaps if I light every candle, I won’t lose the love I desperately need, even though I believe that I don’t actually have it. I’m one big hypocrite, my own worst enemy, trapped in a fear that immobilizes me from getting what I want.
My body is the cover to my story: Dark under eye circles, thinness, a curly pixie cut.
My mind is each chapter: Anxiety, love, self-doubt, optimism, perfectionism.
My body is constantly telling me to stop.
“Slow down.” “Be happy.” “Breathe.” “Listen.” “Accept it.”
I ignore the warnings until I crumble in surrender to fatigue.
My mind is having multiple conversations every minute.
“You’re worthless.” “You’re worth it.” “You’re a burden.” “Your presence matters.” “You’re alone.” “You’re loved.” “You’re broken.” “You’re strong.”
I cannot ignore my mind, hence my crumbling and surrender.
My body is both my enemy and my security.
My pieces do not fit.
I am not a finished puzzle.
I’m supposed to be healed.
I’m supposed to be healthy.
My body is a vessel around the mess that is my mind.
It is an illusion of optimism and health.
It suppresses the realities of my thoughts.
My body is an anchor, but my mind is searching for air.
My mind needs to be heard.
It can no longer be silenced.
It aches for recognition.
My body is weak, but it is capable.
My mind is a mess, but it is capable.
My body has transformed dead roots into beautiful vines.
My mind has transformed death from a solution to a fear.
My mind and body were once the villains of my story
They have built the foundation
Upon which I have risen.