“Why Did I Stay?”

I’ve found myself desperately seeking validity,
“Why did I stay?”
Then I remember:

Connecting at every concert,
Striving to be every beacon I see,
Reconciling my relationship with the mirror,
Sharing and healing with my story,
Freeing myself of the weight of my mask,
Learning that I’m not alone,
Defining myself as a warrior,
Accepting the love I’ve deserved,
Embracing hair that is my own,
Surrounding myself in light,
Continuing to find calms in my chaos.

A Spark.

(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,
And suddenly,
Darkness.
Everything around me
Felt unreal.

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.

These sparks
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.

The Burden of My Very Being, Or the Fear of Being Vulnerable?

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.

The Mind/Body Dialogues: Covers & Chapters

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.

“The Loneliness Comes In Waves”

The loneliness sometimes creeps back in, threatening like a storm approaching. But the strength of the storm depends on my reaction to the first rain drops, my perception of the clouds, the anticipation of what is to come. Lately, it monsoons on some days, then transforms to drizzle on others.
How can I stop the rain when I’ve become so accustomed to its presence? Why can’t I accept the sunshine behind the clouds until it hits me in such a way that it’s ecstasy? Everything affects us, so why do I continue to accept what hurts me and avoid what heals me? Why is darkness comforting but light frightening?

Extinguish

I found comfort in your company.
You found comfort in my light.
But you became rain clouds that blocked my sunshine

You saw me as an angel,
With full hair and a sense of humor,
You fell in love with my mask.

That mask has been broken,
I could not hide behind it anymore.

You lost interest.
I’ve always been fragile,
I’ve always been broken.

You prepared for my suicide,
Picking at a scab
With the scissors I used to make them.

I am trying to let you go
To free you of the pain of denial.

You are playing a losing game.
Although you extinguish my flame,
You can never destroy my spark.

You fear my mental baggage,
You should admire me
For being strong enough to carry it.

You cannot handle storms
Like I can.

Where It All Started: My Story

“And it took cutting back the prettiest parts of myself to finally realize that this shell does not define me. For I am so much more than the flesh and bone that case the beautiful tragedies of my heart and mind.”-Becca Lee

Like a lot of people, I’ve always struggled to enjoy my appearance. However, I at least felt like I had control of it and could improve it with the help of a straightener and mascara. Midway through my freshmen year, this was no longer enough. The summer prior to college I discovered a few small bald spots on my scalp, but they were not noticeable and I told myself they’d solve themselves on their own. Although more spots formed over the following months, I continued to remain optimistic because I was able to cover them with a simple change in hairstyle.

In February 2015, I accepted defeat. My hair continued to fall out and hair alone could not cover it. I started seeing a dermatologist and wore a hairpiece as a safety net. My mental health was incredibly unstable. I have Anxiety, both over superficial stuff and deeper stuff, that worsened as I accepted defeat. I was hopeless, lost, depressed, and angry. At the time, I felt like I was being punished and my body was killing itself much like my brain was. I became the person I never wanted to be. I let my conditions foster hate within me and towards myself and push me to the bottom of rock bottom. I convinced myself that I was losing my hair as punishment for being an awful person, and thus accepted no sympathy. I spent nights staring blankly at the ceiling absolutely numb . I’ve never felt that numb before, and it’s really just indescribable. I had no hope for my future and was worried about what either I or life would do to myself. A year of college and I had no control of the wheel. I can honestly say this was probably the darkest time of my life.

The summer after freshmen year, I tried to take control. I spent a lot of time alone, recovering from the past 4 months of what felt like absolute hell. However, I still felt empty. I felt like an absolute waste of space. This feeling didn’t start going away until a few people realized I needed support and offered me some encouragement. I am forever thankful for those people almost two years later. Most of the hair I lost grew back and I was looking forward to a new start as a sophomore in college.

To my surprise, this new start was not what I hoped it to be. Within the first week of school, my hair started rapidly falling out. I’d spend every morning collecting piles of it and throwing it in the trash. I’d have to unclog the shower drain every time I showered. I’d wake up to it all over my pillow. I’d peel it off my neck at the end of the day. It got so bad that even just putting my hands through it would pull out a decent amount of hair. I felt disgusting. After all my progress, I lost control again, and was forced to watch the beautiful parts of me fall into my hands in less than a month.

My coping skill was repressing my emotions. I felt that this wasn’t as much of a problem as what other people around me were going through. I was ashamed and felt weak for being so upset about this, so I pretended it didn’t exist outside of the comforts of my dorm room. I carried the secret on my back and on top of it were piles of emotions I wouldn’t let myself feel. So I became numb to it, or at least, I told myself I was numb to it. If I walked outside to a blustery wind, I was worried that all I had lost would be visible. I would literally avoid my reflection in the mirror most days because I was always worried about what I could see.

I kept a brave face on for most people, but would go home and fall into a deep depression because I’d have time to think about the severity of my condition and the realities of it. Home was where I was forced to go when I couldn’t fight this battle alone, and thus all the repressed emotions would come back up quickly. I had to skip a few family get togethers because my anxiety about my appearance and ability to cope with possible comments was too much. I refused to let people help me, and kept my walls up.

I felt that I needed to deal with this on my own, and that I was a burden that didn’t deserve any help. If someone brought my walls down, I was honestly terrified to see them again because they had seen my vulnerability. I wouldn’t let anyone in because I was convinced they wouldn’t accept the real me. My wig and makeup became my mask that I desperately clung onto to protect my self esteem and keep my story hidden. I felt like my situation was not worth any worry considering all that was happening around me.

A part of my story that I don’t always realize is incredibly significant is that I’ve grown up with a twin sister with severe Autism. Most of my childhood was spent in waiting rooms with my mother for her various therapies and doctor’s appointments. Theoretically, I was the “healthy” child. The one who was in a regular classroom. The one who didn’t need much support. The caregiver. The one who was “okay.” That’s changed dramatically over the past few years. As a result, I struggle with the feeling of being a burden. I feel that this has caused my likelihood of putting my walls up and promising I’m okay rather than accepting help. I’m no longer a crier, which I think is unhealthy for myself as I bottle up my emotions rather than let them out.

Another semester ended, and although I was in a much better place socially, I carried a lot of regrets. Once again, I had time to dwell on everything going on in my life and all the mistakes I had made. I reached my breaking point during a visit on campus during Winter break, when I had one of the worst panic attacks I can remember. I didn’t sleep and felt like everything was flashing before my eyes. Every regret, every repressed emotion, every opportunity I didn’t take because I was constantly terrified; it came flooding back at once. The day following, if I thought about what triggered the panic attack it would nearly start again. I realized how fragile I was and realized I needed to get help. I changed my medications, which significantly lessened my fatigue to my surprise. I met with the counseling center weekly and tried to be more proactive in “healing.”

Shortly before returning to school for another semester, I suddenly felt the urge to share my story, so I did. I wrote a short article describing all I had been facing and put it on facebook. I worried I had made a mistake and that I looked like I was seeking pity. I now realize that this was not the case. I received a lot of praise for sharing my story, and even received a Facebook message from a girl I went to highschool with that also has alopecia. We check in with each other every once and awhile to see how things are going.

On what felt like a whim, I chose to own my story. A significant amount of weight was lifted off my shoulders, and progress was being made. Months later, I decided one night to let go of my crutch, my wig. As you can see, my hair is growing back thanks to the medication I am on. Letting go of my wig was not easy. I spent a few nights sleepless because I felt vulnerable. I struggled finding ways to feel attractive at first. Since most women my age do not have this kind of haircut, I feel as if I am a walking story. I have come very far, but I am not healed.

I’m forever paranoid about my appearance. My mom makes fun of me for using too many bobby pins to tame the mess that is this hair. I’m blessed with curls and healthy new hair, but it needs some work in the morning. That is what it is; but wind is still a trigger and I always have the anxiety in the back of my head that one day I’ll lose this hair again. However, I can look at myself in the mirror now, I no longer fear my appearance. I’ve learned to embrace myself, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever allowed myself to make. I still can convince myself that I’m too fragile, too broken, too much of a burden, and not deserving of love. Depressive disorder is now a part of my long list of medical complications in my doctor’s notes.

However, I watched the “beautiful” pieces of me literally fall into my hands as clumps of hair, and then used those same hands almost a year later to remove my wig for the last time. I’ve grown from someone that would avoid eye contact with the mirror into one who can walk to class without the fear that the wind would reveal all I had lost. I no longer fit the typical standard of beauty, and I never will, but I have never felt so at peace with myself as I do now. I want to share my story to remind anyone of the power of embracing our inner light and entering a life of self love. Our outer shells will never depict the beautiful minds we possess inside of ourselves. It will only be in using my story to heal others that I can come to the terms with what happened to me and how it ultimately changed me for the better, and I can fully accept a healing in myself.

The “spark” has become a symbol to me, similarly to how many people identify with the semi colon. When I was going through my darkest days, my mom always told me this was a transformation. I couldn’t believe her then, but as I watched my body destroy itself and then rebuild itself into something beautiful, I understood what she meant. To me, my inner self is my spark. It’s the part of me that has ignited into a light that I am finally ready to embrace. We all have that spark, we just have to believe that we have it.