Let’s Talk Trauma

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Photo by Ghost Presenter on Pexels.com

My name is Kristin J, I am 24, and I am a survivor of childhood trauma.

I have never typed the above words, and very few people in my life are aware of this part of my life. I did not start Tic Tock to write about it. In fact, I never intended to publicly share this piece of myself. At the current moment in American history, however, we are actively watching thousands of children (and their families) being traumatized by a new government policy, which aims to use them as bargaining chips for political gain. I do not know if speaking my story into the world can do anything, but my soul is breaking every moment with thoughts of these children. I have called my Senators; I have donated to a cause to help reunite them with their parents; I have spent time spreading factual information on social media. But I haven’t played this card in my handful of untold life stories, and it might well be one of the most important pieces of education I can give.

As a child and adolescent, I experienced years of trauma. Without going into too much detail (because that’s not what this is about), I was physically hurt, made to play humiliation “games,” mocked for my tics, continually yelled at for being “the cause” of my brother’s autism, forced to do unsafe tasks by way of threats, and was told that I would never be able to get out or be valuable to anyone. This was all done by or with the encouragement of adults.

I focused hard on school, trying to run away from feelings of depression and shame. In undergrad this became harder, likely due to more free-time and less routine. I became suicidal, which led to a stay in a mental health facility (this is where my previous post, My Medication Story, starts). After this stay, things became worse. I functioned more or less as an alcoholic and love addict, because I wanted to feel something other than the negative feelings the memories brought on. Very soon after–i.e. my early 20s–I was clinically diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Why did this happen?

When a person experiences trauma, the brain has two defense mechanisms to deal with the memories. One is build a metaphorical fortress around those memories so they cannot be accessed easily. The other is replay these memories on loop, remembering minute and exact details about the experience. Should the individual be in a similar situation again, the brain “knows” how to react better than it had the first time. These second type of memories can cycle for years, and although “trigger” has become a buzzword–usually to poke fun of others–these memories can legitimately be triggered back into recollection by words, smells, places, voices, people, etc.  People living with trauma have different reactions to these cycles, ranging from rage, addiction, depression, and so on.

How do people deal with trauma in hopes of getting better?

There is no guide book. There is no straight-forward medical step-by-step of how to heal your brain. Many people use psychotherapy, though it has been argued that this traditional type of therapy may re-traumatize patients. There are pharmacological interventions, though these prescriptions usually treat anxiety or depression; the symptoms, not the cause. There is the newer treatment of EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing), though this treatment can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. And then there are those, like undergrad-me, who self-medicate. I don’t feel I need to point out the negatives of that one.

Currently, I am undergoing EMDR therapy. Although it has been quite beneficial, an additional negative is that those fortresses that are associated with the brain’s defense mechanisms tend to come down. The memories that were presumed to be forgotten by the patient may in fact come back. The important note here is that the patient can hopefully effectively deal with both types of memories, with the assistance of their clinician. [Interestingly, I have always noticed that I have vivid memories of childhood school life, but a lot of my other memories seemed to just be gone. I attributed this to a poor memory, being more interested in school, etc. However when I started down the path of EMDR, those missing memories starting coming back. To be sure these were not false or self-invented memories, I asked trusted adults, such as my parents, about a few of them, and they told me they too remembered these events.]

Even though I am finally getting treatment that is working for me, it is many years after the fact. And an important caveat is that not all treatments work well for all affected people. In searching for a viable treatment, I could have very easily ruined my life or potentially died during my undergraduate years due to carrying the burden of childhood trauma.

How does this play into what is going on in America right now? 

I have had these children and their parents in my mind since the news broke into the mainstream that families were being separated and their asylum-status was no longer being recognized. These people, these human beings, these fellow Kind, will have lasting trauma from this experience. It is not a question of which individuals will need mental services, but which will actually find or be given resources to obtain them. There are still so many unknowns–how many children will there end up being? Will they be returned to their families? What we do know is that a majority of these humans are asylum-seekers from Central America, where horrific things are happening right now. There is no doubt that several of them are already suffering from a degree of trauma. [Aside, seeking asylum in the US was not a crime until Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently changed the immigration policy to that of “zero-tolerance.” Therefore, crossing the border is now an offense which can be prosecuted. Since children cannot be held in jails, they are separated from their families while their parents await trail. It should be again noted, these parents left a horrible life (and potentially life-or-death-situation) in Central America for the US with the understanding that crossing our border would be legal due to their asylum-seeking status]. Now we, as a nation, are watching that trauma be compounded upon, day after day after day. These children are in cages or tents, with foil blankets and no answers. The border guards have largely been instructed not to comfort them, leading to a cacophony of crying children who need love, affection, diaper changes, and above all–their families.

This level of mistreatment surpasses mine. I was made to feel hatred towards myself as a human. But these children and their families are being dehumanized altogether. As a privileged American citizen with good healthcare, I have had access to the best treatments for my past trauma. Yet I am 24, and I am still in the weeds of recovery. I did not start Tic Tock to talk trauma or politics, but I have to ask, if we as the public do not take a stand against this practice, how will these children fare in their mental health at 24? And how will we be remembered if we are apathetic to their plight?

Resources:

NPR

The Washington Post

CBS News

Snopes

National Institute of Mental Health  (+ my own experiences)

Ways to help families at the border:

How Can I Help?

How Can I Help 2?

–KMJ

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33 (Take 2)

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Photo by Fancycrave on Pexels.com

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It has been a strange few days. Actually, make that a strange two weeks. You know what? For good measure, let’s just say life has been strange since I last wrote regularly on Tic Tock last September. There has been so much, period. I don’t know what words to put after “much” because, well, there has just been a lot. So we will have to live with a boring, plain “period.”

One of the muchness that has been happening is good doctoring. I have been receiving medications that work for me and Botox injections for pesky muscles (looking at you, shoulders) from the neurologists at Rush University in Chicago. I have been participating in Neurofeedback, which I was skeptical about at first but has lowered my anxiety levels by an impressive amount. I have started EMDR, which is a therapy for PTSD. It reminds me a lot of those pimple-popping videos (I know you know what I’m talking about). Like someone has this awful thing that has been sitting there on their face for who knows how long, and they try not to touch it but every single time they look in a mirror or touch their face or rest on a pillow–it’s there. And then there are these videos of them when are fed up with these terrible things and they pop them. The horrible part is, when they pop the pimple, worse stuff comes out. But then after a few days, their skin is better and they can sleep again without wanting to scream. EMDR is kind of like that… but for your brain. Kind of. (Maybe do your own research on this one and don’t bring up this analogy to your doctor if you are interested in pursuing EMDR. In all honesty it is one of the best things I have done for myself and it is completely non-invasive. Here’s a link.)

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I have also been working on practicing self-care. For me, this means bath bombs, trips to parks, taking photos, and working in my patio “garden.” I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books as well (as an aside, there is a great new one called The Tourette’s Podcast. I am not affiliated with it; I just want to let you all know it is out there). I have been meeting other Touretters and talking to them about the impacts of societal stigmatization on the disability community. In general, I feel like I have been growing branches into the inter-sectional points of my passions and ambitions. And yes, I am still in graduate school (but every day closer to finishing!).

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I have been trying to bee more open and authentic, both with myself and other Touretters/parents of Touretters. If I have a desire to be advocate, that means I can’t hold things back, especially from myself. I have really tried to get into that mind-space lately. In that spirit, I made a “Share Your Story” video to submit to the Tourette Association of America, which is uploading to YouTube now. I do not know if they will like it, or even respond to it. But in the video, I tried to be as honest as I could about my story, and about my mantra of always moving forward on a positive trajectory.

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–KMJ

 

 

33

CW: PTSD, Childhood Trauma

There are 33 people ahead of you.

I stare at my phone for a second before clicking it to a black screen. There have been 33 for the past hour. I try to stay mindful of those 33; that they have real stories and live in complex realities. I click my phone on two minutes later. 33.

My waiter comes to take my order, and I start with alcohol. I know he’s looking at my eyes that are too-telling of my current disposition. I’ve always been pretty clever with my external mask–except when it comes to my eyes. I feel them weighing heavy and looking nowhere, as if death itself is creeping towards my irises. He starts playing the role of makeshift therapist, which I of course appreciate, even if it is a tad clumsy. I order some food as he says overly-positive things like, “good choice” and “I like that one too!”

There are 33 people ahead of you.

I start wondering about why I’m feeling like this anyhow. Yes, there’s been a lot on my plate, but I was handling it okay. Therapy sessions and good medication were transforming me into a productive, successful, and level graduate student. Yes, the last week was difficult, but it I had come to the realization that I was going to be able to handle it.

But then…there were the memories. No you’re not.

33 people.

You’re such a weird child.

33 people.

How could anyone love you?

33 people.

You’ll never get out.

“Here’s your drink! Your food will be out soon; you enjoy that, it’s one of my favorites. Let me know if you need anything else!”

I take a breath and a sip. It really is good, and I don’t doubt that it could be someone’s favorite. I look down at my hands and notice that they are clasped together tight enough to make my knuckles pale. I release them and look around. The other patrons are laughing and enjoying themselves, unaware of the memories in my head.

Let’s play a game.

No.

Reach into the wasps’ nest or I’ll hold the ice water hose over your head til you can’t breathe.

I’ll tell.

Who would care about you?

Alright, we’ve got your food here! Let me know what you think. I am particularly fond of these myself.”

Thanks.

“Yeah, no problem,” he says sincerely, looking right into my eyes that I know are uncomfortable to look at.

I eat, and try not to remember anything else. I focus on the food and drink, the people laughing, and my photos from the past month.

But I also focus on the hotline I’ve been queued in for the past hour and a half.

There are 33 people ahead of you.

–KMJ

Waves and Forgiveness

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My parents always told me not to “make waves.” I can happily say that I am not making waves, but conquering them.

I remember going to a specific waterpark as a child where there was an area called The Wave Pool. A wave pool is more or less what it sounds like–a giant zero-depth pool in which waves are generated in the deep end and move toward the shallow end, bombarding swimmers along their paths. There were always hundreds of people in The Wave Pool, and it was remarkably easy as a scrawny seven-year-old to get pulled under by a wave and have my body swirled around the bottom of the pool. I would eventually bob back to the top, spitting out water while feeling the burn of chlorine in my nose. And then I would swim farther into the pool, ignoring the recommendations (or rather, pleas) of the adults supervising me.

It is easy to look back at seven-year-old me and want to warn her of the thing that was harboring in her brain. The thing that would soon present itself as her first tic–a throat grimace (that, and this has nothing to do with the story, I associate with a man I have never met who lived in Australia). I want to warn her of the looks and comments she will receive. The “concern” that really wasn’t. Sadly though, as I am sure many of you are all too aware, this is not how life works.

As I grew up, the comments and looks did not stop. There was a short reprieve in college (it is a wonderful life to live in Bloomington, Indiana!). But moving away from the place that became my home put me into a community once more with the starers. I should note that I do have an incredible support system that is filled with the least judgmental people I have ever been so fortunate to meet. However, living a life in which I do not feel welcome in coffee shops or libraries is difficult. Some people stare, some get up and leave, and some laugh with their friends at my expense. After 23 years, a sense of anger and indignation formed in my heart. I hated those people.

But my disgust for them quickly turned on me. The logic is easy enough to follow: they did not like me so I did not like them….but why didn’t they like me? You can see how this line of thinking ends up with toxic results. As the old adage goes, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I was drinking poison daily.

Forgiveness is a two pronged outlet for me. One part of forgiving people, the most common part, involves the apologies that never happen. These are the people at the movie theatre who move seats or the people at restaurants who leave because they cannot happily continue their evening while I am there. I understand these people, and their need for a less tic-y environment. The second part of forgiveness, the harder part, involves deep hurts done by someone more than a stranger. This one is hard, because so often we want people to say, “I was wrong, and you were always right.” But if we wait for that to happen, we will be tasting poison for years. I think a more reasonable approach,  for both of my forgiveness battles, is to go back to The Wave Pool.

Every time a wave threw me down against the hard concrete of the pool, I got hurt. My whole body would be dragged under and I could hear the rush of the unforgiving water in my ears. At the bottom of the pool I would be disoriented, flailing with every ounce of energy to get back to the surface. As soon as I would get halfway up, another wave would come and push me back down. Sometimes I would get to the top only to find a person in an inner-tube in my way, and I would have to swim around under the darkness of my closed eyelids trying to find air. But every time I got to the surface I wanted to keep going further. To see how deep the pool got, how big of a wave I could survive.

I think sometimes it is easy for me to remember the scrapes and bruises I felt growing up with Tourette Syndrome, as well as the heaviness of whatever had pulled me into a negative space. But oh, how many things I have learned because of my tics! I am adventurous and compassionate. I work hard for the things I want. I am strong. And I am so resilient. I look for newer, deeper waters where I search for new challenges.

And I let the old waves go, because I already know how deep the pool is in that spot. I do not need to stay and ruminate about the scratches those waves gave me. They taught me depth of feeling and tenacity, and I can move on knowing that they will dissipate into oblivion.

The peace that comes with forgiveness is less like The Wave Pool, and more like a small river. One where the fireflies gather and the frogs croak at dusk. Where you can hear the small splashes of fish swimming in the cattail weeds. I choose to let myself live there, with cool water and warm breeze against my skin, and the poison of anger far away.

–KMJ

Big Days

I have been waiting to post this until today, which is a Big Day in the life of a good friend. Heidi Schickel, who’s art you can see above (the art which will become the theme of Tic Tock after readers have the opportunity to read this post and another explaining why the rabbits), has been a true and kindred spirit for much of my life. You can find more of her art online here:

Website: http://schickelheidi.wixsite.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heidasaurus/?hl=en

I have had many amazing memories with Heidi, including rewriting a holiday favorite into a song about revenging bird, an abundance of chemistry jokes, and commenting ridiculous things on each others’ posts. As we’ve grown up, our interactions have grown up too. When I asked Heidi to create artwork for my Tourette’s blog, she was very excited about the prospect. I have her ideas for content and style, and she created beautiful, amazing work that I am thrilled with!

Heidi, I am so happy for your loving, talented, generous, kind-hearted, funny, non-judgmental self. Thank you for being a friend.

-KMJ

The Good Ones

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I have had so many good people poke their heads into my life lately, and it is high time for an appreciation post. Here's to those who pop in monthly or less; you've just been swell.

I've been on sort-of vacation the last two weeks. Sort-of vacation consists of moving, wrapping up summer semester, and finally the joy of leaving Champaign, Illinois for a week. During this time, my parents have been helpful with moving and choosing new (to me) pieces from a re-sale furniture shop while being understanding of my school schedule; my partner's parents have been helpful by allowing me to stay with them and enjoy a beautiful first week off; my doctor has been helpful by consistently being the only tic doctor I've seen to be so, and by yet again listening to me at our appointment; my long-time friend has been helpful by spending a day with me and talking to me about my hopes and fears; and another friend has been more than helpful for doing some incredible TicTock artwork for me.

Everyone has been so wonderful!

And this feels good, because although I did not write about it, I did end up experiencing quite a slow-down from Olanzapine withdrawal. For approximately one month, I lived with flu symptoms and in a depressive state. I am happy to report that, at the two and a half month mark, my mood and physical state have greatly improved, and I have lost the signature crabbiness that followed me for that time.

Medication, as I have come to be aware, is not an issue to be taken lightly. While I still feel I have adjustments to make, I finally feel like I am at a good place to make them. And it helps so much with that process when the people around you, even the ones who just pop in and out, are kind and caring.

Appreciatively,
KMJ

Energy in the Stop

Finding Nemo The Musical, a personal favorite to watch

When I was an adolescent, my schedule revolved around theater and show choir. One of our regular choreographers told me and my peers over and over again: "There is energy in the stop." While dancing, I used this advice to make my movements sharp and clean, which resulted in meaningful actions that carried to the back seats of the auditorium. Lately, having hung up my dance shoes and theater makeup, I've been thinking about this phrase as it relates to Tourette's.

I almost always recognize a fellow TS-er. I never out them, but it is usually clear to me when a tic is happening versus, say, and rapid movement. But why? Why do I (as I'm sure most other TS-ers do too) pick up on the difference, even on the smallest tics? And is it alright for non-TS-ers to notice? Let's talk about the energy in the stop.

A voluntary movement, as defined by Introduction to Kinesiology: Studying Physical Activity by Shirl J. Hoffman, is intentional; "it is purposefully directed towards an identifiable goal." Tics, on the other hand, do not fall into this category because they do not aim to achieve an identifiable goal. For me, they are repetitive movements that I feel are necessary to complete for my body to stay at a state of normality. When I "hold in" my tics, I feel a similar panic that you might feel if you are underwater and you are unsure if you will be able to make it to the surface in time to breathe.

About this energy in the stop business. My own tics are individual rapid movements that harshly and suddenly stop, and then repeat. Most of the TS-ers I've met follow this pattern as well. And there's energy there! Just like people in the back rows of the auditorium focused on my crisp movements in theater, so are people in public startled by my tics that start and end quickly, even from across the room.

Is it okay to be startled and look at a TS-er when you aren't expecting them? Absolutely! The next step is learning about what to do after. Look forward to a new post addressing what to do if and when you are in the room with someone with Tourette's; how to handle the situation so both of you feel comfortable and welcomed.

If you or a family member has Tourette's and have a personal story you'd like to share with me, please see my contact page. Let's talk!

–KMJ

Partners

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As a rule, I generally do not mention  my partner on this blog–it is an agreement between us, and I value and respect that greatly. However, seeing that this is a special day for them, I have decided to briefly break that agreement (do forgive me) for an appreciation post. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate than sharing a piece of what has become such a big piece of my heart–Tic Tock–with them, as well as describing to all of you my incredible joy in finally finding a person who sees my tics with open eyes, and loves my soul.

Thank you.

For your mind. The mind that enjoys actually scary horror films and sarcastic corgi gifs. That understands and will laugh (and eye-roll) at my jokes. That is open to try new foods, even when we are the ones cooking. That has a (to me) endless knowledge of wines, though I know you want to learn more.

For your hands. That work so hard to be the best employee possible. That are always gentle and kind towards me. That teach me new things (ahem, video games).

For your voice. That I don’t think I have heard truly angry, except that time when you stood up for me against a Tourette’s comment. That is there at the beginning and end of every day to ask about my day and my dreams. That you use to advocate for me and others with different abilities–not out of pity, but because you believe we are people who deserve to be treated like people.

For your heart. That cares for humans, no matter who they are. That believes in a world of justness, fairness, and equality for everyone. That is connected to my heart because, in so many ways, they are mirror images of one another.

For your soul. That does not love me in spite of my tics, or in spite of my tendency to speak out, or in spite of my tumultuous life’s journey. But because of those things, and for so many more.

Thank you for being you. You are everything. I hope your day has been and continues to be a reflection of the joy you bring to this Earth.

–Your Miss J

Endless Fights

"Because no battle is ever won he said. They are never even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools." –William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

I feel like a shell of myself, like my insides have been pulled out and hidden somewhere I can't go. Sitting in their place is a shapeless heat that travels up and down my abdomen with every breath. I look in the mirror and my eyes are not mine. My shoulders are tense, ready to retract inwards. I am hyper-aware of everyone around me, scanning constantly like an animal. I am a mess.

Getting here is no small feat for me. In the past year, I've learned a great deal of resiliency; able to let go of hurt and embarrassment with more ease than has ever been possible for me. But there is a situation in which I still fall apart, every time. The endless fight.

I am sure many of us have a person with whom we have an endless fight. It could be politics, our career choice, our religion, our choice in partner, etc. Some of these cause more major fissures than others, but they can all end up making us feel wrong about our choices/self and belittled. And I think a major issue with these endless fights (with perhaps the exception of politics), is that when they began, we did not want to engage in them. They were thrust upon us one day because of something "wrong" we did, and they have since spiraled into something unmanageable. In my case, I chose to fight back, knowing I would never win or feel closure, because I have to believe that who I am as a person is valuable and not something to be torn down. But this causes (see paragraph one).

Of course, there is something to be said about seeing the other person's view. In the calm of my own home, thinking through everything carefully, I can do this. But when I am engaged in the endless fight, when every personal button is pushed, pulled, and flipped, I struggle to see any logic–even that of my own. All I feel is this fight and the past fight and fight before that. My head swells with memories of public words said and private tears shed.

I want to move forward, realizing the opposing dichotomy in front of me: on one side, I believe in respect and happiness for myself and want to stand up for that; on another, I recognize that the never ending fight is tearing away at me. I have heard the term "boundaries" before, but have only just decided to look into them after this episode of the endless fight. Boundaries are a way of maintaining a relationship, while giving yourself adequate space to live your life happily and fully.

Below are two resources that I rather liked that talk about boundaries. I'm not a psychologist, nor have a interviewed one; so I am not the best primary resource for this. 

I hope we can continue to go on this journey together, perhaps dulling some of the endless fights and becoming the happiest versions of ourselves.
Psych Central–general boundary info

Bustle–specific to 20-somethings who may wish to set boundaries

–KMJ

Letting Go

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I saw Disney’s Frozen in theaters. I fought going because December 2013 me felt extreme shame of her tics, especially in large crowed rooms where she was supposed to stay silent for 1 hour and 49 minutes plus previews. I did end up spending a cold afternoon watching Anna and Olaf run about the Norwegian fjords, but the movie was so much more than that. Frozen started my process of recognizing the hurt inside of me, the damage it was doing, and how to (begin to) let go of it.

Recently, I have had an uptick (no pun intended) in anger and resentment towards the individuals who hurt me in the past, regarding Tourette’s. I have become embittered and harsh in my thoughts, and I am sure this has carried over in my words and actions. For a two and a half years, it was as if I was drugged (well, I was I suppose), and went about life in a robotic fashion, not “making waves” for anyone. But when I lessened my dosage of Olanzapine, my memories came back, sharper and more vivid than they have been in all that time. I have woken up, and every emotion from those years of repression is hitting me like a hurricane hits a shack on a forgotten island. The hurt is gnawing on my being every day. And I know I have to let go of it.

I think about Elsa often. Adults telling her that if she could just hide the thing that her body most normally does, and just not feel anything at all, then maybe she would pass as normal. About her hiding in her house, because the adults who were supposed to protect and teach her are scared that what she would do will reflect poorly on them. And I think about her when a bit of magic slips out. How embarrassed she is, and scared. It’s as if she truly feels less of herself. Throughout the story, no one helps her with the thing that makes her, her. People are scared of her, they resent her, they try to take advantage of her. But they never, not once, help her. She is the person, who through her own acceptance of her life and situation, makes the thing she has beautiful.

I certainly recognize that unlike Elsa, I do have support systems which I am extremely grateful for, and whose blind love and compassion I will never understand. But I also recognize that they cannot help me let go of the bitterness inside. Because like Elsa’s fear and hurt made her ice jagged, my anger has made my insides very much the same. And so begins the process of changing the pain into something that is not hate. Making beautiful ice is a challenge, but it is one I am finally ready for. I am going to talk about that now, in probably the most nerdy way I can imagine. Fair warning.

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If you know me personally, you know I love science. I have spent (actual) years thinking about the symbolism of the element Hydrogen, and have landed on this. Hydrogen is this amazing element that exists on its own. Let’s think about Hydrogen gas (which is really 2 molecules of Hydrogen paired up together). This gas is extremely finicky. As in, it likes to catch on fire (think Hindenburg airship). At this moment in my life, I feel like Hydrogen gas; volatile and ready to explode on anyone who lights the smallest spark. But remember, Hydrogen is an amazing element. Hydrogen bonds with other elements to create new versions of itself. Take water, which is 2 molecules of Hydrogen (yikes!) plus 1 molecule of Oxygen. Yes; add one molecule of Oxygen, and what was once dangerous and explosive becomes a foundation for life. **It’s a bit more complicated with bonds, polarity, etc., but for the sake of the post** What I need to do is find my Oxygen. The thing that will transform the awful inside into new life (or water of the frozen variety, your choice of analogies).

A good place to start is with peace and forwardness. I am at a place where I totally and fully accept myself and my tics. I do not, however, fully accept my younger life’s memory and the people who reside there. But one thing I believe with all of my heart, is that I can take those past memories when I felt fear and shame and unworthiness, and turn them into advocacy. I know that those people will never own what they said; in fact, they likely do not remember. But that is getting okay-er with me, because despite what was said, I am strong, independent, and fiercely passionate about the people with this disorder, including myself. And I am going to make pretty ice.

–KMJ