Ordinary Testimony: 0-Gravity

 

the author of this post mummifies her face in a pink scarf

Photo: Rebekah Burcham

– Rebekah Burcham

The people who know me call me bubbly. I smile so wide that my eyes squint and my cheeks roll up like apples. I laugh easily, jump often, squeal occasionally, and talk with exclamation points. This makes me appear girlishly innocent, and I’ve received many half-teasing/half-bitter remarks about how happy-go-lucky and untroubled I am.

My face may not show it, but my eyes know that there is gravity in my sunny world, just as there is on the sun.

I started cutting one blue skied afternoon when I was alone in my house but for my sleeping baby sister. I grabbed a kitchen knife and sliced right beneath the inside of my  elbow over the bathroom sink. I thought it would give me some relief, and it did. I It barely bled, but the cuts in the year following did. Once so bad that I couldn’t get it to stop and I walked around for three days with the lump of a thick gauze bandage under my long sleeves.

The depression was crushing. I didn’t sleep. I lost track of time for hours, staring into space. I wrote pathetic poetry. I stopped reading books. I ignored my friends. Panic attacks would rush over me like a starving horde of white hot ants. Almost – OCD habits reared their rotten heads.

Then there was food. First I ate too much of it until I was dangerously overweight. I tried to stuff my emptiness with food – sweets, salt, butter, anything. Then I panicked and convinced myself that if I was skinny, all this would go away. I developed Bulimia Nervosa. Something would trigger me, like a fight, and I would eat disgusting amounts of food. Then I wouldn’t eat for a week or would restrict for a month. I was thinning, but I was out of control. Once I lost thirty pounds in three weeks. I gained twenty back in two.

At night I would whisper back to the voices until it was early enough in the morning for me to go running to burn off my fatfatuselessfat. I’d sneak out to run and be back before breakfast (not like I was going to eat it), because I felt so ashamed of myself. I hid my sandwiches and cereal in my drawers and closet until they went moldy and I smuggled them out to the trash. I told everyone, “Hi, I’m good, how are you?” I tried to get out of every social activity I could, skipping sports, games at the park, parties, friends’ invitations.

I just wanted it all to end. And soon I decided that I would make it end. I wrote goodbye letters to my closest friends –  sarcastic, bitter, sorry letters. I walked upstairs to take the bottle of ibroprophen, my grand The End finally occurring. How powerful I was! How deliriously happy! But I blanked out and found myself lying listlessly in my room, pills unswallowed, alive.

I was so angry with myself. I thought I was weak.

Holding onto life is not weakness. Ever.

When my parents found out, they were horrified and they panicked. I struggled to find normalcy to appease them, but Bulimia and Self-Injury had shredded my ability to be emotionally stable for them, however much I tried.

It didn’t matter how much success I had in my life (and I did have success – I was interviewed on Oregon Public Broadcasting, I spoke to a middle school about writing, I published a poem…), nothing changed how I saw myself. Worthless. The people who thought I could write or be capable of anything other than stupidity and mistakes were miserably wrong.

But we traveled to New Jersey for the summer (I remember the drive. I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten for a few days. I lost five pounds.)  and I spent a lot of time talking with my beautiful cousin, and she helped me see my life much clearer. Being forced to be out and moving with other people gave me a chance to knock my brain out of its routine thoughts: WORTHLESS UGLY HORRIBLE MISERABLE FAT FAT FAT. I was just as depressed there as I was at home (contrary to popular opinion, a change of scene doesn’t change your heart), but I was given a great gift: perspective.

We returned to my house in Oregon,  and slowly,  through the grace of God and the counsel of good friends and websites like something-fishy.org, I began to catch glimpses of hope. Hope! What a foreign, delicious wonder! I fought a long battle against my addiction to Self-Injury that often left me gagging with withdrawal on my floor, but I was determined. My old stubbornness popped up and grabbed my demons by their horns. I still sometimes crave a cut, but I am in control.

The walk out of Bulimia was a slipper slope – I knew when I was cutting or bruising myself, but I could convince myself I was eating more or less than I really was. Even when I wanted to “eat right,” my perspective was warped. I really just wanted to stop thinking about food and weight and just be myself. But that was an impossibly high goal… I’m still reaching for it. But I’m not uncontrollable anymore. I may backslide, but everyone makes mistakes. I’m trying to see food and myself as God sees them.

I realize now that I am valuable. I am worth so much more than how I look. I am a person, a human being, and that makes me precious.

There was no great moment of recovery. No miracle. No person who saved my life (dramatic soundtrack, cameras, lights and all). Some people let me down and some people told me the same things the voices were telling me. But I saw what hope looked like. I saw that one day I could be free and that I could make a difference in other peoples’ lives. I saw that one day I could serve and love and not have to be so selfishly wrapped up in myself.

And slowly but surely, my scars are healing. My body’s poor metabolism is balancing out, my innards are healing themselves. I understand that I can backslide and make mistakes and fall and STILL get back up again. Yes, panic attacks, OCD-like rituals and compulsions, depression, everything is still there. But I am better than them. And someday, I will be completely free. Someday, I will embrace myself with a wide smile so that I am free to forget about myself and love other people. I’m still working on that. I’ll always be working on that.

If you think you are enslaved by depression or an eating disorder or self injury or anything at all, remember: THERE IS HOPE. You WILL get out of it. And you DO deserve it, even if you don’t see it right now, even if you think you’re different, you aren’t depressed enough to warrant help, you aren’t skinny enough to be in danger, you don’t cut deep enough to be a real cutter (you’ve heard of worse, you’ve heard of dying…)… whatever. Those are lies. No matter what, you deserve to talk about everything you’re going through and you deserve the truth that you are more than what they make you.

If you look closely on my arms, I have stripes. If you look closely in my eyes, I have gravity, not just sunshine. I have not emerged unscathed. But I have emerged with a lesson: life is precious.

True beauty is when you stand apart from the mess and say, No one is worthless. And then you live it. You live it and live it and live it until your lungs give out. Don’t give a rip about yourself and what they say about you, when they tell you you don’t care about anyone and you need to do this better and that better. You can do anything.

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Learning to Paint

I was up to my elbows in mud, patting out bricks and baking them in the sun for a clubhouse. I was chasing my brother through the woods, leaves tangled in my wild hair. I was picking puffs of dandelion seeds and blowing them through the yard. I was harvesting seeds from the grass that grew to my waist in the backyard, piling them into a bucket, storing for winter.

But sometimes mom would give her old bag of makeup to me and a friend. We’d attack ourselves with color. Smearing red across our mouths, powdering our eyelids dark purple and blue, painting our eyelashes blue with mascara, staining our cheeks fever red. We would pull dress-up gowns over our bodies, or find my old dance costumes, or borrow last year’s Christmas skirts and dresses from the closet.

We’d run to the bathroom to model ourselves in the mirror, puffing out our lips in a juicy frown, making our eyes wide, blinking slowly, tilting our faces left and right, stretching out our necks, sucking in our bellies. We’d brush our hair out with one hundred strokes, since I’d read about princesses who did every night. Out would come the camera, and we’d perform our best poses.

We didn’t see the clumps of blue mascara gumming the corners of our eyes, the flakes of sparkly eyeshadow on our eyelashes, the uneven blobs of blush, the lipstick on our teeth and our fingers and our chins. We saw women, this is how grown up women did it, they wore make up and they were beautiful.

I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup except in play, so when I turned 13 I started to push the fringes. (Dad, lipgloss isn’t make-up. Dad, glitter isn’t make-up. Dad, perfume is definitely not make-up.). I wanted to become a woman. And I wanted to be a woman all the time, not just in my house or in dance or drama performances.

Fourteen, a box from Mom and Dad was coming in the mail. The contents were a secret, but one way or another I smelled the change on the air, and I was thrilled. Finally, the box was on the dining room table and I was opening it with a kitchen knife and finally, finally, Make-up.

I was only allowed to wear it “on special occasions,” but that barely lasted a month. Soon I was wearing it every morning. I was jubilant, I was soaring, and my enthusiasm was beautiful because it was wearing mascara and eyeshadow.

I went to stay with a friend, Jen, for a week. Jen is like an aunt to me, and during the week she bought me my very first foundation and eyeliner and make-up bag. I got the darkest I could, because I wanted it to be real make-up. But I was terrified of the eyeliner, and only lightly lined the corners of my eyes for weeks. But soon I learned to be confident.

I’m sixteen now. I still use the bag Jen bought me, although my make-up as changed, as well as the way I wear it.  I feel naked if I walk outside without make-up. Sometimes I do anyway, just to prove to myself that make-up flatters my face, doesn’t make it.

I thought when I wore mascara every day, I’d be a woman, transformed into someone bigger than just Bekah. But I think maybe there isn’t ever some huge transformation, not from make-up or a driver’s license or a college diploma.  Maybe you’re always just you, only you’ve learned a few things and grown a few feet, gained or lost a few inches.

Maybe something like wearing make-up won’t change me into someone else. Maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe just Bekah is just wonderful. Maybe we all need to learn something from the little girls who dream of make-up making them something else, and from the moment we realized it doesn’t. There are other things we look ahead to, thinking they will make us real.

I was up to my elbows in mud, patting out bricks and baking them in the sun for a clubhouse. Today I run inside a sunrise, sit at a computer creating worlds, try Tae Kwon Do for the first time and do terrible at it and just have fun anyway. What I do has changed, and I have changed, but I am still Bekah.

Maybe I will learn to be content with that.

– Rebekah Burcham

this article first posted on her blog: prettybowerbird.blogspot.com

Ordinary Testimonies: Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved Barbies and dress up and her friends and family. This is how she became a fashion designer, fell in love, and lived in New York with her husband.

Not.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved Barbies and dress up and her friends and her family and from here it only goes down hill till the present year.

Of course, her life had it’s good moments. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t like she was a starving girl in China. But it still got really bad. Not because of her family. No, she had an amazing family.

Thinking about it now, she’s never sure what it was. She knows that drama class was the final rock on top that made all her problems and stresses into an unsurpassable mountain. The Mountain eclipsed the sun and moon and stars till she huddled in it, the Mountain built all around her, handmade by herself, it’s sides had grown taller and taller and finally the top – the tip of the mountain – was placed carefully on top.

She didn’t know how it happened. She was aware of the rocks that built it, but wasn’t aware of how it built up until The Year. The Year she calls it now. The Year it all came down on top of her head. Or exploded, herself included. Depends on when you ask her.

She hates hindsight to this day. Hindsight gives her twenty twenty vision. She can see every mistake she made. But at the same time, she’s grown wiser in how she herself works, and what to avoid.

Depression is like wearing shades and blinkers. She focused on herself, on herself, on her and her alone. She was depressed and angst filled and lashed out at almost everyone and everything. She told no one. She let people think it was her living up to being a stereotypical moody teenager. And because people thought that, she was able to convince herself that no one cared, on one understood and no one would notice she was gone.

She managed to shut up the tiny voices inside, the logical and sometimes parental sounding ones, that told her people would notice. People would be heartbroken and sad, maybe even depressed.

Because no one cared and no one would notice (she thought), she rebelled in ways that affect her still today. No full out, not extreme, but tiny. Mainly at her parents because they influenced her most, guided her most, guarded her most. She hated a band called Coldplay with a blazing passion because her Dad liked them. She hated retro music because her Mom loved Abba and Queen and other artists like them. She hated her brother’s favorite video game because he loved it. She hated all things Radio Disney because her sister loved that station.

She had a lot of hate. While she doesn’t have it today, she struggles with it’s repercussions. Because of all her friends who wore pink, liked or didn’t mind pink, she hated it. Now she’s accepting that pink won’t kill her, pink is just a color, pink is fine.

She has to accept pink. How sad is that?

It ranges from big and small things. Pink, guys, friendship, school, music…

She remembers clearly standing in the shower after a particularly bad soccer practice (a soccer team she didn’t want to join but Dad made her) and after she shaved her right leg, she stood very still and looked down at the razor…

And contemplated suicide.

She’s never entirely sure why she didn’t commit suicide right then, while voices were loud in her head, screaming at her to end it right now. She thinks maybe it was the fact that as a PK, things like bodies being temples to God were beat into her head enough that maybe that’s what stopped her – or maybe it was just God stepping in. She’s grateful to this day.

Slowly but surely it got better from then on. Not very fast, not easily, but it did. She didn’t all at once become happy, feel blessed and understand how loved she really was. And she can’t really say she had startling conversion…

But, ultimately, she was saved. She’s not sure how, but God somehow worked His way in slowly and steadily. She began to think. She began to feel. She began to believe. Until one day she realized that, Oh, God’s here. With me. Holding me. And He loves me and forgives me. It was a random thought in a otherwise normal day, but it brought her to her knees. Because that day she realized she didn’t feel despair’s numbing, caressing arms or hear depression’s seductive, siren call. She saw the world all over again, after she’d slowly been drawn out into it and it was only now hitting her that she was standing in light. She wasn’t in darkness anymore. She didn’t hate. It was unbelievable, being free of dark chains. In that moment, she almost heard Satan scream in anger and lose his hold on her.

Once upon a time, I was a girl who loved Barbies and dress up and my friends and my family and from there it went down hill. Until God picked me up and carried me out of my mountain and dark hole, and destroyed my demons for me. And while I no longer love Barbies and dress up, I love my friends and family today, and fall in love all over again every day with my Savior who made living and loving possible for me. Possible for everyone.

Don’t misunderstand my testimony. I still have problems – insecurities born of past depression and from the confusion that is life in general – and I still have dark days. Sometimes I hear depression’s seductive, siren call when I’m stressed with school; sometimes I feel despair’s numbing, caressing arms when I don’t understand the world. The girl – the “she” above – is part of me, even if she’s in a corner of my past life and slowly fading. While the chains are gone, parts of me today would still find life easier if it centered around me me me. It’s so much easier to pretend no one cares. Depression is tempting. It’s almost addicting and you love it even as you hate it. I won’t lie. I’m a sinner and I can still feel the dark.

But my life will always be a fairy tale and will always have a happy ending. I will always have a torch of undying fire that burns away the dark and all my sins as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But the light kills the dark, even on cloudy days. Because I have a God who saves. A God who created the world but loves insignificant me.

Who loves me, scars and all.

– Anonymous