The Year I Wished I Was Dead | Part 1: What the Hell Happened?

Photo by  Pixel Talkies  on  Unsplash

Hey there! If you’re new here, welcome!

This is a little different than my usual content, but I think it’s going to help a lot of people- so grab something hydrating and settle in!

This is a lengthy post where I really share details of my own life, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts. This is the story part- if you want the quick notes version with short and sweet stuff you an use in your own life, skip ahead to Part 2!

To start, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not writing this post to seek out attention or pity- or to complain! I made the choices that got me into a really horrible situation, now I’m sharing what happened so hopefully others can learn and save themselves some serious pain. Take what you need, and leave the rest. <3

I lived in a hell-hole for 13 months.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. But it was really bad! I’ll paint you a picture:

+ 22-year-old couple with mildly co-dependent relationship that started at 14 years old, massive confidence issues on both sides, typical early-20s money issues…

+ 3 dogs and 1 cat (and an ache in our hearts from recently having had to surrender 2 cats to the shelter because we literally couldn’t find any housing where our 6 rescue pets would be allowed - yeah, lesson #1, loving animals is amazing but maybe don’t adopt the entire zoo until you own your home AND have the resources and stability to care for them? Like… start with 1… or 2. Not six.)

+ 1 super cocky, disrespectful uncle who happens to own the house we are now his roommates in
+ 2 dobermen

Making a grand total of 5 dogs, 1 cat- and then 2 when uncle adopted his own, and 3 emotionally-screwed-up humans under one small roof)

What could go wrong?

Living with people is TOUGH!

Especially with family because boundaries tend to blur quickly. I learned a LOT about boundaries throughout this year…

Shortly after moving into this space with the intention of saving up to buy our own home (and out of necessity because the housing market in Boise has become absolutely insane within the past 2-3 years!!!), I started my coaching business- this was May of 2018! Which meant hiring two coaches of my own, investing thousands in their services, and beginning the daunting and exhausting task of shifting my mindset and pushing the limits of what I believed was possible every. single. day.

At the time, I was doing great!

I felt confident, I took amazing care of myself- I’d been studying herbalism and Ayurveda for years through the Herbal Academy of New England and for years before that just on my own! I’d recently graduated with my B.S. in Business Healthcare Management. I felt like an awesome coach- and I loved what I did!

My husband worked 60+ hours per week every single week for the entire year we lived there- and we fought about it a LOT as my coaching income was disappointing, and then awesome for a sec, and then crushing, and an eternal roller coaster, along with my emotions as I glued my sense of self-worth to the success or failure of my business on any given day. (Hands up if you get the early entrepreneurial struggle there.)

In the beginning, everything looked fine. I was motivated to make the best of the situation, we were saving $$$ for our dreams, and I was building my dream business.

And then... things started slipping through the cracks. Suddenly, uncle-landlord-jerkface-roommate started making shitty comments. All. the. time. Except, never when my husband was around to witness of course. Which was most of the time- because of his 60 hour work weeks!

  • Uncle didn’t like the kombucha I brewed on the counter.

  • He didn’t like the smell of my homecooked meals (hello, actual herbs and spices, not familiar to eternal cocky-pants fratboys, apparently)

  • He didn’t like the way I walked, the way I spoke. My business was stupid, I was never going to succeed, I’m too small. I’m too naive. I’m too inexperienced.

  • Uncle didn’t think I had thick enough skin, I needed to get over myself.

  • My dogs were annoying, I needed to get a shock collar “or start beating him.” I needed to take more responsibility around the house (despite this very well off grown ass man literally never cleaning ANYTHING and just waiting until his mom came down every summer to spend WEEKS cleaning his whole house for free)

At first, I didn’t know how to speak up. I just locked myself away in my room.

I stopped brewing kombucha, I rarely left my room to cook unless I knew for a fact Uncle wouldn’t be home. The room was too small to work out or do yoga in, and I’d stew in anxiety over what time he’d be home that evening, every evening, to the point that I tried to scurry out of my room to pee as often as possible in the hours before he’d come home, with the hope that I didn’t have to leave my room between the time he got home and whatever ridiculous hour he finally went to bed.

I gradually stopped eating unless it was “safe” to come out- and I didn’t even notice this change in my own behavior! I stopped cooking anything over the dread of him coming home when my food was half-finished and having to stay in his presence to finish cooking.

I stopped sharing about my business, and I stopped having the courage or desire to hop on live videos and engage with my clients and community… which fed the increasing reduction in sales and general amazingness I’d so carefully nurtured for months.

But there were scarier things too.

This all kinda crept up over time, like emotional abuse tends to do. It’s not like one day things just fell apart and I consciously stopped caring.

I was worn down, and I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got out.

This cycle went on from February of 2018 until March of 2019, when it all finally snapped.

What finally did it?

Uncle was neglecting his dogs, forcing them to go days without food or water (especially when I wasn’t home to take care of them, but really, it wasn’t my job and he wasn’t even checking to see if they had food and water in the first place- I checked because I’m not evil).

I spoke up for the dogs. Not for myself. For DOGS. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals and it’s absolutely disgusting and evil to neglect them in any way… but it really hits me hard how I finally spoke up for dogs after over a year of NOT speaking up for mySELF in the face of cruelty and abuse every single day.

Uncle kicked us out immediately, and we lived in a truck bed camper for 2 weeks while we waited for our new apartment.

It was really, really hard in the camper- though I was grateful to have a safe space at all. Two adults, one who was working 60 hours per week still despite our sudden displacement and total lack of money or idea where we were going to live or how we could afford anything, plus 3 dogs and a cat in a teeeeeeeeny truckbed camper.

And now that I was finally away from the abuse, the pain I’d been numbing in survival-mode all that time started to sink in. I wanted to die.

It hurt so bad, and I didn’t understand- because we were finally out.
“I should feel better.”

I felt free, I was safe again even if it was just in a tiny little camper with no place to go.

But I was in shock. This man had been our family, and he left us homeless over his pride.

I’d trusted him through the year, blind to the abuse and what was happening to me. I was devastated that this “friend” and family member cared so little about us. I tried to understand rationally, questioning what I could have done better… I blamed myself. We were good renters. We always paid on time, we were quiet, we didn’t break shit, I kept the house, I was barely noticeable considering I never left the room when people were home. I took care of the whole lil zoo. And over some piss-baby ego tantrum, he threw us out like garbage.

I just remember feeling raw and fragile.

Like that scene in Spongebob where the scammer talks about having paper skin and glass bones. That’s how my heart actually felt. … and the more time I spent alone in the camper in those endless two weeks, the more I noticed my anxiety and the aching in my body and my mind. I realized I felt weak and drained, I didn’t want anything. I wasn’t inspired. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t unhappy. I was numb and I hurt at the same time.

I remember thinking about what I’d loved before the experience… I remembered Michelle of @Girrlscout.

I’d loved her since I found her on Tumblr when I was like 14… and I’d stopped paying attention to her during the year of hell… I realized she’d know exactly what to do. I found her again, and studied up on badassery, desperate to get myself back even if it meant playing with someone else’s approach for a sec. I was waiting for my humanity to click back on…

I made the desperate move of a drastic hair change. “A girl who changes her hair is about to change her life,” or whatever. I did that. I called up my sister, and we made the undercut @Girrlscout wears so well a reality for me. I’ve always had long hair and femininity was a big deal to me, so this was a huge scary choice… but I decided I was worth it.

I decided I already hated and felt deeply betrayed by myself, so it’s not like a bad haircut gave me anything to lose.

I decided that I would learn to love myself again, even if my hair looked ugly and I couldn’t pull it off as beautifully as Michelle did.

The results? IT WORKED!
But honestly?

It took some time. It was really hard. It’s still kinda happening, but I feel more myself every day and I’m finally feeling the energy and spark of love and joy and excitement for life that I used to be known for and that is ME. I’m writing this in June of 2019, after being in this new apartment healing and rebuilding myself for 3 months.

The undercut was really fun for a second. I hated it for a second. I loved it again for a few weeks, and then I was over it, it’s just hair. It’s now in the awkward growing out phase, and I was totally right: I DO love myself, even if I don’t love my haircut. I don’t regret it. I feel like with the hair I shaved off, I let go of a hell of a lot of shame and self-loathing. It was a motion of forgiveness and peace to myself for all that I’d forced myself through in silence. For all the times I didn’t speak up or walk out of a situation I didn’t deserve.

I tried to go back to the “Super Healthy Green Vegan Herbalist Diet & Lifestyle”

That special snowflake thing I had going before moving in with the Uncle… And it was an epic failure at first. It turns out, I wasn’t ready to just flip back over like a light switch. I needed time to heal. (And I mean that special snowflake comment with love, I still adore my old lifestyle and want to get back to it, just in baby steps and with the understanding that I am not a rotten person because I need to place my mental and physical health before certain other lifestyle goals.)

So… What changed in the past 3 months since moving into our own apartment again?

I’ve been taking care of my health needs and following up on all the care for my Cystic Fibrosis that I didn’t do while I was in survival mode for a month. I found out I have some lung thing I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell, that basically means my immune system is in crazy overdrive and I’m kinda allergic to life, and my body is just freaking out… .(Don’t worry, I started treatment and I’m doing much better now, the docs said it should be cleared up within a couple weeks of treatment!)
I’ve also realized I was starving myself and I went through several bouts of really intense suicidal thoughts and urges. I had anxiety and massive panic attacks for the first time in my life, to the point that I couldn’t leave the house without winding up sitting on a curb sobbing and gasping for air.

I got medical attention. I got mental health care. I surrounded myself with positive influences.

I cut out social media and dropped my business to the curb until I could manage my sense of self-worth without depending on business income or attention to make life feel worth enduring. I went to the dentist. I started taking my meds and eating three times per day again. I started drinking water. I started doing yoga again. I’m slowly starting to incorporate workouts now that the treatment for my immune stuff is kicking in and my appetite is back.

It’s been a long road, and I still have a ways to go, but I’m feeling like myself again. I have dreams and plans, I have direction and hope. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to grow on emotional and spiritual levels now that not all of my energy has to go toward literally nourishing and reviving my body.

I quit hanging out with people who choose to suck.

Even family, if they were choosing to be suck-ish for the moment, were removed from my life for the moment. No more room for that crap, not right now. I blocked people who disrespected my boundaries. I learned to get comfortable with discomfort, speaking up, and confrontation… but I also learned when it wasn’t worth the effort and I could just save the energy and block a real life troll who wasn’t worth it.

After a couple weeks of soaking in every bit of @Girrlscout boundaries and self-love I could manage, I started to take off the Michelle-training-wheels and start being my own person.

(Thanks for letting me borrow some life-saving personality, Michelle.)

I’m going to tell you all about what I’ve done in just a couple weeks of being back to myself, but this is getting LONG so I’m going to stop here for now. Visit Part 2 for more!

Bottom line: you’re fucking amazing and assholes who suck the life out of you don’t deserve to do that. YOU have to stop it. You have to get out. You are worth it. You can do it. Please do it.

We thought we HAD to stay with Uncle or risk losing our little fur baby family, being homeless, financial ruin, all kinds of Big Scary Things. But in reality? We’re resilient af. I’m super resourceful, I’m a kind and loving person and I have a lot of people in my corner because they know and love me for the person I am. Chances are, you do too. Maybe you’re blind to them at the moment- I was too- but if you reach out for help, it’s there. Open up, ask for help, and commit to making the change you need to make.

You’re going to be so much more than okay, but it’s up to YOU.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, however you got where you are, I love you. You’re worth getting out of the mess. You’re worthy of love, you deserve safety. You don’t have to destroy yourself for someone else’s comfort. Confrontation probably isn’t going to kill you, and you are allowed to set boundaries with literally anyone. You’re just as human as every other human on this planet, don’t let anything convince you otherwise.

Jessica PenaComment