The Year I Wished I Was Dead | Part 2: What I Learned

Quincy Phillips  is the artist behind the camera.  Thanks girl.

Quincy Phillips is the artist behind the camera. Thanks girl.

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.

(Hint: If you want to know the full details of what the hell happened to make me wish I was dead, check out part 1! This is the shorter version, because I know you’re here for a story that helps YOU, not just a detailed account of the worst year ever.)

Quick backstory: I lived in an emotionally abusive, seemingly-financially-dependent hellhole of a situation for a year with an in-law.

Over the course of the 13 months living there, the abuse and my mental and physical health decline slowly progressed. Now, after 3 months of being back in my own apartment (with my husband and our sweet fur baby family) where I’ve been working to heal the physical problems that came from a year of neglecting my health both when it came to Cystic Fibrosis care and just general health… like eating… ever…

I’ve also worked to recover from suicidal thoughts and urges, panic attacks and constant anxiety, which I hadn’t experienced before the year from hell. I found out my vision has been negatively impacted, I have this weird thing going on where my immune system is in panic mode (I can’t pronounce or spell The Thing, but the docs say I should recover fully from the non-contagious condition with a few more weeks of treatment, thankfully!), and I noticed more and more terrifying changes in myself as I crawled out of survival mode and back into being a present human being in my own life.

I’ve been rebuilding myself with love and dedication, and it has been the most beautiful, powerful, painful, ugly experience of my life.

Here are 10 major lessons I learned while recovering from an abusive situation I got myself into at 22 years old:

1 | Boundaries! Always, everywhere. Everyone.

Set them, stick to them. It doesn’t matter who the person is, you have a boundary and they are to respect it. Block real life trolls if you need to. Disconnect from family if they choose to suck. You are worthy of a safe life. You don’t deserve to be treated like shit by anyone, and anyone who makes you wish you were dead needs to be cut from your life immediately.

2 | Get help sooner, rather than later.

I didn’t notice how bad things had gotten until I was safe in my own apartment and able to (read: my brain forced me to) process the pain and neglect I’d inflicted on myself in the previous months. I knew I wasn’t happy, I knew the Uncle was kind of an ass. I knew I needed to have better boundaries… I thought I knew it all. But there were signs… such as…

3 | If you’re avoiding people you love because you don’t want them to see how you are, it’s time for help ASAP.

This was probably the biggest red flag I ignored, and it’s something I’ll always have a firm boundary with myself on moving forward. I think about how differently it all might have worked out if I’d just realized that I didn’t want my mom to see me because she’d notice I was dying inside… What if I’d just reached out for help then? I am really lucky to most likely not be suffering anything too permanent from this whole adventure… but there were times I really came close to ending my own life, which today sounds absolutely crazy and I can’t even really imagine how I was feeling… but at the time it really genuinely felt like the only rational choice. That’s terrifying. And if I’d known the signs and asked for help, it might never have gotten to that point. I not only risked permanent health damage, I risked my whole entire life. Over the pride of not wanting to ask for help.

4 | It wasn’t about me.

I felt really guilty and ashamed of the situation I got myself into. I think to a point, I still am a little unhappy with myself for not preventing things from hitting the low point they did. But ultimately, when someone abuses me- I know that it’s not about me. It’s not my fault, I don’t deserve it.

5 | The only thing I am responsible for in an abusive situation is GETTING OUT.

That is IT. If they’re suicidal, if they’re stupid, if their dogs might be hurt, if other people might lash out at me for leaving the situation… Not my problem, not my job. Call the police, call animal control. Get the hell OUT first. YOU first. You can’t help anyone without your mask on first, right? Take your well-being seriously, you only get this one life in this body.

6 | There are always other options.

Whatever shitty situation you might be in, there are always other options. It’s about priorities, you’re never really stuck. I thought I was because keeping my rescue animals was such a high priority to me. I didn’t think I could possibly afford a place to rent, find said place that actually allowed my pets, and be able to afford the deposit and the move. I felt I had to stay in the situation, and that I should be grateful that I was allowed to keep my pets and pay a relatively low rent rate.
The truth? Sacrificing my health wasn’t worth it. The damage that came to my marriage wasn’t worth it. The pain I went through after the fact, you guessed it, wasn’t worth it. As SOON as I realized we had to get out of there, new options opened up to me that had probably been there all along.

7 | My own well-being MUST come first.

I don’t necessarily mean this in a fuck-the-world, I’m-the-only-person-who-matters kinda way, but it goes back to that oxygen mask concept. I’m no use to anyone, my dreams are useless, the love and kindness I aspire to show up with in the world… it all means absolutely nothing if I’m dead, incapacitated, or just stuck on a loop fighting the urge to end my own life every day. Nothing and nobody is worth that sacrifice, ever.

8 | Confrontation is uncomfortable, but it probably won’t kill you.

This goes along with #1, boundaries. If I’d just stood up to this jerk in the beginning, rather than constantly throwing myself under the bus and putting myself down and bowing down to the wisdom of this uncle who I was so sure knew everything about being successful in life, things probably wouldn’t have been so bad. Yes, he acted like an asshole and nothing justifies the crap he put me through… but also, I taught him how to treat me. I showed him what I expected, I set the standard. I failed to set the boundary, and I kissed a lot of ass… Which leads me to:

9 | Kissing someone’s ass isn’t kindness, it’s just kinda gross.

This is a new concept to me, I thought to be kind you had to praise the hell out of everyone who tied their shoes reasonably well. I wanted to always show appreciation and support and encouragement. I saw everyone as struggling and fragile in their own ways- we’re all just human and we all go through shit, y’know? But the problem is that with that perspective I was constantly finding ways to put myself down or be a doormat for people just to show them that I wasn’t a threat and that they were enough just as they were. It was a weird self-sabotaging toxic thing that wasn’t love, and definitely wasn’t kindness. Ass-kissing isn’t kindness. It’s some sort of needy lack-of-confidence and begging-for-validation thing.

10 | You gotta learn to validate yourself.

Practice that if you need to (I do). Instead of seeking out attention or opinions from outside sources, even trusted friends and loved ones, it’s important to really intentionally have your own back on the regular. Sure, seek out help and surround yourself with supportive people… but at the end of the day it’s your relationship with yourself that you are in literally forever, 24/7 for the rest of your life. So invest some time and energy in that. Get professional mental healthcare- there are resources that make this really affordable and even free- so no excuses. If you need a lot of help with this, there are professionals who can help you learn this in a way that doesn’t leave you dependent on and emotionally draining a well-meaning-but-under-qualified loved one.

And finally, a bonus tip:

Don’t be so damn hard on yourself!

When I was coming out of this really tough time, I reached out to a LOT of people. Some literally, and others I followed on social media and read blog posts and watched videos to learn from… The biggest lesson that helped me pull myself out of the darkest space I’ve ever been in- literally darker than being raped, healing from child abuse, or suffering through multiple miscarriages- was this message to not be so hard on myself. I was finding it loud and clear from so many directions, and every time I heard it that raw space in my heart ached and I’d burst into a gasping-for-air kind of sob session.

It was like that inner part of myself was so desperate for my love and affection, but I was busy being ashamed of the ways I’d betrayed her, I didn’t know how to face my soul and allow her to love me again. I hated myself for getting into an abusive situation- “how could I do this after all that I’ve overcome? Did I learn nothing from my own past?”

Those thoughts weren’t helpful, and the more I resisted allowing my loving core to come back up and hold the broken rest of me, the more I suffered. The more I panicked, the more I wanted to die, the more I hurt and hurt and hurt. I was moody and emotional, I was sick and I felt it. I wasn’t myself at all. All because I was trying so damn hard to force myself to be better…

When really, all I needed was to open up to my own love again. I didn’t need to be trying anything else.

I’m resilient. I’m naturally a ray of fuckin’ sunshine, and I know that. I’m a ball of love and giggles and hugs and warmth and kindness. It takes actual effort for me not to be that person.

Fact: Who I was for this one horrible but ultimately temporary year of my life… that wasn’t who I had to be forever. It wasn’t who I’d always been. I am still love and light and kindness. I’m still strong. I still matter. I still make the world a brighter place. And I don’t have to try. I just have to allow myself to be.

I believe we all have a loving core.

The challenge is to let her out, to have the courage to breathe and allow that cage of thorns to dissolve around us.
That’s what I’m here to do. I’m so thankful to be coming back to myself, finally.

Thank you for reading my story.
I hope this has helped you in some way.

With so much love,

Jessica PenaComment