” …I tried to be the girl everyone sees me as, but the only thing I feel is being extremely exhausted every day. And so fake. There aren’t any true emotions going through me and I don’t know who I can possibly turn to. I’m a mess.”
January 2, 2008 (Age 14)
When I was 14 years old, I began indulging in a specific fantasy of living in a quiet house away from the city, with a little garden, all wrapped around in a white, picket fence. The sunlight would always hit the side of the house perfectly — as if luxuriously blessing it with serenity and joy. There, I imagined my future husband and children living with me. It was simple but picturesque. It was my happy place. Unfortunately, my fantasy didn’t manifest from a Disney movie or a fairy tale book. It was derived from emotions that, at 14, completely threw me off guard. ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Depression’ weren’t yet a part of my vocabulary; so, I knew what I was feeling, I just couldn’t clearly verbalize it. Then o\ver the years, through many, many therapy sessions, I slowly understood that I was suffering from depression and intense anxiety.
By most counts, I had a relatively good childhood. My dad worked long hours and my mom stayed at home to take care of me and my younger brother. We were well fed, went to good schools, had toys to play with and went on the occasional family vacation. I didn’t learn how to speak English fluently until I was about 7. It caused me to be painfully shy, but I was kind, funny and creative. As a way for me to improve my English, I started writing in journals at the age of 5. It began as a simple exercise with me writing about my day, and over time, my writings morphed into descriptive poems and short stories – all of which were accompanied by colorful illustrations. Journaling became a daily habit, as well as a creative outlet, which I carried on into my teenage years. It was a way for me to express my deepest thoughts that I couldn’t share with anyone else. My diary was my confidant and closest friend. I told her about my days at school, about my friends, the boy I had a crush on, the fights I had with my parents and slowly, about the dark cloud that had slowly formed in my life. At a glance, the general contents of my diary were perhaps that of a typical, angsty, teenage girl. However, years later, while revisiting my journals, I noticed the intensity of my mood swings and how I struggled to understand my ever-changing mental state. One day I was over the moon, the next I was so unhappy I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was questioning my self-worth, constantly bashing my own appearance, second-guessing my intelligence and even beginning to ask myself why I bothered with living.
“ … I can’t take this anymore. I think I’m gonna go crazy. I don’t know what to do anymore. I want to scream so loud right now. I want the whole world to hear me. I feel so helpless. What is this feeling?”
July 2, 2008 (age 14)
My father was the first man I loved. He was, unfortunately, also the first one to lay a hand on me.
Statistically, this puts me with about 40 million children who are subjected to abuse each year, worldwide.
It was a gradual, but rapid, escalation from raising his voice to discipline me, to hitting my head when I looked at him the wrong way, to pulling my hair, then throwing me up against walls, and hitting and kicking me around for what felt like hours. My father is a large, strong man and had an intimidating presence — even to many adults. So, as a 14-year-old, it was beyond terrifying to have him around when he was angry. Over time, my body learned to tense up when I heard him walking through the front door and much like a trained dog, I lay my head low and started avoiding eye contact or speaking unnecessarily to avoid angering him. This stuck with me for years. Even then, it sometimes wasn’t enough; he had a shorter fuse with me compared to with the rest of the family.
About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
The real introduction to my struggle with depression begins here because the relationship I ended up having with my father, was the prominent source of my deep-rooted anger — which I ended up carrying with me throughout my teen years, well into my early 20’s. As the abuse was occurring, I was convinced he didn’t love me — resulting in an overwhelming sadness and loneliness. The anger developed over the following years as I saw my younger brother was receiving a 180-degree difference in treatment from my dad. I would often catch myself looking at my younger sibling with rage (not towards him) because, at 14, he looked like a child — small, innocent and sweet. I wondered how it was possible for anyone, let alone a full grown man, to hurt a child so young. Why was he hurting me so much? This anger ended up fueling most of my future issues. I was putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect in every aspect of my life, that it completely backfired and I, instead, fell apart in so many ways.
Most of my memories from those days are a blur of having my hair pulled, getting shoved into bookshelves and walls, having textbooks thrown at me, and getting repeatedly slapped/ kicked. Usually, it would happen at home; there were a couple public incidents. But the one particular moment I remember, clear as day, was the night I got into trouble for buying new make-up. As a teen, I suffered from horrible acne. So, my solution to this was to cover up my entire face in layers and layers of make-up (highly unrecommended look, by the way). It destroyed my self-confidence and I had no idea how else to face the humiliation of showing my former-flawless-suddenly-pimply face to the world.
The events of that night unfolded when my mother was yelling at me about how the makeup I was wearing was the cause of my newly-formed hormonal zits and further expressed to my dad that she was unhappy with the amount of makeup I had been wearing to cover them up. From there, the situation escalated from 0 to 100 in about 3 seconds flat. Without warning, my dad proceeded to pull my hair and drag me into the bathroom. All of my makeup was violently thrown to the floor (remnants covered the walls and ceiling), and my head was smashed into the tiled walls. After that, all I could hear were the booming echoes of my dad’s angry yelling and me screaming for him to stop. By the time he had left my room, I couldn’t breathe and nearly blacked out. The following weekend, my dad took me on a shopping spree.
The worse the beatings, the more expensive the gifts.
Close to a year after it began, it all finally came to an end the day I left a note saying I wanted to kill myself. The night before, my dad had thrown textbooks at my head, while yelling at me and something in my mind told me that I was done. There was a calm that overtook me and that night, I wrote a letter saying I wanted to end it all because I knew he didn’t love me and that things would be better off for my parents if I were gone. My school counselor called me in the next day to tell me that my dad called to say he had found the note. After I explained why I’d written it, we were told to see a family counselor. I was the first of many therapy sessions to come.
My fantasy of a happy home came, at an early age, from a place of fear that I would end up with an abusive man. At 14, though I only began discovering boys, my only hope for my future self, was that I wouldn’t end up in an abusive relationship. Fathers hold such an important role in a daughter’s life because they are the first example she witnesses of how a man should treat a woman. I, unfortunately, came up with the mantra “If my father can hurt me, what is stopping other guys from doing it?” And it not only brought me an unnecessary amount of heartbreak over the years but also gave room for guys to be disrespectful towards me and get away with it.
It is the hardest, cruelest lesson I’ve had to learn by far.