Kaleigh Mangiarelli

@kaleigh-mangiarelli | contributor
Kaleigh, also known as Kiki, is a high school English teacher and soccer coach struggling with anxiety and C-PTSD. She uses her writing to cope, spread awareness, and help others realize they are not alone.
Community Voices

How To Leave A Place Behind You

How To Leave A Place Behind You

When you’ve experienced www.facebook.com/Sexual-Assault-Survivors-on-The-Mighty-1826... of any kind, the place where it happened can bring it all back to you.   Sometimes, that place is special.  Sometimes, that place is a home.

When I was growing up, I was very insecure.  I was embarrassed by my “Italian nose” to the point where I would cover it with my hand in school.  I felt ugly because I had bushy eyebrows and hairy arms and legs.  I told people I wore boys clothes because they were more comfortable, better for sports.  But really, I was constantly embarrassed by my body. At school, girls made fun of me for my clothes and appearance.  Friends did, too.

Then I went to camp. At camp, I found confidence in the welcoming smiles and genuine hugs from other girls my age, despite my look.  I played music in front of others, played soccer with people far better than me, and I danced for the first time in my life.    Each year, I counted down the days until I got to go back to this magical place– the place where I learned more and more each summer how to be me.  Summer after summer, I made new friends, tried new things, and lived for two months by Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “do one thing every day that scares you.” And I did.  I ran 10 miles, I swam a triangle (farther than I’d ever swam before), I danced in public, I jumped off a high dive, and I wore my hair down.  Camp became the place that I associated with happiness. I tried to take even a small piece of this happiness, and of myself, back to school each year.  For me, this was my happy place.

Flash forward to about seven years later, and the worst event of my life took place… at camp.  Within my happy place.

When I left that summer, the associations of happiness and confidence and peace all started melting away.   Campfires and community singing faded into lonely nights lying awake. Trees I connected to lazy sundays faded to the feeling of just breaking. I won’t go into what happened to me, exactly.  But what I will tell you is that it changed my life forever:   How I would go on to relive the experience with every subsequent partner.  Wake up shaking from the bad dreams. Suffer flashbacks in intimate situations.

I’ve been using the summer to read, really read, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist.  While much of the book has been teaching me that it’s okay to be simply that, a bad feminist, much of it has felt like thoughts I’ve had before but haven’t had the tongue or thought process to voice properly.   Gay’s book is a compilation of various essays, all connected under a common theme.  Within the section dedicated to Gender & Sexuality, Gay includes an essay entitled, The Illusion of Safety / The Safety of Illusion.  Within this essay, which largely discusses the concept of “trigger warnings,”  Gay writes, “I have to remind myself of the time and distance between then and now.  I have to remind myself that I am not the girl in the woods anymore.  I have to convince myself I never will be again.  It has gotten better over the years.   It gets better until it doesn’t.”

A couple of weeks ago, I had just started my summer. I just graduated from my Masters program.  Moved into a new place. A new place with the love of my life. I recently hit a one year mark since stopping years of weekly-therapy.  I was doing good. At this point, I hadn’t heard from my abusive ex in over two years.  Thus, I hadn’t thought much of him either. I dealt with the panic attacks when triggered, sure. The #Anxiety when alone or with my back to open space, yes.  The flashbacks, okay. But the difference? I hadn’t been scared.  When you have to weigh having a good year based off being scared or not?  That’s a whole separate day’s writing.

“We all have history. You can think you’re over your history.  You can think the past is the past.  And then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you how far you are from over it.  The past is always with you.” (Gay 2014) Right at the very beginning of living my best life, I was thrown into a whirlwind of my past.  For about a week, I had a hard time leaving my apartment by myself. But I also had a hard time staying at my apartment by myself.  Anxiety crept in like an old, familiar enemy.

While this bump in the road to the start of a very special summer reminded me of the longevity and potency of my PTSD, it has also reminded me of how lucky I am to have such a strong and loving support system.  Between my mother coming straight to my house, over an hour away, my very closest friends making the time and taking the extra step, and my partner for his endless love and support… I’m doing good, still.

I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to my happy place to visit this summer.  I’ve been reminded all over again of what happened there. Of what changed my life and myself forever.   But I’m reminded still, that because of all that, I am where I am today.

So, now, as I reflect on where I was mentally when I began writing this piece, and where I am now as I finally finish it, perhaps a new title could or should be used: How To Find A New Home.

If we can’t leave a place behind us, I think we need to soak in the place we’re in right now.

 

Community Voices

The Complicated Aftermath of Speaking Up

It’s been more than a year and a half since I came forward about what happened to me.  What happened to me. What happened to me?

It feels odd to say that, because what happened to me was actually happening for close to three years.

I thought that talking about it for the first time was going to be the hardest part about surviving an abusive relationship.   And yeah, talking about it for the first time was really scary.  I sent my parents an email as I departed the country for a month so I wouldn’t have to see their reactions.  Then I posted publicly on Facebook when our (now) president was accused of sexually assaulting numerous women.  I got through the anxious rush of pressing “send.” I got through the comments and messages that came afterwards.  I was even uplifted by most of them.

But saying it for the first time was not the hardest part.

You see, the scariest part of speaking up is actually the fear that no one will believe you.

And while I’ve learned that most people do believe me and other survivors, a lot of people still don’t understand.  A lot of people acknowledge that, yeah, it happened, but (even if subconsciously) blame me/us in some way for what happened.

Why didn’t you break up with him sooner?
Why were you dating someone so much older anyway?
How could you let that happen to you again?

And those are the same questions I asked myself for a long time.  It’s taken a long, long time to even begin to heal.  But in 2018, when #MeToo and #TimesUp are movements in full force, those questions hurt in a different, subtle way.

What makes this abuse less real than a celebrity’s abuse?

In an interview about her past and trauma with sexual violence, Maya Angelou once said, “I won’t say I was severely raped; All rape is severe.” (Moyers, 1988)

You can’t compare one person’s rape to another’s.  You can’t minimize one person’s experience because of what happened, when it happened, or who did it.

Well, she was pretty drunk.
Weren’t they dating, though?
I don’t know how much to believe.

I’m wading in the muddy waters of relationships with people who have their own, separate relationships with my abuser.  He got married earlier this year, and some of my old friends went to his wedding. My family had a party recently, and a few people there had recently hung out with him.

For them, that was just something I said happened.  For them, that was something of the past.

For me, I deal with panic attacks and flashbacks, sometimes on a weekly basis.  For me, I live in the fear that he’ll show up somewhere he knows I’ll be. For me, I am carrying the weight of what happened every single day.

But most of the time, the fear that someone doesn’t believe me is much greater than the fear of it happening again.

The sexual violence I endured was all due to fear, trust, or giving someone a second chance.

We’ve gotta stop giving monsters the benefit of the doubt.   We’ve gotta stop turning a blind eye. And with some things, nobody deserves a second chance.

We’ve got to start supporting survivors.  All survivors.

If you’re reading this, and you have been affected by sexual violence in some way, know that I hear you.  I see you. I feel you.

You are not alone.

It’s not your fault.

I believe you.

Boston Area Rape Crisis Center:
24-Hour Hotline: 800-841-8371

National Sexual Assault Hotline:
24-Hour Hotline: ​800.656.HOPE (4673)

The Reality of PTSD Flashbacks During the Trump Presidency

Have you ever driven down a long stretch of familiar highway, put the car in park at your destination, and realized you remember nothing about the drive? Or, have you ever found yourself staring out a window, eyes barely blinking, only for someone to bring you “back to reality,” and you can’t even remember what you were thinking about? While flashbacks are commonly referred to in everyday vernacular — in the same way we throw around diagnoses like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or anxiety — they are actually a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Having a flashback often causes you to disassociate, which is when your brain may lose a sense of both time and reality. When you lose yourself driving or find yourself daydreaming out the window, you are mildly disassociating or the closest thing to it. Flashbacks, in the case of PTSD, occur when you’re triggered by someone or something. During a flashback, you may be partially present, or you may be completely unaware of reality. Your mind might have taken you “back there,” going through the trauma all over again. We often talk about PTSD and flashbacks as something only veterans go through. We think of fireworks putting a veteran back in the crossfire, or a helicopter bringing him back to his platoon just before an attack. But PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through any sort of trauma. I know this because I deal with PTSD on a daily basis, reliving the fear instilled in me from an abusive relationship, the pain and helplessness from being raped. In the cafeteria at school, if an excited co-worker bangs loudly on the lunch table to emphasize some part of the story he’s telling or the point he’s trying to make, my instant reaction is to duck and hold my breath. If a student sneaks up behind me to be funny, I fall to my knees, trying not to cry in front of the whole class. If my partner is in a bad mood, I am often wary of his presence, even though I know he would never hurt me. In October 2018, Lady Gaga appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In this interview, she came to the defense of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused Brett Kavanaugh (now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) of sexual assault. Throughout the debate, Dr. Ford was forced to relive her experience over and over again, while people shouted at her, doubted her. While our president, Donald Trump, mocked her. In her interview with Colbert, Lady Gaga, who is a survivor of sexual assault and a long-time vocal activist for women and the LGBTQIA+ community, explained how the brain stores and hides trauma: “It takes the trauma and puts in in a box and it files it away and shuts it so that we can survive the pain.” Sometimes, really big things, like your abuser rising to the highest form of power in the country, can trigger you. Sometimes, really small things, like your co-worker pounding their fist of the cafeteria table in laughter, can trigger you. When you’re triggered, the box opens. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford “was brave enough to share it with the world to protect this country.” Dr. Ford’s testimony was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to see her relive her story. It was heartbreaking to hear all of the powerful men who didn’t believe her, and it was heartbreaking to relive my own experiences and to know how many people in my own life, in not believing Ford, might not believe me. It’s not really any different. When we don’t believe survivors, we’re letting men like Kavanaugh get away with it. We’re letting men like my abuser keep abusing. We’re setting a tone for the young boys growing up to be men. During the Trump presidency, a lot of people who have experienced trauma have been reliving that trauma. The box has been opened and the files are pouring all over the floor. The hope is that you’ll read them.

Monika Sudakov

What 'High-Functioning' PTSD Looks Like

From the outside looking in, most people would never peg me as someone with a mental illness. I’ve run my own successful business for 13 years, have a big social media fan base, tons of great reviews, have been married to the same man who is my best friend for 19 years, love what I do, am passionate and vocal about my beliefs and causes, have a good sense of humor and try to live life at a pace most people can’t seem to wrap their head around. But behind all this busyness is a person who struggles with a myriad of symptoms from C-PTSD brought on by childhood trauma. I struggle on a daily basis and I’ve gotten really good at hiding behind a mask of “perfection.” Even on my best days, I have my moments when I struggle. But on my worst days, I sometimes wonder if I’ll make it through the day juggling so many balls in the air without dropping them all and having my whole world crash down around me. It is of those days I’d like to speak. The days when I don’t feel strong. The days I don’t feel hope. I may not “feel” anything because the only way I can function is to go back to my old coping skill of shutting my feelings down completely. Those days generally begin in the middle of the night. Most nights I deal with either insomnia (because my mind won’t shut the f*ck up) or gruesome nightmares that won’t quit. The nightmares often leave me exhausted and I usually wake up in a pool of sweat with my heart pounding out of my chest and my flight instincts on overdrive. My mornings often begin early with work so I don’t have time to just go back to bed and hide until the demons leave my body and mind. I just have to shove them aside and suck it up. And I do.  My morning continues with me taking my vitamins and anxiety meds, which hopefully will keep me on an even keel. But on the hard days, that’s usually not the case. I may need two or even three doses of my anxiety meds to just keep the pounding in my chest at a tolerable pace and to reduce the possibility of falling into a completely debilitating panic attack. In addition to that, I may need other over-the-counter meds to lessen the psychosomatic symptoms I experience from body memories that have been trapped there for decades from the trauma I experienced. My logic knows they aren’t real, but my body screams just the same. Often on those days, I will have a therapy appointment in between work duties. I diligently go to my appointment, pouring my guts out and come home emotionally and physically spent. It’s at this point where I again have to just shove everything into a dark corner and slap a smile on my face because even though all I want to do is curl up on the couch with my cat in my comfy sweats, I now have to “perform” and give my clients the best of me that they expect and deserve. What they may not know is that in between interactions with them, I may be fighting off a panic attack or having a flashback or a body memory and I’m doing everything I can to ground myself. Listening to music, watching videos of baby animals, drawing, lying on my back on the ground trying to do deep breathing exercises so I don’t hyperventilate. Sometimes I even clutch a special vase I have like a small child clutching a teddy bear because in a dream, I once envisioned a safe place in a vase like it and it helps remind me I’m safe. By the time bedtime rolls around I’m physically and emotionally spent. I know I should go to bed because I have to be up early to start the whole routine all over again, but part of me is afraid of going to sleep because I don’t want to have the nightmares. Part of me is ruminating over every perceived mistake or imperfection that may have occurred throughout the day. In my mind, I rehash conversations, catastrophizing things that aren’t really a catastrophe. That’s what it’s really like to be someone who has PTSD and is “high-functioning.” Not all days are like this, but they happen more often than anyone knows — even more than those who are closest to me know. Because I hide. I’m a master at hiding. I learned how to hide as a small child when there were real monsters I had to hide from. I honed those skills as a broody teenager struggling with anorexia and trying to hide it from everyone. I perfected it as a capable functional adult hiding and hoping that if I kept myself busy enough, I wouldn’t feel any pain. I’m learning to stop hiding so much. To start letting myself be human and to give myself more time to be imperfect and not be OK all the time. But that’s an ongoing struggle that I continue to perfect. How ironic. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

Why Taking Sick Days for My Mental Health Shouldn't Be Frowned Upon

Sick days. They’re something we all get a certain amount of, and something we all take a certain amount of — some more than others. Growing up, I had the blessing of being raised by two teachers — two teachers who got it. While they might not have known at the time that I was struggling with anxiety and depression (neither did I back then), they understood that we all just need a break sometimes. My mom used to call it a “mental health day.” To me, this meant that I was taking the day off because I was overwhelmed, rather than throwing up. I was stressed about social stuff, rather than dealing with period cramps. I was sad about everything, rather than trying to cool down a fever. To me, taking a mental health day meant that I was getting an excuse to just take the day off and relax, to press restart the following day. And maybe taking the day off to relax is exactly what I needed. It usually did the trick. This carried over into my years in college, and has since carried over into my first few years as an adult, working full-time. And that’s where it starts to get tricky. In high school, nobody asked where you were after you were absent because your parents called you out sick. In college, nobody asked where you were after an absence because if you didn’t show up, they didn’t care. At work, it’s a whole other ball game. While there’s no requirement for me to tell my boss why I’m taking a sick day, it’s just kind of expected that I’m either physically ill or playing hooky. So for the past few years I have struggled with this. As a teacher, I am fortunate enough to be granted 10 sick days. Now, while I normally use up all ten by mid June when school gets out, it turns out that’s actually pretty frowned upon if anyone notices. But the thing is, taking sick days is frowned upon because people find it rare for someone to be physically ill that often, and if you are, it’s assumed that it’s for something very serious that everyone knows about. Something serious that everyone knows about. Isn’t my mental health something serious, just as my physical health is? When I’m sinking back into depression, the flags are all there, but that doesn’t mean I can stop it. December is a hard month for me. While everyone is getting excited buying gifts for their families and getting ready for their holiday party, I’m usually struggling to decide where to spend my holiday; in other words, choose which parent (and their respective family unit) to celebrate with. Each parent thinks their family is the family, whereas I feel like I am being tugged at from both ends. So it’s no wonder that just a few days ago, I blew a gasket when my eye doctor couldn’t refill my contact prescription. When I wasn’t included in the faculty golf game (again). When my landlord wouldn’t pay for my bedroom door (wtf, I know). I’m really stressed and anxious that I feel like I have to make both my mom’s family happy and my dad’s family happy, and it’s never possible for both sides to get 100 percent of me.  And that anxiety leads to a panic attack over the little things that I can usually tackle on my own. That panic attack leads to me crying, hyperventilating, crying, yelling and crying some more. This leaves me exhausted, with depression creeping up close behind. Why do I do this? Why can’t I handle this on my own? Why can’t I just deal with this? And those feelings of failure are my transition from anxiety to depression. While I know they’re irrational, in a depressive slump, it’s hard to see that so clearly. So I took a day off. I emailed who I needed to email and I let my classes know what they needed to work on with the sub. I slept for nearly 14 hours. When I finally turned over my phone and looked at my email, I had two that I wasn’t expecting: One from my boss and another from my mentor.  While these are two people who are looking out for me at work, they’re two people who don’t need to care. But they do. While my boss normally checks in when I’m out “sick” to make sure I’m feeling OK, I normally just tell her I’m under the weather. But “under the weather” usually implies we aren’t feeling well physically. “Under the weather” is often the scapegoat phrase for “I’m too tired,” or even “hungover.” But this time I decided to be honest. If I’m going to take a sick day, it’s OK for that to be physically sick or mentally drained. I told her the truth, and what I got back was understanding and care. While I may be fortunate enough to work in an environment where (some of) my higher-ups really do care, I know this is not the case for us all. But what I do know is that for those of us struggling with mental health issues, whether they be short-term or long-term, it’s important for us to take the time we need to heal, just as we would if we were actually “under the weather.” Mental health is something that we need to talk about more. We need to be more open about, and we need to be more accepting, of both our own and others’ as well. Take the time you need to heal. Take care of yourself. Breathe. Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via klebercordeiro

We Need to Stop Treating Mental Disorders as Casual Adjectives

“It was not what he was feeling now… He searched for the right word to describe his own feeling.” — “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. Since eighth grade, I’ve reread The Giver several times and even “taught it” to several students, whatever that means. I read into every little detail, knowing I’m going to have to discuss it in greater depth with my students. But for some reason, this time around I really feel like I understand what’s going on. Rereading this first chapter really got to me. I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated with the way people throw around their adjectives (whether that’s because I am extremely literal, or because I am an LA teacher…), but this hit the nail right on the head: “It was December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.No. Wrong word, Jonas thought.Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen…” A lot of the time, we use words to describe the way we’re feeling when we either aren’t aware of the true meaning, or because it’s so overused (in it’s exaggerated form) that we think we know its true meaning. And we do this a lot. I am consistently at fault. I get in a frighteningly bad mood when I haven’t eaten enough. I’ll probably tell you “I’m starving,” when you and I both know I’m really just hungry. I might tell you “I’m exhausted,” when really I’m pretty tired and could use a nap. A lot of us say “that’s interesting,” when really we just don’t know what else to say. (Thanks, Lois Lowry.) But what I’m getting at here is how often we say things, even if unintentionally, that really hurt or embarrass other people. When we say things like: “Oh my god, she’s so bipolar.” “She’s so skinny, she looks anorexic.” “I basically had a panic attack.” “I have PTSD from last time.” “I’m getting anxiety from that.” We forget how lucky we are to be able to laugh about it. But mental disorders are not adjectives. I know many of you may be reading this thinking about how annoying “political correctness” is, but there are just as many people, if not more people, thinking about their own mental health. “…There was a little shudder of nervousness when he thought about it, about what might happen.Apprehensive, Jonas decided. That’s what I am.” You see, mental health is something we grow up hiding from. We’re told to “act normal,” to “quit being so emotional” and to “stop crying” from such a young age. But we’re not “normal.” And we are very emotional. And maybe we need to just cry. Mental health is something that controls not just your mind, but your body too. There are days when I wake up ready to take on the world. I dance around the room and teach with more energy than five other people put together. I go on a walk by the ocean at lunch. I cook dinner for my friends. I smile because I am happy. And then there are days where I wish the sun wouldn’t rise. My entire body aches as if I’ve just run a half-marathon without training. And it’s not that I want to think or feel that way. It’s that something in my brain just didn’t click that morning and I just can’t seem to figure it all out. That’s OK. But the more we hide from our emotions and berate other people for showing theirs, expressing theirs, the farther away we move from compassion. And the more we toss around disorders as if they’re just casual adjectives, the more people are afraid to ask for help. But we need help. We all need a little help from each other. I am challenging myself to think more about my “precision of language” (when I need to), and I’m asking you to challenge yourself, too. Let’s talk to each other. Let’s listen. And let’s choose love, every single day. Follow this journey on theycallmekiki.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

We Need to Stop Treating Mental Disorders as Casual Adjectives

“It was not what he was feeling now… He searched for the right word to describe his own feeling.” — “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. Since eighth grade, I’ve reread The Giver several times and even “taught it” to several students, whatever that means. I read into every little detail, knowing I’m going to have to discuss it in greater depth with my students. But for some reason, this time around I really feel like I understand what’s going on. Rereading this first chapter really got to me. I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated with the way people throw around their adjectives (whether that’s because I am extremely literal, or because I am an LA teacher…), but this hit the nail right on the head: “It was December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.No. Wrong word, Jonas thought.Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen…” A lot of the time, we use words to describe the way we’re feeling when we either aren’t aware of the true meaning, or because it’s so overused (in it’s exaggerated form) that we think we know its true meaning. And we do this a lot. I am consistently at fault. I get in a frighteningly bad mood when I haven’t eaten enough. I’ll probably tell you “I’m starving,” when you and I both know I’m really just hungry. I might tell you “I’m exhausted,” when really I’m pretty tired and could use a nap. A lot of us say “that’s interesting,” when really we just don’t know what else to say. (Thanks, Lois Lowry.) But what I’m getting at here is how often we say things, even if unintentionally, that really hurt or embarrass other people. When we say things like: “Oh my god, she’s so bipolar.” “She’s so skinny, she looks anorexic.” “I basically had a panic attack.” “I have PTSD from last time.” “I’m getting anxiety from that.” We forget how lucky we are to be able to laugh about it. But mental disorders are not adjectives. I know many of you may be reading this thinking about how annoying “political correctness” is, but there are just as many people, if not more people, thinking about their own mental health. “…There was a little shudder of nervousness when he thought about it, about what might happen.Apprehensive, Jonas decided. That’s what I am.” You see, mental health is something we grow up hiding from. We’re told to “act normal,” to “quit being so emotional” and to “stop crying” from such a young age. But we’re not “normal.” And we are very emotional. And maybe we need to just cry. Mental health is something that controls not just your mind, but your body too. There are days when I wake up ready to take on the world. I dance around the room and teach with more energy than five other people put together. I go on a walk by the ocean at lunch. I cook dinner for my friends. I smile because I am happy. And then there are days where I wish the sun wouldn’t rise. My entire body aches as if I’ve just run a half-marathon without training. And it’s not that I want to think or feel that way. It’s that something in my brain just didn’t click that morning and I just can’t seem to figure it all out. That’s OK. But the more we hide from our emotions and berate other people for showing theirs, expressing theirs, the farther away we move from compassion. And the more we toss around disorders as if they’re just casual adjectives, the more people are afraid to ask for help. But we need help. We all need a little help from each other. I am challenging myself to think more about my “precision of language” (when I need to), and I’m asking you to challenge yourself, too. Let’s talk to each other. Let’s listen. And let’s choose love, every single day. Follow this journey on theycallmekiki.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash