The Paradox of a Smile

I got a lot of interesting feedback from my last post.

Mainly bewilderment. I blame myself. I use this blog as a way to flex my writing muscles, but if you ever read one of my novels or my recent poetry, you’d notice a difference in tone.

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For instance, my current work in progress contains a character with PTSD. One of the ways I insert her struggles into the novel is by interrupting her thought process with flashbacks. When she’s triggered and begins to lose her grip on the present, I drop tiny hints at what she’s thinking. A sentence. A word. Little bits disrupt the narrative to give the reader a taste of what it’s like to have your mind revving up into the frenzy of a triggered panic attack.

Basically, my writing voice leans more abstract and poetic than I tend to be here. My last post felt normal to me but made many well-meaning people think I go to therapy for my acne.

I struggle with symptoms of PTSD, which I left too long untreated. Six months ago, the triggers multiplied, culminating in my inability to view my own face in the mirror. I don’t see me anymore. I see red blotches that echo past trauma. Makeup doesn’t help. The haircut didn’t help. I just can’t look at myself right now.

I’ve exorcized the house, one room at a time, and covered all the mirrors with towels.

You probably think I’m overreacting. So rip off the crude curtain and make me stare at myself, at the hot red slap on my pale European ancestry, the angry flush of heredity that makes me hate my skin. I’ll try to crawl out of it while you watch, clawing my way to the surface before the scream suffocates me.

~ Rachel Svendsen, Rosacea

I avoided treatment because I feared the outcome. I guess I needed to become ill enough that I wouldn’t care.

I just want to be well. I can hardly keep up with the few things I’m still involved in and dread adding anything new. I’m too exhausted to keep up with relationships or daily duties. I’ve questioned my will to keep trying.

I needed help. Part of that was a doctor prescribed mandate to eliminate as many triggers as possible. Some of those triggers were relationships. This move generally goes unsupported. People turn it on its head and the abused individual is forced to forgive in ways that permanently tie them to toxic relationships. You’re told to be stronger, to stop “making drama” or harboring hatred.

I questioned myself so much that my therapist actually bid me stop. He told me to imagine I was a soldier injured in battle. I’m now in hospital, fed, warm, resting, and hating myself for abandoning my comrades. I cannot obey the call of my guilt. I’m wounded. Things have changed.

Abuse changes things. It breaks relationships in a way that cannot always be mended into a happy ending for all.

In closing, one of the most confusing responses I received was people finding it impossible to insert my wild, tormented rantings into the mind of my smiling social media face.

First: I fear this is a danger in our Instagrammed society. Never, NEVER assume someone’s life is idyllic because of their social media. We’re programmed to just show the comfy parts to the world, a sort of emotional keep up with the Joneses we’ve been enacting since the beginning of the Facebook generation.

Second: Living with a mental disorder is to forever walk the line between okay and falling apart. Healthy people don’t understand how this feels. That’s why it’s so hurtful to tell a depressed person, “I get sad too sometimes.” Depression is more than that. That’s also why I write my abused and mentally ill characters semi-poetically. It’s my attempt to capture the jolt and jar of walking through the day with a fractured mind. That’s what my last post was about, so if it confused you, I guess it was almost meant to.

Third: Just because I’m ill and suffering doesn’t mean my life has no joy. The LORD has filled my life with loving, supportive people, essential to my survival during this time. I have a beautiful daughter who gives me endless snuggles and fills my ears with bubbling laughter. I have a warm, generous husband who holds me when I cry and scream. I have hope in a God who promised me Eternity in His healing presence.

A smile can hide brokenness, but it’s not always just an act. Sometimes it’s just a testament of survival and God’s grace.

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Photo by Katie Emma Photography

Rosacea

 

I’m having so much difficulty, as of late, finding a way to vent my pain. It’s currently backed up in my head in the form of an endless scream. I drown it out with books and cooking shows and crushing candy. Plastic screens and magic black squiggles that envelope the here and take me anywhere else. The pages flip, the colored squares pop and for a moment I can make myself believe I’m accomplishing something instead of standing still.

If you bothered to pry me up, to shake me out of anywhere to here, I’ll admit I’m not okay. And if you make me stand in front of a mirror, you can watch me fall apart.

I dragged myself to my therapist’s office and blinked awake long enough to let the scream out for a diagnosis. Then I shut it back inside, handed the prescription to my husband, and took my diagnosis down to the place where the scream began.

I’ve exorcized the house, one room at a time, and covered all the mirrors with towels.

You probably think I’m overreacting. So rip off the crude curtain and make me stare at myself, at the hot red slap on my pale European ancestry, the angry flush of heredity that makes me hate my skin. I’ll try to crawl out of it while you watch, clawing my way to the surface before the scream suffocates me.

Yes, I could make a believer out of you. I could show you the madness that creeps around the edges of my I’m-just-fine. But nevermind, I’m just drama and attention wrapped in the paradox of attempting to live life unseen.

So I’ll swallow the scream and let you think what you want of the diagnosis, the prescription, and me. And I’ll wait for the day when the trauma is cool enough that I can take down the towels, look in the mirror, hear silence and see nothing except rosacea.

 

My Top 10 Reads of 2018

If you follow this blog, you know I love reading. I beat my goal of 52 books this year and read over 90. That, despite my toddler and several bad bouts with depression, both of which make it hard for me to settle into reading. Below are my favorite reads this year.

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#10 – I Wrote this for You by pleasefindthis

That’s not a typo; pleasefindthis is the pen name for Iain S. Thomas. I discovered this gem through Prime Reading. It’s beautiful poetry with artistic photography scattered throughout. Definitely, my favorite poetry read this year.

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#9 – Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

No, I have not watched the Netflix series. I finished the book before they started running trailers for the show, which looks completely different from the book. My favorite part of Jackson’s eerie original was the crazy ending. Probably the most shocking ending I read this year. If you don’t mind a creepy read about a haunted house that attempts to drive its inhabitants mad, then this book is for you.

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#8 – Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

This short, convicting read discusses the sins the church has come to tolerate. Even though I took issue with Bridges’ lack of knowledge on certain subjects (e.g. mental health), I believe authors run into those problems whenever they attempt to write a book that covers a multitude of subjects without the assistance of a co-author. This book still made it into my top ten for the year, simply because it forced me to consider the things I let slip in my personal spiritual walk.

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#7 – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I already did a full review of this earlier in the year, but since it made it into my top 10, I’ll just say, this book was a lovely marriage of nonfiction, fantasy, and myth with the readability of a novel.

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#6 – Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

This one almost didn’t make it onto the list, but only because I started it late in December. Its a beautiful memoir about pain, mental illness, and how storytelling can aid in healing. It’s written in luscious prose that reads like poetry. It’s heartbreaking and oh so lovely.

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#5 – The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

This book caught my attention when I read a review that compared it to Agatha Christie, whom I LOVE. The murder mystery aspect of it was definitely similar, with the added bonus of gorgeous atmospheric writing that made the book a darker, edge-of-your-seat kind of read. Her depiction of panic attacks was spot on, and I dare you to read it and not feel occasionally claustrophobic.

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#4 – The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall by Chris Dolley

Another book that made it into the top 10 that I’ve already reviewed. This blend of sci-fi and P. G. Wodehouse was one of the funniest reads I indulged in this year. I hope to read more of Dolley’s works in 2019.

*drumroll* And now my TOP THREE!

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#3 – Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

This book though! It was a delicious blend of sci-fi and fantasy. Martin discovers a computer file that can alter his world with only a line or two of code. He uses it to go back in time to Medieval England and trick everyone into thinking he’s a wizard. Such an inventive and hilarious storyline. The characters are lovable, witty, and quirky and the book had me smiling through almost the entire read. Meyer was one of several authors I discovered in 2018, and I intend to read the entirety of this series.

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#2 – A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Matthew Dickerson

This thought-provoking read looked into Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth. I learned so much about world building from Dickerson’s in-depth study of the themes within the Lord of the Rings. I recommend it to fans of Tolkien and writers of fantasy. Tolkien had the masterful ability to discuss his worldview without overtly mentioning his personal views on religion or politics, and, after reading Dickerson, I’m convinced this is one of the reasons Tolkien’s books stand the test of time.

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#1 – The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

Sometimes I have difficulty picking favorites when it comes to books, but this year I had no difficulty at all. I will never forget this book. I adore fairy tale retellings. This one was dark, poignant, and written in gorgeous poetic prose. The skill that Danley used to weave in multiple characters from myth, legend, and fairy tale while keeping the story fresh and unique was breathtaking. Love. Love. LOVED it.

I’m so excited to find out what new reads and authors I’ll discover in 2019! Comment and tell me about some of your favorite reads of 2018 and some of the new authors you discovered.