The Tragedy at Pulse

It’s still hard to process what happened very early on Sunday morning: a person carried an assault rifle and a pistol into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and shot and killed 49 people. At least 53 others were wounded.

As an LGBTQIA ally, I know this isn’t about me. I cannot help but feel so very much for the victims, including those who are wounded and those who witnessed it and their families. I cannot fully imagine their pain, but I do know that this shooting created a personal hell for so many individuals now. I just feel so much for them.

Those 49 people were so much more than victims, though…To say that one was a dancer and another worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal doesn’t reveal who they truly were. One heroic mom died trying to save her son, who did survive the attack. One posted his last social media video on the way to the club; in it, he was singing and dancing, preparing for a fun night out. All 49 futures have come to a senseless, tragic end.

I don't have answers, but I have rage. We have to figure out a way to do something to protect one another from horrific gun violence and mass shootings. I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA community.

I won’t speak the killer’s name.

I will say the name of the individuals who were killed.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

The Open Freedom of Starting Over After Falling Apart

You know what’s cool about finally dealing with a lot of trauma and unpacking a lot of pain while in the midst of realizing I’ve been going down the wrong path for a decade or so? It’s never too late to turn it all around. Even in the midst of dreadful emotional pain that takes a toll on every aspect of my being, I can see a way through it. Going down the wrong path doesn’t mean I need to continue on it. My life can go anywhere from here. I feel the excitement and freedom of a lot of open possibilities.

Somehow I feel compelled to get on better terms with myself before I make any life-changing decisions. Then again, loving yourself sounds like a cliche in some ways. There are fantastic, feel-good think pieces scattered all over the place about the merits of finding ways to love yourself, aren’t there? It seems like something every good feminist should be able to do. I can’t save the world, but I should at least be able to do that, right? Bring on additional emotional daggers aimed at my heart because I can’t even get that right.

Love myself? I feel guilty because I am not anywhere near the country of confidence yet. I’m not even in the same hemisphere. I’ve been there in fleeting moments. Having been in love, though, I know that love isn’t something that comes and goes; if you truly love someone, it’s always there even when the intensity of it soars sky high or temporarily recedes a bit. My feelings for myself are more like long periods of loathing with brief reprieves of something akin to non-hatred.

I mean, I have a basic level of respect for myself. I’d never intentionally hurt any human being or other sentient being. I try to help others when I can. I try to do the right things. I hope to be able to do a lot of good someday.

That level of understanding about myself does not mean that I love myself, though. I care enough about myself to generally keep myself out of harm’s way, which is no easy feat for someone hell-bent on self-destruction who deals with a PTSD, depression, and anxiety. For someone who has no interest in drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or premarital sex, I’ve done a remarkable job of self-destructing. (Not that there's anything destructive or wrong with those things at all; I just tried so hard to avoid certain things since I have an addictive personality.)

So, love myself? Eh. (I’m not Canadian. That’s said with my Southern twang.) It’s really more like: Hell, no. I don’t love myself.

I do like parts of myself, though. I can grant you that much.So, I’m at a checkmate sort of position. I feel like I need to find a way to love myself before I move forward in substantial ways, yet I just don’t. So I’ll continue to work on it. Sometimes just realizing our own limitations can be so freeing. Rather than ignore the bad things, looking at them and feeling whatever it is that they inspire is an act of love for yourself. I’m doing that, so at least I’m acting loving towards myself.

I challenge myself to continue acting in a loving way to myself, and if you’re struggling with these things, too, I hope you do. I hope you want to do that, too. I think that’s the best way to go through life, even if it’s really tough to even pretend that I’m not repulsed by my presence. I’m going to treat myself like I’d treat someone I love.

I have no happy ending to this post, beyond the simple realization that the world is a beautiful place that holds many possibilities, and I want to try to enjoy it more today than I did yesterday. Good morning.

What It's Really Like to Have Depression, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Anxiety

Society says not to dwell on the past, but when you have PTSD, sometimes you actually don't have a choice. You can be going about your day and suddenly - BOOM! - something will take you right back to a place and time of a severe trauma.

You may disturb or at least confuse others around you when you get extraordinarily emotional all of the sudden. It can seem like an overreaction, and the person who triggered the active, throbbing memory in your mind never intended to set this unsettling sequence in motion. So then you feel like you want to comfort the person and explain that it's not their fault, while you also feel as though you are going to completely fall apart, so you look for a way to at least bottle up the emotion until the next time you're alone. 

Triggers for me have happened in dozens of different situations. They have occurred when I was in a movie theater on a date, while taking the subway, when I was going for a walk, and once when I was interning with this boss who was kind of a jerk to me. He was the last person I wanted to witness a flashback/memory meltdown, yet there it was in all its messy glory. If you're lucky, it happens in front of someone who is sensitive to your situation and feelings. 

The most recent time that I had a triggering experience, I was with someone who was very caring, but I was upset at the current conversation as well as simultaneously having a traumatic flashback. Those double-whammy moments happen sometimes, and they're hard to handle because it's hard to articulate exactly where the pain of the past ends and the pain over the current dilemma begins. Maybe the current situation isn't so dire, but it feels every bit as painful as the old one. In fact, when pain gets stacked on top of pain, it can feel much, much worse.

Another dirty trick to these flashbacks is that the pain doesn't just evaporate as quickly and suddenly as it appeared. Sometimes the intensity of the pain continues for days, weeks, and sometimes - rarely, for me - months. Something unexpectedly triggered me yesterday, and I'm still reeling from the pain, although I'm trying to enjoy simple pleasures in this very day.

I am in a great deal of emotional pain. Just like yesterday, I have a raw ache that feels like a hollow wound in my chest. It feels like the wholeness that maybe once made up my entire heart was ripped out slowly. leaving a jagged, open wound. It feels like someone tried to put it back in, only to rip it out again, leaving a fresh injury that's more painful that ever, made worse by having perceived that things could get better. Now it feels they won't get better, and tears flow.

I find tears flooding my eyes and blurring my vision of my computer screen as I try to write. I want to take a nap to forget the pain for a while, but I have severe anxiety when it comes to lying down in bed. I can’t sleep unless I am so tired that I’m about to pass out, or I will feel overcome with anxiety to the point where I downward spiral into a ball of terrified, tear-spewing human goo in a matter of minutes.

I thought something I recently said would be cathartic and perhaps was a necessary component to healing, but I want to take it back. That’s the thing, though. Life is always changing, and you can’t redo stuff.

I am dealing with pain that has long been ignored. I’m not falling apart; I’m trying to put myself truly together. However, I'm told that things get worse before they get better. 

Anxiety tells me all kinds of horrible things in the meantime. It asks me to look at all the ways I’ve made friendships worse when I could have made them better. It shows me every possible way I’ve pushed people away when I’ve wanted to bring them closer. It makes me look up close and personal at anything I’ve possibly done wrong in my life, and then yells at me for what a horrible person I am to not have done better at everything on every day of my entire life. The shame follows suit, bringing home the point that everything bad that’s ever happened to me was all my fault, especially my dad’s suicide, because surely I should have been able to prevent that.

So, in the midst of all this, I haven’t been as productive as I was able to be in the past. That brings on more shame and distances me further from being able to do what I want and need to do. I am finding ways to be more productive going forward even when emotional pain rains down.

In fact, there’s this huge part of me that is the most hopeful, overly cheerful optimist who believes that something good always comes from even the most awful, horrible things. That same part of me wants to rejoice because I am learning better ways to deal with the anxiety and depression, and it is reassuring to remind myself that severe pain is only temporary.

I've found joy in little things today. I stopped crying for a bit and savored the experience of going shopping for some necessities. Tomato soup, vegan spring rolls, and a 12-pack of diet coke with Taylor Swift lyrics on the cans were entirely too much fun to shop for...Today completing the most basic tasks sort of took on the shift of being pleasurable and fun because they were accomplishments. I am being productive and doing what I need to do to continue on. Buying food is life-affirming; making meal plans for the near future is reassuring. 

There's a strange intersection of depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Maybe they are all covered under the simple title of PTSD. I am dealing with it as best I can, and my best is enough for me. Ultimately, everyone who battles any or all of these things will have their own experience of them, with symptoms probably not quite like mine. I think what we can all agree on is that it's totally okay to find fun in small things. The sparks of joy we've nourished can mean the most when things seem otherwise bleak.

When Rock Bottom Becomes a Bottomless Pit

I tried to get myself something to drink yesterday morning, and tears fell into my glass of ice before I could manage to move it out of the way. They just kept flowing. I must have cried for at least a dozen hours in the past week. I wish I could throw out the painful feelings as easily as I tossed out my tear-stained ice.

I used to think that I’d discovered what rock bottom was to me. I’d been in life-threatening situations more than once, and that’s not counting the danger I was in because of my own desire to end the searing pain that comes with PTSD, depression, and some of their causes.

I figured that rock bottom was that time I bought a rope with a plan to use it or worse still, when I slit my wrists. The thing is, I didn’t end up using the rope. When I slit my wrists, I left myself with surface-level wounds that I cleaned and hid. I wasn’t seeking attention; I was seeking an end to the pain. I have googled “quick, painless ways to die” more times than anyone would like to know, but it can get worse than that.

Those were all horrible experiences, but I don’t think any of them ended up being rock bottom for me. It seems that most people refer to rock bottom as the moment when you hit the lowest point in your entire life so that you are motivated to change. That wasn’t the state I was in when I decided to work towards healing, though. In fact, what motivated me to get help wasn’t painful at all. It was gentle encouragement from a very dear friend. That felt wonderful and safe.

When I speak of my rock bottom, I am talking about that empty, aching feeling within when it feels like nothing will ever feel even a tiny bit okay again. What joy I’ve found in this world feels as though it’s been ripped away over and over again all at once. It’s an emotional ache so extreme and strong that I feel a physically painful sensation in my heart.

In getting help and working towards healing, I’ve discovered that this feeling can get worse. It can get progressively worse. Sometimes I free fall further down into the pain than I’ve ever been. I can always fall lower and descend further into the depths of pain that exist within me.

What I used to see as rock bottom was just a ledge, and beneath that is a lot more pain. You see, I found a seemingly endless well of pain within, a bottomless pit that contains all the emotional pain I’ve long neglected and glossed over and avoided like the freaking plague.

This is horrible, no-good, really bad news, right? Well, I have come to see that it’s not the case. Opening up an access point to all this pain isn’t the worst thing that has happened. It’s among the better things. I thought I was going about my life in an okay way despite the pain I’d experienced but buried. However, I was not fully living life or owning myself and my choices. I kept self-destructing in a million ways big and small. It is only in reaching down into that pit and slowly processing the pain that healing is taking place.

Luckily, so many problems that seem insurmountable are fixable. The pit may be bottomless, but the pain won’t last forever. A lot of things won’t work out in my favor, I’m sure, and that’s okay, too. Maybe some dreams won’t ever come true, but you never lose your ability to keep dreaming new dreams that can be equally as wonderful. Maybe the one you love will never love you, but romantic love isn’t the only valid, special kind of relationship. Whatever problems you may face, you can cherish people and experiences without worrying about the outcome of a situation, and life still holds wonder if you keep going on.

I’m in the middle of a long excavation process where sometimes I’m digging into the depths of misery within me. Sometimes I’m skating along the surface as I recover, and sometimes I’m ascending to greater heights of future possibilities. It’s inevitable that I’m going to trip up on really painful, rocky terrain along the path to the better life I’m seeking.

Life doesn’t just stop to allow for this kind of healing to happen, so I have to find the right balance for me to heal and still deal with life. You’ve heard of lifestyle blogs. Well, this is a blog about the changing lifestyles I’m experiencing. I have faith that these painful things won’t always be an overwhelmingly big part of my life, but I intend to chronicle my quest to deal with life in the best way I can even within the battle against past trauma, depression, and PTSD.

Pain is temporary, and that’s one of the things I’ve allowed myself to learn. When you hang on to the things that make you come alive and persevere through the tortured moments, the pain lessens if you deal with it. It truly does. Pain lessens, and life goes on.

Heading for a Land of Sunshine or Savoring Joys in the Midst of Depression

Want to know something? I'm so over not yet being over depression. Since elementary school, I’ve experienced on-and-off suicidal feelings, and I wish I could make them go away once and for all. I'd like to just wave a magic wand...and...poof...banish all such thoughts from my kingdom.

You see, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that I struggled with depression as a young girl, and it tears away at my life still. I actually go through life feeling worthless. I have come close to suicide many times. I once bought a rope with the intention of using it to kill myself, but I returned it to the store because I was out of money and wanted some more chocolate before I exited the world.

That's kind of how it goes with me. I like chocolate; I love life. I just don't appreciate the nearly constant mental anguish I have faced at some points in my life. Chronic emotional pain is tricky. Sometimes it knocks you down on an otherwise pleasant day, while other times bad news can send you suddenly spiraling from just okay to grasping for reasons to continue to exist.

When people talk about their experiences with depression, I don’t always relate. I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t live a day of their lives over again, and that just breaks my heart. That is not true at all for me. I have good days that I would relive if I could. I hear and respect the lived experiences of others, and I have searched for ways to relate my experiences.  

Meanwhile, I savor all the happiness I can find in life, and I inevitably find some meaning in each and every day. I try to be of service when I can. I enjoy my career, and my cherished relationships with friends and family give me immense joy. Art in so many forms enriches my life; I adore many things in the world.

It’s like my kind of depression is a smothering tent that keeps hovering and closing in on top of me, but I see an opening where I peek at the beauty of the world beyond the suffocating darkness. I keep pushing it back, peeping my head outside, and reaching beyond it, trying to grab on to the wonderful reality that is here, too.

Nevertheless, the misery within that tent has held me down. For years, I felt that everyone would be better off without me. I tried to keep my friends at somewhat of a distance, despite my great love for them, because I didn't want them to be wounded if I had to go through with my suicide.

Sometimes I try to be okay for one more day or one more hour. Other times I’ve just wanted to be able to feel I could get through one more minute.

After I entered and eventually left an abusive relationship that I’d risked everything to be in, I was more devastated than ever, and it deeply wounded the part of me that had allowed me to be extremely, highly functional even within the depths of despair that depression caused me. In the midst of this agony when I was merely trying to survive, when I could not even look towards a new day without immense pain, something totally unexpected happened.

I felt a truly happy moment in time. In fact, I experienced the happiest moment of my life. It was brief and fleeting. It was silly in its scope, and I’m pretty sure it meant little to nothing to a friend who was there as well. Yet, somehow, within that flash in time, the self-hatred I’d always felt melted away for just one moment. I felt a wave of undiluted hope and a surge of utter joy. The glee was so new to me that it felt a little bit like being in a foreign land. While I have gone through life feeling worthless, for that blissful moment, I felt worthy of being there and having that experience.

What would perhaps be a silly second that passed and would have been easily dismissed by most was very significant to me. I can’t even tell you exactly why, but I can tell you that what I discovered within this feeling made me stronger. It helped me realize that the pain isn’t ceaseless and unending. It made me feel less like the monster that the depression has always made me believe myself to be.

This feeling awakened in me the need to build a life where happy feelings were possible on a frequent basis. So I asked myself: What sort of life do you truly want to create for yourself, and what sort of person do you truly want to be? As I gain more coping skills and work with more power to overcome this enormous obstacle in my daily path, I ask myself those two things more frequently. I give more thought to my answers that are still evolving.

I want to be my true self, and I am discovering more about who that is as I strive for self-improvement. As far as the sort of life I want to live, I answer this question anew as I deal with the depression and confront it and try to get a handle on it.

I can’t tell you that I don’t struggle now, but I am facing it head-on. Don't worry; I'm not in imminent danger. I am not giving in to the dark feelings. I am being proactive and taking the best care of myself that I possibly can. I’m forgiving myself when I can’t. I am getting help each day and every time that I need it. Mostly, I am keeping my heart open to the lovely things in life because I have a lot of hope that there are many more moments out there worth feeling and experiencing.

Today, I had a single vegan fortune cookie after lunch. My fortune read, “You are heading for a land of sunshine. You will always have good luck in your personal affairs.” Despite the fact that I’m a skeptic who knows it was a random cookie that I grabbed from the box, I am just idealistic enough to shrug and try to imagine that this optimistic fortune will, in fact, come true. 

My Name is Robin, and I'm A...

Welcome to my little home on the internet. Relax. Kick your feet up. Can I get you anything? Perhaps a YouTube link or an inspiring meme? No? Well, I appreciate that you’re visiting me here.

What I’m actually serving up are posts on my passions. This blog will likely be about my life, a variety of things I love, and some things I don’t love but just have to live with. It will be about my pursuit of the most joyous, kind, authentic, and love-filled life that I can create for myself.

You see, I’m determined to get lots of joy out of life despite the fact that I live with nasty, unwelcome intrusions by the name of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and what I long referred to as situational depression. (Unfortunately, it persisted in several types of situations, so I guess it’s just the regular type after all.)

There is a stigma around these things, but I refuse to cower down to my fears of speaking openly about these afflictions. That is what they are; I won’t sugar coat things. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy, not even those nasty middle school bullies. While I plan to be open about my own struggles and triumphs when it comes to living with these things, I will fiercely protect the privacy of others in my life.

Now there are lots of brilliant online posts about depression like this one and its sequel from Hyperbole and a Half.  Among her other well-written musings, Lisa Jakub also writes beautifully about anxiety. Licensed therapist Joyce Houser wrote an incredible book about how therapy heals and helps with these types of problems.

I appreciate these writings by authors I admire and am moved by them. They’ve brought me immense comfort. I could never write as beautifully as they do. At the same time, I think that one’s struggle with depression and other disorders can be as unique as it is universal, so it is my hope that sharing things about my own personal experiences may be of some use.

Although I know it’s the most talked-about issue in the land and sea of cyber space, I may occasionally write about weight stuff. I cringe at mentioning that part because I am all for body acceptance, and it’s never my wish to body shame anyone, including myself. For several personal reasons, though, I’m on a diet, exercise, and weight loss plan. On a possibly related note, I’ll be writing about recovery from eating disorders and my huge collection of workout VHS tapes and DVDs.

Mostly I’ll be posting about writing, travel, vegan food, philosophy, books I’m mad about, dancing, music, daily walks, altruism, art that makes me shout, theater, beauty, cinema, achieving goals, volunteering, my love of God and respect for all peaceful religions, my heroes, microwave meals, and the entertainment that lifted me up as a kid. You may find yourself reading about the fun and occasionally panic-filled reality of being child-free by choice when I’m not yet fully committed to that choice.

I’ll be sharing about life as an author, my adventures in freelance writing, and the ups and downs of owning my own business. Also expect posts about the upcoming publication of my first children’s book and my first-ever national book tour!

So that’s what you can expect to find here in addition to memories of Marta Heart, the greatest dog who ever lived. While the content of this blog is likely to shift as my life changes, I expect to be going on about Marta well into my hundreds. If you’d met her, you’d still be talking about her, too.

By the way, as my domain name suggests, I’m Robin Raven. Yes, that’s my real name in the sense that it’s my legal name. No, I wasn’t born with it. I chose my last name when I was a teenager, and I picked it without knowing that characters named Robin and Raven made up a famous Teen Titans couple. That being said, I rather like it, which is why I picked it. Although I’ve gone through my adult life being teased about it, I still love it, so it’s probably here to stay, although I may add another last name on the end someday.

I’m a work-in-progress. I’m striving to improve myself, make positive changes in my life, and become the more self-actualized person I want to be. That sounds vague, but I mean it with a passion and determination that has only recently been awakened. I am so done with being self-destructive, and I am totally over settling for less than I deserve. I deserve to be happy in this life, and so do you. Thanks for joining me on my little journey!