The Phoenix in mythology, and in Harry Potter, is a bird that dies, turns to ashes and is reborn. I feel reborn. I have felt so different ever since I moved out. Almost confused from it. Who am I? Who is Shannen? This is five diary entries on reflecting on who am I today, now, and who do I want to be in 2018.
Diary 1: I haven’t had a panic attack since I moved out of my parents house.
November 10, 2017.
I haven’t had a panic attack since I moved out of my parents house.
When I was living at home, I would tell people about my brother and how I got anxiety and panic attacks around him.
People would ask me, “but what does he do…?” and “why don’t you parents do something.”
Sibling abuse isn’t something that a lot of people understand. I was questioned so many times by people who gaslighted me, insinuating that what I was going through wasn’t real, that I’d fight myself to believe that yes, this is sibling abuse.
“It wasn’t that bad…I exaggerated” or “I think he’s fine now, I should forgive him” and “Maybe it was my fault, maybe it’s me not him” and my favorite, “I should just stop complaining and grow up.”
I was weary for so long if the abuse was real until I moved out of my parents house to live with my boyfriend and my cat in September.
In October my boyfriend was the one to point out that I haven’t had a panic attack since the move.
That is huge.
That is everything. That is validation.
That is proof.
I’ve had panic attacks since I was a teen, maybe since I was a pre-teen, but the first panic attacks I remember vividly was when I was sixteen years old.
I used to get them three times a day with hallucinations.
Slowly they transformed. The hallucinations stopped, the cutting was infrequent and the “random” attacks stopped.
Clear triggers formed. When my brother was home. When my brother texted me. When my brother tried to call me. When I knew my brother was going to be home. My parents mentioned my brother.
And other ones like too much stress from school, not hearing from a friend and thinking they died.
But mostly my brother triggered them.
I’m writing this piece because for a long time I didn’t know that my brother was a huge trigger, or at least for a few years, had pushed the fact so far from my mind I had forgotten it.
I’m writing this piece because I hope that if you are in a household where verbal abuse or abuse of any type is normalized that you seek help and whenever the opportunity or resources present itself, that you get out of there as soon as possible.
A part of alternative self-help that The Strange is Beautiful advocates for is viewing our health holistically. It’s taken me years to pick away, one by one, all the aversive stimuli in my life, and to end up with one huge trigger left that I finally got rid of is the best feeling in the whole world.
Unravel yourself kindly meaning, let go of things one by one and transformation will happen over time. Your body is designed to heal so let it guide you toward healing and strength.
Love you all.
Diary 2: I avoid myself. Find balance, put my health first.
January 23, 2018.
Diary 3: Hating my body. Do less, restart a self-care routine.
January 24, 2018.
This is the third time I’ve tried to write this reflection…I just keep feeling like I’m missing something each time.
Tonight I felt especially down about my appearance.
I began to hear the voice of little middle school Shannen.
Your butt is too small. Your boobs are too small. Your knees go inward. Your feet are flat. You are too hairy. Your arms are too thin. Your legs are too thin.
And then I realized I hadn’t been putting myself first. My hair was greasy and so was my skin. My nails were long and not that clean. I was wearing a sweater that I’d worn for three days and my boyfriend’s baggy sweatpants that I’d also worn for three days. My socks…well…I may or not have worn those babies each night for two weeks…and my size small underwear was so old it had stretched out to fit three of me.
The underwear part really messed with my body image as stupid as that sounds. I was convinced I was too small instead of thinking logically that the underwear was too big.
Anyway. I could have done a lot of other things tonight but I decided instead to put myself first and take a fucking shower.
It was a long shower.
I washed my hair and as I washed my body, I laughed at all the terrible things I had been telling it and said out loud things like, “I love you calves. I love you thighs. I love you small butt. I love you small boobs.” It was therapeutic and so needed. I cleaned and trimmed my nails and put on a new-er underwear – that actually fit and made my butt look good ayeee – and clean clothes. I felt so much better.
All in all I think my reflection for tonight is a reminder to put my self-care first and that everyday is a practice. “Everyday is a practice” is a something I said often when I first started The Strange is Beautiful. It’s a phrase us yoga instructors use often when we teach. Everyday is a practice. Today is proof of this.
My reflection on 2017 and into 2018 is that I need to work on being okay taking care of myself. Do less. Less is more Shannen, less is more. I tend to feel like I’m not enough in terms of validation. My blog doesn’t have 1,000 followers on Instagram so I am not valid. My music only has 1,000 views so I am not valid. I’ve never been featured on Mitu or Bitch Media or any news outlet that I love so my activism and work is not valid. I always think because I have not been validated by someone that I need to do more NOW before it’s too late. Before it’s too late. Before I get too old? I’m not sure what I mean by before it’s too late.
I am valid.
I am valid.
I am valid.
I am worthy.
I am worthy.
I am worthy.
I am proud of all I have done.
I am proud of all I have done.
I am proud of all I have done.
Shannen, you have already done SO MUCH. Now, do you.
Learn to love yourself all over again.
Make a self-care routine for yourself again.
Diary 4: I fear food and medicine. Acknowledging my current mind obstacles.
January 25, 2018.
Because the HUGE mind obstacles I used to have – panic attacks and depression – have gone, I admit I have avoided acknowledging my current mind obstacles. In comparison, they seem so small and tolerable. Since I was 14, doctors have changed my diet often. First I was gluten intolerant, then they added lactose intolerant. Then I got a random case of arthritis in August 2014 and again, doctors change my diet but this time, drastically. Many tubes of blood was drawn from me and they gave me a list of things that – supposedly – caused inflammation in my body. Some of those items – just some – were eggs, almonds, gluten, dairy, cranberries, soy and oats. I was desperate at the time. Barely able to walk across the street, I decided what the heck, I’ll dedicate myself to this strict diet. And I did. And the inflammation went away about a year or two later. I was basically my normal self but just knew to stay away from over exercising and over exerting myself because otherwise it would return.
January 2017 I reported to my doctor that I was feeling sick when I ate spicy food, but nothing too intolerable. He said to take omeprazole and I’d be fine. I didn’t listen because I feared taking medicine that I had never ingested and my mother feared it probably more so than I did because of my history of her having to drive me to the ER due to medicine. At the time, I don’t recall my doctor calling what I had acid reflux, but perhaps he did and I forgot.
May 2017 I went to Peru and had a lovely time with my boyfriend but honestly, I ate a lot of spicy food and started to get acid reflux badly to the point that it affected my lungs. I was so sure that I ate something and was having a terrible allergic reaction and couldn’t sleep because I kept complaining I couldn’t swallow. Due to whiplash in 2012 or 2013 – I got it twice – I had already experienced the difficulty to swallow for years and believed it would come and go still. However, difficulty swallowing is also a symptom of acid reflux and at the time, I bypassed as being due to my neck or an allergic reaction because I wasn’t aware that acid reflux could do that. In Peru, I became obsessed with my tongue. I would check it every two minutes and ask my boyfriend all the time, “normal?” to check if it was swelling up at all. We even went to a clinic and I got a shot – on my butt lol – in case I was having an allergic reaction.
On arriving back to California, I was still obsessed with my tongue and went to a doctor about that and about my complaints that I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe and I felt as though any moment I would pass out from lack of air. The ER welcomed me three times and so did urgent care and the regular doctor’s office. Eventually, the ER said they can’t do anything for me after receiving three breathing treatments and my mom furiously switching doctors offices and sent me to UCLA Health. It was a funny experience walking into UCLA Health. The prior doctor’s office was filled with mainly white people. UCLA Health on contrast was all people of color. I remember my mom saying under her breath, “where are we?” Hahaha. She meant it in the best way possible because she was relieved that they were of color hahahaa. Anyway. At UCLA Health, after being told by many different doctors to take omeprazole prior to UCLA Health, I was sent to their digestive specialty office and they again prescribed omeprazole. I WAS SO FUCKING SCARED TO TAKE IT. I had my mom stay home with me the day I took it because I feared I would get an allergic reaction that would cause my tongue to swell up – even though this was just a ridiculous made up fear and had never happened in my life (it was a false alarm as well, just paranoia, in Peru).
They did a scope of me – they had to put me under anesthesia to do it – and luckily I was fine. It’s bizarre how my acid reflux “wasn’t that bad” and yet was affecting my lungs so extremely.
At this point, the doctor assigned me a new diet (FANTASTIC). Avoid oil and cook with very little oil. No spicy food at all.
Oh, I forgot to mention.
Shit I skipped over like, an entire important part of this craziness.
Rewind. When I got back from Peru, after visiting all those doctors and before seeing the UCLA Health doctor, I saw an ayurveda doctor, an energy healer and an allergist LOL.
Ayurveda is an old type of Indian food based medicine that many of my friends have had great results trying. It was fucking expensive. I believe I paid $150 per phone appointment plus about $175 for natural supplements and “medicine.” Before I saw her, the old doctor’s office I had been going to recommended I stop taking Citrucel, a powder medicine I’ve taken every morning since I was 14 for my IBS.
Without the Citrucel, I couldn’t hold down food. I was either running to the bathroom with diarrhea and feeling weak as though I had the flu or unable to move and in extreme pain from constipation. I started to lose weight.
The ayurveda doctor was definitely worried that I stopped taking the Citrucel, but seemed confident that her methods could help. Soooo, guess what I did?
Yup. Changed my diet again.
She gave me a whole three page list of things I can eat daily, weekly, monthly and things to avoid completely.
And then she had me buy the supplements and I was too fucking terrified and anxiety ridden to try them.
That’s where the allergist came in. I went for an appointment – everyone else there was a little kid testing for bee allergies lol – and they tested each medicine on my skin. I was fine, but I didn’t believe them. I started to take her medicine one at a time to test them out. The turmeric capsules worsened my acid reflux and so did ginger which was on her list of things I could eat. The other things didn’t seem to help at all.
THAT was the point that I saw the doctors at UCLA Health. They had me back on Citrucel right away.
I couldn’t believe how debilitating IBS was without Citrucel. I don’t know what I would do without it. I don’t know what other people do with IBS who maybe can’t take Citrucel. I was unable to even take phone calls sometimes and couldn’t leave my house.
They also had me try omeprazole and I finally gave in – but only for one month.
And I was fucking clear about that with them.
I was not going to stay on that medicine for too long because a side effect of taking it for too long is thinning of the bones, osteoporosis, and I already had arthritis (yes, I know they’re different, but I didn’t want both!!).
Okay so now we’re caught up. I took the damn omeprashit and got better to a certain extent. Then I had a dramatic meeting with my new UCLA Health doctor and my mother. The doctor said, “Acid reflux can often be caused by stress. Does anything stress you out?”
I started laughing hysterically and said, “yeah only my abusive brother.”
Boom. My mom looked down. And after some intense conversation, the doctor told my mom, “if you cannot keep your son out of your house, at least while your daughter is ill, then you are going to have help her move out somewhere else.”
We considered it.
I was adamant that I wanted to leave.
I had no money, no job and couldn’t work because I was so ill.
Then one day, I woke up and wanted to play guitar and couldn’t find it. I heard the car start outside. I walked outside as fast as I could and saw my mother driving away with my guitar.
Yeah, wasn’t going to let that happen.
I stood in front of her car, she admitted she had my guitar and said, “but it’s your brother’s.” And I replied, “no, he gave it to me as gift when I was in high school.”
And that day, I packed all my music gear, a few clothes, and moved in with my boyfriend.
And that was that.
That leads us full circle to Part 1 of this blog entry.
This is the first time I ever wrote all of that down. The first time I was able to write all of that down.
I think that’s a huge step for me.
I still struggle with food paranoia and medicine paranoia, but it is a lot less.
For example, I’m currently sick with a minor cold and if it was May 2017 I would be too terrified to take Claritin D, but I took it and I’m fine. I experienced mild anxiety from it and can tell it shifts my mood and perception of self, but I know it is the right thing to do to avoid an infection or bronchitis.
Another example, sometimes I eat gluten! Not a lot, but sometimes. I recognize I don’t have celiac so I won’t DIE from it. It’s just not the best to have A LOT of because it’s harder to digest.
An example of me still struggling with food paranoia though is that my friend made me fish for my birthday and asked if I could have parsley and caraway seeds.
I couldn’t recall if I’d tried either. But I knew it wasn’t on my list of things I can’t eat and that caraway seeds aren’t spicy, so I nodded sure.
Ummmmmm….the salmon is in my fridge and my boyfriend has eaten most of it……..
I might try some today.
I cook all my meals because I can’t have a lot of oil or spices due to acid reflux.
So what I’m trying to say is, I need to work on my food paranoia in the sense of being okay with trying new things that won’t harm me, but also accepting that yes, I do have to maintain this home cooked diet for now because I am still in recovery.
The medicine paranoia, well, I don’t know. I have to just take what is necessary but not wait as long as I did back in January 2017 to take medicine that could actually help me. Not all medicine is bad, I just get terrified of being sent to the ER screaming again.
It’s valid fears but I need to let go of some parts of them.
I think the last fear I want to work on is fear of creating strong friendships. I was at a womxn’s dinner recently and met a lot of amazing and inspiring womxn and realized I missed having support from womxn and just being able to laugh with friends. Music and blogging and zine making…it takes a lot of time and I often don’t make time for friends. I put it last on my priority typically because I fear that they aren’t actually my friend and that they won’t like me soon anyway because of my issues or my bluntness or…something else.
Diary 5: Recap. In 2018 I will:
- Find a job to maintain life independently.
- Find balance between my responsibilities to my projects and to my health and needs.
- Prioritize my health over everything.
- Prioritize making time for friends who make time and effort for me.
- Do less and be okay with that.
- Restart a self-care routine (including kind self-talk) that is varied so that I don’t feel scared if one day I take a day off from it.
- Start to address my food and medicine paranoias.
- Identify as “I am” when thinking of myself.
- Think of the words hope, good health, positivity (whine less lol), strong friendships, independence, love and deserved love.
I think I also need to address whether music is something I still love, whether I still want to pursue it. This definitely something else I avoid and perhaps will need another post for that, but I will add it to this list.
- Start to address whether music is something you still love and enjoy.
- And…SMILE MORE. I want to do photoshoots where I’m smiling…they’re all so serious !!!
Wow that was a lot…
Sending you positive vibes,
The Strange is Beautiful
Shannen Roberts (she/her) is the Peruvian-American, founding editor-in-chief of The Strange is Beautiful, musician and yogi.
See her posts here.