WHY SHE'S COOL
This human is so many things to so many people. She's a listener, a story teller, a road trip buddy, cook of deliciousness, backyard dinner host, a fellow table top dancer, a helper, a healer. She is extraordinary, in every sense of the word. She inspires me always with her compassion, her boldness, and her fucking incredible trail blazing bravery. She shows us the power that continuously peeling back the layers of oneself can do. I have no words for how humbled and honored I am that she has chosen this space to share her story. It's real and raw, it's brilliant, and it's beautiful. You my babe are unlike anyone, you are my sparkly magical unicorn.
Meet Liza ...
Who are you?
I wish there was an easy way to answer this. For the longest time I would have described myself by listing off my mental illnesses or explaining what I was taking in school. I’m trying really hard to change that.
I’m 23 years old. I have a degree in Environmental Engineering. I survived my first sexual assault at the age of 16. This is when I started having seizures. Eventually I was diagnosed with a conversion disorder with pseudo-seizures. Basically, my mind couldn’t deal with the trauma and resultant PTSD, so it created something physical to deal with instead. I like to think of it of as my minds way of physically losing control over my body after that control was forcefully taken away from me. I narrowly escaped a second sexual assault at the age of 21, reigniting my PTSD. At age 22, I was not as fortunate, and was, again, grabbed off of the street and raped. I’ve lived with PTSD all of my adult life. On top of all that, I have generalized anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I’ve been struggling with various forms of self-harm since I was 10 years old and attempted suicide for the first time when I was 15.
So that is the old description of me. It has taken me a really long time to realize that I am so much more than my mental illnesses and the other labels I placed on myself.
I love to eat. I love cooking for the people I love. I love science and space. I think chemistry and groundwater are super cool. I think kindness and honesty are incredibly important. I try my best to love people properly and wholeheartedly. I’m loyal to the people I care about, almost to a fault. I paint, but I can’t draw. I’ve never said no to a dare. I love dancing in kitchens and empty parking lots. I think there’s a million different ways to be smart. I believe one person can make a difference in the world. I’m trying to be that type of person.
Most importantly, I believe that just because your world appears to have ended, the world hasn’t. Your world is simply different, and you can be too.
INSIDE HER MIND
How have your mental illnesses manifested themselves?
I think I started to realize I was different when I was about 12. When I was sad, I was really sad. My mood went from one extreme to the other over really little things. When I first realized this, I thought it must be what PMS was (lol puberty is weird). Looking back, my self destructive behavior started when I was around 10. Self harm is more than just cutting or burning. It started for me with hitting myself, scratching myself, picking at scabs so that they’d keep bleeding and not heal. Eventually it escalated to cutting.
As I got older, my mood swings got worse. I attacked people over little things. I wanted to control everything and everybody around me and completely lost it when I couldn’t. I got more and more impulsive and my behavior escalated from teenage rebellion to straight up self destructive. I was so depressed and angry. It seemed like nothing would ever be okay again. I was diagnosed with severe depression, but medications and therapy barely helped. I didn’t really want to get better. I was hospitalized for my condition, which forced me to care and work on improving so I could get out of there.
Shortly after that, I was assaulted and my seizures started. So I focused on the seizures There was no explanation for them for the longest time. I was in and out of hospitals getting tests. I couldn’t cross the street alone. I had to leave school in grade 11 for a semester and learn from home because I was having seizures so often. I’ve never had a drivers license because of it. I’ve had countless injuries. The seizures are controlled for the most part now, but one person changed the course of my life irrevocably and I was so incredibly angry about it for so long.
My relationships with people have always been tumultuous. I see things as either good or bad. I put people on a pedestal when things are good. I see them as the best thing in the world. I expect them to remain that way. So when they inevitably let me down, I see them as all bad and lash out at them. I really test people’s limits. I’ve lost a lot of good friends that way. I spent a lot of time being angry at them about that, but I recognize now they aren’t bad people. I take responsibility for the way I acted and can understand people needing to walk away. I’m even more grateful for the people who stuck around. I require a lot of attention. I have abandonment issues that are completely unwarranted. Seriously, I have acted so unreasonably to people basically because they went on vacation.
Eventually, at age 20, I was diagnosed with BPD and all of the symptoms made sense. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist that diagnosed me told me they couldn’t really do much to help me and that I should try Googling it. Yea, that was just great. I Googled it and basically believed I was a seriously awful person because that is the way they describe somebody with BPD. I’ve since targeted my therapy specifically to BPD and learned to forgive myself for all of the things I did that were awful. I got a new shrink that actually helps me. I live a fairly normal life now.
What has life post-assault looked like for you?
This most recent time, I was weirdly okay. I kept waiting to fall apart completely and I didn’t. Part of that was because a couple days after it happened, I had to write the first of many midterms for my first term in my final year of university. I had deadlines to meet with my final design project. I had a lot of shit to do! I had been through the PTSD nightmare twice before. I knew how to take care of myself, I knew what to expect. I wasn’t going to let the monster that tried to ruin me achieve that. I made a decision to be okay and I was determined to make that happen. I wasn’t completely okay of course. I spent most of my time in crowded hallways and classrooms completely dissociated, floating through my life without really living it. The first time I got to take a break from school and relax, I went out to celebrate Halloween and ended the night early having a meltdown complete with hysterical crying. In fact, any time I got to relax I ended up incredibly upset. I wanted other people to help me, but I didn’t know what I wanted them to do to help. I just got mad at them all the time for things they weren’t doing. I was freakishly aware of male voices any time I was in public. I felt like I was being followed all the time. I thought I saw the figure of the person that attacked me around every corner. All of the things I used to do to relax and take care of myself, I could no longer do. I couldn’t meditate, I couldn’t do yoga, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t eat. I didn’t like to look in the mirror. I could not make myself do anything to take care of, or feel connected to, a body that no longer felt like my home. I was high functioning and still achieving what I needed to do in regards to my academics, and I thought that meant I was okay. Clearly, I wasn’t.
I carried around a lot of guilt. I still do. My night terrors aren’t about being attacked. They are about me not reporting it. There’s nothing reporting would have done for me in the moment. I didn’t have enough information or evidence, so I made the decision not to. I repressed the majority of the memories and I am perfectly happy with them remaining repressed. I feel a lot of guilt because he could be out there doing this to other girls and maybe, just maybe, I had information I didn’t realize and I could have done something to stop that. I’m doing my best to remind myself that it isn’t my fault and I can’t allow myself to think that way.
NAVIGATING THROUGH LIFE
Having healthy relationships with people has been one of my biggest struggles. When I started to get out of control, I really isolated myself. I chose people who allowed me to behave however I wanted and wouldn’t call me out on the path I was taking. After my first assault, the general consensus from many people in my life was that I was lying about the assault. I don’t know where everybody thought the seizures were coming from then, or if they thought I was lying about those too. Hurling myself down flights of stairs is a bit extreme if my goal was to get attention, but maybe with how out of control I had been in the past, it seemed plausible. Needless to say, I was very isolated and depressed. From that moment on, I had a really hard time trusting anybody. Whenever anybody got close to me, I (without even realizing it) would start doing things to push them away. I’ve been spiteful and hurtful and manipulative. I’ve told people that were trying to help me that they were being selfish for trying to keep me alive when I couldn’t be bothered to help myself. Just saying and doing awful things that don’t align with my core values at all. One second I’d be saying these things and the next I’d be sick with guilt because I didn’t recognize the person I was anymore. In those moments, I just wanted everybody to leave me so I would never have to own up to my behavior. I was straight up scary to interact with at times. Nobody dared call me on too much because they didn’t know what I’d say or do. I wasn’t interested in being too healthy because I didn’t know what a healthy life looked like anymore. Anytime I’d start getting better, I’d sabotage it in some way. I lived in this cycle of everything being great to everything crashing down around me and it was often because of impulsive choices I’d made. Every time things started going downhill again, they’d be worse than the last time. I truly believed I was never going to be happy again, that it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I would get glimpses of joy for small periods of time and I thought I should just come to terms with life being like that. I just feel everything, good or bad, so intensely. Instead of looking for help, I’d self medicate. There have been multiple times where I’ve been meeting the criteria for addiction according to my counselors. I was lucky that people cared enough about me to intervene before things got away on me. I think a lot about where I’d be if it weren’t for all of the people that love me. I would be in a very, very different place if I didn’t have the support system I do and access to all of the services I do. I’m eternally grateful for that.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that what I struggled the most with was coming to terms with my actions when I was in the throes of the worst version of myself. Learning to forgive myself and how to have healthy relationships was the hardest part of getting healthy. I’m happy to say I’ve repaired most of the relationships I tried to destroy. I eventually broke the cycle I was stuck in after getting my BPD diagnosis and learning skills to help specifically with that. I’m still not perfect, I still struggle, I still screw up and slip into old behaviors, but I am so different from that person now. I do my best to hold myself accountable for my actions. My friends and family have become really good at discerning the difference between me being an asshole and my mental illness raging out of control (which is so incredible and helpful). They call me out on my shit (because they can do that now). I have boundaries with people. I’m like a normal person, it’s wild! People that know me now would never recognize the past versions of me. Which is really great because I’m not proud of that version of me. She taught me a lot and forced me to become stronger, but I’m really okay with never seeing her again.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling?
First of all, I feel you. Nothing is okay. You are not okay. What happened to you is not okay. This life you’re living right now is not okay. Remember that nobody is okay all of the time. I used to roll my eyes at people that said things like that to me, because "of course nobody is okay ALL of the time but come on, this is fucked up. I am really really not okay. You don’t get it.” I give you permission to roll your eyes at me too, but believe me when I say I really do get it.
It is completely okay to not be okay. Find your support system. Don’t try to do this alone, you don’t have to and it will be much easier if you allow yourself to lean on others a little bit. Tell somebody you are not okay. Tell somebody if you were raped. Tell somebody your past week has been really really bad. Call your mom, your friend, your partner. Call me, if you want! I personally have an amazing support system in my family and friends. I know this is not the case for everybody. If you feel like you don’t have the support you need in your life, try to find some in people going through similar things to you. There are support groups both within communities and within online communities. Make sure they are POSITIVE support groups if you’re looking online, not something glorifying mental illness or self harm.
Get yourself some professional help, if that feels right for you. I strongly, strongly recommend this. I know going to a therapist is really unappealing to some people, but having been in therapy for 8 years, I can say they really know what’s up and it is so so helpful. If you don’t like the first therapist you see, try another one and another one. It’s important that you like the person you are telling your worst shit to, it makes it easier. If you can’t afford private therapy, go through the public system (I know the system is not perfect but the people are really trying their best and really want to help you). If you want to explore medications, get your doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist. I refused and fought my doctors and therapists on being on medications forever. Like for a really really long time I was passionately against it. Honestly, I didn’t like the idea of it. Eventually I couldn’t even sleep through the night without night terrors and my anxiety was become crippling, so I decided I would give it a try. Turns out, I really need the help of medication. I wish I wouldn’t have let the stigma of being on medication turn me off of it for so many years. It has really improved my quality of life and I am much happier now.
Learn to say no. Tell people when you can’t do something or when they are expecting too much of you. This is especially hard when you are publicly high functioning and seem like day to day everything is gravy. You don’t have to maintain that persona to everybody. You don’t have to let yourself completely fall apart either. But recognize when something is too much for you and speak up.
Take time for yourself. Remember the little things you need to do to take care of yourself and be healthy. I started this by setting reminders in my phone to go off every day, three times a day, telling me to eat. Get out of your bed and take a shower. Maybe that is as far as you make it today. That is okay. Try to make it farther tomorrow. Finding a balance between taking care of yourself and pushing yourself is difficult, but you have to do it. You can’t tell yourself every single day that it is okay that all you did was get out of bed and shower if that is what you’ve been doing for a month. You also can’t realize this and decide the next day that you’re going to throw yourself into a big party and expect it to end well for you. Push yourself just a little every day. Develop your own self care routine. Recognize the behaviors and habits that are making your situation worse and try to stop those. Cultivate your happiness, slowly, day by day.
One day not too long ago, I woke up and went about my day. I baked a cheesecake for my friend’s birthday. I went to work. I came home and built a blanket fort. I cooked fettuccini alfredo for my best friends at my place. We sat in our blanket fort, eating cheesecake, drinking cheap beer, talking about anything and everything. We laughed until we cried and danced to the Spice Girls. We planned our upcoming trip to Southeast Asia. They left for the evening and as I was falling asleep, I realized I was okay. I was more than okay, I was happy. I was happy and achieving my goals and living the life I wanted despite all the times I thought that would never happen for me. My life wasn’t over. Maybe it was the Girl Power from all the Spice Girls tunes, but more likely it was the months of me taking it day by day, actively trying to get better.
The best thing I can say to you is that your life isn’t over either. You might not be okay today, you might not be for awhile, but you WILL be. It takes time and work and dedication. You’ll want to stop fighting, you’ll want to know why it’s so damn hard and why the world is treating you so badly. Keep fighting, I promise you it is so incredibly worth it. You are worth it. Don’t let circumstance, mental illness or other people stop you from living the life you envisioned for yourself. The worst thing that can happen is when your darkness becomes your best friend. Eventually you get to the point where you stop wanting to be better because you know longer recognize the healthy version of yourself. The person you were before all these things happened is still in there. The person you always believed yourself to be, they are still in there. Some serious shit happened to them, and they’re shaken up, but they are in there. You’ll find them again.
BEING A WOMAN
Women pursuing their goals within STEM : Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - speak to that and the importance it has to you :
This is my favorite thing, it gets me really excited. Being a woman in STEM comes with a lot of questions. Mostly, people not believing you. I was wearing an Environmental Engineering pullover in a gas station once and some guy laughed and asked if I was wearing my boyfriend’s hoodie (barf x1000). It’s attitudes like that that prevent young girls from considering careers in STEM and that is really heartbreaking to me. I got a lot of comments when I was entering engineering from well meaning people asking what they were going to do with me there and what I thought about entering such a male dominated field. The truth is, I never actually thought twice about it. My parents never stunted or limited me when it came to career choices and personal interests. I performed well academically from a young age and all I was ever told was the sky was the limit for me. I had a lot of different interests growing up and everything I did was okay with them. I wasn’t big into dolls or barbies, I only really played with them when my friends wanted to and hated that everybody bought them for me as gifts. I was always reading and playing with my brother’s lego and doing crafts. I would always try to make “inventions”. They never worked. I tried to make a “blender” out of a tennis racket and the belt from a housecoat once, that was one of my least successful. I really liked figuring out how things worked. I wrote research papers for fun. I am so grateful to have grown up in the family I did, everybody has always been so encouraging of one another. I wish every girl got the same encouragement I did.
I get so incredibly bummed out when I talk to girls who say they liked certain subjects in school but they feel discouraged or worried about being one of few girls in the class when it comes to post secondary education. There will be more girls than you think (probably), and if there’s not, then the people in the classes you’re taking are interested in at least some of the same things as you, clearly. You’ll find amazing people to make friends with, even if they aren’t female.
I know so many wonderful females within STEM and I am so happy about that. I hope to see more and more girls pursue their goals as time goes on. Hopefully my nieces will never have to hear the words “but you’re a girl”. A lady can dream, right?
“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage.” - Alex Elle
This quote came to me as I was getting prepared to take the photos and do this interview. I went from excited to nervous about it as it came closer to becoming reality. I have no idea how people will react or what people who don’t like me will think when they read it and that is scary! Then the universe showed me these words and I laughed and laughed at my self doubts, packed up my stash of glitter and skipped over to Molly’s apartment like the unicorn I am.
Where can we find you and your goodness?
instagram : @lizameldrum