I’m Dani Kelley,

and I do lots of things.

Cognitive distortion and taking up space.

My brain is spinning with thoughts and conversations over the past weeks, the culmination of almost a year’s worth of introspection and mourning.

“I looked through the journal section of your blog and noticed you haven’t really written lately,” a friend noted. No. I haven’t. I’ve been afraid, frankly. With some good reason and probably with some over-reaction. But sharing myself this year has resulted in so much pain that I’ve been trying to close myself off. Unfortunately, I still have hope in the depths of my soul, which means I’ll always try again. It’s wearisome.

Writing is how I process things like grief and rage and even intellectual exercises of dissecting beliefs I once held. But when I’m ashamed of what I have to process…when I’m ashamed of what I’ve experienced, put up with, ashamed of who I am…it’s hard to process that in any way. I fear being seen as manipulative, attention-seeking, self-centered, thoughtless.

I fear that I am nothing but toxicity, poisoning the people and relationships around me simply by existing in their vicinity. I am too much. I should not be allowed near others.

cognitive-distortionsAfter voicing similar things to my counselor this morning, I was given this sheet of paper. My eyes quickly scanned the headline and my heart dropped a little bit.

“Checklist of Cognitive Distortions.”

Tears began pricking at my eyes as I began to read. She began pointing out — with great compassion and kindness — which behaviors she’s seen me exhibit the most strongly in the six months we’ve been meeting. It seemed to be all of them (with the possible exception of number one, and only because I’ve spent the last seven years of my life carefully cultivating nuanced thinking). Numbers two, seven, and nine stuck out to her in particular.

It’s hard not to view most of my life as a dumpster fire, even though in many ways I know that’s not entirely true. It’s hard not to look back and see myself as weak, conniving, selfish. It’s hard to be taught that who you are as a person is deserving of eternal torture, and then to try to walk away from that towards the truth that all have intrinsic worth.

It’s so much easier to see other people as whole and worthy and wonderful. But I can’t see myself that way. “What makes you different?” my counselor asks. And I don’t have the words to explain that I just am different. Others are kind and thoughtful and caring, and they deserve understanding and forgiveness and support. But no one owes me any such thing. No one is obligated to me. And I have no right to expect anything from anyone. Especially a listening ear, time, presence, energy, or affection.

Earlier this week, the topic of our discussion in group therapy was “what makes people stay in abusive relationships?” To my shame, I had so much to say, to confess, to share. But I kept burying my face in my hands and apologizing — for talking, for saying too much, for taking up too much space and time. I could hardly look at the other women in the room, even when they were full of nothing but love and support. One of my fellow group members finally shook her head sadly and commented, “Sharing helps you — and it helps us. That’s why we’re here.”

Rather than being comforted, I grew panicked. I was taking up more room, drawing more attention to myself. How could I possibly make myself smaller, more insignificant, less noticeable?

A common refrain continues to resound in my brain:

I am too much. Too much. Too much — and not enough.

I don’t know how to overcome this. And even writing it all out is sending me into a panic spiral. But I don’t know what else to do.

I exist as a fat woman in a world that finds me repulsive, in a world where I am praised as more of me disappears, no matter the reason. I cringe when sitting next to someone in public, lest Too Much of Me spills out of the space I’m allotted. I move for everyone in my path, and excuse myself when I walk past someone even when I’m not in their way. I walked past them, they acknowledged my existence, and I must excuse myself for interrupting their day for even the split second they locked eyes with me. I do everything I can to will myself to shrink for the comfort of those around me.

Sometimes,  I’m told, my body is “redeemed” by my pretty face and uh, you know, as they look pointedly at my chest.

This sparks the fear born of violence against me.

“I don’t know when I became a space to be filled,” Reagan Myers remarks in the video above, and I nearly sob from the relief of being understood. I can’t help but think of the shadowy hands and mouths of abusers long since forgotten. The person who assaulted me in college, tipping me backwards into his lap and leaving hand-shaped bruises and phantom kisses along my jaw. Violence I’m afraid to speak, afraid to believe, afraid to own or share, that lurks behind every corner and in every room and almost every memory. And of course, the catalyst to my involvement in the domestic violence shelter in the first place: the man who raped me, who knows where I live and is only a few short minutes away from my door.

My body is a memorial of many wars. I know, because the ghosts of my enemies continue to haunt me. And it seems only a matter of time before I am a battleground once more. That’s not even saying anything about the war I’m waging against myself.

Believe it or not, I’ve spent so much of this year in silence. Not because I have nothing to share, but rather because I feel I have nothing worth sharing. I feel that I am not worth sharing, or being, or doing. Just as I must contain the fatness of my body and the violence I’ve absorbed, I must also contain my identity and experiences and thoughts and desires and fears and and and. And all of me.

I take up too much physical space. My existence invites the violence of men. My words ripple through my circles where I take up more space. My need for human interaction and affection burdens all who know me, so I do my best to never ask unless I’m reaching for knives or pills. And even then, I usually don’t reach out, because isn’t that manipulative? Isn’t it cruel to say, “I want to hurt myself to feeling something, I want to die, please, I can’t be alone right now, it’s not safe”? How can I put anyone through such a thing. How selfish can I be. How petty I am.

My counselor and I started an exercise a few weeks ago that was nothing short of pure agony. I was to list negative thoughts that I have, then write rational responses to those negative thoughts. I cried. None of the responses feel rational. Don’t you know my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked? Don’t you know that I am incapable of good? Don’t you know that I must decrease so Christ can increase? Don’t you know that who I am as a person is an affront to the supposed creator of the universe?

But is that even fair? Am I allowed to trace my problems back to the faith I held so dearly for so long? Am I shifting the blame? Is this some sick sort of “coming to myself” that the Bible predicts will happen to all prodigals? Now here is a rational thought I can believe: no. There is no compelling evidence for either supernatural realms or beings.

That seems to be where the rational thinking stops. Because while I’m not religious, I still know more concretely than I know anything that who I am is a dangerous toxin to anyone I meet. That my existence, the space that I take up in the physical and ideological world, is wasted space meant to be filled and overridden and consumed. How can there be any argument against this? The poison of me runs through the core of my being. It is what it is. No one owes me any kindness, and therefore I should expect none.

And now I have the worry of this being viewed as fishing for compliments, airing dirty laundry, manipulating people into caring about me by saying they shouldn’t. I don’t know. I don’t know how to exist and grieve and rage and hope without interfering in the lives of others or making myself seen or heard or felt. I don’t know how to be okay while I’m in existence, and I have no other tools available to me to figure this out.

I’m so tired. I’m so very tired.

  • Beroli

    I’m not sure if this will be helpful, but from my perspective…

    I don’t know what “too much” means in a context as broad as the one you’re thinking. Whether because I’m a lifelong atheist who was never taught that “diminishing so that Christ can increase” was a value, or for another reason–I can break it down into smaller statements, each of which has a rational counterstatement, but just “I’m too much,” I think you can’t rationally counterstate because it’s not rational itself.

    I wish I knew how to help, Dani.

  • Amanda

    {Appropriate gesture of support}

    I grew up in the Mormon tradition and am also a fat woman, who struggles with anxiety and depression. I well know the voice of the predator you describe, a voice I believe the religion of my youth helped solidify in my mind. And escaping the fat=bad belief in America takes near superhuman stamina.

    I want you to know that your writing has resonated with me, revived and healed me many times. The voices saying you are not worthy are liars, through and through.

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