Bravery & Light in Spite of Adversity

GT: I met Kaitlyn through Tumblr a few years ago. We stumbled upon each other as we were both advocates for healing through adversity. I’ve always deeply admired her bravery and resilience despite the deep difficulties she’s had to face already in her 19 years of life. She’s a shining star and a beacon of hope for anyone who struggles with mental health issues, self-harm, eating disorders, and for survivors of human trafficking. Be sure to check out her organization The Hope Collective and follow/like them on social media. I'm excited to share this interview!

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Kaitlyn Marie Mercy and I’m 19 years old. I live in Michigan. I’m a human trafficking survivor, healing from an eating disorder, and recovering from self harm. I’m a musician and an artist and those have become ways that I’ve coped with the things that I’ve been through. I love to draw, paint, and photograph. I started photographing when i was 14 and got my first camera. It’s become a really fun thing and I think that’s actually what I’ll end up going to school for.

Could you talk more about the traumas you’ve survived?

I was trafficked at a daycare I went to in Michigan from the ages of two through almost nine. Human trafficking is the trade or sale of human beings for forced labor or sex acts. My story isn’t “normal” when it comes to trafficking. Most people think “oh, you were kidnapped and taken across the ocean.” But, no, I just went to daycare everyday and my parents had no idea.

Myself and the other kids were taken out of the daycare to be used and returned when it was done in time for our parents to pick us up. I’d have bumps and bruises every once in awhile and my mom wasn’t oblivious, so she’d ask what happened. I’d say I got hit with a swing or something. I got really good at lying and being able to cover up the abuse that was happening.

The trafficking was obviously very difficult to deal with. I didn’t understand what was happening. Although my trafficker died when I was 9, I started cutting, developed eating disorders, wasn’t sleeping, and was showing symptoms of anxiety disorders and PTSD around this age.  I don’t know why I turned to self-harm so heavily as a coping mechanism, but I ended up becoming dependent on it. I couldn’t function without doing it. I was really ill.

I went on to be diagnosed with bulimia at age 14. Healing from the eating disorder was (and still is) honestly one of the worst and hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. I didn’t speak up about the fact that I was suffering until then. At that point, I finally went to my mom and said “I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I’m hurting myself a lot, and I want to die.”

So, I started counseling and they had no idea I was abused. I wasn’t saying anything at first. About a year later my mom sat me down and directly asked me if anything had happened. I denied it at first, but she kept pushing and I eventually told her. That was the moment I started to become free.

But, healing is never linear. There were suicide attempts. One in particular that was very serious and should have left me dead. I was 16 when that happened.. That was kind of the turning point for me. I realized maybe there is a purpose to this life and to my life.

What has your healing looked like?

I began seeing a trauma therapist who could actually help me. She helped me begin to work through everything. I couldn’t say the words “I was molested” until I was 16 years old. I’m 19 now, so it’s only been three years, but a lot of healing has occurred. Just a few years ago, there was a visible change in how I was dealing with things. I was regularly, sometimes daily, going to therapy, seeing my doctor, and nutritionist. I was taking care of myself.

My family has been crucial in my recovery. My mom has been really supportive even though she didn’t understand what was happening at first. She didn’t understand why I was harming myself, but she gave up a lot to help me get through everything. She was always there for me and continues to be. Additionally, my little brother is THE reason I stuck around some days. He’s very special to me and on those hard days when I wanted to end my life, I remembered how much I love him. But, I can’t believe he’s taller than me now! I’m 4’ 11” and he’s 5’ 6” - he’s 5 years younger than me. It’s not fair.

What are some steps you’ve taken to heal?

This whole healing and recovery thing has been a very long road. I’ve had four different counselors. I have an appointment today, actually. It’s not like I’m totally better, I still have urges to hurt myself, PTSD, and days where I want to slip back into the behaviors my eating disorders brought. BUT, I don’t act on those urges because I now know I have reasons to be here.

Those hard days are the ones where I find myself writing poetry, music, working on The Hope Collective, meditating, listening to my favorite songs, going for a drive, and painting. All these activities remind me there are beautiful reasons to stick around. My 1000 days self-harm free will hopefully be in December! I’ve been getting lots of tattoos, some to cover up scars. I threw myself into school and graduated at age 16.

I also visited my trafficker’s grave. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I just kind of talked. I yelled too. I thought for a while before the visit that I had forgiven him and upon the visit I realized I didn’t. I still don’t think I forgive him. I don’t think any of us are required to forgive our abusers. Excuse me, but that’s bullshit. We should be able to live as freely as we want without forcing ourselves to have forgiveness. If freedom for others means forgiving their abusers, more power to them, but I don’t think it’s a requirement.

You mentioned some, but what are tools you use for self-care and recovery?

It’s funny that you ask that question! My therapist recently said it’s important I do something to replace self-harm, so my homework for the last two weeks has been to come up with activities to do instead. I’ve been writing poetry like I’ve never written before. I recorded one of my pieces of poetry and as a result I felt myself getting angry, letting go of the feelings, and releasing the hurt I have. I guess I write, paint, draw, go outside with a camera, or call someone.

Sunflowers are also my favorite thing in the UNIVERSE. I like to visit them and surround myself with them. They are the strongest flower and they literally mean happiness and joy because they always turn their face to the sky when they need help. I think that really symbolizes my journey. I’ve always been able to turn my face to whatever I need to deal with. There’s still turmoil inside, but that symbolism has brought me a lot of happiness and peace.

Is there anything else you want to talk about as far as trauma goes?

Yes. Let’s talk about my dad leaving. On September 1st of 2014 (I was 17), I got a call from my mom as I was leaving work that my dad had walked out. Even though he hadn’t been supportive, and had been emotionally and verbally abusive… his leaving set me back in my recovery because i was like “omg i’ve been abandoned by yet another person.”

I don’t think he cares or knows how to love me, but I also think he just never knew how to handle what I was going through. He didn’t even process his own stuff. His verbal and emotional abuse was part of the reason why my eating disorder got so serious so fast when I was like 10. But, I’ve been able to find freedom from his words by distancing myself from him.

My grandparents, mom, and brother have been my support system. I have people around me that care a lot and that’s been very encouraging to me. The people in my life who do love me are more reminders of why I should stick around.

Speaking of love - you came out on National Coming Out Day. Tell me more!

I’m queer as hell! :) I really tried hard to suppress it for a long time, then recently I met someone who changed my mind about that. I’ve accepted that part of me for a few years now, but it’s nice to be more public about my sexuality.

I was raised in a super conservative church. That church was very bad for me and my family in quite a few ways. They weren’t supportive when I began speaking up about my experience as a trafficking survivor.  Some people even said I was demon-possessed because I was harming myself. As a result, we stopped going when I was an early teen.

I’m fortunate that my mom has always supported LGBTQ rights. My family as a whole doesn’t think it’s a choice; they think you’re born that way. I’ve always known there would be people who aren’t supportive, though. It’s hard being in a small republican town walking around with it. But, nowadays I have a church that’s very supportive. I came out on national coming out day and like 30 people came up to me to show their support and love the next time I was at church.

Could you tell us more about your church and your relationship with God?

I’ve found a lot of comfort in the church we go to: the United Church of Christ. They believe wherever you are in life is where you’re supposed to be at that time. It’s really affirming and awesome. It’s a smaller church with about 200 members. We have people who are agnostic, people who were catholic. We jokingly call it the reject church because it’s full of people who didn’t feel they fit in at their old church. They have a strong social justice mission, helped me go to Thailand to volunteer, and there are several LGBTQ individuals and families.

As far as God goes, I believe God is in nature and is all around us. I call God He but I actually believe God doesn’t have a gender. My spiritual beliefs have changed and evolved a lot in the past year and even 6 months. I’ve learned more about what i actually believe vs. what I’m supposed to believe. It’s been really good for me to evolve. I feel like I’m finally living my truth.

I know you were having a tough time with mental health this summer, what was going on?

An event occurred where I found out more out about my past that came as a shock for me. It shook me for a while. At this point, I had been in recovery for a few years and it was hard to realize that I needed to seek more help, but I recognized I wasn’t practicing what I preached. On social media and through The Hope Collective, I’m constantly talking about self-care: taking time out of your day, week, year and dealing the things you need to deal with... not letting them build up. But, there I was, letting my stuff build up.

So, I accepted help. I was traveling to Indiana for Cranial Sacral Therapy, which is a type of bodywork/massage that relieves emotional and physical pain. She really helped me identify my emotions and things I thought I had dealt with, but really hadn’t. As a result, I continued to move forward in my recovery.

It’s really important for people to know you don’t have to be completely recovered all at once. Take it in stride and do a little bit at a time. We always think we’re supposed to be further along than we are, but it’s my belief that we do not struggle in vain. We’re always right where we’re supposed to be. I try to live my life by that philosophy. I feel very privileged to be able to use the negative things that have happened to me to be a light to others.

The Hope Collective is your organization… tell us about it. Why’d you start it? What is it?

We just celebrated our 4th birthday on Monday. The Hope Collective started because two crazy teenage girls who met on tumblr wanted to help out other people. We started as a Facebook page and we had like 300 likes within a week and we were like ‘woah this is cool’! Jordyn, my cofounder, went to pursue other things… but it’s cool, we’re still friends. The Collective reaches over 2,000 people a day.

We seek to break down the stigma surrounding depression, eating disorders, mental health, trafficking, etc. and to provide a support system to people. I’ve personally dealt with stigma in healthcare settings and places of employment, but my online communities have helped me immensely. The Hope Collective has gone and spoken at churches and schools to bring awareness to mental health and abuse survivors.

How can people get involved in The Hope Collective?

We’re entirely volunteer driven and most of our volunteers are from Tumblr. You can volunteer by writing, donating, and/or liking our page on Facebook. We’re always looking for people to write for us. For example, we do a Wednesday wisdom, which is a longer post. We rotate through our volunteers to have them write about different topics such as body positivity, self-acceptance, and coping. In 2017 we’re also planning to start a zine. We’re always looking for content managers and financial donations, which can be given on our website. We’ll be a non-profit organization within the next year as our status is pending - super exciting!  

Connect with The Hope Collective: Facebook | Tumblr | Website | Instagram