This Is Who I Am | Danyelle Part 1

Note to Reader

This is a twelve month project which aims to bring to light the individual pain experienced by young women and to show how their unique stories make them who they are. We ask you to feel with an open heart and respect their stories.

I’m twenty-seven and I’m from Chattanooga, TN. I would say some parts of my childhood were very good and some parts of it were very hard as well. I have some good memories, but a lot of my memories are clouded by situations that happened at the time. I grew up in a Christian home but there are a lot of stipulations that go with that which aren’t necessarily always true of what that involves. I think when you say “Christian home”, it’s kind of a blanket term that if you’re not careful it can really mask the reality of what that is.

I grew up in the home with five kids and I’m the oldest. We were home schooled for most of our education but I was home schooled K-12th. I think in the home where that is your primary place of living and you don’t have a lot of outside context, there is a lot that shapes your worldview that happens in the home. This could possibly make it flawed if you aren’t careful to observe the world around you and not just from your parent’s perspective.

Right now I’m doing a lot of things. Some of them I dreamed of, some of them not so much. I’m working in a retail store as part of the management team, which is probably not something that I envisioned but the community is why I’ve stayed there. The management team and the associates there have made it very comfortable for me but also, I’m learning and being challenged there.

One of my other jobs is teaching English online which I just started in November. I always said that I didn’t want to be a teacher because I kind of rebelled against that stereotype. I was like, “I want to be an artist, I don’t want to teach art!” I always wanted to be an artist which is also something else I’m doing. And I did do a lot of teaching since I was the eldest of five children, so I will say teaching is something I did envision myself doing in some aspect or another. Teaching English, probably not so much. I also nanny and yes, I can definitely say from my childhood of babysitting that it’s a natural progression which happened. But operating my own business and what I’m able to do through my business, which is to communicate visually through art and through visual aspects of observing creation and helping others to realize that as well, I think very early on was realized in my childhood.

I still remember when I was little, probably four or five, and I drew a picture of my cousin and myself. My mom looked at it and she asked, “Why did you draw Josh smaller than you? He is older than you.” And I said, “Oh, it’s because he’s behind me.” And so, even at an early age, I had a way of looking at things that people around me didn’t necessarily see. So I would draw things in perspective without even knowing yet what perspective was as a technical term.

I always joke that I was my family’s “money horse” because my parents would literally drive us around and we would go to places like Walmart and Steak n’ Shake for the coloring contests. We would just pick up coloring sheets from every single store. We would have me color them and then we would turn them in to see if I could win. So I won from the ages of five to nine, a year of free eggs from Walmart, a year of free milkshakes (one a week) from Steak n’ Shake, free tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters, free subscriptions to magazines and stuff like that.

I remember when I was about five or six, I entered the Chattanooga Time Free Press coloring contest and the editor called my parents and he said something like, “We did the judging panel and we deemed your daughter had won. But I don’t believe that your daughter actually colored this. It looks like something an adult colored.” He wanted to ask my parents about that before they proceeded but they told them I did color it. So he asked them to bring me into the office and I remember this clearly, we went into the office and he had me color a picture in front of him to show that the ability matched what we entered. Because I was into highlighting already and things like that nobody else had done at my age. I still remember those things but I also remember that at a young age, it put a lot of pressure on me.

So by the time I was eleven or twelve, I remember going to the mall with my parents and seeing a woman painting in the middle of the mall. She was painting portraits of people and landscapes and I remember them being so realistic that I literally started bawling because I was jealous. Not because I was moved by the artwork, obviously I was, but I just felt like it was such an unattainable level of expertise that I would never be able to do. So I think having those talents realized at such a young age was good in a way because it helped me to know it was what I wanted to do and I wanted to progress, but it’s also been very hard for me because I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to accomplish x amount.

I think for me, at my core, I consider myself an artist, a creator, and I know that’s something God’s put in me to express myself with. Though I think it’s a constant struggle I have to deal with when it comes to letting myself be creative or allowing it to be a vice for me. Because it could go either way. It could be a joy but it could also be something that holds me back because I hold myself to a certain standard, and I’ve had to learn how to balance that.

I constantly question what could I do differently...

I think there are two different aspects to what I think of when I think of pain. I think control is probably a big part of it. When I feel like I’m not in control of something and then I blame myself for it, I think that’s a pain I inflict on myself a lot of the time. I constantly question what could I do differently, what could I have done differently, if I had done this would this have changed, if I had been in this place at this time would this have happened. So I think that’s something over the years that I’ve really had to process because it is a pain that could be prevented but it is something that has been prevalent in my life. It’s something that I’m still learning daily to work through.

Especially as a Christian creator and a creative person, learning to see those things as developments and not as failures, is something I’m working on. Whether it be a piece of art or the process of getting to a piece of art, I have to realize that many things go wrong in the creation of a piece. But it can make it better, more beautiful, complex, and deep, rather than a conglomeration of mistakes. I think that is something I have the temptation to look at it as.

And I would say the other aspect of pain in my life would be loss. The loss of something or someone that was very important to me. Which I guess in a way could be related to the aspect of pain with me feeling like I’m not enough, like this part of me is gone, not being in control, and how do I replace that. And this pain has to do with my mom and the role she played in my life and how it shaped me as an adult.

For most of my late childhood and early adult life, I would say my mom was more of an absent mother. I feel like, in a way, I lost her and I probably operated as someone with one parent would operate. I felt like I had to take on a lot of motherly responsibilities and roles, especially for my younger siblings. I had to work through a lot of that. But now, seeing it from the perspective of an adult, seeing a lot more of the underlying issues has made me come to understand why she was absent and why things happened. I know I would not be the person that I am if it weren’t for that. I think that truly if it hadn’t been for the experience of losing her and then gaining her back, I don’t know if I would believe in God as an active presence in my life, as someone who can transform and heal.

For a long time I really saw, especially starting around the age of eleven, a lot of darkness. Also, I truly believe there was a demonic presence that had a hold of my mom in our house. All the time I would just pray for our dad to come home and just rescue me because I didn’t recognize her and I didn’t know her anymore. I now know part of that was because she was suffering from what was later diagnosed as a neurological disease when I was eleven. And it’s still unidentified, the illness itself, but basically it was attacking her nerves. So she was under physical distress, she was unable to feel her feet up to her knees or her fingers when the condition was at its worst, and I didn’t know about that for a long time. So I think not knowing really shaped how I perceived her at the time, but there was also a lot of emotional and spiritual darkness she was going through.

I just didn’t know who she was...

I just didn’t know who she was. She would not be there for us and if she was there, she would be totally checked out. She would immerse herself in online chat rooms with other moms, other people, other counselors, and other pastors. She would tell them all about her problems but we weren’t ever a party to that. So as I matured and went through junior high and high school, where you would hope to have your mom as a confidant or an example for that period of your life, I didn’t have that.

I came to resent her because of her absence. I felt like I was taking on more responsibility and I didn’t have the chance to be a kid. I was constantly having to worry if what I was doing would make things worse or if the other kids would upset her, would she ever get better, how was everyone being taken care of. But I also saw her see that and then do nothing. So to me, I was very embittered by that and it was something I dealt with for many years. I felt neglected and like I wasn’t a priority.

It got to the point where we would feel her absence for days. So when it was time for me to go to college, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to because I felt like I should stay home and help with the situation. I was really bitter at that point because “this is the one thing I wanted to do and now it’s going to be taken from me too.” So I processed through some things, pursued the school I really wanted to go to, prayed a lot, sought a lot of council, and I decided to go. But I will say, the first time I came home from college, seeing the condition she was in, it made me question everything because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. Because I felt like doing the right thing would mean staying there, staying home, and helping because I wanted to fix it, but I couldn’t. So I think that was a necessary experience in my life at the time and I was just questioning everything.

But fortunately I had enough Godly council around me to encourage and affirm my choices. And my dad affirmed me too but for a long time I looked down on him because I felt like he was too passive. He didn’t fix it and I felt like, “You’re the father, you’re her husband, just tell her this isn’t right. Fix it.” And to see him constantly take her back, it was like a slap in the face to me. Seeing him love her through everything that had happened and accept that, to me, at the time, I viewed it as almost a form of weakness. I just didn’t know how he could continue to do it. And seeing her lowest points when I would come home from school, see the impression in the couch where she would lay for days because she couldn’t go out, she couldn’t eat or sleep, she was practically a skeleton, it was hard. The knives in the house had to be taken away to protect her from self-harm. Even though I was out of the house, that was the point that most scared me.

That was the point that most scared me...

And then my siblings started to grow older and process what was going on, and I never wanted that. I wanted to keep it all to myself and I thought I was the only one old enough to deal with it. And so seeing all of that, it really just brought me to a point where I had to decide if I was going to continue to hold it all on my own. At that point in school, I realized I just couldn’t do anything. I just had to pray for my family and I constantly prayed for her, her healing, my dad, and my siblings. I kept in touch while I was at school for art. I was learning how to kind of translate those emotions and translate those thoughts and feelings into some sort of tangible communication. It helped me learn how to open up to other people about it but at that time I didn’t really see a reason for it...


To read part two of Danyelle's story, click here. In the meantime, click here to read March's installment of the This Is Who I Am Project.