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279: What if you survived online child exploitation?

279: What if you survived online child exploitation?

Tue, 23 May 2023 13:24

After being subjected to horrific abuses from his schizophrenic father as a child, a man later descends into his own mental illness, but as he struggles to recover, a freak accident unexpectedly awakens him into a new life.

Today’s episode featured Alex. You can find out more about Alex and his drag performances on Instagram @ellum_ayo.

Producers: Whit Missildine, Sara Marinelli, Andrew Waits

Content/Trigger Warnings: sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of a minor, mental illness, hallucinations, death, drowning, explicit language

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Hey, prime members, you can listen to this is actually happening. Add free on Amazon Music. Download the app today. Today's episode is brought to you by the Hidden Object Murder Mystery Game, June's journey. Set in the roaring 20s, you play as June Parker, an amateur detective investigating the mysterious death of her sister. I loved this game right from the beginning, searching for hidden objects against time, from the parlors of New York to the sidewalks of Paris. The game provides a perfect challenge to stimulate my memory, get absorbed in intricate details, and solve a mystery. As soon as you think you found everything, you realize that there's so many items you overlooked. And while I always look forward to new chapters, there's so much hiding in plain sight, and my own best times to beat, I found myself also playing old chapters over and over again. So discover your inner detective when you download June's journey for free today on iOS and Android. Today's episode is brought to you by Audible. Audible is a great way to get more reading in while being able to multitask. I've been traveling a lot recently, and I just finished up listening to several audiobooks on Audible, and I'm excited now to start listening to this new title called The Gift, a riveting audio thriller by international bestselling author Sebastian Fitzsick. It's about a con man, Milan Berg, who has a photographic memory, but he's hiding a secret. He can't read. When he comes across a car and traffic with a girl in the backseat, she desperately holds a written note up to the window. But what does it say? Fearing the girl is in mortal danger, Milan determines to search for her. As he follows a series of clues each darker and scarier than the next, he's thrust into a nightmarish odyssey with a deepening, disturbing progression. The clues are tied to his past. Narrated by listener favorite Ari Fliakos, the gift is an edge of your seat psychological thriller. This is actually happening, features real experiences that often include traumatic events. Please consult the show notes for specific content warnings on each episode, and for more information about support services. Before we begin today's episode, I wanted to update you all on the GoFundMe fundraiser initiated by the show's Facebook group for Jesse Sanders. One of the guests on the show for our point blank series in March. We finalized the GoFundMe this past week, and in the end, you all raised over $22,000 for Jesse, his kids, and his family. I'm just absolutely blown away by all of your generosity, especially since the call for the fundraiser came from listeners within the group, and for someone like Jesse, this kind of gift has literally changed his life. We also collected all of the messages you wrote on the GoFundMe page, and sent him those as well as part of the gift. After receiving the funds and your kind words, Jesse wrote this message that he wanted me to share with you all. Quote, I wanted to say thanks to all the wonderful people who have taken the time to listen to my story, and were able to help. God bless you all, and if it matters, your words help me very much. Thank you again, and know that your generosity changed the course of someone's life. It's just so isolating, lonely, and painful. Not being able to access the person that I want to be. It's a complete hell in a way that you know there's something wrong with you, and you're trying your best to figure out what is wrong with you. Not being able to explain myself. From Wondry, I'm Whit Missildine. You are listening to this is actually happening. Episode 279. And if you survived online child exploitation. Do you want a straighter smile without ever needing to enter a dental office? It sounds impossible, but with bite, you can transform your teeth entirely from the comfort of your own home. Bite offers clear liners that are doctor-directed and delivered straight to your doorstep. Prep time for your smile journey is minimal. Just take an impression mold of your mouth, preview your 3D smile, and order your all-day or at night aligners. That's it! You'll even get to track your smile's progress every step of the way with the bite app. Plus, you'll have access to your clinical team 7 days a week. Best of all is that average treatment time for all day aligners is faster and more affordable than traditional braces. Get the smile you've always wanted. Go to and use code Wondry at checkout to get your at-home impression kit for just $14.95. That's code Wondry at for over 80% off your impression kit. Wondry, flipping the bird, Elon vs. Twitter, is a new podcast that unravels the fascinating story of Elon Musk's unexpected bid to buy Twitter, and all of the drama that has happened since. Elon's influence is not only ushering in a new era of Twitter, but shaping the future of free speech on the internet as we know it. You can listen to flipping the bird on Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts. My dad is from Portugal, but he moved to Massachusetts to join the army. Then he moved to Canada to Ontario. He worked at the school district in this very small town where my mom just happened to move where they had my oldest brother. Then a few years later they have the middle child and eventually they had me. My parents got divorced when I was really young. My dad was very unwell. He was very manipulative. He was very controlling. He was a very angry person behind the scenes, but up front everyone liked him. He was that kind of person. He was a very conniving person. I was always really close to my mom. I was the mom was boy. I was a very flamboyant kid. I was always very feminine and unapologetically me. I come from a very small town and it's a very church-oriented town. So everyone knew who we were, every single person. I was definitely what the churches weren't exactly into. I was a big fan of pop music. I was a big fan of the stereotypally girly stuff. This is a town in the middle of bum fuck nowhere in landed Canada. We stereotypally enmasculine, but I didn't really think of anything of it. Of course at that age when you're like seven or eight years old, you don't really think about what being queer or being gay is. You're just kind of are who you are. I remember my great four teacher. She came from out of town and she loved the same things I did. So when she came into teach us, it was like this awakening. Like oh my gosh, I want to be here, but I want to be here when I grew up. She put on the music video to single ladies by Beyonce and I knew the entire choreography so she would invite me up to the front of the class to do the whole thing from start to finish. Even though I was exhibiting all these behaviors, I was dancing and singing and doing stereotypally weird things, but my family didn't really bat an eye about it. It was more like, oh, this is what he is. A little bit odd, but that's fine. He's happy. They were very accommodating. I don't know if it was because I was too unapologetic or too strictly me. Maybe it was because I was so happy with being me, even at such a young age that they didn't really care, even if the town's folk didn't understand it or I was kind of like the talk of the town for the things I did. But that's the way I acted. They were still very supportive and loving. But even though it was still happening me, I was still very nervous because I was still scared to show those things. My older brother and I, we definitely had a sibling rivalry. I think he was kind of jealous that I was considered to be more creative. So he used to always belittle me and look down on me for those things. He used to always try to nitpick every single thing about me and treat me like I was this sissy or this loser. During recess, he would come into my class and he would talk to my friends and they would collectively make fun of me. As I started getting older and as the kids started realizing that, oh, I might be gay or it might be more feminine. That was when the bullying on all accounts started. Before I used to have all these friends, used to love my energy. We used to just vibe and used to always hang out. But as I started dancing and being more myself or exhibiting these stereotypally more feminine traits, my best friend at the time slowly started just seeing himself away from me. I guess his dad didn't really like that he was hanging around someone like me. Slowly I became more ostracized from everyone and my older brother would kind of take that opportunity to make himself feel better about himself. I felt really alone and hurt. It was rough. My biological dad was just an awful person. We believed he was paranoid schizophrenia. He wasn't officially diagnosed but everyone who knew him seemed to have the same conclusion that he was very paranoid and very delusional. He would tell me, oh, women will always come after you and will know everything about you and use that to their advantage. Women would always try to hurt you. I'm like, five so I'm like, okay, that's cool but can I help my toys now? He would have us over weekends and when it came to him hanging out with me, he used to watch a lot of horror like Mexican cartel, heading videos. Really dark stuff like that. He would suggest that there were kind of conspiracies against us. He would tell me that this is because of the government and the government's always coming after us. Oftentimes he wouldn't say anything. He would have in the background or he would have me send us a lab and he would watch together and of course I'm like four or five years old. I don't completely understand what I'm looking at. It was always as if he was trying to like tell me something with these videos as a way of warning me about the evils of the world. He would show me a lot of suicide videos. He would show me a lot of terrorist videos. Remember, there's one video where these extremists had kidnapped an American soldier and they had him read warnings that they would have this terrorist read and they would be had them in the video. He would show me really horrible things and then he would show me porn and he would do these acts with me and then he would film it. These sex abuse started as early as I remember but it started off as sex abuse. It kind of started off as when I was in the tub he would be also be naked. It was stuff like that that it would kind of normalize the human body to me in a way that was starting to grow me. He would be naked around me all the time. I didn't really fully understand what was going on with me because I didn't fully understand what was happening to me. It was wrong. I mean this was just my childhood. This was just something that I did with my dad. I've been doing with my dad for years. Kids play video games, color and coloring books. I performed these acts with my dad. The online stuff started happening by the time I was seven and I don't really remember fully understanding that I was being filmed. I didn't really fully understand that what was happening was going to be watched by other people. It's weird. I don't really remember thinking anything of it really. This was something that was happening to me and I had just been so normalized to the sex abuse that I didn't really think of anything of it. My mom, she didn't know that I was being abused. If she had known that there were signs of abuse, of course she would have stepped in. The reason why the abuse continued was because when my mom and my biological dad got divorced and separated, we had to spend a lot of time at my dad's during the weekends, which is where most of the abuse of mine had happened. My mom fought against the courts. She even risked jail time because she kept us for a ton of weekends. She did a lot to save us from the horrors that she had known. But by the time I was seven years old, the sex abuse and the psychological abuse had hit its peak. The psychological abuse felt like it started to become a way of overstimulating me. It would show me really horrible things and then you would show me all this porn. I guess he would overstimulate me so that I didn't really know how to manage my emotions. I was always very anxious. I remember I used to tell my mom the stories about how my brother was bullying or how the kids were bullying me. I felt like I was doing it in such a way that it was extreme. It was kind of too much for my mom. I guess my dad knew exactly what he was doing in that sense by overstimulating me. If I did tell someone about the sex abuse, they would kind of, oh my god, he's being so sensitive. He's being too emotional. I guess that was what he was trying to show me. Hey, if you say anything, I mean, no one's going to believe you. No one's going to listen to you because you're already really emotional. That's okay because I understand you. I understand what kind of stuff you're going through. He would kind of weaponize his compassion and he would kind of acknowledge my concerns, but then he would kind of also take advantage of weaponize those concerns. I didn't really think anything of the sex abuse. I wasn't really too concerned about that. I was more concerned about the psychological abuse. I was more worried about people being able to read my mind and take advantage of me. The online sex abuse stopped when I was 10 or 11 years old. It does only because I didn't really see him anymore. He ran off back to Ontario. We believe he's an Ontario now. I'm not really sure. I don't really care that much. People ask, where's your dad? I usually say, oh he's dead. He died. He's not dead though. He ran away. Let's talk about real life horror stories about notorious serial killers like Jack the Ripper or keep things on the lighter end with some serious creepiness in Georgia where apparently there are allegations of hands-pulling people underwater. It's all a light-hearted nightmare on our podcast, morbid. Where your hosts? I'm Alina Irkhardt. And I'm Ash Kelly. The stories we cover are well researched with a touch of humor, a dash of sarcasm, and just garnished a bit with a little bit of cursing. But what's really special about our show is our incredible community of spooky super fans who for over five years have shared our passion for terrifying tales and weird history. We owe it to the fans, so join us all month long as we celebrate five years of morbid! With a special anniversary series, a festive edition of listener tales and more surprises to come. Follow morbid wherever you get your podcasts. You can listen early and odd free on the Amazon Music or Wondery app. When I was 11 years old I had moved to the city and back in the town that I lived and back in my hometown. When we moved to the city, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, this is my start. I felt like I had something to prove. I had this big chip in my shoulder in the sense that I wanted to help others. I didn't want anybody else to feel the way that I felt. I felt like I had this responsibility to not only defend myself, but defend other people who are also vulnerable. People who are considered weird or off-putting or the underdogs, I always felt like I needed to pick up for those types of people. When people used to try to start things with me, I wouldn't match their energy. I would throw the bullying and the aggression right back at them because you can't reason with these people, especially when you yourself are this weird, delusional alternative scrawny queer kid. The more I picked up for myself and the more I picked up for others, the more I tried to stop the bullying. I felt like the more off-putting I became, I lashed out a lot. I was nervous and temperamental. I was so paranoid and I had all these delusions. I kind of believed that other people were trying to come after me. I remember thinking that one of my friends had all these minions and to my face they were friendly and they were my friends, but behind the scenes they were kind of plotting some big vicious attack against me to kind of ruin my life and kind of ruin my reputation. The same things that my dad told me that people were going to do to me. I'm like 12 or 13 years old at this point. So at this age, with the way I acted, of course, a lot of kids rightfully would be turned off for me. They would be like, oh my God, this guy's crazy. This guy's a psycho. He's very weird. That would only pile on the paranoia because people would distance themselves away from me. They don't want to be associated with someone because I was just so unstable and when people would distance themselves away from me, I would think, oh my God, it would just prove that people were coming after me. It was like a snowballing effect. I remember hearing all these auditory hallucinations by the time that was 12 years old. These voices would tell me, everyone's coming after you, everyone knows something about you, everyone knows what you did. I didn't fully understand what those voices were talking about, but there's always a constant. Especially around this age, I used to go for a lot of walks. I used to listen to music, I used to walk around the block like three times a day. I used to annoy all of my neighbors. I used to go for walks in the industrial park, like in the middle of the night, just to quiet these voices. The hallucinations were always kind of there and it's just a jumble of different voices, telling you different things all at once. Even though I was still experiencing all these hallucinations, I could still understand that I was being bullied. I still had a normal grasp of the reality in that sense, but because I had gained a little bit of confidence or gained a little bit of understanding of what bullying was, I always matched the bully's energy and sometimes that would get me into a lot of trouble because I had this reputation of being this crazy person. I guess during this phase back when I was like 12, 13, 14 years old, I kind of had a lot to prove. I wasn't a bad person. I wasn't what these hallucinations or these voices were saying about me. The more the bullying happened, the more I went psychosis and the more I went to these delusions. Of course, the teachers didn't really help. Whenever I used to talk to the guy that's a counselor, they didn't really hear what I was saying. They didn't really put the pieces together that I was a very troubled team. They would just see this kid with high emotions and that was just being dramatic. After junior high, we moved to another town. I think my entire family kind of got sick of the city life. We moved to a nearby town. My stepdad had a new job. We bought a house when I got to high school. I didn't feel like I was in survival mode anymore. I felt like I had definitely chilled out and I had found my personality more. I understood myself more. It was a brand new me going to high school. It was a fresh new stare. I wanted to meet everyone. I wanted to be an entertainer. I didn't care what it was. I just wanted to be an entertainer. I felt like I needed to give people the shape as no matter what it was. If it was me making fun of myself, telling jokes, I just felt like if I could help someone escape from this cruel world or get it at their own head, then I'm doing something good. When I went to high school, I was the stereotypical. Everyone knows him because he has a big charismatic personality and he's friends with everyone. I started a job at a grocery store. I met pretty much everyone in the first four months. I was very friendly with everyone. I was about 15 years old. I had done so well for myself that I became the youngest person in my province to win employee the year about the grocery store. I had things going for me. I didn't feel like I'd survive anymore. I feel like I could relax. I lived my life. I could do the things I wanted to do around the time of the hallucinations, the illusion started going away as well. I felt a normal sense of reality around this time around 15, 16, 17 years old. When I graduated high school, I started working at a motel. It was my first office job and I felt right and right in front of two and a half years. I just knew I had to get an education. I had to get out of this town. I really felt like I could do more. I applied for college, went to college for precautionary studying. I moved to the city to attend the school. I lived in on-campus residence and I felt like, oh my gosh, this is going to be the beginning of my new life. My life is finally going to start. In college, I met a lot of people. I was in these clubs. I was making a lot of friends. I just felt like I didn't really belong there in the sense that they were like the party kids who were just there to have a good time while also studying. I didn't really feel like I fully belonged there until I met this guy from Florida. He was this totally sweet person. He was such a sweet hurt. We were both into crafts. We really hit it off when we started talking about drag. I felt like, wow, he's such a cool person. I feel like I'm connecting with him. Eventually, we started hitting it off and after a while, started having sex. It might have been the second time I've tried sex that something didn't feel right. There's my first time having a consensual sex. Something just felt off. That was when all those memories started coming back. But even though these memories started coming back, I didn't really internalize those feelings. I didn't feel those feelings of guilt or shame until about six months later. I didn't really put the pieces like, oh my gosh, this is what happened to me. I was abused. I just remembered that, oh, this happened to me at the kid. The third time I had sex, the puzzle pieces were starting to be put together. I just remember feeling like, oh my gosh, I feel so gross. I feel disgusted with myself. I just felt this shame with myself. My partner is very accepting. He's very understanding. Even though we carried about each other, we could continue having sex because it kept triggering something. When I told him that I didn't really want to continue having sex, I felt like it was just a point of him. I felt like if I'm not being used for my body, then what's the point of me? While I was still in college, I started to become self aware enough to know that what had happened to me was the reason why I was the way I was. And I just knew that I had to start making my own memories. But I just couldn't get that headspace. I felt I was so depressed. My entire sense of reality was completely torn apart. I finally understood why I was the way I was. And it just put me into a whirlwind. Even though I didn't fully understand what was happening to me, I still felt a lot of depression and I could continue my course. So unfortunately I had to drop out of college. I rented a room into this house in the city. I had gotten a job at a hotel, a beautiful hotel. I really enjoyed the job. But I got laid off because COVID started. I always had a great relationship with my mom. But when I was in college, I kind of felt like I was going to be a little bit more isolated myself for everyone because of depression. This is the first time in my life that I did talk to my mom for such a long period of time because my mom were very close. She was always a very young person. She always understood what I was going through. She used to always make things better. So when I isolated myself, I kind of broke her heart. Adding that on top of dropping out of college, which was so angry at me, I couldn't tell her at the time why I dropped out because I didn't fully understand it myself. When COVID started, when I got laid off, we went through our first lockdown. We didn't fully understand what was going on. I had gained a ton of weight. I was at 300 pounds at one point. And I needed that. I had to change something. So I started exercising. I picked up running. I started learning how to cook. I made healthy meals for myself. I really took advantage of that lockdown experience. And before you knew it, I lost 50 pounds in three months. Around April of 2020. I had posted that I lost 50 pounds on social media. I got all this love validation from everyone saying, like, oh my God, look, I'm so proud of you. Everyone kind of knew that I was going into depression and I dropped out. So it was like, oh my gosh, she's back again. Like he sees himself again. He feels like himself. And that was when I got a message from my aunt. She had seen my story about how I had lost 50 pounds. And she had told me she was really proud of me. I didn't have her great relationship with my family, other than my mom. So when my aunt messaged me out of nowhere, I felt like, oh my gosh, she was like, I'm so proud of you. That's so impressive. And she told me she had a business opportunity for me. She was working with this company that had produced weight loss pills. And she thought that I was going to be a perfect fit for the company because I lost so much weight that she wanted me to use my story. And she said that she wanted me to work with her. So I asked her more about it. She said it's a multi-level media marketing program. I thought, oh my god, here we go. It's pyramid scheme. But it's nice to hear your voice trying to connect with me. I'll hear you out. I couldn't say no to her flat out because I knew that she would get upset with me. And she would have gone to my mom and said, oh, you know, he's just being an asshole. So I went to her house and she sat me down. She said, I really want you to think about this. You don't have a job right now. You have the charm. This is a great way for you to make money. I'm making thousands of dollars off of this. I really want you to think about this. I told her, like, I've already lost all this weight. I don't really need to buy these products. I lost weight because of dieting. I lost weight because of exercising. I lost weight because of discipline. I don't need these weight loss pills. She had said, well, no, you can say that you use these weight loss pills. People will see that you've lost a little ton of weight. And go buy these products off of you. And I was like, that's super manipulative. I mean, I don't want to do that. This whole time, it felt like this was an opportunity to reconnect with her and my family. In the back of my head, I always knew it was kind of a scheme. But I was just happy that I had my family. That I was connecting with someone who I really respected. I didn't really have much going for me at this time. And I was like 20 years old because, again, I had to drop their college. I had lost all my friends for my depression. So it was nice to have some talk to Eve. Oh, she had something I ever sleep. She was very stubborn and she took my credit card and she had charged a $600 bundle of products under my name that I had an approval of. So I got my bank. I started a fraud claim. I told my mom and she just lost her mind. It was like all that anger that she had built up for me to drop me out of college had built up. She had just built a wall between me. It just felt like she was so disappointed me even though I was the one who was taking advantage of it. No matter how much I described to her that my vulnerability was used, she just didn't want to listen. I just remember within that day, the anger and the shame, the guilt, it just hit me like a train. That day, not only did I fully understand what had happened to me with my aunt, it felt like everything leading up to that point had finally resonated with me. Like the sexual abuse that I experienced, the psychological abuse that I experienced, the hallucinations, the reason why I was so troubled as a kid dropping out of college, all the trauma that I experienced, the stuff with my mom, the stuff with my aunt, everything that I had experienced, all the vulnerability and all the abuse that I suffered finally hit me. I felt like I was stuck. It hurt so much realizing that I was stupid enough to be taken advantage of time and time again. I wanted to tell other people, but I felt like if I did tell other people, people were going to look at me and say, why would you put yourself in the situation so I felt so alone? But that was when the hallucinations and delusions started happening again. It hit me like a snap of the finger. All these delusions felt like a different type of delusion. Back to my early teens, it felt like the voices were kind of laughing at me. The voices in my head kind of told me like, why didn't you listen? In the first place, we told you everyone was coming after you, why didn't you listen to us? It was really frustrating. I felt like I was just really stuck. Being in psychosis, it kind of felt like everyone knew what was wrong with you. It felt like you knew you were crazy, but you couldn't explain yourself because if you explained yourself to people about what's happening to you, you say, oh yeah, no, I was abusive again. I was taken advantage of by my aunt. I had schizophrenia and I have all these delusions. If you tell that to someone just off the cuff, you're going to be perceived as crazy. So you can't really do that. It's just, it's so frustrating, but you really want to tell your story, but you also don't want to be weird. Looking back now, I realized how off-putting it was like the actions I did. People would look at me a certain way or people look at each other a certain way and I would think, oh my gosh, they're communicating in secret language about me. I got so paranoid. I remember going into work. I worked at a recycling depot one point and I was sorting through the recyclables. These group of young people had come in with the recyclables and I remember looking up and they were all just staring at me in a way that I was a vile person to their eyes. For some reason, my brain told me that they were filming me. They were jotting down every single thing that I was doing. Every movement that I was making, it felt like they were telling me, oh, you're a shell of yourself. They're not doing anything. They're just standing there. But to me, it was like everyone knew that I was just like this, this no good piece of shit. I couldn't escape it. I couldn't run from it and I couldn't complain to anyone because I knew that. There was something wrong with this way of thinking, but if I kept complaining to people, people would get sick of me and they would run away from me. So I just kept it to myself. It was like everyone knew this idea of me, but they didn't really know me as a person that didn't know my thoughts, my feelings, my morals. They didn't really get a chance to know me because of course they heard stuff about me or they were just put off by me. I felt like everyone could do whatever they wanted to be, but because I was this crazy individual, nobody would really like care about me as a person. It's just so isolating, lonely and painful. Not being able to access the person that I want to be. It's a complete hell in a way that you know there's something wrong with you and you're trying your best to figure out what is wrong with you. But not being able to explain myself because your entire life, you've been a subject to this extreme abuse that for a long time, but you didn't even see this extreme abuse. It was just your lifestyle. It's weird because of course, if I heard something similar that happened to me, happened to someone else or happened to another kid, of course I'd be disgusted or I'd be appalled, but when I think of it happening to me, that's just my reality. The severity of the psychosis happened at the end of 2020. I was 21 years old. I had worked about five different jobs. Couldn't keep a job because I was so depressed I just could not get at a bed. I had no source of income. There were times when I went three, sometimes even four days without eating. The only thing that would keep me going was the food bank across the city. Eventually, I was affected by my house. I was homeless for a little bit. I was so disappointed myself and so angry at myself. This guy who was known for being so intelligent, so smart, and so charismatic, and so charming, and so friendly, people would come up to me and tell me, oh my god, I've heard my friend talk about you. You're so sweet. This once gifted kid had become this basket case of an individual. I was homeless. I couldn't keep a job. I was like, this can't be my life. I am so pathetic right now, but this literally cannot be my life. I went to the homeless shelter in the food bank to take some showers there, and I would stay overnight at a temps for a local restaurant that was open 24 hours a day. I was so disappointed with myself. I knew that I could have been so much more. I had to be better. I had so much more to give. Right before I was affected, I just got signed on to a federal government job with the government of Canada. It was a work from home job, it was a call center job. I had to figure out because I didn't have a home at the time. I didn't have a home at the time, so you can't leave work from home when you don't have a home. Luckily, I found a place that brought me in. Knowing that I had a regular source of income having so much money, it definitely helped with food, with living expenses. But I'd say the thing that really started to get the ball rolling with my recovery. So in July 1st of 2022, me and three of my friends had gone rafting to celebrate Canada Day with one of my friends who had just moved to Canada. Her name was Natasha. She was from South Africa, originally from Qatar, but she had lived in South Africa for most of her life. She had actually moved to Canada to move in with a good friend of mine. She was moving in for school and Mason out of hundreds of people chose Natasha without even meeting her. That's how lovely she was. That's how good of an energy she brought. So Mason, Natasha, my other friend, a meal and I. We went to a lake to celebrate her first Canada Day. We had a picnic. We had a little bit of snack foods. The plan was to eat and go out rafting. So a meal and Natasha were cleaning up. Me and Mason decided to go rafting. We all had our individual little tubes and we headed out. When we were out in the lake, Mason had tipped over in the raft. He had a binder on what binders do. They constricted her chest. So he was very limited. It is cardio and his breath. So I brought him back to the side of the beach. This was when a meal and Natasha were coming out of their individual rafs. While I was almost at the shore bringing Mason back, I could see the distance Natasha had fallen in because the current taken Natasha's raft flipped over. A meal jumped in after her. I swam out to the middle of the lake to save Natasha and a meal. And by the time I got to Natasha, you could just see it in her eyes. She was already gone. She had swallowed a bunch of water. A meal was starting to drown. While I tried to lift her up, she could get some air. I would go down and she would kick me in the face by accident. I would swallow a bunch of water. I had to let her go. I was starting to drown myself. I was running out of air. So I had to let her go. I had to push her off of me. I had to send back to shore. Unfortunately, she didn't make it. When I pushed her off, I just remember screaming no, because I knew what that meant. You think about it all the time if you were in the situation. This is what you're going to do. This is how you're going to save someone and you're going to be a hero. But when you're actually in the situation, it's so much different. Knowing that you were the last person to talk to your friend or to hold your friend's hand or to hold your friend and look at your friend while she was still alive. It was a horrible feeling that nobody should have to experience knowing that you can't save someone. When she had passed, we had posted a go-fun me for her funeral to send her body back to South Africa. Both mine and Mason's Facebook posts went completely viral. Thousands of shares, tens of thousands of reactions. It was like the whole world was sending their condolences to us. And even though people were sending their condolences to me, in my head it felt like why do I still feel paranoid? Why do I still feel like something's wrong? How can I have this experience of so many people saying nice things, genuine nice things? And I'm still mistrusting them. Had this realization that maybe there's something wrong with me. About a month after that, I listened to an episode of this podcast and it was like an out-of-body experience. It was a woman who had talked about having her noice get to frenia and it was the first time I'd ever had someone truly explain what I was going through. It was euphoria. I felt like, oh my god, someone understands me. Not only does someone understand me, but she was talking about how she had experienced all these things and she recovered. So I kind of felt to myself like, oh my gosh, there is hope for me. We haven't been weird all this time. I can get help. So I went to counseling. I went to therapy. I started talking to my family about what I was experiencing and what I was like. I started putting up the dots together that I was very sick and I needed help. We all believe that I had schizophrenia at first, but I was admitted to the hospital. And I was talking to the psychiatrist and they said that actually know what you'd have is actually PTSD. And I mean, it might not be what I expected diagnosis to be, but of course I'm not like a licensed professional. It's not my job. I just, the main thing with getting a diagnosis is so that you can be directed into getting the actual help that you are required to get. I have been getting a lot of help when it comes to PTSD. I've been put in support groups. I've been put on different medication. I've been researching a lot of PTSD like stories and what they're experiencing. About a month after that, I've heard time I woke up. It was like a little bit of foggyness, but what disappeared, the delusions were easier to control. The hallucinations weren't as prominent and I felt like I was getting my reality back. I still have that feeling of frustration trying to communicate what is wrong with me and what is right about me. I know what happened to me. I don't have any proof because there's never been any justice for me, but I know what happened to me all those years that don't feel as much shame or guilt about what happened to me. Actually, I think that just comes from not fully understanding it really. I think the connections between my psychosis, my hallucinations, my delusions and being abused, I think basically it just stems from being warned of all those hallucinations and delusions. Of course, I was told my entire childhood when I was with this person that everyone's coming after me, everyone knows something about me, and that I'm a bad person in a way. You were internalized, but it's said to you as a kid, but it's said to you as a teenager, and you start to notice things that just aren't true because that's what you were told. But change started happening. It definitely had a change in how I viewed all my relationships, my friendships, my family, everything, my work relationships. I didn't have to be so paranoid, I didn't have to be so cautious of everything. And quite frankly, I'm still trying to figure out this new reality, not having to be on edge all the time. My relationship with my mom has drastically improved. I mean, we're like the mother, son, duo that we used to always be. Reconnecting with my mom has been the best feeling. At the end of last year, me and my mom had talked for like about six or seven hours, just being her about everything that had happened. She had mentioned that she was also going through a rough time because she didn't know what was wrong with me. She didn't know why I dropped out. She didn't know the situation. I felt a lot of sadness in that, but we're still friends and we're going to continue healing from this. I have a great relationship with my oldest brother. We're a family again. We're talking, we're communicating. We have sufferers every now and then because I had this realization, my family wasn't afraid to approach me anymore. So we're slowly building back our relationship. I do go to multiple different to work groups. I find that community aspect definitely helps me in some of the one type of thing. That's just my own personal experience. I now realize that I was the problem in many of the situations my paranoia had gotten in the way of so many of my relationships. I had to find a way to accept that I was a shitty person in my past and how to grow from that. My counselors and my therapists have tried to tell me like, guilt is such a pointless emotion. You know, there's nothing that we can do to change it. All we can do is grow from there. I'm only 23 years old now and there's so much more life to live when Natasha had passed away and all those posts had gone viral. A ton of drag farmers had actually messaged us and said their condenses. I've always been a big fan of drag. I've always loved the drag race show. I've always went to local shows. We knew all the performers, but there was one performer and she's a big queen on the scene. She had messaged me when she read it. She sent her condenses and she offered to have me at one of her shows in honor of Natasha. Of course, I said yes. Absolutely. I didn't have a costume. I didn't have a drag name. I didn't have anything. I didn't even know how the drag farmers worked. I said yes and at the end of July, I had my drag name you. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know half the words, but it was so much fun. So much fun. I didn't have my next show until November. What that show in November of 2022, it just sparked the passion and my love for drag and my appreciation for drag. And from there, I've gotten tons of bookings. I'm now a part of a house of drag. I'm the first child of a certain house, my province. In a few months, I have my first booking into another city, my province. I like to think that's a testament to the hellfire I've come and drag into this world period of time. That's really exciting. I've also started like a little side hobby of creating costumes for other drag farmers as just an extra source of income. I dropped out of college for a fashion design and all these years later, I get to be an actual fashion designer for drag farmers. So that's also a really cool experience. So ever since I joined the drag community, I became a lot more confident in myself. So I started to seek out more ways that I can grow as a person that I found an organization called ASCA, which is adult survivors of child abuse. And what they do is they take adult survivors of child trauma, whether that be sexual, whether that be emotional, psychological, physical, any type of trauma we take, people who experience those things, turn them from victims to survivors to thrivers. And this support group is filled with the most genuine, amazing, understanding patient people I've ever met. It's an incredible organization. And I'm actually in the process of becoming a moderator in different support groups myself. And my goals take these support groups to add to other communities so that people and other communities can have a support group for themselves. People moderators and my support group are actually pushing legislation to the new Finland government. That'll see every single classroom in the province have this kind of presentation where teachers kids have to spot predators, how to report them, and how to protect yourself from predators and potentially change lives and save lives. So I'm really excited to be a part of something that's actually making a difference in the world. I don't think that I'm like the personification of like, oh, you know, if I can do it, everyone can do it. If I can go through stuff that anyone can put me. I don't think on that. I just know that you can go through really hard things. You can come out from them. You just got to be kind to yourself. You got to be patient. We all experience pain no matter how difficult it is and we all experience things that change us. You can go through the absolute worst of humanity. You can come out on top. You can achieve so many things if you actually just speak up and just take back your life. What you experience is not okay and what you experience is not your fault. I know how lonely it is, but it gets so much better. And I'm very much looking forward to my second chance in a way. My new life. Today's episode featured Alex. You can connect with Alex and find out more about him and his drag performances on Instagram. Find ELLUM underscore a-y-o. That's at ELLUM underscore a-y-o. From Wondry, you're listening to this is actually happening. If you love what we do, please rate and review the show. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or on the Wondry app to listen ad-free and get access to the entire back catalog. In the episode notes, you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors. By supporting them, you help us bring you our show for free. I'm your host, Whit Missleline. Today's episode was co-produced by me, Sarah Maranelli, and Andrew Wates. With special thanks to that this is actually happening team, including Ellen Westberg. The intro music features the song Ilibi by Tipper. You can join the community on that this is actually happening discussion group on Facebook or follow us on Instagram at actually happening. On the show's website, this is actually You can find out more about the podcast, contact us with any questions, submit your own story, or visit the store where you can find this is actually happening designs on stickers, t-shirts, wall art, hoodies, and more. 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