I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part One
I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what I would say about my CFC tour experience if ever given the chance. It’s a lot to try and put into words. CFC was one of the first places where I felt a sense of family and acceptance. It was also one of the first places where I experienced the rejection and hypocrisy that seem to go hand in hand with conservative homeschooling groups.
To give proper background to this story, I first have to explain a bit about my childhood. I grew up in a conservative Christian middleclass family. On the outside, everything about my childhood was perfect (albeit a bit unconventional.) My parents chose to homeschool me and my four siblings. I was given a great academic education, but school is really only a very small part of any discussion relating to homeschooling. My father molested me while I was growing up, and given the insular community of which I was a part, there were very few people who would have been able to spot any signs of abuse. Nobody found out about the abuse until much, much later.
When my public schooled peer group was playing sports, doing ballet, or marching band (or just being normal teenagers) I was busy doing competitive speech and debate. I started doing speech and debate when I was eleven and I went to my first CFC conference. After that, I spent the majority of my time going to NCFCA tournaments, researching debate resolutions, and attending CFC conferences.
The thing is, I never quite fit the mold of what a conservative homeschooled debater should look like. I was a bit different; I liked to dress differently, dye my hair weird colors, and do anything else I could think of to stand out from my homogenous peer group. I think part of this was personality (I’ve always been a bit quirky) and part of it was my attempt at a cry for help. I was a very troubled teenager; despite (or maybe because of) my Christian homeschooled upbringing, I had problems with cutting, eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse. Of course, when I was competing in NCFCA tournaments and attending CFC conferences, very few people had any idea about my problems.
To adequately explain what happened on my CFC internship, I have to rewind a bit and talk about the winter before I went on tour. Christmas break of 2007 I was put in a behavioral hospital for attempting to commit suicide. I was radically unhappy at home, so I tried to overdose on over the counter pain medicine. I was in the hospital for nearly two weeks before I was discharged, just a few days before Christmas.
Several weeks later (January 2008) my mom was hosting a CFC Masters conference in my hometown of Louisville, KY. Prior to my suicide attempt, I had been accepted to be an RSA (staff assistant/all-purpose slave) at this conference. For reasons that still baffle me, the adults in my life decided that I needed to attend the conference and pretend that everything was okay. While I should have been in therapy, I was busy cleaning bathrooms, setting up for banquets, and doing any other menial task that came my way. Child labor laws where never even talked about.
During this conference I spent a lot of time holed up in bathrooms either cutting myself or making myself throw up. It’s interesting now for me to look back at pictures of myself at that Masters conference – it was evident from looking at me that there was something deeply wrong. Still, no one talked about it or asked about it. Depression, suicide, and mental illness are not socially acceptable topics among conservative homeschoolers.
To illustrate the polarity that was my life, I was awarded the Raudy Bearden scholarship at this Masters; in one minute I would be in a bathroom trying to hold myself together and in the next, I would be up on a stage accepting an award or giving a speech. Prior to the awards ceremony where I was awarded the scholarship, I was in the bathroom making myself throw up.
It was also during this conference that I decided I wanted to apply for a CFC internship. It wasn’t so much that I loved CFC or that I loved public speaking – I just wanted to leave home and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. The week after Masters I filled out an application to intern – I was pretty sure that getting accepted would be easy since my sister had interned twice. Turns out that I was right. I had a phone interview with Mrs. Moon, and despite the fact that she knew all about my mental health background (including my recent suicide attempt) she accepted me to intern just a few weeks after the phone interview. I told her that I was on psych medication but that I would be fully competent to tour the country in a motorhome with a dozen other people. To this day, I’m not sure why she took my word for it.
That spring and summer was a blur – I remember a lot of emails and writing a lot of classes. I remember having to go shopping for tour clothes (all of us interns had to wear color coordinated outfits.) I remember feeling a lot of pressure to perform well at that year’s NCFCA national tournament.
August rolled around and it was time to go to prep week and start tour. Over that summer I had spent a lot of time at counseling and therapy, but I was still in no mental or emotional condition to be in such a stressful environment. On tour you are expected to look perfect at all times, teach multiple classes in a day, give speeches, and function on very little sleep. At this time I was still dealing with an eating disorder (which I tried to hide by saying I was a vegetarian), I cut myself regularly, I was very depressed, and I was starting to abuse alcohol. I tried to hide all of these problems and put on a brave face as I got up on countless stages and spoke about the benefits of communication training and homeschooling. I felt like a performing monkey.
My internship wasn’t all bad – I made some great friends and I felt a real sense of community with a few of my fellow interns. I got to see the country and I got to get away from home. I loved not being at home.
Tour was a very stressful environment though, and I started to crumple under the constant pressure to be perfect. I would get up on a stage to speak and the second I got off stage I would run to a bathroom (bathrooms were the only place I found privacy) and hurt myself. I started having really bad anxiety attacks during this time, so a doctor (who was a friend of the Moons) prescribed me Xanax over the phone. I promptly started abusing this medication and nobody attempted to monitor my use of the pills.
What really amazes me about all of this is how few people took notice of my troubling behavior. Of course, there were a couple of my fellow interns who knew that something was wrong, but they were only teenagers themselves. None of the adults in my life took any notice. I can only attribute this to the fact that I was in a homeschooled bubble – I assume that the people I was around were sheltered to the point where they didn’t know what to look for. The other explanation is that the people I was around purposefully didn’t take notice of my behavior.
During the second half of my internship I began self-medicating with alcohol more frequently. One night, me and one of the other interns separated from our group. We were in Boston and we decided to strike out on our own to explore the city. We found a couple of homeless men and we had a fascinating conversation with them about life and God. During this conversation, I shared their vodka. Yes, I did that. I really didn’t see a problem with sharing vodka with homeless people. When we got back to the group no one noticed that I was slightly inebriated (or they pretended not to notice.)
On another occasion, I and two other interns raided the liquor cabinet at our host family’s house. We got black out drunk that night and ended up playing a risqué game of truth or dare. That night was the first (but not the last) time that I got sloppy drunk with a boy and made decisions I regretted later. The next morning we three were nursing hangovers, but we drug ourselves to the motorhome and tried to pretend that we were fine. I’m sure that one or two of our fellow interns noticed, but no one said anything. That was the culture we lived in – pretend that everything is fine, don’t make waves, and ignore problems.
I was a problem to be ignored.