If I were to ask every one of you right now what it is that you love, what would you say? I presume you’d say something along the lines of:
“I love my family, my animals. I love to go horse-back riding, and write. I love listening to music and I love to paint…”
How long do you think you could continue going on and on about what you love before you said, “I love myself”?
Try not to think too long about that.
I read this on a website a few years ago, and I guess you could conclude that it hit home for me. It should hit home for most of us, but if you’re lucky, the first thing you would’ve answered my question with was: I love myself. Albeit, most of us aren’t that lucky.
In turn, I spent the next years submitting myself to those small, somehow catastrophic words.
As humans we ask ourselves, why, from the moment we were born we have been defined by numbers. Inches, feet, pounds, grades, percentages… It never stops! Most of us are seen as something we’re either not, or something we don’t care to be. There’s only so much we can do to reassure each other of the things we were put on this earth to do; granted, most likely we don’t even know what that is yet.
One day, I came home from school and went to my room. A pretty common occurrence. Though this day, I’d had a talk with myself throughout my classes, and I realized just how much I wasn’t feeling like myself. I was constantly tired, I wasn’t looking forward to anything, and I was starting to physically ache. I didn’t recognize myself, and neither did my family.
I typed in “symptoms of depression” for the first time that day, into a search engine. I even went as far as going through a little test online that quizzed you for what you’re feeling. I found myself saying “yes” more than I did “no” to most of the questions.
Freshman year had been what I had previously considered a breeze. I had made so many friends, I started getting along with everyone in my grade after three years of middle school that equated to my acquaintances hating me. I was feeling happy. Or so I thought. I continued going through that year making my friends laugh, telling jokes and finding myself doing dumb things in the halls to be considered someone everyone found cool.
It took a long time to figure out that by doing that, I was disregarding my own self worth. I found that by making other people happy and trying to help my friends, it was only backfiring. It made me the most unhappy I’ve been in my life, and it only got worse from there.
I continued on with trying to be a good friend though; I didn’t find the need to stop. I mean, just because I was aching, tired and irrevocably not the same person, didn’t mean everyone around me had to succumb to the same feeling.
No matter, I would find myself coming home from school everyday and going straight to my bed. Out. Like a light. No more waiting until my actual bed-time. I took hour-long naps, and by the time I woke up I was no less tired than I had been before I laid my head down. My life became a broken record; go to school, come home and take a nap, eat dinner, pretend I was okay when my parents asked me how I was feeling, go to bed, repeat. For someone who had spontaneity in my blood, this particular repetitive streak ate away at me.
I was fourteen years old then, but I felt so much older. I felt the weight of far more years than I’d actually lived and experienced. I was a teenager no more, in my head.
It continued on like that until I realized what was truly wrong. It was winter time then, and while everyone one around me was getting into the holiday spirit, I was still down. I didn’t understand. I wanted to know why I was watching everyone around me talking about their excitement and Christmas coming soon, while I knew in my mind I’d never been less excited about the holiday in my life. I loved Christmas, it was my favorite holiday, and I knew that. But something in my body was trying to fight against me, and it ended up winning. It ended up taking over.
I loved to travel, hang out with friends, go to the county fair with my family. And I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why there were countless things that I’d used to love that I no longer even had the energy to talk about. It sickened me. It pained me.
I watched, throughout that winter, as my brother, my cousins and the world around me that I so dearly cherished continued on living, when my life had somehow gone stagnant. They sled, threw snow-balls at each other, drank cocoa. Felt grateful for their presents during Christmas. Now, this one, got to me the hardest. I no longer felt thankful. And God, how messed up was that? Somewhere along the way, I stopped paying attention to the roof over my head, the water in my well, the food on my plate. I felt undeserving of it, instead of deserving. Instead of feeling gratitude, I felt nothing.
But I had to bottle these things up. Don’t you understand? My family was unaware of this internal bloody battle inside me. They wouldn’t have understood. They didn’t realize that school, stress, bullying, my friends choosing drugs over me, was what stripped me of my happiness.
There was a fire inside of me. A wild-fire, knocking down everything else in its wake. Soon enough, the fire left a black hole. The black hole consumed what the fire had left behind. At last, I was empty.
For the remaining school year, I hid. I hid under my fictitious smiles, my laughs, and my skin. I hid my face into books and my heart under a boulder. Suddenly, I was thinking about death everyday. Not full-out suicide contemplations, but just simply, innocently, death. Ways to die. How, someday, I would die and how I would go. Would it be a car accident? Old age? Stroke?
I didn’t know, because I couldn’t see into my future, but I was damn curious. Throughout the school day, I would think of this and so many other things. I would wonder, and read, and wonder some more. I would talk to my “friends”, and only pay attention to the teacher when I thought I would fail. And even then, I failed.
My mind was somewhere else. It was only a matter of time before my grades got run over by a bus. My parents noticed this, of course in my report cards, but they were never mad. Sometimes frustrated, but never disappointed or mad. And God dammit, but that, right there, may have been what saved me from falling off a cliff. Entirely non-figuratively.
Finally, when winter was over I felt less pressure. Less pressure from the holiday demands, and the bright spirit. But in turn, there were state tests that took over as a substitute. Just when I was feeling the relief of less family get-together’s and festive parties, I was thrown into the very tests based on the very curriculum that I hadn’t found the energy to pay attention to. And I was fucked.
But still, even with that terrifying knowledge, I was happy to report that I’d been feeling better lately. Less foggy, more aware. I was starting to come back to my family. I wasn’t great, but I was fine. Fine was better than vacant.
With some miracle, I passed my exams at the end of Freshman year. And with a single hair lines worth of room between ‘fail’ and ‘pass’, I really do mean miracle. Even more miraculous, I found the angelic tool to pick the gloom out of my heart, and pump the vital joy in instead for the upcoming summer months. I turned fifteen that summer. I was finally seeing so many things closer to reach than they’d been before. Only a year until I could drive, only six until I’d be respected by the adults. That was exciting to me, when I figured excitement wasn’t something I’d feel again in a long time.
June, July and August were all too short as always, but they weren’t saturnine like the past school year had been. And I started wondering to myself; had my school environment been the problem all along? Had the teachers, the kids, the stress been the catalyst to every last worthless tear on my pillow-case?
My answer: maybe. My parents answer: hell yes.
And so, when Sophomore year made its appearance, I hesitated. Could I really go back in there? Face the one place that –even I was beginning to be convinced of– had left me cold?
With the fear of failing, of giving up and not amounting to anything when I grew hitting me where it hurt, I forced myself to suck whatever pretenses I had about the new school year up.
I had to fight with what I knew would save me, and what I knew everyone would say about me. Things I knew: I could find myself happy and healthy again by the end of the year if I didn’t go back there; if I took the advice of my parents and home-school. Things I also knew: those kids would stamp my old picture with ‘QUITTER’ in ink, and that would be me. That would be what I was known as.
And so, days later, I found myself choosing them over me again. I went back. That was where I went wrong.
The kids, the schoolwork, the environment of being surrounded by no one who could understand that I wanted more than this small town, grew on me. I went into remission. Just when I’d thought I was cured.
I wanted more than that. I dreamed of being wealthy when I grew. An entrepreneur, a writer, an owner of several pet and homeless shelters across the world, someone who gave more than they took. But these people? These kids? They were telling me that they’d be lucky with a job at McDonald’s. I couldn’t be around that.
I wouldn’t; not any longer.
I was one month into Sophomore year when I backed out. And I didn’t tell myself that I’d quit when things got tough. I backed out. Classy, no-mess, rational backing out. I had to, for my health, for my family. I had to convince me of being me again. I told myself that those friends who weren’t even friends anymore were less than me and less than what I deserved. That was where I went right.
By losing the few people in my life that affected me in the light, I was able to open myself again to the ones who affected me in my darkness. I cut ties. I let go. I breathed again, when I thought for sure I’d lost my breath ages ago.
The next Christmas was finally something I could wrap my head around. I could finally understand why people smiled more, laughed more, sang more. And I began joining in. Life became… recognizable.
Today, as I write to you, my reader, I am sixteen years old. I am home-schooled, and on my way to getting my GED next year, and am currently learning tools that my parents have credited me to become who I’ve always dreamed of. I will be seventeen in a few short months– how exciting! I drive, I write, I find joy in holidays, and I laugh like no one’s listening. I still lose my way some days, and I cry at petty, emotional endings to movies in the theater, but my soul is healthy. My heart has attached itself to the best things out there, and my glass is half full.
It isn’t about when you get lost. It’s about finding the perfect path to take, and hopping back on that bike even when you fell. Even when you can’t possibly imagine the beauty behind those trees– know it’s there.
So go, find adventures and remember: you do you. Everyone else is taken.