When I began this blog in 2014, I was 21 years old. I was in between majors, in between long hair and short hair, and in between bursts of self-harm, crippling depression, and bouts of reckless joy. As a matter of fact, this blog came after my first suicide attempt and before my second. I was in a place where I so wanted to string together words that would inspire people like me, words to be a balm to their most aching wounds, and words that could be something to hold onto in times where there was little else. I was also in a place where, some days, my words were the only crutch that held me up and kept me alive.
Before I even gave my musings a home in this blog, I wrote a piece that sounded a lot like a diary entry and felt a lot like quiet hope. Simply, I knew that I understood myself better when I sat down to write about what I felt. In that piece, I wrote a blurb that has followed me ever since:
“I’m better, but I am not well. So I say this, and I will try to hold onto this too. You’re going to be sad. If you’re human, you’re going to be sad. You’re going to find all of these good things, and you’re going to grow up and figure out who you are, and then you’re going to scrap it and start over again. You’ll build something new, and then you’ll add onto it. You’ll take part of that away and replace it again. You’ll constantly be adding and deleting and reevaluating and rediscovering and redefining who you are, and that’s okay. I think it’s important that you keep your foundation strong. You hold yourself up when all you want to do is collapse into the ground and let yourself disappear. Don’t you dare. You’re going to be sad. Find yourself in the little things. Find yourself in what makes you glad you’re alive. Take a mental health day. Scream in the shower. Drive around by yourself and sing to the radio because you have a voice and you can. Clean your room at 3 AM when you hate yourself and you just need to keep moving. Read the book that makes you cry when the tears won’t come and you can’t stop feeling them. Sing to yourself in the mirror. Smile as big as you can to strangers you’ll never see again, because maybe they need it. Send a text message that you’re scared to send, because being vulnerable is the hardest thing in the world, but it is a start to getting better. Ask for help if you need it. Accept help if you need it. Isolate yourself for a day, but not forever. If you’re like me, write poems, write songs, write essays, and write stories that maybe 2 people will read, and maybe 2,000 people will read. Take your own advice. Go to school and go to work and go to parties and go to lunch and go play and keep going. Act 15 on the days you feel 15. Act 35 on the days you feel 35. Act your own age if you ever figure out how you’re supposed to. Tell people you love them, because they need to know, and you need to hear it. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to get through it.
That’s what I need to keep telling myself. That’s what I need to keep knocking into my own head. I am better, but I am not well. Someday, maybe I will be. I’m holding out hope for that.”
I am better, but I am not well. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to get through it.
Those words that I penned down on an inconsequential day during the spring semester of my last year at junior college became my home. I am so thankful for the words they inspired, the words that came after. And I am so, so thankful for the years that have come after, as well.
I suppose that brings me to today. For the sake of being honest, I’m going to say that life, as a whole, did not get easier in these past few years. Shortly after I began this blog, I was assaulted by an ex-boyfriend who intended to kill me. It took me until I moved away for a college transfer to realize that, although my broken ribs and my black eye had healed, my mind and heart had not. I had a mental breakdown that I refused to recognize, and I made every other excuse under the sun for why I came home less than a week after I moved. I got a second job at an olive oil and wine shop, and I busied my days with that new gig, serving tables at my old gig, and otherwise cutting my wrists and feeling like shit about myself. I was incredibly blessed to find a few new niches, the most important one being the one I found in the theatre community. I found an outlet for my music, my emotions, and my creativity, sure, but I found something a bit unexpected and incredibly beautiful, too. I found a tribe with whom I felt comfortable being dark and twisty in front of, and they went above and beyond in defining what friendship means, at its core. They wrapped my arms up with steady hands to counteract my shaky ones, they reminded me what was real when my panic wouldn’t let me breathe, and they always indulged my tendency to hug for an extended period of time. They helped me stay afloat when I was too tired to tread water, but still afraid of drowning.
That brings me to another dark place. My second suicide attempt was in November of 2015. I struggled for a long time with actually classifying it as an “attempt”, because to be frank, it was pretty futile. Recently, I’ve decided that it counts simply because my actual state of mind was one focused on not wanting to be alive. It was during the run of my favorite musical I’ve been in, on a Thursday. I knew that I wasn’t doing very well at hiding how panicked I felt. And so I went home and overdosed. I knew that it wasn’t enough to die. I was just scared and everything felt like it was on hyper speed, and I was crawling out of my skin. I just didn’t want to feel that way. I tweeted, and I quote, “I can’t keep myself safe tonight. And I don’t quite know what that means.”
While I was just starting to shiver on my bedroom floor, blood trickling down my arm, someone noticed. My phone lit up with the voice of a friend, who ended up coming to save me from myself. My memories of that night are hazy and scattered, clouded by anxiety, tears, and the pills that were supposed to make me not want to die. But what I remember most is one of my best friends, driving to buy us milkshakes, asking me to just stay awake and keep talking. I remember the look in his eyes when I tried to respond. It did not hit me until right that second that perhaps I did not go alone. It had never occurred to me how truly, truly there were other people who were willing and trying to carry the weight of my world with me. I didn’t recognize that I was scaring other people, hurting other people. I didn’t know that I mattered enough to do that.
Sometime, I stopped shaking. Even later, I stopped crying. And by the grace of pure friendship, pure love, I went to bed a little less broken. I woke up not a zombie, but perhaps a paper doll instead. I found the stage on the next day, and it felt like a welcome back home. I lived.
I am so glad that I lived.
That instance was such a wake-up call for me. I have tried to be a helpful voice for the mental health community, and I have tried to preach honesty in spite of the things that scare me to death. I have tried to repeat over and over what is real and true: People need other people. We were not meant to go alone. We will break in this live, and so it is a privilege to go hand in hand, to hold each other in the hurt and in the healing. It is okay, it is exceptional to ask for help. And someone will help. Someone will. There is still time left, tasks undone, words unsaid. There are mountains to climb and mountains to move. Today is not all there is. These feelings are not all there is.
And by writing these things, I knew that I was “better”. I knew I wasn’t well, but goddamnit, I was better. I wasn’t the smart-but-stupid high schooler cutting her thighs under a table at Buffalo Wild Wings unbeknownst to her friends. I was vocal about my struggles, my relapses, my recovery. I was allowing people in to see the highlight reel and the deleted scenes. I had grown in so many ways.
I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. A check is no good unless you take it to the bank. And I was holding mine tight in clenched fists. I wasn’t spending what I was earning.
In April of 2016, my mom was in a horrific car accident. Someone ran a red light going around 65 mph and t-boned her. Her car spun 7 times, her driver’s seat was shoved at least a foot and a half further inward, and somehow twisted. It took 40 minutes to get her out of the car, and it took even longer to ascertain what was broken. She made out with a broken hip and femur, and multiple breaks in her pelvis and ribs. Her right ankle was completely shattered. Her spleen was lacerated. Her hand was torn apart, because she tried to get out.
But she was alive. She was broken in a million ways. Things were chaotic and horrifying, and we cried so, so much. But she was alive.
The first weekend, my brother and I were encouraged to sit with her and make sure that we knew what her wishes were, should worse come to worst.
After her first surgery, her surgeon told us that he was sure it was only a matter of time before he would be amputating. She would never walk again.
That same night, I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had, on the floor of a hallway in a hospital where I was convinced that people I loved would only come to die.
She moved to a nursing home the day before Mother’s Day. She screamed when anyone tried to move her, and she could not sit up, let alone come to see me in the show I was in rehearsals for. I had no idea how to pay our bills and keep everything afloat. I took up smoking, briefly, and I otherwise begged for the Earth to swallow me whole.
And yet, there were triumphs that, to the outside eye, seemed small and insignificant, but to me and to us, they felt like gold medals. I was there the first time they sat her up on the side of her bed. I was there the first time she stood with the parallel bars in therapy. When I sat singing and crying center stage on my closing night, she was in the audience, in a wheelchair I had pulled enough strings to find a van to transfer. I cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner by myself for the first time and transported it to the nursing home, where we ate on a bedside table, laughing and smiling. She blew out candles in a homemade funfetti cake on her birthday in December, and the significance of celebrating the day she began this life was not lost on me.
There were hard days. The hardware in her ankle fell apart, and warranted more surgery, more time away from home. I worked insane hours, and was essentially forced into giving up my theatre outlet. I contacted suicide hotlines more than once, eventually only staying because my mom needed me. Christmas was small and quiet; I didn’t even put a tree up. There was an infection. Her good roommate passed away. I sliced the most noticeable cut into my arm and no one noticed.
But we still found ourselves at a new year, a chance to hold tight to a blank slate, and I found myself, as I usually do, focused on a set of words that fit my heart. These were given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends, and they sort of set my mind on fire.
“Goals are great, but without action, they’re just ideas.”
I wrote a list for 2017. I decided, point blank, that it would be MY year. And I wanted to make goals that were also plans. I wanted to feel, for once, like I hadn’t failed.
More than anything, I didn’t want to fail myself. So I made a list:
- Make more time for your art.
- Get your mom home.
- Find a new job where you can grow in a place where you feel appreciated.
- Stop letting people who treat you like a doormat back into your heart.
- Stop hurting yourself.
- Let the voices in your head be nice to you.
Happy New Year, indeed. I turned 24 in January and then accepted a management position, where I felt confident, and I knew I was hard-working, bold, creative, accommodating, and professional. However, sometimes, things simply are not a good fit, and I knew pretty quickly that I deserved better. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am thankful for my time, but I will never, ever regret taking the leap and beginning to fill out job applications. While I worked on finding a new opportunity, I also revamped my home in preparation for my mom to come home, 14 months after she left. She moved home at the end of May, walking through the very door she had left on a sunny Saturday. She walked. My hands were cut to shit from moving furniture and making sure things were accessible for her, but to see her sit in her own living room and cry, surrounded by her dogs, was among my favorite things I’ve witnessed in my life. Over the past year, our relationship had gotten so much healthier and stronger, and I am fiercely glad for the good that came out of a terrible situation. With that goal accomplished, I gave myself a little time and a little grace. I accepted a job handwriting wedding invites. I painted canvases for my friends. I worked backstage on a show. Sure, it wasn’t performing, but I found myself immersed in music and stories and the very smell of a stage, and it was everything my soul needed to heal. I stood on my front porch while a boy tried to kiss me goodnight, and I very pointedly counteracted him with a “goodbye”. I have since proved that statement to be final. I am very proud of that.
But what I am most proud of all is that, since mid-December, I have not taken a razor blade to my body. I have contemplated. I have carried a tool in my phone case. I have worn a rubber band to snap. But I have not broken. I found myself thinking about how heart-wrenchingly disappointing the first cut of the year is. It feels like a failure, a sinking back into the gutter. This year, I simply decided that I wouldn’t give my heart that cross to bear. So I didn’t. This is the longest clean streak I’ve maintained since I began self-harming when I was 14. And you know what? This one doesn’t feel like a “streak”. This one feels like freedom.
I guess that brings me to today. I am in my second month at a new job, and I feel like I can breathe again. Everyone is kind and funny and goal-oriented and easy to get along with. I didn’t realize how soul draining my old job was until I finally found a place that feels like light. I still overthink, because it’s who I am, but I think I’m doing okay. I have a million opportunities to be nice to people, and that makes all the difference. I go home to a mom and 2 dogs who love me, and now I have time to see shows and grab froyo with my friends. I laugh more. I draw more. It’s nice to make marks on paper; they’re prettier than the ones I always made on my arms. I hug just as hard as I always did, but I save them for the people who deserve them. And I’m okay. My hair is getting long again and I don’t second guess every move I make and I feel like I can set new goals and make new plans and dream new dreams. There’s the short term ones: stop biting your nails and try to remember to buy birthday cards before the ACTUAL birthday, and there’s the long term ones: finish your bachelor’s degree, buy a car, have a baby, fall in love. Things that I used to think were unattainable for a quiet, sad, broken girl like me became real things that I know I am capable of achieving. I don’t know exactly when the switch flipped, but I stopped being quiet, sad, and broken, and became loud and strong and tough and scrappy, instead. I am a multitude of words and events and wishes and ideas, each one better than the last. I am a future. I am a hope.
I am better.
I am well.
I used to think that “well” was a destination. Once I endured the long, hard journey, I would lay a foundation and build a new home. I would shed my sadness like an old coat, and bask in the glow of happily ever after. However, I don’t think it works that way, and if I’m being honest, I’m glad it doesn’t. Well is when I buy myself flowers because sometimes Thursday becomes a great day to love yourself. Well is remembering to do 4 loads of laundry so the dirty stuff stops cluttering the floor and the brain. Well is still crying in my friends’ passenger seats, but knowing that the hands that hold me do need me and want me, and that someday, I will get to hold them and return the favor. Well is asking a million questions, but still choosing to believe my new coworkers when they proclaim that I’m a quick learner and a sweet spirit. Well is in my mother’s and my renewed relationship, and it is in the ballsiness it took for me to call back for a job interview, and it is in the steady, sure hand that threw the last razor blade away.
So. If you’ve made it this far, let me tie this up as neatly as someone who has always been messy can try to summarize.
Life is hard. To borrow a cliché, none of us make it out alive. But on a day like today, which happens to be World Suicide Prevention Day, I think it is of utmost importance to say that choosing to stay, to fight, to dream, to cry, and to live – is worth it. It is always worth it. People will break your heart, be it friends or boyfriends or girlfriends or family. Situations will shatter your soul, the car accidents and the trauma and the toxic jobs and the deaths and the wondering why. And the thing is, it’s okay. When life gives you lemons, you are not obligated to make lemonade. You can throw up a middle finger, yell at the sky that these lemons suck, and go off and find the oranges or limes. You just have to make the choice to find what works better for you. You have to actively choose hope, choose community, choose help, choose rest, choose your future. Choose what works for you, and know that it might not be the first or second or even fourth thing you try. But do keep trying. Because one day, the sun comes up, and you notice the pinks and yellows, and you take stock of how nice it is to notice. And strangers become friends, and you can’t imagine how you ever lived without them. Your future becomes your present, and if you don’t do what you always wanted to now, then when will you? The risk ends up becoming the best thing that ever happened to you. The deepest wound becomes a scar that you wear like a badge of honor. You made it. You made it. You made it.
Whoever you are, if you need to hear it, you can make it too. Sometimes the healing takes 10 days. Sometimes it takes 10 months. Sometimes it takes 10 years. But it is so, so, blessedly, beautifully, wonderfully worth it.
Here’s to the surprises to come. Here’s to the leap days that didn’t happen. Here’s to the rainy Tuesday afternoons and the excitable opening nights. Here’s to what we lose, and here’s to what we win. Here’s to the hands we hold. Here’s to the stories we tell. Here’s to learning all we can learn, and still knowing nothing, not really. Here’s to learning who we really are. Here’s to choosing to stay. Here’s to finding what we were made for.
And most of all, and more than anything, here is to choosing to get better. Here is to getting, choosing, being, and living well. ❤️
Thank you for sharing these roads with me, in each season, on the dark days and the light ones. This is only the beginning.