***A Note to the Reader: Be aware that this post depicts the author’s personal experience of living with mental illness. Please proceed at your own discretion, and have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you.
All I have to do is start. I have to keep telling myself that. Because this writing thing isn’t easy. At. All.
But I have to start somewhere. That’s the only way I can progress. I may not have a clue as to where I’m going, but I’ll end up somewhere, I suppose. Wherever this entry takes me, I hope it’s at least half-decent.
I want to write well. I may not be the-next-great-American-novel quality of a writer like Kerouac or Hemingway, but I want to at least produce material that’s worth reading. I want to write something that makes readers think, something that makes them feel. Something that moves them. Granted, I know I have plenty of stories in my arsenal, but I’m unsure if I want to share them or not. It’s probably better to make something up, something completely new and fresh. Something that forces me to tap into my imagination.
Only problem is . . . how do I even approach something like that?
Well . . . okay, scratch that last. I have an idea as to how to begin creating a piece. I possess the tools to make it happen. I just haven’t attempted such a task in a while.
I need to find my voice again. That’s really it. Every writer has a unique voice. Nobody tells a story the exact same way. We all put a different twist on things. That’s how we make our stories our own. I just need to rediscover mine, that’s all. It takes work, and it takes practice. I very much aware of that. But I’m sure, sooner or later, it’ll come back to me.
That’s probably when I’ll consider myself an actual writer again.
I know I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my work. I think a lot of artists are. Nothing I put down on paper is ever good enough to publish, let alone submit anywhere. There’s always something to fix, something to add or omit, something to critique. It’s beyond frustrating, to say the least.
I struggle with letting things go sometimes, with believing my work is acceptable. That’s the hardest part, because I want everything to be perfect before I call a piece finished. It’s a personal flaw I’ve dealt with for years . . . ever since I was a kid, probably. I don’t really remember when that mentality weaved its way into my brain and infiltrated my mind, but I felt like I was constantly balancing on a tightrope strung up a thousand feet in the air. One misstep and I was screwed. One slip-up and I was a failure. That’s what frightened me the most.
So I took the utmost care to not screw up. Dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s. Stayed between the lines. I tried my best to not disappoint and remain blemish-free.
But eventually, it got harder and harder to keep up such an image. To be The Flawless One. That perfectionist mentality became my worst enemy, a voice constantly whispering that I wasn’t good enough, and that I would never be good enough. Ever. Sooner or later, I would fail.
And then it got ugly.
It was February 2011 during my junior year of high school when I began feeling either filled with rage or incredibly depressed. It seemed there was no middle ground. I hardly smiled. I skipped class, which I had never done before in my life. I never talked with anybody about how I truly felt, either, believing that to admit the truth would be to show weakness. I wasn’t weak. I couldn’t be weak. I considered it a flaw. And I would not be a flawed human being.
I won’t lie, the chemical imbalance in my brain broke me soon enough. Maybe I appeared put together on the outside, but inside, I was screaming. I hated how I felt, which in turn led to some extreme self-loathing. I hated my body. I hated myself. I cried all the time, obsessed over my body weight, drastically cut my calorie intake – I never allowed myself to consume any more than 1,000 a day. Which, at the time, ended up to be incredibly poor decision making. I was far too active in extracurriculars at school to limit myself to that degree. But I figured the less I weighed, the better I would feel about myself. It made complete sense to me back then.
The spring of 2011 was pretty much when I hit rock-bottom. The pressure to perform cloaked me like a weighted blanket until I found myself in a hole I couldn’t climb out of. At least not on my own.
Every time I looked in the mirror, a girl with hollow lifeless eyes and a deep-set frown stared back at me. A distorted reflection, I guess you could say – I was too heavy, unattractive, unworthy of love. I was in pain. I was worthless. The list could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea here.
Of course, over time I came to realize I wasn’t any of those things, but I didn’t know it back then. The malicious voice in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t see myself as an acceptable human being. All I saw was The Imperfect One. And it hurt. It hurt real bad.
So in order to cope, I cut my wrists open in the shower. I hid the scars. I forced each and every smile on my face. Because even though I was being internally ripped apart, my exterior couldn’t crack. I couldn’t let that happen. I’d be branded as fragile, overly sensitive, delicate. Weak.
I vowed I wouldn’t let that happen. Ever.
I ran like crazy that spring, at least three miles a day after school, convincing myself I was “staying in shape” for upcoming summer leagues in both volleyball and basketball. It helped somewhat when I wanted to escape the pressure building up inside of me, but the relief only lasted temporarily. Mostly, I just wanted to see the number on the scale drop.
With the over-exercising and my crash dieting, I shed the weight. And I rejoiced. And I didn’t want to stop.
So I ran harder. Farther. Longer.
I ran until I nearly ran myself to death.
To put it simply, I came back from a run one afternoon in the middle of May, strode through the garage and up the steps, walked through the back door of the house. Even though I felt a little dizzy, I figured it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I just needed to sit down for a bit.
Then the tile floor in the kitchen turned to the dining room’s stained oak floorboards, and without warning, I completely blacked out.
Yes, my parents were home, and of course, when I told them I was “totally fine”, that I “just needed to sit for a little while”, they weren’t convinced. That was the day they discovered the scars on my wrists, and soon after, I was off to therapy.
I was seventeen then.
I met with my therapist through the summer and took the tools she had given me into my senior year of high school. That fall, for the first time in months, I felt – dare I say it? – happy. I finally felt emotionally stable. I never felt the need to fake a smile. It seemed like everything was going to be okay.
Freshman year of college in Chicago seemed to go the same way. The change of scene refreshed me. I stayed on top of my work. I met some pretty cool people. Everything was good.
Little did I know, however, the pressure and the stress and the emotional instability had never truly disappeared. They lay dormant, waiting, and late in the fall of 2013, they awoke with a vengeance and, once again, swallowed me whole.
Flash forward a year to 2014, when I met my psychiatrist for our first appointment. The chemical imbalance in my brain had a name: bipolar disorder.
I had never thought of taking medication to help stabilize the mood swings, but now, 3+ years and three prescriptions later, I can’t see myself living without the stuff. I wouldn’t be able to function, to live my life the way I want to. Because I will be living with this mental illness for the rest of my life. I can’t curl up into a ball underneath my blankets and sleep a week of my life away. I need to be present to support my friends and my colleagues and my partner. I need to be able to go to work, to do my job, to essentially take care of myself and others. There isn’t any other way around it.
I suppose you could call this ending an uplifting one. Because I feel good. I feel stable. I feel in control. I don’t know; as far as I’m concerned, the past is the past. I surely won’t forget about it, but I can’t dwell on what happened. I can’t change anything that I experienced, and I don’t want to, anyway. I wouldn’t be who I am today if those events had played out differently. There’s only the here and now, my present circumstances, and the future to look forward to.