If you ask anyone who knew me as a child, I was happy. I was sunny and cheery and loved to play with miniature Polly Pocket’s that I affectionately called “Little Things,” eat popsicles until my entire face was covered in sugar, draw pictures of dolphins and girls in hula skirts, and watch endless episodes of Arthur on TV. There were things I was anxious over: I thought the grass was itchy, blimps were pretty much the scariest things in the entire world, and once I read a story in the Guinness World Record Book about the largest tick bite ever, and—as irrational as it is, I thought ticks were living in my bed for weeks. Despite these fears, I was happy. Genuinely. Truly.
The strange thing about depression is that it distorts everything, like a fun house mirror without any of the fun. My depression started creeping in when I was in 3rd grade, and I started to feel like a charity case that people were keeping around so they’d feel better about themselves. I had friends, but I couldn’t believe they actually liked me—annoying, obnoxious, fat me. “Oh, poor Courtney, so ugly and unwanted. We better invite her to play so she’ll be less pathetic.” Is what I imagined them saying before they asked to hang out at recess or after school. I pictured their moms forcing them to call me for a play date, or to invite me to their birthday parties.
Sounds trivial, right? But it didn’t feel it, and though I’d been happy happy happy until then, I suddenly couldn’t remember a time where I was.
I was thirteen when things got ugly. There wasn’t a breaking point or something that necessarily happened, but like a game of Jenga when you pull out a brick you’re positive won’t knock the tower down and suddenly the entire thing comes tumbling into your lap, I crumbled. I stopped eating. I skipped class to cut myself in the bathroom. I made deals with myself that I could cut when I got home just to make it through the day. The only way I stopped myself from committing suicide was to know that it might trigger my friends to do the same, most of which who were also struggling. I wasn’t living for myself, but I was living, even if I was barely keeping my head above water.
Like Hannah from the Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, I felt that everyone was out to get me. Things that might feel extremely miniscule to someone else felt like my world was ending. A lot of people might watch the show and say “so what that Hannah was voted best ass on a list that got passed around school?” –even I thought that when watching. But at thirteen, it wasn’t so simple. At thirteen, that could’ve ended me, too.
Things piled up; things that seem like nothing. A simple oversight like not getting invited to a sleepover made me that much more sure that everyone hated me and didn’t want me around. I was that girl full of drama, pushing everyone away and making everything about myself. Not because I wanted to be, but because everything truly did feel like it centered around me. There wasn’t anything any person in the world could do that wouldn’t have felt like a direct attempt to hurt me. There were girls who were mean and boys who made fun of me, yes. Things weren’t perfect. But they also weren’t awful in the way I saw them to be.
Two days ago was eight years since I was discharged from my first stay in a psychiatric hospital. Eight years. Isn’t that crazy? Eight years ago I was thirteen and I really, really wanted to kill myself. And even though it took me three hospitalizations, and a ten-month stay in a residential treatment center to figure out how to deal with those feelings, I’m here. Some days are better than others, and depression is something I’ll deal with my entire life, but I’m fucking here. And that? That’s pretty cool.
So I figured I’d write something close to my heart related to 13 Reasons Why. I’ll leave the critiques (and believe me, I have many) to whoever else wants to write them. This is what’s important for me to say regarding the show, and it’s something else no one else can say. Here are 13 reasons why I’m glad I didn’t kill myself when I was 13.
1. At fourteen I went to sailing camp for the first time. For three weeks I lived on a boat in the Caribbean with twelve other kids and we spent our days snorkeling, tubing, learning to sail, and marking invasive species that we saw on the corral reefs. We all slept together on the bow of our boat, cuddled beneath the stars. We bathed in the ocean, told time by the sun, and once, woke up to a double rainbow stretching across the morning sky. For three weeks, life was as beautiful as my skin was burnt.
2. I became best friends with my grandma. One day when neither of my parents were picking up their phones, I called my grandma for a ride home from the beach. She took me to her house and I ended up staying for hours, looking through her old yearbooks and hearing about what life was like for her, back then and now. I learned things that day even my mom didn’t know about her. Now we’ve explored Paris, Amsterdam, and London together, along with every good lunch spot in my small town, and have a tradition of baking a pie together every year before I head off to school again.
3. I’ve gotten to see so much more of the world. Alongside my grandma and I’s adventures, I’ve studied abroad in Florence at the most beautiful school I could ever think of. While there I stumbled into a random wedding in Rome, drank pińa coladas on the beaches of Cinque Terre, had a feast in a medieval castle in Fosdinovo, and got to see the Birth of Venus up close. I discovered that not only is there an entire world to see and explore, but that I can be the one to explore it.
4. I learned to write—like, really write. When I was fourteen I participated in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, and ended up writing a something I was proud of. That novel won a contest judged by David Levithan, author of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and took me all the way to Carnegie Hall. I got a medal that was as big as Flava Flave’s famous clock necklace, danced on stage to Selena Gomez songs, and realized I might actually be good at something after all.
5. I fell in love. A few times, actually. I had a high school sweetheart that taught me the ins and outs of loving. I had a few people show me what I want my relationships to be like, and a few who showed me what I don’t. This year I took a boy home from a bar and when he left I told my mom I found the boy I’m going to marry, and in some dumb, incredible twist of fate, he wants to marry me, too.
6. I learned that I love cooking. Growing up I was a picky eater, and I had a time in my life where I didn’t eat at all, but now there is nothing I love more than coming home from a stressful day and trying out a new recipe. The feeling of arranging the food on my plate, mixing spices and flavors, and knowing that at one point in time, this was never something I would’ve even given a thought to doing, and now it’s my favorite thing.
7. I spent four months living in Napa making art, growing my own food, and learning about beekeeping. I never could’ve anticipated how much I love gardening, or just how much I’d revel in the satisfaction of planting a seed and tending to it all the way until it was bursting with flavor in my mouth.
8. My sister and I became friends. We have a three-year age gap, and when I was young, that was crippling. There’s a big difference in being ten and being thirteen. If I hadn’t kept living, I would’ve never gotten the endless laughs she gives me now, or felt how three years feels like no gap at all as time goes on.
9. I’ve made a few of my small dreams come true, like petting a sloth and going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. I’ve realized that things big and small can bring me immense happiness.
10. I’ve had moments that made me feel like everything in the world was beautiful and in harmony, even if those moments seem little. There have been times where life was the best I could ever imagine it to be buying bagged ice in a Walmart check out line.
11. I’ve made friends that I considered family, who made me feel accepted and unconditionally loved. And I’ve lost friends who I’ve considered family, and I learned that I am stronger than I think and that pain doesn’t last forever and time really does heal all wounds.
12. I’ve read books and poems that changed my life. I’ve read things so beautiful I’ve gotten them tattooed on my body forever. I have a tattoo that says “wild and precious,” which is short for a quote from a Mary Oliver poem that asks, “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And while I don’t know the answer just yet, I intend to spend my life figuring it out.
13. I’ve made it to see days I never thought I’d see—my twenty-first birthday, my seven year anniversary free from self-harm. When at one point you wanted to die and never feel anything ever again, the littlest things can feel like magic. Some days, waking up and eating a bowl of cereal is a fucking gift. Every opportunity to pet a dog or try a new flavored latte or take a nap with the sun shining through my window onto my bed is an opportunity that I could’ve lost. And even though I had a vision that this world would be better off without me, I’ve realized I was wrong.