“Who is your best friend?” The question leered at me from the bottom of the worksheet.
It was the first day of eighth grade, and we were filling out one of those super awkward “get to know you” sheets that teachers seem to delight in passing around. This particular teacher, however, seemed to want to torture us beyond just asking about our favorite color or pizza topping by including this particular question at the very bottom of a crowded page.
“Who is your best friend?” The question demanded again. It wasn’t relenting.
I paused. What about Aimee and Ashley? Well, I hadn’t seen them for about three years, so they probably didn’t count. What about that kid who sat with me in the back of English class last year, what was his name again? No, no, he didn’t work either. I don’t remember what I ended up writing in the little box, but I remember how it made me feel.
The truth, if it isn’t already abundantly clear, is that I didn’t have any friends. I had my books, my computer games, and myself. And that had been fine—until that precise moment.
Up until that point, my wingman had been my collection of Harry Potter books, and my best friend was RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. But something inside me had stirred, and I felt…loneliness?
So I decided to try to make friends.
I tried really hard. I worked to earn friendship through funny jokes and rebellious acts (sorry teachers!). I was even willing to buy it, giving out sticks of gum to any popular kid who asked. But as the year dragged on, I still hadn’t managed to find myself a squad.
Then one day in my English class our teacher gave us a creative writing prompt. She gave us a sentence, and we were to write a story off of that one sentence. I found myself writing literal pages in that brief fifteen-minute span. When I read my story outline, the class roared with laughter. For the first time in a long time I left school with a grin on my face.
I wish I could say that middle school and the years immediately after were a lot easier, but I can’t. While I managed to find a few friends in high school — some damn good ones at that — I still struggled with depression and social anxiety; so I clung to my writing.
I wrote when my friends went on group dates, and I had no one to take.
I wrote when I failed a test.
I wrote when I wasn’t invited to award ceremonies celebrating students’ success.
I wrote when I caught myself staring a little bit too long at a cute boy.
I wrote because I didn’t want to die.
I wrote long stories about socially awkward kids who struggled with their sexuality and depression. These stories always had happy endings where the boy overcomes his anxieties, conquers some huge bully, and absolutely, positively, does not end up gay.
Excerpt from one of my many partial manuscripts
But sometimes reality doesn’t mirror fiction.
As high school came to a close, I began to prepare to watch my friends go off their separate ways to different colleges and universities. I was forever trapped in an admissions limbo, having only applied to one school—a reach, with requirements far above my abilities.
Later that summer, only weeks before my friends left for Fall semester, I received word from the school of my dreams: I was accepted, but not until the next terms.
With most of my friends gone, I loitered around my suburban town of chain restaurants and John Boehner lawn signs without a sense of purpose. I would walk through a local park, into the woods, just deep enough so that I could be sure nobody would see me crying. My only recourse, my only distraction, was to keep writing.
Journal entry from March, 2012
And I did. Every Time a wave of depression almost toppled me, I wrote. Every time I thought of self-harm, or suicide, or running away forever — I wrote.
When I did finally go off to college, I was forced to confront who I was. I could no longer write stories about a young Caucasian man discovering himself and growing taller, attaining chiseled abs, and realizing he was heterosexual.
Slowly, I began to come to terms with my demons. I came out to my close friends, and I began to accept my imperfections and appreciate my uniqueness. Through it all, I wrote. My old journal entries and fictional projections transitioned into essays in which I mulled the effects of mental illness and sexual orientation.
While I’m not sure I would ever want to go back to this period of my life, what I know for sure is that the struggles I encountered introduced me to my life’s passion: writing.
I think it is through the hardest moments that we push ourselves. We have to use every ounce of resourcefulness to overcome the hurdles we face, and by doing so, we discover what our true talents and passions are.
When you feel like everything is going wrong, look for the one thing that is going right. When you feel like giving up, find the last thing that keeps you excited. When you feel lost, locate that one thing that makes you feel — even just a little bit — at home.
Today I write not just for my own mental health, but because it is my job. After graduating this May, I’ll spend 40 hours a week writing material that was once confined to scattered Word documents or my tattered journals. I say this not to brag, but to assure you; if a hot mess like me can make it — so can you — and maybe, through it all, you’ll discover something about yourself too!