I didn’t know it could feel like this. I don’t know how I hoped it would be, either. A lot of water has flown since then – oceans, in some cases, separate me from it and now – and yet, the feelings are with me to this day. Even as I type the words, I’m wondering at the merit of it. What good could it possibly do, talking about this now? I can think of several people who will roll their eyes at reading – She’s STILL not over it? Idiot! – and I can also think of several people who will be actively hurt by what I’ll say.
Still. I write.
I’m told that it’s a good day, a happy occasion. I appreciate it now for what it was: a family gathering from all over the country – a small miracle, after so many years of restricted travel, of withheld visa applications, of children being stopped from overseas holidays for fear that their parents would never return. It was a great thing, but the younger me wanted nothing of it. There’s too many strangers, too many people whose faces I don’t recognize; people who seem friendly, but who make me afraid. I hide for as long as I can, pretending to sleep (I never slept during the day), and when I can’t hide any longer, I keep my head down, eyes trained on people’s shoes as I’m told to “smile, say hi!”
Sullen. Spoiled. Rude.
I’m embarrassing my parents when I don’t accept people’s hugs. I kick helplessly when I don’t want to be lifted high off the ground by my uncles, and they think it’s hilarious. I hate every minute of it. I wish I could disappear.
Kids get away with a lot of stupid shit, and I was no exception. I was rowdy, I was loud, I fought and bit people. I would have been called feral had I not also been able to flip on the charm in an instant. The times when I was messy and emotional weren’t the problem, though. It was when I got quiet that the bad stuff happened.
Birthday parties were a strange thing. I knew they were enjoyable – I looked forward to presents and cake and games and being the center of attention. People, I did not like so much. I knew they were necessary for one to actually have a party, but once the novelty wore off (ALL MY FRIENDS ARE IN ONE PLACE!) the dread and irritation set in (all my friends are in one place!!!) I lasted for as long as I could, before hiding in a room. Eventually, a couple of others joined me for a quieter talk (or to make me look less anti-social, I don’t know) but even as I laughed and enjoyed myself, I kept counting down the seconds before they left. I’d been looking forward to my birthday all summer, but now that it was there, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I wish I could’ve disappeared.
Nobody talked about mental health when I was growing up. Psychiatric hospitals were strange places where you went to visit your relatives – you know, the ones who always seemed slightly off to you, the ones who your parents told you to show affection for even though they didn’t respect them in the least. Depression was what great artists had, and everyone who didn’t have the saving grace of genius was a loser and a flake.
Maybe if I had known, I would have felt better. Certainly, I would not have been pushing myself so hard to fit in.
The birthdays and New Year’s do’s, where I would nurse one drink for four hours and pretend to be drunker and louder than I actually was. The gatherings where I would try and be sociable, and nearly drown in my own awkwardness. The house parties where I would hide in the corner, out of everyone’s way, too shy to participate, too angry with myself for coming. The nights out where I would give up and drink myself until I started crying from frustration and loneliness.
I didn’t know. And whenever I got closer to realizing it, I made sure to forget it nice and quick.
Breaking point did not happen all at once. Tiny shocks occurred – tremors that barely registered at the time, but looking back, they were all part of a pattern.
There was the night out in a foreign city, where I was worn down from trying to follow my friends, terrified of making the trek back home alone, drunk (far drunker than anything I had been until this point), frustrated, and lonely. I started crying in the middle of the street – in the middle of a crowd – loudly and embarrassingly. I didn’t have the words – literally – for what I felt, and so my body took over.
A nice stranger tried to see if I was okay. I told him to fuck off.
I wished the ground would swallow me whole.
The next big one, I’ve overdone it in the pub. I’m scared to go home alone. I ask someone I have a crush on whether he can give me a ride home. On the way there, I babble like a fool, trying to tell him that I like him without actually telling him that I like him (you know, like a toddler) and telling him that if he’s interested, he should text me when I’m sober.
I’m wondering the next day why he hasn’t called yet.
Fast forward. Another party. Another crush. The loneliness is choking me. All around me, people talk, drink, and laugh. Nobody seems to realize I’m crying into my knees, not even the (very nice) person who tries to see if I’m okay.
I’m a mess. I think people are used to me being a mess, though.
Unlike before, I recover enough so that when I look up, I don’t seem like the Raccoon Queen, pick up my drink, and keep going. I was going to bow out early. That doesn’t happen this time. My crush seems receptive this time. I want to see what happens.
I hadn’t had many kisses before that night. Random pecks on the lips, things done on a dare or out of boredom; gestures, really, rather than an expression of affection. I got plenty of kisses that night. I also got told that, while he was flattered, he was also very taken.
There was a brief moment when I went “oh!” and my stomach sank. I knew it was too good to be true. I knew something had to go wrong. I didn’t cry again – I’d been up since 5 that day, I’d been under tremendous stress since the morning, I had no energy left to spend – so I let the part of me that was all bravado take over until I was back home, all while thinking: God, please kill me now.
For too long, I thought the only way for me to be normal was to push boundaries past their breaking point. That if I didn’t enjoy myself now, it was because I was selfish, I was spoiled, because something was wrong with me, because I like to wallow in self-pity than go out and be social. I thought the only options I had was to go out and be wild, or stay in and be alone. I didn’t know there was a middle ground, and I wasn’t assertive enough to make a middle ground for myself.
I had to push myself to be someone I’m not before I could find the courage to not apologize for who I am. In the end, the shame of it all – the bitter, horrible feeling of not living into my own values – was what pushed me forward.
And I hope, in time, I’ll be able to forgive myself for being that person, too.