They crawl out of the woodwork. People with baked goods and checks in the mail. Text messages to remind me I’m loved and phone calls from old friends. I’m surrounded. Held.
I imagine them at my funeral. Lined up listening to a collection of songs someone decided represent me. Watching some cheesy slideshow that covers the various lives I’ve led. Each person in the crowd failing to recognize at least one of them.
But then again maybe not. Maybe the turnout is better when you stick around. Easy to send some money, a message, make a phone call. Harder to take a day off work and a long drive south.
Doesn’t really matter.
At some point in the last week I decided to live. Had to decide to continue forward despite the dull ache of existence. That’s what people ask when you are committed. “Where did this come from? What happened? This seems so sudden.” But it’s a slow chipping. An erosion of everything I think should make me want to keep on living.
No. That’s not it, either. It is not so simple as saying everything hurts all the time and it’s always been this way. That simply isn’t true.
There are joyous moments. When I lay in bed with my partner. When I see my sister and best friend’s bellies swelling with children. When I share a simple phone call with my father. When my mom hugs me. When I make my brother laugh. When the whole family (yes, Chuck, you, too) sits down to dinner. When Vinnie and I take a smoke break. Long walks in the rain. New rap songs on headphones. Old rap songs of crackling car speakers. A new friend teaching me origami. My coworkers all talking about how much we love our job. Board games. Pizza. Rummy. My roommate asking me to a kill a spider for her. Simple things. Little ones. Depression makes it easy to not notice them. Makes it hard to start noticing again.
They’re right when they call is an emptiness. But it’s really like a slow leak. A dribble. And one day you notice you’re all out of fuel again. When that happens you don’t just stop, though. You get out and you start walking to the next station.
I’m not sure where it started. A seed planted by someone when I was a kid took root and wrapped itself around everything I learned to believe. This sense of worthlessness. Of being unlovable. Of “if only I were more/less…” thought patterns. If I could just get mentally healthy. If I could just exercise more. If I could just lose weight. If I could just be less jealous, funnier, easier going, better looking, more feminine. The lists went on. Journals full of it, books covering every aspect of how to “improve” myself. My worth tied to a version of myself that never existed. That never would.
This feeling sabotaged relationships from the inside. Sunk its filthy claws into my life and didn’t let go. Colored everything in its image. The impossibility of ever being a capable, lovable, powerful person seemed more fact than opinion. I did not take anything as evidence to the contrary. My entire existence pointed to the truth that I was not worth loving. That I needed to be better before anyone would do that. Before I could do that.
As I packed for my upcoming move I threw away those books. I tossed those journals. I cleared my cabinets of all the little pieces of memorabilia hinting to the fact that I need to be something I am not. All those bullshit motivational magazines. The fabric tape measurers, the food and bathroom scale, the diet plans and lifting regimens. All those letters I wrote to myself about how once I am properly medicated and go through enough therapy someone will want to stay with me. Promises of tomorrows that will find me worthy of existing. Overwhelming and unachievable goals of someday being someone other than who I am. Of someday being the kind of person this or that person would want to love. Would want to keep. I walked them all outside and dropped them in the trash. Take it to the curb on Friday. Never invite them back in.
The shift happened gradually. The acceptance that I am good. Worthy. That I am not broken or in need of fixing. That I don’t need to do anything, change anything in order to be a person other people want. That I want. I am the person I am and I am deserving of every goodness in my life. Nothing and no one can rob me of that.
It does not matter that I’m not a svelte athlete. That I will never grow my hair out. That I wear make up most days because I like the way I look in it. That I’m queer even though I don’t feel like I’m queer “enough”. That I’ve slept with someone who was married when they weren’t married to me. That I used to drink and use drugs and forget about my friends. That I don’t have a petite frame. That I’m the jealous type. That sometimes I like to blow everything off and watch Netflix for hours. That I’ve lied because I thought someone would like me more for it. That I’ve started and stopped running regularly more times in my life than I can recall and will probably do it more. That I used to be able to deadlift 200 pounds, but now haven’t lifted anything in almost a year. That I’m divorced. That I don’t want a “real” job because I love working in customer service. That I dropped out of college. That I talk and laugh way too loud. That I love having my photo taken even though it makes me feel vain. That sometimes I still cry over relationships that didn’t work out. That I said “I love you” obscenely soon to my current partner. That I love to cook, but not for myself. That sometimes I really just want to listen to Top 40 pop songs. That I don’t like to go hiking. That I pour my soul out to strangers on the Internet, but often don’t know how to talk about my feelings to my friends.
All that matters is that I understand that each piece of me is decent and valuable and worthwhile. That I am a good person, an excellent friend, capable and deserving of love regardless of all the reasons I think I am not. And even on the days I have trouble believing it, I have to still know it. To listen only to the part of me that looks at myself like my partner does. Like there is nothing about me that needs changing. That each piece is loved and understood and accepted. A scarred and worn package containing an impenetrable goodness that does not have to be earned or fought for or proven. That exists simply because I do. Because my heart still beats and my breath still pumps in my chest. Just like yours.
I’ve been pushing out blog posts like splinters. Only when necessary. Other than that, I’ve just been editing and pretending I’m not a writer at all.
My book release opened up a big can of imposter syndrome on me. Now I feel like everything I write is bullshit. Like the whole thing is bullshit and I’m fooling everyone into thinking I’m a writer. It feels slimy, deceitful. It feels like the whole book is a trick. Maybe that’s just because I’m scared of it. Scared of it failing. Scared of it not doing anything at all.
But I did it anyway. I’m terrified of it and I did it anyway. That counts for something. That counts for a hell of a lot, actually. So there’s that. I can look myself in the mirror and say that even though I was afraid, I did it. And I don’t do that much. Even though I wanted to take it all back, I didn’t. And I don’t do that much, either, but now I do.
This is a new skill in my arsenal. I do things that make me want to dig my heels in and shake my head. To be that person feels like summiting a mountain. Because that’s where all the good stuff is, isn’t it? All the little juicy bits in life hide behind the big dogs, the darkened closet doors, the high heights. So maybe it’s okay to be scared. Maybe it’s okay to be a little catatonic when I think about all the things going on in my life. Maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe that’s where the goodness lies.
If that’s true, then everything is going just fine. And that’s a thought I hadn’t considered yet. That maybe there is something beautiful in hiding under the blankets. Maybe it’s not always a sign that we’re broken. That we’re hurting. But that we’re pushing. Growing pains.
I remember them from when I was a kid. Legs that felt like they were ripping themselves apart. And there was nothing to do about it. I just had to wait it out. Had to get excited that it meant I would be bigger one day. And that’s what this is, too. We can get excited that we’re growing, that we’re changing. We can hurt. We can feel it. But that doesn’t mean that anything bad is happening. That doesn’t mean that we are regressing. All it means is that it hurts. But it won’t forever. I promise. Shhh.