Getting older is weird – in the moment, it feels exactly the same as it did last year, and the years before… but really, everything has and will continue to change. It’s hard to believe that, at one point in my life, I didn’t see myself being around this long… there is a part of me that wants to sit my younger self down and tell her how many obstacles she will overcome, and explain that failure doesn’t diminish her self worth. She will hit a rockier bottom than she has ever experienced before, she will lose herself in a city that doesn’t stop, skipping meals for coffee because it’s less expensive. She will hurt the person closest to her and then beat herself mercilessly over it. She will cry, wish she hadn’t left home and fade into the dark backdrop of depression. But, five years later, she will have built a solid foundation for a successful life, she will have a job that she loves, a home full of cats and a partner that has stuck through it all. She will have access to opportunities and choices that she would’ve never, previously, thought possible… and all of this will start from the, seemingly, unending darkness that enveloped her. And it will envelope her, as mental illness does, more than once
I remember my middle school self, having to read an essay about my self harm experiences in front of the entire eighth grade class. I was sat in a plush arm chair in the school theatre, hot stage lights bouncing off my face – my hands shook as the words left my mouth, and then the speakers above me… I don’t think I’ve heard a silence quite like the one that followed, since. The best way to describe it comes in the form of a quote from one of my favourite authors:
“It was the patient, cut flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.” ¹
In that moment, it felt like me and everyone around me was just waiting for it, waiting for the day that I didn’t show up to class, waiting for me to die. I accept that this perception probably existed only in my own mind, but at the time it felt so real.
Maybe you are asking yourself what relevance this has to anything? I spent a lot of my life, after that moment, fearing this silence. Fearing, being honest about myself and my mind, might be met with a quiet so thick it could smother me. I imagine, laying on my bed after reading my deepest secrets to an auditorium full of students and teachers, and promising to never speak about it again.
It took me 13 years, to be candid about my experiences, to see a therapist, to accept and validate myself… and I don’t think the teenage me would believe that today, at 26, she would be writing and openly speaking to people about mental health. That for every person who empathizes, there are multiple who want to learn, to understand; That, while silence is scary, it is sometimes necessary; That she would become an advocate for herself for the first time… and for that, I think she would be proud.
¹ – Quote from The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss