If I can make it out of bed in the morning, I try to avoid the mirror as much as possible. I can’t stand to see myself reflected back at me. I hate reflections. They are a physical manifestation of everything that is wrong with me–the guilt, the shame, the loneliness, the sadness. Reflections in mirrors taunt me more than anything else. So I hate them. Or rather I hate that I can’t even face what I see staring back at me.
My biggest problem is that I can’t admit any of these demons to myself, so I let my greatest vices hide themselves in plain sight, right in front of me. Avoiding them is exhausting, and no matter how hard I try, I always catch glimpses. So I watch myself deteriorate right before my eyes.
It’s scary to watch yourself fall apart. Your eyes usually give it away–the sad, dead eyes, red at the rims, drooping from the weight of the bruised bags underneath. Your skin cracks in craters along the fissures of your bones, sagging against your narrowing frame. It waxes and wanes to accommodate your likewise waxing and waning diet. You gasp for breath with every word because your chest is too tight. Your muscles clench so you can’t even stand straight. But you still have to hold it together long enough to make it through your front door at the end of the day. Because no one has to know except for you.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned over time is that when people ask you how you’re doing, they don’t actually expect you to tell them exactly how you’re doing. The customary, tried-and-true response is to just nod, smile if you’re feeling up for it, and say you’re doing fine. “Okay” will suffice. “Good” is even better. That usually staunches the flow of obligated questions about why you’re just okay. People don’t actually care to hear you out if they have other things going on in their lives. Oftentimes, they already do. So you’re just a passing wave in their day. Why should they stop and acknowledge you?
When you make it through the front door, you usually want to collapse in your bed from exhaustion. But never forget that godforsaken mirror haunting you in the corner, cataloging how the day has worn you down. You were wearing mascara this morning, but you’re not anymore. Your shirt was too short for work. You have a new pimple popping up on your chin. Small things really, but these small physical reminders trigger an avalanche of other things that have derailed your day.
You forgot to text Mom back and now she’s mad. You made a fool out of yourself in front of the boy you like. You bear the brunt of managing three jobs and you’re paralyzed and not doing enough about each of them. You don’t have regular access to healthcare and so your medication is no longer working. You’re failing class because you haven’t gone to class–which is YOUR fault–but class makes your claustrophobia worse. You haven’t worked on your research project in months and your promises are just empty. You have such grand dreams and ideas but does your word mean anything now?
When it feels like everything in your life has crumbled to pieces. When it feels like that reflection in the mirror is laughing at you even when you’re crying. When it feels like it’d be easier to let it go, sometimes you come to drastic conclusions, because they are the only viable solutions that will solve everything immediately.
I’d toyed with these drastic conditions from time to time. I’ve walked out to the edge of the Gliderport cliffs and peered over into the depths of the ocean beneath me. I’d begun drafting goodbye letters. I’ve stared death in the face and dared it to take me because I thought I’d always move past, but I never did.
A little over a year ago, I tried to take my own life.I used to think that committing suicide was something cowardly, almost like an easy way out. I thought that when someone did it, they were letting down everyone else around them. I didn’t want to be that person. The one who would have to carry the weight of the sorrows of her loved ones and her friends even after she had ceased to exist. But the week I turned 20, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The person I loved told me he loved someone else from his past. I was having at least three panic attacks a day. There was a pool of melancholy spreading within me, and I figured that was a sign.
Right after I turned 20, I went to Yorba Linda. That weekend, my temple held a special rite of passage for those that had come “of age.” I remember that I stayed in a motel room with other friends of the temple. I remember my heart breaking inside of me as I waited for him to call me back. I remember going for a walk at 5 am because I couldn’t sleep.
I remember a lot of things about that night, but I could never forget what happened in the middle of the road. I was wandering in the center of the street, watching the cars flying along in the freeway on the other side of the barbed wire fence. I saw these cars and wondered what would happen if one of them hit me. I knew they couldn’t because they were trapped by the fence, but I kept walking anyway. Waiting, biding my time for one to come along.
From a distance I saw a singular pair of headlights approaching me at great speed. I walked toward it slowly, veering off the centerpoint of the road into a direct collision course with the car. I had made no immediate plans, I had written no letters, but I knew that I was ready. I wasn’t scared. I just wanted the car to hit me so I wouldn’t have to be here and hurt anymore.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the impact, but it never came. The car swung a U-turn and cruised next to me. The driver rolled down his window and said, “Hey, I saw you walking out here in the middle of the night. I just wanted to drop by and see if you were doing okay?”
Through my tears, I choked out the customary words, “I’m okay, thank you for checking.”
He nodded and sped off in the opposite direction. I sought out the nearest curb and sat down. I didn’t know what to do. I had wanted this car to hit me and end my life. He hadn’t, and instead asked me how I was doing.
Looking back now, I realize that trying to walk in front of a moving car is the worst idea imaginable. There’s no guarantee and from firsthand experience, it is hardly reliable.
There’s a certain amount of guilt and disappointment that comes from a failed attempt at taking your own life. For the rest of the night, I wrestled with the consequences of the next day and onward. How do you walk back into your motel room at 6 in the morning and explain to the peope in it that you had tried to kill yourself just mere hours before? You can’t. You can only nod, smile through your dry and puffy eyes, and say that you’re okay. Then you just move on from it because it wasn’t meant to be.
Just as impossible as it is to hide from your own reflection, it is very difficult to fully heal from a suicide attempt. The burden is heavy to bear, and heavier still is your heart from the weight of knowing that you now had to find something, cling onto anything, to give you a reason to wake up each morning. Living for others is not easy, but it’s the only option when you never learned how to live for yourself.
But then I think about that man in the car who probably didn’t even know he was saving a life. The man who drove out of his way to see if I was okay, who chose to be there when he didn’t have to be. He gave me something that night.That man gave me a chance.
So I decided that I probably should too. I tried to move on with my head high.
The last year has been really hard, and I struggled to stay afloat most days. I felt powerless in the face of my depression and there were definitely times when fate was unkind to me. I fell down a lot, stumbled through my front door most nights, barely made it out of the apartment most mornings. I didn’t want to give up on myself again, but I wanted my life to appear seamless. I wanted to trick people into believing that I knew what I was doing. And I let the demons hiding in plain sight eat me alive.
Sometimes, my heart is so heavy that it physically aches inside my chest. I learned over time that if I drank enough, that pain would dissipate slowly until I just forgot about it. I’d grow numb and that’s just what I wanted. To stop feeling and thinking about feeling and the panic that followed. It was a costly habit but I afforded it because I wanted to ignore the growing sadness inside me. It helped me talk, pretend I was someone else for just a short amount of time. The spirits of addiction have crippled my family before and now they’d moved on to me. I hated that I nursed my growing dependency because it helped me sleep at night.
The orange tip of the joint burns brightest when it first catches the flame. My mind wanders and dances with excitement to explore. Self-medication doesn’t have to be prescribed and it works just well enough to keep me from going insane. I dodged between both, towing a fine line to barely keep them from consuming my life. It’s shameful to admit that I had to stand on crutches to hold myself straight up.
Other days, reality dulled around me and I’d look from the outside in. I dissociated between the reality I wanted and the reality I lived in. My body would slacken and I could feel my heart lose its rhythm. My head would pound against my skull and I’d get scared. I watched myself carve my skin open to release the anxiety in my bloodstream. Angry burn lines, ugly scars. Notched for everyone to see, never for me to forget.
I slept on the couch for three weeks because my back would ache too much on my bed. I would function for less than six hours a day before needing to lie down. I lost weight because I stopped eating and climbing. I opted to sit in the car for an hour, staring straight ahead into the empty parking garage, because I couldn’t gather enough energy to take the elevator back up to my apartment.
Was I any better off as the year went on? Did I give myself this chance for nothing? I felt like I was failing myself. So I continued to drown in a bloody waltz between liquid and smoke.
I watched myself wither in the mirror before my eyes. It wasn’t the drinking or the smoking or the cutting or the depression or the anxiety or my family or school or work or anything that had caused me to spiral up until this point that broke me. It was my own reflection, struggling to stand from the weight of her flaws, not struggling but fighting to stand, that broke me.
There’s a certain amount of guilt and disappointment that comes when you realize that you aren’t in a better place than when you tried to walk in front of a car. That no matter how hard you try to heal, you are almost always doomed to fall anyway. Depressive episodes will always come more depressive episodes and panic attacks don’t just go away. You don’t even have to try to kill yourself again. The substances are already doing it for you.
It took crash landing to rock bottom for understanding to hit me. Before I could even heal, I had to choose to live. For me to really give myself a chance, I had to stare in the mirror, dead into the eyes of my demons, and confront myself. For the first time as long as I could remember, I wanted to want to live. That had to be a start, right?
As time cycles again and again, I have come to see that it’s the in-betweens that we tend to overlook. The one odd day of December that’s sunny and warm or the miracle storm that comes in the middle of the drought. That one day you don’t wake up anxious to start the morning, those nights you fall asleep right away and no nightmares haunt you. They are so easy to forget when so many bad days follow.
And thus there lies power in choice. I had to choose to remember the in-betweens even when it hurt too much to. Short-term memory loss is a side effect of depression in the sense that we almost always forget how we pull ourselves out of a slump. Every time we fall back into an episode, we don’t remember how we got out of the last one. But I had to try for the sake of myself because I wanted so desperately to feel alive.
I figured out with time that I had to give myself the space to heal instead of just trying to move on. I needed to soak up the memories of that night and accept that the what ifs could not paralyze me. I had to let the growing pains sink through my skin, peel back layer after layer of scarred tissue underneath. I had to face all the choices I made everyday and take ownership of them. I had to own my narrative. All of this was much easier said than done.
Everyday, I choose whether or not to get out of bed in the morning. Some mornings it is easy. Others it is not but I still make it out of bed. But the hardest are the days I am not strong enough to sit up and walk. I have to constantly remind myself that those days are not less significant or more shameful than any other. Everyday is an active choice whether I wake up, stay in bed, cry, sing in the shower, or go to class. Every decision makes up every minute of my 24-hour day. And every day, because I make these decisions, I choose to live.
Growing pains come in waves, cycling back to shore once they’ve come full circle. The car didn’t hit me that night but I still had to come back to life. Before we learn how to stand on two legs, we crawl on the ground. I spent most of the past year tripping through a haze and crawling on all fours. I had been programmed to stand without support but I never learned how to ask for help. Monsters disguise themselves in different ways as we get older but they remain monsters all the same. I wanted to coexist with my demons instead of hiding or getting rid of them. So I sobered up for a month and I survived. Dependency didn’t have to control my life; I learned how to control my consumption and started from scratch. The world bloomed before me. I began to enjoy the in-betweens, the day-to-day, without needing to reach for the bottle. I didn’t have to stagger through each day with my vision clouded because I wanted to stop relying on my demons to cope.
I cast my crutches aside and chose to rise.
I set boundaries with my monsters, and they stay in their allotted corner of my life. I began to share my story and write. I made peace at home. I was making progress because I was slowly accepting my own choices instead of faulting myself for them. I was learning and growing into my skin. I had spent all this time thinking I was living my life for others. But I was seeing that every time I came out of an episode, I was choosing to give myself another chance. I was constantly choosing to live for myself. And so the year wrapped up and I was slowly beginning to heal.
It’s funny that every time you start to stand, you so easily forget how you did it when you fall back into the vicious cycle again.
Growing pains come in waves, cycling back to shore once they’ve come full circle. Here I am, a little over a full year later, right back where I started. I’ve seemingly crash landed back to rock bottom again. My chest is tight and it is so hard to breathe. I am prescriptionless, unable to pay for therapy and cowering in the mirror. The boundaries between the delicate balances I had built are starting to blur. I am sinking from the weight of responsibility on my shoulders, and the pool of sadness inside me is threatening to suffocate me. I am stuck in a corner, surrounded on all sides, voices inside and around me pecking at my bones with sharp, judgmental beaks. I’m fading, and I’m scared it’s happening again.
But this time around, I have the in-betweens, reflected back at me from glimpses in the mirror, brief memories to remind me. I remember how rock bottom felt like. I remember how much it hurt to see myself physically deteriorate. I remember how much it broke me inside just waking up in the morning in my own skin, terrorized by my own thoughts. I remember so vividly because I never want to forget how any of it made me feel. I remember because these lessons made me stronger. I remember because I promised to give myself a chance and I at least deserve to stand.
So I try even harder to remember the in-betweens. I remember sharing a meal at home with friends that love me. I remember falling in love with someone unexpectedly and finding safe places from my stormy mind. I remember sitting on the couch with my family watching a movie together. I remember reconnecting with old friends and staying in touch. I remember smiling with no makeup on and sitting at the beach watching the sunset. I remember shuffling into the perfect song for the moment and skies dimpled with stars.
I can remember. But it’s another thing to let myself believe that the in-betweens will come again when I’m trapped within my mind prison. The worst part about rock bottom is that it’s only in black and white. Sometimes you spiral so hard you end up relapsing. Old habits refuse to be buried and they surface when they think they can prey on your insecurities. Usually they creep in after dark so you can’t see where they’re hiding. Forgiveness is part of healing, and I accept that I will tumble back into vicious patterns from time to time. Instead of berating myself and rolling deeper into self-toxicity, I give myself grace.
Just as Earth is powered by cycles, our lives rotate through thousands of cycles. Some cycles overlap. Some branch out and connect with other cycles. Some take decades longer to complete than others. But no matter what cycles we find ourselves in, our perspectives grow to encompass newer and better tools we can use to handle coming cycles. We become more equipped to weather recurring cycles, because growing pains come in waves. They simply cycle back to shore once they’ve come full circle. Larger cycles, same monsters. The more cycles, the stronger we are. Hardier. Kinder to ourselves and others. More resilient.
Color has existed even before we understood the concept of time. Humans took a while to put words and thoughts to color, but color has always been there. Mental illness cycles through the color spectrum. Objects don’t change shape but they are painted different colors throughout every cycle. The colors I see shift in kaleidoscope ways, winking and morphing to accommodate seasons of tears and laughter. I see the world in front of me in ever-changing colors. I swear the trees outside are greener when I wake up in the middle of the in-betweens. The birds sing a little merrier and the ocean sparkles silver white when I’m in a good mood. I can point out the orange speckles of gold that dapple the sunset sky and inhale the blue outlining the clouds.
Other days, the world is ugly and grey. The light falls flat and the air is heavy with melancholy. Even though there are shades of color even in the darkness, faint traces to distinguish through the greyscale, it’s just not enough to let you choose to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, the growing toolbox of better coping mechanisms isn’t enough to stop the relapse. Sometimes, all you can do is wait for the world to be beautiful again.
Healing is a cycle that never ends. I have lived through thousands of depressive episodes, panic attacks, shattering losses, and paralyzing heartbreaks. But small victories keep me grounded in the daily. I’m taking each day at a time, because making it through morning, day, and night is a triumph in and of itself.
All of these days, these experiences, these choices tell my story. My stories are etched into my very skin. When people point at my arms or stare too long, my heart still breaks a little inside. When people ask questions, I feel exposed and naked. But I let them decide why my arms look the way they do. They choose that narrative to believe and I can’t change their minds once they’ve latched onto their preconceptions. So they can gawk and point and assume. I owe it to myself to not hide my own stories, and I already know what my narrative is. They have theirs. I finally can say that I choose my own.
Mirror on the wall, I see myself a little clearer now. Mostly because I choose not to look away. I still have a hard time looking you straight in the eye but I’m hoping I’ll get there with time. I know I’m cut-up and bruised. I know scars don’t fade. I know you’ve cycled through my journeys with me, even if I tried to hide a lot. You have always catalogued my present with everyday snapshots. You have captured me at my brightest and my darkest. You don’t lie to me, you merely reflect back what I see. Some days I am broken and battered. Some days I am radiant and confident. All of these reflections are vital bookmarks in the story I am writing to help myself remember. So I ask this of you now: help me keep these moments alive by reflecting my past into the museum of my memories. I never want to forget any person, lesson, or experience. But the museum in my mind will have to remain tucked where it is. Beautiful souvenirs, painful and forever locked in glass cases.
Mirror on the wall, I’m finally standing straight up now. So the next time I fall and the growing pains take me out to sea, I’ll land on the shore with my own two feet.