Month: May 2018

Ten Years Ago, I didn’t want to be alive. In 12 days, I turn 25

I debated titling this post a lot of things.  But what I wanted most was for it to be honest, withholding no truths just because they’re hard to talk about.  I was fifteen the last time I tried to kill myself.  In twelve days, I will be 25.  That I have lived a whole decade since my final suicide attempt is a daunting miracle.  This post isn’t composed in the tradition of Thought Catalogue articles where I regale you with what I’ve learned.  Things I tote as fact may fall into fiction in the years to come.  This post is a confession and a love letter.

A cavern of ten years separates me from my adolescent self. A decade rumbling with an education, travel abroad, trauma, recovery, relapse, exhale and belonging.  It didn’t get better all at once.  At times, it got worse.  There were years when my why was another person’s name; when the intention of my breath was someone else’s lungs.  I didn’t want to be the hardest thing someone else had to talk about.  I didn’t want my name to become something my loved ones struggled to say.  You can’t live for other people long term. This is your life, and anyone who glorifies the sacrifice of yourself inside your own existence isn’t honoring you.  Nevertheless, this is how I made it out of my teens.   Survival is still survival.  Sometimes, a crawl is all you can do to move your days in the direction of something better.

I’ve uncovered so much better.  I didn’t get there alone.  It took mentors, teachers, books, poetry, art, and above all else, community to rally my midnight spirit. Life is never done singlehandedly.  It took the surrender of everyone I thought I was supposed to be, which hurt more than it didn’t.  Grief surrounds this mythical, future me who has it all.  She’s thin and perfect and romantically attached.  She doesn’t exist.  I had to surrender the idea of her to grasp the realities of myself.  And there’s grief in the surrender because she housed so much of my hope for so long.  She was all my hope, and when I had something more than hope when life presented an opportunity, I needed to release her to grow onto myself.  Relinquishing this fantasy Marisa meant admitting that she was never going to happen, that there was no alternative universe where I was all of those things I begged to be.  But there is this Marisa.  She’s right here, and I need to take the best care of my current self in order to blow my own mind.

We, as a society, mourn suicide but shroud depression and attempts in shame.  My goal in writing this is not attention, or even to break that myth.  I’m just saying that my life has been a rustbelt town I wanted to escape so many times before.  That there were entire years I begged God not to curse me with morning, and yet, I’m still here.  I’m not damaged for surviving. I’m not the worst things that have happened to me.  I wouldn’t want to relive them, and yet, I know I ebulliently celebrate my life because this life has been hard-won.  These are stories not routinely told, and if the storytellers are willing, maybe they should be.

The best way I can tell this story is as a letter to my younger self, about everything that’s happened in the ten years I wasn’t dead but could’ve been.  I am a descendant of her fortitude.    Every day I live is a monument to my former selves.

Dear Marisa (age 15):

                Your life feels like a party no one showed up for, I know, and more days than not, you feel like the last one picked for kickball.  Every day you continue living is you picking yourself.   Know that this matters.  It’s the only way I’m able to write this letter now.  The ten years sewing my words back to you will not fly by.  The worst day of your life is still ahead of you.  But so are all of your best days.  Your favorite songs have yet to be made, and you’ve yet to meet most of the people who will change your life.

                I wish words existed to convey my gratitude to you.  You wanted out of this life with everything inside of you, but life wouldn’t let go.  Somehow, you held on.   We both know there were so many days you could have dug that knife deeper into your skin, but you didn’t.  The kindest thing you could do for yourself then was to minimize the self-abuse. 

                Life morphs, and we don’t notice until the transubstantiation is complete.  Change offers no neon signage, but it strikes you.  You’ll learn that your greatest achievement has never been how little space you can occupy.  Success is something greater than going to bed hungry.  And one day, five years from fifteen, you’ll eat dinner in London, and purging won’t even occur to you.  Believe it or not, a few years following that, you will love your body.  You’ll quit wasting wishes on life in a body without memories.  You’ll stop hurting it because it’s the closest thing to you.  Perhaps you had to take up this much space to carry such a big life, a bold life, an existence so luscious and supple and full it craved a vessel to match. 

                Some people persuade you to regard your abundance as excess.  It isn’t.  That is just the universe reminding you that they aren’t your people.  Rejection is a redirection.  You are so loyal that you will hold onto terrible situations with both hands and white knuckles until life drags you away from every wasteland.  Quit settling for graveyards when you deserve gardens. Go where the life is.  It’s waiting for you. You, my darling, are a fireworks display wasting all her light in the wrong places.   Stay light.  Stay open and big and loud.  Live with all the life you’ve fought so hard to show up for.  Do it with abandon and courage because that’s your guide.  You wish your words were pastel.  They are nothing short of neon.  That’s so your people see you when you show up.

                You will learn that your boundaries are not effigies to set on fire for everyone you care about.  Self-care is the ultimate boundary issue. It demands that we declare ourselves sacred spaces—divine in our imperfections, holy for mere existence. And in these ways, acts of self-care become miracles.  It will take you most of this upcoming decade to perform that miracle for yourself.  Nobody tells you that a lot of survival looks like struggle.  Past the struggle, you can transcend survival and thrive.  My thriving is a descendant of your survival—of those countless lonely nights when you stared into the abyss and marveled at how it didn’t swallow you whole. 

                There’s nothing noble in destroying yourself.  You feel like an extra puzzle piece most days, a nomad so desperate for a home.  Your existence is the direct result of the universe needing you.  You have a purpose and a place, and life will reveal it to you on long flights, 3am conversations, moments so spectacular you never could’ve fathomed them—those sharing space with you are your chorus, reminding you how much you matter. 

                My life is not perfect.  My apartment is a complete wreck. I have student loans. I am addicted to social media.  I am insecure sometimes and constantly worry I’m putting myself out there too much. But there is a me to put out into the world. There’s a me that exists and the why of her life is not someone else’s name.  Your life is not a metaphor, but something meant to be lived.  Thank you for living.  Sometimes, I’m homesick for your grit.  I miss the tenacity it took to spin gold from the gray matter.  Then, my heart pounds. Like a knock on a door, you return to me. You never left.

 

All my love,

Marisa (age almost 25)

Joy

Breathe, or Awakenings during Beyonce Hot Yoga

The ethereal hum of my friend, Kristen,’s voice floated through the dense air.  Her words, a cocktail of yoga rhetoric and Beyonce lyrics, sailed through the field of bodies already veiled in sweat.   I’ve done hot yoga before– a handful of times.  It was always at a different studio.   I work out almost daily, but even in the presence of a mirror, something is always obstructing my view.  Other bodies, equipment– there is always an intentional barrier distancing me from my full self.   I own a full-length mirror.   I’m not blind to my appearance, but in public, in motion, I’ve taught myself to avert my gaze.

But here I was, at Beyonce Yoga.  And there I was– staring back at me.  The heat paneled my skin matte and luster.  My heels dug into my mat, each a tree trunk beneath me. Each of my legs a thick, infinite vine, my arms equally endless.  My breath was the metronome steadying the normal staccato of my heart.  As I rose in transition between poses, I looked at myself in the mirror.  I didn’t hate what stared back at me.

I don’t remember a reflection of myself I didn’t scrutinize.  If you’ve read my writing before, you’re familiar with how much I contemplate this.  I don’t remember a time when weight and clothing size and the amount of space my body consumes didn’t consume me.   The looping obsession of thinness has occupied so much precious territory in my brain.  As I grew into adulthood, I dared to loosen my grip on thinness, to explore what would happen if my purpose in life wasn’t how little of me could exist in the world.  I found body positivity.  Largely, Body Positivity has been liberating for me.  At the same time, themes of being “at home in your body”, “your body is beautiful”, Dove Beauty campaigns with curvy and white and able-bodied women with big grins don’t always resonate with me.   My body isn’t beautiful all the time.

My body is not a metaphor.  My body is my body.  Nothing about this is a series of words intended to underscore its significance.  The significance of my body is that it houses my indomitable spirit.  I dislike flowery language in relation to bodies because the more words between the subject and the verb, the further away the subject becomes.  And the truth of our bodies is that they are always the closest things to us.

Bodies can be lonely places.  So often, they become graveyards where we hide things in plain sight.  Our pain nestled in the shallow graves of tense shoulders and expanding waistlines.  My body has been a wasteland, a crime scene, a rustbelt city I was desperate to leave, someone else’s instrument who was just lucky enough to get played.  My body has been everything other than a body.

I never considered my body outside of how much space it consumed.  I never knew bodies like mine were allowed to exist without the pursuit of weight loss.  I never knew how to exist in a space with other bodies without comparing mine to theirs.  But here I was, doing exactly that.  Doused in sweat, soft midriff on full display– there I was, right in front of me.

The purpose of this essay is not to hail my body.  It isn’t to gild what is flesh.  The intention of this essay is to say that I saw my body for the first time through a lens other than hate, and I saw that it didn’t have to be pretty or adorned or anything other than exactly what it is.   And suddenly, with all that weight and pressure evaporated in the heat, I inhaled.  My lungs grew wide.

Warrior

Midnight

I always thought I would be daybreak—something pastel and ripe.

I mused myself a rising sun.

Obvious in my radiance,

Glazing over a honey-hued sky.

 

But I think I’m more midnight than daybreak.

I fled from this,

Parceled myself in prettier pieces.

But I’m night.

Plum-blackberry Rorschach, complex.

Midnight is equally riotous and secretive—

A backdrop for what is afraid to be seen.

 

And in the undesired hour, starts are born,

a celebration of illumination suddenly bursts through the black,

Moon-cycles guide the tides.

And it is still.  Divinely still.

There is light and life on the other side of a set sun.

My whole life has been a wrangling of constellations from brief bursts of cosmic light.

Humanizing Heroes

I think most of our childhood idols fall when we realize they are people,

That talent is not a discerning force between good and bad,

But simply a luck of existence.

Superman didn’t buy the cape,

He got it, and flew with it.

We just forgot that he was Clark Kent too.

On Coercison and Aziz Ansari

The truth is you probably know an Aziz Ansari.  You probably love one.  I do.  There aren’t definitive emotions to this because I’ve also been the victim of sexual violence multiple times.  I love these men while acknowledging that they’re so problematic.  I love them as the flawed people, and know that the same guys who have comforted me have probably Aziz-ed some other woman and are totally unaware.   There’s a gravel in that love, something pinching and uncomfortable that I can’t extract.  We exist in a complicated world without heroes or villains, but with vastness of complications that are difficult to untangle.  I wonder if we’re all loving somebody else’s oppressor.

My job as a woman and (to borrow Roxane Gay’s language) as a victim who survived is not to educate these men.  You’re grown.  You are accountable for your actions.  Look around you, and understand that even if you were unaware of the impact your behavior had, you know its gravity now.  Reporters, please STOP asking women to explain and apologize the men in their lives.   We are mothering abusers out of their responsibility to atone.  Yes, gentlemen, you have a responsibility to not just apologize but do better every day.  And before #notallmen comes out to scold me for holding all men accountable for a few sins, I have this to say:  Your maleness is a passport into spaces I cannot enter.  Advocate for us in those spaces.  Don’t go along to get along.  There is a body count to your silence. Your silence becomes the scars the women you love will hide from you.  I’m over the “good guys”, the “nice guys”—the men who turn invisible at the mention of our suffering. Do better.

My job as a woman is to stand with other victims.  A man I love probably hurt you.  I won’t apologize for him, as women have been apologizing for the behavior of men for far too long.  What I will do say that even if you know I care for him, even if you know I’m connected to him in some way, I value your survival.  I value your safety and your health.  More selfishly, I value it because I felt like I devalued mine in an attempt to deny my own experiences.   Were I to excuse another predator, I leave the gate open to negate everyone’s experiences.   There needs to be a precedent.  The precedent is that if someone comes forward with a story of assault, to meet it with questions is an act of violence.  The denial of another’s hurt only reinforces it.

External Processor: An Essay

I can’t stop talking about all the things I’m not supposed to talk about. I read an article by Eleni Pinnow. She lost her sister, Aletha, to suicide.  Eleni’s grief howled through her words, and one statement struck me and never left—“the reason depression and suicide are so pervasive is that we don’t know how to talk about them”.  I want to talk about them.  I want to talk about all the things my mind tells me not to and not feel bad about it.

I can’t stop talking now.  I can’t stop writing.  The words gush from every part of me.  My words are tireless fingers untangling everything that’s knotted. Where words struggle to reach, I feel a compulsion to place sound there.  I think I feel that if I can give my discomfort a voice, it will be less apt to linger.

Whether it’s my mental health, my body, my eating disorders, sex, growing up, my struggles and triumphs—I don’t feel bad talking about it.  Exposed, yes.  I question if I am sharing cherished information with an undeserving audience.  Closure isn’t my goal.  It isn’t validation either.  I don’t aim to be heard or achieve any degree of fame.  It is enough to form my voice in the world and know I’ve dared my words to exist. I want to say all the things I’ve never heard said before.  I don’t regard my work as esoteric or profound.  Rather, we’ve been socially programmed to suppress these things, and I want them to surface.

Perception

You don’t want others to live their values,

you want them to live your values.

To say the former is to paste an entire topography onto a person without ever learning their coordinates, their landscape, explored the valleys of their being and the desserts of their experience.

People are oceans,

You can’t judge their depths from the waves.

 

 

She Blogs Now– A Reintroduction

I don’t think I ever introduced myself when starting this page.

I wanted it to be anonymous so I’d never have to claim the darkest parts of me or be the owner of my damage. It’s been months since my last entry.

To call most of my 24th year of life a spiritual blizzard is equally cliche and accurate. Eleven months of internalized winter flurried my norms away. I weathered traumas and misfortunes and incredible surprises. It was humbling, embarrassing, and ultimately, transformative.  I realized who I really was when I understood how brutally I treated myself through trauma, and I was disappointed.   For all my struggles, I’m still here– better than I was a year ago. I am, perhaps, the best I’ve been in my short life.

You emerge different after survival. A creature more raw, aware of instincts and attune to themselves. That’s how I feel now. I don’t feel “grown up”. I don’t have it all figured out. What I have are my values, my softness, my open heart, and an unending garland of words my mind continues to string. They are here for you. Even if your choice is to reject them or gawk at them or the cyber abyss swallows them whole, I am willing to share them with you anyway. 

So here it is, the proper introduction I never gave the first time around:
My name is Marisa. I think my parents knew I’d be (to quote Roxane Gay) a difficult woman, and they spelled it with one “s” as a warning sign to the universe. In actuality, my mother had not seen it spelled “Marissa” until after my birth. I have a poet’s heart, and a politician’s brain– they are always at war with one another.
Much to my teenage self’s chagrin, I live in the Midwest. My love for my home state is hard-won. Through cornfields and adolescent bullies, I turned taunts into something tangible to call my own. I weathered lonely to be loved. I endured to edify. There is a special miracle in being the architect of your own blessings. I don’t feel this way every day, but I come back to it in one way or another.
I am still learning that although love requires sacrifice, I don’t need to sacrifice myself to be worthy of love.  Any love that demands the desecration of my spirit is no love at all.  And that might make me lonely sometimes.  Slowly, I’m understanding that the hollowness of being alone is also the openness of possibility.
This page has blackened to obsidian at times.  My head is a happier place these days.  My life is brighter, perhaps the best it’s been.  But mental health is a shapeshifter.  I will never be too confident in my state, only in my resilience when translucent dulls to opaque.  But this continuity, is equal parts reintroduction and love letter.  An ovation to my community, to my mentors, family, and friends who have been my heaven amidst my hell.  Thank you for guiding me home.  Over and over again, thank you for reminding me who I am.
I’m not sure there is a purpose to this text. It’s amorphous like the writer herself. I don’t know what my life will be at this point. I’m 24. I don’t know what I’m talking about, or, I do– within the context of my own experiences. It’s easy to be an expert in lives you’ve never lived. It’s easy to dispense advice from a pedestal, never dismounting into discomfort. This blog hails from the mess. These words will be muddy, unkempt, and contradictory.  But they are shared now.  They have a voice and a light, and I thank you for indulging me in that, if only for a second.  Thanks for stopping by.waterslide

On pain

Our relationship to pain– how we react and respond to it– changes everything.

This idea ruminated in my mind from the moment I saw it.  My thoughts latched onto this because I don’t have a healthy relationship to pain.  I avoid it at all costs until I come into contact with it.  Once agony and I collide, I can’t let go.  My stubborn perseverance encourages me that there’s some prize for enduring the most pain.  It’s a fool’s prize– the one given to marginalized people as an incentive for their silence.

But pain is a cat burglar.  Denying it entry only motivates it to break a window, infiltrate a vent, wind itself inside a hiding place just long enough to jump out and scare you when you’ve convinced yourself pain is long gone.

What if I were open to aching?  What if I acknowledged the thief as it entered?  These aren’t solutions.  Then again, these days, I’m no longer in search of the answers.  I just want to ask better questions.  We weld questions so complicated that the simplest answers become out of reach.

For now, all I can do is become a doorway and witness to my own discomfort.  I seize my right to arrest my pain by acknowledging and addressing it.  I’ve spent too long being a bystander in my own suffering.