The Happiest Girl in the World

“I’m baffled because I’ve never met someone so full of life, and you’re telling me that you want to die?” He asked.

I nodded, “yes”.

I don’t know how to tell people that I have been casually suicidal since I was eight.  The lull of a lazy Sunday will halt at the idea that I’d be better off dead. My mind makes islands of crowded rooms. Depression marroons me from friendship and closeness.  This isn’t the kind of thing we talk about– how there’s this gaping space between ok and violently suicidal.  Most of my mind wander in that gaping space, in one where I question my own life.

A common theme with tragic deaths of public figures is that we douse their name in how they left. It’s not fair. You are not your exit. People gawk at the joy surging from figures like Robin Williams and Kate Spade. It is possible to be happy and suicidal. Happy is a feeling. Suicidal is a belief.  Below are all the years that I almost died. All the while I was living my life and being loved. All the while, I was the happiest girl in the world.

2001- I am eight, galloping through the summer between second and third grade. My brain is a fickle landscape. It’s nothing new. Only something new happens. Up a staircase and to the right, all the suspicions I have that I don’t deserve to live are confirmed.  I descend from the stairs, and later, blast my Walkman, thinking the drive home will save me. But there are things we never shake, that never leave.  I am eight when I first realize I am actively suicidal.

2001-2003: my peers’ perspectives are buttercream yellow, a goldenrod lens.  I am ok until I’m not ok. My self-image exists along the tightrope of perfectionism, and when I fall, I crash.  Every argument with my parents is a court case substantiating how I don’t deserve to be alive. In retreats to my bedroom, notebooks hold all my feelings. I pour my hurt into the pages, and I pray nobody ever reads them.  I know this isn’t normal.

2005-2007: I attempt suicide for the first time in 2006 and a second time in 2007.  My spirit is an immigrant on foreign land, entirely unable to assimilate to my peer group.  They talk about me in homeroom while I am sitting a few seats away. Sometimes, in the bathroom, I can hear them gossip about the marks on my wrists and gaffe at how someone as fat as I am could be bulimic while I am in another stall.  So I grow angry—all fangs and rage. Defensive is my default. Life hurts all the time. On walks with my mom, I erupt into sobs.  I pray and ache to belong. I begin to see a therapist. She is neither especially engaged in her work not good at her job.

2008-2009: I go to high school when I’m a weirdo, but I find other weirdos in Speech and Debate. My tribe, my island of misfit toys. I belong. I don’t belong in my high school cafeteria. There, garbage is pelted at my face once. Another time, a group decides to knock all my notes off my chair.  Every page is soaked and stained with juice on the floor—illegible.  On Halloween 2008, a girl two grades ahead of me completes suicide. To this day, I’ve never forgotten her name. We share the same initials.  I am jealous of her. That she got to leave this life. But I see her brother in the hallway. He is a stranger but his grief wafts all around him– a fog of loss clouding the promise of the future.  I don’t know him, but I can feel it. I think about my brothers and sisters and family— how I don’t want my home to hold an aroma of grief.  I try to kill myself in the winter of 2009, but I cannot commit when I see that there is an after to suicide, even if it doesn’t involve me.

2010-2011: Sweet sixteen. I believe empathy means I must drown with my hurting friend to prove my loyalty.  What they would call toxic and codependent is what I thought was being a friend.  A small group of people commands a lot of power over my adolescent self-esteem. They gossip about me and tales of scandalous dalliances I never indulged in run back to me.  I feel like Hester Prynne in the hallways. Without agency, I begin cutting once more. My wrists are grizzly scratching posts. I don’t care who sees.

2011: By February 2011, I want to die. I don’t know if I ever didn’t, but I really don’t want to be here now. But I can’t leave. I have Bridget and Kate. They are my why. My whole heart.  To abandon them would be an incomplete mission. I hang on. I go to college. Three hours and a world away, life suddenly weighs less. Is this how it feels for most people?

2012-2015: College saves me. Even in endangerment and violence, I rebound. Ohio State is not perfect, but I am safe. Even when unsafe, there are people I can run to. I build the friends I prayed for in middle school.  These are the years where I feel lucky and know it.

2015: College graduation severs my perfectionist plan. Every friend’s life is s metric stick I use to prove all the ways I’ve failed. No one is seeking a liberal arts degree.  The sleepless hours of labor I poured into the last four years feel meaningless. I apply for 215 jobs in 3 months. I interview 43 times. I travel 8,300 miles in total.  Finally employment. Finally peace. It is not perfect, but I no longer want to hurt myself.

2016: Restlessly, I beg to sweep away from this rust belt town. Everything here is grayscale, and I am nothing short of neon. The geographic incompatibility weighs on me.  I drag my head like a suitcase. Early summer signals change, a homecoming, and i return to myself. My body and heart are reunited in the same city once more.

2017: Before #metoo, there was just me. It was me in offices, under the onyx cast of a Christmas party, in voicemails and emails.  You can always spot the predators—just look for the gaslights.  My body feels so big until it’s under intimidation.  Then, it’s never big enough.  There’s not enough space in the universe to protect me.  As the temperature climbed in summer, so did the intrusive thoughts. By September, my body is glued to the kitchen floor, paralyzed by despair. I was here for three years. Trauma didn’t get the course completion memo, I guess. I don’t want to live,  but I’m too loved to die.  My support system is robust, formidable.  I am not pretty all the time anymore. I’m not nice or tidy or perfect. Performing and healing are antonyms. I only have enough energy for one.

2018: A year stampeding in promise. Surely, I’d slain every beast and my reward was a reprieve. And for six months, it was.  Summer is never my strong suit.  Summer 2018 felt as ruthless as so many before it.  The day was August 29th.  One hand on the steering wheel, the other clutching my phone, I tell my mom I don’t want to live.  It feels like I can’t win, cannot run away without finding another predator who is frustrated that I am not easier prey.   At noon the following day, I check myself into the ER.  Twelve stressful hours wind by in the psych ward.  My choices are more panic than proactive.  And I know I can’t do this anymore, that I cannot waste all this energy on not wanting to live.  I take a three-week unpaid medical leave and enroll in intensive therapy.  This is the most extravagant thing I’ve ever done for myself while also being the most basic.

2018: I don’t know how to accept all the love radiating in my life.  It is so abundant, so overwhelming.  I feel unworthy.  The girl who had no friends in middle school has too many now.  For all the years I screamed for help, my future heard me and gifted me the greatest support system.  I am still convincing myself that I deserve good things, that not every mistake I make means I have to die.

I’m not ashamed that I’m still alive. There’s no apology embedded in how I’ve survived.  If people read this and feel uncomfortable, perhaps it’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe mental health is a defect. In truth, mental health is a universal topic.  I wrote this essay right before Thanksgiving because I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful for this fucked up, privileged, complicated and abundant existence I’ve stumbled into.  I think about every person I was before I was me—the eight year old grappling with what she knew was wrong and didn’t know how, the thirteen year old homesick for community, the teen defining herself by every one else’s words outside of her own, the college kid who didn’t want to die every time someone else abused her, the scrappy 22 year old who didn’t give up on applying for jobs, myself in this ruthless summer— to bask in this life is the greatest tribute I pay to them. I am the descendant of “keep going”, daughter of “don’t stop”.  I house formidable future selves inside me— their births depend on the difficulty, on the awakened I’ve yet to encounter and families I’ve yet to build. I am the happiest girl in the world.  The darkness is not the thief of happiness, and I think, happiness always possesses the potential to triumph in the end.

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