Every event is a numerator of 1. The summation of everything you’ve lived through is the denominator.
The little moments when you realize you’ve survived.
Notes after assault.
You think I am a fragile thing.
My gauzy skin,
The words I speak are kind and raw—
Audible apple slices,
The plum bite of my feedback,
Berry compliments staining all my interactions.
And all you see is my garish smile—
Engulfing my whole face.
It’s hard to hear past the grin.
But sun shines over tragedies often.
Hello past my Versailles looks,
My Elizabethan curls,
My Shirley Temple mannerisms,
If your greeting travels far enough,
It will find where I am titanium.
That my anatomy is more ferocious than flesh.
When I beam, I’m also bearing my fangs— how I’ve torn through every tragedy intent on making me it’s victim.
I’m as gauzy as barbed wire,
As soft as sandpaper.
Some princesses are savages in disguise,
Their crowns are just another weapon,
The thrown is not a place to be adored but a moment to perch before all that has ever tried to break me and gloat, “Despite your most ruthless armies and soulless tactics, I am here. You came to break me only to bow before me.”
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)
My mind has always felt more haunted house than head. I learned anxiety before the sound of my own name. You can still hear it like an accent in all the unnecessary apologies I pepper in my sentences. By 8, depression moved in. My head made islands out of crowded rooms. I never felt like I belonged, always isolated the the thunderous, looping fictions I told myself.
As I got older, I looked for people who were adrift like me. I looked for wrists with scars that matched mine, like self abuse was a language written in hieroglyphics on the skin. I wondered how many people saw food as the enemy instead of just… food. I was homesick for community. My pre-college self was a nomad desperate for a hometown, some coordinates to stake herself into.
College offered some relief. Still, in college, I wondered how many people posted galleries of the lives they hoped to live, a contrast to loneliness. Even when I was happy, surrounded by people, I’d feel my spirit drift in the gray space where you aren’t dead, but apathetic toward continuing to live.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t fathom my early twenties. It sounds so silly now, and I hope if I read this at 40, I’ll roll my eyes, howling. Conceptualizing a complex and fulfilling existence on the pillars of my own creation seemed more fantasy than future in my teens.
There’s nothing “after” about this. Most days, my breath feels more concrete than air. My head makes islands of crowded rooms. There are nights anxiety holds me hostage from sleep and mornings when everything outside me is barbed wire. I don’t feel like I belong a lot. I am what high functioning anxiety and depression looks like. I’ve known depression longer than most of my favorite people. Anxiety is the native tongue I’d give anything On the worst days, I choose my life over the alternative. Every day I live is a monument to survival, a love letter to all the women I’ve been before–thanking them for not letting go. I can’t regard my past selves with anything but reverence, knowing that every painful day she/they endured brought me to this messy and beautiful and rich and unconventional marvel I call my life.
And to my abusers, assailants, doubters, I say this:
I have slain the dragons capable of devouring you whole.
Call me your victim again, I dare you.