Waiting for Life to Begin. Again.
Once I was 14, and I thought the world was over right when it was supposed to begin. I had held out for three years, waiting for help that never came. And then I gave up.
I started sleeping with the light on. I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I started eating too much. I stopped trusting the people around me. I stopped trusting the ground below me. I cried all the time- locked alone in my room, in bathroom stalls and anywhere no one could see me. I didn’t cry in front of people, because I knew they wouldn’t understand.
Life stopped, but life went on. And all around me, I missed life until I was ready to live it again. And eventually, I was.
A lot of things happened in between. Graduating high school, graduating college. Dozens of musicals, term papers, pop quizzes, zits, backstabbing friends, kind friends, seasons of the real world.
In a time of crisis, the biggest thing we seem to cling to is the certain knowledge that if we “give it time’ we will feel better, and there is definite truth to that statement.
Time passed, and I felt better like everyone had promised.
Most importantly, no matter what happened, things would never be as bad as when I was 14.
Once I was 28, and I thought the world was over. Suddenly I was 14 again. With one threat of the things I’d survived half a lifetime ago, the world was once again a battlefield. And once again, I found myself hunched down in the trenches without the proper tools to fight back.
People exchanged glances, suggested I get help. A therapist told me I was the victim of trauma and he was the only one who could help me. Kept emphasizing that I needed help as if I didn’t realize that when I consciously went to see him.
He made a grand, but very true, generalization that I feel like I need to be “fine” all the time. And then he dumped me back into the street when he found out I had a $5000 insurance deductible I couldn’t pay in spite of the fact that I told him that at the first session- the one where he swore we’d figure it out.
Back in the trenches, I decided that it was, indeed, a problem that I needed to be “fine” all the time. And then I decided that I didn’t have a better alternative than being “fine”. So after awhile I said I was fine. I said it so many times I could say it with enough conviction that people believed me.
And sometimes I was fine, but mostly I wasn’t.
I slept with the light on when I slept at all. I gained 40 pounds. I remembered why I decided not to trust people. I found reasons to keep believing that. I felt the ground below me quiver with each step, along with my lower lip every time someone asked me if I was okay and I tried to tell them I was fine. I cried in front of people who didn’t know how to handle me. I stopped crying because I knew they couldn’t handle me.
Not surprisingly they told me to turn again to my old friend, time, as I tried not to scoff.
Now I’m cautious of time. I’m sad about the misspent time in the 14 years that it took me to go all the way back to rock bottom. I’m worried about making the same mistakes- the ones I swore I’d never make again, but did anyways. I’m angry that all the work I did to never go back didn’t help and seemed to be erased by one stroke of bad luck. I’m ashamed of the fact that as much as I nailed down the art of being “fine”- I’ve never really felt that way for a long stretch of time.
Admittedly some days, weeks and months are better than others. Now I run a non-profit and my biggest goal is to help others be more than “fine” because I think we all deserve that. I cling to the quotes I’ve read about how helping to heal other people helps you heal yourself. I don’t want to waste any more time, and I don’t want others to have to either.
Admittedly, there are some things I haven’t figured out.
In time I will feel less hyper-vigilant. I will stop flinching when people go to touch me unexpectedly. I will stop frowning at strangers. I will remember to breathe. And if I have anything to say about it, I will be more than fine. But for now, if you’re still wondering, “I’m fine.”
Originally published June 11, 2012