On Significance and the Unexpected

Note for readers:
I usually try to write something deliberately relatable and with a positive conclusion. I don’t know if I’ve successfully done either of those here; I don’t know if this is too personal for that. I hope that there’s something you can take away from this regardless. Thank you for reading. It means the world and more.

Yesterday marks eight years since my father died.
I didn’t find out until Christmas Eve, when a cousin called to give the news. At sixteen years old, I lay curled in my bed, buried beneath the weight of the knowledge, absolutely lost as to how I was going to tell my little sister and older brother. Their laughter carried to me from where they were playing video games together in the living room. They had no idea. I wanted so badly to go back in time to when I didn’t know, either.
It should not have been my responsibility to bare his death on my own, and it most definitely shouldn’t have been my job to be the one to tell my siblings. Knowing that doesn’t change the fact that it was left up to me.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years by then. I thought that that would mean his death would be less impactful. I was wrong.
What we tell ourselves often does not reflect what we truly feel. We can repeat words over and over, we can drill them into our own minds until they block out all else, we can shove emotions into the farthest reaches of ourselves and refuse to look their way. Sometimes, though, something happens and every barrier we so carefully constructed, every box we packed, labeled, and shoved into the darkness all come spilling into the light of reality. They shatter into a thousand scattered pieces that we have no choice but to clean up or to continue treading on for years. And even when we think we’ve collected each fragment, we sometimes stumble over a remaining one in the darkness.
The fact that it has taken me eight years to write this might tell you that I’m the kind of person who swept as many pieces as I could out of my immediate surroundings and am still, today, facing the consequences of not properly coping.
The finality of death did not truly hit me until I received that phone call. A thousand questions that I had hidden away from myself resurfaced, and in a frantic, chaotic maelstrom of them, I realized that there was no longer a chance at getting answers. A hundred hopes I didn’t know I carried with me collapsed with the understanding that they would never be realized.
Many questions began with “why?”. Why did I have to be the first in my household to know? Why did it have to happen? Why was he driving that night? Why was this the first news I’d heard of him in years? Why was he the way that he was when I was a child? Why did he do the things he did? Why was I not enough for him? Why wasn’t I enough to convince him to change? Why did he make the choices he made if he loved me? Why? Why? Why? I drowned in the questions, too afraid to voice a single one of them, allowing nobody the opportunity to explain to me that none of it ever had anything to do with me.
I was able to dismiss or answer many of the questions as I got older, but one remains with me to this day. Regardless of the logic behind it, despite what I know on a rational level to be true, I continue to battle with the idea of being enough.
I am not alone in my quest for significance. I’m not the only person in this world who feels like my worth is defined solely by people wanting or needing me. I’m not alone in struggling to redefine this part of me to be healthier and more self-sufficient.
My father battled more demons than I will ever know, and while I can accept and empathize with those battles, I have never come to terms with the knowledge that neither I nor any of my siblings were enough to save him. None of us were enough to change him. And on Christmas Eve at sixteen years old, I finally was forced to face the understanding that I would never, ever know why we weren’t enough. Why I wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that his parents swore to me that he had changed, gotten sober, patched up his life. He patched it up without me. He’d figured out how to do it, which meant that he was capable. So why couldn’t he do it for me? Why was I not enough?
Later would come a fight between two people I love. I couldn’t tell you the words which were exchanged. I don’t know if I knew even then. What mattered most was the yelling, screaming, absolute refusal to stand down. The fight was a petty one which escalated like a wildfire. I threw myself into the flames, desperate to extinguish them in any way I could, including with my own body.
My hands had once been too small to make a difference. My shoulders were too narrow and delicate to pull burdens atop them. My voice was far too quiet. I hoped that older meant more capable, that growing up meant power. I was so certain that this time, I could help. This time I could do more, do something that mattered.
It all ended abruptly and with no resolution. I stood, reeling and desperately confused, as one of them walked away, leaving behind nothing but the echo of his words to me: “Well, you tried. It just wasn’t enough.”
Later still, I found myself in a bedroom, surrounded by four children under the age of ten. Just beyond the door, which adults so often forget hides nearly nothing, came the screaming, the throwing, the holes punched into walls.
I held one child on my lap, my arm wrapped around another, trying in vain to surface from the fog of memory when it had been me who was the six-year-old, my parents the ones outside the room. I had to be strong enough to be available for the four small bodies in my care, each of them begging to know what was going on and if everyone was going to be okay. They didn’t know that I was holding onto them just as fiercely and for the same reasons as they were holding onto me.
I could hardly breathe, let alone be the responsible adult that they needed in that moment.
All of these incidences are difficult to write, but not as much as they once were. My goal isn’t to elicit sympathy or comfort; I’m so, so very far from the only one who has stories such as these, and too many people have experienced vastly worse.
The last few months have seen me struggle in some familiar ways and many unfamiliar ones. I don’t know if it’s the time of year or something else, but my grasp on the present and on contentment has been tenuous at best, nearly nonexistent at worst.
What do you do when being needed is what sustains you and you’ve convinced yourself that nobody does? What is my purpose in this world if not to be what people around me need? And who am I, where do I go, what do I do when that purpose is broken down?
I tend to lock myself into vicious, never-ending cycles. I will be given a reason for why I am not needed as much as I hoped I was, and I will allow that to attack myself worth. I will let it hurt me, because that is easy. It is less easy to fight it and defy its attempts to tear me down.
I will never be enough for everyone. I may not be enough for the people for whom I so desperately want to be. I know it is a fools arrand to seek to make everyone happy. The person for whom I need to be enough and who I should be trying to make happy is myself, but there is no greater sense of satisfaction and peace as when I have helped someone else. It’s easy to let that mean that I can and will only be happy when I am enough for someone.
I simultaneously crave closeness and friendship and avoid it at all costs. I withdraw when I should reach out, I reach out when I know I won’t maintain it, I let phone calls and texts go unanswered, I cling to every meaningful interaction like it is a life raft. I set myself up for failure and then allow that failure to define me. I convince myself that I am meaningless and that nothing would change were I not here, and then I look for reasons why it’s true.
I do it because it is easier to set myself up to be hurt than to be hurt unexpectedly. I do it because, when I get hurt, I can look back and know exactly what I did to cause it. I do it because I am so afraid of not knowing when, where, and how it is going to happen.
I can’t prepare myself for everything. I can’t look in every direction at all times. I’m going to get hurt, and sometimes it is going to be no different than Christmas Eve eight years ago. Sometimes I will not expect it. Sometimes it will come out of nowhere, punch me in the stomach, and leave me careening off a ledge I didn’t even know existed. Nothing is more terrifying to me.
The other day, I received two messages from different people, entirely independent of one another, expressing such kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring for me that it was breathtaking. I felt myself shatter all over again, pieces of me I’d foolishly put together to protect myself coming apart as though my attempts had been meaningless. I felt my tether to the world solidify a little bit. Nowhere in their messages did they express a need for me or a way in which I could help them, and yet they care. They care despite my desperation to remain uncared for. They care for… who knows what reasons. I was, in a way, almost angry with them for still caring. I don’t deserve it; I’ve done so little to deserve it.
I rarely mean anything as much as when I say I don’t know why they do or anyone else does. My sense of self-worth is so warped and twisted that I genuinely cannot fathom the reasons behind why someone could, let alone would. And the trouble with this is that, if I don’t think I am worthy of being valued, I will never truly believe that I am. And if I never believe that I have worth in this world, I will not survive it.
Every part of me ached at the knowledge that, regardless of my avoidance, despite my failings, there were people in the world who cared. I am holding so tightly to that moment of understanding, that ever-so rare moment of clarity, and I am afraid I will lose it. I’m afraid I will let go of it. I have it now, though. I have it, and I am trying not to descend into the cycles which will tear it from me.
I know logically that I’m not alone. It’s been a long time since I allowed myself to believe it on a deeper level. I want to change. I want to get off this roller coaster to which I’ve tied myself. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t do it alone for once. I hope I figure out how.


Fleeing From My Problems Is Not A Form Of Exercise

I was going to start this off with some generic apology for not having written in a while, but then I realized I wasn’t really sorry to anyone except myself. So, I’m sorry to myself for not writing much for the last… really long time.


While I’ve faced various mental and emotional struggles for the majority of my life, it wasn’t until I was 19 that everything seemed to slide out of place.


I was sitting in my psych101 class, my backpack filled with necessities for my upcoming first solo trip out of town, when I realized I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt like a steel band had been wrapped around it. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get enough air into my lungs. My body began shaking, convinced I was not getting enough oxygen, and of course, the more I focused on it, the worse it seemed to be. The sensation worsened progressively as I neared my destination, until I was in bed that night wondering if I might actually die from this.


It’s been just over four years since the onset of this symptom of anxiety, and while I’ve obviously survived the near constant presence of it, my mind and body still like to feed off of one another until I’m convinced that I’m dying. I’ve tried just about all the tips and tricks out there to calm down. All they tend to do is not work, therefore increasing the anxiety, because maybe the fact that nothing works means I really am about to perish! It’s really a quite spectacular cycle. A solid 5 out of 5 stars, I must say.


The most common theme within my dreams is of running away. Well, usually flying rather than running, but I am almost always fleeing. Sometimes I know what’s chasing me, sometimes I have no idea from what I am trying to escape. Always, though, am I struggling to make any headway. Like many people, I mostly swim through the air when I’m flying. It’s rare that I fly without great effort and exertion. Some part of my sleeping mind knows that air is not like water and therefore is not likely to be swimmable, but I try so, so hard. My arms and legs frantically try to keep me afloat. I try with such desperation to gain height and distance between myself and the grasping fingers of whatever is below me.


I’m not really one to analyze dreams and find hidden meanings, but I know myself well enough to know why I continuously have this issue during sleep. I am the type of person who avoids facing my problems. As a teenager, I pushed them back behind those of my loved ones. It’s easier to solve a problem that isn’t yours, after all, and I clung to this “duty” until I couldn’t anymore. In its absence, I’ve filled my time with distractions and my mind with what ultimately amounts to white noise. When I allow myself to consider my problems, I feel like I am standing in the path of an oncoming tsunami wave. It’s easier to turn around, close my eyes, and pretend its not there.


The issue here is that I know that that wave is still coming. I know that the water will find me, and I will be swept up in its icy hold. I remain constantly at attention, then, bracing myself for the impact I know is coming, mentally and physically preparing myself for the onslaught. Sometimes I allow myself just enough time to wonder if it was really a massive wave I saw, or if maybe I had overestimated the power of it. Could I have been mistaken? I could turn around and take another look, but what if! What if it is the enormous wave that I suspect it is? And what if it’s right there? What if the moment I turn and look is the moment that it hits me?


Oh, the what ifs. They are viciously sharp fragments of glass I’ve scattered around my bare feet, leaving me terrified to take a single step. I stand, paralyzed by fear, terrified of moving, afraid to even open my eyes and check if there’s any danger at all. Because what if there is?


The most recent symptom of my anxiety is overwhelming nausea. I so often sit with my head on my knees, taking in those breaths that never feel deep enough, hoping that I won’t throw up yet again. On the bright side, my bathroom has remained remarkably clean because of how much time I spend there wondering if I’m going to be sick. I’ll take what positives I can get.


I’m tired. I’m tired of being afraid of everything. I’m afraid of failure, of success, of being hurt, of the unknown and the familiar. I’m afraid of who I am and who I can become. I am afraid of the girl I used to be, whose hopes and dreams and expectations I feel like I am failing each day. I am afraid of my future self, whose success and potential I am impacting with every choice I make.


I sat here tonight on the ridiculously overpriced couch I bought from a girl who failed to mention how uncomfortable it is, and I was swept up in the too-familiar sensation of all-consuming anxiety. I was angry with myself because I know, logically, there is nothing there. The wave I think I hear at my back is nothing more than the wind in the trees. I take five deep breaths, then five more. I focus on five things I can hear, four things I can feel, etc. I go hug my wonderful, life saving cats. I feel angry tears filling my eyes because I can’t make it stop.


I tried to envision my anxiety as a person the other day. I named it Grey, and I gave it a series of attributes and began building it a backstory. Then I realized I was distracting myself from the actual exercise by crafting a new novel character. So, I retracted all my attributes, but I kept its name. Grey and I had a rather one-sided chat, where I told it that I was sick of it driving my car. It was time for it to hop in the back seat and let me drive. I gave it permission to tap me on the shoulder and offer guidance if it thought I might be going the wrong way, but I needed to take over.


It was a pretty good conversation. I felt a little ridiculous and considered at least sitting next to one of my cats so that I didn’t feel like I was talking to thin air, but then I felt bad talking to my cats about anything less than the perfection that they are.


Tonight I want nothing more than to scream at Grey, to cause it as much pain, disappointment, and misery  as it has caused me.


I abruptly realized that separating myself from my anxiety in such a way may feel rather therapeutic, but ultimately it is part of me. To be angry with my anxiety is to be angry at myself. To want to hurt my anxiety is to want to hurt myself. I have done these things too often for too long, and what good has it done? I’m still sitting on this awful couch writing about it. Hating this part of me has not helped me or encouraged me to move forward. Hating myself is not making me into a stronger person. It’s making me a weaker one.


My anxiety is the product of the experiences my younger self went through. I feel that I am failing her and like I am straying so far away from who she wanted to be, but by hating myself, by hating the anxiety I have, I am committing the biggest disservice to her I possibly could. I am invalidating her experiences.


I faced a lot as I grew up, even within the last few years. The keyword there, I think, is faced. The person I disparage, the girl for whom I harbor so much anger for being trusting and open… She was brave. She… I, didn’t turn my back and close my eyes.


I was hurt in many ways and from many angles, and my solution was always to put up a wall. I promised I wouldn’t let myself get hurt again. I wouldn’t be put into the position of trusting too much, of having too much hope, of getting too close, of speaking too much or too loudly, of saying the wrong thing again. Of course, to avoid all of these things is just about impossible, but that sure didn’t prevent me trying. I threw up wall after wall, trying to turn in every direction often enough to catch danger before it happened upon me unexpectedly, until I realized it was futile. Then I started scattering the glass. I took reality and likely possibility and threw it at the ground, thinking that if it broke into enough pieces, I could see what it was hiding from me.


So, here I am, surrounded by the scattered, shattered remnants of potential from which I have been so determined and so desperate to find truth. If I can just look beyond it, maybe I can prepare myself for what it is trying to obscure from me. Unfortunately, all I can see are a thousand reflections of my own self.


I feel like I am doing something wrong by not including some kind of moral to the story or happy ending to this post, which is perhaps why I have not written in so long. This is intended to be helpful, not to be a venting session. The best that I can come up with is that with recognition can come acceptance, and with acceptance can come growth. Fear is a comfortable companion, and it has infiltrated me enough that I am afraid of both its presence and its absence. I don’t know if I have quite found hope yet, but I feel that I have at least found the will to peek between my fingers at what is truly around me. It’s a start.