We must show enough of our own vulnerabilities that others don’t feel the need to hide their own. So here we go.
My whole life I’ve felt like I had to ask for permission to do anything and everything. Actually, I don’t even think I asked for permission. I just made a line in my head of what I thought my parents and teachers and coaches would think was permissible and did my best to stay as far on the right side of it as possible. As a quintessential people pleaser, my sense of self was based off of how much validation I could get from others.
We’ve all heard this story enough times to know such a mindset doesn’t work. Eventually you realize you will never be truly happy if you place your locus of happiness outside yourself and become dependent on the opinions of others. Because, in doing so, you give up your agency and ability to define yourself. It’s taken me four years of college and a lot of unlearning, but I think I’m beginning to have that part somewhat figured out. Not because I chose to figure it out, but because I was forced to. Battling an eating disorder and experiencing a major depressive episode will do that to you.
Don’t assume that information means you now have me all figured out or that those two things in themselves can give you an accurate depiction of what it means to be me. My life narrative is not a sob story. It is one of empowerment and a drive for deeper understanding. It consists of perhaps a little too much over-analysis and an irrepressible fascination with the human existence—the manifestations of which have been a personal plot line with ups and downs more extreme than those of most people.
The hidden blessing in living life at slightly greater extremes is that you come to really important realizations much faster. You let things happen, you take in what they mean for you, then you act accordingly. You come to terms with no longer wanting to remain complacent with issues that “aren’t bad enough” to warrant asking for help. Because they inevitably do become bad enough and, when you fight through and make changes, the one low moment was well worth gaining back the expansive stretch of time you would have spent haphazardly battling under the radar.
I’ve come to realize that some of my most difficult moments were gifts, too, because of what they taught me. I’ve discovered it’s one thing to know your parents would do anything for you, but it’s another to actually see it in the eyes of your father as he holds your head in his lap while you cry and shake because you are so very scared of the contents of your own consciousness. I’ve learned that thankfulness is a discipline, and it’s the little things in life that become the big things. That just because something is familiar—the sky, the movement of ripples across water, the taste of dark chocolate, the comfort of hearing your mother’s voice–doesn’t mean it is not a miracle in its own right. I’ve learned that in order to find magic, one must first believe it exists. I’ve learned that though life has suffering in it, life itself is not suffering. That “the heart of life is good."
I do not wish to glamorize pain. Hard times can make relationships and belief systems stronger, but they also have the power to tear them apart. That which doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger. I think it’s iniquitous that suffering should ever be allowed to become beautiful, but I cannot deny that it sometimes does. Because these moments hold the potential to deepen our understanding of the human experience, by pushing the emotional scope of what we thought it was possible to feel.
Above all, these moments have blessed me with a most incredible privilege— the ability to be there for people whom most don’t know how to help. Because most times people don’t want to be helped or “fixed,” they want someone to be with them, to feel with them, to understand. They want someone who can say, “Me too, love, I’ve been there.” You can only empathize with someone to the extent that you have also experienced what they are experiencing. People who are hurting want proof that it is possible to go through these jolting realizations about the nature of our unpredictable and sometimes overwhelming world— to fall into black holes— and come out the other side as more than fragmented bits that no longer resemble anything but a tragedy. They need someone to say to them, “You are not the things that have happened to you. And if you cannot place your trust in the universe right now, at least trust me to trust for you that you will be okay.”
For those of you reading this article from that hard place right now, I want you to know— life gets confusing, but you just have to keep going. I offer to you the most valuable piece of information I possess, the following words spoken by Gary Glass (a poet, philosopher, psychologist all in one): “You can never label a moment as a good moment or a bad moment because that would imply finality.” As we continue adding more context to the narrative of our lives, specific moments often shift and morph their meanings all together. What may have felt like the worst thing that ever happen to you while it was occurring, could one day be the best. Like the way in which my depression strengthened my relationship with my parents to a point I didn’t think was possible, not to mention my relationship with my internal self. Or the way my eating disorder taught me the importance of being present in the moment because it's the only moment in which we can experience what it means to be alive— feel our lungs breath, our hearts beat, our emotions wash through us. I find such serenity in the unfathomable possibilities created by this notion.
Who I am today is the product of those possibilities. I hope to always feel connected to the 22-year-old girl I was when I wrote this article. I know that whoever I become from this moment on will come from who she is right now. And I love this girl. She has worked so hard to get to where she is. I hope you and she both will remember to doubt the finality in moments of struggle—resting within an affirmation of the beautiful potential life has to offer, to change meaning, to pull you deeper and make you fall in love with your own existence.
Cara Peterson is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Wednesday.
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