I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I too, have felt like human garbage in a sea of shiny functioning people. More of a potato than a princess. The kind of girl who tried to put her best foot forward when both of them were lefties. Someone who experienced anxiety, depression, and feelings of complete and total isolation while watching everyone around them function and carry on like seemingly normal human beings. I have been and felt all of these things. There are periods of time where my life feels more like agony than actual existence. I know roughly when it all started…I was able to leave breadcrumbs along the way.
My parents separated when I was really young and they shared joint custody of me until I turned eighteen. I was too polite to pick sides, so I was continuously carted back and forth for a solid fifteen years. As soon as I would begin to settle in one household, It would be time for me to pack up my things and rotate on over to the other house.
If you’ve never been subjected to this kind of existence, you’re probably thinking,
“Uhhhhh cool, you get double the stuff. Like two sets of Christmas presents and two birthdays…Sounds cool to me…
Let me stop you there. It was shitty. Point-blank shitty. My parents liked to duke it out over who ended up with me during the holidays. Heaven forbid one of them pulled the whole, “well Julia, which family do you want to spend this holiday with?” shtick. That was the worst, because I had to be the offensive party with an opinion when I would have rather just disappeared. During all of this, I never felt like either parent was genuinely interested in having me, rather, they wanted the other parent not to win. When you’ve grown up feeling like a bargaining chip or the rope in a game of tug-of war, you’d gladly trade all of your “double gifts” to feel like a part of a normal functioning family.
And let me tell you, my family was never really functional. I had one parent that was sometimes an alcoholic//drug addict//sex addict that liked to bring home leftovers from swingers parties. This person was also manic-depressive. I don’t mean to put this parent down for being mentally ill, but as a child it was a very difficult environment to navigate. I never felt secure in that home. The other parent tried, but mostly wanted to sweep everything under the rug. Mental health issues weren’t discussed in that home. I suppose this was largely a cultural thing. My grandfather immigrated from Mexico and instilled in that parent a very strong work ethic. Emotions and feelings were flowery and got in the way of work. End of story.
Disclaimer: I know things could have been exponentially worse; I could have been homeless, starving, or sold into child slavery. There are a million different ways that my life could have been more traumatic. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over many years of recovery, it’s that trauma is not a fucking pissing contest. It’s not a game of I cut myself deeper, I’ve experienced more pain than you. In trauma and recovery there are no real winners or losers; there’s a beginning but not necessarily a middle or an end. It’s a never-ending game of 52 pick-up more than anything. But you learn to manage.
Lacking a stable home predisposed me to a lifetime of identity issues. My sense of self and personality have always felt underdeveloped. Being bounced back and forth between parents made me feel really displaced; I had two dwellings, but never really felt at home; I constantly felt homesick, but for a place that didn’t yet exist in my own life. I didn’t grow up feeling a strong sense of belonging within either of my families. As a young child and growing into adolescence something within me always felt incomplete. I didn’t understand what it was about me in particular, but I felt off…strange in some kind of inexplicable and intangible way. I carried around a deep sort of sadness that has always affected me socially and made me feel like I was a lesser human…somehow unworthy of connection…and if I’m being really honest, unworthy of love.
Because I lacked a sense of my own identity and ultimately, self-esteem, I never really felt comfortable in my own skin. I constantly carried around this feeling of being out of step with my peers…there was just a part of me that didn’t function on the same frequency. I had friends, but always felt like I was a second string player in their lives. I could get in a car accident and die, and maybe some people would show up to my funeral, but they’d probably go get ice cream and watch a movie afterwards. Maybe I bared some significance, but I wasn’t anyone to lose sleep over. Sometimes I still feel that way. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, panicked. I’ll roll over and look at my spouse, sleeping so calm and peacefully, and I’ll want to shake him awake just to hear him reassure me that he really loves me.
Growing up, I never really shared any of these thoughts with anyone. I already felt weird and didn’t need people to catch on to how weird, or even crazy, I really was. I now recognize that the feelings that I was experiencing were all telltale signs of mental illness. The paranoia about nobody liking me or caring about me, the strange feelings of emptiness and restlessness, and the uncontrollable sadness…they were all feelings more common than I understood at that age. I craved attention and validation but couldn’t let anyone know how desperate I was to feel these things. I was so isolated and alone. Sometimes the only thing that I felt was dejection and apathy. Other times I was inexplicably angry, then sad. I was hot, then I was cold. It was hell. This frustration, combined with a lack of ability to constructively regulate my emotions caused me to turn in on myself.
I self-mutilated for three years as a coping mechanism. To this day, very few people that are close to me know. I’ve worked on rebuilding a relationship with part of my family, but this just isn’t something I’ll ever feel comfortable telling them. Sharing things is not a learned habit of mine, either. But I’m working on it.
Ultimately, accepting that it’s okay to be a work in progress has been the turning point in my life. I don’t believe in any of the flowery garbage such as “If you don’t love yourself, then you can’t love anyone else”. I call bullshit on that. Some of the most self-loathing people on the planet are the most outwardly kind and loving; we’re just not always capable of extending ourselves the same kindness. And fuck, do we try.
Somebody once told me, “You look like you don’t need anyone in the world. You look like you’re content carrying on in your own company for a lifetime”. This initially left me flattered. I thought that I must look pretty tough and un-phased by all the chaos in my head; I was actually fooling people. Looking back, this was one more of the many things that I was just so very wrong about. Vulnerability—the act of being vulnerable, is so much tougher and simultaneously more rewarding than shouldering it all on your own. I’m not saying that you have to go out into the world and reveal all of your cards. Confessing all of your sins isn’t going to fix everything, despite what the Catholics promise…but worrying less about what others will think or say about your mental illness (easier said than done) and spending more time talking through it (or in my case writing through it) is way more productive in terms of self-care.
I’m in a much better place now. It took years, but I’ve finally found outlets in which I’m able to channel my issues. Writing down what I’m feeling and shooting it off into cyberspace has helped me immensely. Every once in awhile it reaches someone that needed to relate as badly as I did. For me, those small successes are monumental. It’s everything that I could ask for in terms of healing. I know there’s never going to be a permanent fix that makes all of the negative thoughts in my head disappear and that’s okay. Sometimes I joke that my only identity is my mental illness and I don’t know who I’d be without it. Mostly I’m being sardonic. Maybe a little part of me is afraid that I won’t have anything to write about if I’m not in pain. I think all of us who consider ourselves artists feel this way from time to time. If I don’t write these words in my own blood, are they less valuable? The old me would have rather given you a pint of my own blood than my actual thoughts. Maybe now I’m giving a little of both. For now, that’s enough.