“I was so blessed to have such a great, horrible experience. Without that horrible experience, I would not be here. I would not love them so much.” – Hennessy Echemendia
“A Letter to My Roommate”
Fiction. Based on a True Long Overdue Letter
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Trigger Warning: our program often motivates people to discuss their trauma. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, please, take a step back to address emotional flashbacks and trauma before continuing to push yourself. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at (1-800) 273-8255
For most of my life, I resented living in the evergreen state. The rain dampened my mood and I found the humid summers to be unbearable. And it wasn’t until I graduated that I realized what I had left behind.
For three months I lived in scorching sunshine, then moved to a city where it was 80 degrees one day and snowing the next. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the rain that dampened my mood. No, this was due to some other factor.
I had been too afraid most of my life to share how I really felt, what I actually thought. To be honest, I guess I could end that statement with ‘I have been too afraid most of my life…’ because that would be just as accurate. I had been a shy kid, one who was always timid and the last to try something reckless. As I grew older I changed from a shy kid to an anxious mess. I began to develop tics– obsessive compulsions that left me exhausted. I woke up an hour before I needed to– especially considering I had packed my backpack, made my lunch, and picked out my clothes the night before. I triple checked my backpack to ensure I never had to experience the dread of borrowing a pen from the teacher. I made sure all my notes were dated and organized. And I went out of my way to ensure all my ducks were in a row. And anything unexpected or inconsistent was a nightmare.
By senior year, I was both anxious and depressed. Constantly at war with myself. One side of me yelled at me to do better. To stay after school for extra help, to apply for competitive internships. The other had long since given up. And I stayed that way, too anxious and too indifferent, for a long time. Too long.
It wasn’t until I was in my third semester of college that I realized that the path I was going down would eventually lead to a dead end. So I did something I had never done before. I told someone. I told them about the fears that kept me up at night, and the numbness that would wash over me sporadically without warning. I confided that I was scared. Scared that I would always feel this way, or maybe never feel anything. And it was like the heaviness that weighed on my shoulders eased up a bit. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had the tools and resources in front of me. For the first time, I did something about it. Something for myself.
The process of getting help wasn’t easy, or simple for that matter. Occasionally it felt like more trouble than it was worth. I wondered if the side effects of different medications and scheduling appointments were doing anything. I worried that all of the hard work I had invested in myself would end with inconclusive results. But more than that, I feared that I would have to feel this way for the rest of college, the rest of my life. And that every important, incredible moment would be tinged with that sadness. I was afraid I would feel this when I graduated, or got married, or had kids. Even the thought of affecting those close to me made my stomach tighten. I became even more worried, even more afraid. New experiences and memories became more bitter than sweet, and every new face I met was another empty first impression.
In truth, some days it felt like I was almost there. Laughing became easier, talking more enjoyable. Other days I felt worse than before, and I remained in my room curled up on the floor trying to wait out the depression.
One day, while I was waiting out a particularly large and relentless wave, I looked back in my journal. Even with its inconsistent entries, it told a story. I looked back at the bland entries that began the journal. Empty regurgitations of what I did that particular day. Slowly, it became a plea. Desperation dripped from one entry to the next. Not more than a few pages later, the desperation turned into defeat. Acceptance that this was my fate and nothing could be done about it. Where there had been an underlying layer of hope there was only melancholy.
And for entry after entry, nothing changed. Occasionally it would lighten up but always came back in full force; the calm before the storm. Somehow, reading the past entries put the current ones into perspective. No day had ever been perfect, even with all the help I had. But there were days when I would laugh so hard I had to gasp for air. Moments that I shared with those closest to me, moments that never failed to take my breath away. And there were bigger problems than those I had ever endured. And I came out stronger than ever.
I suppose it’s a strange sentiment, one that is difficult to put into words, but here is my feeble attempt. When I was young, I had no idea who I would become. The possibilities were as endless as the night sky. In the years that followed, my options narrowed and I was left with a path that I had not created for myself. It wasn’t until I was quite far down the path that I paused and realized that I didn’t know who I was. The person living my life was a stranger. A stranger forced to live a life she hadn’t created for herself– like a princess locked in a tower. I had just let life direct me and people decide for me. Spending my most formative years with anxiety and depression left me as an empty shell by the time I finally gained control. Was I shy or bold? Was I outgoing or reserved? Did I like partying or keeping to myself? What did I desire? What did I fear?
So many questions circled in my mind. I was a blank slate, or as close to one as a person could become. The thought was intimidating. Part of me was angry that I didn’t get the same childhood that my friends had. That I hadn’t known which university or major I wanted, that I didn’t know my personality. I envied their assuredness. Their confidence practically glowing from within them. I had to try and revise, trying on so many different suits until I found one that fitted me. For years I had thought I was introverted, timid, stressed, a perfectionist in an imperfect world. Now I was welcoming, caring, easy-going, and a challenger against whatever life threw my way. I didn’t know if I had become this way because of the many years I spent enduring the pain I felt, or if I had always been this way underneath the stress and sadness. The world had become brighter. Every moment felt like a second chance, and I savored each whether good or bad. I embraced the effortless excitability and joy I felt in the most random of times. And for the first time, I wasn’t afraid of the sad, lonely ones. Because I knew I had survived them for years, and because I knew that happiness would come and replace them. I just had to wait.
But I also learned that I wasn’t very good at waiting. I had wasted so many years afraid, I had so many things to do and only so much time to spend playing catch up. I didn’t want to wait any longer. I took chances that I had seen as risks and sought opportunities I had once deemed too unattainable. I set my mind on something and did it, I saw a challenge as a new adventure. And my love for the little pleasures of life was infectious. I found those who felt the same way, who helped me achieve bigger and greater things. I set my sights higher– fell further– and got back up ready to try again. I embraced every emotion I could; happiness, anger, infatuation, embarrassment, loneliness.
Not every moment was perfect. There were still times when I felt the loneliness threaten to wave over me. Moments that had me in a ball, clutching the back of my neck, my palms clammy. It took more effort but I embraced those, too. They didn’t reduce back into a little girl, they served as constant reminders of why I worked so hard. They reminded me of the person I had become.
For someone who has never experienced what I went through at such a critical part of my life might not understand. It’s something you have to experience for yourself- though I hope you never have to. There’s a bitter and a sweet. Both accompanied by confusion, anger, loneliness, and worry. I don’t know if I would ever willingly go through that again. But those years, as difficult as they were acted like pressure on coal. Eventually, something somewhat resembling a diamond took its place.
I suppose I’m telling this to you for a few reasons. One, because I have never shared this chapter of my life with anyone, and I want someone to hear it. Two, because you played a major role in all of this. Whether a catalyst or simply an answer to a long-uttered prayer, I’ll always be grateful. And lastly, because don’t want others to feel alone like I had for so many years. I want them to know that there is hope and happiness out there for them, too.