This was originally posted on Black Box Warnings in November, two days after my 29th birthday. But, since BBW has been closed for viewing, I decided to re-post it here. These words matter muchly to me.
Three months ago, I was sitting on the lid of a toilet seat, hunched over and sob-gasping as I tried to cut into my ankle with a corkscrew. But that isn’t where this story begins. This story begins in a childhood long ago, in a mindset far away, and this story doesn’t know where it’s going until almost the very end.
When I was young, there was magic dusted over every surface: my paper dolls, the shells at the beach, my father’s face.
“Fetch me the moon, Papa!” I knew he could. And when he couldn’t, he did anyway – the very next day, I awoke to a champagne-colored balloon bobbing above my bed.
For years, that magic followed me. It was the gift my parents had wrapped inside the package of a beautiful childhood. It sustained me and, with little effort on my part, became my trademark. My eyes had been trained to notice small but wondrous things, and I pointed them out. My heart instinctually assigned deeper meaning to people’s actions and words and made them glow. And my friends relied on me for this. “You’re our pixie, Jenn. You sprinkle your dust and everything turns shiny again.”
It wasn’t always easy to love me, though. I had such high standards: If life can be exquisite, why would anyone settle for being just content? What a waste!
In college, I dated a guitar-strumming redhead who was equally devoted to me and to writing new songs for his band. One day, with worry buzzing in my brain, I asked why he never wrote happy songs. “These are all about loss and sickness and romance gone bad. Aren’t you happy with me?” He murmured back, “Yeah, but there’s more to life than happiness. The dark stuff moves people.”
A month later, I moved on. I had no time to dwell on ugly things. As I said my goodbye, he told me that my constant need for him to be upbeat was suffocating. That what once charmed him now made him feel desperate. I simply took that as validation of how vibrant I was, and how lost he was. Poor music man.
Years later, I found myself deep in a life I had built with great intention. My job was paying for grad school, so soon I would finally write for a living. I was married to an amazing man who made me feel safe and free all at once. But between the dirty house and our three rescue dogs and my wizard father’s debilitating chronic pain, I was also frequently tired. Flat exhausted, actually. There just wasn’t time to sprinkle pixie dust in every corner my life. And the day I found myself in that bathroom, corkscrew in hand, I was all out of magic.
This story isn’t about self-harm, despite the weeks I spent poking myself with various objects. I never even managed to break the skin.
This story isn’t about how a therapist restored me to myself, either, although she did speak the words that changed everything: “Jennie, you have to learn to sit with the emotions that you think are negative. Yes, self-doubt and anxiety are hard things to feel, but they’re only overwhelming because you’ve made them into monsters in your mind. You need to face them for what they really are.”
She was right, and her advice felt like a whole new kind of life magic. I’d always been so afraid to feel anything negative, but lately I just couldn’t summon the energy to feel ecstatic, either. Instead of accepting that and letting myself float along for a bit, I’d shut down completely. If I couldn’t be a pixie, if I was going to settle for some average, monotonous life, then I didn’t even want to try anymore. And then not feeling anything at all was even scarier, and that’s why I was bruising my wrists and digging pens into my neck, just to feel something again.
These days, I’m re-teaching myself how to sit. Not on a closed toilet lid, weapon in hand, but with all my emotions, however they come. I’ve been told that optimists fall the fastest when the darkness of depression hits, because we don’t have experience living without the sun. Now I remind myself daily that the sun is just one of the things that lights up the sky. Even when you can’t see it, the moon is always there.
And so is the magic, because – in a pinch – a balloon will work just fine.