This past week, a girl from my previous school who I was acquainted with got married. Of course, as I've mentioned before, it was my hope when I started college to be in her exact place once I graduated - getting married weeks after graduation to my freshman year sweetheart and riding off into the sunset to start our entry level jobs in some new, exciting location. I would wear a beautiful dress and people would pay lots of attention to me and I would know I had value and worth because someone had willingly chosen to spend the rest of his life with me. And I would be completely justified in having a Wedding board on my Pinterest account.
Of course, I couldn't be farther from getting hitched, or really fulfilling any part of this fantasy scenario, as I never even was asked on a date my entire three years at said college (or the one year out of the place) and I'm now extraordinarily suspicious of love and matrimony, especially the prospect of me ever being the victim of it. Ha! Yeah right. Although, my romantic side has been reawakened this week watching the beautiful love story between Henri and Agnes unfold on Mr. Selfridge (really good show if you like period dramas, but I digress...) not to mention The Bachelorette starting back up. But when I think about getting married one day, I quickly find myself stopped in my tracks by all sorts of intellectual barriers. "Would I have to run all my financial choices by him?" "I couldn't paint my house cosy cottage colors! Or decorate the way I want!" "What if he is a big spender or starts gambling and our bank accounts are linked?" "But if you don't link your bank accounts, people have always told me that's not true commitment." "Can I really commit to anyone any more? I feel so changed from who I was before when all I wanted was to give my life to someone." "What if..."
I could go on, but I think you get the point! Of course, I'm all off-track from where I wanted to be. The point is, I can't imagine getting married at this age, and I'm so excited just to be back running a busy, productive life, planning and tackling projects I'm excited about and back in the race towards finishing my degree. It's not perfect, but I am, for once in my life, happy. And I have brighter prospects than I ever did when I was at my old school...grad school, a professor to help mentor me through the application process, a coo volunteer position, a novel inspired by previous heartbreak, etc. And it's so nice to be home, to be comfortable. Home isn't perfect, but I'm not miserable like I used to be. And having found the right supplements and medication, I'm doing so much better emotionally and mentally (and physically!) I am so very, very thankful for that. I can tell the difference and I know that I need to be sure I take my supplements every day b/c I don't want to go back to experiencing that kind of darkness, even for a day.
I feel strong knowing that I've overcome and although I'm still a bit fearful about what storms may lurk on the horizon of my life, I know now that I have better coping skills and access to resources to help me get through. I know I have the strength to make it through even the most hellish hours. So even if I'm not living the Fairy Tale Princess Fantasy, I am learning to be happy being me. I am being my own newly anointed Warrior Princess disguised as a quiet, nerdy kid. I may not get the attention, adoration, and spotlight that this other woman does in her newlywed state, but I have the freedom to strengthen my relationship with myself, something I've found most women my age who are in romantic relationships (or longing to be in one) lack. And I have freedom to dream big, pursue new paths, and change the world. I wouldn't trade that for any man (even Henri...I think).
Beyond that, this week I realized something invaluable that my experience with mental illness has given me. Talking to my childhood friend who also knew the woman getting married (they were high school friends), I learned that this woman had ditched her high school amigas once she hit the big leagues of liberal arts college. I wasn't entirely surprised since I had tried to talk to this woman once or twice about our mutual friend our freshman year and she was a bit condescending about her. Then, I could tell from later conversations with my childhood friend (we'll call her C) that she and the woman (we'll call her MG) didn't really talk any more. Anyways, C expressed how sad she and her other high school friends were about MG abandoning them, more or less, and not even inviting them to her wedding (except one girl) or giving much of a reply whenever they tried to reach out to reconnect. One of my pet peeves is definitely people who abandon their friends.
My guess is that since MG became pretty popular at our college, was one of the cool girls on our freshman hall, got a boyfriend freshman year, became stage manager in the exclusive hipster-English major-dominated theater department, etc. she became too cool for her high school friends.
The sad thing is that our mutual friend, C, has had serious medical issues since the end of our freshman year, which forced her to take the past couple years off from school and endure countless surgeries and doctor's appointments. It breaks my heart and I can't imagine the frustration and isolation she must feel. I'm grateful though that I've been able to be a little more mindful of what she's gone through because of my own struggles with illness and having to take time off of school. I know how frustrating it is to have a weak body that can't achieve what your mind and spirit long to accomplish, how useless you feel. The frustration of not being able to figure out what's wrong or get better, of feeling betrayed by doctors who were supposed to help but only made things worse or were clueless as to how to make things better. The hopelessness you feel as things continue to get worse and worse each time you think you've turned a corner, causing you to doubt you will ever be able to return to normal life. The jealousy, loneliness, bitterness, and hurt that sets in when you see everyone continuing on with their youth around you, oblivious to the privilege they have to live a normal life. Seeing their lives move on and pass the milestones and garner praise. Watching them forget you and having the check-ins grow farther and farther apart (if they happen at all) as old friends turn to near strangers.
Because I knew a little of what that was like, I made more of an effort to remember to send encouragement, a text or card, to be understanding when an appointment came up or no response arrived. To speak words of hope and offer unwavering support. It wasn't perfect and I'm sure I could've done more, but I'm glad that my experience allowed me to offer empathy and to be aware of the importance of offering encouragement. I'm glad I didn't become too cool for old friends because as I've grown older and my college friends have proved lame, I've realized that even though I didn't think much of them when I was in high school, my friends from that time were the real deal. They are not cool in the conventional sense, but they are amazing people who I am blessed to have in my life and I believe they are the ones I will keep in touch with the rest of my life, not (most of) my college friends, like I once thought.
And even though I've always loved my family, their faithfulness through this whole ordeal and the joy of returning to live with them again has taught me to value them even more and speak my appreciation daily. I still need to work on enjoying my time with them and expressing my love for them because I know my time will run out one day, but I'm glad that I can see how precious my time with them is. We get so focused on getting out on our own and being independent and everyone says you have to move on from your parents, but I'm beginning to question that some. My family is all I have at the end of the day. They are the people who never gave up on me when others did. I want to keep people who are so faithful and supportive close at hand and never stray too far from their loving presence. I want to appreciate that while I have it because otherwise I won't appreciate it till it's gone.
So, in summary, there have been a lot of negatives in my experience in the past year and a half (and even beyond that!), but there have been a few positives too. I love the path I'm on now, though it took a long grieving and recovery process to find and accept it. I am grateful for the opportunity to develop empathy and compassion for others and to be made aware of a mission beyond myself. I am grateful for being given a story to tell and the motivation to tell it. I'm not saying I'm totally glad some of those awful things happened to me, nor am I downplaying how difficult it was to go through the pain I did. But it is good to know that some good came of it. It's good to know that I am ultimately in a better place than I would have been. Most of all, I'm excited to announce that there is hope. Recovery is possible. A better life is before you. Hope is real. Help can really help you.