When I was eighteen years old, I spent a couple of nights a week standing in the bathroom at 3am thinking up ways to kill myself.
I had a few options. A bottle of sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet. The loaded gun my boyfriend kept under the front seat of his car. The apartment I shared with my boyfriend was on the third floor of the complex, and even though I knew that jumping off the balcony would probably result in nothing more than a broken leg, I still fantasized about that freefall, that excellent feeling of letting go, of making everything just stop.
Depression is one of those things that just sort of creeps up on you. You spend so much of your energy just trying to get through the basic tasks that keep you living that you don’t have time to reflect on why you feel like you’re looking at the world through a gray gauze. You stop noticing that nothing feels real.
I developed a number of crutches to get through my six months in Bellingham, Washington. I took up smoking and ate a lot. I hit somewhere close to 270 pounds and only had one pair of jeans that actually fit me. I could barely get up a flight of stairs or around the block without getting winded. My boyfriend was getting increasingly irate about my weight, but demands for sex didn’t lessen. I think a secret part of me was hoping that if I gained enough weight and dressed badly enough that he would break up with me for not being attractive, and I’d be free. When I did later get up the gumption to make the break, I realized my fears of doing the breaking were pretty well-founded – he kept calling me, waited around for me after classes, and threatened several of my friends that he would kill me and then drink bleach, or get plastic surgery so I wouldn’t know it was him. He started trying to date all of our mutual friends. He finally backed off when I threatened to get a restraining order.
But that was much later.
As for the sex, I started thinking about it as a chore – like doing the laundry, the dishes, cooking dinner. Close your eyes and think of England. A sorry state of affairs for somebody like me who does, in fact, really enjoy sex and has a pretty high sex drive (when it’s not pounded out into a passionless schedule. Some people confuse sex and masturbation). Sex was something I had to do because if I didn’t there was going to be a conflict, another angry night followed by a screaming fight, and when you’re really depressed, you don’t have the energy for much at all, let alone a screaming fight.
I got used to feeling stupid and unattractive. After all, I spent all of my time with somebody who patted me on the head and told me so. Spend all your time with an asshole who tells you you’re stupid and worthless, and you’ll start to believe it. Spend all your time in a house of screaming fights and broken dishes, and you’ll start to think it’s normal.
After a while, you’ll start to look for an easy way out. The only way out. When you paint yourself into a corner, suicide looks pretty rosy. I had no money. Kept a crappy job as a restaurant hostess that paid minimum wage (no health insurance, no benefits, etc. of course). Took a couple community college classes to try and finish up my AA degree.
I thought I should be happy. I’d gotten out of my parents’ house at eighteen. I was out there living with my boyfriend. I had an outside balcony where I grew plants.
I hadn’t written a word of fiction in nearly six months.
I’m now twenty-six years old. I’m sharing an apartment in Chicago with a buddy of mine from Clarion. I live in a houseful of books and plants. I work at a telecommunications company for about 42K a year (OK health insurance, 401(K), bonus, etc). I just got another couple of contract writing assignments that I’m using to pay off my credit cards. I just consolidated my student loans. I’m strong and back to a body size I’m comfortable in. I’m moving to NYC in July, a city I never in my weirdest dreams ever thought I’d live in. I’ve sold some stories. I’m rewriting a book for an agent. Finishing another book this summer. I have amazing friends. My parents love me. I’m working toward a number of personal goals. I read a lot of books. I have a Master’s Degree. I lived in South Africa and Alaska. I’ve traveled a lot overseas and intend to travel more (gotta live in London sometime!).
I have a good life.
When things get ugly around me, when I feel like I’m not moving forward as well or as quickly as I’d like, I remember this story. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “This isn’t the woman I want to be. “
I picked someone else, and decided to be her instead.
I’ve read about the stories of some feminists on other blogs who wrote about why they decided to be feminists. I didn’t become a feminist until I was 19. Until then, I was pretty much the biggest misogynist I knew. I didn’t think of myself as a woman, really. I was too smart to be a woman. Things that women did, the messes they “got themselves into” weren’t things I had to worry about: rape, abusive relationships, unplanned pregnancies, job discrimination – these things weren’t real threats to me. I was smarter than that.
But being smarter than that didn’t make me a man, and it didn’t take away those threats.
I learned that the hard way.
I’m a feminist because I woke up one day and realized that despite the fact that I was smart and strong and capable and believed men and women had equal rights and opportunities and were treated the same in the world, I was wrong. And I don’t want to live in a world where women not only get treated like dirt for being women, but take that abuse because they believe they’re dirt, too.
I have made a great, big, successful life for myself, and I did it with the help of some very supportive friends and family and through sheer, angry stubbornness.
I had a life I wanted to live and a woman I wanted to be – and that’s what gets me up every morning.
B says that I’m too hard on myself. This may be true, but it’s the only way I know how to go forward. I have to push, because I’m naturally lazy. I have to work harder than other people. I have to sleep at least 8-10 hours a night, hours that insomniacs are likely using to figure out their finances. I have to eat a certain amount to maintain all this muscle mass I’ve gained. I have to portion out workout times and writing times and work times and work overtime times and figure-out-my-finances times.
It’s called life, sure.
But there was a time where I went to work, ate, watched TV, and slept. And then I woke up and did it all over again, with no desire to do anything else at all because everything seemed so hard.
I don’t think any of it is any easier now, but I have something to push against. I have somebody I was, somebody I don’t want to be again.
And after two years of weight lifting and sporadic martial arts and boxing classes and jogging days and bike riding and figuring out how to eat outside the binge-and-purge cycle, I want to learn how to never go back. I want to learn how to maintain this.
I want to be better. I want to be smarter and stronger. I want to be a better writer. I want to stay in the same clothing size for more than two years at a time. I want to live forever. I want to fly.
There are women who’ve been through shit that’s a fuck of a lot worse than mine. There are women going through worse. There are women who’ve had it easier. What I hope about all those women, though, is that they know that if they want it, they can be better, too. They can close their eyes and decide who they want to be, and they can step away from all the bullshit. They know that they can be smart and strong and still make dumb decisions. And they know that making one dumb decision doesn’t mean they have to end it all. And it doesn’t mean their lives are screwed because of it.
When you do something dumb, you pick yourself up, you brush yourself off, and you start over.
You be who you want to be.
Fall down seven times. Get up eight.