I am staring at a blank page, something that I’ve done every Sunday for two and a half years. I am more fulfilled as a person than I have ever been, but somehow that makes it harder to write. When I started writing my weekly diaries for Rookie, I was still haunted by the depression I’d had the summer before. I had just turned 16 and it hadn’t been very sweet.
I thought you were meant to know much more at the age of 16 than I did. I had felt the same way about turning 15, 14, 13, etc. Every 24th April I knew less, had less, than I thought I should. By 16, I thought I should have life pretty much figured out; the fact that I didn’t, I believed, meant I would never be successful or content. Instead I was spending all my time at home, unhappy and tired.
Rookie, this brand new baby of a creation, was the light at the end of that summer tunnel. I read Tavi’s call for submissions as an opportunity to be involved in something special for once, instead of just watching from the sidelines. When I think of that moment, I see a blank grey slate with a few flowers beginning to grow. I got to write about my slow crawl out of agoraphobia, my building back up from the dirt of my life, my numerous “firsts” after being so sheltered for so long, my falling a bit apart again, and finally my move to a new city, full of new firsts. Today, I can say I’ve never been more proud of myself.
I think I needed to leave home for a while to learn to actually look after myself. I had to remove myself from the damaging cycles that were so easy to get caught up in while sitting stagnant in the same house I’d lived in for 13 years. I couldn’t have become an adult if I had stayed home, having Mum to make my doctors’ appointments, buy my food, pick up my prescriptions.
Those prescriptions—my antidepressant, my birth-control pill—are the main reason I have to remember to make my own appointments at my new health centre in London. I always forget till the last minute and stress at the thought of ringing the centre at 8:45 in the morning to see if there have been any cancellations. But I always manage to do it. Then I walk to the pharmacy, brandishing that green slip of paper as if to say, “I am not ashamed of people knowing that I have my own type of malady; I am treating it, and I am treating it by myself.” There is no one to hold my hand.
If I do ever need someone to hold my hand, it’s usually Erica. When I arrived a few days late to student halls, she opened the door of her flat and said, “Things have been happening!” We went to her bedroom straightaway and that was that. Instant friendship. And that was really when my life began. My favourite activity is still flopping down on her bed, where it’s OK to be quiet.
My most precious possession is my Oyster card, for the train. It is mine, it has my name on it, and it makes going anywhere in London so simple. I like to keep the things that could flare up my agoraphobia as simple as possible. I have gone back and forth between Birmingham and London more times than I can remember, but every journey is different. Though I am beginning to memorize the order of particular landmarks by the tracks—power stations, bridges, wind turbines, fields of yellow and caravan parks—my feelings are not as reliable. Every time I come back home something new has happened: People who are new become old, but old people become something new. Trust shifts, I have different things to talk about, different things to laugh about. All the way back and forth on the train, I am constantly weighing what to love and what to hate. What is right and what is wrong. But answers are not what I am looking for.
My happiness is much more invested in people now that I don’t spend all my time alone. I don’t trust falling in love, but I trust friendship way more than I ever thought I could. I still feel a shadow of my agoraphobic past from time to time, and I still remember acutely what it feels like to be paralyzed by anxiety. Sometimes I can move on from those thoughts easily; sometimes my face tenses when I remember my worst moments. But then I go outside for fresh air, or tell Erica, or get on the next train to see St. Paul’s or Tower Bridge or the National Gallery. I’ll buy flowers and put them on my windowsill, or rearrange my bedroom and feel renewed.
Or we’ll go out, like we do, and I’ll dance with lovers and strangers and bestow kisses on those I have no romantic feeling for, but want to protect from the bottom of my heart. I want to protect them from themselves, because I know how much harm one person can do to their own skin and bones. If only I could reach out more to other people and teach them what I know. But I also know that a person can only ever help themselves.
I’ve always been a person that has worth, though for a long time I allowed myself to be convinced otherwise. But I am going to be 20 years old tomorrow, and the optimistic me will not let bad things define me anymore. I’ve had years of experience being tormented—I think that’s enough to be going on with. I am not the same person I was. I’ve grown and grown.
Life is more fun now. Life is happier without hatred—of oneself or of people and their actions. It’s good to realise that they are just living their lives too.
I don’t know whether any of this says anything, or enough of what I have to say. Whenever someone related to any of my diaries, it gave me a rush. It felt good to be reminded that what I feel is real, and that other people feel the same. That is perhaps the best thing about living in a community like this one.
Turning 20 means I won’t be writing these diaries for Rookie anymore. I remember one of things I wrote to Tavi the first time was that I had “a lot to say.” I have too much to say. I hope it has been enough. ♦