2016: a year filled with no rhyme or reason. That was the year I had felt the lowest in my whole life. Let me explain a little more.
At the end of 2015, one of my uncles had passed away. He was very dear to me because he gave me strength to press on through my (self-diagnosed) bipolar disorder. He always smiled whenever he saw me even though he was in immeasurable pain due to his medical condition. When he passed, I was scared. My pillar of strength was gone. What if I can’t cope? Especially since 2016 I was going into Form 4, which is substantially more different than Forms 1 - 3. Nonetheless, I pushed the worries to the back of my mind and pressed on into the start of what I now dub the year of realisation (granted, I’m only 17 and there will be many more changes happening, but hey, I’m a melodramatic adolescent).
2016 started off average, moderate, not as scary as I thought. I was okay with everything and I had just started thinking it was going to be a good year. The first term exam came around and I had a breakdown when I got some of my results back -- meaning, I literally broke down. My eyes had quickly filled with tears and I started bawling. My head had started to hurt and my hands shook uncontrollably. I felt worthless and deemed myself a waste of space. Stress was high, nerves were shaken and I wanted to die. Under the covers of the night as well as my blanket, I remember taking a blade and actually cutting my skin open. If you ask me now why I did it, I can only tell you it was a coping mechanism -- instead of expressing and relieving the pain in my brain through a healthier medium, I did so by inflicting pain on myself physically and somehow it helped ease my mind. Ask me how, and I honestly wouldn’t be able to explain it to you. But I sure hope you won’t have to experience it.
Months passed and while things such as the above continued, I had actually been able to reduce it by a substantial frequency. This was with the help of a friend who had spent hours on end talking me through things and making me see things in a better light. While my physical self-harm reduced, my mental and emotional self-harm were still high as ever. Small things would trigger tears and sobbing -- now that I think about it, I even cried for no reason at all. At that point in time, I couldn’t even understand how people smiled like it was no big deal -- because to me, smiling was something I could do with ease only when I was experiencing my manic state, while during all the other times, I smiled to hide how empty my head felt, and each time I did it hurt. That hurt would then become so unbearable that I would run to the toilet to sob, or even sob wherever currently I was. I forced myself to act “normal” -- or at least what I had perceived as normal, and it was even more detrimental to my fragile mind. I had a very low self-esteem as well. Like, critically low -- like, there’s no point in calling a doctor because my self-esteem was already standing in its grave, all you had to do was bury it. I saw myself as less of a human because of my own mental illness and hated and blamed myself for it (pro tip: I was wrong in this assumption, because mental illness isn’t someone’s “fault”, it’s merely a condition to be treated and overcome).
Another reason for this was that I felt like a complete non-achiever -- you know what overachievers are right? Think of the absolutely complete opposite of that. That’s what I saw myself as -- a useless waste of space that couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried. I would look at my friends in envy as they stood up on the stage, receiving trophies, medals, prefect ties. I wanted to be up there too, but my anxiety reminded me that I would just muck up even if I got to be onstage -- and I listened (pro tip: big mistake).
While even though I felt so much, I didn’t try to express as much as I should have to anyone. I felt caged and didn’t think anyone would take time out of their lives to really listen. Partly, it was because of my own personality which prioritised everyone else before myself. Another part was because I really didn’t trust anybody to really listen to what I had to say. As I told a friend before, my vulnerability came from my invulnerability.
Soon after, that friend who had been sticking by me all throughout my incessant fits of depression, anger and certain periods of manic happiness, became a romantic partner. He helped me through that terrifying period of time and it just felt like fate (no, this isn’t going to be a sappy love story, I swear).
I became much better and felt happy more often than what I had been used to. At that point I had owed it all to my boyfriend and I put him in such high regard while putting him as my absolute, first priority. And me, being a hopeless romantic (maybe read as clingy), always wanted to be near him and always wanted his undivided attention. This, of course, was not possible, what with us being in different classes as well as being individually busy with our own responsibilities. I grew anxious and insecure about our relationship, and inevitably, we grew apart, then broke up.
We had broken up at the end of our academic year, so call me fortunate that I didn’t have to see his face around school everyday after. Still, it hurt. It felt like love and it felt real. Friends consoled me, saying that the timing was off, that he wasn’t right for me. None of this actually made me feel better (surprise, surprise). I had insisted we maintain contact as friends, because there was such a strong bond between us it felt like a waste to sever it just like that. But still, I was lost and in pain again. The pain in my mind manifested itself as a pain in my chest that magnified when I thought about him. I wanted to scream and cry but it made me feel even more helpless -- like a child sitting on the floor, unable to reach that bag of chips on the high shelf. I was empty, lost, scared, and close to giving up on everything.
Then, I remembered I promised a friend that I would take part in the poetry slam that was held earlier this year. With a sigh of resignation, I thought, “Not like I have anything better to do.” And I started off my poem writing binge. My first poem I’d ever written is right here if you were wondering about it:
because of You, I grew up different
because of You, I had been hurt
because of You, I was an abomination
because of You, I was isolated
because of You, I was hated
because of You, I lost friends
because of You, I lost lovers
You taught me strength
You taught me resilience
You taught me love
You taught me truth
You taught me support
You taught me beauty
You taught me happiness
You, who has been with me since the beginning,
You have shown me all that I know,
but, what is Your name?
It felt so therapeutic and freeing. Even though I had told my friends about what had happened, I realised I never actually explored and vented about my own feelings. The realisation struck me so hard I sat at my desk dumbfounded for a good minute. I actually started smiling after that. Pretty words and flowery sentence structures flowed from my brain, conveying pain, love, hope, sadness, anger and everything else I had been keeping inside of me. I fell in love with poetry and the way it impacted my readers. I wrote almost every single day, and each one was better than the last. Seeing myself improve made me even happier than I was with my ex. Lo and behold, another realisation struck me. I was becoming happier. It felt surreal and unbelievable, yet there I was, happier than ever, writing poetry.
I sent in my submission for the poetry slam, heart pumping with excitement and nervous energy. I laughed at myself: an introverted, shy, shaking girl, reciting poetry in front of a crowd? That sounds preposterous. Still, what if I got through? What if I managed to overcome this shaking, quaking person that I am now? The thought excited me even more. I took my poetry a step further. I submitted a whole series of poems to the Tenbyzine, just to see how far I could push my abilities. My poems went into the Tenbyzine, I performed my poem in front of a crowd, I overcame myself. Standing in front of people with all their eyes glued to my face and eyes, listening to my voice, dozens of people reading my own feelings; I felt so proud of what I had done. Granted, it may not have been a big deal for many, but for me, I felt like I conquered a country.
With my newfound security in speaking in front of a crowd, I started looking towards even more ways to express myself. I knew I had to face my fear of expressing my emotions truthfully to my friends and family. Suppressing my nerves, I laid my heart out to my closer friends. I spent so much time on calling and texting them. I was absolutely overjoyed when most of the people I reached out to had listened patiently and encouraged me to strive even more for improvement. I took one more step out of my comfort zone by talking to Alesha, someone who I wasn’t that close to, but I felt a great connection with her just from a couple of conversations. She had moved me and helped me up quite a lot when I was doubting myself for a while. I’m incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such amazing people who are able to slap sense into me.
From that point on, I continued to grow. My confidence skyrocketed and I was more self-assured. Everyone around me could tell I had become an almost entirely different person. My laughs were louder, thoughts were spoken out, smiles wider, I spent most of my time focused on my studies and my own growth. Another habit had popped up that I noticed contributed to my personal growth as well: saying “I love you”. It’s an abnormal habit that I don’t even know where I picked it up from, but it stuck. I said “I love you” to people I was distantly acquainted with, to close friends, to people who I’d only met that day; it didn’t matter to me, because there was so much positivity in me, I just wanted to share it -- and what better way than to vocalise my endearment of someone. This habit made me realise the change in me (yes, I did dub 2017 as the year of change) that I didn’t only just have positivity within me, but I had love, most astonishingly: self-love.
This realisation and growth made me insurmountably happier than I already was. From that point on, my growth increased exponentially. I definitely had down days where I felt sad and even depressed, but I reminded myself of my past and how far I’ve come. Instead of moping and staying static in my depressive state, I forced myself to be dynamic; I would go to the gym, cook for myself, draw, practise calligraphy, take my dog for a walk, sing -- anything to get my mind off of the static, stagnant state of my mind. I consistently kept at maintaining my own mental health to my best capability.
As a conclusion to this long story of mine, I’d like to tell everyone that even though I and many others have overcome hardships throughout our lives, it’s not always a field of flowers -- it can still be a field of thorns and poison ivy that we have to walk through, but just know that these things can be conquered. May it be a mental disorder, anxiety, insecurity, or anything else. With proper help and support, you will get better -- believe in that fact. Nothing is always good, and nothing is always bad -- things will fade with time, whether we like it or not. I believe our role is to use our lives -- which will fade with time -- to the best we can. We use our energy, to help us produce things -- writing, dance pieces, poetry, innovations of all sorts. If I should ask you to take something out of this, it’s this: anyone and anything can change your life -- you need to make the decision on whether it destroys you, or builds you.