Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It Gets Better

I remember a day in middle school when I spent half of Spanish class using a calculator. I was trying to figure out how many days were left until I was 18 and I could leave my house. I jotted the number down in my standard-issue day planner. It was somewhere in the 3000s. I wrote the numbers on each day, the digits gleefully descending as I flipped the pages. Only 3000 more days. It seemed so far away, but if I had the numbers, I could cope.

My mother has been suffering from depression and anxiety since her 20s. But she always wanted me. She never imagined that her mental condition would affect her relationship with her daughter. She wanted a friend in me. But when I was a baby, I cried too much. She tells the story of a night when I was wailing in my crib for hours, inconsolable, and she called a hot-line.

"I'm going to kill my baby," she said. The woman talked her through it.

The anxiety hurt her. Everyday tasks didn't come easily. When I was in elementary school and I couldn't brush my hair anymore because it got too kinky, she started helping me. Brushing my hair nearly gave her panic attacks. And I was a defiant child, too. After age 12 or so, I tested her patience constantly. We screamed at each other daily. She called me names that I can still hear her utter in the back of my head to this day. I remember days when I was backed into a corner and she was telling me she couldn't take it anymore and I had to stop being so difficult or she would die, goddammit. I remember days we were in the car and she told me she'd had too much and she threatened to crash. "Do you want that?!" she'd shrill. Sometimes I did.

In my house I was fat so I hid food. I was a whore so I let my boyfriends abuse me. I was a liar-- and this was true. I couldn't tell her the truth. I wasn't good enough so I tried harder. But nothing I did seemed to be good enough. I told myself daily that I wasn't meant to be loved. My heart raced at the thought of going home. Home was a battlefield. I remember a thousand times my mother told me how she'd wanted a daughter who would be a friend, who would help her be calm and help her be better. I wasn't that daughter. I was difficult.

3000 days.

But 3000 days came and I didn't move out. My mother got help and things got better, if only a little bit. Many people are okay without pills, but the pills help her stay calm. She's paranoid and overprotective but she can stop herself from yelling sometimes and she doesn't have panic attacks so often anymore. A lot of the time, we can talk without fighting now. There's a lot to be fixed with her and I. After years of lashing out at each other, it's hard not to be defensive. But we're getting better.

Mostly, though, 3000 days came and went and I went to college. And I know college doesn't feel like home for everyone, but for me it was. And when I came home from college things were so much better. My mother and I don't get along. When I tell the story of my childhood this way, she comes off as evil-- and parts of her were certainly nasty. Parts of her have shown me who I never want to be to my children, or to anyone. But my mother sacrificed for me, too. She sacrificed time and money and maybe some of her sanity. My mother is a woman who was deeply wounded by her own mind, and I can understand that now. It doesn't absolve her, but at least I can understand it, and I can empathize.  I am grateful to her, even with everything that happened when I was younger. I know that we aren't so great for each other, but we're working on it. She's getting better. And though I seem to have inherited her anxiety problems, I am going to get better, too.

I remember feeling hopeless. I remember being a teenager and just wanting the world to stop and everything to go away and for someone to understand. It took way over 3000 days for things to get better-- and it's still a process. Getting better isn't a one-shot deal. Every day I fight to get along with my mother. I fight to remember that I am beautiful. I fight to remember that I am worthwhile. I fight to remember that it is okay to make mistakes. I fight, and you have to fight, too. It might take a long time for things to get better, but it does. Not every day is perfect, but I am a far better woman than I was back in my teenage years. I've learned so much. And you know what? I wouldn't be the woman I am today without the bad things. The people who hurt you-- no matter who they are-- will make you stronger.

My story is not about being gay, but I think all of us can relate to feeling sad and desperate and stuck. It breaks my heart to think of all the people who get bullied because of their sexual identity (and for any other reason as well). No one deserves that kind of treatment. I go to a college right now that is exceedingly open, though, and I have seen first-hand how much love and acceptance can be shown to all kinds of people. The people here at Clark give me hope. A lot of us 20-somethings aren't so bad, and a lot of us are yearning for a more open, accepting, beautiful world. And we can make that happen. We need you to help us by staying alive. We need the people who are being singled out and hurt by their peers to be strong and be fearless. Know that there are people out there fighting for you, hard.

It gets better. You get better.

[The It Gets Better Project is mostly a video project-- check out some amazingly inspirational videos here]


saturdayjane said...

This is lovely, if sad. It breaks my heart when children are forced to take on the role of a therapist or even a parent for their own parents. My father had to do this, and others I know have had to as well.

Relationships like the one you seem to have with your mother do take work, and it's inspiring to read about people who are committed to that work, rather than just giving up. So many people cheat themselves out of relationships that, if not comforting or fulfilling, can at least give them insight into their own faults, strengths, and idiosyncracies. Good for you.

Destined For Now said...

I hardly know what to say, this was very emotional for me to read so I can't imagine what it took to go through. I wish you the best.

Jem said...

Thank you for writing this. Your words always speak the truth, and for that I thank you. I must say you have over come a lot in your life and it is inspiring to read about your courage. Also, I commend you for being a part of the "it gets better" project, your story deserves to be herd, just as much as anyone else's. Once again, thank you for bring tears to my eyes, and reminding me that life is precious and we are all over coming issues, but yes life does get better. <3

Sydnie said...

Seriously, this is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen you write. I felt like I was you; I could feel the pain, the sadness ... everything. You have a gift. You inspire me so much, and I think you're so strong for learning something from everything you go through!


tywo said...

This is beautiful, and sad yet lovely. I don't know. It was very emotional. I feel connected to you in a good way.
I like the sincerity. I like you.


pavotrouge said...

thank you for sharing this! I have a very similar history with my mother, on top of being gay, so I know where you're coming from. you go girl, for having the courage to talk about this!

Rose said...

vanessa, i really want to thank you for this post. this is exactly how i feel. for the last year i was counting down the days till my eighteenth birthday. it's in november. i'm not going to move out. but i almost laughed when i read the part about your spanish class. the other day when i was sitting and trying to do latin homework I started calculating how long until i graduate. it was something like 560 days. it's hard. I want to get out so badly. But i also really am learning things from struggling through this really tough situation right now. Its great to hear that you found your home at college. Thats what i've been hoping for, and i'm almost scared that it won't happen. every day is hard, and I try to believe that it will get better but sometimes it just seems like too long to wait. It's really touching to read something written by someone who so clearly went through exactly the same type of yearning to get out, and came out the other side. so yeah, thanks.

Kimberley said...

What an inspirational post Vanessa. You have a lovely way with words, turning a devastating truth into something refreshing and beautiful. I know this post will have an impact on many of your readers - I just hope it will help them be as strong as you have been. xx


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