Sunday, November 22, 2015

Forgive Yourself, For There Are Stars

Content warning for talk of depression and suicide.

i. When I was a thirteen or fourteen, a friend brought a little book of motivational phrases. One of them stuck with me: "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll still be among the stars."

ii. When final grade were tallied in Standard 4, I was ranked #41 in class, out of 42 students. This means I came in second-last in class. From a class that was ranked #3 among the classes (though the teachers will always claim that no one class was better than the other), I was down to the #5 rank class. My mother was upset. I don't remember what she said. 

iii. I was one of those who needed tuition to keep my grades up. When I was Form 2, I failed Math. My mother was so upset that she found a Math tuition teacher outside of school, and enrolled me immediately. I got an A in PMR Math the following year. But I didn't go back to the teacher after that, because I was ashamed that immediately following that A, I started failing Math again.

I failed Math for both mid-term tests, and both end semester exams. My dad was disappointed but didn't push it. Form 4 Math was an animal I could not grasp because my class was the biggest class and I was lost in a sea of expectations because I stood out as reasonably responsible in a lower-ranked class. 

In Form 5, my mother came to the Parent-Teacher conference, and my teacher's table was in the main hall. She found out that I was failing, and the entire hall was treated to a display of my mother's verbal humiliation of me. She despised all my hobbies, she despised my father's habit of indulgence, she despised my laziness, and cited a number of other factors, all of which led to my personal failings. 

I re-enrolled with my last tuition teacher, who showed no judgement, and let me sit in the corner to do my work in peace. I really only needed a lot of practice for Math, and someone to show me personally how to solve problems, which I couldn't figure out by watching the teachers in class. 

v. My relationship with my mother never improved; she mocked my English grades, knowing that it was the one subject I prided myself in. She took me out of the choir where I'd been learning to make friends, outside of a school that was increasingly alienating as all my long-time friends had moved to the Science or Economics stream, leaving me in the less-prestigious Arts stream. (On the Sunday afternoons when I might have gone to the choir, I slept instead, because I couldn't face the time by myself in a hostile house.) She banned me from the Internet, where my last social networks existed, because she felt I spent too much time on the computer and not enough time studying. (More accurately, she attempted to ban me; I snuck online during the afternoons when no one was home.) 

My relationship with my father deteriorated because he could never openly take my side. 

My relationship with my brother did not exist very much because he knew how to have a life outside the house.

vi. When I was sixteen, I began to dream of suicide. 

vii. This is very hard to write. I do it only because I have had practice and experience tells me it will get easier.

viii. I was very, very convinced that no one would miss me except for maybe the friends on the other side of the planet, who wouldn't have been able to help anyway. I was also very, very convinced that dying would ease my mother's continual sense of disappointment. I was also very, very convinced that dying was my only way to be of value. 

ix. If not for Internet friendships, and my tuition teachers, I would have followed through. There is something to be said about people who like what you have to say, even though, in hindsight, your poetry is really terrible, and your critiques lack constructiveness, and your compliments are empty. But they said, keep saying things. 

Keep writing, Mrs. Nava said. 

You're very cool, one of the local forum bullies said to me, if I had known someone like you in high school, I probably wouldn't be so fucked up. 

I started hanging out with a specific crowd in school. If people could be odds and ends, we were the odds and ends. I wrote a lot of self-insert stories featuring them, and let them read it, which they must have liked, because they would sometimes laugh. (We were pretty homely kids, now that I think about it, but in retrospect, how lovely those smiles.)

Suicide hung around my brain like the buzz of the television which you only really notice the eerie squeal of when you turn to the A/V channel while it's still unplugged. I didn't get many channels but I must have had enough. 

x. It is very hard to learn how to dream again and shoot for the moon when you've been spending a lot of time rubbed into the dirt. Do your best, is all anyone can say before the national exams. I did do my best.

I got 3 A1s (Math, English, and Prinsip Akaun), 2 A2s (History, and General Science), 1 B3 (Tasawwur Islam), 2 C6s (Bahasa and Geography), 1 E8 (Moral Education, which is a stupid subject anyway). My hands shook when I counted off the As. I wasn't happy with the Tasawwur Islam grade but it was better than expected, as the only non-Muslim in the class. The results qualified me for college, at least. 

xi. I thought depression would go away once I was out of secondary school. I was in the counselor's office sometime mid-semester trying to articulate something to a perfect stranger who didn't seem to know how to ask questions. She also always seemed surrounded by a group of students who had their own in-group. It really turned me off from ever visiting her office again. But I still had inexplicable weeping fits and unreasonable rage at something. I felt myself choking up once and began striding home, and my classmate noticed, and asked, "are you okay?"

"Yeah," I lied, "I think I'm a bit sick, so I'm going home to lie down for a while." As a teenager, it's difficult to explain the heartburn of failure and disappointment, or the influenza of unexpressed emotion, or the breakdown of bodily integrity as a result of a compromised psychological immune system. 

I turned to my unqualified Internet friends instead who had gone through similar things and learned that yes, there is something wrong with me, and no, it did not determine my entire worth. 

xii. It is such a relief to find out that people will still like you even though you are a fucked up little fuck-up who feels terrible even when there is nothing there to feel terrible about, who will probably be not much more than mediocre at best, and who is probably not going to be wildly successful, charismatic, or beautiful. 

I would go on to meet more people who had shittier lives than mine but liked themselves, or had learned how to live with themselves, or had learned how to deal productively with what they didn't like about themselves. 

I learned how to forgive myself for not meeting the expectations set of me. 

Come NaNoWriMo I learned to forgive myself the shitty paragraphs I wrote. Come mid-terms I would forgive myself every "X" on my sheet, and promise to do a little better each time. During class, I learned how to put myself out there and speak up in class even though my classmates probably thought I was either a brownnoser or an airhead. Who knows. Who cares. I forgive me. I suppose being an early failure was good for me, because it taught me I could deal with falling short, and it wouldn't be the end of the world. 

xiii. I decided to shoot for the moon and applied to grad school. I decided to shoot for the moon and blog, a lot, about whatever I felt. I decided to shoot for the moon and try out new hobbies, like modeling and sewing and drawing and writing.

There isn't a happy ending. I'm still in school, and I don't blog as much anymore and can't say I'm much of a blogging superstar, and I've never made bank with my art, which I think are pretty good reasons for pursuing those things. 

It hasn't been smooth sailing. My first semester of grad school ended with me standing by a kitchen drawer staring at a set of knives, so I freaked and texted all the senior grads I knew. I still live with a cycle of depression where I have incredibly productive, happy days, and I work and work and work to fill it with goodness so that when I'm depressed again, I've got reasons to keep on going. 

There are many days when I don't want to get out of bed and I am convinced that I should just not do anything because I am a failure and no one cares and my mother is going to yell at me again and my dad is going to pull a disappointed face and my dissertation sucks and my research is irrelevant and my committee members will reach the end of their rope and I will face their frowns instead of the sweetness and light they have always given me and I will be found out that I do not belong in any lists in anyone's esteem in anyone's regard. Those are bad days and I listen to sad music and cry and cry and cry like it is raining on my face, and it is very hard to think because my brain is not cooperating, and it is very hard to motivate myself to move and I do it only because I rely on muscle memory. They are also days which move me to write long posts like this. 

But clouds make for glorious sunsets and fogs roll in with majesty and beyond the moon there are stars.

Every tomorrow there is an endless wide emptiness that quivers with uncertainty and shivers with narrow-eyed judgement of another failure; that emptiness is called possible

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