I cannot tell you how often I have uttered or written or thought these words in the last year or more. I also can’t tell you how very hard this is for me to write, I’m not sure in this moment if I’ll even finish it.
The girl in question, “That Girl”, is me.
God, that hurts so much to even put onto a screen.
Going through years of non-stop, intense battles with mental illness. . . It’s hard to know how to talk about it, because I haven’t shared my story yet. Not really. Those of you who have been reading along for a long time now, you know a lot of things. But no one knows the whole picture.
Essentially, and the best way I can think to describe it in short, is that in about eight years I went through what most people with mental illness go through in a lifetime. From the breaking point, then deciding to seek help, then drugs and drugs and more drugs and so many drugs and with them all side effects (some you could not conceive of), and psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy, profound and permanent memory loss and cognitive deficits, my moods swinging wildly, me getting worse, hallucinations, delusions, dissociation, until finally things broke and I got well, and not in the way most people with a mental illness do. . .
The thing I’m trying to communicate is there was no down time. Never any lulls. It was continuous, it was constant, because no matter how bad it got, and when it got even worse than that, I dug in harder and said, ‘There has to be something else. I will not go quietly. I will not let IT win. I am going to fucking keep going until I am happy or I die.’
And there she was. That was her. That Girl. I didn’t realize until this very second that it was her all along, she saved me and pulled me through and never let me quit. She fought for me, sometimes with me, when I could not fight for myself. And I guess she’s still doing it now, keeping me happy and healthy in the face of so much that threatens me.
She’s had to re-prioritize my life, though, and that’s when I miss what we used to be. That Girl and I were going to save the world together. We used to be everywhere we saw hurt or injustice, be it something “small” or something enormous. We went all in for causes: human rights, animal rights, abolishing the death penalty, abolishing nuclear weapons, civil liberties, keeping the arts in public schools, keeping our government accountable, the list goes on and on – and the word “overwhelming” was not a part of our vocabulary.
That Girl and I were at it when I was 13 (and even before). I remember 13 especially because that was the age I wore to school (and everywhere else) my homemade “Fur: There’s NO Excuse” button every single day, on every single shirt, much to the ire of so many of my classmates. They didn’t object to the message, really, they merely objected to me having a social conscience. But That Girl and I, we never batted and eyelid. Think about that for a second. The age when peer pressure is arguably hardest to handle, and we drew it to us like a lightening rod and gave back 1000 times better than anything we ever got.
The first and most famous story of That Girl and me, the one I have grown so fond of over the years, occurred when I was only three years old (I’m not sure how old That Girl was, or if she has an age at all).
I was starting preschool, with my very best friend in all of the world (I miss that girl, too, but in a much different way, for much different reasons). Now to give you the proper context for this, I was an extremely shy, quiet child outside of my home, and even though I had actually stood and discussed with my mother the fact that preschool needed to happen for me (it was a joint decision between my three-year-old self and my 32-year-old mom, no joke), I was still very scared to start. My mother was always much more sensitive to my fears than any parent in the history of the world ever has been — or maybe it was my ability to communicate them — because when it came to certain things, she never pressed or forced or did anything but support.
In this instance, we made the deal that she would sit down the hallway outside the classroom in case I got too scared. That’s how freaked out I was at the prospect of starting preschool.
Then came the first day. My very best friend Sarah, who was a shy girl herself, was extremely upset because her mom’s friend, Mrs. Alexander, was teaching in the other class. Naturally, she wanted to be in the class with the teacher she knew, with whom she felt comfortable. So That Girl and I marched right up to our teacher, someone we had only briefly met before school started, and told her that Sarah needed to be moved to Mrs. Alexander’s class. My teacher was very nice, and this was back when simple things could be accomplished simply. I vaguely recall her taking Sarah next door, and from then on, Sarah was Mrs. Alexander’s charge.
It never crossed my mind, not till years later, that shy, scared, three-year-old girls just don’t do things like that, though apparently the teachers were all pretty impressed, and so was my mother. I also don’t remember feeling in the least shy or scared. All I remember was that Sarah was unhappy, she couldn’t do anything about it for herself, and I would have done anything to make that girl feel better.
the little crusader, arms full of kitten
In my eight years of a lifetime of being very actively mentally ill, a lot of trauma occurred, a lot of things changed in me, and a lot of things changed for me. I’m very fragile in many ways now. More so than anyone knows. I try to still be involved, to speak up, to use my voice to help improve things in this world. And no matter what comes, I will never be silent. But instead of things bouncing off of me and me giving better than I get (okay, often I still do the latter, but it takes a harsh toll), I wind up shaking inside, and That Girl pulls rank and forces me to pull back. Because she knows I have been given one sacred obligation in this life, and as much as I still want to save everyone, That Girl knows she has to save me for the one soul I am responsible for with all of my being.
And she’s right. But right doesn’t stop tears. Right doesn’t alleviate hurting. Right has no power in the slightest to stop me from missing what That Girl and I used to be, nor does it close my mind against wishing we could be it now still.
I guess that what it comes down to is I still want to save the world. All the other ghosts of regret that have lingered for things I will never be, never do, they all come back to that, too.
My mind knows I need to listen to That Girl, there literally is no other way. My heart just isn’t on board with things, and it never will be.
“While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” ~ Eugene Debs
© Ruby Tuesday and I Was Just Thinking. . . 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ruby Tuesday and I Was Just Thinking. . . with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This work is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.