“Raise A Glass To Freedom”: I Internalized Loneliness For Years Until I Felt Brave Enough To Believe I Deserve Better
In memory of J, a family friend.
A little over a year ago, I came to blows with a former friend who has a habit of seeking advice without knowing how to accept criticism. The fight that followed was a long time coming. I’d been miserable for at least a year before that, but I stayed because I genuinely believed the situation was still redeemable. A lot was said that day I can never unsee or forgive, but one thing stood out over all else: being told I never experienced loneliness, that I don’t understand how it feels to be “truly alone” or what “real suffering” is like.
It was a bold yet insensitive statement that reeked not only of ignorance, but also lack of empathy. It assumed I’ve lived my whole life settled and free of suffering, always within reach of others, which is not only offensively untrue, it’s also deeply revisionist. If you know what I’ve been through since before I was born, then you’d understand why I took that one line personally. To be fair, it wasn’t the first time I encountered such psychopathic disdain for other people’s history. 3 years previous to the above fight, I had a cataclysmic argument with two relatives that claimed the same thing: that I couldn’t possibly know what true suffering was. At that time, I was deeply suicidal and suffering from a battery of daily seizures; I wasn’t eating and had been reduced to a vegetable stick. I had just lost a sizeable number of what little friends I had because nobody had the patience or understanding to deal with everything I was going through. I was only 23 and had to temporarily quit university to deal with my illness, which at that time was mostly undiagnosed. Ergo, improperly treated. Without going too far into my upbringing and previous experiences, it’s easy to tell why the same statement enraged me then. Jump back to 3 years later, I had all but run out of patience. I snapped, I cut my cords quickly, with a surgeon’s ease, and the rest is history. Good riddance. I didn’t go through the living embodiment of Hades only to be gaslighted by someone who wasn’t even around for any of it. And knew I had history, but didn’t think to ask.
The incident hurt worse despite the relative unimportance of the person involved, because it felt like a repeat of the injustice I suffered at the hands of estranged family. I blamed myself for not knowing better, for allowing myself to get too close to a person that not only resembles problem relatives, but also stands for everything I thought I was done with. I was disappointed with my own lack of foresight. I still fell for all the same promises. All the same traps. I gave my trust and enduring loyalty to a person who never earned or deserved both. Reaching out to my father as a child was a gross miscalculation on my part, and so was this unfortunate friendship. Or whatever farce it turned out being. I felt responsible for the outcome, including the damage I incurred by making all the wrong choices.
But I’ve beaten myself up enough. I had to stop being responsible for other people’s behavior. Fact is, bad behavior is a reflection of the other person’s lack of values and restraint, not on my ability (or dis-ability) to discern which person rightfully deserves my trust. I have not broken my side of the partnership. I told my truth and I stayed because I cared about the people that did not care enough about me to consider my own grievances as much as they do theirs. And it’s not my responsibility to ensure other people are able to maintain some level of capacity for empathy.
Being unable to see past our own pain, or empathize with stories we haven’t heard of or can’t see, is often accredited to clinical psychopaths. But the truth is, it’s the simple tragedy of the human condition. Everyone goes through it. Lack of awareness, being conscious only of what’s familiar to us, is indicative of both clueless naïveté and stubborn arrogance. After all, there is no greater hubris than the assumption that we are the only ones suffering in this world. That nobody else has gone through our storied, yet bleak life experiences, that we’re so special and unique our pain is impossible for anyone else to understand. But the fact of the matter is, suffering (including loneliness) is a shared experience. We’ve all nursed a derivative of it over the years and being told suffering as a concept is beyond our understanding, beyond our plane of existence, is not only rude, it’s also ignorant.
Problem is, I seem to project an air of vaguely defined privilege, because I grew up with a family that cares for me and a loving mother that could afford most things I needed. But what is my truth? Loneliness is a recurring mainstay of my life. Abandonment was my welcome present and rejection was my norm. I say “was,” because in time I did learn to feel comfortable with the pressing urgency of loss, isolation, and loneliness. I realized only recently that I didn’t need the whole world by my side to feel content, and that contentment as a virtue is not limbo or purgatory — it’s peace. As Hamilton’s Renee Elise Goldsberry once rapped, the real prison is in not being satisfied. I didn’t have to watch the musical to learn. Pain taught me.
Rejected From The Get-Go
I grew up never having known a father’s love. My father has always been a complicated man, and he ditched the moment I was born. A friend called him while my mother was in labor and he declined to come; he said he was scared of further incurring my family’s wrath. He had been called to the hospital for my sake, because a daughter deserves to be welcomed into this world by both her parents, but he neither showed up nor cared enough to legally claim me as his own. I grew up with my grandparents, extended family, and immensely brave single mother, but losing my father to cowardice (no less) plagued me all my life.
Not only that, my childhood was deeply characterized by separation and distance. My mother wasn’t well-off and my grandfather had just retired. He was an Overseas Filipino Worker specializing in air traffic control and held a middle-class government job with decent salary. We lived in middle-class suburbs in rural Philippines, in a humble mishmash of disparate renovations and rickety construction that somehow comprised our house. My mother was only 27 then. She worked overtime as an underpaid writer/editor and had been in and out of hospitals from severe, life-threatening asthma since she was a baby. She could barely afford paying for herself. My grandparents scrambled together what meager savings they had to support me, but we lacked all the basic luxuries afforded to your typical middle-class Filipino: things like diapers, proper baby food, strollers, cribs, and clothes. We relied on the generosity of others and our own ingenuity to survive. My grandmother knitted and sewed together what we couldn’t buy. And because it was back-breaking work manually carrying a baby around, I got used to spending most of my time sequestered at home. My mother needed help raising her daughter full-time, but my father insisted on being emotionally and physically unavailable. Not that he could actually be trusted with the massive responsibility of caring for a child. He pined for the ladies when he could be paying child support, and he cared more about his reputation than about accepting his duties as a father. Unlike my mother, who devoted her life to me no question, my father didn’t feel the urgency of parenthood. I was never his priority.
It wasn’t the ideal setup, but my mother was determined to make it all work. When I was four, her boss offered her a job in Hong Kong. She took it. But it came at a great cost. She had to leave her daughter behind and I had to grow up without a father and a mother. It broke us both. But she didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t afford to pay for everything — school, food, doctors, whatever I needed — staying in Manila; it was the only way I could ever hope to live a relatively comfortable life. Somebody had to do it. My grandparents were old and already had their plates full handling my day to day. I had no father to pick up his side of the arrangement. Another man offered to claim me, but my mother wasn’t about to burden an innocent with a mistake he didn’t make. Living apart was the price of responsibility.
Since the mid-1990s, she was only ever around three times a year: one week for my birthday, one and a half for Christmas, and two months every summer. Our time together was always limited and we learned to make the best of what little we were given. But every encounter was brief, each ending the same way: in tears and beset by loneliness. She would arrive and leave again and again… I never quite got over it, and every time she left, she’d hold in the waterfall that was clawing to burst through and I’d make a scene at the airport, weeping hysterically. She never saw me grow up. She’d save her money on phone calls, another luxury she could barely afford, because she knew I needed her and we had to make it work. The telephone became our lifeline. We sent letters to each other by post. I’d wait hours by the telephone before and after school, hoping she would call. My mother can be aloof and cool as a cucumber, but many tears were discreetly shed when I was growing up because “loneliness,” she once said, “can be sated, but you can’t take back the years lost from absence or recover from memories you never developed.” She missed out on my firsts, wasn’t around for plenty of the milestones, and still grieves it to this day. My mother is the greatest Mom (and semi-Dad) a daughter could ever have, but one can only do so much from a distance. Everything we shared was meaningful, but bittersweet.
From my end, I spent many years in solitude watching schoolmates frolic with their parents. I envied what they had — complete and (relatively) visible parents. Not only that, people asked questions. Folks only ever noticed three things about me: my mind, my name, and my missing parents. I resented their curiosity. It was difficult to hide my grief. Some took pity on me and others, well… Many relished at poking at my pressure points with a stick, much like my former friend had.
Hanging By A Thread
I get flack from strangers for having a mother that could afford nice things, but nobody ever bothered to ask what’s been happening behind the scenes. My mother has come from nothing only to one day become something. She has provided for me alone, without a partner to support her, and fought depression and loneliness as she climbed the ranks solely by the force of her love and dedication to her only daughter. She risked separation to keep me fed and provided for. She’s never extravagant either; she hardly buys anything for herself, not even new clothes, and only spends on other people’s wants, needs, and possessions. And she saves constantly for the future. My future. My mother doesn’t crave a successful career or covet money; both serve a practical purpose and she needs them to help our family scrape through. And she gives away however much she could afford whenever the need arises. What she desperately craves is companionship, a grave oversight and emotional privilege she was never granted. We both wanted the same thing.
People with some semblance of material wealth are often blindly tagged as enemies of socialism because of their current circumstances in life, not considering where they started and why they had to succeed. My mother is a hard worker who has earned her keep. She went from growing up in the poorer parts of Manila and starving herself so one person gets to eat something — she dined out but could only afford one meal at a time when she was my age — to sending her daughter to the best doctors a working editor could afford. Anyone with half a brain knows money can’t kill loneliness and it was certainly true from our end. It’s not easy being a single mother to a crippled adult daughter who struggles to keep a job because of an active, debilitating disability and mass discrimination against PWDs. She’s good at playing her part but is overburdened physically and mentally. She’s getting old and there are still many things she can’t afford: anything beyond Southeast Asia is too expensive and would pauperize us in an instant. Journalism, show business, American doctors, film school — I have had to work for those myself. She’s amazing but there are limits to what she can do.
My mother is juggling the world on her shoulders and I feel shattered being responsible for putting her there. I’m penniless and disabled and dependent on others for survival. Practically living on welfare. There’s no fairytale ending here. My former friend couldn’t be more wrong.
Struggling To Keep Up With The World
I wrestled with abandonment issues my whole life. And who wouldn’t, with a father that bailed and a mother who couldn’t be present? I understood my father is a narcissistic scoundrel and that my mother had to sacrifice our time together to ensure I lived comfortably — but it never made the experience any less painful. I still hated being apart from my mom and I still craved a father’s warmth, a trauma bond I would carry well into my adult years, manifesting not just in my relationships with my parents but in the way I interacted with others and chose my friends. Over time, I started trusting people less and less, and I began to withdraw into myself. I blamed myself for my missing parents and genuinely believed I deserved the void because I wasn’t good enough for either of them. Obviously it isn’t true, more so for my mom than anyone, but I was a kid and believed it with all my heart. Loneliness metamorphosized into self-hatred and rejection became the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy; I hated myself and didn’t think I deserved company, and when you don’t love yourself, how do you expect people to learn to love you?
My lack of trust in others — and inability to acknowledge that I too deserve happiness — warped my previously happy-go-lucky personality. I became an awkward recluse. I wasn’t much fun to be with and it often drove people away. Despite common opinion, I wasn’t entirely friendless. I had few friends, but I couldn’t bring myself to invest fully in any of them, at least not until I reached my mid-twenties. I’d sabotage my own happiness and end up pushing away those that cared for me the hardest. Some persevere against all odds, but most give up halfway, finding my lack of incentive tiring and discouraging. For good reason. I’d eat alone in school. I’d hang out by myself whenever possible. I’d panic when in the presence of people and make excuses to go away and be alone. It was internalized loneliness in action. I never enjoyed solitude, not once, but I didn’t think I deserved anything better, so I accepted it. I was a young cynic, far too much of one at such a delicate age, but I didn’t believe I was worthy of companionship or loyalty and stayed away from others to spare my own feelings further grief.
My loneliness was further compounded being introduced to romance. I fell in love the first time in high school, but I had a dreary reputation among peers. At some point, I realized I wanted to be loved, but I feared not being good enough for the person of my dreams. I wanted the best for them, but wasn’t entirely sure I could offer anything substantial. I was a walking Greek tragedy; I gave up even when it was clear there were at least a few people willing to move mountains for me. My cold indifference made me lethargic in all other areas besides academics; I was scrawny and unkempt and looked as solitary as my own existence. I felt crudely unattractive — a trait that was so ingrained it has stayed with me even through my first actual relationship — and didn’t think anyone would ever fall in love with “a mug this ugly” and “a personality this bland,” or so I said to myself at the time. And the response had so far been consistent. Everyone, whether as friends or more, rejected me, and seemed to take pride in rubbing salt to an open wound. It’s perfectly alright to say no — I could easily respect people’s wishes — but completely unjustified to be mean about it.
I was bullied enough to actively dread going to school, and yet I couldn’t fight back; I suffered from low self-esteem and genuinely believed I deserved to be tyrannized. It was my penance for being inadequate. Even my teachers (some, not all) relished in making fun of me in front of schoolmates. Kids would laugh along, completely detached from any form of empathy. Bandwagon is cruel. One time I was publicly humiliated by my P.E. teacher for being too sick to keep up and nobody rushed to my defense. I didn’t want to cry, but I was a kid and she was a grown woman — what chance did I have? I felt disrespected and violated, but also silenced. Many witnessed the glorious spectacle, an outcast being chewed out for circumstances beyond her control, but chose to wire their mouths shut because it was easier. It was all the proof I needed — nobody cared and I was all alone. I huddled away into a corner after the storm had passed, and nobody came over to ask if I was okay or cared enough to comfort me. I was an invisible wreck. With seizures. I thought I enjoyed my own little world, but being alienated carves a hole in your heart that never goes away. In time, it became clear all I wanted was to be seen.
I remember spending prom nights (both years) alone and humiliated. I got asked out on a dare and was laughed at when I said yes, foolishly believing someone had actually fallen for me, and I spent prom stress-eating chocolate mousse. The only thing that made it all bearable was the quiet company of the few friends I trusted, but otherwise I had never felt more insecure and unattractive. Despite the loneliness, I wasn’t the type to force my intentions on anyone and seemed “content” watching from the sidelines. Being a neutral observer felt safe.
The manner in which I related to others spoke volumes of what I craved, unconsciously, from my parents. I longed to be good enough and constantly vied for their approval. I wanted them to be proud of me, proud enough to stick around, but of course it wasn’t that simple.
Our relationships with our parents provide the blueprint for our relationship with the rest of the world. As a result, I hungered for acceptance from my peers and would do anything to gain their attention. I yearned for them to “see” me, notice how hard I worked and how much I wanted to be appreciated. Academics made it easy. Everyone looked up to the smart kid. I became a people-pleaser, of sorts, since everyone likes being reminded of their best traits. I tried desperately to avoid conflict and refused to tell on anyone, even my bullies. I befriended a few of my teachers. I had parent figures. And I decided to become the photographer for the school paper to meet more people — be valued somehow. But much like Peter Parker, nobody cared about the photos or the squeaky clean exterior or the impressive grades; I was “valued” for my practical functions, the perks they could get from me. Nothing more, nothing less. Kids would eagerly wave at me and call my name — but they weren’t seeing me; they were seeing my camera and my stellar grades, and simply needed what I had to offer. It didn’t deter the bullying either and it certainly didn’t give me any brownie points for always being on my best behavior.
Living For A Smokescreen (And Finally Hope)
College is what helped me grow into the very best version of myself. I decided I was going to start living for myself and began aiming high because I wanted to, not for validation or anyone else’s approval. But my heart stayed cold and lonely, and I became more antisocial than ever. I spent most of my time studying and ignored clubs, sports events, parties, and much of college life I should have taken advantage of. I didn’t want to feel the weight of rejection, not anymore, so I began to openly reject other people’s advances — including friends that genuinely liked me. I was preempting rejection by being the first to say no.
I numbed myself to happiness of the interpersonal kind, shutting the rest of the world away and finding solace in career, where I felt I could never be truly rejected. I was determined to become the best possible writer, historian, academic, what have you to prove myself deserving of success and managed to convince myself it was the only happiness I needed. Career is logical, practical. Hugely unemotional. Its general functions are based primarily on the merits and demerits of one’s skill set, nothing as erratic or irrational as love, companionship, and relationships. I became especially ruthless in this endeavor and stopped thinking I deserved friends or romance — that I deserved better. Still, I’d gaze longingly at buddies and couples that passed by my crowded desk and often mused to myself why I couldn’t have what they had. My mind had let go, but my heart refused to forget.
I met my boyfriend of 9 years in 2012. We met role-playing our favorite characters from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and had bonded over our shared interests. We were both writers and perhaps equally lonely to some extent. Looking back, we were survivors. We’ve both been through hell and back and held on. We had that in common. But when I first met him, he seemed strong… impressively put together. He was bubbly and rational, unbelievably charming, and had a magnetic personality. I fell in love right away, in what could be described as a modern-day dreamlike romance. He was funny and gentle, and had a good heart. Still does. He was practically glowing before me; I had never met anyone more amazing. Obviously he thought similarly of me, but also noticed a few other things. My desperation to find a friend — any friend, it seemed — reeked of loneliness and my fear of being abandoned spoke volumes of a past he could already tell had made me the incredibly sad individual I regrettably turned out being.
I was so obviously starved of human companionship. It almost felt like I was an alien from light years beyond and he was the very first earthling who found my space pod. Saw me as the skinny little Martian that I am and still loves and accepts me completely. He saw past my rigorous work ethic — which had transformed me into a hopeless workaholic seemingly beyond redemption — and realized I was fighting not for acclaim or approval, but to run away from how I really felt: lonely, angry, and unbearably despairing. Our relationship has been a curious plethora of ups and downs, but he has been patient with me, ever so kind and understanding. I learned to love without holding back and how to accept love without shame or fear. He was my guiding light and our love helped correct years of internalized loneliness, until I could finally be strong enough to carry the weight of my crosses myself. Meeting him, loving him, was a crucial turning point in my life. He was the incentive and push I needed to take the next step. He held my hand while I fought to save myself.
Unfortunately, whenever life gives, it also takes. I’ve lost my fair share of loved ones — to ignorance and hatred, sadly — in the years since I met the love of my life. My father and I came to blows for the last time. He told me he enjoyed seeing me humiliated and I told him he was a monster. I confronted him about how he treated my mother. He claimed I was indoctrinated to hate him. He denied everything he did do (and didn’t do) and I wasn’t heard in the least. I was gaslighted to my face by my own father. I fought for my mother’s honor. He fought for his own. He lashed out. I disowned him. There have been improvements, but the rift between myself and my paternal relatives continues to this day. My siblings and I have patched up, but I still refuse to speak to my father. It’s the one time I appreciate being invisible.
My father has everything wrong about the people who raised me. My family opposed rekindling his relationship with my mother, but deliberately allowed me to meet him, because I’m “still my father’s daughter.” They knew I was lonely, and wanted me to still have both parents. They openly encouraged a relationship and told me to forgive him in the years since we fought. There was no indoctrination involved. No gaslighting from our end, only from his. He didn’t listen the first time, so I stopped trying. Shortly after the second fight, I finally understood: my father never loved me and there’s nothing I can do about it. I grieved immensely… yet I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. I never had a Dad in the first place and you can’t grieve something you never even had. Perhaps I grieved the idea of a father and resented myself for being unable to redeem him. I still wish he had tried harder, but he himself admitted to my mother it was too late for him to make amends. The incident has haunted me since, I keep looking for father figures wherever I go, but mentally I’ve moved on.
The Second Half Of My Life
Getting sick paved the way for more losses. These days, I openly discuss and accept questions about my disability on social media, but when I first relapsed, neither my family nor I knew anything. Everything I did to fill a void, perhaps assuage my loneliness, came at a price. My father left; as a result, my mother and I suffered. This time, I was the direct casualty, for a reckless decision I made myself. Of course becoming a results-obsessed workaholic had consequences. I’ve been having symptoms since I was born, exacerbated by bullying when I was in high school, but it was only in college that the signs grew even clearer.
My “first” batch of seizures happened in school. I was having lunch, working in between bites, when I reportedly slumped forward on my desk and became unresponsive. I was climbing the stairs in the library when I almost tripped and hit my head. My teachers and classmates had seen me walking in circles, mumbling to myself, sometimes staring blankly into the distance. In most cases, I was either unresponsive or reacting in ways I couldn’t recall later. I’d have gaps in my memory other people could account for.
I refused to acknowledge any kind of “weakness” at first. But the seizures became more pressing and frequent, each progressively worse than the last. I had them every day or every other day. I’d have multiple attacks within a 24-hour period. By the time I was diagnosed later that year, I had suffered enough seizures to make a full recovery implausible. Treatment options have always been limited. My doctors found me strangely untreatable, in that we’ve cycled through every medication conceivable and only managed to achieve a fraction of what other patients have attained.
I soon lost people who couldn’t deal with the reality of knowing a disabled friend. I was gaslighted for my illness. I was told by someone who was neither my caregiver nor my significant other that talking to me was “too hard” and that I’d never understand. The lack of empathy felt uniquely familiar. Once again, I was confronted by someone who told me I didn’t know what suffering was, despite all evidence to prove otherwise.
I was receptive to help, but actively rebelled against my disease. I was angry at my circumstances and blamed the world for my misfortunes. We didn’t know it was dystonia — a rare derivative of the disorder — at the time and were fumbling around blind. Instead, it felt like the whole universe was against me, every particle that was and would be determined to thwart every chance at happiness and prolong my misery. I wondered if I was being punished for not being good enough. But what reason could be good enough to justify my torment?
My mental health dipped as a result. My voices (from schizoaffective disorder) developed a sadistic tinge and I suffered from insomnia as an offset of having bipolar disorder. My condition worsened and I lost the ability to write. My presentations stopped being coherent, much less brilliant. Eventually, I also lost the ability to draw. My grades dropped so steeply, my professors began doubting rumors of my academic ability and felt burdened to have me as a student. I was the wild card that failed expectations. A star student that fell horrifically from grace. I had to give up academia and temporarily quit school.
People who didn’t want to bother with empathy treated my condition with disdain and assumed I was making stuff up. A few of my friends were around, but most, even those that weren’t mean or cruel, became emotionally unavailable. They avoided me and I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. It didn’t take long for me to experience repeated bouts of self-harm and become suicidal. I was no longer permitted to be by myself. Every day became a depressing fight for survival, as my family struggled to contain my neurological issues and suicidal tendencies. I’ve been to the psych ward. I’ve had Van Gogh moments. Not fun.
Being suicidal hits differently from being wired to die from methods beyond our control. It’s scarier, because we can’t trust ourselves. Everything depends on the strength of our will — to live and go on with life — which everyone knows comes and goes. It’s maddening to be so vulnerable to the weather of the day, including temporary shifts in mood and mindset. I’ve sought out help many times, I verbalized depression before anyone else in my circle could come close to understanding it, but nobody reached out. Until recently, I wouldn’t receive any well-wishes and common contacts were advised to stay away from me. I wasn’t welcome anywhere. A smear campaign began that capitalized on my mental instability, but conveniently left out everything else. I’ve come to believe suicide awareness is an illusion, perpetuated by a false sense of empathy and responsibility. Truth is, people only care and say nice things about you when you’re dead; otherwise, you’re troublesome and whoring for attention. When it’s finally my time to go, I know people are going to talk. There will be fairweathers and fakers pretending to have understood me, been close to me, wishing they could have done more “if they had known.” But it’s a hopeless apparition. Most people respect the dead, but aren’t keen on being kind to the living. If they aren’t being cruel, they’re being indifferent. And I’ve done things I’m not proud of in the pursuit of a simple apology. But I know who my real friends are, and that’s good enough for me.
For a while, my boyfriend was the only real support system I had and I felt bad for relying on him, and on my family. He was going through a lot and I was only adding to his problems. My mother was going to retire in two years when I got sick, but held it off to provide for my care. She worked her ass off as our family’s breadwinner and ended up with a fortune to rival most working parents, a success story she cobbled together herself, but couldn’t rest on my account. She had no time to enjoy her laurels. She propped up her sleeves and immediately got to work finding me the ideal doctors and investing in whatever treatment options we could afford. I had promised her the opposite as a kid, to free her from her prison, and yet I inadvertently trapped her in a new one.
No friends, no career aspirations, no hobbies or skill sets I could be proud of, and severely wanting in good health… I was being stripped of everything, and everyone, I thought I’d have forever. And I just kept getting worse. Every time we discovered a loophole, something new would happen… I used to joke about having a new diagnosis every year. In truth, it crushed me. I lost my innocence in those years. I stopped keeping faith and believing in happy endings. My loved ones always reminded me I was never a nuisance, but it didn’t stop me from believing it. It just felt like everything added up.
It was my lowest point. I had never felt more alone and lonely. People had abandoned me. God had abandoned me. I cursed my existence. I told myself I should never have been born. It was over.
A Near-Death Experience To Change Everything
In 2016, a few days shy of Christmas, status epilepticus — a barrage of successive seizures occurring within a small timeframe — almost ended my life. I attended a high school reunion in the hopes of patching up with former friends I still missed, only to result in a complex suicide attempt that eventually turned into seizures. I made quite a scene in front of teachers and various alumni, including the very same former friends I had come to see. I was lonely, and it drove me to once again make all the wrong choices. I received the help I needed on-site, but it was too late. The head trauma and subsequent seizures crippled my legs. The rest of my body caved weeks later. I had already been stumbling about with movement issues when the year began, but the episode made the situation unnecessarily dire and permanent. I survived the incident, but again, not without cost.
All the more, I felt like a burden to my loved ones, who had previously warned me not to go, certain I wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection and subsequent fallout. Former friends are “former” friends for a reason. I couldn’t see it with my specs all fogged up by loneliness, but my friends and family did. A select number looked out for me that night, but even they couldn’t prevent a disaster of this magnitude. Not when I’d become so blinded by pain to see past any of it. I remember staring out my hospital window during Christmas, wondering how my life had come to this, and something clicked in my brain that changed everything. I bit back the stream of emotions I felt and did what was needed to move on, end the cycle so to speak, and I’ve never been the same since. In a good way.
A Good Ending Turned Beginning
Most of the friends I now have I met after 2016, including the same former friend who would only echo the same lack of empathy found in all my other toxic relationships. It was a setback I failed to account for, but one I don’t plan on forgetting. I can’t grow if I don’t learn from my mistakes.
Despite the occasional upset, my life has improved along with my experience of grief. My boyfriend and I came out of every trial stronger than ever and have effectively survived the earlier crises. I’ve reconnected with friends I’ve alienated (for whatever reason) and cultivated beautiful connections I know I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. My siblings and I managed to find a middleground where we could respect each other’s truths and grievances and peacefully coexist. I’ve been through much, but my tenacity for life eventually paid off. I opened my world to what’s out there — or who’s out there — and stopped being intimidated by honesty or afraid of vulnerability. The heart is an asset, not a weakness, and it’s meant to be protected and grown, not walled off or held back. The world at large, which once ignored and rejected me, is finally accepting me — all of me — with open arms. This allowed me to finally have enough room to develop my confidence, which has worked wonders for me as a film writer. Smiling for myself was hard enough, but my light returned at some point, and I could finally muster the strength to smile for others and myself, against all odds. It’s the kind of strength I didn’t know existed, much less have in spades.
My recovery has been slow but steady. I focused on surviving one day at a time and was eventually rewarded with changes. By the time I started working for Movie Pilot (my first legitimate employer), I’d recovered enough brain cells to not only offset the structural damage I suffered since high school, but also regain the ability to write — though admittedly it hasn’t been enough to salvage my art. I used to be a natural artist, my hands were miracle workers, but my dystonia has been relentless. On the bright side, I’ve suffered less seizures since, and only 15 minutes of auditory hallucinations a year. Unfortunately, my dystonia as a whole continues to evolve. It affects my quality of life in ways I can no longer control, but I know I can only move forward. I no longer agonize as much over my health, and have generally accepted the reality of death and whatever comes before. I’ve stopped rebelling — truly a waste of time and energy, given that life is short — and have been laser-focused on treatment and getting much done before I turn 40 a.k.a. the estimated Rubicon of my complicated existence.
I’ve come to terms with death itself and haven’t been suicidal in a long time. Death is an old friend; I can’t say I welcome it, but I certainly don’t fear it anymore. More urgently, I’ve cut out all toxicity from my life, replacing fairweathers and selfish friends with better people whenever possible. I’ve blocked hordes of A-grade douchebags and left several groups that weren’t helping me grow, and have felt freer since. Jerks come and go, but I’ve learned to pick my battles. More importantly, I realized I don’t need closure to move on. Closure is an illusion of reconciliation. Sometimes closure isn’t achievable and sometimes reconciliation isn’t advisable or possible. And that’s okay. We have to be ready to let go regardless. We owe it to ourselves to do so.
I’m in film school now, thanks to the generosity of one of my favorite actor-directors and a very dear friend, and a working writer at long last. I’m extremely proud of my growth and successive accomplishments, though I wish I could say the same for my bank account. But I have the best role model I could ever hope for at age 27, and she’s older now but still a beacon of inspiration for almost everyone around her. Our previously umbilical relationship has since evolved into one of equity and mutual kindness. We do everything for each other, and we’re not simply mother and daughter anymore; she’s my very best friend and I’m hers and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Raise A Glass To Freedom
In the end, it all boiled down to perspective. I had trauma bonded enough to realize I no longer wanted (or needed) to entertain my loneliness to be happy. I was exhausted and my soul was tired, and I knew I deserved to catch a break. Whatever guilt I felt over how I behaved at the height of illness, or before, I’ve channelled into helping others. It’s the only way I could atone for things I can’t take back and sins I can’t undo. Give back to the community. I’ve been broken and healed and broken again, and have since felt comfortable in my brokenness. I’ve been through hell and back, and in many ways I’m still in hell, so no, former friend, I do know what suffering is and I certainly know what loneliness is like.
I may have been judged unfairly, but I never compare experiences or weigh my own suffering against others; everything, every grievance, is valid. And I don’t turn away anyone in need as long as boundaries are respected. And I have rather immense boundaries. There’s not a lot that surprises me anymore, mostly because I’ve done almost everything under the sun and forgiven myself for it. I learned to be compassionate because I wasn’t treated with compassion in the past, and would do everything in my power to keep others from experiencing the same nightmare. Folks who know how it feels to be broken can recognize brokenness in other people; it’s a shame my former buddy couldn’t see that.
Loneliness is a black hole. It’s a vacuum that keeps taking. If we don’t stand up to it, we’ll always be defined by it. The good news is other things can serve as fuel. Loneliness makes anyone want to chase after happiness, but contentment and kindness do that too. In many ways, my situation now is still virtually the same as before — only my perspectives have changed. I couldn’t get my father to love me. I couldn’t get my mother to come home. I couldn’t get people to like me. I couldn’t get former friends to take me back. I couldn’t change people’s opinions of me. I couldn’t get narcs to respect me. And I couldn’t get my disability to piss off. In many ways, I was always a trainwreck in the making and I couldn’t change my fate no matter how hard I resisted. A paradigm shift occurred when I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t do and instead zoned in on what I can do, and it isn’t a coincidence in the least. And it is possible to redirect your life’s purpose, however meaningless or corrupted it may be.
It’s human to aim for a goal. Dissatisfaction is what breeds change. But sometimes it matters more to value the journey instead of the goal, otherwise we stumble and miss what’s directly in front of us. It took me years of therapy to even see this path, but the option is open to everybody. I’m happy to have eventually broken through my conditioning, but it didn’t come without pain or sacrifices.
This may make me sound rather dated, but I’ve recently fallen in love with the Broadway musical Hamilton. I’ve come to appreciate the quick wit and depth of the lyricism. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songwriting has unearthed old feelings, and I’ve been mulling over them in anticipation of this essay. The songs didn’t feel like somebody else’s life; they felt like a recreation of mine. My own demons. I have a visceral imagination; it’s what has made me an effective writer. I do imagine death so much it feels like a memory and I still write like I’m running out of time. I dislike the notion of having suffered for nothing or having lived only to suffer, and in that sense, I often question my legacy. I’m ambitious like Alexander, and fear being forgotten or brushed off as simply “that girl” who got sick and died. I want to be remembered.
But I’ve grazed death many times and what Lin writes is true: there’s no beat or melody in the darkness… But there is, deep down, some semblance of choice. We can choose to stay tethered to our pain, or raise a glass to freedom. It’s up to us to carve our own songs, our own stories. And there’s nothing wrong with planting seeds in a garden we never get to see. It’s a shot to the moon, building a life not knowing what’s coming, but there’s no sense living if we’re not prepared to lose a little in the attempt. Risk is part of life. Fear is a natural antagonist. But if you know your creative writing, antagonists are meant to be beaten. Don’t let loneliness keep you from finishing your symphony.