I have always been a keeper of notebooks. I used to collect them, but not write in them for fear of tarnishing their beauty with my less-than-perfect handwriting. Then I began to write. Usually, I would fill a page or two, at most perhaps half a book. This year, I filled my first notebook. It wasn’t pretty; it was filled with doodles, anxious poetry and messy notes. But I finished it. And now as the year draws to a close, I’ve been looking back at my many notebooks. I’ve been reflecting on the changes in my life, and the changes in me. They tell a story of a woman growing up in a confusing, scary, but beautiful world.
For a long time in life, I was the golden girl. The high achiever. The one who did everything, all the time. I didn’t miss a beat. For most of that time, I was happy. Anxious maybe, but happy. And then when I left for uni the first time, I was knocked off my throne by a force so overwhelming I thought it would crush me. I was alone, in a new country, with nothing to break my fall. Depression forced me into one of the darkest times of my life. Sometimes, I even wanted to end it. I dropped out of uni and went home. I made a string of mistakes, and hurt people in ways that I can’t ever undo. I used getting Mono as an excuse to the world for my failure when they asked. I tried with all my heart to hide the fact that my mind was crumbling and I had no control. While all my friends were succeeding at their studies, I was getting left behind.
But slowly, I got better. I picked myself up and made new plans. I knew that I wanted to go back to London, to rewrite the story. So I did. I wanted to go home as soon as I landed, and that feeling didn’t stop for months. I made new friends, smiled like everything was okay, and tried desperately to keep things together when I thought they were spiraling out of control. But then, things started to change again. I found a place where I felt safe, and I lived there happily. I met someone who made London feel like home, and I fell in love. And then I started achieving again.
By then end of my first full year at uni, I was back on my throne. But it was different now, it was fragile. I had made big mistakes and every time it happened they had me peering over the edge of my pedestal, praying it wouldn’t collapse. I experienced trauma that threatened everything I thought I had built. But things didn’t break for a long time. I kept doing well. I kept being in love. But of course, things changed again. I spent my summer clinging to the person I was. Her relationships were fracturing, and her crown was slipping again. It was constant back and forth, losing touch and getting it back and losing it again. And then when summer ended, things finally broke.
Heartbreak hit me like nothing had before. I didn’t think I could feel like they did in the songs, until suddenly I understood them all at once. And just like that, I was alone again. I called my mum and told her I felt like marbles dumped on a glass floor, spinning out in every direction. I started to obsess over what I had, and how I was losing it all again. I noticed when my grades slipped in ways I thought were catastrophic. I took up bad habits that I knew were wrong. But I couldn’t stop. I felt completely out of control again.
I almost wrote just now that I couldn’t help myself. But that wasn’t true. Even while I felt like I was spiraling, the signs were there. I was working, I was growing. I was forming new friendships even though I didn’t think they would last. I was dancing even though all I wanted was to cry. And I was being at home, by myself, facing the solitude even though it was unbearable. I was changing again.
And now, as I look back over the years, I feel calm. My scores aren’t top of my class anymore, but I’m not at home in my bed. I’m not in love, but I’m not heartbroken. I’m not sitting on the throne or looking up at it, because the throne is gone. I can finally let go of the constant ups and downs. I no longer have to be great, I can finally just be.
The story is cliché, and the metaphors aren’t new. Change the names, or the times, and this is a story that everyone can tell. But I chose to tell my version because too often, young women are afraid to be openly reflective. Too often we are afraid to be honest about the ups and downs because in a world where we are already perceived as too emotional, admitting weakness or wrongdoing is too much of a risk. But it is our humanness that makes us strong, our growth that makes us remarkable and our understandings of each other make us unstoppable. So to all the women (and men) out there: do not let anyone shame you for your openness. Reject their crown and do not be afraid of telling the truth. The worst that can happen is you grow from it.