By Mary Stathos
Everyone knows I am working hard but I don’t think anyone knows how hard it is to work this hard. I don’t know who I am working this hard for, or if I am making myself crazy by thinking that I need to be perfect.
One of my earliest, most vivid memories is of a spelling test in the first grade. I got a 90. I remember feeling so confident that I thought I didn’t need to double-check the words. When the word “some” was called out, I felt my face flush. I sounded it out but I wasn’t confident. “Sum.” I wrote it down on the paper with my heart pounding. When my teacher came around to grade the tests, she explained to me that there were two spellings, but mine wasn’t correct for the meaning that she gave. It was the first time I didn’t get a 100. I was hysterical. I got sent home and the teacher had to talk to my parents. Everyone told me it was okay. I still think about it. I still wish I had just looked at the words. I still wish I was perfect.
There are so many moments in my life where I wish I had just thought to do that one thing. They say that hindsight is 20/20, but for me, I think it is more than that. Hindsight is haunting. Hindsight is a constant replay of moments that feel like they were the make or break of my entire life. There were so many times when I let thoughts about boys or general approval of others get in the way of focusing on my school work, so many times when I could have done better. I could have been perfect.
I wish I had the foresight to remember to set up autopayment for my electricity bill. I wish that I hadn’t been so depressed for the last three months that paying the bill was never even a fleeting thought in my mind. I wish I had electricity in my apartment and that I was typing on a computer with more than 18% battery.
I did have the foresight to take a leave of absence from grad school this semester to check myself into an inpatient unit. I didn’t have the foresight to find one that did the type of therapy that I was interested in doing. Instead, I sat on big plastic chairs and watched Pretty Woman and a lot of reality TV for six days. I didn’t even think to write down my friends’ phone numbers to tell them where I was.
It was hard to admit that I was not perfect to my professors, who so highly praise so much of the work I have done in my graduate program. I am working so hard. They can tell, they tell me. They understood that I was overwhelmed. One of them had been in a similar situation. Such a successful psychologist – not perfect either. I have until May to make up the work that I missed. I deserve it, everyone told me. It is okay to need a break, to have a hard time. In parts of my brain, it feels like they are just telling me that they know I am not perfect. In the other parts, the good parts, I know that they know how hard I am working.
I don’t think that anyone has any obligation to be kinder or more patient to someone just because they have a mental illness, although sometimes I think that people should be kinder and more patient in general.
I remember this one time in the seventh grade when I was in the after school program. I overheard two of the teachers talking about me. “She’s so bright,” one of them said. “She’s cute too,” the older, but still very trendy, female English teacher said. I heard that in my head when I was 24 and bleached my half grown out pixie cut in my friend’s kitchen. My hair, that barely reached my ears was now orangey-yellow and fried. It stuck out everywhere. I should never have cut it in the first place. I should never have broken up with my boyfriend, which was the reason I was feeling impulsive to cut it at all. I should never have let the bullying I was experiencing when I was 16 years old make me feel so depressed that couldn’t focus on school anymore. I would have gone to a better college, gotten a better job. I could have been perfect.
I wonder if my old teachers ever wonder where I am. I wonder if they would be proud of me or disappointed in knowing that I could have been better. I wonder if they know how hard I have worked to be where I am.
I am 25. I turn 26 in 20 days. I like my hair cut. I feel cute again. I am in grad school. I am going to be a therapist. I am a graduate level therapist and I do a really good job at what I do. Despite everything that has gotten in my way, I am here. Despite trying to kill myself when I was 20 and failing two of my classes because I was in the hospital. Despite my parents going through what felt like the world’s worst divorce halfway through my freshman year of college. Despite a boyfriend who for five years told me I wasn’t good enough for anyone. I like myself. I did it.
I am here. I am here, sitting in the dark until Friday afternoon because I called the electric company and cried and paid my bill. I am here still procrastinating the work I have to make up from this semester. I am here with the occasional thought that if I had just been better, if I had just been good enough, that the people in my life who have left me would still be here, I could have been enough.
I am here, in an apartment full of photos and positive signs that my mom printed out and hung in my apartment when I was in the hospital while she was feeding my cats, one of whom is on my lap and keeps accidentally pressing the keys on the keyboard making this somewhat painful to type.
I don’t love all of my life, but it is my life and I love a lot of it. I am here and I am working so hard, but I am not perfect.
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