Words have always been my religion. Wether my love of the beauty you can create with words made me a writer or what I could say when I wrote made me love words is my own personal chicken & egg. Regardless, the fact remains, I worship words. In that adoration lies a certain obsession; from worrying over a sentence for an hour to finding affinity in a someone else’s perfect phrase. Which, is exactly what I want to tell you about.
In the past week I’ve come across two such phrases that at different points in my life seemed made for me. Across the Universe is one of The Beatles songs I immersed myself in as a teen. I still love it, but the words have become so familiar that they often just wash over me. Well, on bus last week for some reason I was really listening. When I reached the chorus, one line flooded me with feeelings from times gone:
‘Nothing’s gonna change my world’
I vividly recalled being 15 & completely believing that nothing could shake me. I had at that point lived a charmed life. A life of love & safety & competence that had formed a girl confident she could take on the world. And win.
I look back on that version of me with such mixed feelings. I’m proud of her; she was the weird girl that managed to be popular. The smart girl that partied. Even at 15 she knew her convictions mattered & those who felt threatened by that could fuck off. It takes a specfic kind of teenage courage to own that you are different & to celebrate it. Oh, the plans she had. It never once occurred to her that anything could knock her down.
I’m welling up writing this because I know what happened next. It took years of therapy, but I can finally feel compassion for that cocksure girl that fucked it all up. Now, after years blame, I want to protect her. A story of my history & evolution in 5 words.
A few days later, in a fit of insomnia, I was flicking through tv channels & found Girl Interrupted. The first time I saw this the description of suicidal thoughts clicked.
‘Once you’ve posed that question, it won’t go away’
I hadn’t heard anyone else voice this cold fact before, but it was true. Once I had seriously considered suicide, it never really went away. Killing myself became the solution to every problem. So many of Susanna Kaysen’s words rang true. Hearing my terrifying feelings expresssed out loud somehow justified my pain.
All I ever heard about suicide or self harm was don’t do it. People often talk in well meaning platitudes. They’ll tell you that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Life will get better, they insist. It’s all meaningless. When you are in that hole, getting out doesn’t seem possible. More over, even if you believe that someday, you might be happier, it does nothing to assuage your current pain. Severe depression is torturous. There is a comfort in knowing an escape hatch exists. For a long time the knowledge that if I couldn’t take anymore of life I didn’t have to was the one thing that kept me alive.
Watching that film again brought back those dark times. More than that, Kaysen’s words brought a sense of peace. In my suicidal days, having my daily struggle with those thoughts acknowledged was powerful. Now, realising that suicide is no longer my default trouble shooter is compelling.
Sometimes it takes a glance at the past to see how far I’ve come. I know those feelings can return. Which is why these words still resonate. Another example of a handful of words spelling out the story of life.