When I find it impossible to lift myself out of bed or bring myself to smile, I think of the little girl I used to know, the little girl I used to be. In my head she exudes all the qualities I wish I still had. She finds solace in her thoughts in times of isolation while I wander around lifelessly, waiting for someone to pick me up. She faces the life threatening disability of Type 1 Diabetes head on and does not let it hold her back from her dreams of being a track star. I present a daily threat to my life. She continues to walk through life with faith that she’ll live to see tomorrow. I wonder if I will make it through the next hour.
That was a diary entry from one year ago during one of the lowest points of my depression. I had just quit track, an outlet that for years had provided me with unwavering purpose and pride. I had slowly extracted myself from a friend group I found toxically school-focused. I had left behind all the things I had loved in my life in an attempt to start over and find happiness again. But my good intentions did nothing to eliminate my regrets. I wondered if my younger self would have pushed through the struggles I faced. Would she have been able to finish a race without having a panic attack and throwing up? She had mastered Type 1 Diabetes hadn’t she? Would she have confidently tackled the competitive school setting in which I felt like I was drowning? Of course, she was always so confident in who she was. How could I, who couldn’t even bring myself to open my eyelids in the morning, ever compare with her?
All I wanted was to go back in time to find that little girl. I wanted to be her again— fearless, capable, untouchable. I could not see that the little girl in my head was still a part of me, and that she was not nearly as perfect as I made her out to be.
I searched every nook and cranny of myself. I thought I found her when I won an award or tested well, but she never fully surfaced. I searched for her in new sports, in harder classes, in anything that I thought proved I was strong. And then I discovered some old diaries. In them I found accounts of her most painful moments I had since buried. I began to remember how she cried herself to sleep when a friend left her for a more fascinating playmate. I remembered how she chased after a boy while simultaneously never feeling good enough for him. I remembered how her mother waited for 30 minutes before her shaking would quell enough for her to get her insulin shot at night. I remembered when her overwhelming anxiety prevented her from playing volleyball the year she was diagnosed with diabetes. I remembered that my life had never been easy.
In that little girl’s struggle, I saw a glimpse of my present self. That girl was still within me and as ready to fight as ever. I thought I had lost her to the cruel realities of life that washed away childish hopes for the impossible, but in actuality I had not lost the most important part of her, her tenacity. As I had grown I had left behind my dreams to become an Olympic track star or the smartest person on the planet and somewhere along the way I thought I had to give up on enjoying the life I had. With every uncovered memory I began to understand that the ease of life or the grandness of your accomplishments does not determine whether or not that life is worth living, your choices do. And no choice is more important than how you choose to view yourself.
My life still contains drama-filled friendships and more shots than I would like. New challenges have presented themselves in the form of depression and panic attacks that debilitate my mind daily, and I am sure I will encounter more bumpy roads in the future, but I am no longer afraid to face them. My sense of self may have disintegrated with the onset of my depression, but that experience allowed me to reevaluate and rebuild myself with better scaffolding and principles to live by:
I cannot and should not compare myself to a past version of myself. As human beings, we are continuously evolving as we experience challenges and gain insights. Just as you cannot compare an apple with an orange, you cannot compare yourself at eight with yourself at seventeen.
Some battles are fought on different fields. When I was eight years old I was fighting the concrete—bullying and physical ailments— with the support of my stable mind. The people around me knew what I was going through and could give me clear ways of addressing the problems. At seventeen, I continue to fight those battles, but with the new internal battles raging within me, the tools I have access to are very different. No one experiences depression or any other mental illness the same way and I’ve learned that a tool that works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. There is no “easy fix.”
I will not doubt that I am just as strong, if not stronger, than I used to be. What I have lived through is proof enough that I am strong, and my continued fight to live with fulfillment will only make me stronger.
Life always looks better in hindsight. I will try to remember the things I have accomplished and the struggles I overcame to achieve them.
So to others who may doubt their strength and identity, I wish you to know that you are a culmination of everything you have done so far. Never forget the strength that has gotten you to the here and now because even if you can’t see it anymore, it will always be a part of you. And every day that you live, the strength within you grows a little bit more.