Normally, I am not a huge this-is-who-I-was-four-years-ago kind of person. Mostly, because I have memories that blur into one another. Travel stories that I tell out of order. And time for me is told by my friendships, relationships and accomplishments most of the time. For some reason, I remember last Leap Day like it was just a year ago. Maybe because it happens only every four years so it seems a bit more significant. I was with this guy who showed me I had no right to be in a relationship. At least not at that time. I was eighteen. Just moved out of my parents house. Alone, for the very first time. I didn’t love myself. The wounds from my high school relationship that I haven’t even begun to explore haunted me. Truthfully, the guy wasn’t even really nice to me. Within the next week, we stopped seeing each other. After we ended things, I remember crying in my dorm room. Not because we had failed at a “relationship,” but because I thought that I was going to be forever screwed up and unlovable. I believed in fairytales and happiness, I just questioned if those cards were in my deck.
What I remember about that February four years ago was how sad I was. After classes, I walked back to my dorm room, and I remember the sky being particularly gray. There was snow that blanketed the trees and sidewalks. I wanted to tell my mom how sad I was, but I didn’t want her being disappointed in the fact that she raised a “sad” daughter. The truth is, I wasn’t always sad. My sadness stemmed from my friend’s suicide two years prior. It was the remnants of my vicious eating disordered that lingered as I couldn’t walk for several months. It was not wanting to be in college, because I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be me, but I didn’t know who me was. The sadness was a synonym for my father fighting a war in Afghanistan, and me feeling guilt for not being home to take care of my mother and sisters.
After ending things with the boy, I had the opportunity to move to New York City. To this day, I still wonder why I didn’t. It was my dream city and my dream job. At eighteen I was on the brink of having it all. At least that is what it seemed like at the time.
If we were to go back to the last leap day, and tell me that I would have met my best friend in South Africa, moved to Cambodia on a whim, found my purpose in other peoples’ children, and learned how to fall in love with myself again, I would have made a bet against it all.
When looking back, I find it mesmerizing that a timid, scared girl could flourish into a woman that I have begun to love. It wasn’t that I was scared of the world, I was scared of myself. I was scared to love who I could become. I was scared to show the world that I could stand on my own. I always thought that once the world found my secret to happiness and strength, it would snatch it away from me. And the truth is, it has. Time and time again. The even bigger truth, is that I am okay. Even today. The journey and opportunities that the universe has given me is more than I could have ever dreamt of. There have been moments when I have had to take a step back and realize that this is my life. Sometimes it is almost surreal.
Last March, on a particular sunny day that was 76, when I made homemade Cambodian coffee, I remember asking, what did I do to deserve all of this happiness?
It would be quite arrogant of me to say that I have found the answer. But I think that I am catching onto something — because I have been able to feel so scared, so alone, so broken has carved out depths in my gut and heart to be filled with something else once all of that darkness washed away. Because if we don’t feel the absolutely gut wrenching, then how are we ever supposed to celebrate the joyous of occasions in our hearts?
If you are reading this and you’re in a season of your life where you are the saddest you have ever been, I hope you know this, summer always comes back around. You might be afraid of the label depression, and to be honest I think we over diagnose that word. So don’t call it depression, if that isn’t what it is to you. Call it a season. A season of uncharted territories that just so happens to be more of a dense forest than a vast sunny ocean. And if it is depression and you need to call it that, call your mom and tell her. Tell your roommate. Get coffee with a friend. I will be that friend.
It is when you realize that summer is around the corner that hope nestles into your bones. Even more, it is when you look back at the four years of where you have been, who you were, and who you are becoming that makes me hopeful that even though I will always remember how this past summer ended, I cannot wait to see it bloom again.