THIS ESSAY finds you a week too late. I just couldn’t find the thoughts or words needed to write it.
I had begun it at least three other ways. The first, I spent several paragraphs ruminating on the different impressions of myself that exist in the minds of others. Then when that went nowhere — as dwelling on the opinions of others tends to go — I thought to write of a recent realisation that if the world was ending, I’d be with my family and therefore not with a host of other people I love; but that, too, never found actualisation as an whole, fully-realised essay. So I sought to develop something from a bout of recent sadness, during which I discovered a miniature, glass bottle, gifted by someone I no longer know, that held a little, rolled up note inside that stated, “Happiness is a choice”.
On better days, I might’ve succeeded in turning that first thought into an essay about how we hold a more complete image of ourselves than anyone around us, so our own self-estimation should hold more weight than the inaccurate perceptions of others — but for whatever reason, it rarely does. If I were someone else, someone more self-assured, less susceptible to bouts of doubt, perhaps I would’ve found a way to turn the desire to write the love letters nobody ever sends — to mentors, to former friends, to strangers who will never be anything but — into something that resonated with you, that would’ve encouraged you to go out and seek the people in your life that you never thanked, but always meant to, before it’s too late.
I might’ve turned that souvenir of a one-time friendship into a reflection on happiness.
But I am beset by anxiety, she is with me mostly all the time. These past couple of weeks though, it has been hard to know where she ends and I begin — which is perhaps why this particular essay has started and stopped and evaded me until there was nothing left for me to do but to admit defeat at its first deadline.
I wonder if there’s anyone, given this opportunity to write to you weekly, who would bring it so close to ruin — would submit an essay a week late.
THE FIRST I was diagnosed with anxiety, I was several years into a university degree and for a reason then unknown to me, I could not submit a single essay one semester. I would type introductions, then somewhere in the body, lose all thought. Words that only hours ago in class I’d spoken, were nowhere to be found on the page where they were most needed.
My marks were good enough in other areas that even submitting the introduction of an essay would warrant a passing mark in the unit — but as I would learn only afterwards in therapy, my anxiety led me to believe the showing my imperfection through a mediocre essay was a worse consequence than failing a semester, and stalling my life.
It made no sense to my tutors — I was well-engaged with the content of my degree, loved to speak on every topic; still do today. If ever we meet, let’s sit in a coffee shop somewhere — I know a sweet one by Wynyard, all polished concrete contrasted with pastel furniture. We’ll talk about the bystander effect; which therapies we’d most likely engage in if we were mental health practitioners; and whether philosophy, theology and ethics are worthwhile pursuits.
I failed every subject that semester for non-completion and more than one tutor referred me to the university’s mental health services. I still remember how one, who I know appreciated my contributions in class, told me sadly that I should’ve asked for help — she knew I wanted to do the work, knew something else must’ve been going on — she could’ve given me an extension.
She couldn’t have known, but more than theories around the psychology of work, by her I learned to give myself permission to admit to my imperfections and still have an expectation of help.
I’M SO GRATEFUL to have been given the extension, these many years later. I’m grateful because it is now better days; and I have the thoughts and words again to write what I mean to say.
I couldn’t last week, but today, I am able to write about what I know to be true of myself, and this more complete image than that which anyone else holds of me — anxious and deeply flawed and still, deserving of second chances. Perhaps I am no more self-assured or less susceptible to bouts of doubt than just days ago, but by asking for help, I have been given the opportunity to write to you — perhaps a stranger who will never be anything but — and tell you more about what I believe of the moments before the world ends.
If the world was ending, I would be home with my babies. I would bathe them, read them a story at 7 P.M. It would probably be Pig The Star, yet again — then tuck them into bed. As my babies slept and my husband poured me a glass of wine, I wouldn’t be with so many other people; by being with my family, I wouldn’t spend my last moments with others, not giving them all the words of affirmation and admiration that songs and films promise last minutes are filled with.
So I would hope that in some of these moments between birth and dying, I had made someone else feel less alone. That would be my choice of happiness; I could die peacefully.
As would knowing that this four-times started, imperfection-baring, mediocre essay doesn’t come a week too late and finds you exactly when you need it.