Last spring my niece died in a drunk driving accident. She went out for the night with her best friend and her best friend’s new boyfriend, she expected a night of laughs and fun and, yes, some drinking, but he said he would stay sober. He said he would drive. He said he had her back. He said a lot of things, but what he did was entirely different. That night after he backed out on the promise to stay sober, he took a turn too fast and flipped the car, and as a result my niece lost her life. The other two walked away unscratched, while my family was left completely torn apart and destroyed. I caught wind of her accident through a simple text message hours before heading off to take a midterm. I can remember that day clear as glass, but a part of it still feels surreal or like it happened to someone else. From then on, it was like I was just going through the motions. My grades plummeted, I wasn’t really speaking to anyone beyond superficial responses, and I distanced myself from my family. Rather than dealing with my problems, I did everything in my power to avoid them. This left me entirely lost when I snapped back into reality and I didn’t know how to dig myself out of the hole that I put myself in. I realised that my niece wouldn’t want me to throw away everything that I had been working for. That was the single handedly hardest part, recognizing that if she were here she would look at me and be disappointed. Disappointed that I wasn’t out there living everyday to its fullest, disappointed that I was ignoring my monsters rather than facing them, disappointed that I was the one stopping me from being happy.
After I recognized that I needed help, I finally was in a position where I started asking for it, both from others and from myself. I started to open up to my friends more and they would push me a little harder, I started to lean on my family, because this was a battle that we were all fighting and it would be just a little easier if we fought it together, and I started to demand better of myself. In the beginning better was, “if I can just make it to this class, or go to this event, or talk to this person then I am winning” but evolved into “if I can walk away from this day feeling proud and accomplished, then I am winning”. The most helpful idea or thought through all of this was that I had to go after the day in a way that would make my niece happy. Her goal was always to put a smile on someone else’s face and for her family to be living their best lives. When I was able to see that my current actions were going against her memory, I was finally able to start living.
I never shared or mentioned anything on social media about my niece or my struggle because it felt too personal. I was like there was this invisible line in the sand that I knew not to cross and publishing how I was feeling was definitely across that line. I see social media as a way to present your best self and, in my mind, my sad, falling apart self was not my best self. I rationalized every happy, smiling picture with the idea that if everyone else thought I was happy then maybe I actually would be.
If I had shared my struggle on social media, I don’t think it would be on instagram because it would have hurt me more to see a bunch of “living my best life” posts among my “wow this is hard and I want to cry all the time” post. Instead I would have had one of those long drawn out Facebook posts where you have to click expand all and only the people who really love and care about you will take the time to sit there and read out the entire thing. I think the response would have been pretty positive, albeit a bit confused. I’m a little too good at hiding my feelings and to lay it all out there would have garnered a lot of well wishes, some phone calls from my grandma, and, probably (unfortunately), some whispers behind my back about how I am “asking for attention”. That’s the nature of social media, people look at it and become judge, jury, and executioner all in the matter of seconds. We have all been in a place where we judge someone’s makeup or clothing choice, and if it were feelings? It would be completely torn apart. Regardless, more than anything, I think it would have been liberating. Liberating to know that other people know I am hurting, liberating to realize that I am not alone, liberating to sit on the phone with my grandma while I hyperventilate/cry through my words. Other people wouldn’t have mattered in that moment, all that would have mattered is that I was out there, baring it all, without the weight of my pain and sorrow bottle up inside of me.
To other women in a similar situation I would say this: start opening the door, even just a crack. The first step is the one that is the hardest, it is the one that take everything in you to complete, and it is the one that means the most. It took me along time to open my door and to take that first step, but when it happened I was able to take another and keep going. Sometimes I would have to reset from start or the door would be slammed, but if I kept telling myself “just this one step” or “just this little push” then I could keep going. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you love and don’t be afraid to recognize your worth. We all deserve to be happy and way too often we are the ones keeping us from it.