I was bullied as a kid. I'll probably never know why and I am certainly not unique in my experience but I still feel weird about it. Girls from my class would turn and hate me in a minute. No warning, no reason why. They dumped my desk, left it full of notes that said "bitch," pinched me as they walked down the aisles. Then in a second it would be over and I'd have friends again. When in the midst of an incident, I missed school, faking illness. They'd call at all hours of the day and night and hang up and then do it again, and again, and again. At the time it was unsettling and I'd get scared and cry. I'd take the phone off the hook and put it back on a couple of hours later.
The first time I considered suicide I was about 9 years old, I think. I think that because I remember holding a butter knife against the pale blue of the veins just under the skin of my wrist and wondering if I could cut them with that knife because I wasn't allowed to use sharp knives yet.
When I was 10, we moved to St. Louis and I lost all my outlets, all the things I felt good doing. I stopped swimming or dancing or doing gymnastics.
I lived in St. Louis for a long time. A lot of it was unhappy, isolated times in my life. My dad came out of the closet just before my freshman year of high school. This was in the days when many people still thought it was completely acceptable for a mob to attack a person with no other cause than that person's sexual orientation. And I had a dad, the most loved person in my life other than my mother, who could be a victim of this. And if he made it through that, there was still all the judging. People might think he was evil, or that I was.
I was young and I was scared. I kept it a secret for the first couple of years that I knew about him. I would fly to Chicago where he'd moved and have these great visits where I met all his fabulous new friends and went to gay restaurants and they were in awe of how collected I was about the whole thing. But that was a lie. It was a comfortable relief to be there, honest about my dad and happy and seeing that everyone was happy and okay.
It's easy to be collected about a thing when it sits neatly folded up in a compartment of your life, never to be seen by anyone who might judge it.
I did eventually tell people about my dad. And that actually went just fine. After years of worrying what the backlash would be for someone that clearly did not fit into their own skin the way mine misfit me, the result of my dad's homosexuality fell silently into a comfortable quirk about me. No one cared.
But the other problems of my family stayed tucked tightly away. Those things are still required secrets in my family. I did not share them then and I'm not allowed to now. Back then, I didn't fit in my skin. I was awkward. I looked around and saw friends who had great grades and ACT scores and SAT scored. I hadn't even figured out how to sign up and that I kept a secret along with all my others. I'm not sure how much of it was shame and how much of it was just my role to keep it together, but when I was 17, with college on the horizons, I couldn't keep it together any more.
I attempted suicide.
I continue to this day to be ashamed of that. I'm honest about it to people. But ashamed.
It was important for me to do it. I got the help I needed and have never suffered from that debilitating depression since.
But sometimes when I go back to St. Louis, it's like the ghosts of those feelings lurk in the locations I used to frequent. The insecurity, the shame, the constant comparisons I used to do.
I know all these brilliant, accomplished people that I love and am proud of there. I see them and am awed by what they're doing with their lives. And if they came to Colorado and I got updated on their new strides, I'd hold them up a trophies. "Do you know who I know?" My friends are awesome.
But when I'm there, it feels different. It feel haunted by the 8 year old girl I was who was never good enough.
Seffra is more me than I realized when I was writing her. She was supposed to be for the kids I'd known in treatment centers. She was supposed to represent their struggle. She was not supposed to be me.
But nearly a year after the book's come out now, I can see how much her of her story is actually mine. The bullying, feeling out of place, dirty to men, the suicide-- those were me. Are me.
Especially when I go back to where it all still feels raw and vulnerable. I'm there to promote a book that has not been a copy-selling success.
The number of copies sold are the dirty secret of author's lives, I think. Most authors, most books, sell less than 1,000 copies. Mine hasn't yet reached 500 if we're talking paper copies. I've been the finalist of an international award but I'm still secretly terrified no one likes me. Such is the truth of vulnerability, of life.
And as my 8-year-old self and my 10-year-old self, and worst of all, my 17-year-old self go about life there, packed neatly away in my suitcase, I'm reminded in my life's most vulnerable ways of how hard it is to put yourself out there. I keep me tucked away and talk about my professional experience. I don't talk about my suicide attempt or my mom and her struggles. I hope people will like the story and it will be successful but it's financially a flop. And maybe that will be the case no matter what.
Maybe it's just hard to sell books. I certainly know statistically that's true. Or maybe audiences can smell the way I hold back. The formal nature of my lie of omission. And maybe it keeps me from connecting.
So here are the lessons I've learned since the book came out:
1. I need to be honest about my own vulnerability. Otherwise anxiety and insecurity will make me crazy. I'm no good at faking things. It comes out other ways.
2. I am happiest when I connect a lot to my husband and kids and when I ski and run and play soccer and write and work. St. Louis and I can only be distant friends. It's a fabulous city and I just can't.
3. Anything in life is better when you talk about it honestly to a friend. Thank you, Chris, my friend I talked through an entire breakfast with about book publishing and how NOT perfectly it's all going. This was after going to see Stevie Wonder live the night before. FYI, listening to Stevie Wonder live makes everything awesome always. I've tested it. It does.
4. Seffra is me in a reimagined life.
The final thing that made me feel amazing was coming home and at a work event where I met someone very high up in my organization who told me I was his hero. Literally used that word. He somehow knew a lot about the work I've been doing on this book. He has books ready and waiting for publishing, more connections than I do, more letters after his name than I have including the important PhD. And he bought a book from me. I'm wowed.
I'm going for a run now. Please buy a book here if you haven't and want to read about Seffra.
Layers, So Many
2 days ago