In 2008, I hit rock bottom, and I have barely stood up since. It wasn’t a loud breakdown. Family wasn’t aware at all. Only two friends knew about it. I was quietly imploding, absorbing the full brunt of an internal collapse.
I would stay in my bed for weeks, hardly eating. Mum thought I was going on a diet, and that I didn’t go to classes simply because I didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t wrong, but it was certainly a very warped version of the truth.
Keeping silent was torturous, but I couldn’t bring myself to unleash everything onto my family. Wrestling with a breakdown is for the jaded and spoilt, for those who have had a full meal and have nothing better to do, as a rough translation of a Chinese saying goes.
I was paranoid, distrusting, but also desperately paranoid about maintaining a façade of ‘everything is okay’ to the ones I love. There are some people you love enough (and who love you enough) to unleash the demons, because their love for you is more than obligatory, it comes from a genuine understanding of who you are (or at least, a genuine attempt to understand who you are). They are willing to fight these battles with you. There are others you love as well but you simply cannot crack, because that’s just not what they signed up for.
When I was small, and often would inadvertently say something that displeased my dad (saying ‘I hope my parents will live forever’ even at the age of 7 is not something superstitious parents want to hear, even if well-intended), he would say, “Your parents don’t owe you a living.” He especially liked to say it when I wasn’t performing well enough in school, because every mark short of the ideal was an unpaid debt. Not that it was something worth complaining to my classmates about. A friend’s dad caned her once for every mark short of 100%.
It is perhaps convenient that a lot of these memories with my parents are now only remembered by me.
I’m not always successful in quelling these demons. Doubts and paranoia emerge more often than I wish they would. The thing about inner demons is that they fester without need of much help. They are self-sustaining and grow exponentially, quickly preoccupying your consciousness and by the time you’re aware that they’re back they’ve already done damage, hurt you, hurt someone you care a lot about, someone you love, someone who loves you too, someone who loves you and knows you well enough to know that’s not the whole picture of who you are, someone who has just started to love you and the big question, the inevitable question, is will they see past this?
Humans of New York recently quoted someone saying, “You change what you can: you stop wearing baggy pants, you quit picking your nose in public, things like that. But when you’re done changing all the things you can change, and you’re left with the things you can’t change, and they still want you to change, then you start to know in your heart that it’s not going to work.”
Will they fight your battles with you, or was it just something they never signed up for?
Will you fight their battles with them, or was it just something you never signed up for?
What does it mean when you’re willing to fight their battles with them, but they won’t do the same for you?
And the demons stir in a muted rumble beneath the still waters.