This year, rather. From the very start, 2016 has been different than any other year. Last year, I dyed my hair blonde as a way of being bold and proving to myself that I was strong, that I could stand alone on my own two feet, that I could take adversity and change and survive. And survive, I did.
But the beginning of 2016 has been the aftermath of that survival. It was the ugliness that comes after crossing a long, hard finish line. It was the collapsing, the part where my knees gave out and I couldn't get up for a very long time. Anyone who runs and has done a half-marathon or a full one can tell you that the moment you cross the finish line...feels amazing. The next 5-10 minutes are full of adrenaline and you feel like you can do anything.
Because you've survived.
You did it. And damn it all if you aren't proud as hell about it.
But then, all of the pain comes flooding. The ache and wear and tear that you've just put your body - your self - through comes roaring in.
And it stays.
You're sore for days and can barely move or walk. And you're starving. Starving and hungry and yearning for food, for nourishment.
In many ways, so far, 2016 has been sore and painful and filled with yearning.
Starving for love (all the different kinds, not merely or even the romantic sort), for security. For solidity and safety and strength. Because sometimes the world tilts and everything changes, and you're standing in the exact same place, yet nothing is how it was. Nothing is the same anymore.
I've gone through hard seasons before...we all do, you know. And I will continue to, for life is filled with ups and downs. But this year...this season...this semester was different.
Because for the first time in my life, I looked in the mirror and saw deep unhappiness in my eyes.
It's the skin I've been wearing this year. This semester.
It's why my hair went dark and shorter, why I snipped bangs late at night over a sink. Because I felt so very fragile and quiet and lost.
Transitions are always strange and hard and painful, and I think mine came early. While other friends were excited for the last semester of college, I spent my first week on campus struggling to keep back tears at the sight of a familiar building. The beginning of many last firsts...and first "lasts." Life's beauty and fleetingness was especially poignant those first few weeks, made even more so by the fact that so much had changed in my personal life.
Emotions and friendships and love and self-care. Boundaries and esteem and lines and things unspoken and moments uncaptured.
The past five months have been ones of quite suddenly, and without reason, wanting to cry. And yet nothing tragic or terrible has happened. There have been many happy moments...and many lonely, hard ones. I started vlogging in February because I wanted to capture my last semester and the people in it on film...and then halfway through March, while looking at the footage, everything came to a startling halt. And I stopped filming.
Because I looked unbelievably unhappy in every. single. video.
As someone who's always worn her heart on her sleeve and can't hide any display of emotion of her face, even I finally saw the truth. The spark in my eyes had gone out. And hadn't come back, even months later. I went on a few dates with a boy at the beginning of February, and we went to go see Tina Fey and Amy Poleher's film Sisters for our second date. I laughed so hard that night, and laughed some more with him after the movie. And was shocked to realize I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed that hard.
I sat there and tried and I couldn't.
I've felt the darkness of depression before, and this wasn't it. There were many circumstances out of my hands that had to be endured, and choices I had made that caused ripple effects. Details aren't really important because I think perhaps everyone experiences at least once, a soul-deep, skin-covering unhappiness.
And being aware of it was perhaps the best thing. Because I began to consciously make choices that would bring happiness.
I started saying no when I could to commitments or extra tasks that I didn't have to do but was asked to do. I started taking myself to the park to sit in sunlight and silence, alone with only music and books. I started moving slower, giving myself permission to nap. I sought out the people who made me smile, who made me feel loved, who didn't require a performance or extreme emotional energy from me. I treated myself to a favorite meal and stayed in my room on the weekend for some much-needed introvert time to watch a film I'd always wanted to see. I gave myself permission to cry and to laugh. I prayed a lot and tried to lean in to God, to lean my head on His knee and just sit in His presence.
I tried to give myself grace and sunlight and kindness. I tried to take care of myself and stay away from bullies.
I'm slowly, very slowly, becoming. Becoming me...becoming Grace - this strange, wonderful, silly, deep person who dreams about worlds and elves and love and babies and good cups of coffee and the rolling hills of Ireland and England. This person who is made up of words, who dances and sings, who says too much and feels too deeply and always overthinks.
But she's me, and I'm proud of her. Proud of who is she is today. Who she is becoming.
Together, I think we'll be quite something.
So, slowly, I'm shedding the skin I've been wearing, the skin I've thought I should be wearing, and learning to love my own.