And of course, I realized, 10 years ago I was 16 and it was fall and a whole mountain of memories crumble down and crush me. Right now I am this 26-year-old person dealing with all these un-26-year-old issues because when they happened, I didn't even know what they meant. Or if they meant anything at all.
Ten years ago, in 2004, I turned 16. I was a sophomore in high school. I had a "surprise" birthday party. I went on my second missions trip. That same year I decided my favorite color was green, and no longer orange. One of my best friends moved to Texas. I went on my first real date, with a guy who actually liked me. I was accused of being a lesbian by the new girl at school. I was a TA for the biology teacher. I met another best friend, and began a relationship based on a shared love of music and chocolate muffins. The new Relient K CD came out. I had one of the leads in the school play. My brother-in-the-NAVY (which was how I referred to him back then) got to come home for Christmas. I had really long hair. I started wearing make-up more often. I read a lot of Shakespeare. I wore a lot of scarves. Took a lot of photos with my parents' old Nikon. My dog was born, and was given to me the week before Christmas. The guy I was in-like with, the guy I went on my first real date with, actually became my boyfriend for a whole month and six days. (He then dumped me, the second time that year. We dated for 11 days when I was 15.)
And it's been ten long years but some of these things still steal my breath from my lungs--as if the impact of them still shocks me, and I still can't believe it all happened. I still can't believe I was that person for a whole year and, believe it or not, it was the one year in high school I did not find myself faced with any serious depression. I had bad days, of course. But overall? Sixteen was incredible.
You must understand, however, that I had to decide every single day to make it incredible. I am never going to tell you that happiness is a choice. Aside from the fact that "happiness" is overrated and inconstant, depression is more complicated than choosing how to feel. But I somehow managed for an entire year to simply tuck it away. It takes a certain strength to take your sadness, your depression, your anxiety and fear, and put those things in your pocket while you go about your business. These days I'm pretty good at it, but I couldn't begin to explain how I do it currently and certainly couldn't tell you how I did it then when my brain wasn't even fully formed.
But I can tell you what it felt like.
When I made a new friend, I felt like I was "enough." Having finally reached a healthy level of confidence, I was able to reach out and introduce myself to people. If they didn't like me, I wasn't crushed--and that was difficult to do in a school with only 150-ish students. If something was truly upsetting, I knew I had people to talk to.
When I chose a new favorite color, it was a near-physical manifestation of moving away from the angst of being 15. I still loved orange, and still do today, but at 15 it was like my armor. I had this hideous orange sweatshirt and imagined myself protected from the world by it. It both drew attention to me and protected me by setting me apart. At some point I must have realized I didn't need it.
When I foolishly fell in love, my whole world did not tilt on its axis or cause me to stumble. He was a friend, who became a boyfriend, who became a friend again. It wouldn't be the last time we tried being "in love," but the time when I was 16, it didn't break me apart. When it was over, I was sad, but felt no real loss because I knew had better support and better friendships in other places.
Essentially, I was not overcome by my weaknesses, but rather I discovered my own strength and was not afraid to use it. I didn't fear it would leave me in a moment, or a day. I was not anxious about people seeing my strength and calling me aggressive, or arrogant, or obnoxious. I chose to show it off. I didn't need to hide under a baggy sweatshirt, or an ugly color.
I have been many versions of myself in the past 10 years. And even though, when I see this girl, I ask myself, "Who is she? What makes her so strong?" I know I can still find her in me. I can decide to use her strength at any moment.