Cracks in Concrete

Nine years ago I was a different person than I am now. Not just in the sense of growing and changing, but on a fundamental, ego-state level. My core sense of identity shifted between October and November 2013.

Yesterday, this memory showed up on my Facebook timeline:

Image Description: A screenshot of a Facebook memory post that reads: Your memories on Facebook; Janai, we care about you and the memories you share here. We though you’d like to look back on this post from 9 years ago. The post date reads October 17, 2013. The post reads: It’s official! I am double majoring with English as my primary major, and Italian studies as my secondary major!!

I can hardly remember being that girl with so much ambition. To have a double major approved, you had to demonstrate your ability to take on the extra load and additional years (in my case just one). My grades, course load, and progress in my English major and Italian classes so far were all taken into account before I was allowed to add a secondary major. In other words, the person I was when I wrote this status was more than capable of achieving what she set out to do.

Her plan was to teach university someday. To be an expert in Italian literature. And that’s just professionally. Personally, she wouldn’t need to read the English translations of Petrarch’s sonnets, because she’d not only understand the original Italian but would be a scholar of them. She would be able to sing any Italian aria without looking up the translations and pronunciations. At the crossroads of English and Italian lived a vision for a future that seemed to fit every important identity that college sophomore had.

I’m ambitious now–clearly, I’m publishing a book. But it’s not the same ambition.

I look back on that girl with fondness. I remember her dreams with fondness. But I don’t connect with her ambitions. They belonged to someone else. She was someone else. Like a character in a book.

Even before the memories of fall 2013 started to come back to me in 2017, I felt like something fundamental in myself had disappeared. After the memories returned I would say a piece of myself went missing that November 5. Therapists and close family would respond with, of course it feels that way, but you didn’t really lose anything. It’s all still there, inside you. They would rightly point out this feeling was a trauma response and not an accurate reflection of my wholeness. But despite knowing this, I couldn’t help but feel like something was really missing. Actually gone. It was so lost to me I couldn’t even explain exactly what it was. But whatever it was, it held the part of me that dreamed of being a poet. The one who wrote a sonnet a day. The one who fell in love with Italian. It was romantic and self-assured. It held a worldview as optimistic as they come. And the only way I could describe this part of myself was as a certain glimmer that had disappeared.

I suppose now’s as good a time as any to share with you the latest (expected to be last, for real this time) in the saga of misdiagnosis. I’m not ready to share everything yet–some vulnerability needs distance, and this is still new–but I do not have bipolar disorder. Bipolar was just the closest thing I was aware of to describe what I was going through. And to be fair to the professionals who diagnosed me with it, I hit the criteria. What was missing was the other explanation for all those symptoms.

But I was kind of right all those years ago when I said something inside me went missing. My new diagnosis, one that’s difficult to discover but nearly impossible to dispute, has confirmed that a piece of me really did disappear nine years ago. Not gone forever, so those therapists and family members were right in a way. But it was lost in the sense that it couldn’t be found. It was more literal than just a feeling. And it was able to happen because my mind was already different.

The brain has such clever ways of coping with trauma, and that can mess with memory. In the same way I can feel detached from a memory of the trauma itself, I can also feel detached from the memory of who I was before the trauma happened.

I am a truly different person now. And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t grief. But I’ve also learned to create something new with empty space.

I don’t think my worldview will ever be as romantic as it once was. There are certain things that can never go back to the way they were. Beliefs, like concrete, fill the holes negative experiences create, protecting the more vulnerable places of the mind. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we still allow something to grow in the cracks of that concrete. Because it will crack with time.

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