Personal Essay: Love

(Written for #mentalhealthday)

When you’re younger, you think you understand the concept of love. Love is thrown at you through the pristine-quality Disney movies you watch. The perfect princess meets the man she’s destined to be with forever. You read about it in stories – young girls falling for the high-school jock that ends up chasing them down the football field to ask them out to the school dance. You see it in news articles, of fated romances, or perfect proposals, all edited to make you feel you’re missing something, that you’re inadequate and incapable of ever finding something like that. You fall in love with every person or idea you have or at least,
I did.

I loved my baby doll that my grandma gifted me on my 5th birthday.
I named her Rosie and she travelled the world with me. Every time I was left alone in my room, she’d come alive for me. We were a family, consistently there for each other. Her face was innocent, helpless and dependent on me to take care of her, make her feel safe. I would whisper secrets into her plastic ear; first crushes, angry arguments with my parents and my irrational fear of flying. One day, at the age of 11, I woke up.
Alone.
Rosie, who’d normally be cradled in my arms, had been tossed to the cold, wooden floor, next to the bed. Her glass eyes looked up at me, the trust broken. She never came alive for me again.

I loved the 5-year-old boy in kindergarten, who was kind to me and held my hand when I was sad. He gave me hand-painted figurines of us for my birthday.

I loved the idea of being a doctor.
I quickly realized I couldn’t stand the site of
blood.

I loved my Barbie dolls and would spend countless hours making up stories and adventures they would go on. My stories were the nitty gritty ones. They were stock-full of betrayals, hard-ships and infidelity.

I loved my first boyfriend, who, at the age of 14, I kept my feelings for, secret, inside my head for months, until finally revealing them through a Skype conversation, tucked away in my room with the safety net of a computer screen.
I remember the minty taste of tic-tacs we shoved in our mouths for our first kiss, the feeling of popularity when I became one of “those girls” who got to put in a relationship with on Facebook.
I remember the first feeling of
heartbreak
when I realized he wasn’t my knight in shining amour that I would remain with forever.

I loved my second boyfriend, who I shared my first proper physical relationship with, pure and innocent, a year of happiness.
Until I suddenly realized that I hated the way I looked every time I saw my reflection in a mirror. I covered myself with different variations of hoodies because he couldn’t stand the way other men looked at me. I’d stopped seeing my friends because I’d been convinced they were bad influences, taking me down the
toxic
path of
alcohol and
immature decisions.
I had isolated myself in a cave of sadness. Any time I tried to find a little opening to escape or suck in a miniscule amount of oxygen to fill my suffocating lungs, I’d convince myself
I
was
fine.
I was fine and happy.
I wanted to be in that cave.
The minuscule times I saw him convinced me that it was worth it – he was worth it. Yet, every time I caught a sight of my reflection, my eyes look dull and tired. It was then I understood none of this was love. This was fear: a fear of never finding somebody who was going to love me. A fear that every man who came near me would want somebody else, somebody sexier and more compelling and interesting than I was.

I hadn’t experienced what real love was until I met someone after my previous relationship had broken me to the point of despair.
I, for the first time, experienced the feeling of intoxicating desire, care and yearning. Every inch of my body wanted to give myself fully and completely to this person. You’d say it’s impossible to know you were in love with someone you never had an actual relationship with. But I’d say it’s easier. It’s easier because you can idealise them into anything you want. Over the two years I got to know each and every crook and cranny of this person’s soul. Lying in bed, I’d rest my head on his chest and listen to the rhythm of his heartbeat, as he talked about all his dreams and desires. Serenading my ears with secrets and words, things he’d never told other people before. In the early hours of the morning, after he left, I’d feel cleansed, as if he had put his hand down my throat and purified my being, washing out my fears and demons. He was inexcusably himself.
I think the fact he was never truly mine, made me love him. I had always struggled in relationships, feeling like I was trapped in a constricted box, wanting to be the only person they cared about, but also wishing I had the accessibility to go out into the world and meet other, new people, to communicate at a different level. We understood that about each other. We bonded over our ability to want people, many people – to want to meet them and understand them in a way that nobody else did.
But as always, I grew
selfish.
The demons in my mind played tricks, and the reality of my feelings, stronger than his, sunk in.
I was hopelessly, deeply and madly in love with somebody who didn’t want me anymore. I hadn’t experienced such pain, such excruciating, heart-numbing pain till then. I hated seeing him with other people, seeing the way he laughed around them, made them feel
special
and
beautiful
as he had made me feel.
I stayed with him, taking any chance I had to be around him. I counted the seconds, minutes, hours it took for him to respond to my messages, my heart racing any time I saw him appear on my phone, igniting a fire that burned and flickered inside me, a chance of hope.
That, maybe,
one day,
it would
just
be
me.
Yet when I realized how I felt, it was too late. He had moved on. So I was left with a fantasy of what-ifs.
What if we had met at a different time?
What if I had been upfront with my feelings?
What if I had realized my actions were consequently due to repressed love?
I’d never felt so desperate and so open then I did the moment I realized that this, this is what love was. It was the feeling of inescapable care and protection for a person. I was content with being in his life, in any way, because I loved him.

I loved the idea of acting.
I’d always been a fan of musical theatre and performing on stage.
Playing the part of somebody else felt addicting, as if I was shedding of my own skin and stepping into someone else’s life and problems.
I could learn scripts days before they were supposed to be performed. I’d been in two situations where leads had dropped out and scripts got tossed at me because people got used to my quick line-learning ability. But slowly the lights on the stage
blinded my eyes,
burned my skin.
The audiences’ applause felt empty, dead. I felt exposed, as if everybody could see all of me and I was left, bare on stage. I
doubted myself,
pitted myself against other people constantly.
Was I good enough?
Was I pretty enough?
Was I talented enough?
Rejection never stood well with me.
I wanted YES but all the NO emails would pile up in my brain, making guest appearances in the stage I called my mind. I wanted to be the main attraction, and yet I didn’t feel I was worthy. I got more comfortable directing, being in control of all the decisions, and not having there be any chance for someone else to stop me, or tell me that I was wrong. Slowly I realized I couldn’t hack it. I couldn’t put myself through all of this mental torture, the games and being “too short”, “too young”, “too curvy”, “too innocent”, “too sexy”, “too powerful”, “too weak” it just kept piling up with label after label.

I loved the taste of alcohol. The
cold,
burning feel of it as it
trickled
down my
throat,
like the warm embrace of a friend.
But, like most toxic friendships, it grew abusive. It was constant, it was intense and it was aggressive. I depended on it, confided in it and relied on it to help me get through the day. As I packed my bag to go to class or rehearsals, the glistening bottle would wave at me, asking me why it couldn’t come with me. “I’ll hide in a plastic bottle. Nobody would know. It would look like I was just water,” it whispered in my ear. And I would nod slowly, before reaching for it and taking it with me. Convincing myself that this was okay, and what I needed.

I loved the feeling of sadness. I made friends with my pain to the point where we were inseparable. Of all my friendships, this was the hardest one to end, because I didn’t want to. If I remained, chained to this sadness I didn’t have to try or force myself to keep going. I could blame other people, persuade myself that I was in no fault; I had been through hell and back again, so I deserved this. I deserved to feel sad, and lonely, and depressed. I deserved to disappear and go for walks, ignore people’s messages for days until they worried themselves sick. I spent all my time sick to death for other people. Supporting them, making sure they were okay, giving up my own life to be there for them. What were a few minutes of worry for me, going to do to them?

I loved the feeling of love. The feeling when I thought I was
hopelessly,
forever,
attached to something.
So much that I assured myself that it was true. But I could never find myself understanding the difference between love, in love, infatuated and obsessed. I know I’ve only been in love, properly, twice. I know I love and care for many people. I know I get obsessed with toxic things. I know my infatuation gets me into trouble. I know I’m passionate and I know I’m dramatic. Yet all of this doesn’t help me get out of the new cave I’ve found myself in.

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