McKenna Neville : Memoir : June 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I go to school in Alabama, and every Friday the cafeteria serves mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, corn bread, and fried chicken. Don’t worry, there is no shortage of y’alls, ain’ts, and down yonders in my life.

Take a Step. A Small One.

You wait by the brick wall at the back of the bar. You’re waiting, and waiting, and I’m getting bored, and hold on. It seems you’ve just met this man. He’s charismatic and funny. He has a smile that makes even my heart – sitting this far away – flutter. He seems kind, but you can never tell with men. Sometimes they’re kind, and sometimes they’re kind till they get what they want. 

I wonder what would happen if you didn’t wait for him. I wonder if you’d be escorted to your car. I wonder if anyone would step in to make sure you’d be okay. I wonder when I started to feel unsafe. 

Don’t ask me to pinpoint the moment I became hyper aware of everything – I don’t remember. My therapist told me we can’t always recall past traumas, but they still affect us. This means past traumas are floating around my brain with nothing to do but torment me. 

This means past traumas are floating around in your brain with nothing to do but torment you. 

I’m not the only one, right?

Don’t you notice the girl at the bar, and think she’s being forced to leave with someone? Don’t you notice the guy at the coffee shop, and think he’s waiting to kidnap you? Don’t you notice the girl on a walk, and think her family kicked her out?

I used to walk around unaware. They say ignorance is bliss, and man, oh man are they right.

Why did I become hyper aware of everything?

I used to not about my hands. I didn’t think about my feet placed on the ground. I didn’t think about avoiding eye contact. 

Why did I become anxious?

I used to sleep through the night. I dreamed. I closed my eyes fearlessly. I didn’t need a weighted blanket. 

Why did I become panicky? 

I used to love leaving home. I danced around my room getting ready. I loved seeing people. I was happy. 

Why did I stop being happy?

I am constantly looking for the person I used to be. The person dancing around her room. The person excited to see her friends. The happiest person at the party. The person who loved, actually loved, every person she came in contact with. 

Anxiety and depression are boring. All they ever say is, “STOP!” Stop being myself. Stop going in public. Stop eating. Stop being confident. Stop this, stop that, stop everything. 

I’m sick of it. 

It was nighttime a few months ago. My friend stood on stage. She discussed dealing with mental illnesses. How she coped using drugs and alcohol. How she withdrew from everyone. How she couldn’t get out of bed. How she couldn’t eat. 

I noticed her strength despite the shit she’d been through. 

Historians would say her strength came from ancient stories. Scientists would say her strength came from reversing her brain’s chemicals. Politicians would say her strength came from government programs. Priests would say her strength came from a deity.  

But me – a curious person – doesn’t buy any of that. 

I wonder if her strength came from taking movements toward wholeness. I wonder if she didn’t give up when depression said to. I wonder if she showed anxiety she wouldn’t have another drink. I wonder if she entered into friend’s lives instead of withdrawing. I wonder if she got out of bed even when she believed there was no reason.

I wonder, if maybe, making movements toward wholeness gave her the strength she has today. 

I wonder, if maybe, making movements toward wholeness gave me the strength I have today.