This summer at GLI, we got an assignment; to spend three minutes and share a part of ourselves in a poem, story or skit form. The second that I heard about it, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to use the supportive environment of GLI to talk about something that I’ve never talked about—honestly at least — to anyone. GLI is all about taking risks, and it seemed so appropriate to use my last night there to take what felt like the ultimate one and share a part of myself that creates a pit of stomach churning embarrassment for me to even think about. To let out my own anti-good girl and spend three minutes being totally real.
I chickened out.
After many nights of going over it in my head, I decided not to go for it. I was scared that by sharing this, the people I had fallen in love with over the past few weeks would finally see the not so great side of me, and ditch. Admittedly, my inner good girl still hasn’t given up that fear. Not even a little bit. Since starting this paragraph I’ve checked my e-mail ten times, facebook six, and have started two alternate blog posts. But, I have to write this, for me. I have to take this risk if I want to take the cue of Simone, Rachel and all of the other amazing people at GLI and take the leap into real-girldom. Okay, here goes:
I used to be a Veronica Mars addict.
For the unaware, Veronica Mars was a show about a teen detective who solved mysteries ranging from a lost dog, to her best friend’s murder; and in eighth grade, it was my life. I would spend hours a day chatting on Veronica Mars forums, reading Veronica Mars blogs and re-watching old Veronica Mars episodes. After each episode aired, I would pray that enough people had watched so that it wouldn’t be cancelled. You have no idea how much I wish that I was kidding.
That’s not the whole story. A strange fascination with a trashy teen television show is an embarrassing admission, sure, but hardly qualifies as a real-girl right of passage. The reason it’s so hard for me to admit is that, at 13, my Veronica Mars love was a symptom of some much bigger problems.
For the past 5 years, I’ve had a chronic illness called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It’s not incredibly serious, and is now much improved with medication, but in eighth grade was still undiagnosed and I was basically bed-ridden. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me, and as a result, I worried that there was nothing wrong with me. That the debilitating exhaustion and awful headaches I suffered from daily were normal, that I was blowing it out of proportion, or worse, that it was all in my head.
Good girls don’t miss school, especially not months of it and not for being a crazy hypochondriac. I decided that my illness was a sign of my failure to be good, and that everyone at school could see that failure. So, in an effort to avoid their judgments, I stopped talking to my friends. I spent my days alone. My parents didn’t get home from work until 7 p.m., and aside from the insane woman hired by the school to educate me three hours a week, I had no visitors. At a certain point, I got used to my isolation, and the thought of being social began to scare the hell out of me. When I would leave the house to meet friends, I would get a surge of anxiety that made me sick. I remember one night where I spent literally three hours laboring over what to wear to a friend’s bat mitzvah, and what I would say when I got there, until I was too dizzy and tired to actually go.
Written out like that it all sounds really sad. I don’t generally think of it like that. At the time, my life seemed fine to me. I technically knew that I was in a bad situation, but it never really registered. I spent that year in a daze, a daze Veronica Mars helped to sustain. I so related to the cynical, friendless main character, that I felt like she was a real person. In lieu of real friendships, I embraced the community of online fanatics. I’m not proud of the way I spent my time that year, but I understand and am starting to accept it.
Until recently, I’ve tried to detach myself from the person I was that year by pretending she never existed. But, as much as it pains me to admit it, I’m still the same girl who spent hours locked up in her room daydreaming about a fictional character. I still have a lot of the same problems that she had. I still fight the tendency to feel weak for letting my illness affect my life. I still feel that people judge me for missing school, and still feel the good girl pressure to let them. By denying the reality of that year, I failed to learn from it. In fact, in my denial I was actually committing the very same mistake that made that year so lonely: I was succumbing to shame, letting my failure to conform to good girl standards destroy my self-worth and prevent me from being honest, not only with my friends but also with myself. For the past year, I’ve been trying to let go of that shame. To get used to speaking honestly about my illness and the effects that it’s had on my life. I’m hoping that this post is a step in the right direction.
Maddie Alpert is a twelth grader surviving college application season in Bethesda Maryland.