The Thing About Getting Better

I'm pretty much better now.

I'm sitting on my bed with my fluffy pink pillow from freshman year, eating tomato soup and crackers from under my bed, singing along to my seventh grade Death Cab for Cutie anthem. I'm watching rain droplets tumble down onto frat park, and I am so happy because I am better. This time I know it will be for a while.

It's the first day of classes at The University of Illinois and everyone's complaining about the rain. But I love rain; I love water. I love floating at the bottom of the swimming pool for a few moments, I love dragging my fingers through wishing fountains, I love watching the rain turn everything old into something fresh, and clean, and new. The air is cleaner after it rains. I feel my eyes grow heavy, set an alarm before I have to head to my next class, drift off into a nap, think about how much better I am now than I was a year ago today, and two years ago, and three.

When your life has been a substantially confusing storm of shit for some years, getting better feels weird. The absence of imminent crises feel like a phantom limb; you stop at a traffic light or put your shoes on and scope your mind for that thing you're supposed to be worried about. Before you get better, there's always a thing. When your mind finally begins to quiet down in the way you've been telling it to for years, it will inevitably feel... weird. So, what now?

There are tangible guidelines to getting to this better place: you're supposed to do yoga, keep your room tidy, learn how to breathe when your brain shuts off your lungs, swallow your meds with orange juice each morning without making a big deal of it. All of these things are good. But once the worst of it has passed, you won't be quite sure how to navigate being cautiously happy.

You've done everything in your power to get here, you've put in all the time to feel normal again, to feel like a normal person that works out and goes to Walmart and walks their dog without even really thinking about it. You've made it here now, in this hypothetical destination of normality you didn't know you'd get to. But this is a place you haven't been to before. You don't know how to be better, even though you are.

It's not that you were never happy, it's just that your happiness came shorter and stronger increments before you were okay. You used to feel happy when you drank in the shower, when you painted with watercolors on your front porch with the Christmas lights on, when you stuck your head out of the car window on the highway. You're better now, which means your happiness is a bit quieter, so you can allow it to stretch out more widely than you're used to. Now you're able to feel a little bit happy going to class, or shopping for hot pockets, or taking showers sober. You've been happy before, but you have not yet been content.

When your mental health improves, you feel like the most boring person in the world. You find ways to fill those empty parts of yourself that the "crazy" used to take up, like laundry, and exercise, and rice cakes, and math homework. You sleep at least seven hours a night. You remember to take your makeup off before bed, you don't text the people you're not supposed to.

Getting better feels like you're just missing something really small but significant nonetheless. You miss the lavender smell of your therapists' office, you miss driving fast and feeling like the goddamn reincarnation of Amy Winehouse and re-arranging your furniture in the middle of the night. You got better because you had to, you got better because it hurt not to.

You'll miss those lyrical highs and lows that came with being unwell.

In light of everything, in light of missing those great Ibsen, Thom Yorke, Lorde Melodrama sagas that used to make up your Wednesday mornings, you have got to remember that you became better for a reason.

You're free now. You've conquered the thing. That indescribable, fiery thing that made Van Gogh cut his ear off, made Sylvia Plath stick her head in the oven, made Britney shave her head in '08, that used to make you toss and turn and vomit all through the night. Getting better means you've defeated one of the greatest human dilemmas of all time. And you should be damn proud.

Because when you get better, your nails will grow when you stop biting them. You'll go to class without makeup and feel pretty. You won't spend as much time on the internet, and you won't wake to your heart doing backflips in the middle of the night. You'll get out of bed before noon and carry a water bottle with you, and you'll read great books, and medicine commercials for old people won't make you cry anymore. Your art will still be just as good as it was when you were sad. You will forgive yourself for the things you did when you weren't well.

You will learn to detach and attach to people as needed, and you will learn with time that there is nothing wrong with normality. You will learn to find solace in a mind that is just a bit quieter, softer, kinder than you are accustomed to. You will turn hurt into kindness, regrets into advice. You will water the plants on your windowsill and they will grow and grow and grow like the most spectacular little garden you've ever seen.

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