On Telling Good Stories

I read a quote recently that said, "Your biography become your biology." 

This biography, or story, is all of our experiences. It's all of our choices, thoughts + actions. And it’s the way we talk about or claim those things, especially the experiences. The stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful. In the weirdest way, they can become real if we manifest them into reality, though that doesn’t necessarily make them true. We don’t always tell the best stories.

Here’s a story about me.

All summer long, I was unhappy. I barely recognized who I was. I sort of split up with myself. I was in a relationship where I was sacrificing a lot for the other person. I kept walking away from my own path to help someone else create theirs, yet we weren’t creating anything together (or at least we weren’t creating something I truly wanted). The signs had been there for longer than I wish to admit, but I was stubborn, stuck + tired. I wasn’t living my own life, which was made blaringly clear given the long-distance status. I uprooted myself almost monthly to see him—something I did lovingly at first, but later resented. Then I dug in my heels. I said I wasn’t going to make that trip anymore for a while, at least not until things balanced out between us. I wasn't going there until we started spending quality time together when I did make those trips, until I could get over my bad feelings toward him + be less dependent, until he started prioritizing me + acknowledging me, until some fundamentals changed. But I sort of already knew they wouldn’t, + I wasn’t sure I even wanted them to anymore.

In all fairness, he didn’t ask me for that effort I put in + begged for back. But it was never going to be what I wanted. What I see now is that if I hadn’t made that effort, our relationship wouldn’t have been much of anything, sadly. In fact, in hindsight it would have ended a lot earlier than it did. But that’s not how it went down. Instead, I just grieved the impending end + went into denial. I worked against myself, choosing to continue down a path that took me places I didn’t want to go. I didn’t speak up for myself, just fought for something I had since admitted I didn't want anymore. I trapped myself + spent months trying to run away only to come back + say, “I’m so sorry.” I stuffed down my truest feelings into any tiny crevices that remained open inside of me until I was stiff + brimming with all sorts of bad feelings I didn’t know could exist alongside love. My needs became greater + so did my despair. I’ve never felt insecurity like that. Angry + resentful. Anxious all the time. Unhealthy. It wasn’t working but I couldn’t detach. I wanted out + I didn’t want to go. I trapped myself, sabotaged + claimed depression. And I was getting depressed: crying spells, weight loss, hair loss, trouble waking up in the morning, so much anxiety I actually found it hard to breathe at times. I kept telling myself: You’re damaged. You’re a mess. This is your fault. You should be happy with what you have here. You’re depressed. That was a damaging story, but one that worked for both of us.

In a very real way, I actually manufactured my own depression through that story I told myself + others. It became so powerful before I knew it. Assuming the label “depressed” was not only a bad tale that became real, it was a cop out. Saying that depression was the reason the relationship wasn’t working was easy—it let us both off the hook for having to work at it mutually + own what was ours. Blaming depression was an easy way for me to not have to look at my own codependent patterns + take my space to get back into myself. Blaming my old issues + insecurities was easy—it took the focus off of present issues between us. Using, hearing + believing words like "petty", "over-sensitive" "mess" + "emotional" was easier—they saved me from speaking up + asserting my boundaries apologetically, + they saved him from having to take a look at his own integrity blindspots + take responsibility. Blaming my sad state meant I alone would go off + fix things on my own + then come back to him when I got right, instead of both of us getting ourselves right, communicating + sharing the work of salvaging the good that still lived between us. The point is that the story distorted reality. Depression + drama covered up what was really going on + ensured that we never made it to the root of what ailed us, together or alone. That story kills love + creates victims, + it breeds dependence + pain. It functions so we can avoid making necessary changes because they’re hard + often involve letting go.

I knew for a while I had to let go...of more than just a relationship. It was about letting go of so much more than that. When I did, it was cathartic. All that depression + all those symptoms all but vanished. It was one of the strangest things I’ve experienced, but I’m not complaining about it. It made me see the importance of self-reflection + honesty with myself. And it made me realize the impact of the stories we tell. My life wasn’t really that bad. Neither was I.

Now, it’s not just as simple as choosing to be happy. Depression is real. Problematic dynamics in love + life are real, + we have to feel all the ugly stuff in order to heal; trudge through the sludge + sometimes fall to our knees. But with time + perspective, we can write even hard moments as beautiful ones, which marks true strength.

We’re not as broken as we feel sometimes. Struggles happen internally + externally, but the struggles are redeemable. It’s all redeemable + we can be made new every day. We’re not under any obligation to be the same person we were a year ago or even a few moments ago. It’s simply our duty to grow, + the stories we tell are powerful parts of that growth. We may as well tell good ones.