What happens when a relationship turns toxic? This writer beautifully explores the line between best friends and love, discovering your sexuality and the role mental health has to play in our relationships. Facing up to our past, and our mistakes, can be terrifying but if we want to be whole then that is exactly what we must do.
When I was 14, I met a girl.
I often wonder how many love story have started that way.
We bonded over our love for writing, obscure music, and our hatred for highschool drama. We would hide away from the 'Mean Girls' and discuss books and pop cultures; all the while holding on to our cigarettes in the manner that could only be done by two pretentious, angsty, preteen girls. It was glorious.
We didn’t know then, but our similarities run as deep as the little depressive streaks in our genes. It didn’t mattered, then, as it was yet to come to play. She was my world, the only home I have when I was across the country border from the house I grew up in- the place my parents lived. She was my world, period.
Despite that, come graduation night, I said to her, ‘this is probably the last time we would ever talk or see each other. Highschool friendship doesn’t usually extend further than this.’ I believed it to be true, then, as a cynical child that I was. Present me still know it was usually the case. Despite that, I still remember the bitter taste lingering in my throat when I said the words, the taste of how desperately I wanted us to beat the odds.
Sometimes, when you wish for something hard enough, it comes true. When I moved away to study in Kuala Lumpur while she remained in Penang, we still kept in touch. I have new friends and exciting new experiences in my new school, but I still hold onto her as tightly as I could. The world could fall apart around me and my head would still be buried in Skype, reading her messages, sharing our jokes and daily events. I enjoyed my new group of friends who were smart enough to care about study and not boys, and I enjoyed being even further away from my parents. Even so, my whole world lived inside a pocket-sized cellphone, clutched tightly in my left hand, the limb closest to my heart.
Soon after, the stress of the IB program got to me. While my friends stressed, bitched, whined, and moaned over endless assignments, I got my first panic attacks. The second and third one happened within the same day and I lost count of them by the end of the week. I had nightmare every night, I had lucid dream and sleep paralysis on regular basis. My parents were having their own problem and they could not deal with me being home at the time. ‘It was just stress from school, everyone has it’, they assured me. I believed it, even after the fourth consecutive day I was unable to get out of bed. Even when I spent all day crying despite not knowing what it was that I had to be so goddamn sad about.
That was when the sense of betrayal came in. She was still in Penang, enjoying her new friends and exciting experiences in her new school. We still talked every day, but how could that be enough when she only finds time to talk to me between group studies and school periods? How could that be enough to sustain me, when in between waiting for her messages all I have is the blank, white wall of my bedroom which I shut myself in? She had sex, partied and all the late night shenanigans, while all I had was the inability to wash or feed myself. How dare she be happy when I’m not? That was the first time I cut my tie with her. ‘You love your new friends so much I feel like you don’t even care about me anymore’, that was what I said. I expected her to apologize, scrambling all over trying to win me back. Instead, she doesn’t reply.
‘She doesn’t love me anymore… she doesn’t love me anymore… she doesn’t…’, words echoed in my skull out into the empty room.
Soon after, my parents agreed to let me take a break from my studies. They agreed pretty quickly when I finally screamed at them over the phone, ‘if I get hit by a car today, the last thought before I go would be how utterly unhappy and helpless I feel. I don’t want to die this way. I DON’T WANT TO DIE THIS WAY.’ Those were the exact words I said, and I wished it wasn’t, given how dramatic it made me look. But hey, that’s how you speak when you’re a sad, hormones-ridden (but sadly not the right kinds of hormones) teenage girl. I went back to Thailand, I got hospitalised, I got medicated and voila, I emerged victorious. Well, I emerged alive.
Freshly ‘recovered’ from my depression, she and I reconciled. Just as I had gotten better, she, for the first time, experienced a depressive episode of her own. Let me admit right from the start that I wasn’t very supportive and wholesome when it happened. Sure, I gave her the kind words. I gave her the support a best friend should give. But at the back of my mind, I thought, ‘do you see now how terrible it is? Do you know now, how helpless I feel when you abandoned me and I was left to deal with this shit alone.’
I’m not going to blame my behavior on my depression and the bad thinking that comes with it. I’ve long since stop the habit of blaming all my shittiness on my mental illness. Truth is I was a bitch, a vengeful little bitch. And it was what corroded the foundation of our friendship.
Our friendship continued when I came away to Scotlad. I continued to resent her deep down in my heart while continued to depend on her emotionally. Medication, good diet, and exercise was what keeping me away from the slippery slope of relapse, but I was still hellbound on slipping as I go on depending on her to make me better.
It was as close to an abusive relationship as I have ever been in, and as sad as it is for me to confess, I was the abuser. I was the needy, clingy girlfriend who wanted all her time. I didn’t demand it, but it was obvious that I would rather she gives it. With my St Andrean friends I am as fulfilled and independent as they come, but behind the closed door, I’d be texting her furiously, pressing for her attention.
And she gave it me to me as best as she could, or not, but it wasn’t her responsibility anyway. She gave it because she was a good friend, because she loved me, because she knew what I was going through. In return, I gave her the help and support she needed when she has an episode of her own. We worked at our relationship as hard as any bored old married couple would; fighting and making up and begging each other to lessen the grip. I often wondered how many love story ends this way.
One day I woke up and realised that the codependency we had going on wasn’t healthy. It reminded me of a Thai idiom, ‘a dwarf carrying a hunchback’- two people who are already struggling to keep themselves afloat can’t possible keep each other from sinking. And it was true. As soon as I realised that, I took three more months to work up a courage to cut my tie with her for the second time. This time, though, I do it with clear conscience.
‘I don’t want to resent you for not living up to the expectation I have in my head,’ that was part of the long message I sent her. In there, I wrote that I love her and I need some times off to learn how to be self-sufficient. I wrote her millions other words, but that one sentence was the gist of it. It was the best worst decision I’ve ever made. She didn’t reply.
Today, I am in a healthy relationship with a boy who loves me and I love him back. It’s a different kind of love from what I had for her. I was right when I thought I would never love anybody the way I loved her. I was shocked the day I realised that though this is not the same kind of love, it is still just as significant.
I learnt to give and take, but not too much, and not too little. He has been incredibly patient with my adjusting onto a healthy way to love, and I am grateful for that. There isn’t enough space in anyone’s chest to hold two hearts at once without losing some bits of their own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love at all.
The other day, a friend asked me if I ever worried that people like us- people with mental illness- are only with the ‘healthy’ people for the selfish reason of relying on them. My answer was a simple ‘no’. I’ve been through that kind of relationship before, what I have now isn’t it.
My road to this state of mind wasn’t all butterflies and candy floss. I’ve grieved for her the way a cynical 22 year old never thought she could have. My heart wretched in a way that could only be describe by poems and ballads. I cried, I got better, I relapsed, I got better. Along the way I got back on my medication again. But it’s not all because of her, it is because it’s what’s best for me.
To this day I still miss her. But let me tell you, when I thought I could never get over the ‘break up’, I was wrong. Heartbreak is a terrible thing, but it won’t kill me the same way that bottle of Paracetamol almost did. I still miss her with all my heart, but I let go. I let her change her hair, let her get meaningful new tattoos that I don’t know about. My world used to light up just thinking about her, but there are also times the thought of her makes it hard for me to breathe.
These days, my heart feels a little heavier when I think of her. I used to think it was sorrow weighting me down, but it was just memories. It was what left after all of the anger, guilt and petulance boiled off. She was 7 years of my life, denying her in my headspace would be shutting a part of myself out. And I think I’m finally at the point where I can accept myself as a whole. I’m just grateful I had her for as long as I did.
Last I heard, she isn’t doing too well. I tried to reach out to her, but she doesn’t reply. Parts of me felt as if I’ve betrayed her. I thought that separating us would do both of us good. It felt like I’ve cheated since I’m the only one who got better.
But I don’t kill myself over the guilt anymore. There was a time that I genuinely believed I could die for her, and present me believed it to be true. But that was when I was 15. And she was 15 when I fell in love with her. A part of me that is still 15 will still die for her. Me, right now, I still love her. But I’ve grown passed the kind of love that would have sunk both of us.
I’ll say this, though. Given the choice between this and never knowing her, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I’d love and lost and continued loving her just like I do now. And I hope she knows this, even if she doesn’t feel the same.
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