Main Squeeze 2021

Confessing a Secret

⠀⠀⠀I look up the definitions of “secret” and “confession.” Am I doing this right? I don’t really believe I am doing anything right lately. That is partly the secret and therefore mainly the point.

⠀⠀⠀But this is who I am now. I only feel pretty on the days without full meals, or on mornings of violently emptying my stomach. And I am thinking of cutting my hair. I don’t want to be identifiable anymore, “the girl with the long, blonde hair.” Pulling it back doesn’t feel like enough. My wrist is wearing a black hair elastic that doesn’t belong to me but that was given to me, nonetheless. It constantly reminds me as it digs into my skin leaving a ripe red circle behind. It’s terrible. It’s terrible for me to know I will never be anything like the elastic’s original owner, to wonder if anyone wants me to be because I think I kind of want to be that person. I will never really be anything that I want to be because I simply don’t have any of that stuff in me. Maybe I did last year. I could at least see that stuff last year.

⠀⠀⠀Now, the feeling of inadequacy consumes me in a way that most would probably mislabel as depression. I know better and little else. I don’t want to confess to depression.

⠀⠀⠀I only ever manage to feel hungry when I am at my parents’ house. I sit on their sectional and swear that I smell French onion dip when it isn’t there, but if I mention it, I know my mother will find some. She will do anything to make the downward spirals easier. I wish I’d do the same.

⠀⠀⠀When I returned to my apartment in the city after the holidays, I was supposed to go on a date. The first dress I tried on was too tight to fit over my hips. It started a panic attack accompanied by endless flurries of guilt over the calories I had consumed the past week, the ones I couldn’t burn off because there’s nowhere to walk and nothing to do at my parents’ but sit on that sectional and empty the snack cabinet. I dug my fingernails into my stomach, pulled at my hair, and swore off milk because I didn’t really drink it alone and it was certainly the main culprit; the reason my clothes didn’t fit and my brain had stopped being able to sort things out. It never occurred to me to consider that perhaps I had shrunk the dress in the wash. It was almost comically smaller than everything else I could more than comfortably wear. My brain couldn’t get that. It couldn’t even muster the energy to cancel the date so I just showed up half an hour late. It didn’t work out.

⠀⠀⠀The last time I’d managed to fit into the dress was May, when the weather had turned unseasonably chilly one evening and I’d paired it with lacy knit tights that might still fit me (on a day without food) if they weren’t balled up in the back corner of a dresser drawer, ripped at the shin from my careless and drunken tripping over a security gate. I wore that outfit to a reading. I wore those tights to all of the readings I gave last spring, including the one where I was given an award for a story. My mom took me out to dinner afterward to celebrate because I actually felt hungry. Everything back then felt really good. It terrified me. I knew it couldn’t last very long.

⠀⠀⠀None of my work has been accepted this year. Telling my mother nearly tore my barely stable mind down to its last legs. And I took it all out on my crumbling body.

⠀⠀⠀I can’t explain it to my friends. How do I tell people that I withdrew from life to focus on my writing only to not have any of this so-called “writing” happen? How do I handle knowing that I’m not nearly as put together and okay as I desire? If someone knows, text me. Every time I check my email, it’s filled with bad news. Rejections. Broken machinery. Failures, problems, frozen assets and cold outlooks from even the biggest optimist. If I could hold off on checking it for more than an hour without consequence, I would. And I would spend that time lying on the floor of my apartment surrounded by all of my too small clothes and too big dreams, thinking I shouldn’t have judged all of those people from my high school who moved back home because they couldn’t “hack it.” Is that me now? Can I not “hack it?” Am I as messy as I joke about being? Does the definition of the word need to return to my Facebook “About Me” section? Ironically, things felt clearer when it was there.

⠀⠀⠀I no longer feel like it’s just something to make me sound edgy and troubled in the way everyone around me seems to be. In the way you bitch about over tea but that doesn’t actually stop you from going to a concert at Irving Plaza with a press pass or cranking out an “A” paper for a Medieval Art lecture on a Sunday evening with a looming Saturday hangover. That kind of “mess” is someone who’s “fine.” That was me, last spring maybe and definitely prior to that. Now, I am scared of my cell phone and my future. I doubt my ability to get off the floor.

⠀⠀⠀Is it a small triumph to prove myself wrong past midnight, when my hand finds enough energy to open the refrigerator and locate the French onion chip dip my mother brought last week, as if she could just tell?

⠀⠀⠀Can the depression, if I feel comfortable enough to call it out, go by melancholia?

⠀⠀⠀Can I continue to keep it a secret?

Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature, a columnist for No Contact Mag, and was Editor-in-Chief of Columbia Journal, Issue 58. She holds an MFA in Writing, Nonfiction from Columbia University and an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford.