Peer Health Educators X IfYoureReadingThis.org
If you’re reading this, there is still some time.
In some ways, I remember being thirteen with uncomfortable clarity, the taste of that year still there like a mint dissolved on the tongue. In other ways, I don’t remember it at all, and my memories seem like a wild animal seen through the fog in the morning, the kind that scurries away before you can tell if it’s real. But mostly, I remember thirteen tough and bitter, like swallowing a pill before you know how. I remember thirteen because that’s the first time I wanted to die so badly that I almost did. I remember thirteen because I remember what it was like to believe I would kill myself before I turned eighteen.
Thirteen was not the beginning. In some ways, to remember my childhood is to remember being unhappy, remember my small hands trying to hold together a family that was fracturing before I was even born. I’ve traced this back a long way, to grandparents and great-grandparents, trying to look for answers in nature and nurture, genetics and personalities and environment, relationships and choice and fate. I don’t have time to tell you about all of it, and even if I did, you don’t have time to read it. There are a thousand other things that beg your attention, and mine. I’ve already spent too long letting nine lives slip away while I hide in my pasts and my futures.
At thirteen I shut my eyes but time keeps moving, the next four years flashing by while on paper I flourish, but in flesh and blood spin in and out of control. It’s a story you already know; high achieving, highly motivated, “highly intelligent.” Depressed and anxious to the point of suicidal, starving myself, doing things that left scars both visible and invisible. I’m sorry I can’t find a nicer way to put it, dress up suicidal thoughts with fancy prose the way you dress a girl up for her funeral.
There are good days, too. I do turn eighteen. I get prom and the SAT, my first real job, my first car, cross country meets and choir concerts and high school graduation, all things I never thought I would have. And I heal, somewhat, as I get a little bit older, maybe even enough to dream up a future worth staying alive for. But still, at eighteen, I am living in a house full of ghosts, a thousand selves I wanted to kill, and they will not leave me alone.
I run away to the other side of the country after high school, chasing a mirage, a self and a school and a life that I’ve spent years dreaming up while I try to escape what’s real. First year bites down and holds on, and the pain of it draws me back down to earth. I spend a year wondering if I’ve made a mistake. “Oregon” is a lonely word here at the University of Virginia, and each time I say it, it tastes like cinnamon and rain, like all four seasons in my home city, and I miss it and wonder why I ran away, wonder why I still don’t want to live.
But somewhere inside of me, even on the worst days, I do want to live. And it’s enough to keep me here. I manage to build a life and a home for myself thousands of miles away from everything I’ve ever known, piece by piece with still-small hands. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but every day I am a little stronger, a little happier, a little more filled with love for my school, for my new home, and most importantly, for myself. There is some truth in the mirage that I left home chasing. There is a self, a school, and a life that I imagined, that exists. It exists within me.
Listen: there is still some time. For my thirteen year old self, for you, now: there is still some time. I am my own living proof, and you must be yours. There is good in this life, sweet golden moments, and they are worth staying alive for. I have seen the sun rise through an airplane window, picked sweet wild blackberries for someone I love, stained hands and clothes and made messes. I have seen my breath in the November morning air, have sung in high-vaulted cathedrals, have run until my legs ache. I have tasted coffee on a Sunday morning, have watched the world ripple up above from underwater, have loved and been loved. I am reaching out, fingertips stretching for those moments, for the rest of my life. If you’re reading this, I am still alive. If you’re reading this, so are you. If you’re reading this, there is still some time. If you’re reading this, we still have the rest of our lives.
Kat D., University of Virginia ‘20
This post is a part of a collaboration installment between IfYoureReadingThis.org and Peer Health Educators.
Our two organizations share the joint mission of creating a happier and healthier student body, and we encourage you to explore their resources and programs.
Peer Health Educators (PHEs) are a group of roughly 45 UVA students who are trained to educate their classmates about college health and wellness issues in a positive, interactive, fun, and nonjudgmental manner. Comprehensive training through a three-credit course prepares the PHEs to provide confidential patient education sessions; facilitate dynamic outreach programs; encourage physical, mental, and spiritual health; create informative awareness events; and promote community support to create a healthy culture. PHEs are trained to educate on mental wellness, nutrition, alcohol safety, and sexual health.
If you would like to request an outreach from the PHEs, go to tinyurl.com/requestanoutreach and fill out the form. If you would like to talk to a PHE in a one-on-one patient education session about any and all of the above-listed topics, either book a patient education online through healthyhoos.com or walk to the lower level of Student Health.
If you would like to learn more about the PHE program or would like to apply to become one, go to our tab in the student health website under “health and wellness” > “peer education”.