“I think you’re better off without me.” I blubbered, my hair thick in oily residue from being unwashed. My clothes, more suitable for sleeping than for wearing out, a mess. As I heard myself say those words, I almost didn’t recognize myself. I, the romantic. The believer of fairy-tales and forever afters. I was telling the love of my life he was better off without me. As I stopped to assess what I had just said, it became clear my suggestion was absurd, and a result of an over-analytical, self-pity filled rampage. I thought of the possible consequences of what I had just blurted out. What if he finally realized how pathetic I was, and actually left? What if he realized this wasn’t what he signed up for? After all, this wasn’t the happy ending he was promised at the altar. I wasn’t the electric and blissful girl he married. Something had shifted, and it felt inescapable and out of my control. This had been a breaking point for me.
I have celebrated love my entire life. When I was growing up my mom and I swooned over the television watching novellas, soap operas, with over dramatized plots and overly romanticized relationships. They all seemed to revolve around the same thing—a handsome man, a beautiful woman, destined to be together and pulled apart by seemingly unfortunate circumstances. There was also always a villain, a theatrical, conniving villain that made it her duty to keep the lovers apart; her role always clearly stated in the storyline, her candid and overtly malevolent plans always involved sabotage. I was certain one day, I too, would find my prince charming, I’d have my love story, and I was prepared to face any obstacle. The only thing I never imagined was that one day, I’d be the villain sabotaging myself. My expectations of marriage were wildly romanticized. Although I wasn’t naïve to the hardships of unexpected circumstances, it’s easy to believe your relationship remains intact through it all. The stars aligned and I met the love of my life. A man who was devoted and loved me in spite of my flaws; he was kind and generous, he made me laugh and brought a new meaning to my life. Now, in a novella this would have been the happy ending, the closing credits would have been queued and a big “the end” written in fancy cursive letters would have been plastered on the screen to indicate that this was it. They have each other, and we will assume that they will live happily ever after. Life isn’t like a novella though, the girl isn’t always perfect and Prince Charming isn’t always charming. The girl sometimes has depressive episodes the prince sometimes doesn’t know what to do about them.
It was difficult to draw the line between the humanity of being an imperfect individual with the idea of who I felt I needed to be. When my husband and I met, he knew about my anxiety disorder, he knew I was still recovering. As we grew closer, he came to know a lot about me and my mental health. The more I spilled out to him, the less I understood what we had. I was deeply perplexed that this dashing man was not running out the door the moment he saw me break down under the distress of a terrible anxiety attack. Much like a villain, I couldn’t let myself be happy. There was doubt, there were tears, assumptions, and nerve racking thoughts that left me paralyzed in fear, and still he stayed. He seemed more confused at the assumptions I made that it would be best if he left me. My reasoning: “you wouldn’t have to deal with me or my baggage”. He always seemed shocked at this suggestion, because he genuinely loved me and cared for me. It took me a while to acknowledge I was the one making assumptions that he was unhappy, and it was mainly because I was unhappy with myself. It isn’t supposed to be like this.
I wasn’t very forgiving with myself, I didn’t know how to be. It was a part of me I didn’t know how to live with and didn’t want to live with. I thought about all the ways I could be a better person—more outgoing, more adventurous, more in the moment. This would make me fun; this would make me more enjoyable to be around. I couldn’t always be all those things, because a loud, and haunting ‘what if?’ echoed in my head. The fear of growing ill in a crowded movie theater, the fear of germs, the fear of every possible worst-case scenario always remained a viable possibility. I was stricken by guilt, a guilt so consuming and so heavy it quickly developed into remorse. The guilt was over what I felt held my husband back. The remorse was over not pushing him to leave. I tortured myself with the idea of how better his life would be if I wasn’t in it. He could be with a normal girl, a girl who didn’t think about getting sick, a girl who’d want to eat her dinner even after seeing the waitress scratch her head, a girl who wasn’t always in her head. I didn’t see this reflected in his eyes—instead I saw love, kindness and empathy; his patience was virtuous and admirable. If he could be as patient with me, why couldn’t I? Why is it always easier to be kind to others, but it’s so hard to be generous and understanding with ourselves. I worried constantly about how my mental health burdened my husband, but I also knew I loved him unconditionally, and cared deeply for him. I give myself entirely to those I love. What I needed to do, was get rid of this guilt I felt over existing. I needed to get rid of my villain.
How is a villain defeated in a story? In a novella, it’s very dramatic, it usually involves someone getting pushed down a flight of stairs, a catastrophic death or somebody unmasking the villain as the architect of all the bad things happening in the story. Being, that my situation was a bit more compromising, to say the least, I had to defeat my villain the only way I’d think to treat someone else that wasn’t being nice to me—making them my friend. Much like with any villain, you’d need to find common ground, finding a mutual cause was essential. I knew that it was important for me to establish normalcy in my life. I knew it was important to blanket myself under a safety net. Acknowledging my boundaries and preparing for every worst case, not only did this help me deal with my anxiety, but it helped armor me when I began to question my choices. I had taken precautions. I tried. Forgiveness. I began treating myself to self-care days. Forcing myself to play nice. I soaked in warm water saturated with fragrant bath salts. I’d surround myself with all things I loved: my favorite books, movies, food. Kindness. These things became ritualistic, and it makes it a lot easier knowing that I didn’t have a choice, I was going be stuck with who I was for the rest of my days. I was more open about when I wasn’t feeling well, as opposed to bottling it in as I sometimes did because I was scared of admitting I didn’t always have control. I learned that in being more open about it, I was also able to seek comfort. Acceptance. Now these things were definitely not cures to my mental health, but tackling and learning to comfort myself at times of distress was helpful. Sometimes, you don’t know you can be kind to someone until you try. Sometimes, this includes yourself.
It hasn’t always been easy and my journey is still ongoing, but I have come to learn to be nicer with myself. Self-acceptance and love is not something you are born with, but something that you learn. For whatever reason, I was born this anxious creature. Learning to care for myself, establishing limits, and goals have all been a part of my growth. Remembering to be compassionate to myself, and assessing my situations with a more generous perspective has helped me realize that the severity of a lot of seemingly catastrophic conditions have been the byproduct of chance. Love cultivates the world to be a livable space, and even when we are busy loving others, it’s equally important to love yourself. The villain of my fairy tale finally realized—I’m not that bad.
- Patricia Nunez-Mejia
Patricia Nunez-Mejia lives in Riverside, CA with her husband of 4 and a half years and their dog, Winston. In her free time, Patricia likes to cook, read, write (currently working on a novel) and play catch with her pooch.