The dark shadow clouded around my figure again, but it was getting weaker. I no longer succumbed to her menacing voice, as I had for much too long. Her perfectly chiseled cheeks beckoned me, but I was getting stronger. I might not outlast the spirit that had trapped me for so long, but I had a different focus now.
I smiled the most genuine smile that I'd had in a long time. The spirit had no control over my emotions.
“Goodbye,” I whispered, without the slightest hint of regret in my tone.
“You don’t mean that,” the spirit played with my hair coyly, an innocent expression on her face.
I wasn’t fooled this time. A darkness that had controlled me for so long had finally been replaced by something that had turned out to be worth my time; light.
“Goodbye,” I said again, more gentle than before. I had learned that my hatred didn’t have any power over the scrutiny of others, in fact, my hatred fed theirs.
“Goodbye,” the spirit whispered, finally too weak to suck me in too deep.
I should probably explain how exactly the spirit managed to get into my life in the first place. She had crept in on me when I entered middle school. The dark spirit started as a small little thing; feeding me lies about what other people thought of me and how I should feel about myself. Your hair’s too red, she told me; that girl hates you, she said frequently. The spirit loved to play with my insecurities, stretching them out and folding them in. She loved to take a bottle and absorb all my feelings, making me feel helpless and trapped. Another one of her many pleasures was turning random things that I normally wouldn’t care about (my lack of freckles, my large ears, my oddly shaped glasses), into things that I couldn’t get out of my head. There were these blankets of thoughts, (you can’t change the world, you can barely utter a sentence to the author you obsess over), that suffocated me, that managed to get the better of me.
But, to see how the spirit managed to take over my mind, we’ll have to go back to middle school.
12 Years ago, Patriot Middle School
I wasn’t as confident as I’d hoped I’d be when I walked through the doors of what would be my worst nightmare. It might’ve been better if I had a sidekick, like they so often do in cheesy self-discovery movies; or even if I’d just had a friend.
All the Youtube videos I’d watched about being yourself and all the Buzzfeed quizzes that told me I could make a difference vanished from my brain as I walked down those halls. I wasn’t the only person coming to Patriot Middle School from Eagle Elementary, but it sure felt like it. People had already established friend groups over the summer. I was toast. I didn’t fit in with anyone, and no, there was not a group of astronomy geeks or skateboarders that would have been helpful to my survival. In fact, everyone seemed like a different version of the same person. No one cared about school (not excluding me), no one was really awake, no one actually deserved an A. On the outside, I was no different from the other students roaming the halls; same vans, same graphic t-shirts, same ripped jeans. It was the inside of me that made me feel odd and misplaced.
The spirit liked to whisper things in my ear. She was my worst and only tormentor, though she tried to make me feel differently. As the months went on, she became a part of me. She fed me thoughts I couldn’t erase. She made me believe that everyone was against me, that there was no way I would survive. I ate it all up. No one talked to me, so I just listened to the voice inside of me, telling me I would never have a better friend than the darkness that made me feel miserable.
I started to lose the parts of me that I liked best; my optimism, my sense of security, my ambition. The spirit filled my days and nights, never shutting up. I lost my focus, my presence, my happiness. I drifted through the days like they were dreams, and lay awake through the night with the terror.
I started to see the dark spirits of other people, too. They walked through the halls like I did, with their heads down, their faces wet from the tears they’d cried because they listened to that voice. They didn’t have anyone else to listen to. Some people tried to smile to get rid of the spirit; for some, the more they smiled, the more they were struggling. At first, I was too caught up in the whispers that brought me down to help other people. I thought of them a lot though, their faces haunting my dreams, the tears I knew they cried made me cry, too.
Then I realized, we can’t just let other people deal with their own spirits. We’re all plagued by our insecurities, and it’s better to ask if they’re okay than assume that they don’t need your help. Sometimes, the presence of a person is all that’s really needed. Sometimes, superhuman strength or inspiring wisdom can take a back seat. Another human being that cares about you is enough to let dark spirits go. Sunflowers face the sun if they can find it, but if they can’t, they face each other.
It was one of those broken smiles that made me realize this. A broken smile pointed at me; as if the last bit of light they had, they’d like it to touch someone else. We can’t keep our light to ourselves, because our light isn’t for us. Our light is for other sunflowers who can’t find the sun.
I shared light with other sunflowers. That’s how I was able to say goodbye to my dark spirit. It will come again, but my focus isn’t on the dark, shadowy sky, or the spirits that trap us all.
It’s on you, sunflower.