Mirrors: A poem, and the story behind it

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The Poem

Mirrors
by Karlee Steffanni

I sit across from her in the dark.
Her face illuminated by the glow of a single flame.
Her eyes burn into mine
As the light dances across her face.
They are begging me to feel something; anything.
I inhale, taking in her silhouette
And try to remember a time when those eyes felt like home
But when I exhale, they are still hollow
And so am I.


Reading between the lines…

I wrote this poem last November, the day before I tried to kill myself. When I was writing it, I don’t think I even really fully understood what was happening to me. I knew that I was in a lot of pain. I was tired. But that was my reality. It’s what I had always known. I believed that was how things would always be.

I guess there are probably a lot of factors that play into why I felt doomed to a life of misery. But the first thing that comes to mind is when my parents took me to see a psychologist when I was a teenager. I got in trouble at home a lot, due to the fact that my parents and I did not see eye to eye on what I should and should not be allowed to do in terms of my social life. They would set rules about who I could hang out with, where I could go, etc. I would sneak around and break those rules, get caught, and well… you get the idea.

So at some point, I began seeing a doctor who diagnosed me with “severe major depression.” That was that. It all made sense. I was fucked up. No one ever said anything in particular that would have made me feel like this was a bad thing. My parents loved me and were just doing the best they could to find a solution for the way things were. It was complicated and messy, but I know that no one wanted me to feel like having depression was simply a major character flaw.

Ultimately, that is how I felt though. I was always getting in trouble and messing everything up. Now we knew why. Because I was broken. It felt like a death sentence. Even before my diagnosis, I always knew that there was something different about me. I was forced to grow up at a very young age and I just always remember being affected by things very strongly. It seemed to me like I felt the same things that other people felt, but on a much larger scale. It was overwhelming and confusing. So when I got this diagnosis, it  didn’t surprise me. I knew it was coming before anyone confirmed it. What I didn’t know was what to do with that information.

For me, not much changed. I started taking anti-depressants which made me feel weird and tired and stupid. I hated it. And that was basically the end of it. I continued seeing my doctor and talking about things that were bothering me. But I never really understood what all of it meant for me and my life on a larger scale. It seemed like everyone was happy to have an answer to why I was the way that I was. And that was where it stopped.

Very quickly, I developed the mindset that I was just fucked. I would never be normal. I would always be sad. I would always have to fight harder to just be alive and not wish I could die. I thought that if I went on antidepressants I would be a different person, but without them I would be miserable. So some ten odd years later, when my life began crumbling around me, I guess I just decided that enough was enough. I was exhausted. I honestly believed that I had no other option. I was on the edge of a cliff and a fire was closing in on me from behind. Either way, I lost. This is how it would always be.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder whether or not I would have swallowed those pills last year if I had had a different understanding of mental illness in general. If there had been someone to tell me that I wasn’t broken, and that there was another option. All I knew was that I was miserable, and that it was because of me. If someone had told me that they understood and that it wasn’t something to hide or be ashamed of, would I still have chosen death? I can’t say for sure, but my gut says ‘no.’

As I sit here writing these words, it is with that thought in mind. I don’t want to be quiet about what I went through. The more we treat mental illness as taboo, the more it reinforces the idea that it’s something to be embarrassed about. But it isn’t. If you had any other type of illness, you wouldn’t be ashamed to go to the doctor to get help. For some reason, if we feel like killing ourselves, we think it’s a good idea to just weather the storm alone. We don’t ask for help. We put on a brave face and accept it because it’s just the way it is. It’s life, life sucks. Get over it.

Actually, no. That’s not the way it is. You can’t just get over it. And the only way to fight it is to acknowledge it. You don’t just get a life sentence, that’s not how it works. If you get diagnosed with cancer you don’t just go home and live with it. You try to fight it. This should be no different. We have to be open and honest and we have to support each other. We have to know what it is we’re up against so that we know when to ask for help.

I don’t know if anyone will read what I have to say, but I’m choosing to share my story anyway. Because if there’s one person out there who needs to hear what I have to say, then it’s worth it. So if you’re out there and you find yourself relating to the words on this page, then you have felt what I felt. So there is one person who understands. You’re not alone. You make perfect sense to me. We speak the same language, and so my heart is connected to yours and always will be.

I want you to know that just because your mind has convinced you that there is something wrong with you does not make it true. Reality is so much more than the lies our minds tell us in order to control us. So don’t give up. The world needs people who feel things as deep as we do. It seems like a curse right now, but I promise it is a gift. Your mind is beautiful, and you are loved. You are enough. We both are.

Making it, part one.

If you’ve been following my story up until this point, you know that Vegas is just a stop on my journey to Los Angeles. In order to get to Los Angeles, I need one thing. Money. So I spent the last few weeks looking for a job. I decided the best route to take would be a tipped position, either serving or bartending. I wanted to be able to make a lot of money without working a ton of hours, so that I still had time to focus on my writing.

I applied to every bar or restaurant I could think of and went to multiple interviews. Finally, this afternoon, I accepted a position as a server at the bar that was my first choice. The pay is hourly plus tips and it’s part time. It’s the perfect fit. My first day is next Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Chapter 1: Part 2 of this journey.  It seems like everything is coming together. Sometimes I still can’t believe this is where I am. I really did it. I got in my car and I just left.

The best part is, I think it’s actually going to pay off. That is such an indescribable feeling. I was so afraid of the unknown, so afraid of failing. Yet, here I am making it all happen. Everything I thought I could never do, I’m doing. Will there be some roadblocks along the way? Maybe, but I think the hardest part was just taking that first step. So many times in my life, I have felt powerless. Powerless to change my circumstances and create a reality that I could stand to be a part of. What I’ve begun to realize is that I always had that power. It was just easier to make excuses.

voodoo

And if there happens to be one soul
Laying awake right now
And day dreaming of me
I’d want it to know
That I make more sense
Inside my own dreams
So please.
Let me sleep

The moment I started living

As I was driving, I started thinking about where I was actually going to go. Los Angeles had always been the dream and although the idea of going straight there was enticing, I realized I had very little money and things could go bad very easily. It didn’t take long for me to decide the smart thing to do would be to go and stay with my aunt and uncle. They lived in Vegas, which I knew was only about four hours from Los Angeles. Just by leaving in the first place, I realized that I was already taking a huge risk and stepping outside my comfort zone. I thought it might be smart to at least have a roof over my head while I picked up the pieces and put together my new life.

I kept driving, headed West and as soon as I had about four hundred miles between myself and my old life, I began calling my family. First I called my aunt to break her the news that I was on my way. She had always said that I was welcome there, but there was still a part of me that was nervous about how she would react. In the end, she was excited but also a little bit concerned. Let me explain.

You see, last November I spent seven days in a psychiatric hospital in Auburn Hills after I attempted to take my own life. That fall evening, I took a bottle of 30 xanax, .5mg each. I also drank about two bottles of wine, and took 30 trazodone, 50 mg- just incase. Luckily, someone I hold very dearly to my heart sensed that something was wrong with me and drove 40 minutes from her work to my apartment to see if I was okay. She found me unresponsive and completely pale, passed out on the couch in my living room. She called 911, and an ambulance came and took me to University of Michigan hospital, which is where I would wake up some eighteen hours later.

As you can imagine, that entire experience was extremely difficult for both me and my family. No one knew what to say, no one saw it coming. Everyone felt guilty and everyone was worried about me. I was mostly numb. I cried a lot, even after I got “better.” I felt lost most of the time and always alone. Not alone in a healthy way. Alone in the sense that I felt like I may never find where I felt like I truly belonged.

So when my aunt got this phone call from me, she was ecstatic but also fearful. The thing is, I felt exactly the same way. But the reason I never turned around was because for the first time in I don’t even know how long- I felt like I was back in the drivers seat of my life. The only other time I could remember feeling that way was the night in November when I drove my car to the scene which I decided would be the final act of the story that was my life. This time, it was a different kind of control. I wasn’t giving up anymore. I was giving in- to everything I had buried over the course of twenty five years. That day, I wasn’t driving to my death. I had just started living.

safe haven

I don’t know where you are,
But if your heart hurts tonight
I wanted you to know that I’ll do the bleeding this time
Because my eyes have been just as tired,
Peering out at the world through clouded lenses.
Empty swimming pools behind barred windows,
Little paper cups full of pills, meant to make us ordinary
It seems like we may never get the hang of this game they want us to play
Or figure out how to make sense of the tides
Which carry our minds away to bigger places.
But maybe tonight, I could meet you at the lighthouse
And as the stars pulse through our veins,
We could get carried away-
Together.
Maybe tonight, you could be inside my head
And I in yours.
And the world might be as beautiful as we were always meant to see it.
Maybe tonight,
You don’t have to be alone.

-k.r.steffanni

orange county, ohio

I wonder what it would feel like
If every line I wrote was about you
The way you’ve always known me like the favorite verse
Of every love song you’ve ever heard
And just before the chorus,
They’d sing your name so quietly
That it would make my heart hurt
Because I always knew
It would be the end of all beginnings
And the beginning of everything
I never meant to lose

-k.r.steffanni

in wakeful silence

Most times
It tastes like ashes when I swallow
Dry spit mixed with words I’ve rearranged
Over and over
That no ones ever heard
And broken glass
Inside a heart that could never be broken,
Only ripped apart from the inside
Until the blood turned to gold
From all the souls it had touched
And turned from stone.

-k.r.steffanni

whole

Today, for once
I am enough.
And I have been enough,
All along.
But this, right here.
This is the moment when it counts.
This is when blood still flows through my veins
And these thoughts still become
Pretty words on paper
That someone else wants to read
Today I am just me.
And for the first time
In a million breaths
It is enough.

-k.r.steffanni

for broken ones like me

I’m writing this because I know what it feels like to just need one person
Just one person to care, one person to understand.
One person to make you feel like you still exist,
You still make sense.
I’m right here, and I’m that person.
You are not alone
I have been right where you are,
Alone and lost.
Feeling everything and nothing all at the same time.
Watching from the ground,
While the rest of the world
Makes it all look so simple.
Breathing, and just being.
While I would sit with my head down,
And wonder why I was the only person in the entire world who had such a hard time being alive.
Well, I wasn’t. Because there you are.
And my heart was made just for you.

-k.r.steffanni

death by train

I remember when that train caught fire,
Half a mile behind your house
Your hands draped over mine, fingers laced between green grass,
Cold and wet.
You whispered in my ear that this,
This moment.
This is your ultimate high.
And just as I started to drown in warm euphoria
The night went cold and silent.
That’s when I heard the train.
Heart racing,
As the weight of your words
Held my body down firmly across the tracks.
And when I saw the flames in the distance,
My only thought
Was that you weren’t there.

-k.r.steffanni