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I'm trying, I promise.

I laid in bed half-asleep on a gorgeous sunny morning, when I got a text from my younger sister. She told me just how tired she was from hearing of every detail of the spats my mother and I get into, quite regularly. To protect my mom, my sister will turn around and put all the blame on me, because she hasn’t heard my side of the story, and I know she doesn’t want to.

Whenever my sister’s got the chance, she likes to bring up just how awful it was when I was still living with my parents. How terrible of a sister I was, how I traumatised her, how I’m the cause of all the issues she has today, and the list goes on and on. I will admit, I was a troublemaker as a kid. A different incident every day at school, to the point where I spent more time in the principal’s office than an actual classroom. In the early days, I was undiagnosed and

unmedicated and nobody knew what to do. All I know is, I couldn’t control it and not a single other person could grasp that concept, not even all these years afterwards. How does an unmedicated 7-year-old learn to regulate their nervous system, without even being able to identify the emotion they’re feeling?

I refuse to be held back/defined by my past, so I try to avoid this familiar conversation as often as possible. After all, she is my younger sister with no independent living experience - why believe everything she says? I wouldn’t believe much of anything my 16-year-old self said.

I have worked my ass off the last year in therapy, trying to become a better version of myself, where I don’t yell and scream because of plans being changed, or somebody touching my personal belongings. Where I’m able to be more spontaneous, talk to people, maintain eye contact, and make new friends. Where I make value-based decisions, and where I think before I speak or act.

I whole-heartedly believe that me in September 2022 and me in June 2023, are two completely different people. Strangers even. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about the fall of last year, almost not believing I was ever her.

It’s against my values to get into a petty argument with somebody, but it happens a lot more often than it probably should. My mom and I seem to find a new issue every day, then my sister hears about it, and it circles back to me. My grandmother and I fight ALL THE TIME. I often feel like I have nobody rational to talk to, and that’s the worst kind of alone.

When I bring up an issue in therapy, THAT is where I feel heard. THAT is where I feel seen. It’s where I can speak freely without the fear of being judged, knowing that nobody else will ever hear it.

Therapy is a wonderful resource, but to get my life back on track I had to do more than just that. I used to hike, all the time, and stopped back in Dec 2022, right before a major crisis took that away from me. I decided to go on a short hike in May 2023, and found my spark for the outdoors and nature again. I hike nearly every day now, and I recently completed a 30km solo backpacking trip, which I never would’ve been able to do just a short time ago.

I eventually decided that I needed more than hiking - that something was still missing. I ended up trying rock climbing one night, and fell in LOVE. So, the woods and the climbing gym eventually became my safe places. I like doing these things alone, but sometimes it’s more fun to have a partner. Having people to do things with is another obstacle I have yet to overcome. I broke up with my partner in February, and my best friend moved to another province, all in the same two months, so I was pretty much on my own after that. Any social skills I did have are now gone, because I do everything by myself.

Before I rekindled my spark with hiking, I found writing. I was never any good at it in high school, but I wanted my story out there, and the only means of doing that was to write. It turned out way better than I expected, and more people saw it than I thought would. I received so much love and encouragement from the people that read it, which felt unfamiliar in a way because my parents weren’t like that. Getting feedback was just the fuel I needed to keep writing. I wrote for HOURS every day, and ended up writing two books. I also found a love for jigsaw puzzles, and now my house is full of them. I even did one that was all the same colour!

I no longer recognize pictures of me from as little as a year ago. She was merely surviving. This version of me is LIVING. I’m living for the girl who thought she wouldn’t see summer, who thought she’d never leave her house again. I'm living because I want to see every corner of the world in this lifetime. I’m living because my grandparents shouldn’t have to bury their grandchild. My mom and dad shouldn’t have to bury their child. Even though we’re on bad terms right now, my baby sister shouldn’t have to bury her big sister. My best friend can’t bury her best friend.

I’m still here because I have a list as long as the distance to the moon and back filled with crazy hikes I want to do, national parks I want to camp in, and the degree I want to graduate with. Someday, I want to buy a van and renovate it to live in. None of this will ever happen if I continue to let other people tell me how much of a low life I am, and believe them. I’m practising letting that kind of stuff roll off my back, and it feels like freedom. I’m trying, I promise.


Niamh Sullivan

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