The bridges I’ve burned

We Need to Talk

Mug of Olivia Rhee

Content warning: discussion of suicide and mental health

I’m an expert at fixing errors. I edit with precision; I clean immediately after hosting. My desire for organization isn’t simply rooted in a love for putting things in place. Rather, I’m so adept at rectifying mistakes because I spent over a year ripping my life apart, then stitching it back together.

My relationship with my parents was the first that collapsed when my mental health was at its worst. Neither of my parents had experience managing mental health conditions, and their ignorance led to a widening gap between us as I fell deeper into a depressive spiral.

With each step I took to shut them out of my life, my parents struck back. I deceived them regularly; they took away my phone. I picked fights about every inconvenience; they yelled that I was out of control. While they were frustrated with my refusal to let them parent me, I convinced myself that they were incapable of empathizing, allowing our relationship to decay without a second thought.

As a consequence of avoiding my parents, I became deeply attached to my best friend. But a friendship that had begun with sleepovers and shared music taste turned sour as my well-being worsened. After a year of ditching our plans and avoiding her calls, I fully tarnished our relationship when I was caught talking about her behind her back.

Suddenly, someone who had been by my side was looking past me in school hallways and ignoring my texts. I knew that I deserved the coldness with which I was greeted. Point blank — I was a shitty friend. She had no reason to continue accepting my treatment of her.

Rather than taking this loss as a sign to right my wrongs, I continued down my path of destruction, the next target being my older sister. My sister and I were incredibly close. She did everything that I asked of her: she signed me out of school, covered for me when I snuck out of the house and drove me to McDonald’s to drown my sorrows in grease. For that, I worshipped her.

Despite how much I love my sister, I hurt her worse than anyone. My sister was blindsided by the extent to which my mental health had worsened. While she grappled with the fear of losing me, I continued to use her for rides home from parties and as an ally in fights with our parents.

The breaking point of our relationship came my freshman year of high school. Wanting to spend time with her, I texted my sister while she was on a date, telling her that I would die if she didn’t come home sooner. These words, meant as a hyperbole, terrified my sister. When she rushed back to find me sitting peacefully in my bedroom, I sneered at her for thinking I was alluding to suicide, and laughed when she left in tears.

At this point, I began to realize the gravity of my situation, reaching an epiphany. I found that I’d been treating everyone as though they were diametrically opposed to me, when I could’ve  used their love as a tool in my recovery. I grew to understand that my parents, my friends and my sister weren’t the villains in my life. I was the villain for bringing them unjustified pain.

I was ready to change. Initially, repairing my relationships was exhausting; I wasn’t used to putting sustained effort into anything. On top of that, I felt unbearably guilty for hurting the people around me. I was vexed by the profound difficulty of rebuilding my life.

Still, I pushed forward. I couldn’t fix my actions overnight, working to mend their impacts. I spent a full year learning to open up to my parents, bugging my best friend for the details of her love life and going on long walks with my sister. Over time, they began to let me back in. This rectified feeling of connection was so strong that I wondered how I’d lived without it.

I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t the best daughter, friend or sister during that period. And yet, the people I was closest to offered me reconciliation – the bridges I burned could be rebuilt. They allowed me to regain their trust, teaching me that it was possible to rectify my mistakes. They showed me that the actions I took while my mental health was at its worst didn’t have to define me. They believed in my capacity to become a protagonist in my life, even when I didn’t.

The gift of forgiveness is one I’ve taken with me as I’ve continued to embark on my process of recovery. I now know that healing isn’t limited to me — it applies to my relationships, no matter how irreconcilable my mistakes may seem in the moment. Mending my relationships would take much more than a band-aid, but it was possible. 

I’m not a static being. I’ve come to find that I always have the capacity to become a better person. Those who provide me with the most love have continued to support me on this journey, even if I may have burned some bridges along the way.

Olivia Rhee writes the Wednesday column on navigating mental wellness. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter