Once Upon A Time, there was a young… blogger.
She had a college degree in English, because she understood from an early age that the STEM field was not for her, and that she was always going to be more intellectual than physical. If she’d known that so many people were going to say things about “young people who get liberal arts degrees being surprised when they can’t get hired,” she might have sucked it up and gone to law school or medical school instead.
(In her childhood, everyone said “Follow your dreams.” She took that advice, and was subsequently surprised and annoyed when the same people touted the virtues of STEM, trade school, and other career fields and made jokes about English majors working in the drive-through at McDonalds. This is called a double standard, and it’s not her fault. Stop telling her what she should have done, it’s none of your business.)
The young blogger was a hopeless romantic, and she wished to meet— well, not a prince exactly, but a gentleman. She knew what to expect of the dating field, and so assumed that there would be a few cads, a few charmers, and a wide variety of fairly average fellows who would turn out to be extremely lovely on closer acquaintance. However, she did not realize that her own personality was lacking in many ways, and that she needed to fix her personal flaws as she attempted to find and choose someone with whom she could comfortably spend her life.
The young blogger, growing up, noticed that she was a few pounds bigger than the other girls her age. This was often uncomfortable, for the fashion industry had not always been open to the idea of advertising for plus-size women and it hadn’t occurred to successful screenwriters to cast plus-size actresses. So she never saw people who looked like her in movies or television shows, and she never saw people who looked like her wearing pretty or flattering clothes. This served the purpose of making her believe that fat girls were not meant to be pretty or talented, two things she wanted very badly to be.
(She was not aware that she was, in fact, both of those things already.)
Perhaps you are scornful of the influence that advertisement and media had on the mind of the young blogger. “She shouldn’t have listened to those things,” you say. “She should have known from the beginning.”
Maybe you’re right. The young blogger knew, to an extent, that she was worth something. She just had no idea whether the something consisted of gold or garbage or something else entirely.
She knew there were things missing, but she did not know where to find them. She knew there were things wrong, but she did not know how to fix them. It was not until she listened to strangers on the Internet that she began to understand.
“I have depression,” said one such stranger. “These are the symptoms: I am tired all the time. Sadness and happiness feel more and more like apathy, and all that is left to me is an exhausting anger at my own mind and body for not accommodating the things I would like to do with my life. I have gone to a doctor. I take pills. I am getting better.”
The blogger heard this, and it resonated within her: it was one of the things wrong and missing. She did more research, then went to a doctor, took pills, and began seeing a therapist.
She went back to the Internet to listen to more strangers. “I have anxiety,” said another stranger. “Here are the symptoms.”
The blogger went back to the doctor and got more pills, then returned to the Internet.
“I am a woman,” said another stranger, “and every day of my life I have felt like the world does not want me because I am fat.”
The blogger could not go to the doctor for this, but she understood that pain all too well.
“I am a woman who loves another woman,” said another stranger. “I want to marry her, but our families are afraid and don’t understand, so they will push us away.”
The blogger preferred men, but she had often felt that people did not understand her, so she was sympathetic. She kept listening.
“I have autism,” said another stranger, “and the world thinks I ought to be a certain way but I cannot be like that.”
“I am black,” said another stranger, “and I am never sure who I can trust. I have family and friends who are in jail or dead because they trusted the system to take care of them.”
“I am religious,” said another stranger, “and all I want is to worship God peacefully. I don’t understand why some of my faith persecute others, and I don’t understand why some of my faith are persecuted.”
“I was raped,” said another stranger, “and now I am pregnant and I cannot do this. I need to get an abortion.”
“I am Latina,” said another stranger, “and I have American citizenship but some of my friends and family do not, and I am terrified that they will be sent away.”
“I am poor,” said another stranger, “and I do not have clean water to drink or a roof over my head.”
The blogger listened to all of these people, and as she listened, she felt her heart open wider and wider. She wanted to help them so badly, but she was poor and shy and sad and tired, and she could not help the whole suffering world at once.
In desperation, she typed her own question, casting it far across the World Wide Web: “What can I do to help?”
The answers came abundantly, but they were also confusing. Some things she could do— she could continue to listen and to offer comfort and empathy where it was wanted, and to remain silent when she was not needed. That was easy.
The hard parts were something else: admitting when she had made mistakes, for instance. She tried her best to change the way she thought and spoke, so that she would not hurt people more than they were already hurt.
She tried her best to explain her changes to others, but they said “she was too sensitive” and insisted that the things she had learned were wrong or stupid or weird. They said that the things she had been told were lies, that they couldn’t be Proven By Facts.
The blogger knew that there was no way to Prove that someone sharing their experience on the Internet wasn’t lying, but she believed these strangers because they reminded her of herself: they shared the things they could not always say aloud. Their writing was raw and full of pain and heartache. She could hear that, even though it was sterile letters on a page of pixels. There were so many people sharing stories, sharing similar stories, sharing the very same experiences with different characters and settings, that the blogger was convinced that most of them were being honest. She Knew, because truth and pain are two things that are hard to fake.
And still, people did not believe her. It seemed as though, knowing that one person could not fix the world, that all of them had given up on trying.
The young blogger retreated into herself to think. She did not have any money, so she could not donate to Project RAINN or TWLOHA or the Trevor Project or Planned Parenthood. Talking to people had done no good. And despite her best efforts, there was no such thing as “recovering” from mental illness. She had days where she coped, and she had days where she couldn’t. She was already tired because of her own mind and body; the insistent prejudices of the world were doubly exhausting.
“Very well,” decided the blogger. “The things I can do are listen, and act. No more talking, no more arguing. What I must do is live as my conscience dictates, and make sure that I never turn a deaf ear to those who are less fortunate than I.”
And that is what she did. It was quiet work, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it, but sometimes she was able to make people think because of the example she set. She vowed to be kind. Sometimes she didn’t always succeed, but she did try.
The blogger had long known of her knack for words. She was bad at public speaking, but good at writing. She hoped she was doing some good in the world, by writing about things she cared about.
To this day, she has not found a job, nor has she met anyone with whom she would like to spend her life. She got several participation awards, but she never requested them and her report cards always indicated that she did not participate in class anyway. (The blogger was too shy to raise her hand in elementary school, even if she knew the answer.) She has never lived alone, but she still dreams of a decent apartment and a dog that needs her. She dreams of floral curtains on the kitchen windows, of ceiling-high bookshelves, and a good queen-size mattress.
She doesn’t even like avocados. They smell and taste like grass, water, and glue sticks pureed in a blender.
The blogger, like many people, is not entirely sure that Happily Ever After exists. The blogger simply does not have the ability to believe that Happily Ever After can exist on a day to day basis because she does not have the ability to be happy on a day to day basis.
Regardless, she is an optimist and she likes fairy tales, so she has penned a new phrase.
The blogger lived— lives. She lives Hopefully Ever After.