You may find this hard to believe, but I used to be very good at keeping secrets. This was in the pre-blog, pre-internet days, before I knew how refreshing it was to let the world in on your most unflattering meltdowns and sexy bedroom talk. Back then, I could hide a dark truth so well that I’d let it tear me to pieces before I whispered a word of it. When I was a teenager, my Mom used to take me to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out why her perfectly healthy daughter was suffering from migraines, stomach ulcers, and extreme insomnia. Eventually someone diagnosed me with depression, and I became the pariah of the family—because our life was perfect. They saw no reason for me to be so solemn, or for my hair to fall out in patches.
Two days before my freshman year in college, I confronted my Mom about our charming little family secret. She suggested I move into the dorms, thinking a fresh start and some distance would fix my issues. It did the opposite—I couldn’t stand all of those happy young people full of hopes and ambitions. They did the most odious of things, like inviting me to parties and wanting to sit on my bed and have conversations. It was terrible.
I embraced the power of shock-and-awe and confessed my secrets to a housing administrator who then granted an extremely rare exemption that allowed me to live off campus in an apartment. All I had to do was cry about gay porn and my ill-gotten hacking skills and voila—I was free.
Living alone was a gateway to the most extreme version of introversion. I faded out of friendships, stopped showing up to work, and didn’t bother getting out of bed to go to class. I wanted nothing more than to be completely left alone, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone finding out the truth.
To keep myself from imploding, I bought a bound leather journal with gold leaf pages. I poured every word of truth into it; every shady memory, every shitty thought. I planned to burn it once the pages were full, but I was still terrified that someone might read it before I got the chance. To assuage this fear, I kept it locked in a safe that was hidden behind my desk. I hid the key to the safe on a ledge in my apartment. It was out of sight and so high that I had to stand on a chair in order to reach it.
Looking back, I can’t help feeling a bit amused at all the effort I put into hiding the truth, especially since I’d so thoroughly isolated myself. By any indication, there was absolutely no one around to take notice of anything I did. But I was wrong about that. Someone was there. And they were watching.
Have YOU ever kept a dark family secret? Do you have a diagnosis that your family refuses to accept? Were your early 20’s the “best time of your life” like everyone claims?
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