finding home, again

I’ve written about this before. I’m taking a creative nonfiction class, and this was a writing assignment for that. I recycled some bits and pieces from past posts, as you may notice. I figured I’d post anyway.

Art by Cristen Craven Barnard

Having been born in Mississippi, one might assume that my sense of belonging is strongest here, amid the kudzu and clay. I was bred to be a prime example of a Northeast Jackson woman, one whose primary concerns in adulthood involve her son’s participation in the football team or her family’s conformity to the way of life so well-trodden by so many. Since being a young girl, however I knew I was not destined to fit that mold. I felt…different and out of sorts for much of my adolescence. As my peers dutifully grew into Ole Miss sorority girls, I seemed only to rebel more and more, eventually marring the central concern of a proper Southern lady — my reputation. I allowed myself to be recklessly myself, and, in doing so, I distanced myself further and further from the roadmap to propriety set before me as in my youth.

When I finally graduated high school, I landed as far westward as possible, at the University of California Santa Barbara. As a liberal-leaning feminist seeking freedom and power over my own decisions, I finally felt like I’d found home. Without knowing a soul on campus prior to attending, I somehow went on to establish friendships and to cement my place within the social hierarchy of that alien world of waxed surfboards and distressed denim. The very air I breathed seemed infused with hope and possibility, and during my time there I thrived.

As I entered my twenties, however, things began to crumble. The character I had successfully played for so long began to recede into abysmal darkness as major depressive disorder and anxiety slowly overtook me. I became a fragile husk of the person I once was. The anxiety became debilitating. I didn’t know what exactly my affliction was, but I knew that I could not continue life with this feeling of being mentally drawn and quartered at all hours. I decided to leave the life I’d built and to return home.

It didn’t take medical professionals in Mississippi long to diagnose me with type II bipolar disorder. That deeply out-of-sorts feeling that crawled into my brain’s backseat had taken up residency there, and I felt resigned to a life on the outside looking in. Thus began my journey toward belonging. The real kind. The kind that can’t be jarred out of place by a few unkind words from a stranger or a knowing look exchanged between friends.

Back in my home state with my daily activity involving therapy and more therapy, I began to learn myself — what had driven me up to that point, what had failed me, what had saved me. I became closer to my parents and learned how to ask for help. I fell in love. I got a dog.

My heartbeat’s rhythm is like that of Mississippi — blues-y and steady, steady, rolling. It was time I remembered how they echoed each other. In this most epic of comedies, Mississippi is my home port, my Ithaca, and only from Mississippi have I been able to stand alone without feeling alone. Being home allowed me the steadiness to get my feet back under me. I learned how to function as a fully-formed, conscientious human being. I learned myself. I finally realized how little I know or can assume about those around me. My passion in life grew to involve Mississippi and doing all in my power to help it, to tie a stint to the halves of its broken branches, to help them fuse together again. I found home, again. I found home.

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