A Wonderful Life

by kaelikennedy

When I was a very small child, my father sat me down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. One among several Jimmy Stewart movies he shared with me, this in particular stood to teach me about life’s intrinsic value. Essentially, the film is about touching the lives of others and the butterfly effect of these small touches. I’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life around Christmastime since before I can remember. At some point, it became my own tradition and not my father’s.

This year, as Ryan and I sat down to watch the film over a New Year’s Eve spaghetti dinner, George Bailey grew into an especially deep, elbow-skinning place in my chest. He is a hopeful man stuck in a small town. He says, “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…” However, by the film’s climax, George is on a bridge in a blizzard, contemplating suicide after discovering that he is “worth more dead than alive.” George Bailey’s salvation comes in the form of the people he has cared for his whole life, the people his father’s “beautiful old Building and Loan” has helped over the years. George realizes that he has impacted the world positively at almost every turn.

December 14th, noon. I’m sitting on my bed, eyes swelling with tears, Ryan’s hand on my back. Last night was my birthday party, my house filled to the brim with people who love and support and care about me. Today, a nitty-gritty snowstorm that’s making me nervous about work. It’s the end of the neverending list that was finals week. In retrospect it makes sense that I’m this overwhelmed, but in the moment… forest, trees, etc. I call work, explain that the storm is worrying me, that I don’t want to get stuck there if I make it in, since my commute is one of the longest. My manager says not to worry, that they’ll make sure I get home. I’m taken by surprise, I say okay and hang up. This is the beginning of the defining low point of my year. For several hours, I am a sobbing and inconsolable mass of dark goo.

The reason I’m writing this post is that I feel very George Bailey this year. It feels like every turn is a dead end, I feel like I’m going about most things wrong. I’m scared in my relationships that I’m not necessary or even beneficial, that people might be better off without the ordeal of a person I can be. I felt for a split second the terrifying feeling that I imagine George felt staring out at the river below him, stranded in the snow, lip bleeding. I have felt bad before, but never this bad. I tend to downplay the darkness because I know not every bad feeling is a disorder, and I know there’s no use for hopelessness. But now it feels as though what I thought was darkness was torchlight and that torch was just extinguished. For all the gesturing at brokenness I’ve done in my life, for all the talking about how worthless I am, this dark felt truest. I am okay and safe, and I am not going anywhere, I’m not going to do anything dangerous. I promise. It’s just – this was the first time I’ve ever wished I would do something definitively hospitalizable.

It’s a Wonderful Life has been uplifting each time I watch it, has convinced me that life truly is wonderful. This year, though, as the tradition moved from a family event to a journey of personal necessity on which I dragged Ryan – this year, it doesn’t feel right. This year, I had a room full of friends with me just 12 hours before the darkest I’ve ever felt. I have a wonderful boyfriend who cares immensely for me and treats me like I’m worth the entire world and then some. In the next few months, I await a new and better job, a writing internship, and a position as a TA. I have the trappings that made George’s life Wonderful. But it doesn’t feel like things are getting better inside.

And so as I go into another January, I am  ready to shed my dark December skin. But to do that fully, I need to own how difficult the year ahead of me will be. It might be more difficult than 2013 was. I might find myself wishing for that hopeless December moment in the same way that I wish for my naïve high school self-loathing. But I’m going to put in the work and speak candidly about my experience, in therapy and outside of it, with anxiety and depression.

Maybe this was too much blood drawn for a first real blog post. I will write about other, lighter things. I will have happy moments. But talking about this dark goo feels important to me, and I’m learning to just let things be important.

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