I walked across the stage, the click of my heels sounding too loudly in my ears. Back stage, I had been shaking and dry heaving in pure, undiluted fear.
I hadn’t felt fear like that in a very long time.
Despite the tremble that still resided in my hands, I walked, keeping my eyes on my goal.
Click. Click. Click.
I reached the podium, placing a worn black book on it and opening it to the pages that I had frantically been reviewing all day. I knew precisely what I was going to speak about, yet all the same I needed my book with me.
It was the only anchor I had in that moment.
The bright stage lights beat down on me as I stared out at a sea of darkness. I could not make out a singular shape within that wall of black that I faced, and yet I could feel the eyes of countless people on me. Worse, I could feel the eyes that weren’t on me, the ones who already found me to be a joke.
Perhaps that was only in my head, a result of the fear. But I felt it. I felt it so violently that I had to grasp the sides of the podium that I was standing at as I cast my vision across the dark sea, hoping I made eye contact with someone. Praying I didn’t keep it for too long.
I was a mess.
Still, I began to speak.
My voice cracked when I started and I fought the immense urge to cough to clear my throat.
After a short and awkward introduction – two adjectives that describe me very well, looking back at it – I got into the gist of my speech.
It was that night that I came clean to the world about who I was, and what I had struggled with.
I talked for roughly ten minutes.
Ten minutes that started out dreadful, but grew easier and easier over time.
As I spoke about my mental illness, I never once lost the feeling that eyes were on me. But as I spoke, I felt that they were truly beginning to see me.
They saw me for my redemption.
And that night, I began to see it too.
In truth, before then, I thought of redemption as some great act of bravery. Something along the lines of a miracle. I had never thought of what I had done as any sort of redemption on my part.
But it was.
As I told the story, I thought back on the place that I had been in.
I was so, so utterly lost in the darkest corners of my own mind.
In my world then, no one cared for me. I was alone. I was scared. I was sad. Yet simultaneously I was unable to feel anything. I buried my emotions deeper and deeper within myself and went on as though everything was fine.
For a time, I pretended to get help. But I wouldn’t allow anyone to truly give me such aide.
For several months, I dreamed of knives, of bullets, and of speeding cars all taking away the remaining beats of my heart.
I wasn’t allowed to feel anything. Not even fear of death.
And then one night, I took steps. What felt like very small ones at the time are beginning to look bigger to me now, and now looking back I see the start of my redemption.
I made it clear that I wanted to die.
I got help.
And slowly but surely, I got to where I am today.
Happy. Fearful. Sorrowful.
Except now, I’m allowed to feel.
Standing on that stage, as the fear faded from my soul, that was the feeling that began to blossom in its place.
Under the lights of that stage I finally, really and truly felt as though I overcame something.
I felt fearful. But the fear reminded me that I was alive.
And on that day, people understood my fear. They saw my redemption.
I saved myself from the greatest error I ever could have made; ending everything.
And I live every day thankful of that.
****This short was originally submitted for Chicken Soup for the Soul. It has been well past a year since it’s submission and I feel as though it was rejected, as I have heard nothing, and as such I feel as though I have every right to post it here.****