For most of my life, I have been a go-getter, a self-starter, a leader.
When I was nine, I managed to con my friends into performing a play, under my direction, at my parents’ house. It was an “American Girl” play, and we performed it on the stairway, an artistic decision symbolizing the “transience of life” or something.
In fourth grade, we did a project called “Reading Rendezvous” where kids got prizes for reading a certain number of books. I was determined to read more books than anyone else. I read forty-four chapter books in a matter of a few weeks. Another girl read forty-three. But I read forty-FOUR.
A few times, I dressed up my sister and her friends, making them go door to door, performing plays I wrote and in return, hoping for the neighbors to pity them enough to offer money (usually pennies).
Once, I organized all of my Barbies to form the chorus for the Messiah and played the entire recording, bringing forth the soloists and conducting the Barbie choir. My Princess Jasmine and Rosie O’Donnell Barbies were particularly enthusiastic about their performances.
These are some of the highlights of my eccentric childhood.
But at eighteen, my life changed drastically. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and I found myself, for the first time in my life, in the position to call myself a victim. I had grown up a privileged white girl with very few problems. Now that trouble had come knocking, I felt helpless and victimized. I cried and I wallowed. And I didn’t know how to get out.
As is always the case with depression, “getting out” is not only difficult, it can be impossible. Lots of therapy and the right anti-depressant cocktail, along with incredibly supportive family and friends were what got me through the worst parts of it, a lengthy four-year struggle. Now, I have had to come to terms with the fact that I will be on medication for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t make me a victim. I can still be a leader, a go-getter and a self-starter.
This past year has been one of revelation. I graduated from Calvin last May, and while my time there was anything but a waste, I did find myself allowing events to happen to me, rather than take initiative and control of my life. Shortly after graduating, I met my fiancée. The timing was not perfect. I was between jobs at the time and she was moving across the state. But we did long distance for a year, got engaged in April, and are now living together in North Carolina, planning our wedding next June.
Life happens. I did not plan for half of the things that have happened to me this last year. I did not plan to meet Clarissa and I certainly did not plan to get in to one of my top choices for graduate school. How could I have known last May, walking in my cap and gown, that I would be here now?
A wise professor once told me that no one is simply a victim. Everyone is both a victim and an initiator. We don’t have complete control of our lives, but we certainly have some.
Since moving to North Carolina, I’ve tried to be as involved as possible within my program. One of the first things I did was organize a workshop with a few other incoming students. I’m also excited to participate in the first reading of the year next week. Clarissa and I have hosted several events at our home already. I am determined to make a fresh start here, to overcome and not allow life to simply “happen.”
Of course, there will be many events that happen which are completely out of my control. When those situations occur, the trick will be to let go while continuing to hold on.
It’s like the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, which has been adopted by AA groups:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
I remember my childhood self, the passion and exuberance I possessed then. And I ask God for wisdom as I move forward in this new chapter of my life.
Bethany Tap (’12) received her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she also worked as the managing editor of Chautauqua: the literary journal of the Chautauqua Institution. She is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her wife, Clarissa, and son, Alexander.