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A Long Hard Climb
Gia M.
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They say life is like one giant mountain-you start at the bottom and climb to the top. But some people's mountains seem steeper than others. And as I got older, I started to wonder whether I could climb mine at all.

I wouldn't say I was depressed all my life. For a long time I didn't even know what that meant. But I can say I was never happy.

I was just the quiet little sweet girl who everyone liked, repressing my hurt and carrying on.

When I was young I had friends, but I was also always something of a loner. My grandmother and I fought all the time, and my relationship with my mother was strained. My home life was never great.

At the beginning of 7th grade, I befriended a new kid named Alana and we became quite close.

Striving To Be Sophisticated

Every day she'd come to my house and we would talk about our lives over screwdrivers. Both of us were striving to be something we were not, trying to look sophisticated sipping from matching glasses, pouring the vodka from a pretty decanter and orange juice from an antique pitcher. For a few hours we lived like queens.

But by the middle of the year, Alana was having problems at home, and she ended up in a mental hospital. I went into therapy.

I was depressed. School was hard, home was harder, and the only person I could really relate to had been taken away from me. With Alana, I could really be myself. Without her around, my thoughts turned to death, hate and hopelessness.

I would sit on my mother's bed in the living room and watch TV while sniffing rubber cement.

Things went on like that until the middle of 8th grade. The moping around, the dark moods. A number of times I swallowed a hell of a lot of Advils and went to sleep, hoping not to wake up in the morning.

I Blamed Myself

Around this time, my grandmother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She went in and out of the hospital for a while before we finally took her home to live with us. My three-room house filled with the pungent odor of death.

Every day I would force myself to go into my grandmother's room and talk to her. Then, back in my own room, I'd ball up and cry.

I didn't know exactly how to feel. I mean, this was the b-ch who would get drunk and terrorize me when I was growing up. There had been times when I sat up at night wishing it would be her last night. And now she was dying in the next room!

In a weird way, I felt responsible, like someone up there was trying to make me believe the age-old saying, "Be careful what you wish for." Was this all my fault?

Afraid to sniff glue while my grandmother's nurse was around, I discovered a new way to release my tension--cutting myself. Not trying to die, just cutting myself. I got a disturbing rush that felt so wonderful.

As my life got worse, I cut myself more and then would go bullsh-t my therapist that my problems at home didn't exist.

My grandmother died a little bit before my 8th grade graduation.

The next year I started going to St. Vincent Ferrer HS and everything seemed fine for a while. My mom and I moved to Brooklyn and I had my own backyard for the first time.

But I'd been repressing my hurt for so long that I snapped.

After 14 years of trying to please everyone all the time, I got sick of putting on an act. Even in school I was never really myself. But it was time to be myself, whoever that was.

Sick Of the World

I was sick of the constant fights with my mom. Sick of hearing teachers lecturing and pounding useless information into my head. Sick of the world.

My home life had become unbearable. Over the next seven months, I spent more time sleeping on the sidewalk than in my bed.

When I would bring myself home, I would rarely stay for more than a few hours. I'd have something to eat, take some money and call my friends. At the time, I didn't have enough money for food, let alone a pay phone.

Money only meant one thing: a forty. That took the place of rubber cement and self-mutilation. Then I would hit the street again.

My Life: a Sad Blur

Even on the streets I was playing the role of sweet, quiet little girl. I sat back and watched, finding out who to stay away from and who to befriend.

But I still wasn't happy.

image by Michael Cordero

This was just another part of the sad blur that was my life. I would walk around with a smile plastered over held-back tears.

In mid-August of 1995, my mother took me to family court and things started to change. The courts and the Children's Aid Society decided that I had to go to therapy, enroll in school (I had been kicked out in 9th grade), live with my mother and follow the rules. I was put on probation for six months.

If I didn't shape up, I'd be put in a group home.

Although my behavior improved then, my mental condition did not. In fact, it got worse. When I refused to go to school the following spring, my mother thought, "Not this again."

Finally, I Got Help

She came home one day to find me sleeping in bed, and came over to wake me up. Then she saw my face was stained with the trails of dried up tears.

She pulled the covers back to reveal my arm, which looked as though it had been through a lawn mower. I'd had a date with the butcher knife earlier in the day.

My mom frantically woke me up and asked me about my arm. I casually replied, "I was upset."

Yes, I was up to my old tricks again, reverting to my favorite way to let out anger and play with life.

Well, my old tricks led me to a stint at the Adolescent Day Program at Holliswood Hospital in Queens. There I managed to complete the 10th grade and start to feel a bit better about myself.

I spent half of my days there in classes where the work was extremely easy and I felt like a genius. The rest of my day I spent in different types of therapy.

We had groups about anger management, medications (I had been sent to a shrink who put me on anti-depressants) and drugs and alcohol. Most everybody there had done their share of drugs.

Getting Away For a While

After Holliswood, my mom whisked me away to rural Vermont for a few weeks, which did a body good. My mom and I went swimming in a nearby pond, caught crayfish and went shopping at country stores. Our relationship got a lot better.

Then, after I came back to the city for a few days, I went to a horse farm in Pennsylvania where I worked and rode for two weeks before enrolling at City-as-School in Manhattan.

That summer, my mom and I also worked very hard at finding me a good therapist. I started seeing a psychotherapist at the Jewish Board for Family and Children's Services in Midwood, Brooklyn. I went to her for almost 10 months, and made a lot of progress. I really grew, and I came to a lot of realizations about my life.

I stopped being the little quiet girl. I started expressing myself, which is the greatest feeling in the world.

Finding the Real Me

I'm sure I gained a few enemies because of it, but I also got to see who my real friends are-the people who stood by no matter what, who congratulated my efforts and didn't try to bring me down with them. They're people who, like Alana, are happy to see the real me all the time, not just in spurts.

I finally realized that the most important person in my life is me. I learned that if my friends are doing something I don't want to do, I don't have to do it. You can't please everyone all the time, and no one expects you to.

For years I had let people lead me around by the nose, never speaking up, always eager to please. Then it hit me--I'm no one else's puppet on a string.

In this world there are very few people who will really try to help you when you need it. I always kind of recognized that, but one day that summer, I saw how true it is.

That summer day a friend of mine was killed, and a bunch of people were going to go to the police station to make a report. But in the end, they didn't because they were too busy drinking.

Growing up in this world, you see a lot of things that no person--especially a child--should ever see. Some people become what they see: the old bum in the gutter, the hooker selling herself to support a drug habit or a slew of kids, or both.

They become the person who gets killed outside a bar on a summer night without anyone paying much attention because all his friends are too busy drinking.

Headed Up the Mountain

But if you can find one moment to look through human eyes, not the desensitized eyes that you have, things become a lot clearer.

Sometimes when that happens, you're able to pick your own butt up and show everyone you can do what they always said you couldn't.

Since that summer, I've been able to make huge strides in my life. For the first time since I was 13, I completed a school year. Not only that, but I'm graduating a year early!

My life still isn't perfect. Life never is. But at least now I'm headed up the mountain. And let me tell you, the view is beautiful.

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(NYC-1997-11-11)

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