Broken. For a very long time I lacked the language to describe how I felt. To explain how my past and my hurt rested inside of me. Saying that I was broken made the most sense because that’s exactly how I felt—not whole, incomplete, in pieces. By believing I was broken and by telling others I was broken I made myself vulnerable to being treated like I was already broken. And, it has been my experience that other folks don’t treat broken people with kindness but instead as dumping grounds because fuck it! you’re already broken. I had this inner image of myself as a Picasso woman of sorts. The beauty I found in Picasso’s art is that the pieces aren’t always where they’re supposed to be but you can still look at the image and recognize the figure. That’s what I saw. Maybe my pieces weren’t where they were supposed to be. And, maybe my pieces weren’t all whole. And, maybe the jagged lines and the cracks were very visible. But I had worked really hard to assemble myself together again. I had worked toward creating a recognizable figure. Unfortunately, that was still not enough. One of the difficult aspects of healing is that the process does not take place in a vacuum. Healing takes place alongside all the bullshit we try to heal from in the first place. It often felt that as I tried to keep my pieces together and smooth my edges there was someone there to poke at the weak spots. There was always someone or something to test the durability of my figure. And, oftentimes, the pieces would fall. And, I would pick them back up. Because that’s what healing is—a process of falling and picking up and dusting off and moving on, over and over again.
But sometimes the poking and the testing are too much. The pokes are too hard and sometimes I’m too tired of the continuous falling and picking up to fight back—to hold on to those pieces as hard as I can so that they don’t all fall at once. Sometimes I get hit too hard. I once told someone whom I loved that they broke me. And, that’s how I felt. I could no longer recognize myself. When I saw myself I did not see a figure. The pieces were not together but somewhere on the ground. Shattered. Like a puzzle. And I was overwhelmed. He said he did not break me because I was already broken. That he was not responsible for my breaking. And I can see how someone can believe that. How can you break something that’s already broken? You can crush the pieces more. You can make the pieces smaller. Make them sharper. Make them hurt more. But broken is broken. I saw myself as already broken and I told other people that I was broken. And that made me vulnerable. I let him feel the jagged lines and the cracks. I let his fingers trace the figure I had created. I can imagine that one of the reasons you’re not supposed to touch the art in museums is because of the fear that sticky, stubby, insensitive fingers will damage it. That those fingers do not appreciate or understand the effort and time that went into creating that piece. I let him, and many others like him, touch the masterpiece I had created of my pieces.
My depression use to feel jagged—like the pieces I had put together no longer fit in the same controlled way and they were shifting. Uncomfortable, piercing, cutting kind of shifting. Slicing, tiny paper cuts inside of me kind of jagged. Sometimes I didn’t feel the weight of the pieces and other times, in tougher times, the pieces were heavy and forced themselves into the deep crevices. I told my therapist during one of my tougher times that I felt like something was rotting inside of me. In my chest. A mass. Dark violet. Heavy. Spreading. As if a broken piece had gotten infected. And that the more I tried to fight it the more I felt the jagged, broken, sharp pieces grow. Piercing. Aching. Crushing. I didn’t know what that rotting was. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t like it. I wanted it out. And, I became quite frustrated because this rotting mass consumed a lot of my energy. A lot of my time. A lot of my body. A lot of my mind. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sleep. Something was rotting inside me. As if a broken piece had gotten infected.
I realized that identifying as “broken” was abusive and harmful when a dear friend of mine, a young Latina in her early twenties, cried to me that she felt that she was broken and would probably always be broken. It was painful to hear that she felt that way. But it also felt so familiar. I spent most of my teens and my twenties walking around and feeling like I was broken. That that was the only way I could be. And, being broken meant that I was also unworthy of so many great things—like love, and respect, and humanity. And, the longer I identified as broken and the more people I told I was broken the more that unworthiness continued to solidify. Because if breaking someone that’s already broken is not really breaking then there’s really no reason to treat them with love, respect, or even as human. In an attempt to comfort my friend I told her she was not broken but was growing, changing, and transforming and that sometimes those processes can be painful too. For the sake of using a language conducive to healing I have tried to remove “broken” from my vocabulary. Since then I have tried to stop seeing myself as “broken” and instead understand myself as always growing, always changing, and always transforming. “Broken” signals value. And in this society broken things are worth less or worthless simply because they’re broken. And I am not worth less or worthless.
I came across Warsan Shire’s poem, “bye twenty fourteen,” and in it she says she “broke open and dug out all the rot with [her] own hands.” And I tried to do that, too. I opened myself up and dug out the rot. Dug out the mass that grew inside of me. And I forgave it. And I comforted it. And I loved it. Because that rotting mass was once part of me. Was once one of my pieces. A piece that I tried to force back in. A piece that I was afraid to let go of. A piece that no longer fit. But rot is rot. And it consumes and damages. So it had to go. It has taken me a long time to understand that identifying as broken gave others the room to treat me as less. Seeing myself as a Picasso woman of sorts suggested to others that if I could put myself together once then I could do it again and again and again. This meant that they did not have to tread lightly. My strength suggested to others that I could take the hits. That I would survive the hits. That I couldn’t be broken because I was already broken. But that’s not true. I am human. I am fragile. I am sensitive. I am a masterpiece.
I have learned that the feeling of being broken is really my depression by another name. Nowadays, my depression doesn’t feel much like jagged, sharp pieces. Today, it feels more like an extra thick blanket. I feel its weight but I know I’m not trapped underneath. Some days I can lift the blanket off entirely, other days I’ve gotten so use to the weight I don’t even notice it, and days like today I want to wrap myself in it and build myself a cocoon. I don’t always feel whole or complete. But I know I’m not broken. “Broken” suggests that I was once whole and I’m not sure that’s true. Being broken, saying I was broken allowed me to romanticize, to obsess over a wholeness that probably never existed for me. And, my obsession meant that I couldn’t move on, that I couldn’t accept, and that I couldn’t be open to other possibilities. I’m no longer broken but I do live with depression. And, at this very moment, I’m okay with that.
[i] An earlier version of this essay first appeared in my self-published zine Flying With Butterflies (2015) as “Digging Out the Rot.”