When you're 14 and feeling bad

While other kids rebelled through sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, I set myself apart from my siblings by throwing up average performances in team sports. They homeschooled through high school, and I locked down a worse education in public school. They were less involved in church, and I interned at a conservative Christian camp and tagged along on an evangelical mission trip to Cambodia.

I set average mile times, bitched about my education, and steamrolled mission trips from the outside in. I fell asleep by 10pm reading Prevention magazine. (It's never too early to worry about menopause.) I wasn't exactly the type of kid to inspire curfews or random room searches.

If I couldn't be better, I could at least be different.

The finish of this particular race was - well - average.

In church camp, Leonard Cohen wasn’t too much a part of our curriculum. His song Hallelujah was made popular by the Shrek soundtrack, and the edgiest of Christian kids heard something illicit and therefore enticing in it. Hallelujah was second only to Wonderwall in the list of steamy but heartfelt numbers to spur fervent hand-holding in the back of the church bus. (Not a euphemism. Literally just holding hands.)

And yet, it was at church camp that I realized Leonard Cohen featured in more than just the Shrek soundtrack. It was here that I first stumbled across the following lyrics from Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

I wasn't yet in high school, and already the words meant something. Already, I found deep solace in this permission to be imperfect.

Instagram didn’t even exist yet. It would be a whole year, maybe two, before people started asking what college I’d attend, and how it would be ranked. At that age, what needed perfecting?

Well: I know for a fact that I was already unhappy with my body. That’s low-hanging fruit. I can still tell you how much weighed. I can tell you where I stored fat, and I can tell you I was mad about it.

I can tell you that boys didn’t like me, or I thought boys didn’t like me, which is the same thing.

I can tell you I felt like the least pretty and worst dressed and most awkward of my friends.

I can tell you that I personally thought my best qualities were being smart, being a little dark, and being a little deep, but I wasn’t sure if any of those would be palatable to others.

I can tell you that I already wanted to be more of a “people person.” I felt myself shrinking into the background among dramatic, charismatic, and beautiful friends.

And I can tell you now - but I don’t have to - that we all just looked like little girls.

This was before Invisalgin, kids.

Leonard Cohen told me these cracks, these imperfections, were okay. Hell, they were necessary; they were conduits of light.

There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

I was sad for a long time. When I was ready to talk about it, this sadness gave rise to lots and lots of writing. Six months and 60+ posts.

I'm still often sad. I spend days and weeks at a time just collecting my sad thoughts, like I’m prepping for the emotional apocalypse. Stowing nonperishable sadness underground like peanut butter and canned beans. I often feel resentful, uninspired. I often feel isolated, self-conscious, self-doubting.

These are the cracks. This is where the light gets in. It shines into the sadness and says, Hey - this is some pretty fascinating misery. Mind if I write it down?

I look tiredly at my hands. Sure. But then we’re going to bed.

So I put pen to paper, or more realistically fingers to keyboard, and I talk about what it’s like to feel less-than. No sooner do I hit “publish” than the feeling abates, and sure enough: in comes the light.