From the outside, people assume that I live a charmed life, one that has been seamless, perfect and pure. It's not their fault; I live my life to the fullest and don't allow anything to affect my happiness.
It isn't until they notice the tattoo on my shoulder or ask me about my family, in depth, that they begin to understand the perma-smile on my face is a result of fighting through years of darkness -- against an illness that is unforgiving and relentless.
Even though I wasn't the one suffering from the delusions, paranoia and episodes, mental illnesses know no bounds. They affect all those close to the person battling them.
I was born into it. Our 10-year age difference accounts for the fact that my only memories of my brother are post diagnosis. His illness affected me directly. It made it difficult for me to form friendships, participate in activities or think.
I became consumed with trying to understand schizophrenia at a young age. To moderate him and calm him down, I had to learn to suppress my feelings, in the hopes that I was helping him get better day by day.
I was only 14 years old when my mother fell to her knees in the middle of our home with tears rushing down the side of her face. The image of her hysterically crying has been burned so deep into my memory that I can remember exactly what she was wearing, what music was playing and what I was eating when she was finally able to murmur the words: my brother had committed suicide.
Even though it's been 12 years, I am still incapable of gathering my thoughts and understanding what happened to me that day or throughout the course of my childhood.
Regardless of his illness, the man I lost that day was not only my brother. He was my best friend, my protector, my hero, my sanity and gave all the little fucked up things in my world meaning.
For years, I have lived in the shadows of that moment. I have blamed every failed relationship on the fact that I couldn't fully commit, because the fear of losing someone I love is greater than the joy of experiencing it.
When things became too complicated, I would disconnect. Instead of allowing my heart to fall and eventually overcoming the fear, I put up impenetrable walls to protect myself from ever feeling anything close to what I felt that day.
In a sense, I have lived without living and expressed emotion without ever putting my heart on the line. I knew at any given moment I could walk away from a relationship unscathed. Although I have been able to pick up the broken pieces and put myself back together, I realized I wanted more.
I wanted the next person to have all of me, not the half ass bullshit version of me everyone has come to know and accept. I'm sick of people thinking I'm strong because I can disconnect so quickly. I'm not.
I'm a lover who is afraid of being broken. I am someone who treats every encounter as if it doesn't mean a thing when every moment means a great deal. For lack of better words, I feel all of the feels.
This year, I realized if I was ever going to be the best version of myself I would need to commit, one by one, to all of the things that scared me. First, and foremost, I committed to my job. I accepted that there was a good chance I would fail many times before I would reach my goals; success is not about giving up.
I realized that if I wanted to be a good friend to the ones I love, I would have to be true to myself, and honest with them. Honest about: my feelings, my wrongdoings and my life, even if for a slight moment they would judge me or possibly want to smack me.
Friendship isn't about consistently pleasing those around you; it's about being who you are, growing with each other and pushing each other to be better and do better.
Last, but not least, I realized that if I were ever going to fall in love and commit, I needed to learn to love and accept myself first -- flaws and all.
You can't lead a happy, fulfilled life until you get over the fear of getting hurt. You need to silence your past, not let it affect your future. Take the time to address and deal with the skeletons in your closet so that they don't affect your quality of life.
We spend so much time talking about love as if it's unattainable, complicated and flat out unrealistic for our generation to attain. In reality, the ones complaining are the ones who aren't ready. No one can fix you aside from you. The best investment you can ever make is taking the time to commit to yourself.