“I wish I could say that I have an amazing life goal that I’m trying to head towards. I want to lie and say I want to hunt down the cure to all cancers, or write the next big book that rocks the literary world, or own so many loving dogs that the mayor has no choice but to give me the key to the city. Outside of those fantastic dreams though, all I really want to do is live comfortably while doing something with books. My big dream is to live in a nice apartment with a furry animal that can’t escape my love while working as a librarian and part-time author. That sounds pretty sweet.
My love for books started when most people start hating them, during childhood. Books became a way to escape from life and its hardships without resenting anything. When I was small, I want to say around five or six, my parents’ sturdy relationship had turned into a pile of ash overnight. The environment got emotionally toxic so my younger sister and I turned to other things to distract ourselves. When we couldn’t quite hear the TV anymore and our Barbie storylines started to become dull and drawn out, I would grab whatever chapter book I picked up from my school library and squish myself next to my sister in her bed.
Around the age of ten was when life really started to weigh on me. Having to deal with parents in the midst of a sticky divorce was no fun, but adding that to not having any friends in school and trying to do whatever I could to protect my sister from whatever was happening took a toll. I developed childhood depression halfway through fifth grade and haven’t really been the same since, as cliché as that sounds.
I lost interest in almost everything around me and felt hopeless and tired all the time. The only things I really looked forward to were my science class, my teacher always stayed after school to answer whatever ridiculous question I could come up with, and my weekly reading assignments in English. Every Thursday we were to pick a book or two from the library and take little tests over them to earn points; if we got enough points at the end of the month then we got a prize, the harder the book the more points it was worth. Somehow this little gimmick to read hooked me. It was never about the cheap toys or free homework passes that I claimed at the end of the month, it was more about being rewarded to do something that I loved and it gave me a reason to continue.
In high school, my love for reading dwindled while my depression grew and devoured almost everything. Somewhere during those years I managed to tack on anxiety to my growing list of obstacles that I had to face every morning. Between mountains of school work, demanding band directors, and mental illness, I barely had time to breathe.
By the time I managed to crawl my way to senior year, I thought all hope of figuring out what I loved to do was lost. I was going to graduate and then rot as I worked at some fast food restaurant for the rest of my life. But somehow, someway, my AP Literature teacher made me love reading again. To this day, I still have no idea how he did it. I don’t know if it was his obvious excitement for Heart of Darkness or if he pumped some sort of literature-loving gas through the vents, but he did it. I could never in a million years thank him enough for it.
After trial and error and error some more, I finally figured out what I wanted to do for my major my junior year of college. Though it wasn’t as noble or highly looked upon as pre-med or business, I changed my major to English with a creative writing focus. Reading had made such a huge impact on my life that it only made sense to write my own stories in hopes that I can give the same escape to someone else. This choice wasn’t the best received news I had ever given, it was right up next to ‘I’m going to college…four hours away’, but after many conversations my family slowly became supportive.
Now I’m coming to the end of my college years and I still can’t believe I’ve made it this far. Sure, my depression and anxiety are things that are never going to go away. They’ve glued themselves to the underside of my ribs and ache with every breath, but I’ve learned to deal. If anything, the ache pushes me to keep moving forward. It pushes me to keep writing. It pushes me to seek out my friends to smile and laugh with because they mean the world to me. It pushes me to begrudgingly let my friends convince me to do things I don’t want to do initially and end up loving.
After I finally walk into the sunset with a diploma in my hand, I hope I make a positive difference in at least one person’s life. I hope I’m able to push back my insecurities as a writer and believe in myself enough to continuously submit my work until I’m published. I hope to one day look back at my life and think ‘it was all worth it. It sucked, but look what we got out of it.’”
Mariah Clem, 21
English major, Texas State University