* Written by Kate Kaput for YettiSays 8th Annual Self-Love Month | “Shedding Layers” Post Series
Dear Emo Kate, the one with the thrifted T-shirts and sweepy bangs and chunky plastic jewelry…
You are the embodiment of the stereotype of the early-aughts emo kid, and you know it, but it’s the only way you can find to signify on the outside what you feel inside: You’re 21 years old, technically an adult, but now more than ever before, you just want someone else to take care of you, to tell you who to be and how to exist. You wear your sadness like a uniform, not just a piece of you but the entirety of you.
Your ex-boyfriend died last year. He turned 20 and decided he couldn’t bear to be “old,” so he hung himself in his garage on a cold February afternoon. You weren’t together at the time — he kind of hated you, actually — but somehow, since then, you’ve become a public widow of sorts. Everywhere you go in your small town, somebody’s judging eyes are on you from the corner of the room. They think his death was your fault, and you don’t blame them, because deep down, so do you.
Sometimes, you get drunk at your favorite townie bar and someone from high school will approach you, more than a few drinks in, to talk about him. They want to share their feelings with somebody; it might as well be with the girl who drove him to his death. But it weighs you down, your trauma an anchor that leaves you emotionally unsafe all throughout the place that used to be home. Everyone hates you here, or maybe you just hate yourself.
So you leave. You graduate college and move to Washington, D.C., to start over; to be someone new, maybe, or just a version of yourself who hasn’t yet been able to exist in a place so laden with ghosts. Your new friends think you’re funny and smart, and even though they know you have some demons (don’t we all?), it never occurs to them to believe that those demons represent the whole of you. In time, you finally stop believing it, too.
You used to tell yourself you’d take his cues by 30, that you wouldn’t let yourself grow old, either. But by the time you reach 30, you’re… dare you say it… happy? You have these vibrant, interesting friends now, and a loving boyfriend and a fulfilling job. And on a sunny August day in Dupont Circle, when your coworkers throw you a birthday party with tacos and cupcakes and margaritas, you decide you won’t do what he did, after all — not now, and maybe not ever.
Later, as 40 nears, your depression is still there, a black dog that lives in your shadow, but like the rest of you, it’s morphed with time: You’re better at living with it now, less inclined to make it a public spectacle, to wear it upon your body like a badge of sad honor. This makes it harder for others to know when you’re struggling. She looks happy, right? She’s doing well, right? Instagram never lies, right?
But that’s the thing: It isn’t a lie, and this isn’t a façade. At 37, the way you present yourself to the world is no more and no less than the result of a multi-faceted personality that has taken decades to develop, to cultivate, to let thrive. After all this time, you know one thing Emo Kate needed time to learn: Your sadness does not define you.
You don’t have to wear it emblazoned across your chest (or in your bad haircut) anymore because it is not the whole of you. The sum of your parts is so much more than his teenage widow or the Lexapro you take every day or the panic attacks you sometimes have in the middle of the night. You live with depression, yes, but it can and does coexist alongside your joy. Sometimes they alternate in the driver’s seat; sometimes they share the load. But you, on any given day and every single day, are always more than just one or the other.
And when the sadness takes the wheel, you still turn to those playlists, the ones carefully curated with the songs that once saved your life. You cry it out. You fall asleep despondent. But the next day, just like every day before it and every day to come, you hold your head high — and you begin again.