It only seems fitting to start with my own story, so here goes.
I was not supposed to be born. My mom was advised, then warned, that having me would have severe consequences to her health. Being a pregnant diabetic in the early 1980’s was generally not seen as a blessing, and it was hell on her body, but my mother was a force to be reckoned with. My first breath was an act of survival.
I’m not going to tell you today about threatening phone calls from drug dealers, what it was like for a child with diabetes in the 90s, or losing my mom just before my 13th birthday. I’m not going to tell you about rape, leaving college, or struggling without medical insurance or a way to feel myself. I’m not going to tell you about the heartbreak of losing a child and giving up on every trying again, how many times I’ve faced homelessness, or what it’s like to live with an illness most doctors don’t believe exists. These are big fires I have risen from like a phoenix. No, today I talk about surviving the slow embers that burn beneath the surface everyday, the fires you don’t always see. These are the fires I’ve survived alone.
I cannot remember a day when I didn’t question why I was still breathing, or why I was worth the sacrifice it took for me to enter this world at all. There has not been a day I haven’t been terrified to look ahead.
I was 5 the first time the idea of suicide crossed my mind, 9 the first time I planned out how, and since then I have made countless attempts, both planned and unplanned. I have opened car doors on the freeway and laid in bed at night wondering how much it would scar my husband to wake up next to my lifeless body.
I am in constant physical excruciating pain. I constantly question my ability to be a responsible adult, watching friends and family buy homes and have babies while I wonder if I’ll be able to eat this week. My schedule makes it impossible to plan a family or settle anywhere too long, and even my marriage feels like a long distance relationship. I freshly survive my depression and anxiety every day I don’t give up and every time I put on a smile and breathe through the pain. I survive every time I reach out instead of walling myself in. Every birthday that passes is not another year closer to death, it’s another year farther from the death I’ve felt inside my entire life. This. This is the only thing I’ve ever felt I couldn’t push through.
I have been described as a survivor, asked how I do it. The simple answer is, “I don’t have a choice.”
What has been my choice is how my life portrays me today. At this moment I am a poet writing and performing a one person show. At this moment I am a writer revising my first novel. At this moment I am a flight attendant working my dream career and taking care of my family, allowing my husband to follow his dream and start his own business. I have worked as a teacher at the zoo. I have earned my Master level as a Reiki healer. I have learned to craft, brew, and sew, and recently I was able to show off my own cosplay designs at Wizard World. These things, and so much more, are how I want to be remembered, not for having walked through the tragedies of life and continuing to breathe. Surviving is the easy part. Living, well, that’s where it gets tricky.
My family has been exceptionally supportive of me. We have defined what love, marriage, and family mean to us, and both the polyamorous and kink communities have helped us through some of our most trying moments. I have built a web of tribe (my Ohana) across the country, and they have ensured I feel secure. I am learning to feel worthy of love, to be present in life, and to trust my spirit in the hands of my Ohana when I can’t hold it up myself.
This is why I started My Story is Not Unique. So many times I’ve felt alone. So many times I’ve thought “how can ANYONE possibly understand this?” and I have found that everyone I meet has these same thoughts because everyone has a story. Through telling these stories we stop feeling isolated and start stepping out into the world.
My Story is about community. It’s not about coming together under the same experience, but coming together to share our experience and celebrate the spirit alive in each of us. We are not connected by our tragedies. We are connected by the fact that we have chosen to live our lives on our terms!
Jennifer Clifford is performing her one person show Good Girl in NYC in December as a part of The Power of One Program. For more information, follow her on Facebook at Jennifer L Clifford or go to The Power of One.