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Confessions of a Former 'Damsel in Distress': Learning How to Save Myself

“You can let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.”

I don’t mean to, but I’ve always had a kind of “save me” mentality. At 14, I wrote stories of poor, fragile girls passing out at school from lack of food or trying to kill themselves, only to be saved by handsome, older boys. I always hoped the boys I liked would save me. And hey, before ya judge, I was unwell mentally at 14 years old.

I made my first suicide attempts at 14. There was a part of me that hoped someone would save me, but as I spent weeks in hospital, nobody visited. Just my parents. None of my friends. Definitely no handsome, older boys.

woman crouching in front of a mirror

At the end of the day, it was me who saved me. I pulled myself out of the desperately dark hole I lived in and got better for a while. At 19, same thing. More suicide attempts and more loneliness in the hospital. Eventually, there was someone who sat by my side. He cancelled work for days to sit by my side. We ended up dating for three and a half years.

He helped in a lot of ways. I also started to get therapy. He refused to feed my desperate needs for reassurance. I’d sob on the floor, begging him to tell me he was going to stay, that he loved me, just one more time, and he wouldn’t. It wasn’t to be cruel, but rather, he was trying to teach me to self-soothe.

I had more than enough proof he was going to stay and he loved me. I had to learn to calm myself down. I learned with him I didn’t get the things I wanted by playing “weak,” a victim or by needing constant reassurance. I got what I wanted by being a strong, self-assured, young woman.

Eventually, our relationship turned abusive in other ways, and I left. However, I left stronger than I’d ever been before. The fire in my heart was roaring, and I was ready for anything. As I migrated to Melbourne, I started dating a few others, and, as I did, my mental health started to crumble. I am almost at the point where I wonder if new relationships are my trigger. I’ll be fine, so wonderful, until the onset of a new relationship.

Yet, as I got to know these handsome men, my mental health slipped backward. I found myself clingy, needy and breaking down regularly. I wanted to be held by them and comforted. I wanted them to come to my aid, and in a sense, I wanted them to rescue me. In a f*cked up way, it’s an unintentionally manipulative way for me to get comfort, affection, dedicated time and attention.

People are only willing to oblige so much. I mean, the relationship is new, and I’m having a meltdown in front of you. It can be scary, and a lot of people just aren’t down for that.

I, then, met my current partner, D. When he met me, he felt overall I had my life together. I lived in a cute apartment on my own in St. Kilda. I had a shiny finance job in a shiny office in Docklands. My own car. No debt. A wardrobe of gorgeous clothing. Experience sexually. A bunch of gorgeous friends. I was, by many counts, “put together.”

Yet, the same thing happened that always did. As the relationship progressed, my mental health slipped. I slipped back into self-harm and having episodes. Out of nowhere, I would start shaking, fall into panic attacks, curl up on the floor sobbing over nothing. He said it was almost like I was possessed because I’d go from laughing and fine one minute, to a shaking mess the next. When he looked me in the eyes during episodes, he said he didn’t see me in there at all.

After six months, I made the first call of, “I think I’m going to kill myself. I need you here.”

More followed. Luckily, I didn’t make any actual attempts on my life. By New Year’s, I was suicidal. His best friend had to stop me from walking into traffic twice. The next day, he broke up with me. He said he couldn’t do it anymore.

For three days, I laid in bed sobbing. It wouldn’t stop hurting. How did I make it stop hurting? Eventually, I realized I had two options following that break up: I could let it destroy me or I could let it strengthen me.

I booked psychologist appointments. I started running again (which my fatigue prevented me from getting further, but I made the effort!) I cleaned the apartment. I cleaned myself up. I organized to meet him a few times. I didn’t break down in those conversations. I didn’t beg for him back. I laid out, rationally, why I felt it was silly for us to be broken up. I pointed out the positive changes I was making.

After a few days, we got back together. Many months later, he told me the fact that I got up and kept going was a key reason why he came back (another being that he loved the sh*t out of me.) He said if I’d laid there, broken, then it would have reinforced the decision to leave, but I didn’t. I got up, I worked and I saved myself.

Things are a lot better now. However, recently, I’ve found I like someone new a lot. What am I noticing? I’m starting to get into that “save me” mentality. Damn. I’m facing this really hard battle every time I talk to them. My mind screams “be weak, be soft, make them want to protect you and save you.” Yet, evidence has shown me, time and time again, that needing to be saved has done nothing for me but alienate me and cause me to lose valued friendships and relationships.

What has made those relationships flourish is when I’m the badass I am. It’s being a strong, powerful woman with a love of colors and vibrancy. Nobody has wanted to save me. The only person who keeps saving me, day in and day out, is me. What has lured more people in than I can count  is walking like I’m 10 feet tall, embracing every beautiful aspect of myself and shining in every way possible.

I’m realizing my method of being a “damsel in distress” is a poor form of communication. I don’t know how to ask for cuddles, affection, more time, more compliments and more conversation. I feel guilty for it. Somehow, I feel less guilty when I’m in meltdown mode. In meltdown mode, I have the belief that I’ll get those things without asking for it.

What I really need to be doing is working on my communication. I need to say, “Hey, I like you. I’d like to talk more,” “Let’s hug,” or “I think you’re fantastic. Can we spend more time together?” I have a suspicion those will get me more of the things I want than any tears ever did.

Image via Hannah Penklis.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.