Personal essays are a writing form that has always resonated with me deeply, especially ones that reveal darknesses we may or may not have fully come to terms with. So many people reached out to me after our first essay collection, Unlove Me, that I realized there is such a hunger for stories like this. My hope for these collections is they provide an outlet for writers who are just getting their bearings, or who generally write about something more impersonal and want a chance to dive into their own salty sea of emotions headfirst.

After I announced this series as Worst Year, one of my coworkers asked what I was going to write about. I opted not to write something myself this time, because I basically already wrote about my own worst year for Vice last summer, writing about my experience with my dad coming out as transgender. Reading that piece back now, almost a year later, I see how much my feelings have changed since then. But marking them down and measuring out the pain is one of the reasons I was able to begin moving forward.

Not all confessional writing is necessarily geared toward healing, but I think it can be really instrumental in the recovery process; a blood-letting of sorts. That’s the impetus here, and something I think all the pieces achieved with immense grace. Something else I like about them is that they present views of grief, failure and loneliness from different stages and different perspectives. It’s never a cut and dry scab to scar process–there’s always so much more involved when you’re stitching your hearts and bones back together. If any of these pieces sew a single stitch for you, reader, then worst has become best. Somewhere deep down, we always knew it would.

Helena Fitzgerald: A Room Without Windows
Worst Year Essay Series
“There is a certain kind of toxic relationship that you enter not with any better hopes, but with the absolute certainty that the relationship is toxic, not in spite of its poison but on the promise of it. The relationship was a room without windows, as though a whole year could be a long, ripe-smelling Sunday afternoon spent on the couch watching television and eating things that want to kill you. People we know are bad for us offer a place to hide. If we locate enough concentrated pain, then the world reduces down to merely the perimeter of that pain. We are no longer responsible for all the exhausting and capacious logistics of happiness, all its wide rooms and bright spaces, all the things it insists be kept clean.”

Jess Keefe: My Brother’s Death Is An Open Door
Death, Grief, Brother, Body, Open Door
“I miss my brother. I miss him every day. But time has transformed that feeling. Before, the missing would hurt in an intensely physical way. It would ache and throb, echoing around my hollow insides like a lost bird with knives attached to its wings. Now, the missing is something that just sits quietly with me, watching me go about my day patiently like a polite French child holding a balloon. Sometimes it taps me so persistently that I need to take some time to really lay down with it, but most of the time it allows me to be quite functional.”

Natalie Rinn: Girl, Alienated
Alienation, Foreign Country
“More than anything, the absence of people I loved taught me how crucial they–other humans, who I connect with–are for happiness. It’s not just that other people help me pass the time or make me laugh; without conversation, without interpersonal, emotional engagement, I wasn’t a complete person. On my own, I could not materialize the part of my personality, and the kind of experience that is brought to life in the presence of others. Only that connection, that meeting between two people, creates something new that did not previously exist, and that does not live individually inside of us. Like falling in love, being fully alive requires others.”

Rebecca Hiscott: Disappearing, Reappearing
0302_Worst_Year_2.4
“Eventually, though, the hunger wraps itself around your body and you become heavy, sluggish, vicious. You no longer see skinny in the mirror. You see a hideous, snarling thing. I can’t speak to my mother without spewing bile. My boyfriend buys me vitamin C supplements and urges me to eat, maybe you’ll feel better if you eat something. I eat an apple, slowly, glaring at him. Are you fucking happy? No, he’s not.”

Matthew Miles Goodrich: My Parents Divorce Forced Me To Face My Depression
Worst Year Parent's Divorce Depression
“I had suspected I suffered from depression since high school, but it took my parents’ divorce to force a diagnosis. I pushed back against the resulting prescription of antidepressants. Going on meds was tantamount to letting depression win, I thought; I didn’t want to surrender my agency for my despondency. I wanted to wrestle with it, try a little harder, glean the right perspective, change my attitude until I created the conditions of my happiness on my own. I thought that my sadness was my fault, that if I just tried a little harder or could just glimpse the right perspective and change my attitude, I would feel better. Yet a big part of me wasn’t sure I wanted to feel better. I was scared to relinquish the comfort cultivated by living inside melancholy for so long.”

All illustrations by Sarah Lutkenhaus

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