“All the damage I got isn’t good damage. It’s just damage.”
I lay in my bed, tears streaming down my face. I swipe down my phone screen, reading 2:31 a.m. on the yellowed, night-shift filtered screen. It felt like I had simultaneously found out something new, but it was being ripped away from me.
“Bojack Horseman” is a 2014 animated show that is available to watch on Netflix. In a time of misery, self-loathing, and confusion, the show had become a sort of comfort to me. Although it was so incredibly sad, it reminded me that I was not suffering alone.
In particular, Diane Ngyuen was a character that resonated deeply with me; she just seemed to… get me. More specifically, I saw myself in how she communicated her trauma.
In the episode “Good Damage,” we see Diane struggle to write her memoir. In it, she tries to encapsulate all of the hurt she endured from her family, from other men, and from childhood bullies. The process is brutal; she writes, and writes and writes and writes, but cannot seem to find an answer to one question: What was this trauma, if for nothing?
It is a difficult reflection that blankly stares back at me. As someone who is a writer and in the middle of college applications, I am often wondering what parts of my trauma I can exploit. for the most important application of my life, I need to make my most painful moments useful.
College applications mean a gateway into higher education, for a chance at success in a chaotic world. But they are also proof that my parent’s hard work paid off, that their immigration to America for a more stable life for their children was not wasted away.
However, as I sit at my laptop and write my college essays, it is difficult to say what I have learned from those moments. I am still undoubtedly broken, and it feels disingenuous to pretend like my trauma has been anything but negative.
But it feels like it should: it feels like this trauma needs to amount to something, because if it does not, I spent the last 10 years stuck in my own sadness.
Diane compares people’s stories to kintsugi, a Japanese art form used to fix broken pottery by bonding the pieces together using gold. It is a simple comparison, but one that makes perfect sense- our brokenness is what makes us so simple and beautiful, complex and whole at the same time.
Diane also slowly gives up on the kintsugi metaphor, just as she gives up on her memoir. She then tells Princess Carolyn, a friend of hers throughout the series, “All the damage I got isn’t good damage. It’s just damage.”
So as I sit and write, I deal with the fact that the hurt I write of in my college essays is not good damage, it is just damage. I watch my screen full of existential dread slowly be deleted. I feel a sense of relief, and I push down the disappointment. Now, I deal with the fact that my trauma does not make me unique.
On millions of other papers, similar instances reflect mine. Does this negate the experiences I have gone through? Absolutely not. But, I am not special because it happened to me, nor did it need to happen for me to be me.
Diane gives a hard yet necessary reminder that we do not need to repurpose our damage to be “good.” Sometimes, damage is just damage, and that is all it ever needs to be.