When I experienced rough times in my youth, I bottled them up. I never felt upset about them. I just pushed them to the side and convinced myself that I am “tough.” I lost many family members due to health issues and one due to suicide. I always tried to maintain my position as “strong.” I didn’t allow myself to grieve and focused more on making sure everyone else was okay. I experienced a lot of trauma in my youth. There was financial struggle and abuse during the ages when all I wanted to be was “cool.” So, I made my struggles my secret. I didn’t want anyone to know. I wanted to be a normal kid and so I remained “strong.”
I realize that as a teenager, I acted out. I was moody. I would sneak out. I would party. Looking back, I realize I was not fully comfortable with myself. No one knew the “real me.” I felt isolated, but I didn’t even know it at the time. I distracted myself with different self-destructive behaviors (such as partying) to avoid being alone with my emotions and thoughts.
It wasn’t until college that I really started taking more responsibility. I was surrounded by all different types of people in college. Of course, there were still the people who believed looking good and showing up at the best parties defined your value. Feels ridiculous to even type that, but it was a reality. However, I was also exposed to a lot of young, intelligent people in my classes as well as some brilliant professors. My new outlet was doing well in school. I received 4.0 multiple semesters. I graduated top 5% of my class. However, I was using school as another coping mechanism. This time, I was putting my repressed anxiety towards something positive, but my anxiety was still repressed. Until I had my first panic attack.
My first panic attack was triggered by absolutely nothing. I could be wrong. Maybe I didn’t notice the trigger. But I remember not really understanding what was happening because nothing was particularly bothering me at the time.
This was the beginning of my anxiety. It was as if it finally came to a head. And over the next few years, I had many ups and downs trying to navigate it. I still tried to fight it. I would cover it up with the wrong relationships, the wrong job. I would worry about what people thought about me. I began recognizing my insecurities and was forced to deal with them for the first time. I didn’t grow up overnight, it took years of dealing with things I was too afraid to face in the past.
What inspired me to share this story was recently losing a friend I was college roommates with to suicide. It completely shocked me when I found out. I realized for so long, I was in my own head feeling like I was the only one who felt the feelings I felt. I was too embarrassed to just be myself. But I wasn’t the only one.
I began to open up about myself. Sharing my flaws. I noticed a lot of people responded positively towards it. When I would casually tell a friend I have anxiety, the response would typically be “No way, me too!” I started to realize that being honest with who I am, good and bad, started to allow people to feel comfortable around me. I also started exploring interests I actually wanted to explore.
Years of covering up my identity to avoid feeling negative emotions and avoid not looking “cool” caused me to never really explore who I was. Now, I am involved in many things I love. And I am comfortable with myself. I don’t worry as much about the approval of others, something I was very stuck on without realizing most of my life.
I do the best I can, and I take responsibility for my actions. It took a long time for me to get here. I still have plenty of bad days, but I accept these days and I understand my emotions.
I hope that if anyone reads this, I can give them the courage to speak about their issues. You are not alone. I would go as far as saying that everyone who has ever lived has gone through something. Not everyone deals with it the same. Not everyone has depression or anxiety or other mental disorders. But everyone has problems that can be overcome. There is always a solution. For some people, it may be medication and frequent therapy sessions. For others, it may be just learning to accept yourself. Please, if you are suffering in any way, take the initial steps towards feeling better. And remember, pain and suffering can’t last forever. No emotion can. But you can learn to control your emotions and enjoy your life. Everyone deserves that.