Sometimes thinking positive isn’t an option.
It’s so easy for other people to tell you something isn’t hard when they haven’t experienced it themselves. By now, I recognize that vacant stare in everyone’s face when I explain why I still don’t have a job.
In kindergarten I gravitated towards pattern blocks rather than peers. On the floor I created this massive, yet perfectly symmetrical, circular masterpiece of which my teacher took pictures of for my parents. I didn’t speak with other kids, nor did I seem to want to. They sent me to the school counselor for a program in hopes of squeezing a sign of intelligence from me. I still would not speak. I got strung by a bee in first grade in the middle of class and found myself much too terrified of raising my hand. I sat for twenty minutes until the pain proved too much. Tears streamed from my cheeks and someone escorted me to the office. The same teacher asked me once to not place a pencil tip near my eye and I cried for an hour. The mere mention of my name in class, whether it be for an example or for an answer sent a dread through my veins no seven year old should suffer through.
I distinctly remember these feelings with me in pre-school. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out where it could have come from, and I’ve got several theories, but I’ve learned it doesn’t matter now. In first grade I made my first friend. We were in the same class until fifth grade, the worst year of my elementary school career. In fourth grade my teacher used toothpicks to call upon her students. I was called up for a math problem on the board, distribution with polynomials, and the only thought circulating through my mind was DON’T GET IT WRONG, THEY’RE GOING TO THINK YOU’RE STUPID. My entire body shook, I couldn’t breathe, and when I sat back down I learned I got the answer wrong. It’s not surprising it’s taken me over nine years to get good at math. Everyday was a traumatic experience.
I had two friends at home, one of which I saw only when she visited her grandmother, our neighbor. The three of us were fairly average. We raced each other on our bikes, we played around with Polaroids, we toyed with the animals, we picked vegetables out of the gardens, apples off the trees, and blackberries from the bushes in the back of the property. We played soccer, basketball, baseball, board games, “Crash” on the ever faithful Playstation One, and fought over stupid things. The tree branches which could sustain our weight took a beating, too. Even as little girls we splashed in mud puddles and once sprayed water through the window of the mean old lady next door.
Ironically, we lived behind a residential mental health facility. Their basketball courts faced the back of our studio apartments, the fence laced with two layers of barbed wire. Often a large man with brown hair hung onto the wires of the fence and watched us make-believe around the apple trees. One day he shouted “You can run but you can’t hide!” and tried jumping over the barbed wire. A few nights later a different man took a leap of faith over it, shoved me and my friend in a mud puddle, and raced off down the street. I’d like to think of that as my first introduction to the mental health community.
When I entered junior high, we moved into another apartment half a block down the street. My two friends had long since moved out of state and I no longer spoke with my elementary school friend because I couldn’t gather the courage to call her on the phone. I knew her parents would answer (you could imagine how the popularity of the cell phone makes communication for me much easier). At ten, my father sat me at the kitchen table and shouted his discontent over my refusal to call. I got sent to my room for a couple hours until I agreed to make the call. I waited until he stepped outside for a cigarette, pretended to dial the number, wiped my tears away, and told him i’d gotten their answering machine. He asked me, “was that so hard?” I answered no.
I’d never had my own room until then and I didn’t quite know how to digest the empty space. But I had a fairly rational fear of my closet at first: something hid in it. A few months later something was watching me, I felt it, I sometimes heard it if I listened hard enough. I couldn’t sleep with the light off or my door shut. My parents insisted I at least turn the light off because they paid the utilities. So I often went to bed early, before anyone turned the hall light off which shined across the shag carpet into my room. I couldn’t sleep with my back to the door or the closet, not without worrying of an ambush. I still struggle with this. When I told my parents my father suggested I look to God as a way to cast away any demons (we’re not religious). I took it a step further, created a transparent shield in my head and covered myself with it every night. I have to admit, it worked a little.
The only thing I ever got praised for was my writing. Perhaps it’s not as evident in these informal posts, but I had a nurtured talent for analyzing pieces of literature, of art, of anything, and conveyed my understanding with originality. I surpassed my fellow peers with flying colors. If anything, it proved to my teachers I wasn’t mentally challenged.
So I very rarely struggled in school. Math tripped me up because I had no confidence in my skills, I couldn’t ask for help, and therefore I rarely did my homework. It wasn’t until college, until now, that I realized how simple it can really be. Although, no matter what class above calculus I take, I will always have a burning hatred for Algebra. I hate Algebra in Calculus. I hated Algebra in Algebra. But I digress.
The four worst years of my life I award to High School. Besides Math, the rest of my classes were honors, intensive, or Advanced Placement, often with the same group of kids. They were very intelligent students, very extroverted. I hid in the corner because of my already deeply embedded anxiety but also because I knew they thought less of me. With no voice to prove otherwise, I simply separated myself from them.
So many horrible memories from high school: only one friend, no voice, no choices, one substitute teacher whose question caught me so off guard that I spoke in tongues–one of the most embarrassing moments of my life since the class fell absolutely silent–and all of the confusion. At fifteen I experienced my first of many, many episodes of derealization and depersonalization. Was reality real? Was I real? How did I know what was real and what wasn’t? I felt like I was looking through the eyes of someone else, watching their life unfold. Everything teetered edge of existence. I once blacked out and wandered into the middle of some cross traffic; I awoke to my friend and her aunt shouting my name and rushing to guide me to the other side.
I didn’t sleep. I ruminated over what happened the previous day, what would happen the next day, the next week, the next month–I even worried an entire year over one final presentation. I burned myself with plastic I melted if I wasn’t slicing my arm to bits or bruising myself. Suicide, back then, was never an option because I was too frightened of what was to come after death. I didn’t fear hell or God’s wrath, only what was to come if those two options weren’t available.
Junior year I thought often on the logical side of suicide. How much relief would come out of not waking to obsessive thoughts about how stupid I was, how ignorant I was bound to make myself look, how stupid everyone else knew I was, how they laughed at me and talked about me when I wasn’t around, how I’d never get anywhere in life, never do anything worthwhile? I got up at four thirty every school morning because I needed at least three and half hours to compose myself for the day. I cried often in the shower. I cried myself to sleep. I could never eat breakfast with an upset stomach.
But I quickly realized a major contributor to my avoidance was the fact that I had no skills to handle people. To this day I still assume tones in their voices, expressions on their face, all of which carry malicious intent. But I tried to fix it. I went to therapy, got on medication, and went through senior year drugged, exhausted, and not any less anxious, depressed, or paranoid.
I know I shouldn’t believe people are out to “get me” but I do. I don’t think they’re trying to harm me physically, but I’m not entirely convinced they take kindly to me. They give me disgusted expressions as if they know i’m messed up. They divert their eyes because they they don’t want me to see they pity me. They mock me when I hint at my mental struggles and often don’t believe me; i’m sure my therapist didn’t ever take me seriously–then again, I can’t blame her, I hardly told her anything.
I go through depressive periods where I curl on my bed and flip through the archived ways to kill myself. A wrist slice? Pill Overdose? I have plenty of Ativan. Drive off a cliff? Jump off a cliff? I had a plan one Sunday to take a box cutter, wander to the harbor early in the morning, wear a couple thick sweaters, slit both my wrists vertically and watch the sun rise. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it sounds, so don’t criticize me. Had I not made a commitment the following weekend to wash my car with a friend, I would have attempted it. Obviously, I used the commitment as an excuse and that’s a good thing. Any decision to not kill yourself is the best decision no matter the corny reason.
I curse at myself openly and wake up saying “you stupid son of a b*tch” or “f*cking c*nt” or “dumb b*tch”. I feel if I don’t recite them out loud they’ll just play on a broken record in my head and I’ve already got tons of thoughts circulating in there. I don’t go out of my house very often unless it’s a necessity.
I know there’s more than one person inside of me because they fight constantly. They change my moods in an instant. Sometimes they’re the reason I get through my classes. Sometimes they’re a reason to hate myself. Regardless, they’re who I am and I’m not willing to let them go. I have no one left besides them.
But it feels as if my life is lived constantly underwater. There’s so much pressure from the outside and from inside my head that curling up in a ball on my bed for a few days is my moment of recharging. Thoughts swarm faster than I can hold onto them or they repeat themselves more than I knew possible; it all becomes white noise against the cackles of the external world.
Some days i’m suicidal, some days i’m just above suicidal and those are good days. I know some of what I experience is due to years of untreated, smaller symptoms of anxiety, and I’ve wasted my time growing livid over that fact. The struggles pull me under, the good days are still bad, and sleep eludes me still but for some sick reason I’m in love with it. That man all those years ago spoke truth: You can run, but you can’t hide. So what’s the point of ever running?
I always recommend professional help. I’m going back soon, anyway. Help is not an act out of weakness or an act to be shameful of, it’s an act of self care. The more you accept yourself the easier you can live life. I’m not sure anyone’s willing to dispute that fact.