As one chapter of my life comes to a close, it’s important for me to reflect – especially in going forward. By leaps and bounds, I’m different than I was this time last year. Hell, I’m different than I was 3 months ago. I’m forever evolving, forever changing and I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to embrace change as an opportunity, a chance to make something better, to view change as a friend.
Unlike blog posts prior, this post is not meant to be coherent – nor is it meant to be a piece of scholarly magnitude. This post, however, will be thoughtful. Full of soul. A stream of consciousness from a mind who is defined by society as unwell.
I am unwell – but for the last few years, I’ve been on a journey of rediscovery to be okay with that. Despite immense stigma from society’s norms, I’m learning that it’s okay to not be okay. This post may turn into my life story, it may not – all I’d like to express is gratitude, if you continue to read towards the end. This is not intended to be a sob story or anything remotely close to it.
I’m writing this as a release of this weight I have on my shoulders, around my ankles and in my spirit as I start this new chapter in my life. As a painfully private person, it’s taken me a lot of time to find the gumption to write all of this down and share for the world to see.
I’ve had this weird fear ever since I was young that if I wrote every bit of my consciousness down on paper or on a forum like this, it’ll change the outside perception of me. A perception I’ve worked nearly endlessly to curate.
But first, a little back story. Some context. Some may even be surprised to read this, if they choose to.
I have been battling mental illness for the majority of my life. PTSD, anxiety and depression to be specific. It’s something I’m a strong awareness advocate for, since I know first hand just how much it can impact and impair someone’s life.
Death of a parent at a young age can adversely affect someone’s upbringing. It did with mine, even if I didn’t know my dad all that well. 3 years at most – and most memories are fuzzy or scattered. Like polaroids in random drawers. It’s not like a lot people remember things in vivid detail from when they were 6 anyway. I find myself often puzzled about missing what I don’t know. Or rather, who I didn’t know.
However, life decided that maybe, just maybe that wasn’t enough to test how far it could stretch a small New Mexican girl from a rural community of 200. Let’s see how far we can push her, bend her, bruise her spirit.
Shortly after my dad’s passing, my concern for my mother’s wellbeing turned from loving worry to something dark, distorted and consuming. I needed to know where she was at all times. If I spent too much time or attention on the TV and she wasn’t where I seen her last, I would internally hate myself for not paying more attention to her whereabouts. If she told me where she was going, whether it be to the laundromat, the grocery store or anywhere in between, my mind would make up its own estimate on how long each venture would take. Lord forbid if she took longer than that.
Red flags would go up and the worst possible scenarios would flood my logic. It didn’t help that we didn’t live in the best neighborhood either, so the ideas weren’t completely implausible. I was waiting for the day that life would throw me another curveball and not send her back. To me, it wasn’t so out of the question, especially with where my luck would take my life next.
In turn, that fear festered as the year went on. It wasn’t enough to worry about her well being when she stepped out of the house – but it soon morphed into fear for her well being in my own home. Domestic violence is real. Emotional abuse is real. Choices were made. But sometimes, signs like that aren’t readily shown. Intentionally or not.
Being frozen in fear while lying in bed is real.
Being afraid each time the phone rings is real.
Being forced to hold these things in as secrets is real.
Thoughts of running away and never coming back are real.
All while smiling and none is the wiser.
My abuser still hasn’t apologized and I don’t think he ever will. I don’t even think he knows what he did wrong – or how his actions made me fear even the slightest bit of confrontation, even to this day. How drug use and his conscious choices made an indelible mark on my childhood. How arguments and yelling matches between human beings make me want to crawl out of my skin and retreat within myself.
School, a place where I could likely escape this environment, wasn’t filled with much kinder faces either. Often misunderstood, life turned into a game of “rock and a hard place”. School on one hand, was a place where people made sure to let me know I didn’t belong – while home made me feel just as isolated.
My life for the most part of 22 years has revolved around fear. And a great amount of loneliness.
So, a comment I get lately is how people can be so astounded at my optimism and overall cheery disposition.
I simply boil it down to this: Because I know immense sadness, I’m able to appreciate genuine joy. Because I know incredible cruelty, I can’t stress the importance of kindness. I would never wish anyone to feel an ounce of the lows I’ve felt and I will go to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen, especially to people that I care about. My loyalty to those I care about runs deep – and a great challenge I’ve encountered is having to be okay with a lack of reciprocation. I am not kind for the sake of reciprocation and I never will be.
Despite making great progress in terms of managing my mental illness, I’ve realized it’s not something that goes away like a cold. You can’t be sick one moment, take some medicine and be cured. It’s chronic. But it’s manageable. Every day, as soon as I open my eyes, I have to make a conscious choice to not let my demons in. They knock every day, pushing and wiggling at the door knob, waiting for me to let up off the door and barge right back in.
For 4 years of my life, I let them do just that. In fact, I did more. I not only let them inside but I let them take up space on my couch and eat all of my food, all rent-free. I didn’t even ask them to get a job.
Analogies aside, it was dangerously easy to slip into bad habits. It was comfortable to sink into my own darkness and self-loathing. Simple tasks like showering, eating more than just hot pockets and going outside once every day were spectacles. Limited attractions. Luxuries. Simply put, I didn’t take care of myself because when I looked at the person in the mirror, I didn’t like the person staring back.
I’ve heard the phrase “people fear what they don’t know” and I felt that exact way about myself. I didn’t know who I was. All I knew was that I was someone who was damaged, who had been through trial by fire and that was not a perception I was happy with. I only identified with the darkness, never the light.
In comes the magic of the internet.
There’s a certain allure that comes with anonymity. You can be whoever you want to be on the internet. Since my self-loathing ran deep, the solution clearly was to be someone else. It was my self-medication of choice. And someone else I was – donning several hats and aliases over the course of 4 years. It felt good. It felt safe. I didn’t have to be this person who held more baggage than a United connecting flight. I could be someone who had a lot of friends, who was likable, who was happy. I could be someone who was content, even if it wasn’t real.
In all forms, I was a validation vampire. I felt like I needed it as badly as I needed to breathe. I was a fiend for approval and I sought it out from the worst of dealers, no matter where it came from. During that time, I met genuinely good people – but I also met the worst of people. People who had the same toxic mentality as me.
Co-dependence on these people across the screen, in its gritty, ugly form, was just that. Ugly.
Depression isn’t just your typical sadness or blue nature. It can be indifference disguised by a smile.
In that period of my life, I was hollow. I was numb. I didn’t feel anything but a void – and it made its emptiness felt by the shallowness of my breath or the deep, slow thumps of my heart in my chest. A constant feeling of a tide washing over me, threatening to drown me where I stood.
I didn’t care if I woke up the next day. I wasn’t concerned about my own mortality but I never had the thought to physically hurt myself. For that, I’m grateful. It was more of “Well, if I don’t wake up tomorrow, oh well.”
It’s because of this, today I appreciate the small things and beauties of life that much more. A small sprinkle of rain on my face. The first sip of a really good cup of coffee. A hug from a friend.
I know what it’s like to not want to live. So now, I’m making a conscious effort to truly do so, in the smallest of actions.
But to this day, I still fear a lot. I fear loss. I fear pain.
I fear feeling too much. Or feeling too little.
I fear making people I care about disappointed in me.
I fear relationships – because anxiety wouldn’t allow me to comprehend the thought of someone having any kind of reciprocated feelings towards me. I will always be the one who loves or gives more.
I fear the people I care about having an indifference of feeling towards me, whether it be platonic or romantic.
I fear falling back into old habits, even if they’re seductive. Even if they’re easy and familiar.
I fear depending on people or asking for help, because I don’t want to bother them or I question their true intentions. I hate being a burden.
And as I live and breathe each day, I can’t help but wonder – what must it be like to feel and express normal human emotion? To have an adequate, appropriately working fight-or-flight response?
I couldn’t name the times when I’ve yearned for that.
Every day, I fight my feelings of inadequacy. For the longest time, I’ve never felt like I’m enough in any regard. It’s a big reason why I often feel so grateful when I’m invited or included to the smallest things. All in the details.
As with any prolonged battle, it’s tiring. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. And sometimes, the guard that keeps me level-headed can crack.
We all seek understanding. That’s a common bond we have as human beings. We all may not want love, riches or glory – but we all want to be understood for who we are.
If anyone ever sees me crack, seemingly without rhyme or reason, I promise you there is always a reason. Whether it be a small wear in my armor upon battle after battle or from a deft, large blow, I hope you won’t judge me. I don’t like to show negative emotions often, as I’ve always associated the notion with weakness or as a problem. I seen it as being dramatic, rather than being human. It’s my hope to change that perception, not only within myself but if that were to ever be carried by anyone who might see me in that condition. I hate that sometimes I feel the need to do something drastic or have something terrible happen to me in order to get the affection and validation I crave. I’m aware that’s incredibly unhealthy. It’s something I’m proactive and been proactive in changing. It’s a process.
When I hear the question “What do you want to do with your life?”, my answer is simple. I want to inspire people. I want to give them hope. I want to be a key example that there is still indeed good in this world. And I’m planning to do it the only way I know how, by inspiring others the way others have inspired me. Those role models whom I look up to, reveal themselves candidly in a Herculean attempt to reach out and make sure that people in the same boat don’t feel that pain. Essentially, they are taking an a subtly emotional (while yet unintentional) bullet for those who feel so intensely.
If you’ve read this far and you are feeling a similar weight within your soul, I hope knowing that you’re not alone has helped lifted some of that weight off you, just as writing this has done for me.
May we continue fighting the good fight. May we continue to do good for ourselves and for others. May we prosper, wherever this life decides to take us.
I am not strong despite my challenges. I am strong in spite of them.