When I was in high school, I thought it was a given that a person would have at least one major breakdown somewhere at the start of the school year, when the syllabi and the promises of papers upon projects upon extracurriculars upon social interaction weighed a little too heavy on their hunched back. I thought it was normal that for a couple of weeks I’d refuse to talk to anyway, that I’d do the unthinkable in high school and spend my lunch breaks by myself, hidden in some old corner of the library, or some forgotten hallway, digging my nails into my hands and begging my body to start feeling like it was mine again. To an extent, I still think it’s mostly normal, still think it’s something everyone goes through, but that doesn’t ease the shaking, the fear, the weight in my gut any more than the insensitive “Don’t worry about it!” and “Just cheer up already!” messages I get.
I remember scribbling in my diary daily for a couple of weeks a month, talking about an inch under my skin I can’t seem to get rid, about a feeling of wrongness, like something crawling all over me but I can’t see it and if I can’t see it then it isn’t real. I remember whispering to one friend, the one time I decided to keep company for lunch, that I thought maybe I was depressed. She was quick to reassure me that no, I was fine, my smile looks fine, I laugh in class sometimes, there’s no way I could be depressed. I know she was trying to make me feel better, but it made me feel worse. I wanted validation, I wanted a word to explain that feeling of wrongness, a term to fall back on to explain why I can’t get out of bed some days, why I need to excuse myself in the middle of class sometimes to lock myself in a bathroom and will the shakes away. But I smiled because she said I could, agreed with her because that’s what she wanted to here, said thank you because I wanted her to go away.
I thought maybe if I threw myself into situations where I know I’d end up terrified and wanting to run away I’d be able to overcome. Face your fears, people say. I’m starting to think that was one of my biggest mistakes.
Join the school newspaper, they said. I took the test, ended up barfing in a bathroom after I wrote my article. I got in, but any time I’d be asked to submit something, whenever I’d have to message someone, it’d take me at least an hour of sitting in front of laptop with my head cradled in my hands and my shoulders shaking, just to a send a “Here’s my article” to one of the editors. Pathetic, but not so bad yet.
Join the theatre company, they said. You can write for them, they said. You don’t have to act, they said. Well, fuck you all, I say. First day in and the class sits in a dark room. The teacher (a man I respected, a man I now resent) hands out bond papers and tell us to draw. I think to myself fuck, I’m fucking terrible at drawing, but okay, some of these people here are to. And then he tells us to draw ourselves the way we think the person we hate the most in the world sees us. Great, wonderful, beautiful excuse to have me delve into my deepest issues in front of everyone. But, sure. If he’s the only one he says. And then time’s up, and then he has us stand one by one, tells us to act like the person you hate most in the world when they talk to you. Wonderful. I still remember what I said and I wish I didn’t. I remember the suffocating atmosphere of the room, with some thirty other teenage girls hashing out their self-hate, shouting words they’ve projected onto their parents, their friends, their loved ones that hate them and that they feel obligated to hate back. The funny thing is that after it all, some of us first-timers thought to ourselves how amazing it was, that this is what acting, this is what ART is like. We didn’t talk about how we had to spend a good ten minutes in that dark room sobbing to ourselves, didn’t talk about how some of us felt like we’d stripped ourselves naked for everyone to see.
Maybe that was the turning point. After that, I used every excuse humanely possible to stop attending the meetings. I went to rehearsals, did what I had to do as a writer for our productions, and I don’t think anyone ever realized I never attended that actual class sessions.
(When I was younger, I was asked to enter a speech competition once. I didn’t want to. I waited until the morning of the competition to tell my teacher I didn’t memorize my piece. She was disappointed, but she couldn’t do anything about it. I never even looked at the title.)
I started to get very good at avoiding things that year. I tried to face my fears, I reasoned, and I failed spectacularly. So I was justified in going the other route and running away as fast as humanely possible from anything that threatened my fragile sense of being. Surprisingly, I got away with a lot. I’d come to school in the middle of the day, making excuses to my parents about feeling sick, being tired from staying late at the theatre, having menstrual cramps. Sometimes I just wouldn’t go to school at all. No one ever noticed I went home early every Tuesday, the day we had P.E. and if I couldn’t go home, I’d be sleeping in the same bed in the infirmary. My grades remained stellar so who cared really. This fact was also a detriment to me, as people typically depended on me more. I always got my work done eventually, after hours of crying and listing down all the ways in which I could possibly end my life, so no one really commented on the fact that I’d go off the grid for days at a time until the project was due and I had done all the work of four members.
Sometimes I’m thankful that I can at least be efficient, can at least pass off as a normal member of society, and sometimes I hate it because as the years have gone by and I’ve found my word for the itch under my skin, people throw it back in my face in the same way that girl told me I was “fine.”
I’m graduating this year, and I’ve accepted that I’ve wasted my university years, giving into my fear and (here’s The Word) Anxiety.
First few weeks of college I tried to join an org because that’s The Thing to Do when you’re a college student. I spent a grand total of one (1) day with them before the need to meet the members’ expectations, the idea of having to spend the hours of my day surrounded by people, became too much. I tried again one sem later in another org with some friends, but if they weren’t around I wasn’t capable of talking to other people, wasn’t capable of socializing the way you’re expected to. I decided I wasn’t an org person and I haven’t tried again since.
I also somehow got roped into a student committee in my first year. I was added into all the Facebook groups, was part of the text brigade, and I never showed up, not even once. Eventually they got the message and struck my name from my list even if I still got the text alerts and Facebook notifications. The people I would’ve been on that committee with are now our student council representatives, and I wonder sometimes if I could’ve achieved that had I actually tried to join them. Around a year later a friend asked me to join a student publication as a writer, which I was initially excited about, and then later had a breakdown writing my first submission, locked myself up in my room without talking to anyone for a couple of weeks, until I could drag myself back to my classes. I never replied to our editor, and my friend had to make my excuses for me. This has been a running theme in my life for the past four years.
(Hey, this is my friend Shea. She was a pretty good writer in high school, I think she’d make a good contributor.
Oh, I haven’t heard from Shea in a week. I think she’s dealing with personal problems again, sorry…)
I’ve been thinking about how my entire personality is founded on the idea of making myself as invisible as possible, making myself as unburdensome (that’s the word I’ve decided on) as possible. That way the itch in my skin telling me everyone thinks I’m stupid, everyone thinks I’m ugly, everyone thinks etc. etc. can’t be right. If they don’t think about me at all, then I never have to be worried about anything. If I make myself as absent as possible, no one will ever have to form an opinion of me.
Sounded good to me in theory, but the little bugs (my other not-so-fond title for the feeling) haven’t received the memo. I spent three weeks off the radar recently, three weeks curled up in bed not touching the internet, three weeks hoping I would just disintegrate into the air, or melt into my blankets, and the dread never went away. Sometimes I’d think it’d be safe to come back, but the barrage of notifications asking where I was, asking if I’d done the thing I’d said I would do, telling me people were looking for me was too much and I’d slink away again. I’ve done my disappearing act a couple of times before, but to some of my friends this was the longest. I was in a weird position, hoping that they’d forget about me completely so I could happily die off in a ditch somewhere, but still wanting people to care. It was nice when I came back, but it also felt like a mistake, I felt like an even bigger burden, like I should’ve just stayed away and never come back. I still feel like it sometimes, I still feel the itch to run away, and now I’m caught being a burden when I’m around and a burden when I’m not.
I’ve been shaking and crying in my bed all morning and this was supposed to be a sort of cathartic thing and I’m hoping that feeling will kick in in a bit. Mostly I think of where the bottle of bleach is. I know I can’t and won’t do anything because I’m pathetic like that, I did just spend a lot of words explaining how I run away instead of ever taking any action. I’ve been reading nice little personal essays this morning which, added to my mood, kicked me into writing this, but they all seem to me like they have nice little cathartic endings; a lot of them talk about similar feelings, I think, of fear, anxiety, the weight of the world. But they have hope, and in my mood right now, that’s not something I can think of integrating right now. Who knows, though. I could magically feel better right after this.
(The little bugs crawl, I feel them crawling into my chest and building a home there. They mock me.)