TW: Mental health, trauma, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, abuse
As with most nights when I can’t sleep, I ruminate. I go over every aspect of every moment of my life and I can’t help but wonder how I got here. Sometimes it amazes me that I made it as far as I did before utterly falling apart but I think I should have known it was always only a matter of time.
I don’t have many memories from my childhood, I’ve locked them away along with most of my life but I do remember the stark difference of who I was from the beginning of elementary school to the end. I was obnoxious, I was the lead in the school plays and would memorize all the lines for the entire thing. I loved to research and devour new books. I would dream of acting and writing and I always raised my hand in class. And then things changed.
At home I was always told I needed to be quiet, always needed to behave, I had the highest expectations because I was the oldest and I was “smart”. According to my father I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything that required a lot of school and would eventually make me a lot of money. At 9 I broke down crying and stopped sleeping at night because I was so scared that I would fail the standardized tests at the end of the year and that I would somehow end up not graduating high school (I never scored below “exceeds expectations” on these tests despite my crippling fear). In sixth grade I had a meltdown in front of my entire class, sobbing because I had forgotten an assignment at home, something I had never done before and I was terrified of the consequences.
The inside of my head was turmoil. Every thought was consumed by the way the clothes on my body felt, how the hair on my head looked, the exact positioning of every part of my body. And the thoughts that weren’t focused on myself ran in millions of different directions while I focused on everything and nothing at the same time. I turned every negative thought into a catastrophe and yet the only comments on my report cards were that I “was a pleasure to have in class” but my teachers “wished [I] talked more.”
The older I got, the more I struggled. Not only with school but with my own self-image and inner feelings of shame. I constantly carried with me the idea that I was never enough and would never be enough and no one ever told me any differently. I turned to self-harm to cope with the emotions that wanted to bubble out because I couldn’t risk letting the mask of what I thought was curated perfection slip. I began to lose my drive and my passion and I worried that my interests and dramatic tendencies, should they be revealed to the masses, would cause me to be ostracized, demonized, or just laughed at. Every statement said aloud would be rehearsed a million times, something that has followed me into adulthood. I started to just agree with everyone else and lose the bits of myself that remained truly me because I wanted nothing more than acceptance because I never felt truly accepted anywhere.
Looking back I always wonder why people told me I was such a good student. I was just really good at faking it. I only ever completed two books for English, relying mostly on Sparknotes and my skills at bullshitting. My nights would be spent watching Crash Course videos, cramming for assignments and tests that never really seemed to be done. I passed math and my first chemistry class with flying colors by writing formulas on my hands before every test. I only truly excelled in a few classes but I constantly felt like I wasn’t truly good enough to be good at anything and eventually my imposter syndrome lead me down a path of burnout and shame. Many nights I would openly sob over my textbooks wondering how I would ever have a future, begging and bargaining with the universe to end it all just to give me a bit of peace.
And yet I pushed on, terrified of what would happen if I ever admitted to pushing myself too hard or showing how deeply I was truly struggling. I eventually turned to communities outside of my home for support because there wasn’t anyone in my home that wanted to help. But I had spent so much of my life being threatened and punished for imperfection that I couldn’t truly ask for help because I couldn’t trust anyone but myself. The communities that I tried to find solace in also began to turn into something toxic. Recently stumbling upon the term “toxic positivity” I realized how much of my late teen life and now young adulthood was skewed by the idea that I am only the way that I am because I have simply not tried hard enough or prayed hard enough. That everything bad is in my head and I somehow have all the power to make it all better in the snap of some fingers or perhaps the wave of some wands.
College turned into the same nightmare of high school, overworking myself for the results that I was looking for and tumultuous relationships that began to cut me deeper than I could have ever expected. At the end of my freshman year of college I took a philosophy class and I cried every time I had to do the homework assignments because I couldn’t handle the thought of death… Funny how just a few years later I can hardly go a day without getting sucked into the void of existential nihilism.
After I dropped out of college in 2017 I worked so much that it took months before I felt the shame of my decision. There were many factors that went into dropping out and my therapist at the time and I discussed it extensively before I did it but I still feel the guilt of that decision to this day. By the end of 2018 I had fallen so hopelessly into a depression after years of making decisions for everyone else, constantly striving for perfection and failing, and a series of extremely toxic lifestyle and relationship choices that I truly felt like the most logical choice was to leave.
I don’t want to get into details but now nearly two years later I still can’t figure out why I am still here. As every thought process turns towards my mistakes and failures and the uncertainty of the future I get stuck wondering why I wasn’t “better” when I was younger because where I am sitting right now is so far off from where early elementary aged me thought I would be. Every time I seem to take a step forward, something else comes out of the shadows absolutely determined to drag me down. It’s a constant cycle that leaves me wondering at every fork in the road what could possibly be waiting for me should I make a decision instead of settling into crippling sameness.
Almost two months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD during an extremely bittersweet psychology appointment. How so much of my life was explained in 45 minutes and yet now I am left to cope with the consequences of my half-lived life. I have no sense of self, a myriad of comorbid diagnoses, strings of failures and shame following me since childhood, and still no hope for the future. To somehow look back at everything and wonder how I slipped through the cracks and figure out a way to move forward is not something I had expected to have to do. While my peers are all starting their lives and looking ahead to their futures I am looking into my past and trying to cope with everything that has turned me to this point. When I inevitably fall into a pit of despair I lose all interest and abandon things with ease. Projects never get finished, routines become meaningless, and all of my energy gets thrown into simply existing until the next day. These periods stretch on for so long and if I let my anxiety feed into it, sometimes I don’t want to allow them to ever end because I know how much it hurts to crash if I allow myself to feel good again.
Hopelessness comes easy and as I mentioned before, nihilism is the sweet spot in which my mind currently lives. My therapist told me that my thought process for decision making is exhausting and it took everything in me to not say that she should try dealing with being in my brain every single day for a bit then. It’s like no wonder I start off every meeting answering “How are you” with “I’m tired”. Every set back is something that makes me have to try ten times harder to fix it because if I can’t do everything perfectly, then it’s all wrong and while I usually do still try a bit, a lot of times I give up because it’s easier than letting everyone down again. If I’m just the failure now, the used-to-be golden child, then somehow maybe I can be myself again. I look back at my younger self and my heart breaks because I see every missed opportunity and every struggle that I faced and I wonder how everything would have turned out had I been diagnosed when everything started to change. The signs were so obvious, the genetic history is glaringly there, but I just have to accept that I adapted to survive and I figured out how to cope by myself and it’s hard to accept but I’m still here.
I’ve had to reconcile with a lot of things from my past this year, but it doesn’t make the future any easier. So that’s where I’m sitting at now. Finding purpose or drive for an uncertain future after living for so long always feeling less than. My life feels half lived, my brain stuck feeling terrified of making the wrong decision or letting down the people around me in case I don’t perform the way they expect a normal person to. It’s time I started to live for myself and stop feeling the shame that I have always felt for not being perfect. And I might still realize that life doesn’t really have anything great out there for me but maybe I just have to learn some things instead.