So, here’s my damage. I’ve been diagnosed with social anxiety, panic disorder and depression. Most days I am more anxious than depressed, but during my serious depressive episodes I hurt physically and emotionally.
I get asked by friends and coworkers, “Why are you depressed or anxious?” I explain that there is never one thing that causes it. The causes differ for everyone. For me, my depression and anxiety are caused by a number of things that happened in my past that my brain can’t get over. Even though my brain has gotten over some of those things. it is still wired to feel too much anxiety in situations that aren’t even that stressful.
My adolescent years were the most difficult. I was so shy, I developed social anxiety disorder. When called on in class without raising my hand, I would sweat, turn read and my heart would race. All I could focus on was my classmates looking at me, waiting for a response. My mind would go blank; I would stammer and murmur, “I don’t know” to the teacher’s disappointment. The constant fear of being judged by strangers followed me like a stalker you can’t get rid of.
I didn’t get much better until my junior year of college, a year after I started seeing a therapist on campus. Also, as a journalism student, I overcame most of my social anxiety through lots of practice speaking to strangers. Introducing yourself to people and asking them questions about things for a story going into print was pretty daunting to me. My passion for journalism conquered my fear of strangers. Yet, I still feel some anxiety when going to an interview or even calling takeout to place an order.
My depression was caused by a lot of psychological abuse as a child. I was a tomboy in elementary school; defying the social norms of what it meant to be “feminine” made me the subject of bullying and criticism from students and faculty alike. I went so far as to dress like a boy, act like a stereotypical boy, cut my hair like a boy and even insist on being called “he” and referred to as “Mike.” This caused a lot of confusion among my peers, teachers and even family. My parents’ friends would think I was a son, much to my parent’s embarrassment. I lost a lot of friends and was bullied by a group of older boys in the neighborhood. While riding on their bikes, said group of boys threw pieces of chicken at me while throwing insults, as well.
When I went to the guidance counselor for help, I received none. He told me that it was my fault the students made fun of me, and if I wasn’t strong enough to handle it I should not dress and act so masculine. He went so far as to ask me how my mother dressed, as though that determines how I dress.
During one of our sessions, he asked me if I would think it’s weird if he wore dresses, grew his hair long and flipped it over his shoulder. I told him, “No. Why would I think that’s weird?” For a ten year old, I was pretty open minded about the gender spectrum. Why would I find it strange if a man acted like a woman when I acted like boy? Even that logic made no sense to my ten-year-old mind.
I stopped speaking with the guidance counselor after my angry mom and teacher came to back me up. They didn’t appreciate victim blaming either.
Abuse, whether it’s physical or not, can leave the victim feeling inadequate and guilty. Oftentimes, I apologized for the most insignificant things when I was younger. For instance, if I had to interrupt a family member or professor from their work, the first words to come from my mouth were, “I’m sorry for disturbing you.” It’s only recently that I’ve been doing that less.
My former step dad, Alan, made me feel as though I had to apologize for everything. He spoke down to me, my mom and my brother. My mom also apologized a lot after she divorced him. Alan had psychological trauma of his own, and he passed it on to us. I lived with anger and anxiety for years after the way he treated us. He was so protective of his precious electronics that he would throw a tantrum at the very sight of me and my brother touching them.
By tantrums I mean screaming, jumping up and down and hitting us. The house was full of insanity as long as we lived with him. But the insanity got worse when we left. My brother and mother fought constantly when we moved out. It hurt me a lot to witness that. When my brother moved out to live with out grandparents, out mom decided not to let me follow. She thought it best to keep me separated from my other half. That was the most painful period of my life. Even while living with Alan, at least I still had my brother around. But without him, I didn’t feel whole. We were brought closer because of the trauma we experienced together.
I sunk deeper into depression. I became angry and withdrawn. I felt trapped in a home with my mother and her new boyfriend. Most of my memories of that time in my life look dark and lonely. I became a hermit of sorts, keeping to my bedroom reading, studying, writing and playing video games when not in school. I became even more and more anxious around strangers, but I went to school and stuck to the small group of friends I did keep.
Once I started high school, we all split up and I felt alone again. A hatred and fear for everyone around me grew more and more. I developed intellectual arrogance as a means of protecting myself; I believed myself to be above my peers in my ivory tower constructed in my mind. I eventually made some friends and mellowed out a bit, but I still felt above most of my peers. There were times when I even believed myself to have higher intellectual powers than my own friends.
My sarcasm pushed people away; it was a barrier to protect myself from their judgmental thoughts and words. Looking back on this time of my life, I realize my fears were imagined. I isolated myself due to this anxiety. If someone had come to my help earlier, I would have learned sooner. My mom always commented on how I never get out of the house and that I was always sad. The way she said it to me was overly critical, and made me feel inadequate. She made me feel as though something was terribly wrong with me, so I feared being locked away in a madhouse if I confessed.
College became the time in my life that I realized that I could speak with a objective person without feeling judged. That’s what I needed and wanted all along. I saw a therapist for three years which helped tremendously. I also found empowerment through journalism and extracurricular clubs. I made friends at the student newspaper, the Secular Student Alliance and anime club.
My boyfriend has also been a huge support to me, and I don’t think I would have ever found the empowerment without most of our time spent together.
Oh, I forgot to mention the newest addition to our family: Squish! I love little animals, and they always make me feel better when I’m having a bad day. Cuddling with my kitten and watching puppy videos on the YouTube make me squeal so hard, I almost pass out. So, here’s a photo of my fur baby Squish sitting on a pillow.
It’s been a long road for me, and I am not completely cured yet. I hope to gain more control over my mind and end the panic attacks and depression forever through more therapy sessions.