You wake up. You don’t want to get out of bed because your thoughts won’t let you. Later you’ll want to explain this paralysis, but you’re ashamed of it, and you don’t quite understand it. You feel powerless. Your choices are to either start your day and face scary people and scary things, or to stay in bed forever. I hate waking up to this.
Ever find yourself feeling like no one likes you just because you’re you? It’s not some fairytale you invented. Someone actually told you these messages once upon a time. I still remember most of the people who told me these terrible lies about myself. I still talk to some of them. I’m still working to love and forgive some of them. They told me that my best strengths weren’t all that impressive, and my weaknesses just got in the way of everyone else’s progress. I got questions like: “Why are you even here?” and “What are you even good for?” No, they weren’t joking. Yes, it hurt like hell. I feel some of the burn while writing this. Once upon a time, I used to wish I could start over again as someone else. I spent a lot of my youth feeling detached from my body. It was as if I was a transplant from another planet.
What about the countless times you convinced yourself that things weren’t going to get better? There was no process to trust. You did most things as right as you could, but seldom were you able to shake the feelings of sadness and imperfection. I felt anchored in the ocean of my mind. Ships passed. Sometimes I accepted the lifeboat and went back to shore. But I often seemed to find my way back to that same place – anchored, cold, and alone.
Why do we go through such difficult things? Surely someone or something is to blame for the pain and internal turmoil we experience. Maybe. I didn’t ask for help. In my last year of high school, I had physical ailments. I saw a doctor. They stumbled upon my anxiety in the midst of me explaining my list of hurts. My healing began by accident. A friend convinced me to try the school counselor during my freshmen year of college. I still go ten years later.
When I was younger I heard messages like “Crazy people need therapy.” or “Black people don’t need a shrink.” and the best one was, “Why do you need counseling? Just tell Jesus all your problems and he will heal you.” I’m a practicing Christian, and for me it’s taken the entire mix of prayer, faith, counseling, fitness training, and self-awareness to make progress.
Eventually, I found my okay.
I distinctly remember feeling like I’d never feel safe. I used to have this humming in my mind and in my body. It was as if I drank twelve cups of coffee each day. Then one day in 2009, after a lot of mindfulness training, counseling, and soul searching, the humming stopped. I felt relaxed and protected like that one time – long, long ago – that my father wrapped his arms around me and embraced me with so much love that I sobbed for ten minutes. I hope this happens for everyone with mental illness. I hope they get more than just a break from their struggle.
I love that #SAcommits has returned. I’m looking forward to the day the entire world commits to stomping out the stigma of mental illness. It doesn’t need to happen in my lifetime, it just needs to happen. Covering up your weakness doesn’t make you stronger, it just prolongs the pain. Isolation is as helpful as holding your breath to take in more oxygen. I’m hoping someone is inspired by my story to get around the thinking of their youth, take a leap to trust someone, and tell someone about what’s been chipping away at them for so long.
My wish is that everyone gets to feel it’s possible to feel okay, and that it’s safe to feel okay.
Sinclair is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and is an editor at the Student Affairs Collective. Inquire about speaking/workshops or just keep the conversation going by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out more at The SA Pro Next Door.