I’d like to tell you a story, if that’s okay. Three years ago, there was a girl and it was her junior year of high school. She was in a honors history class with about 15 other students. This girl was quiet, a thoughtful, introverted type. People thought she was rude and mean and made fun of her for those reasons but they didn’t know about the battles she was fighting. During class one day, the teacher assigned an independent project that the students would have to present. Little did the teacher know, that the girl who sat in the second seat on the right by the window suffered from depression and anxiety. Panic attacks that would occur when this girl had to speak in public. You see, this girl stuttered and had speech problems when she was younger and was made fun of for it. She was smart, brilliant to some people even, but she didn’t show it because she was so quiet. Instead of working on the project like she was supposed to, this girl would just lay in bed. “I’ll do it tomorrow, she said, but for now I need to escape the world. I’m tired of living in it you see.”
But tomorrow would come and she still didn’t do it. Before she knew it, the day she was supposed to present was here and she had little work to show for it. After lunch and before class started, she went to the counselor’s office and started to cry. She talked about how she was stressed and unhappy and wasted close to 30 minutes speaking these words that she didn’t think were true just so she didn’t have to see the disappointment of her teacher and face the affirmation of being a failure, like she always thought she was. The counselor called the teacher and got this girl an extension on the project. When her new date came, the girl still didn’t have the project done. You see, it was hard for her to focus. It was so dang difficult for this girl to muster up the strength to do a simple project.
She walked into her teacher’s classroom and started her presentation. She only had the first few slides done. But this girl was good at faking emotions and she put those acting skills to use. When the empty slides came up, she pretended to freak out, saying “my whole project was here I don’t know what happened.” The teacher looked at her with pity in her eyes as the girl started to cry. The room was silent except for the sounds of her ugly crying, red faced and shaking as she said, “I just have a lot going on at home, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” The teacher waited until she was done crying before giving her another week to finish the project. She never did finish the project and got a 50. You see, that girl was me.
You know what you have to do. You have a list of things you need to accomplish, assignments that need to be handed in, chores that need to be done. But you can’t. You physically can’t. When you’re depressed, the simplest things take all the strength you can give and there comes a point when you just check out. You’re done. All you want is to lay in bed, covered by blankets in total darkness. You want to be shielded from the world. A few hours of this goes by and then you realize that all that you needed to do didn’t get done and you start to freak out. You think, “Oh my god, I didn’t do my homework or clean my room. My teachers and parents are going to be so disappointed in me.” But then after you settle down, you sink back to your depressed state because what’s one more day? One more week?
I spent so much time in middle and high school trying to make everyone else happy in me. My teachers. My peers. My parents. I needed the affirmation that I wasn’t as terrible as I thought I was. I had those days where I was the perfect daughter or the perfect student. I got all my homework done and cleaned my room and helped out around the house and I was ideal on the good days. But then the dark days would come and it was all I could do to get out of bed and go to school. And sometimes the days would be so bad that I could physically feel it. I would get these terrible headaches and stomach aches. I remember in fifth grade when my class started to fight over some plant cell and animal project and I ended up freaking out, kicking chairs and desks and yelling at everyone to stop fighting. Middle school brought out the worst in me. I was mean to all my friends and lost them. I spread rumors and hurt people. One time in sixth grade, I locked a girl in the bathroom and made her bark like a dog before I let her out. I took pride in people’s pain. Better them than me right? My parents and teachers would make me see a guidance counselor but how could I tell them what was going on with me when I didn’t even understand it myself?
By the time we graduated eighth grade, I had a terrible reputation. No friends and karma was coming back around to me. Middle school brought out the worst in my behavior but high school brought out the worst in my depression. I was quiet. I was hoping to become invisible but my mistakes in middle school brought repercussions in high school. I was now the one being made fun of. Name calling and mean jokes and dirty stares. I didn’t let it show that it bothered me. I’d laugh and roll my eyes or smile and say “thanks” all while breaking on the inside. The more people who tell you you’re ugly, that you’re not good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, the more you start to believe it. I did my best in school but when I got home, I’d lay in bed. My bed was my safe haven, comfortable and cozy and I could let out all my emotions that I’d been holding in. There were a few times that people were close enough to see that there was something wrong, those teachers who did pay attention or my coaches or those senior girls who seem to have known but no one rarely said anything. There were a few times when “friends” or teachers would say something to the counselor and I’d have to go down there and talk. My motto back then was deny and lie. They will only see what you choose to show them. I could talk myself out of those situations. “Oh there’s nothing wrong. Those girls are just starting trouble and those teachers don’t really care.” I lied so much and so often that I began to believe in those lies.
I am a people pleaser and in my desperation to make everyone else around me happy, I never learned how to make myself happy. I was so caught up in trying to be everything to everyone else that I became nothing to myself. I couldn’t see how special I was or how I really was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, athletic enough. I let the lies become my best friend. I know now that not everyone is going to agree with what you do or say. Some of the people who should support you and believe in you, won’t. It hurts but you have to know that the affirmations of others do not define your worth. You can’t change the opinions of others and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be. Now my motto is honesty. I’m honest about my past & sharing it with everyone who reads this because there is nothing I love more than when someone comments or emails me and tells me I’ve inspired them. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to say no to people. You can’t be everything to everyone because you will lose yourself. I still have those dark days but I know it gets better. It really does get better. I look back now and I wish I could thank those girls and teachers for noticing something. They were ready to help me but I wasn’t ready to accept help.
That’s the problem with most of us. We want to help others but we don’t want to help ourselves and what we fail to realize is that we can’t be something to someone if we still think we’re nothing. We are too prideful, too busy to stop and realize that the things we want to help people with are the same things we struggle with. I’ve learned that the only way to help others is to open yourself up like a book so others can read. No one is going to believe the words you say if you don’t believe those words.
And here I am, taking my armor off just so you can know I believe in you. That dream you have, chase it. You are not your struggles. You are not your depression. You are not your anxiety. You have more worth than the number of friends you have and the grades on your assignments. These things do not define you. YOU define you. You are worthy. You are enough. You are beautiful and special. Don’t let the hurtful words others say to you make your heart hard. Just love them. Love everyone regardless of how they treat you. Be kind no matter how people treat you. And if you feel like you don’t have anyone in your corner, you have me. I’ve been there. I know. Maybe you should try to take your armor off too. And what happens when you take take your armor off, when you truly open yourself up to the world, it may surprise you.