I have had a really hard two weeks.
We have all been there, we have all done that. Those weeks where you have one bad day, go to bed thinking that tomorrow will be better, but tomorrow ends up being harder than yesterday. Suddenly it feels like walking through quicksand just to get up in the morning. You were on land, a flood came, and now you are treading water barely keeping your head up long enough to breathe.
When this happens, I do one of two things. Deny what I am feeling on the inside and turn to my eating disorder and self-injury, or………. Okay if I am being real that is what I usually always do. I wanted to say that I sit with my emotions and ride the wave (for those of you who don’t know ride the wave is a DBT term (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that basically means emotions come in waves and you just have to surf the wave until it calms) until I feel better and realize that I can actually breathe.
Sadly, that is not what I do but fingers crossed one day I will. The majority of my life has been spent avoiding any kind of negative internal feeling. My coping mechanism has been to mask what I feel on the inside by trying to perfect the outside. As if controlling the outside world will put me in charge of what I feel on the inside. Time and time again I have come to the realization that this is not true, yet time and time again I do the same thing. On Monday, I had a Physics test and a Calculus test. I have not been doing well in either one of these classes, and for someone who is as perfectionistic as I am, these tests were life or death for my grade. I needed to get an A.
The week leading up to the tests I had generated so much anxiety that I didn’t even realize I was anxious anymore. In one of my other classes, we talked about sensory adaptations and I think, in a way, my body adapted to the feeling of anxiety. It knew that no matter what it did, that heavy feeling on its shoulders would not leave. To protect itself, my brain placed the anxiety I felt towards my test onto something else. Problem solved! I am not anxious about tests anymore! Haha! No.
Exactly a week before my tests I walked back to my dorm after class with a couple of friends. All day I had the same question running through my head over and over again, “What is the point, my existence doesn’t matter so why should I be so worried about some stupid tests? I am not going to do anything to change the world, I am a burden on those around me. Nothing matters, I am worth nothing, so therefore I don’t need to worry about these tests.”
I walked into my room, sat down on my floor, put my knees to my chest and started rocking back and forth with tears streaming down my face. Clearly, my brain is not very skilled about where it misplaces anxiety. I live with two wonderful roommates, M and P. They have so incredibly supportive throughout this entire year, and this day was no different. I had texted P to meet me in the room. She walked in, put her stuff down, laid down on the floor next to me and waited until I was ready to talk. P heard all about how I was feeling, and I ended my desperate rant to her with the statement, “What is the point of life if we have to fight for survival not only with each other, but we also have to fight ourselves to survive?” P’s response reminded me of something really important. The point of life is not all these goals we set for ourselves, or even trying to figure out what we want our goals to be or what we want our purpose to be. It is the little things. The kindness of strangers, a really delicious donut, coffee, a good heartwarming conversation, a long hug, puppies etc. Those are the things that make life worth it. I didn’t necessarily feel less anxious or miserable afterward, but my mood had lifted a little. She came up with an idea; everyday P was going to text me something to smile about.
Okay so I was receiving smile about’s every day, but somehow those moments of light were not enough. They were wonderful, yes, but that whisper in my head, the one telling me that I was worth nothing, slowly got louder and louder. Living in a state of denial I refused to believe that I had fallen into a depressive episode. I convinced myself that my inability to go to my sorority chapter meeting was due to physical exhaustion, not mental exhaustion.
The weekend was spent in the library studying. I saw the light of day once maybe. Test day came, I woke up made myself a healthy oatmeal breakfast, watched some Netflix and reviewed my study guides. I went to take my test with positive affirmations running through my mind. “I am smart, I am strong, I got this.” “Yeah right.” That voice, the one that had started getting louder and louder, was negating ever positive thing I said to myself. The beauty of denial is that I pretended not to hear that voice. I would learn later that day that pretending the voice doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I will not internalize what it says to me.
I took my physics test first, it went really well! Feeling a little less anxious I went into my calculus test full of optimism. This test did not go so well. Walking out of the exam I was furious with myself. I ran through the answers in had written in my head over and over again. I figured out the problems I couldn’t figure out, things I had studied that completely escaped my mind under the pressures of test taking. That “Yeah right,” felt completely true after this test. Of course, I wasn’t smart; I was stupid. The word stupid flowed through my body. It was as if STUPID was attached to every single blood cell, it was circling my veins and every part of me was shouting STUPID STUPID STUPID, YOU ARE STUPID.
Dinner was a no-go that day, and I returned to my dorm and crawled into bed. My brain couldn’t focus on doing the homework that I had due tomorrow, it couldn’t focus on Netflix. I didn’t realize this until later, but I tried to protect myself from the disappointment and shame of not doing well on the test by calling myself stupid, and I tried to protect myself from that feeling of stupidity by denying that I felt anything. Of course, all this protection lead to distraction. It did not work, and the intense hatred I felt for myself was not going away. I needed to get rid of it and I needed to get rid of it fast. If I didn’t I was going to explode. What could I do? I had already worked out that day, I hadn’t eaten dinner so there was nothing my eating disorder could help me with. A switch turned in my head. A wave of calm came over me as I walked to my desk and grabbed a pair of scissors. Meticulously I carved the letters S T U P I D into my forearm.
The pain, watching the blood escape, seeing that word stupid written on the outside, it was like the world finally caught up with what I was feeling on the inside. The relief was short lived and when my friend R heard about how upset I was she came over to be with me. I got up enough courage to tell her how I had hurt myself. I broke down and showed her my arm, and after that everything that I had been holding in for weeks, all the hate I felt towards myself and how exhausting surviving had become escaped from my mouth. It was all out in the open now. I cried, she hugged me, and when I mentioned that sometimes I thought it would be easier if I weren’t alive tears welled up in her eyes. She understood. R didn’t tell me that it would get better and I just have to stay strong. All she said was that it would suck for a while, but there is a chance it will get better.
Probability, chance, maybe. Maybe things will get better. Maybe it will become easier. Maybe my anxiety towards tests will go down one day. Maybe I didn’t actually do as poorly as I thought I did. Maybe.
It’s been three days since my little Monday night breakdown, and I can honestly say I am doing better. As I type this I literally feel a sense of shock, because I felt so hopeless and so miserable. It is hard to believe that that feeling was with me on Monday. The next time I start to feel hopeless, I am not going to wait as long as I did to talk about it. I am going to reach out, and I am going to talk about it. The minute I talked about it, the maybe that had disappeared, reappeared. I know a lot of people feel guilty about sharing their problems with others because we don’t want to burden anybody else with our own self-pity.
What I have come to realize is that there are some instances where the problems become so big, so heavy, that the load cannot be lifted by one person. Ideally, I should have talked to my therapist, but I am in the process of switching therapists and that was not an option. I did the next best thing. I turned to P and to my friend, people who I trust, who I care about deeply and who care about me. Bad weeks happen, it is inevitable.
Remember the little things. The point of existence, of living, of connection. The little things are your maybe. They are your chance. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but I can tell you that finding something to smile about every day can be hard, and the reminder from P is what sometimes exactly what I need to snap out of a funk. To remind me that there is always a maybe. This is why I am going to make it a goal to post daily Something to Smile About’s every day. Not everybody is as lucky as I am to have a P in their life, so if you need the reminder, don’t worry, I got you.
Nicole Anna Francesca