Personal Statement: My anxiety
When I was 14, it felt as if someone suddenly hung a strobe light over me. It refused to budge and followed me everywhere, the light piercing. I felt I was constantly glanced at, scrutinized and judged by everyone. I was wrong, but I didn’t know it back then.
All I knew was that words hung like icicles from the roof of my mouth, and my throat was parched when a stranger talked to me. Ideas surfaced like bubbles inside my head, but failed to roll off my sandpapery tongue. My stomach churned, my hands trembled and sweated. My heart raced when I was assigned to speak in front of a crowd. It panged for acknowledgment and admiration. I let it down miserably again and again. I could hardly say anything. The few words that came out were shaky, squeaky and rushed. I spent nights dissecting the moments — chalking them as failures — and crying immeasurably with shame. I never spoke about it to anyone.
I turned 17, and entered 11th grade. Things hardly changed. I enveloped myself with the three closest friends I had growing up, using them fiercely as a shield so I didn’t have to talk to anyone else. I was my geekiest, unreserved and sarcastic self with them. I talked for hours and they realized how passionate and hilarious I could be. One of my friends also had a penchant for tough love. She asked me why I didn’t talk more and why I was always quiet around others. I hated her questions, found them intrusive and tried to disregard them.
I went to college alone — my friends remained oceans away — and was presently overwhelmed. The hallways and classrooms teetered with overeager and over-competitive people. Everyone seemed to have their lives under control despite entering college a few days ago. I tried to reach out to only those who seemed harmless to me, skipping out on many potential friendships.
I worried for months when a conversation with a classmate I’d barely known stumbled to a resounding awkward silence. I regretted flaking out on invitations because I’d felt too nervous to say anything. I thought I was always blundering; I felt nobody else did. I fumbled in lectures and giving presentations, and felt I couldn’t show my face to anyone after them. I felt insecure, misunderstood and incessantly observed, and considered as an object of ridicule and scorn.
I was wrong, but I could not stop myself. My anxiety led to my shame, which spiraled into a deep depression. I hid in my cramped dorm room, and mechanically chewed the food I’d gotten from a cheap, greasy place because I couldn’t go to the dining hall and have everyone I know see me as a loser, a loner or an antisocial freak when I did not consider myself to be one. I loved being around people, I loved my family and my friends, and I wanted to get to know others. But I was convinced that everyone I met hated me, pitied me and would drop me the minute they found someone better. I harbored and cultivated so much self-hate that I believed nothing would ever change — I would always be alone and inadequate in everything I did.
It took some time to even start the baby steps of acknowledging my long-term problems. I talked to my parents first, nervous about their reactions. My father — one of the strongest people I know — shared that he struggled with anxiety when he was my age. He also stuttered occasionally, but he gradually overcame it to have an exceptional career in public speaking. My mother lifted the pressure by saying it didn’t matter if I failed at everything I did. I laughed, knowing she wasn’t serious, but felt thankful for the immense love and support she showed. A therapist I went to for a while told me to be proud of what I’d accomplished. I told her all my accomplishments were small; she sternly and consistently reminded me to always look at the glass as half-full, and that I was wrong. I also expressed my problems to two friends. Both turned out to be very supportive, listening to every worry I had, no matter how silly or inane it was, with the greatest empathy and attention. I was touched and grateful by everyone I reached out to, unable to believe that it was OK to share and that I could stop putting on a façade.
I don’t always feel great, though. There are days when I am pounded with bitterness, regret and anger that I suffer from anxiety. There are days when I must take extra steps to take care of myself. There are days when I worry, over-worry and fall asleep at 8 p.m. because I can’t take it anymore. I am easily tired, saddened and hurt. But I am also trying to get better every day. I try to strike up conversations with strangers. I don’t wait for other people to reach out to me. I go to places alone and enjoy myself. I people-watch, rhyme words and create stories about them. I embarrass myself in front of people, including some professors, and stop caring too much.
I also see a lot of people like me in places everywhere. I work in a residence hall and can quickly pick out the shiest or most socially anxious residents, unlike some of my colleagues on staff. I try to accommodate them and make sure they are comfortable and happy. I reach out to them because I have been in their shoes and sometimes still am these days.
My anxiety — my biggest shame — has invaluably taught me to become more observing and empathetic toward people. I am less inclined to judge anyone. I am imperfect, mosaic and broken. But I am also considerate, aware and strong. I am finally on the road to showing myself to the world — unworried, in the moment and unapologetically real.