I planned out everything I wanted to say and how much I wanted to reveal about myself in this personal statement the entire week prior to the moment I sat down to write. I would pretend to write it in my head during class, dictating telepathically to someone somewhere with a pad and paper. I expected to wake up and have all of my emotions and experiences laying on my lap typed, double-spaced and stapled with eloquent prose to boot. Sadly, I had to do the heavy lifting myself.
If you read my columns, you’ve probably gotten used to my meaningless rants on music and second-hand embarrassment. This is not that. You’ll just have to wait another week for the goofy, cheerful facade of Matt Harmon to return. I’m honestly on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to come back with another playlist and an amusing tale of woe. I prefer that Matt Harmon as opposed to this one: introspective and brooding. At this point, I expect Godot to show up sooner than the happy Matt Harmon.
Whenever anyone has approached me looking for solace, my response has always ended with, “Just try and concentrate on the happier moments of life.” Am I proud of that response? Hell no. I’m actually ashamed of it. But it shows how I dealt with problems; I suffocated them with smiles and extraversion and just general clowniness.
I’ve always assumed all of the problems and situations I’ve been through with family, relationships (or lack thereof) and anxiety were solely my burdens to bear. I was the camel and every straw broke my back repeatedly. If I couldn’t keep up, it was my fault.
I don’t mean to let my column seep into this piece too much but sometimes song lyrics hit a little too close to home. I hear a line, a certain chord in my heart is struck and my eyes open wide. I become obsessed with the song for weeks, expecting more to be revealed about myself through that one line. While music can’t respond or listen to your problems, it channels what you’re feeling into something that makes sense.
Music was my first therapist.
“I say the loudest in the room
Is prolly the loneliest one in the room” – Tyler, the Creator
“Lovin' you sure makes me afraid of losin” – Field Medic
“I’m not the only man who’s scared to be alone” – Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers
For years, instead of seeking the help I most definitely needed, I receded into a den of music and emotional suppression. When my heart sank into the bottom of my chest and my breaths became short and sharp, my hand would immediately fly to my pocket where my earbuds resided. I’d plug in, listen to something positive and wait until I regained control of my body and could smile again.
The first time I realized what I was experiencing was a genuine mental health issue, I was driving in my hometown — a less than ideal location for a moment of self-discovery and trauma. I had received a very alarming text from someone — specific details are not important — but someone I cared about was not addressing me in the greatest of lights. As the yellow line dividing the road hugged my tire, my chest grew heavy. I was scared. What if I genuinely hurt someone and lost a friend? What did I do? What if they hated me? A barrage of questions in this vein swirled about in my head, tormenting me and gnawing at my sense of self.
I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to recoup. In the suburbs, it’s safe to say many people do not like cars with their lights on pulling up and waiting outside their house. Though they expected to see someone in a full, black and white-striped burglar’s outfit with mask and all ready to ransack the place, what they would’ve seen is a 17-year-old boy with tears streaming down his face, a shock in either case. When homeowners would come to the door to see what I was doing, I would get scared and pull off, searching for a new street to park on and breathe.
I called my best friend Michael and practically forced him to come with me to a diner so I could talk out what was happening to me. He didn’t hesitate and I’ll always love him for that. Sitting in the booth for what seemed like hours, I ranted and raved and tried to make sense of how I was feeling. Though he didn’t have any answers, he sat and listened and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
My second therapist.
That was a year-and-a-half ago. My first taste of what it could be like to talk about my feelings and try to improve my mental state. After that night with Michael at the diner, I was more conscious of my emotions and anxiety even though I didn’t know it was called anxiety at the time. I began to notice when I was distressed.
One of my problems is I unconsciously sabotage chances for me to experience some form of happiness because I’m afraid I will hurt people in the end. The last thing I want to do is be the cause of someone’s pain. I’d rather cry for hours, filling an ocean with my sobs, than be the root of one person’s single tear.
I spent so many years with my emotions bottled up in my chest, hiding behind jokes and a wide grin. This new mode of self-reflection was incredibly foreign. Still, I believed it was a solitary effort to conquer these fears. I can talk to friends about it but in the end, it was my psyche and I should probably be the one to make myself well again.
I had never even considered the idea of official therapy until my friend mentioned it during this past winter break.
“Have you thought about going to CAPS?” she said.
The short answer was no, I hadn’t. The long answer was I had, deep in the back of my brain, but was terrified. I thought the moment you entered a bonafide therapist’s office was the moment you announced to the world something was wrong with you. I couldn’t bear the idea of sitting in that room, having someone not only listen to my troubles but try to find the cause of them. They’d tell me things I already knew but didn’t want to admit, not even to myself. It may sound irrational but it’s how I felt and sometimes still feel.
No one wants to admit their happiness is being hindered by their own actions.
After many days and nights of wrestling with the idea while Frank Ocean helped the stress leave my body, I entered the Michigan Union, ready to find the CAPS office and jump over the first hurdle. Every tour guide and campus representative will say CAPS is on the third floor of the Union. However, the third floor was an enigma to me. I had never been there before. I didn’t think I had a reason to.
I walked in the front doors of the Union and saw a mass of people studying on the first floor, a common sight for any U-M student. I climbed the stairs to the second floor. Again, anyone could have a reason to go to the second floor. As I began to ascend the next flight of stairs to the third floor, I looked around. I swore people were looking at me.
“We know why you’re going to the third floor,” they seemed to say.
“Why else would anyone go higher than the second floor unless they’re sick in the head?” they said.
I powered through and started up the stairs to the third floor. When I looked back for the last time, I saw my extroverted-self staring at me from the second floor. He’s perfectly fine; nothing going on in that ol’ noggin of his beside Hawaiian shirts and a happy-go-lucky demeanor. I envied him. I wanted to go back to the way things were and be ignorant of my anxiety.
Just then, the vision of that past-self shattered into a million pieces, shards flying all about the second floor of the Union. I ran up to the third floor before he could come back. I stepped into the CAPS office and was paired with someone who listens to my stories, asks questions and works to help me with my anxiety towards relationships and happiness.
My third and current therapist.
I wouldn’t call it fun to dive into your past experiences and cry for a while. I sometimes think I look like the Kim Kardashian crying meme, which is never a good look, but when I leave, I feel a little more and more relieved. I wrote this poem on my phone’s Notes app after my first session. It hurts to share but I trust all of you.
"when i left my first therapy session
the cold wind stung more than it ever had before
cause my tears
that had stained the circles under my eyes
and draped down my cheeks
made my face bare
a fresh coat of paint
ready for next week at 3:30"
I wrote this piece not only to help Statement fill pages but also to help myself. If I can put this inner struggle out there and feel comfortable with my decision to do so, I have a base to grow from. There’s no big lesson here for everyone to relate to and it wasn’t easy to write but I guess I’ll end with this: I hope happiness is just around the corner for all of us.