See that little girl in that photo? That little girl is me, and she (I) was born exactly 20 years ago today. 2-0. I feel old (I know that I'm not really old.) I just remember being that young and thinking how far off into the future being 20 years old would be. Except now I'm 20, and I can't believe how fast the time went.
A lot can happen in 20 years, and my life is nowhere near where I thought it would be. For one thing, the world has definitely changed. Who could've predicted the importance of smart phones or the advent of social media and blogging? I wouldn't have the opportunity to write like this if that didn't happen. Who would've thought that I would be a VEGAN? I didn't even know what that word was until like high school or something. I'm also basically one of those hippie-guru-yoga-healthy-foodie-plant eater people if you want to get political. Things that are important to me today weren't on my radar even four years ago. I distinctly remember saying I wanted to start my own newspaper (like the New York Times) in fifth grade. Now, I want to be a registered dietitian/personal trainer/yoga instructor/blogger/writer/journalist/chef extraordinaire!
For one thing, my family is my rock. High school was a tough four years; friends have come; friends have gone. But my mom, dad, and brother (and our duppy (dog-puppy) Riley!) have always been there for me. Whoever said that high school is rough wasn't lying (however, to the person that said they would be the best years of your life... WTF?!). I'm so glad that I had a place to go and people to confide in that had the knowledge and experience to guide me along the way. I know many people aren't that lucky. My family is the world to me, and my heart bursts when I think about them. I'm excited to go on adventures in D.C. this summer, but I wish I was going to be able to spend more time with them at home.
Even beyond high school being a mess of drama on its own, I was dealing with something I couldn't put a name on until last summer. There are actually a few things; they're anxiety and depression (and a little OCD...thrown in there just for fun).
What is that, you say? Another person coming forward with their own struggles with mental health? How original. Well even if I'm not the first person to write this kind of confessional, I still believe it's important that I do. For one thing, every person I interact with every day would never know that I was ill, especially now, but I was hurting just as much as someone you might find physically sick, at home in bed or even at the hospital. That's actually a real issue. Because we often don't consider the person behind the actor we see each way, we can only react to what they do in front of us. All the while, they might have considered staying at home all day because they couldn't handle reality as they perceived it.
And that's another thing. People who claim they have some kind of mental health disorder aren't making it up. Only when I started taking medication as a last resort last August did I see how broken my thinking was and how much was actually going on physiologically without realizing it.
Probably starting around puberty, my mind started to tell me that I wasn't good enough. I wasn't in good enough shape, I wasn't funny, I wasn't cool; people thought I was weird; I didn't deserve to be loved. Imagine living every day like that. These are all somewhat normal teenage things, but it went to another level because of the glitches happening in my brain. I think that's probably part of the reason I started getting into exercise and running so much. I could somewhat seclude myself from others and I could change my external appearance and become physically desirable, if I had nothing else in my corner. You could also say it was the early motivation for my change in eating habits. I'm not going to lie, it kind of bordered on an eating disorder.
Also, a few other very specific obsessive-compulsive thoughts I have dealt with: questions of my sexuality and fear of death/the impermanence of life. WITH NO GROUNDS TO WORRY. FOR NO REASON. Well, except my brain telling me that I had to worry. And it would remind me pretty much every single second of every single day. That's how OCD (which is a form of anxiety) works. I don't necessarily have OCD in the traditional sense; both the obsessions and compulsions occur inside of my head. I am actually a little nervous writing that out. I feared those thoughts because I was afraid someone would find out and think differently of me. Though, I guess on this side of my diagnosis it's somewhat cathartic as well.
I could actually feel myself getting a little anxious as I wrote that, which is something new that I can experience now that I am medicated. When I'm stressed or anxious, my chest feels tight and it's hard to breathe and focus. Everything kind of feels like it's spinning out of control, or maybe it's just my own head that's spinning. If you asked me a year ago if I could describe anxiety to you, I couldn't because it was actually how I felt normally. Of course, I did feel other emotions, but they were always tinged with something that made them wrong. When I was happy, I wasn't really happy. And when I was sad, I was like way sad, like so sad that I just wanted to close my eyes and make the world go away. Although every person reacts to medication differently, I actually feel a greater variety of emotions now that I take it rather than less, like other people have said.
I believe I only got to the place where I am today because I started talking to a therapist who has helped me grow in amazing ways and change my thinking. I went to see a nutritionist and read up on healthy eating on blogs. I just happened to fall into the health field as a career. In basically every one of my classes at school related to my major, we have talked about mental health and the stigma that prevents people from seeking help. I realized something was wrong by the time I got to my senior year of high school, but people just told me to think about all of the privileges I have to be thankful for or to just get mentally tougher. They did have a point, but not within the context of my anxiety and depression. I couldn't just get better, just like you couldn't cure someone with cancer by telling them to try harder. Based on my experience in class, I had external confirmation that what I was experiencing could be real, so I defied my fears and started talking about them last August.
If you know me today, you can probably see how much I have changed. I now have the confidence to be more talkative and take more risks (like starting a blog). But you wouldn't know all of the changes that have occurred inside my head. For one thing, I love my body just the way it is. Are there still things I might change if I could? Yes, everyday isn't perfect. I still actually struggle to nourish it properly, but I think becoming vegan has helped me overcome that. I don't really have to think much about whether a vegan food is good for me or not; it's more about the other lives I am helping in the process. Additionally, I haven't been as hard on myself about not running lately. (If I haven't already talked to you about it, I think I have only run on average once a week since I ran my half-marathon a month and a half ago). Exercise isn't about changing the way I look anymore. Well maybe it still is a tiny bit, but it's because I like to move and and it changes my body to make it healthy and strong! I will get back to running consistently soon, hopefully this summer, because I still have goals to smash, but I recognized that I needed a little more head space to dedicate to my other projects.
Unless you're my mother, you wouldn't notice that I don't freak out as much when something tiny goes wrong. I have probably juggled the most responsibility at once in my entire life this past semester, but I didn't crumble under the pressure. I had some bad days thrown in there, but I think I made it through with a smile on my face most of the time. For the first time in forever, I feel like I have friends! How embarrassing! I'm not really embarrassed though because I finally feel free to just do me and not care what anyone else has to say about it. I still do better in smaller groups rather than big crowds, but it's all a process. I have been working on cutting out as many negative influences in my life as I can and learning to be tough in the face of obstacles I can't just avoid.
Maybe I'll be on medication forever, but I'm hoping that I won't. However, I'm not ashamed to recognize that I needed a little bit of extra help to help me get well.
I am really not afraid of telling the whole world all of this because through this experience, I have learned so much about myself. I realized how important it is for me to be 100 percent genuine. I feel sad for the people that think they have to change themselves in order to be accepted. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. I wouldn't be me unless I was me and you were you, you feel? However, sometimes it's society that gets in the way of people being comfortable expressing their true identities, and I think that needs to change as well. It won't happen overnight, but every person deserves empathy and compassion. Although we have different struggles, we all struggle right? As I said earlier, you probably wouldn't know any of this about me from the outside, but I think this experience is a major part of the person I am today. If I didn't tell you about it, I wouldn't be honest, would I?
Thinking back to when I was really young, I also remember thinking that I would have figured everything out by the time I got here. This is the big time, and I'm finally an adult! Well I definitely don't feel like an adult. I have no idea what I'm doing. But I now also realize that a lot of people probably don't know what they're doing, but everything is somehow going to be okay. Based off of my own experience, all I can say is that God has everything happen for a reason. Through the ups and downs of my 20 years on this earth, I can say that I have lived and learned for the betterment of me. Now it's time to celebrate 20 tumultuous but great years and toast to hopefully 80+ more.