by Sha-Keiya Culzac
Creative Nonfiction Winner, VSU Student Writing Contest 2019
As I sat in my room and pondered on the many different ways on how I should start this, I asked myself, how do I begin to discuss something so deep? Should I just begin with a question? No that would be so cliche. Should I start by describing myself? No I wouldn’t wanna bore my readers. So where should I begin? At what point in my life should I start with? What would really grab my readers attention? How do I make this something worth reading? The endless doubt stifled me, I wanted to make this interesting and it worried me that starting this the wrong way would ruin the entire thing. And then it hit me. These ongoing questions. This was exactly the result of the issue I am here to describe to you. The exact reason why it was so hard for me to begin writing this is the same reason why I’m kept up at night, the same reason I’m constantly worrying about what other people think, or should I say constantly worrying about everything. That reason is my anxiety.
If you took one look at me you’d probably never guess that I was a girl suffering from social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong I love people. I like to describe myself as an awkward social butterfly. I love to hang out and have fun, but the minute I get around a group of many people I easily get overwhelmed. Immediately I begin to feel uncomfortable and try my best to blend in. And most importantly, breathe.
As an awkwardly overdeveloped teen, I tried so hard to stay under the radar. I’d do this thing where I’d wear multiple layers of clothing to hide my chest because I had developed so early that it brought me so much attention from my peers. I hated it. I hated attention. I’d do anything I could to not be noticed. But it never worked. I was an optical illusion of my shape that had to be carefully, anxiously, constrained every morning. Two bras, two shirts, and a sweater, an attempt to look flat chested..did it work? Absolutely not.
My mother tried so hard to reassure me that I was perfectly fine just the way I looked, but of course that made no difference. Duh, that’s what mothers are supposed to say. I tried so hard every morning to pick out what to wear, something that wouldn’t make me stand out. Was I ashamed of myself? Not entirely, but the fear of everyone watching me killed me. It’s like I was the only one on the planet that didn’t get this thing called “life.” Everyone, but me got the Guidebook on how to interact with people. They knew how to make friends and make jokes. And there I was, not even knowing how to say hi to someone first. My fear of interacting with people was partially because I was worried I’d humiliate myself. Shit! How the hell was I supposed to get through life? I was sick of it.
And that’s when the suicidal thoughts began. Age 9.
I know I’m not the only one that puts on a smile rather than tell our loved ones that we’re drowning, and desperately lonely. How could I possibly tell my mother that her only child wanted to die so young because the cost of being around people was too much to bare. That everyday that I left the house for school I wished something bad would just happen to me on the way. That I would lock myself in the bathroom every night crying silently on the ground because I couldn’t understand why I was the way that I was. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way everyday. I couldn’t. So I suffered in silence for years until it became too much to bear.
And that’s when the self-harm came into play. Age 11.
I’ve fallen victim to my anxiety more times than I can count. The uncertainty, the fear, the late night overthinking, I was drowning in my own tears. And no one noticed. No one. I cut my left arm several times for the first time when I was in middle school. This is where things really got worse. I wanted to shake this feeling, at the time I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, but I wanted to make friends. I wanted a boyfriend like in all the teenage love books I read. I wanted to find my “Edward.” (I was a huge Twilight fan). I thought this was happiness. I thought perhaps this would make me feel better. But my desperation to not be lonely only allowed me to endure more pain than I already inflicted on myself.
My attempt to hide the scars on my left arm failed after a few months. When my mother finally did see them I couldn’t tell if she was angry or hurt. Maybe both. She asked so many questions that I couldn’t answer, and tried her best to uplift my spirits. Instead forcing me to get help she made me promise to never do it again, and told me that she’d check my arms everyday to make sure I didn’t, (which she did). However, little did she know that only made me start cutting myself on my legs. I needed help. At some point I made the decision to leave my mother to go live with my dad. I wanted privacy. Like that would help. This only allowed me the privacy to suffer in silence more.
Here’s the truth. A lot of us are anxious. Yeah many of us haven’t been diagnosed. But we know we’re anxious sometimes. But here’s the thing some of us cross the line where normal stress becomes an actual diagnosis.
I was diagnosed with social anxiety at age 17.
This is when the frequent anxiety attacks began. Along with the depression. Along with the insomnia. Did I mention that I was a complete wreck? I just couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I stopped going to school. I failed that entire marking period. I self-medicated, it was the only thing that relieved my suffering for the moment. And after having an anxiety attack so severe, I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where I was diagnosed and told I had to go to therapy.
Was I really mentally ill? Disordered? Or was I just too weak to handle life and not trying hard enough. For some people like me it gets to the point where dark clouds just take over the entire sky. Sometimes you think ehh maybe they’ll pass. But no they don’t. They wander and get darker and darker. Until there’s nothing left but fucking black clouds.
I can admit part of me was relieved, finally I had a explanation for why I was the way I was. It wasn’t my fault, I wasn’t just weird, my disorder was to blame. Right?
I can honestly say my therapist helped me alot. I saw her twice a week for about a year, and then shocker…she was leaving the clinic for a new job. Just when you put your trust into someone. Just when you think everything might actually start to be okay. There goes life again throwing yet another curve ball right at ya.
Commit, do the work. Oh yeah. Then things just fuck up. And go right back to the beginning.
So she left and I was assigned to someone else. It was now my senior year in high school. And I just couldn’t connect to this new therapist. All she wanted to talk about were how things were at home with my dad (which was terrible btw), and where I wanted to attend college and major in. She helped me realize one thing for sure though, I was going to major in Psychology. If I was in fact mentally ill, I needed to learn how and why people develop mental disorders. I wanted to help. I didn’t want any child in this world to grow up feeling the way I did.
So at age 18 I convinced my mother that I was somewhat fine, and didn’t have to attend therapy no longer.
I was fine. I think. At least that’s what I told myself.
Here’s the deal in today’s society depression is stigmatized and anxiety isn’t much viewed as a serious illness. Hence why people started wearing those “Keep Calm and Carry on,” clothing. I really hated those. Do you how hard it is for someone with anxiety to just keep calm. To me that’s like stabbing someone in the back and telling them not to bleed. We worry it’s what we do. In fact it’s what we’re good at. Dealing with my anxiety disorder I am left in self doubt and pitied for not being better at coping with life. So yeah I grind harder than most. I try harder. I think harder. I try and I try. FOR GOD SAKE I AM TRYING. And I’m rewarded.
And so I found my solution.
When I came to college, I was so excited yet overwhelmed to go to a new state, where nobody knew me. Where perhaps I could just start over, and become my authentic self. And not be that quiet socially awkward girl that everyone saw me as. Truth is when you actually take the time to get to know me, I actually have an amazing personality. It’s sad that I don’t let everyone see that though. To most I’m just that quiet girl that just sits around and observes. But to the people I let in, that actually stick around to get to know me, I’m that sweet, yet goofy girl who laughs at everything, and would do anything to put a smile on the faces of the people she cares about. I’m also very very empathetic, I’d take on other people’s problems or pain everyday anyday if I could. Perhaps because it stops me from thinking of my own constant fear and worries…
I learned that the very solution to my anxiety was my anxious behavior. With that being said I went into college doing everything and anything I possibly could. I volunteered, I signed up for about everything I was allowed to in attempt to break out of my comfort zone. I put so much on my plate my freshman year, and yes it made me very anxious, but that was my solution keeping myself busy somehow made me feel better. It distracted me for constantly worrying about people and things around me and focusing on the tasks I needed to get done. With each task I crossed out on my planner I felt more and more accomplished. Somehow this allowed me to get better at interacting with people. Finally! For once in my life I began to feel happy, I began to feel like I finally got the special edition Guidebook to life that I’d been longing for.
I was coping. Age 19.
A few people tell me I don’t look like I have social anxiety. Or that I’m too pretty to feel uncomfortable or awkward around people. Well what does anxiety look like? She doesn’t prefer a specific type, race, look, or gender. But once you experience her. Once you come face to face with anxiety. I can tell you my anxiety is a bitch. She’s the reason why I wait for people to say hi to me first. She’s the reason why I avoid looking people in the eye. She’s the reason why I replay situations over and over in my head. She’s the reason why I feel like I have to socially drink in order to fit in and be comfortable with the people I hang out with. She’s the reason why I can’t ask anyone for help although I may need it.
So yeah I don’t look like I’ve got a problem because on the outside I function ludicrously well. My anxiety sees me write in my planner every single day, she sees me run purposefully from one task to the next, and walk fast everywhere I go, she sees me constantly cleaning, and putting things in order. I am a picture of energy. I’m always on the move, always doing. You can think of me as Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh.
But beneath the semblance I promise you I’m being pushed by fear and self-doubt and that annoying voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m not smart enough, that I’m a bad daughter, a bad friend, that I’m wasting time, that I’m not producing enough, that everything I touch turns to shit. So yeah sure, I look busy, I look like I have it all together, but truly I’m busy avoiding things. Avoiding the tough stuff, the stuff I don’t want to talk about. I’ve just been trying to quiet this battle in my mind.
Sometimes I wish someone would notice that I don’t have it all together as I try so hard to make it seem. I wish for once someone would just tell me, “Take a break, I got you.” Even if it’s just for five minutes. Yep, the more anxious I am, the more I wish a friend would come into my life and take some of the load and worrying off and help me cope for a bit. But it never happens. So whenever someone ask if I’m okay, I always say I’m fine. I’ve learned to accept my scars. Although I’m in a much better place now, I’ve accepted the fact that my battle with anxiety is long term.
But I’ll end with this question. What happens to a black girl that is too anxious to ask anyone for help?