087: I'm Only Human

Content warning: The following story contains references to anxiety and depression, which may be triggering for some readers

“I’m Only Human,” Rachel

When I was a kid, I would always be labeled as “the worrier." I always worried about the future, my friends, my family, and typically things that were out of my control. As I got older and went to college, the worry turned into anxiety, and adding the factors of never feeling good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, and feeling unworthy and unlovable, the anxiety turned into depression, and the depression turned into self loathing and despair.

I experienced my first major anxiety attack during my junior year of college. I was working 2 to 3 jobs, trying to figure out whether or not Student Affairs was the right field for me when those closest to me made it known they didn’t understand the field and thought I could do better, and I had just found out that I had failed a prerequisite course for my major. I couldn’t handle it. I broke down for hours in my room in an apartment I shared with two of my friends. I don’t think they ever knew how much I hated myself back then. Even now, not many people know how much I struggle with anxiety and hating myself.

Now, I’m about to graduate with my Master’s while trying to find a job. As I type this post, I am in the airport waiting to go to an interview. What the schools and most people don’t know is that the job search caused a major shift in my anxiety. For Student Affairs professionals, there is an annual conference that people attend to try to get a job. I call it Higher Education speed dating to those who don’t understand the purpose of the conference.

What no one knows is that this conference I attended made me feel like the most unworthy person in the world. My peers were getting second round interviews and offers on the spot. I had over 20 interviews, and only one school offered a second round the next day after the first. The worst part was trying to fake it by being content with not having any prospects. It was a façade, which failed miserably because I would cry every day after we got back from the conference. Anxiety attacks happened every day when I didn’t hear back from schools, causing me to cry for hours. No one could console me. Who would want to, when I hated myself so much that I pushed everyone away?

Those who do not have anxiety, allow me to tell you what I experience: it comes on suddenly, like turning on a light switch. My heart rate goes up, and my chest hurts so bad it feels like my heart is going to explode. The tears start coming, and they don’t stop. I hyperventilate while sobbing. This can last for hours. Then, it stops. I become numb all over. I hate myself for allowing this to happen. The thought of “No one can love someone who is broken” frequents my mind. All of the doubt I have about never being good enough poisons my mind until that is all I can think about and I become so debilitated I can’t do anything for the rest of the day, or it keeps me up all night. Then come the thoughts of “Why does this happen to me? What’s wrong with me? Why am I never good enough?” 

The worst thing a person can say to me is that I need to get over it. Anxiety does not allow me to get over it. It plagues my heart, body and mind. It does not help when I hate myself for feeling this way. I have never felt good enough for anyone, even though I put on the face of enduring through the tough stuff a lot of people my age go through. The self-loathing I have affects all of my relationships.

It’s hard to have faith in myself when I feel like I am not worth anything to anyone.

This mentality seeps into my everyday life, including having my best friends and my boyfriend comfort me what feels like all the time. How can they love me like this, when the anxiety and depression cause me to think I’m unlovable, that I’m not good enough to be in their lives? This has caused me to push them away at times, and not only do I hurt them, but I hurt myself in this twisted process.

I would be lying if I said things are better now that I am in the midst of my job search and am about to graduate. These feelings come and go. With all the lightning going on in my head, it’s a miracle I have made it this far. I have been seeing a therapist for almost 3 months now. He gets it, but he also tells me I need to love myself. Easier said than done when you feel like you screw everything up in your life.

This blog isn’t meant for pity, but for you all to understand that often times there is much more than what meets the eye. I can fake it until I make it. Much like with the recent tattoo I have that is inspired by Christina Perri, “I can fake a smile. I can force a laugh. I can dance and play the part if that’s what you ask. Give you all I am. I can do it, but I’m only human.” I’m only human. It’s a small statement, yet powerful beyond words. I never knew how much my identity would be stripped away with the self-hate I have for myself.

The pain is excruciating. I can only hope that one day, the self-hate will transform into self-love. After all, this is my story. What better way to end one chapter by beginning another with acceptance? It starts with hope.


About the art:

Reading this story was especially powerful for me, as I was also in the middle of a job search, and empathized with a lot of the feelings and anxieties expressed.  For whatever strange reason, as soon as I thought about "anxiety in the job search," the first image that came to my mind was the endless row of mailboxes at the Placement Exchange (former attendees can understand what I mean).  As a candidate, nothing encapsulates that feeling more than waiting for a silly slip of paper that potentially holds your future employment.

As we discussed different images of stress from the search that could be helpful in planning the art, this survivor shared how music was an important part of their survival journey, and how it inspired a tattoo.  We talked about favorite songs and Christina Perri's "Human" was shared (as it was the inspiration for the title of the story).

I took a leaf out of Craig's book of style (thanks CB!) and wrote some of the lyrics to "Human" underneath the painting of the clouds and sky.  We decided on a quote from a wonderful organization, To Write Love on Her Arms, as a focus for the top layer.  Here's what the survivor had to say about the meaning of those lyrics and words:

"I think with the words of "Human" by Christina Perri painted behind the To Write Love On Her Arms quote represents the darkness and shame I have had for over 10 years. Adding the color blue into the mix portrays the sensitivity I feel all the time, while also attempting to hide the shame. The painting itself is a representation of how much my soul and heart explode each time I have an anxiety attack, and have to pick myself back up again." 

If you haven't checked out To Write Love On Her Arms, it's a perfect match for our project's theme, with a much stronger focus on training, advocacy, and outreach into the fields that most often interact with survivors.  

I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to connect with this survivor and share this experience.

- Beth Paris

056: I Didn’t Have to Choose Anymore

Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a gender-neutral human being.

"I Didn’t Have to Choose Anymore," Anthony Ungaro

When I was a kid, it was both Grandma and my Mother who ingrained in me the ability to see humanness. Through various family friendships, I was constantly engaged with people of different colors, sexual orientations, disabilities, and backgrounds that make the world unique. However, there was a constant, unsettled feeling in me that I could never pinpoint.

As a kid, a young boy without a father, I remembered multiple times I would act feminine. This behavior was comfortable and I felt more of a connection with my Grandma and Mother. When I got to school, the identity shifted completely, and I would often bully classmates, ending up in the principal’s office quite often. It could have been acting out as a child, deaths in the family, or the complete lack of control I had on knowing who I was. This was all in elementary school, mind you; in middle school, high school, and college the thought was absent and kept dormant.

Fast forward to my first semester in Graduate school where the Office of Multicultural Affairs was having their Safe Zone course; as a professional in training to be a Student Affairs practitioner, I felt this was something I needed to learn about. In the training, it was difficult to comprehend how LGBTQA+ (or whichever acronym you use) people were treated like anything less than human; each of them had blood, a heart, and were no different than other people. The stories that enhanced the training led me to start questioning – how have my words affected someone in the past and with my lessons as a kid, why did I allow myself to be uneducated?

And that was it, the missing education and knowledge. Unsurprisingly, the greatest impact came when we talked about definitions and terms. The stories gave me purpose and a new lens; activities allowed me to process; but the terms, gave me new life and knowledge. As we were reading them aloud and discussing the ones we did not understand, I came across gender-neutral. This simple term made me think about my childhood where my actions would weave femininity and masculinity into a comfortable and loving boy, but the cloth would unravel when it wasn’t “appropriate” to do so.

However, in this moment, that unsettled feeling that had eaten esteem and understanding started to become more stable and it was okay to be me.  It was no longer necessary to be someone here and someone else there. To quote myself from an interview, “the journey takes a long time, but the decision could be a split second…It took 23 years to take that journey, the decision took 5 hours. Then I didn’t have to choose anymore.”

Being white and a man, the appearance allows me to have privilege; avoiding conflict and words that have the potential to leave scars. The instance in which stands out with my gender identity is the first time I felt the experience so many have before me. Soon after I realized my gender neutrality through the aforementioned experience, I attended a conference on multiculturalism and diversity; with new found appreciation for myself, a session asked for some important words that described who “you” were and I shared “gender-neutral,” It was nerve-wrecking to share but I did it because I could be authentic for once in my life. 

Later that week in a 1-on-1, my supervisor asked me to explain my identity; this is when I found out a full-time staff member was in the same session and passed the information about my gender neutral birth. In doing so, my supervisor claimed to, “not believe I was gender-neutral” but instead, I was a “stereotype fighter” and made all the work seem meaningless and false. All trust and comfort to then be authentic and learn as a graduate student was lost through this exchange; I had to do it alone and grow from student testimonials and interactions.

How does one interact with a supervisor whose responsibility is self-development and professionalism, when you cannot be yourself and are too afraid to argue?

Since graduating and becoming a Student Affairs practitioner, I promised myself that no one would have control over me again. In my experience, professionals tend to avoid making waves and believe experience/title demands certain privileges. Unfortunately, this removes vision and voice from change, the unknown and uncomfortable change that often creates tension and restlessness; but when 'tradition' is tangled in ignorance, there is no progress.

So, when student's voices are muted, I will be the one to raise the volume; when colleagues fail to meet expectations, I will exceed standards; and when someone denounces someone's identity, I will be there to share my light in order to help them shine. 


About the art:

Anthony and I met randomly when I was interviewing with the University of Kansas graduate program for Student Affairs in Higher Education. We connected because Anthony has a full sleeve of tattoos and I was on my way to getting on for myself. And since then, we've stayed in touch through the virtue of the internets.

I'm glad Anthony shared his story because I love hearing gender-neutral bodies advocate for their existence in a world that wants to whitewash the gender conversation as a strict binary. When that is just not the case.

I wanted to creating a painting for Anthony that was a little different from my previous styles. So I expanded my filigree style a little bit to include some bubbles/leafy imagery. And the interesting thing about this piece is that I had to clear the white paint from it twice while creating the piece because I had a watercolor image in the background but it began to run when I did the words. And then I misspelled a word in the Virginia Woolf quote, which is never a good feeling.

Eventually, I had the piece the way I wanted it to look and here we have it!
I'm going to continue messing with this style and see what I come up with!

- Craig.