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.