If you just met me, you would think I have it all together.
I attend a great college where I earn consistent grades, receive institutional support for research, participate in extracurriculars that line up with my interests, and work a couple jobs that feel rewarding rather than soul-sucking. I have no real need for the money from my jobs, since I receive no lack of money and love from my parents. I have friends at this college and at home who could tell you I’m sweet and often fun to be around. I could tell you my body image is better than it’s ever been–it’s been weeks since I’ve looked at my thighs in disgust or changed my outfit after catching sight of myself in a full-length mirror. And any stranger could point out all the privileges and advantages that come from being born in my part of the world with my skin color and socioeconomic background.
But I don’t have it all together, and the disparity between the appearance of my mental state and the reality deeply upsets me.
I feel anxious far too often over far too many things. I overthink my social interactions and my academic responsibilities, and convince myself any misstep will be met with failure rather than forgiveness. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a notion of success that made me set a ridiculously high bar for myself and decide I’m not allowed to be satisfied until I’ve cleared it with room to spare. I spend a lot of time alone, not sleeping, thinking about these things. And I try not to spend time talking about it.
The worst part about not having it together is the guilt of not having it together. I’m fully aware of everything I mentioned above, all the factors that to me add up to “No, you really have nothing to complain about, so don’t you dare open your mouth.” The friend I want to confide in probably has her own bad news to share, not some imagined horror she pictured thirty times in her head but never actually experienced. My mom doesn’t wait all week to hear my voice on the phone just to listen to my whining. And let’s not forget that my so-called issues are the products of my mind, which has the luxury of tearing itself about because it doesn’t need to find food, shelter, or safety. At any moment I could quit any of the responsibilities that stress me out. I could step back and appreciate that I get to be pushed to the edge in pursuit of a challenging liberal arts degree because ultimately I have the opportunity to reach for a dream, fail, and be okay, rather than the responsibility of getting a degree to support my family. All I’d have to do is push aside my idea of success and be happy with the friends, family, health, and education I have, and I’d be happy, like so many other people are. Like I logically should be.
No matter the situation, I find that my mind discovers new things to worry about, so I always operate at the same level of stress and misery. Since the source of my turmoil is internal, I think that I should be able to fix it. If I’m upset, it’s only because I’m too lazy to adjust my perspective and solve my problems myself (or rather, realize they’re not problems at all). To me, it feels wrong, even willfully malicious, to drag anyone else into into it. I’m questioning whether it’s not disgustingly self-serving on my part to post about this on my personal blog.
Because of that guilt I refuse to leave this off as a “woe is me, why am I the way that I am?” post that leaves everyone miserable. I have two thoughts that may dig us out of this hole:
One, I have, of course, confided in my close friends and family when I haven’t been doing well before. And, to my surprise, they didn’t seem to mind listening. I usually left those conversations feeling much better. Now, in the back of my mind, I know, based off those experiences, logically I could reach out and do that again. Unfortunately, in the rest of my mind, something–habit, self-destructive tendencies, I’m not sure–masks that logic from me and makes it difficult to stay rational and talk about it. But, theoretically, the option is there, and perhaps I’m not doomed to feel guilty and miserable for the entire rest of my life. Theoretically, I can learn to shift my thinking. I mean, I am writing about it here, after all.
Two, if vaguely upset tweets and long Tumblr rants have taught me anything, I’m by no means the only person who feels this way. And I know if I were someone else reading this post and recognized myself in it, I would want the writer to tell me it’s okay. So it’s okay. It’s okay not to be perfectly content even when “logically” you should be happy with your lot. If we allow ourselves to feel anxious, upset, or sad, we can at least stop feeling guilty for feeling anxious, upset, or sad. And if you don’t identify with this post, maybe you have a friend who does, someone who’s been struggling silently but holding it in so you can feel better. Maybe after reading this, you’ll reach out to them, and help them begin working through their own mental blocks and challenges. I think if any of this is true, then this post will not have been a waste of your time to read, or my time to write. And I won’t have to apologize for writing it.