Its something very hard to admit in public, but I have a mental illness. I’m smart, well-accomplished, social, nerdy, and funny, but none of that matters to the chemicals in my brain that don’t behave like they should. It’s so common, that one in four will be or have been affected by mental or neurological disorders in their lives, but it’s so stigmatized that, until a few months ago, I never even told my own father that I suffer from one. It is my voice in my head, whispering terrible secrets over and over and over until I believe the lies some part of me invented. You’re supposed to name the voice, but I’m terrible at naming things so I just refer to the voice as She/Her: my voice in my head who is not me.
Now, she didn’t pop up out of nowhere. Honestly, I’ve had something for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would cycle through fears like teenagers cycle through phases. Each childhood summer, in my mind, is defined by that summer’s fear; for example, in 2004, it was fire and in 2006, tornados. It was like living on an old-fashioned scale, with me on one end and her at the other. During childhood, the scale was volatile, but not unbearable. The scale had never tipped in either of our favors, but in March 2008, she suddenly got heavier and heavier, and I began to lose my footing.
It didn’t tip until July 15th, 2008. Maybe I’ll have the courage to write about this particular fear and this particular day publicly someday, but, for now, it’s just for me, my mom, and a couple of friends that I’ve told. I will say that this one was the one bad enough to make me realize I needed help. Thankfully, some part of me had the courage to admit the issue, and I reached out to my Mom the following Thursday, and was in therapy only a few days later. That’s when I got the diagnosis and, after all that time, found out who she was: anxiety and OCD.
And then… I just kinda had her. I got busy with school and sports (then school and theater) and stopped going to therapy. I graduated middle school, then high school, then college. That whole time, I still had something and she was still there, but the anxious and obsessive moments were not all consuming, and the ones that were, I could get a handle on eventually. I grew content. If this was anxiety, if this was OCD, I could handle it. The scale returned to its uneasy balance, and for almost ten years I lived with her, on this scale that occasionally wobbled, but never tipped.
Until it suddenly tipped again on December 11th, 2017.
I was living in a new city. I had just wrapped up a musical and was entering that post-show funk. I was on my period. I was coming down with a cold. It was the perfect storm, and what started with me googling why my feet were tingling ended with a head-first dive into the world of health anxiety. It wasn’t something I’d ever experienced before, but it hit me like a New York City bus out of nowhere. She had me so convinced I was dying of one disease or another that I was expecting to never turn 24. It got so bad my mom had to come and stay in New York with me for a few days, because the fear was so paralyzing. Even when the worst of the attack started to lighten, I began to look for housing and jobs back in Massachusetts, just because She then began to attack by telling me I just couldn’t do it, that living in NYC was just too hard, that I was just not that person. That, maybe, I’d never belonged in the world at all. That, maybe, I was only worth Warren, the town I tried so hard to escape.
Then, the summer came just as it always does, and the season of childhood fears transformed into a season of adulthood renewal. She retreated again. I turned 24, as I was always supposed to. Now I am enjoying this wild ride of a city in all its grimy glory. I have supportive and loving friends. My family is close (but not too close). Things are looking up, and going into the fall, I am excited for the future, rather than than dreading every day. And I have actually come out the other side strong enough to admit to the world that she exists, which means I am braver now than I’ve ever been before.
However, I know that she is not gone. She will never be gone. I made the mistake of thinking I could forget about her for almost ten years, and I paid the price. For now, the scales have returned to their uneasy balance, and I will live like this for who-knows-how-many-days. They may tip again tomorrow. It may be another ten years. They may even never tip again. I am okay now. In the past, I wasn’t okay. I may not be okay in the future. But in the world of mental illness, I’ve found that there is only the now, and today, right now, I am okay. I live with my voice in my head telling me over and over and over and over that I am not okay, but I am. I am okay. I am okay.
I am okay.