Lessons in Suffering

It’s no secret – I’ve been barely holding it all together for a long time.

If you know me, you probably see me as tense and at least a bit stand-offish. Reserved, to be sure.

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I truly don’t remember a time when this has not been reality; though at one time I was certainly more open and naïve. I have definitely developed my fair share of cynicism and caution on my journey into adulthood.

When I was a young child, I felt particularly odd; out of place; markedly different. Not to mention desperate to please others (at times, at my own detriment). I didn’t really know why any of this was, but I loved my friends to bits and that’s all that really mattered at the time.

In adolescence, these feelings of insecurity started to overwhelm me and I began to understand that what I had been experiencing was depression and anxiety.

At this crucial time in development (along with my persistent insecurities), my now-broken family moved to another part of the country because of the looming threat of Quebec separatism. It ended up being a 51%-49% split, and that was a little too close for a family who don’t support the notion.

This wrecked havoc on my psyche on a very real level, as well. It might sound silly, but since then I have often feared having my nationality questioned. Believe it or not, upon moving to where I am now, I faced criticism for being Quebecoise. Though, judgements based on prejudices and stereotypes were not new to me…I had already faced isolation at times in a predominantly Italian community due to my Irish roots.

It’s sad, but this stuff was a big deal – even as children. But…of course it was. It’s hurtful, end of story.

Anxiety really tightened its grip on me after moving from province to province. I lost everything I knew and the friends I loved so dearly. I was suddenly the “new kid” showing up just in time for the last year of middle school (because everything else wasn’t awkward enough). To boot, I was chubby and acne-ridden – on a good day I was “Pizza Face” and on a bad day you could not see my skin through the irritation… add short hair, a limited wardrobe and crooked teeth and you have thirteen-year-old me. Despite a lack of confidence that haunts me to this day, I can very confidently tell you that…I suffered.

I began finding it difficult to breathe. Constantly. It was so persistent that I soon sought medical attention – my doctor initially reasoned that it was likely due to asthma and/or allergies, which had both previously been issues in childhood.

I knew well enough that these things were not the culprit, but I had no idea how to articulate this to a doctor. Or anyone.

All I knew was that this was definitely different.

In hindsight, with lots of experience and plenty of time to define – what it felt like was suffocating under an immense amount of pressure coming from an unidentifiable source.

There were so many reasons, but no discernable rhyme.

Chaos peaked in my late teens, while I was a supervising at a fast food joint. It was one of the scariest experiences I can vividly remember: I had worked there for years and knew the cash register like the back of my hand, but all of a sudden I completely forgot how to operate it. I found myself in front of a customer, unable to ring up an embarrassingly straight forward order.

My wires were totally crossed. The tunnel vision hit like a brick wall. And then…tears and paralyzing fear that everything around-and-within me was melting into oblivion.

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I left for the day. I later got together with friends to play D&D, which was one of my ultimate favourite things in life at the time (and hey…still is, despite not having played much since). I was spied by a co-worker (coincidentally, the one that was forced to cover my shift), and was later chastised by my boss.

Bearing in mind that my doctor, now aware of my anxiety, specifically prescribed activities that I find enjoyable as an antidote.

I ended up back in counseling what felt like the millionth time, as I had been in and out since the age of 7 when my parents split.

Medication was recommended, and I accepted. I ended up on stress leave and wound up agoraphobic. Panic would strike the instant I left my doorstep.


 

This kind of intense anxiety would peak again several years later, after becoming a mother (…more on this some other time).

I have come a long way, and have been on high-alert the entire time. Which, let me tell you, is beyond exhausting.

There are some things I have come to realise:

I *feel* as though I haven’t been able to forge deep friendships since moving away from my hometown.

I happen to be a part of a solid group of people that I am happy to call friends and acquaintances, but – they all have their sub-groups, respective besties etc. I find myself off to the side and for all intents and purposes, alone. Forever an imposter in an already established network of relationships.

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For lack of a better metaphor (and for want of this excellent stock image): I feel a lot like a goose in a group full of chickens.

That doesn’t mean that the relationships I do have mean nothing to me – quite the contrary. Though, I do tend to fluctuate between romanticising my friendships (THESE PEOPLE ARE THE BEST PEOPLE OMG I LOVE THEM THEY ARE MADE OF MAGIC AND RAINBOWS) and suspecting that they all secretly hate me and scheme to make my life a living hell.

This is one of the hallmarks of Borderline Personality Disorder and a huge contributing factor to why I can’t seem to maintain meaningful friendships (or perceive any that I may actually possess).

Logically, I realise that my way of thinking is flawed.

Emotionally…that’s a completely different story. I know that the friends I do have do not wish to see me miserable. Conversely, I often distance myself from them to avoid making them miserable. It’s an awful cycle that is largely based in a lack of self worth.

I am not exempt from being worthy.

Beneath my low self-esteem, somewhere, I know that I am worthy of love, fun and friends. I have just been conditioned to think otherwise through relentless bullying at an unfortunate turning point in life (and various scars from insecure familial attachment). The only thing wrong with me is that I have ever believed otherwise.

I am essentially one of the most persistent SOBs I can think of.

When you come from the place I come from (a survivor of childhood sexual abuse among so many other things), you’re not likely to know any quality of life…much less know life at all. Most people who have endured what I have end up homeless, hopelessly addicted to life shattering drugs like heroin, or dead.

I smashed that prognosis like a boss. I haven’t got everything down, of course. I am regularly a damn mess, but…I am way ahead of the game, and while I am not better than anyone else, I am proud of and amazed by my resolve to not only survive, but thrive.

 

If you’re reading this and you find yourself struggling similarly, I just want you to know that there is hope for you.

You are not alone.

It can get better. So much better.

It can get worse, too, but: with practice it gets easier and easier to identify the struggle and work your way through.

Don’t be ashamed to get help.

Take care.

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