If you’re reading this, you don’t need to apologize for what you feel.
Debilitating is not too strong of a word to describe the feelings that emerge with my anxiety. I recall being a third grader, walking almost to my bus stop and then passing it, avoiding any interaction with the kids that taunted me. I felt alone, isolated and unworthy of anyone’s respect. Little did I know that those feelings would follow me for years to come, even as my social situation steadily improved. High school brought with it greater self-confidence, achievement in and outside the classroom (like many students who go on to attend UVA), and a large friend group, but I still found myself with my fist through the drywall in my room as my parents listened in dismay.
There are so many lies that creep into my head in those angry and anxious moments: “You’re not good enough,” “You won’t get better,” and the worst of all, “You’re a burden to others”. The voice sneaks in, and it is hard to discern the source. Then, it becomes the loudest track in my mind.
Through 9 years of counseling off and on, from social workers to psychiatrists to pastors, my tool belt carries more tools, but some days, the familiar anxiety is as overwhelming as the first time I experienced it. Anxiety’s voice slithers back in, and distracts me from my tools, all but convincing me that I am no better than when I started fighting this battle. Inevitably, the fear of judgement from others tries to isolate me from the valuable support and encouragement of loved ones. I’m the guy who graduated early from UVA with a double-major, who enjoys activities that thrill, like SCUBA diving and climbing, isn’t my head supposed to be level? Is emotion bad? Do I need to have a “better reason” for feeling anxious?
If you’re reading this, the answer is no. You don’t need to explain yourself or apologize for what you feel. Anxiety and depression may come and go in waves, but know that encountering it again doesn’t mean the halt of growth and healing. You are not back at the starting line, you are on the front line of this battle. The lie that “I’m not making progress” only adds to my frustration in those dark moments, and distracts me from the very tools that will help me. Forgive yourself for believing those lies, and find voices that do not invalidate you, but build you up in your brokenness.
Austin W., University of Virginia ‘21