If you’re reading this, it’s okay to reach out.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety. I remember being a kid and freaking out whenever my parents dropped me off at school. I can vividly recall working myself up so much in situations where I was on display that I would puke. It was one of those things that became commonplace for me, until I realized early that it was a detriment. “I’m not like these other kids,” I always thought. So I changed.
I became the kid that never cared. At least that’s how it appeared in peer situations. When I was alone, however, I would still have these attacks. Eventually I just learned to repress a lot of the emotion I was feeling. This became a good and bad thing; my attacks stopped, but I didn’t feel anything. I was just going through the motions.
I spent a lot of years running from this. When people would ask how I’m doing, the response was always an automatic “I’m good, how are you?” And I have to admit, it’s still automatic. I do still slip into these states where I’m emotionally numb for weeks and I just never tell people what’s happening. I’ve never actually felt like people want to hear how I’m really doing. Occasionally I’d start sharing something, but then I would just reflect on my past and the lack of resolve I always felt and decide that it’s not worth it.
In the past few years I’ve learned that there are some things that just shouldn’t be kept hidden. During my time at the University, I was raped. As a guy, you never really think this will happen to you; it’s just how the media portrays it. My initial response was not what was expected. The shock didn’t really set in until later, once I didn’t have anything to distract myself with. But still, I never told people. I just internalized it.
Gradually, it began to mess with my head. At the time, I didn’t completely realize what was happening, but I was losing confidence in myself. Not just in social settings, but also with school. I just didn’t care about anything. I was having a lot more issues with my anxiety than I had ever had. Finally, I opened up to a friend and revealed everything that I was feeling. It was weird, but it felt like cinder blocks were lifted from my back; carrying everything around like I was, it just began to weigh down on every aspect of my life.
I still struggle with sharing. I still have anxiety attacks. But I’m slowly realizing that I don’t have to go through it alone. It’s hard to determine what you should and shouldn’t share with your friends, but it shouldn’t take such a traumatic event to reach that place. Your friends want to be there for you. Opening up about things on your mind, it brings you closer. Don’t be afraid to reach out, whether it’s been a hard week or even a great week. Talk to those around you, make it commonplace in your relationships, and feel the freedom that comes with being open with others.
Steven B., University of Virginia, Class of 2018