What You Don't Know About the Girl Who Was Told She Could Do Anything
I want to tell you a story: a story of a girl who was told she could do anything. And she could — she had the intellect, a loving and supportive family and the confidence that those two things bring. So she studied hard and generally followed the rules. She had good friends and she believed there was something that made her special, better than her peers. It was her armor. If you stay so far ahead that people cannot catch up, then you are safe. And the sound of footsteps and a competitor at your heels should encourage you work harder and be better. Right?
People admired her accomplishments; they were badges of honor that helped build a wall between herself and the rest of the world, a wall she could feel safe behind. A sanctuary or a prison? Can they be the same thing? You can do anything, we are told; we encourage our children to believe the world is your oyster. Not only did she believe them, but she took it to heart. It wasn’t enough to do what she wanted — she had “potential” and would “do great things.” She couldn’t waste those things, so she did what would help her be great and fulfill that promising potential. No one forced her to make the decisions she did, she was the one who held herself to the highest of expectations. She would not take back the decisions though. She gained knowledge and skills that would help her thrive in the “adult world.” She made many great friends and collected many interesting stories to share. She was good at putting on a smile.
But the potential weighed on her, demanding the price of perfection. There was a side to her that no one saw and that she was too ashamed to share. She could not cope under the weight of her own expectations, and to admit that truth to herself would challenge her belief that she was better than others, would lift the veil that helped her believe she was untouchable if only she was good enough. She believed she could do anything. But under the weight of her own expectations she could do nothing. How she coped for so long was almost a cliché, an eating disorder to help feel in control, the vicious cycle of binging that was the one chink in her armor, providing a place of safety built in her own head, the walls becoming fortified by fear, shame and dread. It became harder to re-enter the world, became harder to fake being the girl people thought she was. It was easier to hide what was wrong. She could do anything, so she did enough to avoid scrutiny and then would flee back into herself.
Until one day it became too hard to leave the sanctuary she had created in her own mind. The dread was too strong, gripping at her throat; she just wanted the struggle to end. But something inside her reached out for a lifeline. She had been flailing in the depths of the ocean, trying to breathe under the weight of crashing waves, her limbs too heavy to try to swim to safety. There was brief moments of calm, clinging to a buoy before she caught her breath and flung herself back into the ocean. No one forced her to do this — that is the most important thing to remember. She did it to herself, she believed she had no other choice. She believed she could do anything, so why couldn’t she do this? She was trying to swim when she could barely stay afloat.
This story is about me. I was within the top one percent of my school years. I went to law school and graduated with honors. I worked for a prestigious law firm and believed that it would the start of a glittering corporate career. I have amazing friends and family and am blessed with a love of creativity and history. But I have a secret. There are days I cannot do anything; I would drown if I was not on dry ground. Depression. Anxiety. Borderline personality disorder. Extreme Emotions. Unstable Relationships. A self-image so low that I cannot look at myself in the mirror without hating myself. Weight that keeps going up because food is my way of coping. A trail of failed relationships and the fear that I will never find love. I wake up and cannot get out of bed some days, I can sleep for 20 hours at a time and can crash after a good day into a depressive state that lasts a week. What is wrong with me, I ask myself, why can’t I do anything that other people can?
This story is not over — it has barely begun. But the saddest part is that there are many stories like mine that are never told, because they end too soon or people are afraid to reach out for help. I want you to know that you are not alone. We were all told we can do anything, but we were never told that the most important things for us to learn is to be kind to ourselves and know that anything doesn’t have to be everything.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via fizkes