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The Real Ramifications of Having Emotional Walls

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I put up walls to protect myself, but in doing so I locked myself in.

That simple sentence is the understatement of my life. I like to think I am an expert at self-care — I go to therapy biweekly, I take medications, I exercise and I journal. I have bad days still but for the most part, I thought my depression was under control. In many ways it was. But until recently, I never realized the small, orderly world I so carefully maintained for my mental stability has two drawbacks — there is no room for growth, and there is only room for one.

The struggle depression turns my daily life into is a closely guarded secret (until this post, that is). I never wanted to trust someone enough to tell them how it feels to see yourself die a thousand times; to feel like everyone around you is laughing at an inside joke they’ll never explain; or to believe you’re a player in a virtual game everyone else forgot isn’t reality.

I became so good at keeping others out that even I started to believe everything was fine. Throughout college, I convinced myself my inexplicable feelings of loss were “normal.” When my sophomore year roommate told me with concern that I sometimes cry and whimper in my sleep, I shrugged and replied the dorm room temperature was too low and I probably just clear my nose often. I went through therapy in high school and I was nearly an adult; I wanted to believe I could take care of myself.

I thought I was in control until I suddenly, tragically and painfully was not. I spent my last college semester living two lives, and one nearly killed the other.

I can’t tell the person I was then that you don’t have to face this alone, but I can remind myself now. The walls I so frantically held did keep me safe, for a time, but they also made me withdrawn, they made me a poor friend and they removed any emotional support that could have saved me.

I don’t want to make that same mistake anymore. A few months ago, I was talking with someone dear to me about life when they asked if I ever considered marriage as a long-term goal. I was taken aback — I rarely make plans past the closest meal — but the conversation stayed with me. Why do I have trouble viewing relationships, friendships or otherwise, as long-term?

The truth is that I’m scared. I don’t want to watch the people I care about fade away with the happiness I so desperately chase. It is easier to believe I am better off alone than to confess my brokenness to someone I love.

It is true that you can’t mourn the loss of something you never had, but you also can’t celebrate it. That’s the issue with emotional walls. They offer a sense of isolation and security, but they leave very little to be happy about. It took great effort on my part, and incredible patience by friends and family, for me to accept and live with my mental issues. It would be easy to stop here and stay comfortable behind the wall, but I want to change.

I want to live a life full of the things I work so hard to keep away. I want to enjoy true friendship, I want to love unconditionally and I want to let others love me. And the truth is, I won’t reach these goals by just letting people in. Lowering my emotional barriers is just the start. I have to grow past the boundaries I kept for so long. Life lies within reach once you stop hiding from it — you just have to be brave enough to extend a hand.

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Originally published: April 17, 2018
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