As soon as I entered college, I realized that I did not know how to be A Successful Adult. For a long time, I was too proud to ever admit that I was afraid. Whether it’s out of humility or desperation I do not know, but now I will freely tell anybody that I am terrified. The massive amount of opportunity that came crashing around me did not make me feel excited. I felt overwhelmed, unable to make decisions because I was certain that the one I didn’t make was the one I should have made. Instinct was squelched by the indecision blooming black and heavy in my heart. To me, doubt and fear were warts growing on my skin. They were grotesque, shameful; I hated them for their ugliness, and wanted to rip them away.
It was like a locked door in my brain had been forced open and my anxiety was free to roam. One night, I went to sleep victoriously. When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move. Somehow, I began to feel that any potential I had would slip from my sleeping body, stretch, sigh and leave me talentless and alone. My suddenly shifting priorities and new senses of responsibility have left me sleepless, wide-eyed and frantic; I am a bushy-tailed cat yowling, clinging to the side of the bathtub and trying to fight the hands that are pushing me underwater.
It did not take long for my loathing for fear to evolve into loathing for myself. I scolded, berated and abused myself for making mistakes until I was convinced I was too deficient to keep living. Chopin’s funeral march matched my footsteps like the pitiful soundtrack to a melodramatic cartoon episode. Schoolwork lost its meaning, becoming merely a base upon which I built an edifice of self-destruction.
When I became too terrified of life, I simply shut down. The idea of graduation, finding a job and creating an identity that I could be proud of often had me curled into a small ball on my yoga mat. My roommates would find me on the floor, hands over my face, my body contorted like Mary’s lamentation of Christ. They stopped asking if I was alright after enough of my muffled responses that I was just cleansing my chakras. It seemed normal to be this way, normal enough that when a friend asked how I was feeling, I replied, “Really, the only reason I’m not dead yet is because it would be super rude of me.” Her eyes turned to saucers and I calmly sipped my drink, totally oblivious to what I had just implied.
I was forcibly sent to a counselor who, by nodding sagely to my frenzied hand gestures and tears, helped me understand that suicide was not going to turn me into A Successful Adult. But that wasn’t the shining moment that forever defined my existence. My destructive behavior had been the keystone of my identity for years and one minor epiphany is not the solution. Suicide had been my safety net, giving me the tenacity to take risks that I wouldn’t have otherwise. If I didn’t succeed, I would not fail: Posthumous failure does not exist. Though I’ve learned that killing myself is not an appropriate solution, finding the courage to be fully alive is something I am still practicing.
My actions really haven’t changed that much. Even now, my roommates find me curled into a wailing ball or sulking in the corner of the kitchen, and I still feel the reckless desire to make a bad decision here and there. As I sit with my coffee and flap my hands aimlessly about my keyboard, I’m only temporarily distracting myself from life’s looming impossibilities. I will always have days in which I smother myself with a sense of inescapable doom. I am still convinced that Damocles’ sword is hanging over my head.
Even though I’ve yet to escape my own pessimism, the fact that I can finally identify it within myself is keeping me alive. I understand now that my shortcomings are not responsible for my unhappiness. The responsibility lies within my hatred for these shortcomings. My anxiety leaves me shaking and unable to sleep some nights, but I will not torment myself for it. I will step outside on these trembling legs and I will walk until I make them strong.
Katie Kalupson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Essayist is The Temple News’ recurring series of personal essays.
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