I was afraid. It was as simple and as complicated as that.
It hit me with the force of a storm, two days ago. There I was, having just parked my car, getting ready to join my boyfriend for the annual pool party his roommate hosts, when I felt it: that oft-forgotten sense of looming panic. It came like a thief, sneaking up to me in the guise of anxiety and worries about the number of people around: lots of people around. Young, wealthy people claiming reservations and having their cars valéd, happy couples strolling by in swimsuits, a group clustered around the swimming pool…lots and lots of people. What were they all doing there?
Then the thoughts came. I don’t want to go down there. I can’t be here. I can’t do this. What if they see me and laugh? What if they make fun of me? I don’t want to be here.
Followed, of course, by self-recrimination: What am I doing? This is ridiculous. Of course I’m going. What is my problem? What’s wrong with me that I can’t even go to that party?
And, naturally, enough, lots of guilt. I hate feeling this way. I hate this in myself. How can he put up with this? He must be getting sick of me never wanting to hang out with him at parties.
Instead of going to the pool party, I went upstairs to his apartment and hid in his bedroom. Such a juvenile thing to do, I know – but I felt safe there. I texted him and let him know where I was – sure enough, he had been worrying, and he came straight up. We sat and talked for a while, processing it, trying to understand why the thought of social functions involving his friends makes me so scared. This wasn’t the first time. I just hadn’t expected it to happen again – I ‘d met all of them before, and hung out with some of them, they’re great people. It hadn’t even occurred to me as a possibility.
Most days, I feel pretty grownup – I work, I manage my affairs, I live my life, I juggle my responsibilities. But then, when something like this happens, it feels like I’m being thrown back in time. Back to my middle school and high school days. Back to being mocked, bullied, disdained, condescended to, and consigned to the “weird” category of all the social circles in the different schools I attended. Back to being not pretty or sophisticated enough to have lasting friendships. Back to being the social pariah, and back to being whispered about when my back was turned.
I thought I had gotten over all of it – they do say that time heals wounds. But I’m learning differently: I can see that some scars run deep. Some illnesses can lie dormant for years, then spring up and attack you. I am very afraid now, because I know I have to face all this. I have to come to terms with the pains I experienced in the past – all the things I “forgave” (in other words, minimized and dismissed) – and I have to accept that not only did it hurt then: it hurts now.
I am still hurting, and I have not yet healed.
This is a hard thing to face.
In nursing school, I remember learning about the idea of the “wounded healer”: none of us is perfect, and we all have things we’re struggling with, but even in the middle of our pain and strife, we can reach out to help other people. This, I think, is why I became a nurse.
I am committed to finding out how to help myself. I do want to grow and change and come to self-acceptance. I just didn’t realize, until at that pool party, how hurt and scared I was, and indeed am. It’s easy to tell yourself that things are fine when they’re not: it’s actually not that hard, relatively speaking, to admit to yourself that you need help when you’ve been denying it. The really hard thing is to admit to yourself just how deeply you’ve been scarred when you’ve been telling yourself that the wounds are superficial.
That’s where I am right now.
Where do I go, I wonder, to find healing? A therapist, a spiritual director? Friends, family? How do I begin to speak, when I have been silent for so long? I don’t yet know. I’m still scared. But at least there is some light at the end of this tunnel – at least I know I am actually in a tunnel, metaphorically speaking. And I am determined to love myself again.
Someday, when all this is more resolved, I know I will be able to turn and look back at those years of my life without fear. I look forward to it: I know that there will be a moment when I can do more than forgive, but forget. I will acknowledge the pain and yet know it has no claim on me anymore, and then…I will let it go.
I’ve been carrying these burdens too long.
Chloe* wrote this piece for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is a choco-holic and booknerd who loves quoting random facts at people, sunlight, and trying new things (just once). Her dearest ambition is to figure out the ultimate question of life, since the answer, according to Douglas Adams, is 42.
*Chloe is a pseudonym – this piece was submitted anonymously.