For most of my childhood I thought that an inescapable fear of the world and a desolate internal emptiness were somehow normal. Of course at the time I had no concept of what anxiety or depression were, though I was about ten or eleven years old when those things really started to manifest themselves. The stable foundation that is so necessary for a child began to crumble, slowly at first, and then all at once. I witnessed lies and became a pawn in acts of increasing desperation, I was removed from everything I knew and bundled in a car to be driven across the country, and I left behind me the last innocence of my youth as I took on the burdens of adulthood far too soon. Adolescence was far worse, but I’m not brave enough to talk about that.
I will never really know if those things were the root of my mental health problems, but I know they played a significant role. It wasn’t until early adulthood, after another series of significant and painful life altering events, that I found out that my inability to function like a normal human being wasn’t normal. It took my doctor to explain to me what anxiety and depression were, when he gave me a formal diagnosis at the age of 21. For the first time in my life so many things made sense. The fear and the sadness I had known since childhood had names, they had reasons, and for the first time I understood all the many devastating events of my life that came and went as a result.
But knowing these things didn’t change who I was, because anxiety and depression had become the central part of my identity. I was broken. I had spent all of my formative years under the torment of mental illness. The result of which was a young man who despite his greatest hopes, dreams, and ambitions, would never truly be able to see life as anything less than a struggle against the fear of possibility and the ambivalence towards mortality. How does anyone live otherwise? I was ashamed of who I grew up to be and I hid myself from everything. Every part of me was a secret.
In the years since then I have learned to manage things as best as I can. I channel those feelings into my writing and try be more open about my mental illness. But it is still a fight that I wage every single day, and some days are much harder than others. We can only fight ourselves so much without learning to hate the enemy, the disease, the self. My self-imposed animosity gives me the will to fight, but it slowly erodes the very core of who I am. Who am I without the struggle? I can’t imagine a world in which I live without fear and the crushing weight of emptiness. To me there is no such place, and even if there is, then how will I live in it? Who will I be without it?
To me then it seems that I am a contradiction. I want to get better and to be better, but I resist the change and I fear seeing the world in a clearer way. But I am old enough now to know that things are different. While my anxiety and depression have gotten even worse over the past year, I have learned some important lessons along the way. Chief among those is that I do not have to bear the burden alone. I fight now not because it’s all I know, but because I owe it to the people who are kind enough to lend me their ears and their hearts.
I may be broken and my existence may be my struggle, but for the people I love and the part of me that still stands I refuse to give up the fight. I do not know if victory is possible, but with all the remaining fractured little pieces of me, I will never stop pursuing it.
This piece was originally published on Medium.