Every year, our college attends the Journalism Association of Community College’s state convention. Our three-man videojournalism team took home an honorable mention for our story on Old Town Sacramento’s homeless population. Our group was dressed in our best, posing for pictures left and right at the convention’s banquet. I paused from the action and looked through some of the pictures I had taken throughout the event, stopping on a group photo of our team showing off our awards.
At first glance, I see the gold-flaked letters of each award dancing in the light. The girls that I had worked with were both sporting smiles from ear to ear. And me, I was standing upright in my pinkish blue dress shirt with rolled-up tan Dickie slacks and burgundy low cut vans with a slight tear from skateboarding.
All these small details, but I didn’t notice how big my smile was or how happy I looked being acknowledged. I looked at my face and was reminded of why I felt alien among my peers the entirety of the weekend.I hadn’t truly been this happy since my friends and I went snowboarding and drinking in Big Bear, California. It was a weekend to remember because I couldn’t remember most of it, and it felt amazing to let go.
My eyes locked onto the LCD screen of the camera, staring deeply into the eyes of my pixelated self and I broke.
I went from hero to “what am I doing with my life” in an instant, my own thoughts holding myself hostage. And this isn’t Stockholm syndrome where I love my internal dialogue, but it hates me. It hates every second of happiness that I experience, there is always a thought hiding away, awaiting its chance to destroy what I enjoy.
All I could think about was how much of a failure I appear to those around me who thought I was going somewhere in life. I remember those high school days where you gloated about what you were going to be after college. “I’m going to be a pastor or maybe even a successful businessman.” Nope, I am just a kid who likes to videotape things and write about people in the community.
In my own head, I am a failure to my family.
As I continued my descent into mental darkness, a group of five of us drove into downtown Sacramento to walk around and see the capitol building. The anxiety was eating me alive, but I am really good at pretending at being OK. We stopped at the police memorial, honoring all those who died in the line of duty while in the force. I just couldn’t handle it; the build up of all my emotions came crashing down.
I kept telling myself to keep it together, don’t cry or they’ll see, don’t give them a reason to ask, but when you’ve been eating two Double Doubles at In-N-Out and hadn’t said a word in 15 min., someone is bound to ask. They laughed, taking pictures of me while I quietly killed myself inside.
“Austin, you good?” they asked, laughing off everything.
Yeah, everything is fine. Just great.
My anxiety has grown worse and worse every year of my life since middle school. My emotions run wild at times, keeping me up at night, fighting sleep and facing the skeletons in my closet. But you know what? As a person some people describe as happy and always going, I feel so drained and hopeless at times.
People ask me, “Is everything OK?” Yeah! No, everything isn’t alright. I wish I could run away from all this bullcrap and never return again, but that’s not what people want to hear, so I lie.
Lying to acquaintances that aren’t emotionally invested in me isn’t my problem, it’s my family. It’s like I’m the lead in my own improv skit. I have to keep making shit up to keep my joke of a life going. What hurts the most is lying to my sisters.
“Are you okay Austy? Is college okay?” they ask.
“I’m fine girls, school is great! I love going and all the people there are awesome,” I reply in my most generic ‘I’m happy’ tone. I love my sisters more than my own life. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know that I’d be where I am, so lying to them sinks me to the bottom of scumbags.
“I can’t wait to grow up to be like you,” my sisters say.
You don’t want to be me, torturing yourself every night as you fall asleep. All your shortcomings visit in your dreams and lost loves taunt you in every girl’s eyes. Regret fills your veins at a moments notice, tossing you into a wild frenzy of tears and anger, but not knowing exactly why. Why am I so messed up?
It took many years for me to stop blaming my parents for my shortcomings in my life. It seems far too easy to dump off all your problems on others and say, “Well, my mom and dad weren’t together so I can whine about my problems all the time.” It is all on me.
“This is why you are alone, Austin. You are not attractive, stable, or mature,” my mind says on repeat when the silence hits. It is like karma came back with my entire history of bad doings and decided to viciously kick me in the balls, over and over until I died.
Looking back, if I had addressed these problems when they began, years of disappointment and sadness wouldn’t be making reappearances in my college career, and I regret that. I wish I had never neglected my mental health, wiping it off while saying, “Don’t be a pussy.”
Thank God for good friends and family that even though I feel like shit, they still support me. Oh, and thank God for my relationship with Jesus, because I wouldn’t be where I am, I’d probably be dead.