When You Feel Like You Are Sinking…
by Erin Honor
One of the biggest lies that childhood cartoons (that’s right, I’m looking at you Looney Toons) taught me was that at some point in my life, I would encounter quicksand.21 years later and the closest that I’ve gotten to quicksand was seeing it in that sub-par Indiana Jones movie with Orlando Bloom.
Still, though I’ve never found myself slowly sinking into quicksand while walking the streets of New York – I feel myself sinking. We can call it mental/emotional quicksand. It feels like everyone is moving forward in life while I am stuck in place.
And the more I try to fight it, the deeper I sink.
Excuse me for the melodrama.
The thing with writing the blog is that it feels incredibly egocentric. Why would anyone care to take the time out of there day to read about my feelings? There is no good reason – and I do not expect any person out there to take any particular interest in my life. The thing is, sharing the inner workings of my mind is not exactly my favorite thing – it is terrifying and feels shameful. But with that comes the thought that if, by talking about all of the craziness that goes on inside this head of mine – if one person can see something and resonate with it. If one person can feel that they’re not alone in thinking or feeling the way they do… That is all I want. And the best way I know to do that is by putting it all out there, warts and all, and hoping someone who needs it sees it.
Okay. Back to the whole quicksand thing.
I’m not that self-centered as to think that I am the only person who feels as if they are falling backwards in life while those around them are moving forwards. Tell one person that you are essentially having an existential crisis and they are likely to tell you, “No one knows what they are doing in their 20’s (or teens, or even 30’s these days). You’re not supposed to.”
Then why does it feel like everyone has a grasp on what they are doing but me? Why is it that while I see people getting into medical school, landing careers, getting their first apartments, etc. that I, seemingly, can’t even make a simple phone call to schedule a doctor’s appointment for myself without my voice shaking to the point of it almost being unintelligible from anxiety? Why is it that I am overwhelmed to the point of complete and utter collapse over my college coursework when there are people who work full-time, or even part-time and take more classes than me? Why is it that other people who suffer with anxiety can hold a job while I can’t work a simple part-time job without having a panic attack in the middle of my shift and having to quit in complete and utter shame (mind you, this was a job I honestly really enjoyed).
I know, I know. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I get that… But this goes beyond just falling into the comparison trap.
This is about disappearing for a little while.. Losing time… Thawing. Waking back up.
I often have trouble accepting the age that I am. Not because I think that 21 is particularly old, but because, to me, being 21 makes no sense to me. A majority of my life beginning in my sophomore year of high school (when that eating disorder I mentioned in a way-too-much-oversharing post earlier this year first got bad) through my senior year of high school.. i.e. the bulk of my teenage years.
It’s hard to explain this feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but I know that there are many out there who have. One of the best descriptives of this feeling (phenomena?) that I have heard was said by author and musician Mishka Shubaly and my favorite podcast, The Rich Roll Podcast. Both the host of the show, Rich Roll (super inspirational and aspirational ex-lawyer and author of Finding Ultra) and Mishka are both recovering alcoholics and, in this episode, they were having a conversation about addiction. Here, Mishka (a man in his 40s I believe) was talking about how he felt like he was the age he was when his alcoholism first took hold of him. It was as if he had been asleep for a long time and was just waking up and needed to experience life starting at the age where he was last truly alive.
Now, to the skeptical mind, this may sound like a simple excuse to get out of growing up, accepting responsibilities, etc. Honestly, when applied to myself, I feel it to be an excuse. I often question whether I actually have an anxiety disorder or an eating disorder or PTSD (this diagnosis is the one I doubt the most), or if I’m just trying to get out of doing things that I don’t want to do. Logically, I know this to be false. I’m not the kind of person who lacks drive and motivation. At least… I think I’m not.
For so long, I feel that I have been asleep. Frozen. That any and everything that made up “Erin” was shoved into some box in the back of my subconscious while mental illness came to the front and took over. For so long, my identity has been “anorexia” or “anxiety” or “depression.” They became who I was. All I was. I didn’t (and still sometimes don’t) want to let them go and heal because I don’t know what I am without them.
I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m like. I don’t know what I like.
I know being afraid of people. I know being afraid of food. I know feeling empty. I know being obsessive about exercise. I know being somewhat reclusive.
Think of the mind like The Upside Down from Stranger Things – only here, there is no demogorgon. Instead, there is a whole different monster – this monster is mental illness. This monster is what has consumed all of what made you, “you.” This is the monster that has stolen away all of your light. This is the monster that has trapped you. This monster is anorexia. This monsters is panic-disorder, this monster is PTSD, this monster is depression. This monster is any and everything that has stolen the true, beautiful, and crucial “you” from this world and has hidden you away.
But you know what this monster isn’t?
This monster isn’t you.
I feel like I am only just waking up. I feel like I am only just becoming ‘me’ again. The thing is, I have no idea what constitutes being ‘me.’ The last time I was ‘me,’ I was 15 years old.
I have a lot of catching up to do.
When years and years of your life have been taken from you by whatever it is that consumed you – it is not your fault if you feel that you are falling behind. You are not there yet, and that is okay.
In all actuality, you really are still that little person that felt so scared/alone/out of control that they had to retreat to the back of their subconscious and let something else take over. Protect them. Act for them. Exist for them.
I can see skepticism or chalking all of what I am saying up to the perceived laziness/entitlement/immaturity of the millennial generation – and I can completely understand that mentality. This feeling of losing time only to wake up one day still the child that you were when you first disappeared, unable to cope/function in an ‘age-appropriate’ way, is a feeling that is inexplicable (though I’m trying really hard here with this way too wordy blog post).
But just because it doesn’t make sense to most people does not mean it is not real.
Just because you are not where society deems that you are supposed to be at any age does not make you a failure.
Just because you feel lost and scared and alone and unable to ask for help out of fear of being told to just ‘grow up’ or that ‘you’re an adult now’ doesn’t make your feelings and troubles invalid.
Of course, with all of this and my saying that you need to be gentle with yourself, be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to go through the phases of growing up that you were “supposed to” have gone through years ago – you, we, still need to put ourselves forward.
However, you can push yourself forward without dragging yourself down. You can move slowly, tread lightly.
The more you thrash about. The more you beat yourself down. The more you try to run and catch up with the others faster than you are able to..