Edward Simon Cruz
There are some things that I know about mental health: that everyone has it, that everyone needs to take care of it, that sometimes taking care of it involves reaching out to others who can support and guide you through difficult times. And yet by trying to understand the voices in my head, I have inadvertently embarked on a journey filled with learning experiences. Some of those experiences have made me feel good and reminded me of my own worth; others have sent me into some dark places and left me thinking that I would never emerge from the pain of the moment.
I knew certain truths and realities, yet — especially in the moments when it mattered most — I refused to believe said truths and realities. Instead, I preferred to chart my own path that always left me on the edge of burning out, blowing up, or simply fizzling away.
Many of us aspire to be that person who can accomplish whatever they want, impress everyone they meet, and do it all with a smile on their face. None of us will ever truly live up to that fantastical ideal. Yet some of us try to be everything for everyone, believing that our successes will bring us to a destination defined by happiness and a sense of belonging.
Looking back, I wonder what made me want to live that way. I wonder what compelled me to throw away large portions of my childhood in favor of satisfying other people. And I wonder what caused me to feel, with growing frequency, that I was always at war with myself — and that regardless of which side I was on, I was always losing.
I think about those people who called me “smart” when I was little, doing so with good intentions without realizing that calling a kid “smart” is one of the worst things that you can do to them. That idea builds a fixed mindset, increasing the risk that people like me would view life’s inevitable adversities and slip-ups not as opportunities to grow but as marks of defeat.
I think about the ideas that society has prescribed for people like me, like the idea that men shouldn’t cry and the idea that Asian Americans are “model minorities” who excel in academics and are bound for success later in life. Even though I reject both of those ideas, and even though I have felt comfortable being vulnerable in front of others, there was always a fear that being open would make me seem weak — like I needed to bottle everything up, say that everything was fine, and get through the day even if I broke down in the end. Society had created a certain image for me, and I felt the need to live up to it.
I think about my long-standing tendency to compare myself to peers. Using other people as a barometer to determine my self-worth has never helped me get where I want to be in life, but I kept doing it because I didn’t want to adopt any other way. I justified unhealthy and unhelpful habits like these by linking them to my perceived success (or lack thereof) and saying that if I dropped these habits, I would lose the motivation that drove me to try becoming something better. I would lose the motivation to try becoming everything for everyone.
For most of the last few months, I tried to bottle everything up, say that everything was fine, and get through the day even if I broke down in the end — all because I felt that happiness was the destination and any happiness on the journey was futile and unearned. This way of living was taking a toll on both my health and my conscience: I sometimes neglected to take care of myself, made decisions that I regretted, and had thoughts that I feared would consume me. Yet even when I inevitably cracked under the pressure and wondered what it would take for my situation to become less bleak, I resisted getting help, skeptical that dropping everything to focus on myself would actually help me reach the destination.
However, some close friends helped me come to a certain realization: striving for a certain destination locked me into a cycle of misery and paralysis, so I instead needed to embrace the journey as the destination. I had previously known this statement to be true, but now, I also believed it to be true. This approach to life helped me gain the confidence I needed to approach my parents and start seeing a therapist. It gave me hope that even if anxiety and depression had become part of my life, I could manage the voices in my head, live the life that I wanted to live, and find some solace in the small victories and joys of each day.
My journey is still filled with highs and lows. The lows still come at unexpected times, and the pain that comes with them is still difficult to endure. But I know that I can endure it, and I believe that I can endure it, because all of these experiences are part of the journey.
I may sometimes question whether my journey will be worth it, but I can always remember that if I try becoming something better every day, I will be able to find happiness and a sense of belonging through the journey that I take. And it won’t matter whether I become everything to everyone, because the journey has already become everything to me.
Picture Source: vangoghmuseum.nl / Van Gogh
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