I used to find it difficult expressing my own story within the many other instances of resilience on campus, but then again I am trying not to silence my individual voice in fear of inadequacy. In attempting not to create a sense of competition, I strive towards finding a release in my words. I want others to not erase their specific experience; therefore, I am sharing mine.
Instead of feeling filled with the fountain of emotions so many people may recall, my experience is one of deep emptiness. Returning home for the summer after my first year at college, I was completely exhausted. I lost touch with the basic human sentiments that fill our hearts and our chests, and instead felt like a hollow corpse walking around my house. Each day I progressively felt more and more empty. And the environment of being home only intensified this because I felt like I had nowhere to run to and no one to confide in. Within a few weeks of being home, I could barely recognize who I had become; I thought I had a preconceived notion of who I was, but I was scared when I didn’t recognize myself. Throughout growing up, I gained two identities: other people gave me the identity of a hetero, small town male who remained calm and on top of my school responsibilities; though that summer I realized I didn’t have my own identity for myself. I could only think in confusion; the lack of answers to the questions I posed to myself instilled a fear deep into my unconsciousness. I couldn’t feel any type of remorse or anger or sadness, only the numbness growing inside. And this numbness scared me.
The climax of this emptiness came late one night in July, when I was the only one awake in the house, staying up on my phone. I started making decisions without consciously realizing how it would make me feel. My present vagueness of this night comes with my discomfort that still lingers, but I can simply remember the guilt that exploded from within my body. I sat up in bed and got ready to take a shower, thinking I could wash away my panic. But I was confused as to what was going on, because I had never experienced this degree of a panic attack before. I could not quite grasp that present moment because the whole room was spinning around me. Once the water was as hot as possible, and stepped in, still in a daze. I think my panic turned into a culmination of anxiety, retching my whole body from within. I couldn’t take it, and my body’s first response was to vomit. I stayed there kneeling in the shower throwing up all my guilt, anxiety, and worry, all while trying not to wake my parents. Because I had always gone this alone, I didn’t know how to talk with my family.
Now the timing of this experience came at a busy moment in my life, because my sister’s wedding was just a few weeks away, so I couldn’t allow my own problems take away from her and my family’s happiness. I had to force myself to forget about that night in order to move on. However, I realized that all my life I have had mini episodes like that one, and all my life I have refused to remember any.
But the hardest wasn’t over yet. After the wedding and a family trip abroad, I was hit with a ton of numb anxiety right when the plane’s wheels touched Boston’s soil. Now, instead of purposefully suppressing the memories, I will always remember the night that triggered it all again. Lying in bed, I could feel my chest getting increasingly tight, my limbs turning cold despite the blankets in the beginning of August. But this time I had to make a decision, and I didn’t want to go this alone. I walked into the dark hallway and woke my mom from her sleep.
I brought her back to my room and just started sobbing, uncontrollably, without reason. Now I say that I did not have a reason for my anxieties, but I think this problem actually arises from not being able to quite pinpoint a specific cause. When the effects piled up without any answers, I became hopelessly confused. My nose ran, and all my mom could do was hand me a tissue. I had to release all of the tears before I could even talk. But how could I explain to my mom the utter confusion and answerless questions that I was feeling? She rubbed my back and listened to my questions and confessions. She listened as I tried to explain how I didn’t know who I was, though she couldn’t quite understand. Actually having to say this all was so incredibly difficult to even open my mouth.
I felt guilty for having thought of hurting myself. I felt guilty for lying to myself all throughout my teenage years. I felt guilty for being confused about my sexuality. I felt guilty for not having the answers to all the questions I knew she had. I felt guilty for bringing my anxiety to the surface. And I felt guilty for hurting my family with my sadness.
Sitting there in my room, with my mom next to me, I still don’t know if she paused because of disappointment or because she wanted to say the best thing for me. And at the first thought, my emptiness welled into sobbing tears once more. I could tell this hurt her, which I never wanted. Actually, that’s why I kept it in for so long, because I wanted to avoid any disappointment.
Time has passed, and I have had moments to reflect on that summer. I don’t think I’m the disappointment like I had previously thought, and the outreach from my parents and my sister made me aware of the love that surrounds me. One instance came an afternoon shortly after that second night; my dad simply walked into my room and told me he loves me, that I can always talk to him. His presence showed me that he cares, which I truly needed since we both don’t have the most open relationship.
Also my older sister, who has become one of my best friends as we’ve matured, expressed her understanding and love. After confiding in her and crying in front of her for the first time since I was a kid, she sent me an email that still makes me shed tears today. Simple words can carry immense feeling when they come from someone we love. In that email, she wrote, “I don’t want you to pretend you’re happy when you’re not. But I do hope to see your true happiness soon. Always remember that your family loves you even when things are hard and that we will always support you. You don’t have to be alone in this.” I also want to see my true happiness soon. And each day I strive towards finding that. She gave me confidence to reach out for help and work on myself, and I don’t think I would be sharing my story today if it weren’t for my sister. Reading those words help fill the holes left inside of me, pouring emotions into the emptiness. I try to remain aware of little instances of passion from those around me, because those words can help bring me to the next day.
And here at Middlebury, I’m not 100% sure if I have overcome my emptiness. A few nights ago I had another anxiety attack, crying into the phone, but I know it is different because I didn’t go through it alone. Progression comes in small steps. As long as I am always trying to move forward, I know I’ll be around. And I know it is important to remember those moments that seemed the hardest for me, because I can think back and see where I am today.
Middlebury College, ’18