Growing up, I always saw myself as a very laid-back person, rolling with whatever life could throw at me. However, during my senior year of high school, that image came crashing down, brought on by anxiety from intense bullying.
When you’re always being told by your peers that you are somehow “off,” it eventually starts to hurt. With my bullies, I couldn’t win. I was accused of not being cool enough, not sexual enough, but at the same time I was also too weird and too loud. When you are both too little and too much, slowly but surely, the idea of not being enough will ingrain itself in your soul. I watched all the hard work my parents did teaching me to love myself go up in flames, leaving behind dark clouds of fear.
My fear manifested itself in a multitude of ways. I was afraid of never being good enough, never belonging, and never being accepted for who I am. There was also my fear of letting down my loved ones, of messing up, of disappointing them. There were a million fears. They cast shadows over every day, grew a thorny cage around my heart, squeezed the air from my lungs, and planted seeds of doubt in my mind.
I ignored it for a while. The fear took hold like weeds in a garden. Ten of them grew back for the one I managed to rip out, but I told myself that they weren’t a problem. At times, I even convinced myself that they were kind of pretty, like the way the calm before a storm is eerily breathtaking.
Like weeds, fear that is not acknowledged or addressed only grows more fear. My fear-garden got out of hand in 2010 while I was away from home. The fear-weeds had taken hold so decisively that they had cracked the very foundation of who I was, burrowing so deeply into the corners of my mind that I had forgotten what it was like to see the sun.
I searched out the counseling center on my campus for help, expecting them to have the miracle cure for my problems – a magical, greenery-destroying unicorn, maybe. Instead, I was given something even better: the tools to take my inner garden and trim all those pesky fear-weeds into something I could work with. These tools were something I already had within me, but they had been gathering dust in the back of my mental toolshed, undiscovered.
To this day, my fears put up an intense fight. Sometimes, the worry in my head gets so bad that I just sit at my desk, staring into nothingness because the anxiety has me so tightly in its grip.
It is then that I force myself to remember this: I am the gardener of my mind and soul. I decide how things grow, how I deal with the wild flowers that spring up, and how many weeds I will permit in my life.
At times, being your own gardener can seem impossible. In that case, there is no shame in asking a professional for help. After all, you wouldn’t just start pulling up trees and cutting into hedges in your actual garden, would you? Your mind and soul are no different.
And while there are thorns in every garden, the biggest thing I have learned is that you need to take time to enjoy the view. Because no matter how overgrown or neatly kept your garden is, these are the things that make you who you are.
So grab a cup of tea and a good book, put your feet up, and just relish the fact that while it may not be perfect or appeal to everyone, your garden is beautiful.
It’s not too little or too much, it’s just you, and you are perfect.