If you see me in public, hands folded, head down, it doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly. If you approach me, stand a centimeter too close, and I back away slightly, I don’t mean to offend. If I distance myself from the noise or traffic or thick suffocation of a whirring crowd, it has nothing to do with you, I swear. I’ll do my best impression of a mother and wife who has her life together. I’ll run the errands and do the grocery shopping and drive across town, and I’ll do it without so much as a wince. But inside, where the dark, misunderstood parts lurk, I’m screaming so loud, I can be heard shrieking through the heavens.
Diagnosed with a laundry list of depression, OCD, PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, my tics and rituals worsened, becoming more obvious to those around me. I could hide the fact that I rubbed my knuckles when anxious or scrubbed the counter a minimum of twenty times a day because I did those things in the comfort of my home. But when I walked outside my front door, it was different. Certain sounds, like thunder or someone speaking in a loud voice, made me panic. When confronted with very basic decisions like which cereal to choose, I’d waste so much time wading in indecision that I would miss things happening around me. I had to maintain a strict schedule, which forced me to bail early on plans. I always managed to explain my way out, but every time, I felt bits of me disintegrating into nothing.
For the longest time, I hid my anxiety for fear of judgment. Certainly no one would understand how utterly catatonic all the thoughts made me. There was no way anyone could see me as anything more than these disorders once I confessed. These are the things, the lies, I told myself to keep from reaching out. I kept this life secret, these truths hidden, so as not to expose myself even further. I didn’t want everyone thinking things about me, true or not, that changed the way they felt about the person I am. I kept telling myself it would be OK. I could get by pretending I wasn’t dying inside as long as everyone’s opinion of me remained unwavering, no matter the price I’d pay for it.
It wasn’t until I reached a place of reckless freefalling—a place that nearly killed me—that I took the steps necessary to try and reign it all in. This meant recognizing that I couldn’t care about anyone’s opinion of me for one more fleeting moment. I needed help before I fell into a hole I couldn’t climb out of. It was that dire and yet, once I got to this point, I still didn’t grasp the gravity of how far I’d already fallen.
The first step, for me, was realizing all of these things I battle? They don’t define me—just like they don’t define you. You are not your madness, and I am not mine.
We are human. We are flawed. We are learning. We are evolving. And we are broken, illuminating the cracks in order to fit the pieces back together. It’s humbling and humiliating to identify our weaknesses and to work on them day after day. But know this: Pretending everything is calm when a war has broken loose inside you means you’ll never live the life you were meant to live. So tell your truths. Scream them and don’t apologize for what you’re feeling.
You don’t have to hide anymore because you are not your madness. What you are is human.
Candace Ganger is a mother, blogger, contributing writer for sites like XO Jane & Hello Giggles, obsessive marathoner and continual worrier. Her debut YA novel, THE INEVITABLE COLLISION OF BIRDIE & BASH, will be out via St. Martin’s Press (Griffin Teen) Spring/Summer2017.