In the summer of 2013, I was faced with a major crossroad: address my demons and fight for happiness, or watch myself wither away in to an unsavory lifestyle. Considering my very wholesome middle-class upbringing, I think most people would be surprised to see how out of hand my social life had gotten and its effect on my mental and physical health. It happened at a time when desirability, excitement, and being seen were all very important to me. It would be the beginning down a long road into depression and anxiety brought on by the usual components of a party lifestyle and a hunger for perfection.
From the time I started school in 2008, I never felt out of place or like I was straying too far off path because everyone I knew was doing the same thing. On top of that, my university was full of beautiful, talented women with overachievement issues and the same craving to be the entire package. In addition to that, the male to female ratio was so distinct, guys didn’t have to try hard and by that I mean they were often unkind or unfaithful. It didn’t stop most of us from engaging in several unfulfilling dalliances. This type of environment proved to be detrimental to my self-esteem, but it was college and who wasn’t freaking out?
It didn’t matter. I looked like I was happy and enjoying my adjustment into early adulthood, but there was always something in the background saying it wasn’t enough or I wasn’t enough. I accepted the water-downed version of happiness, which was getting high with my many acquaintances and pretending I was too cool to care about being decent. Like most people in my generation, I romanticized being unpredictable and broken. Messy. Unstable. A so-called gypsy, free spirit, or whatever tumblr hashtag that softens the blow of being called self-absorbed and unreliable.
I’d be foolish to say it was all bad. I made some incredible friendships with outstanding people. However, that didn’t stop me from being terrible at times or putting a premium on my lifestyle with other overly indulgent people. Their relationships were often superficial; everyone gossiped about each other and slept with each other. I had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved feeling like I was impulsive, hedonistic, and admired. I hated the emptiness that came along with knowing the party always ends and rarely set the foundation for anything meaningful. For the most part, this type of reckless behavior is expected to some degree and I truly believe in going outside your comfort zone to learn more about yourself and the world around you. However, some of us took it too far and there came a point where some of us would move on to new things and the rest of us would stay in this cycle of destructive behavior. I felt like I was staggering behind. Did I waste too much time trying to create an image of myself rather than being true to myself?
I was always considered very studious, confident, ambitious, and well-rounded. I was voted “Most Likely to Become Legendary” by my sorority. My professors recognized me as a distinguished student. From the outside looking in, I was on track for success, but on the inside looking deeper, I felt like I couldn’t get it together. These weren’t necessarily new feelings. I’ve always suffered from the result of being overly critical and introspective, but with this added debauchery, it started to feel like an unraveling of sorts. Instead of seeking a way out of the darkness, I surrounded myself with kindred spirits. This environment encouraged me to care more about being a “bad bitch” versus being a good woman, and that is when I truly lost myself.
I was a staggering 110 lbs by senior year, which was incredibly waifish for my 5’7” frame. My diet almost exclusively consisted of adderall, chips, and margaritas (slight exaggeration, but not too far off). Over the next year, I would have a nervous breakdown, graduate, and move to another part of town. It wasn’t until I became close to a new group of people that I started to see an improvement. Our inner struggles are ours to work on but we can’t do it alone. It was good to be around women that cared more about personal success, nurtured relationships, and inner peace over desirability. At that point, I made a decision to commit to long-term success over instant gratification. Not a man. Not a diet. Not a dress. Not a bag. It had to be a full on dedication to self-improvement.
When you’re so enamored by your own destruction, you lose touch with what is meaningful and focus on what is frivolous. The millennial culture has a way of romanticizing mental illness, substance abuse, and promiscuity in a way that makes us accept things that are in no way healthy or beneficial. We’ve gotten into this twisted mindset that it’s glamorous to be broken, erratic, and unstable. As I’m letting these very intimate words pour out, I’m asking myself why I’m sharing this so publicly in the first place. When I look back and I see where I was and why, I feel the need to put a spotlight on the conversation of the obsession with broken women. While human suffering is a natural part of life, it can’t be the sum of all our parts. We live in a time where we have so much access to information and can use that to empower ourselves. I was lucky to have family and friends that intervened. One friend put it so simply and to this day I’m thankful she had the frankness to say “Snap out of it.” In so many words, she told me that I am not mentally ill, but that I’m spoiled. I was walking through life with the expectation that every day should go my way, and when it didn’t I would lash out like a toddler.
This is in no way an argument against mental illness. I’ve known several people close to me in life that struggle with various forms of it, and I applaud them for trying their best everyday to overcome it. This is more for those of us that accept our darkness and give ourselves fully to it. This is for those of us that think we aren’t interesting or deserving of love unless we are complicating or manipulating it. This is for those of us that have always known we were more than what we were encouraging ourselves to be. We are not born broken people and the human spirit is capable of so much more than accepting a life that empties our zest for happiness. Our past and pain doesn’t define us, but can help shape and strengthen who we are. We owe it to ourselves to constantly reexamine why we hurt and who we’re hurting because we have so much to lose if we do not.