I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have someone telling me that I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do. When I was a kid, I was teased and told that I would never be beautiful, popular or cool. Now, as an adult, that responsibility has been passed on to the mean girl inside my head – my inner Regina George without the decency to uttering her deadliest blows behind my back where I won’t hear them.
I can vaguely remember when this voice showed up. It was long before I hit the halls of high school. It was that time between when I was an adorable kindergarten student who ruled over my class and graduating from elementary school, when I had glasses, braces and looked slightly like Veruca Salt midway thought her complete-dinner gum (the only difference being that I was very infrequently blue).
By the time I got to high school, I had exchanged my daily emotional breakdowns for a much thicker skin. I was raised by a superhero-level strong mother and a sensitive realist father who preached “sink or swim” and I had always been afraid of drowning. It wasn’t an easy road though. I can still remember the time when my brother’s girlfriend gave me the very backhanded compliment of telling me, “Well, at least you have a pretty face,” meaning that I should be ashamed of everything below my neck. Or when I was at the gym waiting for my dad to finish his squash game and my uncle put me on a treadmill telling me, “maybe you should not be so lazy all the time and try doing something.” I was about 10 for that one.
It was comments like these from others that kept me from questioning my own nasty inner voice when it did show up. I just assumed that all of those thoughts that came into my head – the ones that told me why the guy I liked didn’t like me back, the ones that told me why I didn’t get the part I wanted in the school musical, the ones that told me why I would never succeed at anything ever…
When I was 16, I attended a week-long theatre program that changed the way I thought about myself. This was a place like nothing I had ever imagined. Not only did I find a wealth of people who seemed to understand me in a way that only a handful at home had, but it was also a place drenched in the full breadth of emotions. We would spend the morning laughing in a movement class and then all cry our eyes out in the afternoon while working on scenes.
It wasn’t scary to express exactly how you were feeling.
When I had to leave this paradise to go back to my regular life, I had a difficult time coping. The abusive voice came back with a vengeance but I no longer wanted to succumb to everything that it was telling me. I knew that I was capable of more because I had seen it.
After months of fighting this war with my own mind, I told my parents that I thought I might have mental health issues. My mom made a doctor’s appointment for me and I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and started on medication. I am sure that someone told me that finding the right meds and dosage can be a long process but my 16-year-old brain didn’t fully register that information.
So, I spent the next few months in a daze – cloudy thoughts mixed with moods far worse than I had experienced before I started this process. After the third switch of meds, I couldn’t deal with the side effects anymore and opted to stop and find another way to manage my own mental health.
I was very lucky to have music and theatre in my life throughout this process and I still think that it might have been the thing that saved me. Not only did it give me an outlet for the highs and lows that I had to deal with, but it also provided me with a group of friends that helped to carry me through. I can remember days when I was so down that I would skip a class to take a nap in one of the music practice rooms. There were also days where I stayed after school until after 5 working on a musical with a smile on my face the whole time only to go home for an hour and then go to a community musical rehearsal that evening.
Now, more than a decade since high school, those moments of being immersed in my art – whether it be music, theatre or writing – are still most of the moments when I can feel my inner demons go silent. Unfortunately, life is not a musical and I can’t live in this state all the time.
Five years ago, me and the bitch finally came to blows. I was finishing up a degree in music and was scared of what I would do next in my life. This was my third round of post-secondary education and while I loved what I was doing, I had nothing but dread when I thought of trying to survive on my own in “the real world”. Progressively, over the past couple of years, I had let my inner voice’s hateful words in more and more. Truthfully, for the last year, she almost always overpowered the rest of me.
It was a fight with my best friend that started it. This was someone I had never had even a petty argument before in multiple years of friendship and we stayed up late into the night in a screaming match that still twists my insides when I think about it. The crux of the fight was my inability to see any good in myself, my life or what I had been given anymore. Everything was something to complain about instead of something to celebrate. I was drowning. Something I had promised myself I wouldn’t do a long time ago.
This was my breaking point. I might be willing to give up on myself but I wasn’t going to lose someone I cared so much about because of it. So, I turned to the bitch and asked her to kindly go fuck herself.
I got accepted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and moved home for 6 months before going to save money. I worked 3 jobs and took out a loan that I might be paying off until I’m 60. The day that I moved into my dorm on the Upper West Side was the first day of my and the inner bitch starting our new relationship as frenemies. She had to watch as I achieved something that she had been telling me for years I would never be able to do.
Sometimes she still wins. She definitely still tries. And while she has convinced me that I will never be on Broadway and that I will never marry Chris Pine, she has also watched me travel to a dozen new countries realizing another dream of working on cruise ships. She has seen me fall in love. She was definitely there when I got my heart broken from that love. She has added her two cents into me trying to build a career and life for myself 1000 times over.
My greatest moments are the ones where my strength, happiness and drive are able to leave her mute for a little while. Second to that are the moments when I feel her surprise at being wrong. She isn’t a sore loser. She lets me have as many of those moments as I am able to.
I know that years ago (or even now) I could have stuck it out and found that that combination of meds that would have helped me to silence her. I definitely believe in the strength of people who are able to survive through that process. But, for me, it always felt like in order to limit my bad days I would have to dampen my good. And I couldn’t do that. So, I have settled for a compromise. If you won’t leave, I will do all that I can to prove you wrong.
If you identify with this story, you might be interested in spreading the word about erasing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Check out The Stop the Stigma Collection at Wearable Therapy: