It has taken me years to get back on my feet after being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD during my freshman year of college. I remember how surreal it felt to know that my life wasn’t the way it should be. Finally, someone could put a label on the complicated mess of feelings, somatic symptoms, and obstacles I had dealt with for the better part of my childhood and adolescence.
All it would take to feel better was medication and scheduled therapy, so they said. So for a year and a half I played the game (so to speak), taking the lowest possible dose of Zoloft plus Ritalin (“as needed”) and went to see a psychologist weekly (sometimes biweekly).
I was ecstatic because I would finally see how it felt to be “normal” and “happy”. Just like someone who suffers from physical illness or disorder, I dreamed of being ‘cured’ and knowing what it would feel like to have optimal mental health.
Nevertheless, this system worked for a while until it started to dawn on me that my new Zoloft-fueled feelings weren’t authentic. Perhaps I wasn’t bothered by Amy* sleeping with a guy I liked because it really was no big deal, rather than an inability to feel anger due to the medication I was taking.
As a result, I started to question my reality.
I explained my apprehension towards continuing to take Zoloft to my psychologist and we made a plan to wean me off of it. I didn’t experience similar adverse effects with Ritalin, so I chose to remain on that medication.
A couple months after I stopped taking Zoloft, once the nasty side effects ceased, I felt like new again. Of course, I was a bit more emotional (maybe even irrational at times), but I finally felt real. I relished the fact that I could feel anger, sadness, and all kinds of emotions when they were warranted, as opposed to making cognitive assessments of the appropriateness of said emotions in a given context. This new normal seemed to work for me.
Over time, I stopped seeing my psychologist, too. At first, I made excuses about time, money, and whatever else. I cancelled more appointments than I kept. Finally, I convinced myself that I could be okay on my own. I manipulated myself into believing that my depression was transient. I was free. Cured.
The stigma associated with mental illness provoked me to escape – at all costs – from any aspect of having one. Rather than call my psychologist to schedule an appointment, I would bottle up my feelings. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I would take my anger and frustration out on those around me (my parents, Luke, and even myself).
When I gained 20 pounds, I used it as ammunition for blaming myself for any problems I experienced. (“Oh, your friends didn’t invite you out because you’re ugly now”) I became the self-destructive person I always had been, but all the more dangerous because I falsely believed that those experiences were all behind me. I thought that my renewed depressive and anxious episodes were something that resembled “normal” anxiety and sadness.
I listened time and again to people around me talk down about mental illness. I even mentally victim-blamed others like myself who suffer from real and dangerous mental illness (and disorder), labelling them as weak or whiney. I knew that I fit those descriptors, too…but I was more focused on distancing myself from that stigma than being true to my own beliefs.
Rather than become an advocate for myself (and others) by speaking out and getting the help I needed – even if that meant budgeting time and money to do so – I internalized all the negative energy and experiences. This process intensified over the last 6-7 months.
Before my diagnoses, I tricked myself for over 6 years into believing that this is just the way life is: daily panic attacks, tears, and anxiety about my social and emotional well-being. I accepted a less than enjoyable life under the premise that everyone lives this way and that those who don’t vocalize their problems (like I do) are just “bigger people” because they can accept these feelings and still be able to function.
In the past 9-12 months, I’ve reverted to that lifestyle. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. Sure, I own my successes and I recognize my failures, but I don’t feel like a participant in my own life. I’m a spectator, along for the ride. Bumps included.
I stopped living for me and started living for others. I inquired about others’ lives and reached out more than I had before. I thought that the perceived decline in my social life might be due to being introverted or having a tendency to self-isolate.
Once I reached out, I was able to make plans and have something fun to do almost every weekend. It was exciting to want to socialize and to have access to as much as I wanted.
Despite my efforts, things turned sour at the beginning of this school year. I became a burden, an annoyance, a friend who needed to be coddled and reassured of their worth. I recognized that my “normal” mask wasn’t doing its job. People could tell that I wasn’t happy-go-lucky and fun-loving all the time. I’ve realized that people don’t want to be around someone who can’t pretend to be those things.
But I tried to make things work. I backed off a bit, thinking I may have came off too strong. I stopped asking about others and waited for them to come to me. When I felt excluded, I avoided bringing it up. Except no one seemed to notice and I felt an even deeper need to be included. I was hurting myself more and more each day by trying to be a more perfect image of the type of friend I thought others wanted to have.
So, I tried to re-evaluate if I had done or said something wrong. I thought that maybe I might be to blame for my problems. In effect, I gaslighted myself. I criticized my own thinking, deciding that I was being either irrational or foolish and not intuitive or perceptive (as I had previously thought). I began to question my reality (again). I didn’t trust my own assessments of things, consistently asking for others to weigh in on a situation and tell me what they thought was real.
At times I would make sure that everything was okay and would be reassured that it was. This fueled my thought processes, further confusing my conception of what was really going on in my life. But asking for reassurance never fixed the problem. It never made me feel more secure, happier, or loved. Nevertheless, I bit my tongue and continued to go to events (when I was invited) and reaching out in order to maintain friendships and relationships.
In the last month, my creeping suspicions arose again. In a sense, I am a dandelion.
Sure, some people can see past the fact that dandelions are weeds and even find beauty in them…but no one would really miss them if they weren’t there. They’re a nuisance, even.
It dawned on me that the only reason communication was intact between myself and others was because I continued to reach out and start conversations. Here I was, bright yellow and ever-present — asking for someone to pick me, to choose me, to prefer me. I became infuriated when I was passed over for the red roses in my life. Red roses are inviting, have apparent beauty, and seem to say “pick me, you won’t be disappointed”. But unlike dandelions, red roses can hurt you because beneath their facade hide sharp thorns. Red roses, unlike dandelions, hold power over others. Try as I might, my attempts to be empowered resulted in others holding power over me.
As a dandelion, I spent so much time making myself accessible and available that I didn’t realize that I had lost my appeal. I wasn’t a red rose. I didn’t think I even wanted to be a red rose. But I was jealous of them. I wanted someone to see me, as I was, and recognize how dependable and loving I could be. However, my best qualities weren’t displayed on the surface, but rather were integral to my character. Unless someone takes the effort to really appreciate them, no matter how hard a dandelion tries, it will only ever amount to a child’s disposable flower crown (at best) – essentially, dandelions are perceived as replaceable.
I don’t want to change who I am, but I sure as hell don’t want to be in my current position either. I have seen how it feels to be a dandelion and I will remember to appreciate the dandelions in my life. I have also seen how I can be fooled by my own intuition whether it relates to my self-concept, my reality, or my relationships. Moving forward, I choose to believe in me before I believe in what others tell me.
I’m tired of expressing how I feel only to be gaslighted or forced to apologize for my words. I was raised to advocate for myself and that quality had been all but stamped out after years of being told I am “too emotional” “dramatic” or “overly sensitive”.
No matter what someone tells you, it is imperative that you own your truth and recognize that both you and your feelings are valid.
I’m tired of waiting. Waiting for someone else to text me first, to invite me out first, or to post an Instagram collage on my birthday when I did the same for them. While seemingly minor, these experiences add up over time and contribute to a sense of worthlessness. I have lost my patience because I have waited too long for reciprocal acknowledgment. I am exhausted because I have given so much but the result has been a net loss.
The bottom line is that I simply do not have the energy to reassure myself that my friendship with someone else is healthy and nourished. I need something in return, some evidence that I am not the only one who cares. I need proof that I am appreciated in spite of being a dandelion.
What’s worse, I’ve run out of ways to solve this conundrum. I am stuck.
I can’t express how I feel, because I know how that ends.
I can’t wait for others to notice that I’m gone from their lives, because I’m only hurting myself by letting them continue to treat me like a weed.
And I can’t just move on, because I do love and cherish these relationships. I invested so much time and energy into these relationships that I simply can’t go without something in return.
I’m left with several questions: Does anyone care? Does it matter that I’m losing my will to withstand and my ability to grow? Will anyone recognize that they’ve done me wrong? Will they admit to lying by omission, not appreciating my presence, and allowing me to recognize that I’m simply a weed and nothing more?
History tells me the answer to all these questions. I pray that somehow I’m wrong.
I hope that by writing about my experience I can remind others (and myself) about the dangers of relinquishing control of your own truth to others around you. The important thing is that I have learned a few lessons through these struggles.
- Don’t change your lifestyle in order to be more palatable to other people. Go to therapy, take medication, or meditate if that’s what helps you be the best you. Don’t do those things in order to become someone you are not because you will fail time and again. I thought that healing meant becoming someone new, but I was wrong. If you cast away your true self in the process, there will be nothing left to make you you. It’s important to embrace your faults and allow for some of your quirks to remain.
- Don’t associate with people who pick and choose when they are there for you. Even on my best days, I have felt utterly alone. Your support system should lift you up when you’re down but also celebrate when you succeed. If others don’t express interest in your life, or even refrain from sharing theirs with you, its not worth it.
- Finally, BE HONEST. If you don’t love and cherish someone in your life, it’s better to tell them how you feel than to perpetuate the relationship where they give more. It’s a waste of someone else’s time and frankly, it’s rude. If you do love and cherish those people, tell them. Maintain connections with people who maintain connections with you. Some express their emotions more than others but everyone needs support and attention from time to time.
This takes it back to Kindergarten (“the Golden Rule”), but please please please treat people you call your friends the way you would like to be treated.
*Clearly, not a real name.