I was terrified of my own voice for seven years.
I didn’t want people to know what it felt like to be me. To be struggling with perfectionism so overpowering that I became numbers over letters, to be battling mental illnesses without a soul knowing the severity, the agony, to “have it all” to those on the outside, but to somehow still have a gaping hole in the top right corner of my soul.
So I kept it in. I didn’t say a word. And I smiled. A lot.
I know I’m not the only one.
And I know this because I hear it, every day, from all of you. I receive at least ten, at most over one hundred (!!) direct messages a DAY from my incredible readers/warriors, and it breaks my heart into shambles to read how so many of you are fighting the same battles that I have fought. That so many of you are breaking. That so many of you are fighting and breaking alone.
I want you to know: I have been you, and I am you.
I was walking upon the eggshells of the life I was purposefully wrecking, my feet aching and scarring, my eyes tinted grey. I was in the tunnel for so long that I forgot that there is supposed to be a light at the end. There were days where I didn’t even honestly want to make it to the end. I just wanted to fall, there, and let the jagged pieces cut my body like they’d cut my frontal lobe.
I could not, for the life nor death of me, understand why I was so damn sad.
Perfect family? Check. Athletic and academic ability? Check. Understanding and loyal friends? Check. The means to live well? Check. Passions, hobbies, interests? Triple check.
So I felt like my depression was fraudulent. Practically treasonous. I held in the way that I was actually feeling because someone who has so much should not possibly be feeling so little.
Finally, after years, I began to confide in close friends, family members, and coaches. Most of the time this was after confrontation instead of a voluntary choice to say what was up. I still felt ashamed, fake, wrong. I felt as if I was burdening the people I loved by carrying my own burdens. And that’s not a very good way to feel.
I remember finally breaking down to my cross country coach a few months into an eating disorder relapse, and after spilling my feelings, apologizing for giving him my “sob story”. A few weeks later, when I went back to a consistent therapist and gave her my background, I also felt the need to explain that I wasn’t trying to load her down with my “sob story”. This trend continued for years, with every new therapist and dietician and doctor and teacher and friend that I met.
“Geez, I’m sorry for telling you my sob story.”
Now I’m aware of a pretty vital plot twist: there is no such thing as a sob story.
The term “sob story” has come to hold a pretty negative connotation. As has, well, anything fairly “sad” or even remotely pessimistic in our culture. It’s just not allowed to be there.
Have an eating disorder? Well, at least you’re not starving like the kids in Africa (so eat, or it’s disrespectful).
Have anxiety? Well, at least you don’t have cancer. Now that’s something to be anxious about.
Have depression? Well, at least you have a family that loves you. See, nothing to be depressed about!
Raped? At least you haven’t been sex trafficked.
Bullied? At least you get to go to school.
Addicted? At least you haven’t overdosed on heroin.
And it goes on. And on. And on.
The toxic thing about this sort of thinking is that it furthers the concept that unless you have it the absolute worst, unless every single one of your circumstances is undeniably disastrous, you aren’t allowed to struggle.
And this makes us look back on our past, our mishaps, our mental and physical struggles and say, “Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I am being dramatic. If I tell people, maybe they’ll think that, too.”
Insert, the acute sense of shame that makes us label our unique, complex past experiences as “sob stories”.
It’s like we’re saying, “Yeah, I know, it really wasn’t that bad and I’m sorry I wasted your time on it.”
When really, yeah, it was that bad. It was real. It was valid. It. HURT.
I’ve finally begun to realize this.
Changing the way that I looked at my past truly changed my outlook on the way that I can build from it.
Our pasts are not only the things that went wrong, but the things that went right.
No matter what happened, no matter how invincible those walls seemed, no matter how many bullets threatened to shatter your brain, somehow, some way, you’re here to tell about it.
And darling, that isn’t a sob story.
That’s a strength story.
That’s every single cell inside of you, every single thought, every single memory, every tiny atom of your being coming together to make sure that the story does not end here, and that there is a story to be told, and that the story is one of success.
There is nothing embarrassing, burdensome, or apology-requiring about that.
Every single scar has made you who and what you are.
So stop saying sorry.
Stop calling that miraculous hurricane that eroded you into resilience and regality a “sob story”.
Wear your crown and start relishing in your strength story.