Middle of March – I was in the back of an Uber when my heart began to thud at an unfamiliar pace. The pumping of red liquid ooze rapidly increasing. My earbuds were in sync to the sensation. I reached for my chest, which had began to feel as if a weight were laying on it. I began to feel crippled with fear. I begged my Uber driver to take me to the emergency room. As, he did I began to roll down the windows and chug from my water bottle. I thought to myself “air, if only I could get more air.” I began to feel trapped as if I were in a box that kept shrinking with every breath I took. When I made it to the ER, I had spent at least four hours waiting. Waiting, just to find out that physically I was fine. In fact, grade-A bill of health. So what had been wrong with me?
It had been a physical reaction to the trauma of the months before. If a freeze frame were taken of me sitting in the ER, it would have made for a great BET movie entrance. I would have flashed a smile to the panning dolly and exclaimed to the camera “hey, you’re probably wondering how I got into this situation, but here’s how…”. In fact, picture that in your mind as I tell you how.
If anyone from my university recognizes this: yes, I am indeed the girl from the GroupMe who wrote “where can I go on campus to feel comfortable being black.” Through the months of October through January, I witnessed myself spiraling downwards. I began to doubt myself, and thought my presence was a burden to everyone. I believed that all the bad happening to me were because of my own actions. I believed I was a horrible person and began to withdraw from society. I began staying full afternoons to late nights in the library, isolated. My laptop broke, but I conditioned my mind to not replace it because it was my excuse of going to the Library. It was my excuse to leave. I thought “oh well, I don’t have a laptop, I have to disappear and go to Thompson.”
What was I running away from? The feeling of being a pest. I spent the months of October to January in a living situation that left me in tears. By November, I would sneak out the room just to cry. I wanted them to like me because I’ve been told I look mean or unapproachable. I sacrificed my peace and began to escape, because I believed that I was ruining the atmosphere. During those months, if I would return to the dorm it’d be no earlier than midnight. I even would sleep on the floors of friends’ dorms, and would sometimes cry myself to sleep.
I didn’t know how to operate. I would keep to myself, and notice that my roommates’ friends would always look at me as if I were evil. I would open the door to visitors and be brushed past. If I were to be on the phone with my mother, they would listen to my calls. I had to shut my door, and retreat to the farthest corner to speak on the phone. I’ve come home to foreign clothes on my bed, or laundry on my desk, subjected to micro-aggressions. I found myself saying sorry for merely existing. Feeling hopeless in a sense, I looked to what made me feel whole; and that was art. I posted posters of Nelson Mandela, Michelle Obama, family, Jesse Williams, my article pieces, and posts of friends reminding me that I matter. Because for a long time, I didn’t believe I did…
I was reported. My posters were reported. My space was reported for radical agenda. Pictures of my wall were taken and sent in. I felt stripped naked. As a creative artist, being stripped of self-expression and being told you’re below inadequate – or “You’re downright wrong” – is enough to create a blow to your confidence. “Didn’t matter”, I thought.
No repercussions were handed to me, except the aching feeling. I was lost. I remember posting what I deemed to be my first call for help in the black university’s GroupMe after crying to myself on the floor of my bedroom closet. I got maybe one or two responses, and a phone call. I reached out to faculty, not much of any assistance. I called the school counseling services but chickened out. I thought “Who would believe me?”
The situation eventually escalated (that’s a story for another article). Thus, I moved from that housing situation. Two months in, that’s when I received my first anxiety attack. I thought I was having a heart attack, I thought I was losing my mind. I was in the back seat of an Uber when I yelled “take me to the E.R.!” After running blood work tests and x-rays, I was found to be in great physical shape. I saw other doctors and was made aware that this physical sensation can be only triggered by anxiety. I was triggered. As my counselor would tell me, my body tensing up to emotion and fear will have a lasting toll on me.
How could I describe what I was going through? I felt alone. I’ve always been a loner, sometimes by choice. I’ve seen footage of my first birthday party and it’s me playing around my childhood home by myself.
I felt that I belonged at my institution academically, however, anytime I tried to branch out socially, I felt misplaced, I felt odd. I felt as if my presence was unwanted. It reminded me of when I moved from San Leandro, California to San Ramon, California. San Leandro was a small city that was very diverse. Fair share of all races, and I was fortunate enough to have teachers that found importance of instructing us with diversity at an early age. I had a teacher by the name of Sam Miller who instructed me in both the second and third grade. She taught us about chocolate with insects inside, Chinese New Year and cuisines, and a group therapy. When I moved to San Ramon for High School, there was very little diversity. I remember waiting for my mother to pick me up from school, and when I smiled at another Black girl walking past me, she looked at me and clutched her purse. There are multiple stories of micro-aggressions during my time in high school, however, that is for a different time.
The feeling that I got when that girl clutched her purse was magnified during the time of my housing issue and my time in Columbus. I love the city of Columbus, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t love having to fight everyday to remind myself that it’s not my job to worry about feeling unaccepted. In fact, many of the “G.O.A.T.S” in history always felt a little off from everyone else.
What I got out of that tribulation and the constant battle of trying to find my space, or home, in Columbus is that I am happy not being accepted if that means I get to freely be myself. Why do I sacrifice just to keep face? Just to say I have XYZ number of friends? Just to say I’m a loveable person? Why have I been subjecting myself to such disconcertment?
I have learned that growing into my own requires hardships, and life will adjust itself in a way to be met with all kinds of different types of people. I believe with my constant moving and youth drama, I have grown to embrace negativity and search for a silver lining. Yes, these people talk about me; yes, I met them yesterday and now they are ignoring me; yes, they think I’m weird. However, I’m learning to love myself more, embrace myself more, talk more, and refuse to let my pain take a backseat because I matter just as much as the person I’m overshadowing in front of my own health. This situation broadens my depth of anxiety and depression. The stigma behind them. In fact, I was so embarrassed to be suffering from anxiety I would stay up looking for symptoms of undisclosed heart conditions. I associated anxiety with losing myself, my mind, but it is not that.
It is not simple, and flare-ups can happen. I began to feel more reassurance in my self-enrichment course were I met two girls suffering from a higher-grade anxiety level. One girl spent three days in a hospital unit because of an intense anxiety attack. Another girl, in her first year, was taking medication for hers. She told me “I can’t believe I’m taking pills? Me?”
I can’t say that I’ve overcome this on my own. I still struggle with a lower grade of anxiety that, at times, makes going out in public feel painfully enduring, car and plane rides feel as if I’m going to inhale all the contained air and suffocate, and trust issues intensify. However, with the help of writing, maintaining a “thought journal”, attending self-enrichment courses and campus counseling, the monstrous sea of trouble has become merely a puddle of worry.