Of all the terrifying creatures and apparitions in the stories and movies that riddle our history, the most horrifying is always the monster that we can’t run away from. The one that doesn’t disappear when we close our eyes or when the end credits start to roll. The one that we see around every dark corner, every shadowy alleyway, and in every mirror. I am referring, of course, to the monster that is neither a projection nor an illusion, but rather a part of our daily lives. The monster inside of us.
Now, I’m not claiming that every last one of us is harboring a Mr. Hyde or Incredible Hulk within our bodies. The monster I speak of is not necessarily one of anger and destruction, though that may very well be the case in some instances, but rather one that feeds on the imbalance it creates within the mind of its host. What I mean to address today is the concept of anxiety – the monster that changes your personality without the added benefit of gamma radiation-induced biceps.
I can only speak of my own troubles with anxiety, of course, and address how this monster affected my life.
At the beginning of my journey, I experienced a heightened irritability, especially when it came to speaking with certain people or finding myself in an unpleasant situation. Naturally, this was brushed aside; all people get cranky once in awhile and being a teenager meant I was clearly full of raging hormones that made me snap at my mother and seethe for days at the smallest things. Teenagers for years have been portrayed as brooding, defiant, and rebellious. Who was I to deny such a popular convention? So I pouted and grumbled and became prone to intense outbursts, prompted by powerful waves of (often irrational) exaggerated anger. So, perhaps there was more truth to that Hulk statement than I originally thought…
Because I am a female, PMS was another easily utilized excuse. Did I wake up with cramps this morning? Maybe I should eat some chocolate? Needless to say, I struggled a great deal with my anger management and became perpetually frustrated with the casual dismissal of my problems from my both parents and my own subconscious. But there was more to this monster than just a quick temper. I became so much more self-conscious and I was frequently swept away with tides of sorrow and self-pity. Whereas my anger usually seemed to be verbal and focused outward, my own mind was, at the same time, under constant attack from itself. In hindsight, I can see that a monster such as this one doesn’t just target a few stray villagers, it systematically destroys an entire house. So I began to rely on fleeing the monster, which I felt was my only hope.
When my normal methods of escapism; music, movies, Tumblr, YouTube, and reading, all started to have less and less of a positive effect on me, I took to physically hiding from the world. Keeping in mind that I am a bisexual young woman, my chosen place of solitude was (and this is the ironic part) the closet. Yes, at 16, I began fleeing whatever triggering situation that caused my rage or sadness and head to my room, where I would slam the door and retreat into my closet. There is a small chance that my fangirl obsession with Harry Potter might have had a slight subconscious influence on this. But at the time, all I could think of was leaving. So that no one would see my crying, so I wouldn’t snap and break something, so I could berate myself privately, so I could let the comforting darkness surround me as I drifted to sleep in the fetal position.
It became so bad, in the sense that I started hiding so frequently in my closet, that I started bringing in items to make my stay more comfortable: a thick comforter became my nesting ground, an old journal and pen allowed me to write my feelings on tear-stained pages for the recurring pseudo-therapy sessions that went on in my mind. If I wasn’t gasping from full, body-wracking sobs or breathing painfully heavily to counter my anger, I would try and play my music before I closed the door to my little safe haven. The sounds would soothe the Cerberus into sleep.
Explaining it to my parents was impossible. How does one rationalize trapping themselves in their own closet? How could I make sense of my willful imprisonment? I just felt like it offered me a sense of peace, some comfort, some control. I consider that to be the biggest push, now that I think about my actions more critically. You see, the house I lived in was old and full of a rich dark wood that was warped from many seasonal changes. My closet door, being so warped, was incredibly difficult to open after you closed it completely. When my parents first got the house, it was a hassle for me, but soon it was a blessing in disguise. I would hole myself up in there and no one could come in or out unless I decided they could. I was the gatekeeper to my own twisted little Narnia and my word was law. If I was feeling particularly vulnerable, I would hold the door handle tightly, to doubly assure myself that I could remain there as long as I needed to. Once, I contemplated staying there indefinitely, before realizing that that was one of the most irrational and ill-thought out plans that ever crossed my mind.
Again, my parents could not fully understand, nor do I believe they will anytime soon. I imagine few people do: it’s a rather peculiar thing. Isn’t it lovely to be unique? I was the girl who took comfort in being locked away like some damsel in a fairy tale. My closet wasn’t really a place for safety and security, though, as much as I tried to fool myself. I remember crying myself to sleep in there, dreaming of escaping from that house, from that town, from the world in general.
In truth, I was terrified of these dreams and still am. I love that house and my parents. I love crappy little Watertown, New York. I love the friends I made there, the experiences I had from 5th grade to my senior year of high school. But the feeling – the urgency – that demanded I just get the fuck out of there was so powerful, so tantalizing. Looking back, I understand that I was really just fantasizing about running away from the monster in my head, the one who screamed and cried and hated me so very, very much. The one who honestly seemed to hate everything and everyone I cared about, or in the case of yours truly, who I should care about. But the monster was me. I was the one full of cynicism and tears. I was the one who wanted to damage the four walls around me and fling hurtful words at my loved ones.
It’s so frightening realizing that you are a monster. Waking up every day and wishing for your own special brand of wolfsbane to tame your wild, demonic mind. And I was constantly belittling myself for being so weak. My friends didn’t hide in their closets. My fellow high schoolers never screamed their throats raw and then some. Other people didn’t spend hours crying in the darkness, wondering if they truly deserved to be as alone as they felt. Wondering if the loneliness would be present inside of them forever and if forced seclusion was really the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones from the monster.
But the sad truth is, the world around us is full of people battling their own demons. There are high school students who have psychiatrists these days. There are people who have hurt themselves or others, there are kids who dream of running away. And we all know that none of it is okay. Or even natural. But it isn’t exactly unnatural, either, when there are so many cases like mine. It resides in the gray area between the two concepts; indefinable, obscure. Now that I’m older, I can better understand that I am not alone in this; there are men, women, and children who are going through similar things right this second. I know that it’s perfectly okay for me to seek counselling (from family, friends, or professionals) if I ever feel monstrous again. Some people just need a bit more help to overcome the challenges they face. For me, I haven’t had a panic attack since I came to Arcadia. How’s that for a college brochure tagline? Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t, but it has given me some hope.
And maybe I will never fully get over my anxiety, maybe it’s impossible for anyone to really get away from this monster. I might end up hiding under my bed (my closet in my dorm doesn’t have a door) before the year is up. But if I have learned anything from years of watching far too much television and reading way too many fantasy novels (I kid, there will never ever be too many fantasy novels), it is that the protagonist will never, can never give in completely to their monster. That would make for a terrible plot after all! So I can’t allow my feelings and thoughts build up like before until I become an unrecognizable creature, disfigured emotionally beyond all self-recognition.
If hope is the only weapon that I have – that any of us have – against the monsters, then so be it. We will face those creatures with our heads held high and say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Well, maybe not that, but something equally badass and memorable. Because we are all the heroes and heroines of our stories. We may stumble and even crawl, but we will see our journeys through to the end. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even like my monster. I mean, from my point of view, the action figure would probably be really cool. With devil horns, razor-like fangs, and a Kung-Fu grip. The perfect enemy for G.I. Jane, who’s starting to look a hell of a lot like me.