When I was younger, one of my best friends buried my favorite pair of mittens deep in the snow on the hill behind my house. She pretended that it was just a joke, but at the end of the day she never told me where she hid them, and despite my begging and frantic digging, I couldn’t find them. I suppose now, that the secrecy she held even in that moment, was a fantastic foreshadowing of the mysteries she would leave me within the years to come.
As we got older, she started doing more things without me, which was normal, as we were both growing into ourselves in different ways. But of course, valuing our friendship, meant wondering what she was up to.
About halfway through our first year of high school, she revealed to me that I wasn’t someone she thought to be much of a friend at all, and in fact, no one that I had hung out with during my childhood seemed to think so either. Her reasons were vague, and perhaps the most daunting aspect of her approach, was how she acted as the messenger for the whole. Though I never felt like was on bad terms with others in the friend group, no one approached me with a different opinion, or any conversation at all, for that matter. Of all her secrets throughout the years, this was the one that broke me.
After this event, things became much darker. I remember the loneliness mostly. The ghostlike feeling of merely existing in a world where you have deadlines to meet and standards to uphold when in reality, having gotten out of bed that morning was a major accomplishment all on its own. Making the transition from middle to high school is difficult enough, but having to do so while struggling with a damaged sense of self-worth and a lack of a support system is next to impossible.
When faced with rejection, it is easy to fall into a rut of reevaluation, but when those types of harsh criticisms come from a place you thought to be safe, those feelings are only intensified. I knew wholeheartedly, that many of their accusations were wrong, and I also knew that the way they chose to handle our situation was wrong, but despite that, I looked at myself and always wondered what was so wrong with me that I deserved to be abandoned by those I loved and cherished. Why wasn’t I good enough?
I didn’t ask for help even though in the grand scheme of things, I probably should have. Maybe it was because I was too prideful, because always being the straight-A student, athlete, performer, and daughter in a fully functional family, left me unentitled to my feelings of helplessness. Maybe it was because, for all the same reasons, I was in denial. Depression didn’t fit the mold of the life I was supposed to have.
With time, (and a lot of it) an experience that began as traumatic and unnerving, has brought many lessons in return. These are the concepts, that not only in this article alone, but in life itself, I’ve chosen to focus on. I’ve condensed these lessons into three major categories: kindness, detoxifying, and choosing happiness.
When it comes to the first lesson, kindness, it is cliche to say that you never truly know what another person is going through; but no truer collection of words have ever been strung together. I don’t believe that I wasn’t kind before I was mistreated, but I think that in experiencing that level of rejection, I have become hyper-aware of the marks we leave on the lives of others. Even now, nine years later, I am heavily influenced by the choices that my friends made. It is something that has had an impact on my both level of confidence and my ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I recognize this fully, and in doing so, suggest that kindness is critical, since it’s impossible to know not only how someone else feels exactly, but also how your words, actions, or inactions, will play a part in the way another person views the world for the remainder of their life.
The second lesson that I learned is about toxicity, meaning that, though burning bridges typically isn’t the best method of problem-solving, sometimes removing toxic people from your life is a necessity. It is more than okay to cut ties with those who do not support you or help you to grow. When it comes to self-care, being surrounded by those who illuminate your most redeeming qualities and push you to be the best possible version of yourself is vital. It doesn’t matter if it is a friend, a co-worker, a stranger in passing, or a relative if someone is not reciprocating feelings of admiration and support, or always seems to be manipulatively working against you, never feel guilty for taking care of yourself and of your emotions. For every one person who brings you down, there are 100 more that will lift you to new heights. I know that now.
The final and most important thing I have learned is to choose happiness; by that I mean, to make the conscious decision every day to find at least one thing that brings you joy. This can range from something as extensive as planning a revitalizing road trip across the country, to something as attainable as adding a stress-relieving face mask from the clearance section to your skincare routine after a rough night at work. Seriously, starting to choose happiness can be as simple as the latter of the two.
I’ve found that the biggest battle when it comes to depression and anxiety, is the fight that takes place within yourself. It is knowing, with absolute certainty, that the way you feel is not the way you deserve to feel, while at the same time, fighting against your own defense mechanisms and thought processes that are attesting to your perceived worthlessness. It is ruthless. However, I’ve come to learn that if you are going to be your own critic, you also, to some extent, need to be your own enthusiast. There is this strange stigma surrounding self-love, and where on the scale the “appropriate” amount of it lies. But taking care of yourself, isn’t selfish. Choosing to be happy, isn’t selfish.
I never did find my mittens, but I like to imagine that with time, my mittens became more than just lost. Maybe someone who needed their comfort and warmth much more than I did found them first and benefited from their presence. Perhaps flower stems burst through the knitting and grew to new heights, despite, or perhaps in spite of, the debris my mittens left behind. Or maybe, the loose strands of wool were threaded into the nests of newborn birds and were given the chance to be repurposed into something bigger, something more; just like I was.
By: Katie Ahrens, Anxiety In Teens Contributor