Anxiety and Depression in the Teens and Early 20’s

I was bullied in school enough so that in 7th grade I decided to get stronger in hopes that added strength would help me win fights if they occurred. I also hoped it would help me overcome the fear to stand up for myself and not allow myself to be treated like second class. I started weight lifting. I grew in strength and did add a little bit of confidence as well. For the next couple of years my problems with teasing and bullying from other kids declined to a more manageable level. I even started taking karate to help me acquire self-defense skills. That also helped out with my confidence a bit.

Then 11th grade arrived. I was pretty strong by then, and because the bullying hadn’t been that bad for some time, I began to lose the motivation to continue lifting weights. It wasn’t until many years later, when I became more self-aware and took the time to look back on my younger days that I realized I had made a real mistake. That year the teasing and bullying reared its ugly head. Fear and dread of going to school each day developed. I became depressed to the point that I was put on anti-depressant medication. My grades significantly declined. I didn’t know why all of this was happening.

Then 12th grade arrived. Senior year. I recall one day in my computer drawing class, there was some kind of discussion relating to muscles. That part is a little hazy now. But, I remember my instructor mentioning my muscles being big and strongly encouraged me to show it by flexing. I had had him as an instructor the previous year, when I likely boasted about the size of my muscles. But, my biceps had shrunk to a certain degree since then. I tried not to show my biceps, but the social pressure was too great. I rolled up my right sleeve and flexed as hard as I possibly could. The overall consensus was it wasn’t that big. That was the event that rekindled my motivation to lift weights again. I trained hard the rest of that year. Three things happened. The teasing and bullying decreased to the lowest level it had ever been. My grades improved to the point I got straight A’s. Lastly, I no longer needed the anti-depressant medication to keep my mood up. Disclaimer: I do not intend to imply that exercise is a cure for depression or any other problem. It’s a healthy habit, but I’m only describing the correlation it had with my improvement at that young point in my life.

I went to college the following year to study electrical engineering. It was right at the edge of commutable distance, so that’s what I chose to do for the first year. Part of the way through that year, I ceased weightlifting again. My grades began to slide again, along with my mood, and I was put back on anti-depressant medication. The atmosphere of the college campus was much different than that of high school, so I didn’t have any trouble with teasing or bullying. However, I was still very self-conscious of how I was presenting myself. I was worried about where on campus would be a good place to study without a lot of people passing by. I ate my lunch in my car in the parking lot between classes, because I was afraid of picking a spot on campus that might look the slightest bit odd to sit down and have a bagged lunch alone. I didn’t want to risk sitting alone in the cafeteria with a bagged lunch when most of the people eating there were probably living on campus and wouldn’t be packing their lunches. They might look over and snicker as though I were some poor, weird outcast. Paranoid you think? You bet. In my little pickup truck was the only place I could allow myself to relax. Looking back now, I believe that was the birth of my safe zone. My safe zone is the only place I can totally relax and be myself. That includes things like farting, picking my nose, adjusting my crotch, wearing my most comfortable clothes, splaying out, and scratching my butt on occasion. It’s really the only time I can give 100% of my attention to what I’m doing, because there is no part of my mind devoted to what other people think.

The second year, my dad told me about a great deal on a room for rent near campus. I saw it and was in love. It was only after I moved in that I seriously thought about the additional responsibilities. I was spoiled as a kid. That may have been because I’m the youngest of my siblings.  I wasn’t required to do many household chores. Suddenly I had to make time to go shopping, do laundry, clean, cook, take out the trash, and still keep up with a full course load. That probably doesn’t seem like too much work to a lot of people. But, imagine going from having to do none of those yourself, except for the school work, to having to do all of them, all while fighting major depression and loneliness. Well, it didn’t go so well. Each week I would do less school work, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and laundry. By the fifth week, I stopped leaving my room. I would sleep, watch TV, and surf the web all day. I would get a snack from my small fridge only when I was starving. It came to a head when I went home one weekend, drank a lot of vodka, and attempted suicide via cutting. I felt very little physical pain, but emotional pain bubbled up and overwhelmed me. It was the hardest, longest cry I can remember. I felt like a hopeless failure. The scars remain on me to this day as a reminder. The next day I agreed to be committed to a psychiatric hospital, where I stayed nearly a week. I had to have my parents withdraw me from school and handle bringing my belongings home. That was a dark time.

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