“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know”
Well now they know.
I am a sleepwalker.
Not in the traditional sense of the word; my parents don’t have stories of finding me riffling through their kitchen cabinets at 4 in the morning.
I’ve been sleepwalking through my life.
I’ve never been one to show emotion; it feels dangerous to me. Growing up in a bilingual household where one parent comes from a very collectivist culture where displaying emotion and putting individual needs first is frowned upon, I was raised in a household where I was constantly told (indirectly) that showing emotion was a bad thing. I experienced so much pain when I tried to express my emotions to my family that I came to the conclusion that they were right; showing emotion was dangerous, and the only way to survive was to numb myself.
In middle school, I was subject to severe bullying; the fact that I was one of the only Asian child in a private school populated by wealthy Caucasian children made me an easy target. This pain of this experience only served to emphasize my belief that showing emotion caused you pain, and was therefore, dangerous. What started as simple test anxiety became full-blown anxiety as the bullying escalated. I developed depression and a strong prejudice against Caucasian individuals and became suicidal.
Thus began my journey into the world of mental health. Thus began my journey of becoming an ice queen.
In an attempt to help me, my parents took me to various psychologists and psychiatrists. They even had a health professional come to my house to administer tests, which (and I quote from the report that my pediatrician later gave me a few years later), “may have helped to ease Alisa’s anxiety”
Every day I was driven to another professional where I poured out my heart in their tiny offices, where they scribbled madly on their notepads.
In retrospect, I think a part of me started to enjoy these sessions because I finally felt like someone understood me. I didn’t understand that these people were paid to say those things, paid to let my parents know what was going through my head. I began to see them as a friend who I could pour my heart out to without fear of my parents knowing what I was going through. The negative messages around the idea of showing emotion forced me to deal with it the only way I knew how: I turned my switch off, and suppressed every emotion that I felt.
I came home one day to hear my psychiatrist leaving a message for my mother on the answering machine. The only thing that registered with me was that she had been telling my parents what I had been telling her, things that she had repeatedly assured me would remain confidential.
My trust and sense of safety went out the window with that message on the answering machine. Up until that point, I had thought that my house was my safe place, my parents, my safety net. Knowing that my psychiatrist had breached our confidentiality agreement hurt; I had bared my soul to her on the one condition that nothing I told her would leave the room. That was the cherry on top of the cake; I lost all faith at that point. I knew my parents were keeping something from me.
Unbeknownst to me, my parents and psychiatrist had met with my pediatrician, who had agreed to give me anti-depressants. They broached the topic with me at the next appointment with my psychiatrist; one could safely say they carefully omitted key pieces of information. I asked what the medication would fix. They told me it would fix my slipping grades, an excuse they had used consistently. Despite my reservations, I agreed; they assured me that it was temporary, that they would keep me on the medication for no longer than a month.
My grades went up, but I started experiencing severe side effects almost immediately; I had intense migraines and my suicidal symptoms were exacerbated. I floated into the psychiatrist’s office when the month trial period was up, ecstatic that I would no longer be feeling like a winded rhino, only to be told that they wanted me to continue taking a different medication. As I proceeded to cry, scream the word “no” and rage, this doctor laughed at me. I decided in that instant, recalling every doctor I had ever seen, that all doctors were inconsiderate of their patients’ wants and needs.
They proceeded to give me two additional trials of different anti-depressants, which had little to no effect. With each downed pill, the severity of my symptoms increased. By the end of what turned out to be the last trial, my only mentor had moved away to pursue another job opportunity and the bullying had escalated to the point where the sound of the phone scared me and I was too afraid to answer the phone for fear that it would be a prank call from one of my so called “friends.” I ultimately ended up removing myself from that school.
I’ve been stuck on that incident, unflinching since the age of 11.
It’s time for me to wake up. It’s time to let it go.
This is my journey, and I hope you’ll join me.