Stories I Tell in My Head

Monday was the day the universe tried to swallow me. It came in slyly – appearing first as the insulated silence of the middle distance. I could feel a great cacophony of sound and chaos building just outside my peripheral vision, but the lacuna had my rapt attention. The cursor blinked ceaselessly before me. Blink. Blink. Blink. Mesmerizing.

All at once, my throat caught and panic slipped across my mind. Reality crashed in around me. Just for a second. Then, focus. My eyes found the monitor in front of me and I was once again alone in a quiet office. The clock barely ticked past 7.30, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the panic I felt appeared in the form of coworkers and deadlines. One breath in, one breath out.

That was the same day I decided things needed to change.

Most days start this same way. Blink. Blink. Blink. Panic. Reality. One breath in, one breath out. Reset. The routine of a young professional. But on that unexceptional Monday morning, my routine turned into a gauntlet. Commonplace doubts and fear morphed into looming threats of failure and insufficiency. Just breathing tested my fortitude. I had little choice but to face down those infamous words: mental health.

We all tell stories in our heads. Sometimes we are the heroes; sometimes we are the victims. Our stories rise and fall with our lives, turning through a narrative about our greatest hopes, our greatest fears, and our deepest selves. We spend our lives chasing these stories – or perhaps being chased by them. Many times these stories are untruths. We feel them so deeply that we cannot separate ourselves from their falsehoods.

Today’s scene from my story takes place in a darkly lit room. An oblong table fills it to the edge. Around it, many people sit, shadowed and unmoving. Only the man at the far end is clear. He leans over, fists supporting his weight on the table top, looming impossibly close. Hatred seeps from his eyes as he screams. His words are like a drill sergeant, sharp and cruel. No noise escapes from his mouth, but the sound of in pins me to the wall.

I am not good enough. I am a fake. I don’t deserve love or respect or kindness. Each word sinks deep into me, becoming me. I desperately reach out to the others in the room – the other parts of myself that believe in me. That are proud of me. But they sit silently while the torrent of malcontent carries on.

Finding an end to his tirade has become my aspiration. It’s not a battle I’m fighting alone. I have an incredible family who provide me strength. I have a courageous partner who provides me acceptance. I have a thoughtful therapist that provides me insight. I have friends in many places that provide me reassurance. Even when the middle distance takes hold and the universe threatens me once more – these people fuel my resilience.

Many of these people – most if I’m honest – don’t see this battle raging. The panic that slides across my mind is swiftly followed by a duty-bound smile. The stigma of mental health, of struggling, is a chasm between me and the world. Talking about it has consequences I don’t wish to face – attention, pity, concern. But staying quiet only perpetuates this cycle. Instead, I am opting to be open. To share the stories in my head. To rewrite my story. And yours too.

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