Learning to Walk on My Own

By Andrew E., 10th Grade

July 2015

It all began with my first girlfriend, Taylor. We were both each other’s firsts, and neither of us knew what to do in our relationship. When we first met, we warmed up to each other quickly and could talk about so many things. I vividly remember meeting her on an 8th grade visit to a high school marching band practice. I guess the first thing I remember most about her was her laugh and her cheery attitude. We took notice of each other quickly and talked about almost everything as we waited for our parents to pick us up after practice was over. Come freshman year of high school, we were dating and totally obsessed with one another. Unfortunately, our relationship plateaued immensely as the school year dragged on.

After a period of awkward silence one day, I finally asked,” So.. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine,” she replied plainly.

“..Well..heh..you’re MORE than fine.”

We both chuckled slightly and headed into the classroom.

We got to a point where the most we did was make pointless small talk, smile at each other slightly, and hold hands through the hallways of school. Eventually it tapered off when I noticed something was wrong; she finally made the decision to dump me.

Worried, I timidly asked, “E-Everything alright?”

She only responded with a sigh at first but eventually squeezed out a choked answer,”I-I don’t think we should date anymore. I just don’t think I’m ready to date.”

“O-ohh..” I said, quivering,”okay seeya around then..”

I walked back numbly, confused about how I felt and wondering what I did wrong.

Looking back, this was probably the best thing she could’ve done for the both of us. At the time, though, it didn’t seem that way at all. When Taylor dumped me, she gave little explanation, so I didn’t have much to go on. Almost immediately I assumed she was just lying to protect my feelings. In my mind the real story was that I was this annoying, stupid, way too quiet, awkward failure who creeped her out when in reality, we just weren’t right for each other.The only thing I had done was base my self-esteem in a relationship and not myself. If only I had known that at the time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been as easy for me to develop low-esteem, anxiety, and a constant feeling of loneliness. Fairly soon after the break up, convinced people were annoyed by me, I got in the habit of saying “sorry”. I also felt constantly judged by my peers . It’s hard to believe that all of these anxieties were based on just some break up. As it turns out my reaction was based on something more. Something that happened to me in fifth grade.

All throughout preschool and into elementary school I was know as this energetic, happy, extroverted kid who laughed a lot and was friendly to everyone, but to say I was energetic was a HUGE understatement. I was quite a handful, bouncing off the walls with energy, climbing around, running everywhere, and shrieking with delight. Pretty soon I wasn’t just Andrew, I was Hurricane Andrew.

That all changed in fifth grade when my behaviour was deemed annoying and childish by my peers. What had been accepted as charming and cute before became unacceptable, and I was quickly thrown under the blanket term “ADHD”. More and more people would tell me to “shut up”; more and more my words and actions were dismissed as annoying, unruly banter. I was at a loss; all I wanted was to be free and happy and to be friends with everyone, but no one wanted to be friends with me. I didn’t get it; all of the sudden I was rejected by society and for once in my life I truly felt all alone. It was as if everyone had secretly decided to change the rules, and I was left to fend for myself and try to adapt.

So I did, I changed my attitude and my behaviour and slowly became quieter, more guarded, less confident, and so on. By the time I began middle school, I became this very shy, quiet, introverted kid who spent most of his time inside of his head. I had no friends, no self-esteem, no anything. I didn’t ask any questions in class for fear of sounding stupid. I didn’t ask for help when I was sad because I thought I had to keep it to myself. I thought I could take care of myself and that I didn’t need friends. I thought I was annoying and just plain stupid. By the end of 8th grade I had already dug a foxhole for me to dwell in and forgot how to climb out and live my life any other way.

That all changed freshman year of high school when I joined marching band, a group of geeks that wasn’t just a band, but also a family. For first time in a long time I felt accepted into a community of like-minded people. I felt free to be myself and make friends with whomever. Each day I’d walk in with big smile, laughing  with friends  and  passionately playing glorious melodies and funky rhythms with my first girlfriend and many friends.I felt a sense of belonging in my new family.  I was no longer stuck in my hole and was instead out and about in the sun having fun and being carefree. Little did I know I was walking upon a thin sheet of ice and beneath me was a violent current. I based almost everything in the band and my girlfriend: my self-esteem, my confidence, and my happiness. I lost all of that the second Taylor dumped me and band  was over. I kept sinking deeper and deeper and I kept bottling everything up, building up pressure, until I exploded like poorly built bottle rocket  and everything caved in on itself. One day after school, I was taking a break at winter percussion practice and was  tired, stressed, and just panicked overall.I reached a point where everything inside me was collapsing in on itself; the next thing I remember was the instructor’s voice calling my name, and I finally snapped out of it.

“Uhhh you alright? “he asked.

“I’m fine… just tired,” I managed to lie through my fear and confusion.

Rehearsal continued as usual, but I really wasn’t fine at all. I didn’t want be a burden and draw attention to myself so I bottled everything up and kept my head down. What really happened was what is called an “unexpected panic attack”. Out of nowhere, my heart started beating hard and fast up against my ribs, a tightness in my chest squeezed me like a boa constrictor, I struggled to breathe, and the world around me faded away.

The instructor had actually called  several of times before I could hear his voice. I was trapped and unaware of what was happening. I couldn’t hear or see and I didn’t even realize anything had happened when my panic went away. It was so strange because I had been stressed, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. I hadn’t realized that everything was bubbling up from under me, and that I would soon fall through the ice.

The sad thing is, even at that point, I didn’t seek help. I just stayed quiet about it. Fortunately, things started to look up soon after when I met this beautiful, nice girl named Kat. My Dad had forced me to take group piano lessons where we met and took interest in each other immediately . Not too long after that, we started dating, and we really hit it off. There was some unspoken connection between us that caused us to gravitate towards each other, and sparks ignited almost immediately.I remember  one night, I got a random text from her:

“Hey it’s Kat. Are we having lessons on the 14th?” she wrote.

I texted back, “yeah I think so. So anyways,  how are you?”

From there we hit it off really well; we could talk to each other about anything and everything. It just snapped into place like a puzzle piece. I finally felt comfortable and accepted by someone, and I was infinitely happy.The next nine months were filled with joy, happiness, love, compassion, laughter, et cetera.  We came to understand each other so well and feel so at home with one another until one fateful school day when I discovered she had been cheating on me. During first period science, I got a text from her.

“What do you think about someone dating two people at once,” she said.

Confused, I texted, “what do you mean.”

All she said in response was, “I’m a bad person.”

For the rest of the day she revealed more and more about how she had been cheating on me. I thought what we had was special and that we were both deeply in love. I was absolutely devastated. Never in a million years would I expect her to do this to me, and for the first time since I was little, I cried my heart out as I was doubled over in physical and emotional pain. My guardian angel and friend Katie came to the rescue immediately. She called me within a couple of minutes, talking me through the situation, dissuading me from going back to Kat, and really listening to me. She was the hand that offered to pick me up and get me on my feet again, cheering me up more and more as time went on and by the time the call had ended I was laughing so hard that my sides hurt. Within the next couple of days I struggled to stay away from Kat and heal until eventually we talked it out, made up and became friends.

I remember her saying, “You really were the perfect boyfriend, and what we had was real. The only thing you did wrong was that you were never part of the relationship. You tried so hard to make me happy, and you looked out for me, but you never looked out for you. You never cared about what YOU wanted.”

I took that comment to heart and learned that I needed to take charge of my life. From then on I worked hard to better myself, but I felt so weak and unworthy . Finally,  I decided I didn’t want to feel bad anymore. I wanted to get better, and I knew I couldn’t do it by myself.  At long last I decided to get help, and pretty soon, I was seeing a therapist once a week. I just kept moving forward, never looking back. Since then I have been learning to live fully, love myself, and work to overcome anxieties.

Nowadays, I may not be cured of all my ailments, but  I do see light peeking out from over the horizon.I have the tools and the motivation to get better. I see myself getting better and better each day, and I can finally  say that things are going to be okay. I’ve learned to walk on my own again, and I’m never going to stop.

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