Sometimes it feels like a weighted blanket that is consistent in dispersing an uncomfortable weight across the back of your neck, across your shoulders. A subtle reminder that it is there, and that no one else will ever see or feel it quite like you do. Other times it is like a straitjacket around your body and a sledgehammer to your throat. You cannot move. You cannot do anything at all, because your every movement needs a coherent thought to come to life…and none of your thoughts feel like they are your’s anymore. 

High school was hell. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. To begin with, I was never like my peers. I liked black. I liked music that screamed. I liked people who pushed limits and scared the living shit out of the cheerleaders, the jocks, the absentminded assholes who sneered at me when I chose to work alone on projects. People who used to be my friends started calling me “the emo” in passing in the hall… Because they smiled and laughed I don’t think I fully allowed myself to feel the sting of their words… They seemed amused and happy by it, they didn’t say it with anger, so I didn’t allow myself to realize that I wasn’t okay with it. I remember when the football players would watch me as I sat alone in the library, writing on my laptop. I could feel their stares, see their heads continually move as they whispered, but I kept my headphones in. It was my shield. I listened to the men who got me through high school – at times feeling like my only friends – and I blocked them out. When one of them spoke with a smirk, through giggles ‘Rachel, will you be my valentine?’ followed by a chorus of other giggles, I remember saying no and plugging my headphones back in. And then the wave of heat came over me, traveled to my face and plummeted me into this feeling of confusion. Did he actually like me? Was he mocking me? Why were they so fucking entertained by it?

This isolation encouraged my art. I found peace in the stories I worked on while being mocked by others. I found happiness and release in the vibrations of the bass guitar through the walls of the house. I felt a smile come to me as I played every breakdown with precision and proved to myself, and maybe others too, that I was more like the artistic musicians I idolized, than the shithead popular people who found so much entertainment in keeping me isolated. 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the classes in college that spoke about the mind. Philosophy and psychology were something that I wished I had more exposure to in high school, because they may have alleviated some of the ache that I carried with me every day in the halls. It started as a deep need to understand the chaos that I felt in my mind. I wanted to know why I feel sadness wash over my like a cloud drifting in front of the sunshine. I wanted to know why I couldn’t remember the last time I smiled, and I wanted to know why I started to hate seeing other people smile.

I learned that there was nothing wrong with me. In conversation with others in my classes I learned that most people have a passion for school and maybe one other thing… I learned that there are a few people like me who reach out to writing, music, reading, and then thrive. Those are my people. The creative. The outcasted and misunderstood. As I told others about my passions and hobbies in the icebreaker first-day-of-class activities to meet my fellow psychology students, it quickly became clear that all that people had mocked me for before was a strength now. While others claimed to enjoy school, there were a few (including a guy I dated for a time), who had nothing else outside of school. I watched them stare blankly, honestly troubled by the fact that their lives revolved around school and their 4.0 GPA is where it stopped…. I started to feel pride in my art. I may not get a 4.0 GPA, but I am knowledgeable about what I have a passion for. I may not get an A+ on the textbook exam, but I know how to be compassionate and listen to you, to understand the human being behind the pain on the outside. I may not have the best grades, but I have a depth of other talents to share with the world and I am far from done yet. My music. My fiction. My compassion for others… This is all the start.

I’ve transformed that darkness into something new.