WARNING: The events in this story are through my own perception when I was an adolescent and the memories are filtered through over 20 years. I am sharing this strictly to help myself get over the past and to bring hope to anyone who can relate. My goal is not to shame anyone. Please, read before judging. Mental illness at any age is a serious thing. I no longer have these issues just the memories but there are others still dealing with the physicality and reality of depression and anxiety.
This is not for the Joe Schmoe’s of the world (meaning individuals that had and have a perfectly normal life-whatever that may mean to you). This is for those that have always felt out of place. Those that have tried to fit in but with all the trying just can’t. Those of us that feel like the outsiders no matter where we are; with family, with friends, and even at church. This is for you. I am writing this just to get it out because it has been so in me lately that it’s hard to think straight sometimes. I know I’m not the only one so I am hoping to bring encouragement to anyone who needs it.
First, let me introduce myself my way. I’m a listener of new country music, old-school R&B music, 90’s rap, alternative rock, classic rock, and anything else that suits my mood when I want to chill out. I love to dance. I believe in fairness, true justice, empathy, compassion, and learning how to be the best me I can be. I believe in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. I have made Jesus Christ Lord of my life years ago but it is still a process. I have been developing my relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit ever since I accepted and allowed the Lord into my life. I AM a work in progress. I AM not perfect. I AM a child of God Almighty. I AM a wife, mother, sister, and daughter. I AM what I AM.
Things I am about to write may seem petty to most. Here’s what I need to say on that. Different things affect different people in different ways. Things that can cause one person to have low self-esteem may never be a second thought to another person. I do understand that there are much more tragic things that happen to people everyday that I never experienced. This is one of the reasons I have not fully dealt with these things I am bout to share. It makes me feel weak, like a complainer, like I’m way too sensitive, embarrassed and stupid. Still, I am writing it to get it out of my head and heart. With that said, here is my story.
I did not have a terrible childhood as far as how I was raised by my parents. My childhood mental and emotional pain came from my peers. I am writing about it because I am in a place in my relationship with the Lord where I can no longer keep these memories stuffed. Even as I am writing this I am questioning whether to continue or not and whether this will ever be made public. I am still battling with the idea that these thoughts and feelings were just a normal part of growing up and I need to just let them go and grow up. There is one problem with that. These thoughts and feelings keep coming up and it is impacting my relationship with the Lord as far as allowing Him to fully inhabit every part of who He made me to be and who I am.
The Awkward Years
My problems started halfway through my fourth grade year. I was used to moving because my parents were in the military. My dad was no longer in the military by this time but my mom was. As a child, I was oblivious to my surroundings. When we moved from sunny Southern California to Winchester, Va (mine and my parents hometown), it was a shock. For the first time in my life, I felt alone (even though I had a little sister).
I never had any dealings with racism or prejudice in any way until we moved back to Winchester. Again, I was oblivious. It took me years to understand. I know that second half of fourth grade was difficult but I never spoke about it to anyone around me. There was something in me that began to shut down at that time. I didn’t know how to talk about my emotional pain with anyone. I kept it to myself for many years. Even when I started talking about it in adulthood, I still kept a lot of what I went through emotionally and mentally to myself. I sensed my classmates talked about me and laughed at me. They avoided me like a plague. I’m sure I had some friends but can’t really remember who. I also know I probably began to lash out and turn my humiliation towards other kids who were also being humiliated. If they are or have felt the way I have because of things I have said or done, I sincerely apologize. If there were any good or happy memories from fourth grade through high school, I have blocked most of them. I can only remember certain details that are negative at this moment.
Fast forward to the sixth grade (the dreaded middle school years). We all have the awkward stage of growing up. Most get over it but some don’t. I was never a “girly girl”. I didn’t know how to do my hair nor did I have any interest in learning. So I had a hairstyle that was big in the early 80’s but (at the time I had it) was a major joke. I had all these feelings stirring up within me (hello, it was puberty and I was already boy-crazy) but never had that experience of “puppy-love” because, again, I was avoided like the plague. I did have friends in middle school but others I wanted to befriend wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. One memory I have is going to a place where all the teens hung out. I went with one of my closest friends I had at the time. She was white and loved rock music. I saw nothing wrong with this. When we went, I remember one of my classmates coming up to me as I was dancing and having a good time. I thought he was going to say something nice. Nope! He told me, “You dance like a white girl”. Wow! I told you some of this stuff may seem petty to some but different things affect different people in different ways. That had a huge impact on my life. It was also because that wasn’t the first time I was accused of “acting white”. I didn’t really know what it meant but at the age when you’re trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in, it affected me. With some of my white acquaintances I didn’t fit in either. I can’t tell you why most of my classmates wanted nothing to do me only that it is how it felt to me. All I could do was focus on learning and making good grades.
I was a year younger than most of my classmates because my mom forced the Virginia school system to test me and let me start school earlier than what I would have because my birthday is in December (yes, we lived in Winchester, VA then moved around to a few places until we moved back). I don’t know if my age affected things or if I subconsciously made it a bigger thing than it was. I was always less mature than my classmates and still am immature on certain levels (the difference is now I embrace my immaturity on certain levels because I am having fun living life). I don’t remember when the teasing started but it did. I was teased about how I looked, how I acted, and what I wore. I also teased others for the same things to try and alleviate my own embarrassment. I am truly sorry for that.
I think it was in the eighth grade when I received my first and only detention. I was starting to fill up with so much rage due to the loneliness. One day I had enough and took it out on one of my teachers. He said something and I yelled so loud at him that all the other students stopped what they were doing. That detention wasn’t completely pointless because it started me on a path that would become a part of my identity for a long time (not going into details on that in this story).
The detention had to be served in the school library. Because all my schoolwork was done, I was bored. I started to look at the books above where I was sitting. I came across a book that fascinated me. It was a book describing ESP (extrasensory perception). I always felt like I had psychic abilities because I could sense and feel things before they happened (now I know this is the gift of prophecy that the Lord placed within me and others but at that time I had no clue). Some of you may be getting a picture from the movie “Carrie” in your head. I had not yet seen the movie “Carrie” at this point in my life. Anyway, I read part of the book and put it back once detention was over. I didn’t really think about it again until my true soul searching began. What the book did was made me feel like I was different and that nobody would ever understand me. After that detention I began to shut down even more. It’s really hard when you are feeling and believing things about yourself and don’t know who to talk to. Those thoughts become bigger and bigger until all you see of yourself are those negative thoughts. Then your behavior starts to reflect those thoughts and you become those thoughts.
Coping With Depression
I was so nervous about starting high school. Other kids had these strong bonds and I didn’t. I even grew apart from the few friends I did have in middle school. I was extremely lonely and alone because I didn’t know how to socialize with anybody outside of saying hello and goodbye, sitting at the lunch table, eating what they didn’t want, and small chit chat. I didn’t even know how to have talks with my parents about what was going on in my head. I remember a few times I talked with my mom and she would always say, “Don’t worry about what other people think about you”. I didn’t know how to do that so I kept things to myself even more. I was intelligent and knew about depression but never connected the dots with myself.
The teasing and taunting went outside of just being behind my back to in my face. One guy I had a crush on punched me in the stomach once around my neighborhood. I fell to the sidewalk, walked home when I knew he was no longer around, and cried for what seemed like forever.
I used to go to the neighborhood playgrounds to get out of the house. I would have to take my younger sister which I didn’t mind because I had no one else to talk to. This girl who was a grade ahead of me in high school came with her younger sister. She had teased me before so I told my sister it was time to go. The girl got in front of me and wouldn’t let me leave. She told me if she ever saw me again she would punch me in the face. She continued to taunt me even at school (she never did punch me or hit me). Then one day, out of the blue, she came to my locker. You can imagine how angry and scared I was. She simply apologized and began talking to me like we were friends. It was strange. We didn’t become good friends because, again, I didn’t know how to socialize with people (especially my peers). Honestly, by this point in my life I didn’t even want to socialize with anyone.
Most of my socializing came from sports. Though I was not a good player by any stretch of the imagination, I believe it kept me from going down a road I may not have been able to return from. However, even that socializing made me feel isolated. NOTE: If a girl has not blossomed yet or blossomed a bit early, keep your thoughts on the subject to yourself. Junior year, one of the girls on the basketball team actually asked me once in front of the whole team in the locker room, “Do you even have any cleavage?”. Really? Wow! Just sharing the memory. Back to the subject.
I now know and believe I was dealing with depression. I didn’t know at the time because I had a few coping mechanisms. I already said sports was one of them. The bigger part of that was I began to exercise excessively. I lifted weights like it was a competition. I aerobicized at least twice a day. My routine was severe. While school was in I would do whatever we were doing in gym class and have basketball practice if it were the season. I would also come home (sometimes walking home from school which was on the other side of town) and hit our self-made weight room. During summer breaks, at least my junior and senior year, is when my routine amped up. I would weight lift in the morning, do a total of 1-2 hours of some aerobic fitness videos, do about 200-500 varying jump rope reps, do about 20-50 push-ups, and somewhere around 100-200 sit ups/crunches. I told you it was excessive. I had nothing else to do. It was one of my outlets. I also ate excessively. Part of the excessive eating was I had to replace everything that I was burning off from my workouts but another part was it was a comfort to me. I didn’t go to parties and the only people I hung out with were a few kids younger than me in my neighborhood. These are pictures of me in senior year. I think the first one was taken the summer before senior year started and the other is during the fall of my senior year.
This particular summer, before the start of my senior year, I was hitting the weights heavy. I now believe I also was coping with a level of anxiety along with depression. The second picture above is another turning point as far as the teasing. I was constantly being asked by family members if I was gay. I never had any kind of thoughts about it one way or the other until the question was being asked soooo much. I can understand why people thought that. I never had a boyfriend (until my senior year but still didn’t know how I was supposed to act), I stopped talking to people except the few friends I had (but still didn’t really talk personal things with them-except one) so no one ever heard me talk about boys or relationships, and I wore oversized clothing all the time. If a boy I liked would talk to me I would either be so shy and nervous or think it was a cruel joke that I would just ignore them or walk away. During my senior year one boyfriend was a friend of my friend’s boyfriend that lived out of town and the other boyfriend I had was a freshman. I was an introverted, lost cause, who had not even kissed a boy before this year but completely boy crazy. Yeah, they didn’t turn out well.
The question of whether I was gay or not only kept me in my thoughts more and had me work out with lifting weights even more. My immaturity on multiple levels, my rage, my constant thoughts, and everything happening within me made me feel trapped. I couldn’t tell you what year it was but that trapped feeling existed since about the seventh grade. Somewhere between seventh and my junior year of high school this thought came. I believe one of my classmates said something about me or to me and others started laughing at me (never did understand the appeal of how people who constantly make others feel low become very popular even to this day-there is nothing beautiful or gorgeous about that). When I came home from school, I was crying and filling with rage at the same time (nothing really new because I had done it many times before this day and since this particular day throughout high school). I walked to the kitchen and stood there staring at all the knives. I picked one up and just held it. I placed it up to my wrist and took a deep breath [please forgive me because I have only told one person this in detail and that happened only today as I am writing this entire story so going back to this day still hurts very much but seems to be necessary]. I was about to cut my wrist completely to kill myself when I heard my sister come in the front door from school. I quickly put the knife away and asked how her day was and we went on about our business. She never knew what her big sister was about to do and I have never attempted to do that again. My behaviors in future years were similar (meaning a lack of care for my life) but never in that way again.
I slept through most of my classes a majority of my high school years but still managed to get good grades and be in advanced courses. The times I was awake in class I would be writing, usually about whatever guy I was crushing on at the time that I couldn’t tell anybody about out of fear. That word sums up this entire writing;FEAR.
I was scared of being rejected after dealing with it so much. I was scared to share any of my true emotions with anyone because of fear of them laughing at me again and again and again. I was scared to talk to most people because of fear of sounding stupid. There were people I talked to and hung out by my senior year but most of the time I had my headphones on (it was the 90’s so no cell phones just a discman) listening to my 90’s rap whenever I could sneak it past the teachers. I would write about my emotional pain through poetry. My poetry became darker and darker as my obsession with death grew (this was after the knife incident).
Once, one of my classmates looked over and saw what I was writing and started telling his buddies about it. It was, essentially, a poem about suicide. I already had my headphones on so I was able to tune it out as he was whispering about it at the end of class while we were getting ready to leave school for the day.
I never went to any of the dances. I didn’t even go to my senior prom. Graduation day was bittersweet. I was excited to leave but felt nervous about the new chapter starting. I went to the graduation dance (or whatever it was) and I actually talked to people. I even had people sign my yearbook towards the end of the school year. The only thing I remember when I came home graduation night was how immature I felt and how I needed to change my act before going to college. That summer I hung out more with some of the few friends I had. I started to let loose. Another chapter was beginning that had many parts and subtitles.
Beginning of the End
I’m not going to discuss my college years in depth. What I will say is I made so many mistakes, I made many friends (some of which I am still friends with today), I made a fool out of myself and embarrassed myself way too many times to count, had horrible times, had amazing times, and grew into someone unrecognizeable from my high school, middle school, and elementary years. I’m speaking about behaviors more than looks. However, as far as physical appearance, I did change. I had about six tattoos at the time I graduated from college (that number is now 9), an eyebrow ring, and I colored my hair often. The last outrageous color I had was blue. Yes, I said blue. I had my hair dyed blue sometime after I graduated college. I don’t have any pictures of my blue hair (nor do I want them) but here is my college senior photo.
I would not trade my college years for anything. I went to clubs and danced a lot as well as fell down a lot (use your imagination to figure out why I fell down a lot). My college behavior continued even after I graduated but eventually I calmed down (somewhat).
I met my now husband a few years after graduation. It was a very bumpy uphill road but we are here now; married with two awesome boys.
At some point, during one of those bumpy uphill roads in our relationship, I came to Jesus in desperation and asked Him to come into my life. He did and I am where I am in various ways because of it. It was not easy and still is not easy but it is easier than me trying to do everything on my own.
I know everything I described may seem small in comparison to tragedies we see and hear about everyday. However, I am one of the lucky ones because I am able to tell you this story today. Some of my past mistakes could have made this reality and me non-existent but they didn’t and I am alive today. I thank God Almighty for that every single day. I chose to tell this story, no matter how insignificant it may seem to some, so that someone else can have faith that tough times do not last forever. Also to say that we all need help. That help comes in the form of other people. For whatever reason, whether it be God Himself, my love for my sister, my unknowing love (at the time) for life, or all of the above, I decided to put the knife away that day and didn’t think about ending my life in that serious manner again. I have come close since that day but never as deep as that actual day. No matter what pain you may be feeling because you don’t fit in, know that you do fit in. You have life. You have people that love you even if you have never met them. There’s more of us that don’t fit in than anyone can ever imagine. The Bible is full of them too. Jesus Himself was one of the biggest outsiders and look at what He accomplished. He loves you with an unfailing love. His unfailing love has turned this shy, bipolar, depressed, anxious, self-loathing, feeling worthless, lonely, black girl into a confident, loving life, always creative, talking sometimes too much, joking around, dancing machine, wife, mother, work in progress Black Woman. Try not to worry so much about how others perceive you. I know it’s easier said than done. How do I know? Did you read the story? In the end, what matters most? The opinions/perceptions of others that in time you may never have to see again or what you think of yourself? They don’t have to live with you but you will always be all you have outside of those you trust and Jesus. Even then, your decisions and what you do and believe is only up to you.
You are blessed Dear Love. It took me a very long time to get here and I am still not out of the woods on this one. Do not let it be this long for you. Live and love your life. It truly is a gift.
-Alicia R. Shipe-