I’m about as far away from “perfect” as it gets, however, I never lose my sh*t.
I’ve struggled with major depressive disorder for just shy of a decade. I’ve waged war against myself, time and time again.
I have to work endlessly hard at keeping the anxious, all-consuming thoughts of pending doom at bay.
There have been times in my life when I’ve lived in between panic attacks. I’m hyper-sensitive to any darkness in my surroundings with no protective barrier, for everything and everything creeps into my emotional orbit.
So yes -- I’m far from f*cking perfect.
I’m one of those girl-creatures who -- regardless of how great the magnitude of heartbreaking feels push me to the bottom on the ocean floor -- is always able to physically get out of bed, plaster on perfectly orchestrated artificial smile and kill it at work.
My whole world could be crumbling down, the pressing pain and terrorizing trauma destroying me from within -- but to my friends, my family and the world at large, I’m the poster child of the relentlessly positive, hyper-ambitious girl-of-the moment who radiates authenticity and genuine self-esteem.
I’m the world’s best faker. I’m too good at it.
I’ve lost it in my car, broken down whilst contemplating my fate only to seconds later wipe my eyes and march into work with a glorious grin, seamlessly slipping into the role of making my co-workers laugh and charming my clients.
If only they knew I was falling into the dire depths of hell from within.
I’m grateful I’ve never been the type of person who recklessly f*cks up a golden opportunity or has garnered a hard-to-shake irresponsible reputation.
I’m proud of my impenetrable work ethic that has made me a trusted and dependable employee.
I definitely don’t want to be the girl everyone fears will act out at a civilized party or is an endless buzzkill with a laundry list of drama.
There is a great balance, however, one that took me far too long to master.
There are times when being able to emulate such an image of perpetual “togetherness” and “composure” has worked to my detriment.
Being seemingly strung perfectly together yet unraveling from within comes with some very specific struggles.
I harbored secrets too long.
I was always slightly jealous of those girls who attain the inability to harbor a toxic secret within themselves. Girls who can’t help but express their pain.
I have a dear friend, who I'm going to refer to as Lacey.
Lacey drank too much one Tuesday night and woke up with that sharp girl-instinct that something bad had happened. She wasn’t sure what it was. She couldn't remember the contents of the evening.
But her gut was telling her something had gone down. It unsettled her. It shook her to the core.
She didn’t drown herself in a pool of shame. She didn’t question herself into the ground.
She allowed herself to feel it. She allowed herself to lose it. She had nightmares for weeks.
Her parents were aware she was breaking apart, so they pulled her out of university for the semester. She went home. She took the time she needed to confront her demons in a safe environment.
Her endless tears let us in. She let us know she wasn't okay. So in turn, we showered her with nothing but unrelenting love and heaps of support as she got the therapy she needed and rehabilitated her broken heart.
The irony was as I was helping Lacey, I, too, was in the shackles of a situation of my own.
Only I was too proud, too deeply ashamed and too f*cking good at faking it to come clean.
I was swallowing secrets like air. As I loved and nurtured my dear friend through her hardships, I was silently suffering from my own unspoken trauma.
The trauma had manifested itself in the form of a black depression that tugged at my limbs and chipped away at my soul every waking moment.
My natural tendency in times of acute pain is to hide it from the world and “deal” with it myself.
So I will harbor a dangerous secret within myself for far too long.
The trouble is harboring secrets will destroy you. Slowly, but they do always do. Just because you don’t say the words out loud doesn't mean it never happened.
Keeping secrets is not a coping mechanism.
People didn't know how to handle it when I reached out.
There are a lot of girls like me, girls who never lose their sh*t and suffer in silence. They tend to be perfectionists. The girls who don't let their nail polish chip.
We are the girls who strive to be the perfect daughters. The perfect employees. Attain the perfect bodies. We are the sturdy rocks for our all of our friends.
But just because something looks pretty on the outside doesn’t mean it’s not rotting from within.
Human beings, by nature, like to compartmentalize each other.
We deem girls as the “messed up friend.” The “party friend.” The "strong one.”
We can’t help but act the roles we’ve been assigned. It's like we're playing out characters on a sitcom.
But life isn't written out like a television episodic.
We’re so much more multi-faceted than the labels that are pinned to our shirts.
So when you’re a girl who has been given the part as "confident" -- sometimes the people in your life find it jarring when you open up.
I distinctly remember breaking down to a friend two years ago. We were having coffee.
I was on the verge. I was heartbroken.
“But, Zara, you can’t break down. You’re the strong one. If you break down, what are the rest of us going to do..?” My friend asked me, his massive doe eyes teeming with genuine fear.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands. It wasn't pretty.
We often turn to self-destructive methods to cope.
I indulged in the dangerous art of self-medication. I never gave myself the time to just “be.” To sit with my thoughts and talk to my friends.
I was either working myself into the ground or partying into oblivion.
There is only so long a girl can go living a falsified, cartoon existence. The demons were getting larger by the day and manifesting themselves into bigger, and bigger and bigger monsters.
Finally, I came clean. I accepted that I might never be the girl who has the outward breakdown, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t having a breakdown worthy of help.
I learned that the outside doesn’t always match the inside.
Just because a girl is able to appear pulled together doesn’t mean she’s NOT suffering as sorely as the girl who can’t get herself out of bed. Just because she’s extremely high functioning day to day doesn’t mean she’s not in dire pain and doesn't need support.
A good friend of mine recently commented on another friend’s escalating issue with ceaseless panic attacks with:
“Well, she’s doing fine at work -- so what’s the problem?”
The problem is while she’s not failing in her work-life -- she’s suffering every f*cking day. She’s living in fear of the next panic attack. And we can't measure our mental health to how well we're doing at work. The two are can exist as entirely separate entities.
I’ve come a long way. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve dared to finally look in the mirror. I’ve learned to breathe, and take time for myself and nurture myself when I'm falling into the pavement. But I couldn't have done it without getting help.
Had I kept suffering silently, I would have eventually ran myself into the ground.
The main lesson I’ve taken away in this life is that nothing, nothing is as it appears. When you’re hurting inside, when you’re anxious all the time, something is wrong.
You don’t have to be shackled to your house unafraid to leave the confines of your bedroom with the blinds drawn in order to be going through something painful.
Girls, all girls, are gifted with killer instincts. If your gut is telling you you’re not okay, please listen to it.
The most beautiful, sacred quality we all collectively have within us, regardless of our age, is that wise inner woman. If she’s broken, or sad or teeming with fear and dark thoughts -- nurture her. Get her the help she deserves.