That night is still a blur, but I do remember one thing clearly: that feeling of not knowing where I was going, but knowing instinctively that I had to keep going. I felt like I was ruining everything, and everyone -- including myself. I didn't know what else to do. My family was broken. My mom's hands were getting bonier and her face skinnier. My dad was mad all the time, his eyes full of so much pain and confusion. My brother was alone, trying to make sense of it all, trying to disappear. I saw. I saw all these things, but I had no room to think about them. I was concerned about me -- how I hated everyone around me. How I hated myself. And so I took off into the night air, 14 and angry and confused, but knowing that I had to keep walking because if I stopped it would all become real again.
That night was a low point for me, a culmination of the endlessly hopeless feelings I'd been having since the 4th grade. February 18, 2009 to be exact. I remember the date because I'd been looking at the board in class and, bored, saying the date over and over in my head. When it came time for recess, I stayed inside while some of my friends played down on the street. I was making faces at them through the window when it happened. Suddenly, it got quiet and then we were being pushed upstairs and the teachers were crying and scared. Helpless. They tucked us in a dark classroom upstairs and went off to get instructions on what to do. Some kids tried to open the shades and see what was happening down on the street. I knew. I saw it. Him. A person, falling. But I tried hard to convince myself that I hadn't seen what I thought I'd seen.
A teacher walked by and told us to sit down and shut the window, but doing that didn't stop the whispers. "It was a person, a person from another building," my fellow classmates said in hushed tones as we watched movies and drew and played board games. Soon, parent after parent showed up to retrieve their children. I was still left with a few other kids when the head of the middle school came in and told us to sit down. She had a sad look on her face as she explained that my eyes hadn't deceived me: a fellow student, older than us, had either fallen or jumped from the roof of our school. Someone raised his hand and asked the question we all wanted to ask: "Did he die?" She nodded. There was nothing, she said, that the doctors could have done to save him. After that I didn't hear much of what she said.
After school, my sitter picked me up and brought me to my doctor's appointment. "You go to that school right?" the doctor asked, recounting what he'd heard. I tried so hard not to cry. But when I got home, I couldn't hold it any longer. My parents, who'd found out about what happened from an email from another parent, tried to explain what had happened. I just cried and cried. Just then, my brother, having had no idea what was going on, mistakenly dropped something. The sound, loud and heavy, made me flinch. That day -- February 18 -- was the start of everything.
I realize I didn't know him well, and I feel deeply for those who did, but his death affected me deeply, too. After that day whenever I would see a date, or really see any words, I would have to will myself to forget them. I felt like if I didn't forget them something would happen. Someone wouldn't come home, the plane would fall, he would fall. I remember being in a cab and reading the driver's name on the ID card in the front and then getting so scared that the car was going to crash if I didn't forget his name. Anyway, I know that I didn't even know him, but it still scared me.
The school brought in therapists to help us process what we'd witnessed, but they treated us like we were preschoolers. One therapist called my parents and recommended I speak to someone outside of school. My parents got the name of a therapist and off I went. I saw her for a while. I told one of my close friends at the time and she looked at me like I was insane, so I rolled my eyes and said that my mom was making me go. She nodded and then forgot about it. I was happy for that because I didn't want my friends to think I was crazy. Even if I thought I was.
And as time moved on, my feelings were slowly getting worse. That sounds so dramatic, but the truth is it really was, and it got even more intense after summer, when I got back from seven weeks of sleep-away camp only to find out that my sitter, who had been with us since I was born, wasn't our sitter anymore, our dog had died, and the girl who I thought was my best friend was telling me I wasn't good enough. The already cracked parts of me started breaking. I hated school. I wanted to stay home, stay in bed, stay out of the world. I wanted not to exist and for everything to go away.
When I first told my parents I didn't want to go to school, they said, "Okay, it's fine. It's only this one time." And then it turned into only two times. Only three... four... five. They started worrying more and we switched doctors to one who was supposed to get me in the state of mind to want to go back to school. She gave me all these sheets to fill out with questions about what I was thinking and what I could do better and suggestions for "happy thoughts" and ways that would feel more safe when I didn't want to be at school. We started getting really specific about the things that were bothering me in school -- which class was triggering my anxiety, which person did the same, which time of the day was I upset, what was happening. The school therapist got involved too, giving me a safe space when I felt out of control. I was put on some pills to make me feel less anxious and my parents got a pill to give me when I couldn't calm down.
Still, I felt like I was going crazy. Going to school became even more difficult to bear. I wanted to stay home; my parents and doctor made me go to the doctor's office to show me that school was preferable to sitting in her lobby. Once I was so scared to go to school that the doctor rode up to the building in the car with me. Another time, when I was supposed to stay in my doctor's office all day, I got fed up and left, even though I knew better. Then there was the time when I had a horrible fight with my dad in the car on the way to school and, after he dropped me off and pulled away, I left school and took the subway home. I felt alone. Confused. And I knew I was hurting everyone.
Meanwhile, a different doctor was prescribing a bunch of different meds, trying to see which one didn't have side effects. One of them made me more anxious and that wasn't great. What's more, when I went away to camp, I would have these weekly calls with a doctor just to make sure I was okay. Everyone would ask me why I had to go down to the office, and I had to come up with a lot of different stories. Only one of my friends knew what was going on, why I had to take pills in the mornings and have those phone calls, and why sometimes I got so scared and upset that I couldn't breathe. When I got home and started seeing the new doctor, I still hated school and friendships started deteriorating because people didn't think I was good enough to be their friend, which made me hate school more than ever. Then my parents and I decided to switch schools, a process that made me all-the-more anxious. I applied and got into two schools, but my year in my current school wasn't over yet, and it was still hard and kids were still mean, and all of that ugliness seeped into my home life, too. One blowup at home resulted in us not talking to my aunt anymore, my mom not speaking to her sister for a while. It was awful.
I can't put my finger on the exact day things started to look up. I do know we found meds that were finally working, and I started going to all of my classes. I was making it through the end of the year. This was only because of my family and my school therapist and my current doctor. If they hadn't all been there, this could have gone so badly. I don't want to think about what would have happened. Now I'm at a new school, I'm getting off the meds and everything is looking up.
I still get scared when I'm by my old school, with those people and those memories. But when I get anxious sometimes, it's a normal kind of anxious, the kind everybody else gets. I need to get used to the fact that when something goes wrong it doesn't mean I'm getting to that point of anxiety again. I know that this will never fully go away, but now I know how to deal with it and keep it under control. There were definitely some points where I thought nothing would ever be good again, but hey I made it through the tough part. I was hesitant to write this, but I've heard stories about kids who are anxious and they and their families don't know what to do, and I don't want them to feel how I felt. I don't want them to feel alone, and feel like nothing can get better. It does get better.
I want to say sorry to my mom and my dad and my brother. I know I put you through a rough couple years and you all still loved me and tried everything to make it better. Thank you all so much. I hope this helps some of you feel like you're not crazy and you're not alone.
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