“You always look like you’re in a rush. I see you walking around, and it’s like you always have somewhere to be.”
Or something like that. My friend said something to that essence once when we were in high school. It caught me off guard and left me confused, but I’m glad she said it because it led me to self reflect for a while.
I remember that I’ve always done a lot of things in my life fast. I walk fast. I run (kind of) fast. I fall in love fast. I eat fast. My mom complained about that last one a lot. I’m not sure if I was wired this way or if the ways and teachings of my parents made me operate like this, but what I’m sure of is that during high school my high level of social anxiety fueled my need to be fast. My anxiety hovered over me like a rain cloud, and after every class I sped off to the safe space on campus I designated as the library to make the droplets of anxiety go away. Any spare moment where I was not required to be anywhere like class or tennis practice, I was studying or reading in the library. I rarely ate lunch for a while because I didn’t want to wait in those crazy lines and risk running into someone I’d have to have an awkward conversation with. I just didn’t want to participate in the high school social culture. At the time, I truly felt that this culture, the high school population, my friends, the world, and sometimes even my family could do better without Tina Phan participating in it, so I spent a lot of time alone. Sometimes I just wished I could disappear without letting anyone get harmed. A car accident where I was the only one injured or killed. A plane ride where only my seat dropped out of the sky. An “accidental” pill overdose. I almost attempted that last one, but I was too “weak” to will myself to. Thank God I was too weak.
Also, an even bigger thank you to my most dependable friend to this day. For some odd reason, this guy felt inclined to accompany me during these times of solitude and safety after he found out where I spent most of my free time. I was incredibly caught off guard, and almost felt like he was invading my sacred time alone free of anxiety. I reminded him multiple times that it was completely unnecessary for him to waste his time with me, but he insisted. I didn’t force him out much more than that because he was really genuine… and he was cute. He ended up forcing his way into my life in the kindest way possible, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
At first, I spent a lot of my high school experience sitting on my own in one of those weird blue flat, but structured chairs they left between the bookshelves. I enjoyed myself somewhat just reading a book or studying something I may or may not have been interested in. I felt relatively safe, and I would just avoid eye contact with most people walking by. At most, I’d smile but quickly draw my eyes back down to my iPad or whatever assignment I had in hand. Later, every now and then, my friend would come by after eating his lunch, and he’d sit in one of those weird chairs across from me and force me to have some interesting and challenging conversations. I was confused on why he was there in the first place and also what his intentions were as he spent time with me. But, to be honest, he felt like the first real friend that I made who really wanted to understand me. He didn’t just want to compliment me superficially or make too much small talk. It was refreshing and even fun. I still had anxiety though, and since I had developed mechanisms of how to deal with my anxiety I used one on him. I tried to divert conversation to him. He ended up talking about what he really wanted to talk about, and sometimes it was weird but I went along with it. Later, I grew to really enjoy his presence and the kinds of conversations we had. We talked about so many things, and eventually started a string of inside jokes, some being mildly inappropriate. I think that’s where my love of innuendos and terribly inappropriate jokes began. A lot of you know my mind has been stuck in the gutter for so long, and sometimes those dirty thoughts don’t get filtered well enough. But basically I developed this genuinely real friendship in high school, and it was surprisingly enjoyable.
Before this though, the time I dreaded most when I sat in that chair alone was when it was about time for everyone to head to class. The ring of the bell gave me anxiety, and after a while I learned to hack the high school system. Not the actual bell system, but the movements of the people in the social system. I remember learning when and where groups and individuals would move to get to each of their classes, so I could maneuver my way down the halls and stairs minimizing the risk of encountering anyone I even kind of knew. When I developed my anxiety in college, these avoidance tactics followed me. However, as my therapist pointed out once and many times after, the more you avoid what you fear, the bigger that fear becomes. But spoiler… you totally can conquer that fear no matter how big you make it in your head.
Eventually, my friend ended up walking with me to class every now and then, and gradually it wasn’t so bad to walk down the halls, staircases, and concrete paths that lined our high school campus. Over time, he continued to stay by my side so much so that someone described us as “attached at the hip”. I had severe anxiety still, but to combat that he encouraged conversations that challenged this mindset I had. He’d ask me why I thought I was worthless or why I thought my friends were so much better than me. My thoughts did their best to resist as much as they could against his questioning. His constantly positive mindset never fully make me flip the switch in my head that told me to love myself instead of loathe it, but it definitely helped push me to see the aspects of my character that I should love. He, as well as other close friends I had, helped me recognize certain strengths I had, such as my selflessness. I didn’t really see this within myself because with my anxiety I felt that everything I did that was “nice” was just out of the motivation to make me feel less awkward and anxious. However, I have always had a big heart open to helping anyone I could so I used it as a mechanism to make friends. It worked. I just never thought that it was truly genuine.
Now… my selflessness is one of my favorite things about who I am today. If I didn’t genuinely care so much about my friends and family, I wouldn’t recognize myself. I needed those friends in high school to point out to me blatantly and obviously that this was a strength. It was at first a self-defense mechanism, but I slowly turned it into the best thing I know how to do. Not only do I now know how to make friends, but I have the patience and understanding to listen to those friends and make them feel heard. My strong sense of empathy reaches out to my friends to let them know that I am fully willing and able to listen to them and all the issues that they may believe are pointless to discuss. Trust me. I know what it feels like to believe that my anxiety and depression should be minimized and that someone out there has it worse, so I shouldn’t be complaining. But your issues are definitely real and probably valid. I will listen to whatever they are and tell you my real and genuine opinion. Some of it may be eliminated with just a small bit of perspective, but some of it may require months or years of a shifting mindset. If you need someone to give you daily reminders of how wonderful, beautiful, handsome, awesome, dope, and swaggy you are, I got you boo.
My girl friends. My guy friends. My family. There are so many things about each and every one of you to love… that I love. If you need that reminder, I will give it to you. Just let me know, and I will encourage the crap out of you.
My friend in high school, which some of you already figured out, was Matt. He is my ex-boyfriend, but most importantly to me he is my lifelong best friend. I want to be like him for all of you. He taught me so much about how to help someone find their strengths and how to help them genuinely love themselves. He is best at being himself with no shame and with lots of pride. He is mostly aware of his strengths and weaknesses and he uses that and his unrelenting positivity to inspire people like me to be self-aware and grow an incredible amount of self-love. I wouldn’t be who I am without him. You already know it Matt, but I’m eternally grateful for you. What you did for me is bearing fruit for so many people to benefit from.
You need people like him, guys. You don’t have to learn how to love yourself on your own. It’s extremely difficult to love yourself by yourself. I highly encourage you to find the people who truly care about your well-being and only hope for the best for you. Find those guys or girls that comment fire or heart eye emojis under your Instagram pictures. Find those guys and girls that make almost inappropriate jokes about how hot or dope you look in your outfit. Find those friends that will actually want to show you so much love when you express even the tiniest bit of sadness or vulnerability. The next step after you have that unrelenting support is that they’ll roast you because they’ll know you will have acquired enough self-confidence and security in who you are to take it. You will be be able to joke about those insecurities because you’ll be proud of these things you once called “flaws” that make you the beautiful you that you are. Then… you should definitely take your turn to support and roast them too. Ah… friendship is truly a beautiful thing. I’m offering any of you my hand in friendship because I will care about you if you want me to.
Life is not meant to be lived alone, my friends. Believe me. I’ve tried.
The attached photo is when we both graduated high school. Thanks for getting me out of there alive dude.