I Called a Stranger – BandBackTogether BlogAThon

Originally posted on WhyILoveTheSemiColon

I called a stranger today. It’s not a completely unusual occurrence, at my job, to pick up the phone and call someone I’ve never spoken to before. I’m sure many people call strangers, many times a day. Nowadays, I think nothing of it, and that’s the strangest thing of all.

I was 15 when I was diagnosed with the anxiety disorder. We knew, my mother and I, but nobody had ever really put a name to it. But we both knew. It was the way I had such a hard time getting out of bed in the morning when something bad was happening at school. It was the way I would not engage with people I did not know. It was the way that I physically got sick anytime something traumatic would happen, including (but not limited to) migraines, vomiting, and hives (which as a high school student made me SUPER popular). It was the depression, too, but I’m not so sure one didn’t cause the other. When you’re afraid to leave your house in the morning, life is kind of a bummer. Also, when you have seasonal affective disorder and you’re living in Pennsylvania, life tends to be an additional bummer.

I was 15 when we moved from a small town where I knew everybody by name to a town three times the size, where I didn’t know anybody, and where I got lost in the high school. I was used to a school with only two hallways. I got anxious being in school. Then I started getting anxious on the drive in. Soon enough I was overly anxious when I tried to leave the house. Eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house at all.

I was 16 when my parents had no other choice but to have me home schooled.

I was 16 when I started taking Zoloft. My therapist gave me exercises like having my mom take me to the bookstore, purchase a book, and talk to the cashier by myself. If I could manage to talk to the cashier (a stranger) without having a panic attack and leaving the store, it was a good day.

I was also 16 when I forced myself back into the real world, slowly weaning off the home-schooling and back into public school. It started with just band practice, because that was the only place I felt like I fit in. Then we made it to half days, and by the end of the school year, I was going back full time again.

I was 17 when I thought I would never be able to go to college.

I was 18 when I made the decision to go to college, and even though I wanted to move south so desperately, I decided to stay in Pennsylvania, because I didn’t think I could finish school if I was so far away from my parents. I went. I joined the band. I talked to strangers. I made friends. I joined a fraternity. The strangers became my brothers.

I was 20 when I dropped out of school.

I was 21 when I made the decision that I had to go back to school because I was not making any headway with my writing, and I was trained for literally nothing else. I could think of nothing worse than subjecting myself to school again, which had been a source of such anxiety as a teenager. I locked myself in my bedroom for four days before the semester started, only leaving to eat and go to the bathroom, not even shower. My friend Diana showed up and knocked on my door. I ignored her. She probably knocked on my door for the better part of an hour, repeatedly calling my name while I ignored her. When she tried to slide a note under the door, I finally let her in. Diana, if you hadn’t made me open the door, I would have stayed in that room forever. Thank you.

The next day I flushed all my Zoloft down the toilet.

The day after that was my first day back at school, and I collapsed on my then boyfriend’s bed crying and told him I didn’t think I could do it. He told me I’d “better fucking figure it out” because he wasn’t going to support me for the rest of my life.

That summer my boyfriend left for grad school.

That fall, I gave myself some assignments similar to the ones my therapist used to give me. The first was to force myself to talk to more strangers, and maybe I could make new friends. The second was to graduate, so that I could learn to take care of myself and maybe someday be good enough for my boyfriend.

I was 22 when I switched my major to accounting. I talked to strangers. I joined another fraternity. Those strangers became my brothers. My boyfriend was having a rough time in grad school. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He was having trouble talking to strangers, too. I was sympathetic. But I never forgot what he said.

I was 22 when I found out he had cheated on me. I cried a lot. I didn’t eat very much.

But I still went to class.

I was 23 when I graduated, and I was worried that I was going to have to start from square one. I knew that it was time to move out of Pennsylvania, and the thought scared the living bejeesus out of me, but I knew the time had come. I got offered a job in Texas. I packed my things and moved down to stay with my friend Jessica. I found an apartment and it became my home. I found a profession that I loved.

I was 26 when I realized that I had fucking figured it out, and I hadn’t thought about him in awhile, but I knew he was not good enough for me.

I was 27 when I published my first novel.

I was 27 when I moved in with Mike, and we made a new home with Jinx.

I was 27 when I paid off my student loans, six years early.

I haven’t had a Zoloft since the day I dumped them down the toilet.

I’m 27, and I called a stranger today.

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