The first time I realized I had a problem was when I locked myself in a washroom stall to cry.
It was odd, really, because inside those four walls of the cubicle, I found some sort of haven and solace from the world outside. I thought that if I stayed there long enough—maybe if I waited it out—that everything would go back to normal: my hands would stop shaking, my breaths would come out steady instead of shaky, and most importantly, my florid complexion would return to the naturally tanned skin tone that I was born with.
This was around my junior year of high school, and I knew that this anxiety wasn’t a one-time experience. I’d been going through this since middle school, and it was something that I bore in silence.
The concept of mental health was non-existent in my family, and talking about this with my parents at the time was incomprehensible—you were supposed to bear your struggles valiantly like Prometheus and the rock, and if you ever uttered a plea for help, then it was dismissed as an indication of weakness, or worse, a plea for attention.
So even though I noticed these turbulent feelings brewing inside me during my early adolescent years, I never thought of seeking help for fear of how people would perceive what I thought were my “deficiencies,” or my “weaknesses.”
But this behaviour continued on for years. Refusing to seek any outside help, I consistently sought refuge in this four-walled stall instead. There was something reassuring about it, and it gave me a few minutes of privacy that I could never otherwise afford in school, home, or anywhere, really.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed in class, or whenever I felt my anxiety spike up to inconceivable levels, I’d excuse myself from class and head straight to the washroom. Sometimes, I’d even have lunch there on my own.
Oddly enough, those numerous occasions that I spent inside those stalls—ridiculous as it seems—were some of my most memorable experiences in high school, simply because I derived a lot of epiphanies from those periods of self-reflection.
Those few minutes to myself, completely private and shut out from the rest of the world, were exactly the kind of break I needed from the constant pretence all of us have to put up with in our day-to-day interactions with other people.