Fighting for Control
Growing up, I often felt my world was constantly out of control. As far back as I could remember, I was in and out of hospital.
My mum had given birth to an extremely premature baby, at just 26 weeks, my chances of survival were low. Not to mention the health implications that would came later. Luckily, after 2 months I was able to go home.
My parents and I would attend regular check-ups for general health as well as asthma.
By age 9, I had been admitted to hospital for long stays multiple times. Mainly for asthma attacks and pneumonia. On a few occasions, I’d be taken to hospital in the ambulance because my airways would close up so quickly.
There was a moment I remember vividly.
I was running around playing with my brother. The next moment, I had fallen in a heap on the lounge floor. My mum asked if I was okay. I was unable to speak or breathe. I was staring straight ahead and everything was a blur. After some time, green objects came into view. They walked towards me.
The paramedics arrived.
During those minutes between the lounge floor and the back of the ambulance, one thought kept playing in my mind: I was going to suffocate and die any minute.
The senior paramedic told me to take slow, deep breaths. I snapped out of my panic. A mask was fixed to my face.
Obviously, I did not die.
Because my health was always on the edge of disaster, I had this insatiable need to control my environment and people in it.
To feel better, I would purposely exclude my peers and try to make friends with kids who were violent and rebellious. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to feel more powerful than my circumstances
Part of me found it exhilarating. The other — very small — part of me wanted to do the right thing. But what was the right thing?
How to Make Friends and Lose Them
School in general can be a pretty brutal place for kids. They’re teased, tormented, beat up. And adults aren’t always around. For some unknown reason, I tried to surround myself with people who broke the rules. Maybe I wanted to feel fearless. Maybe I wanted to feel bigger than I was.
Whenever my friends confronted me about my behaviour and attitude, I couldn’t understand why it was a problem. There were not many people who behaved the way I did but I spent a lot of time ignoring that observation.
I continued in my ways, speaking out of turn and laughing at another’s misfortune.
There was a point where my closest friends called me out and did not communicate with me anymore. I detested their words.
The following summer, I moved schools. Somewhere deep down, a new beginning seemed like the best thing for me.
Learning about Kindness
In 7th grade, I was the only new person in class. Kids seemed to know each other and would flock in small groups between class. Being an ‘angry kid’ did not seem like a good approach as the newbie.
I felt like a fish out of water.
Over time, I made new friends and noticed the behaviour of my classmates. Most were polite, courteous and studious. I couldn’t remember the last time I was surrounded by kids who wanted to do their homework at school.
Getting to know my peers made me realise what kindness meant. What no judgement meant.
I learned how curiosity could foster meaningful relationships.
I learned how hard work paid off.
A few months later, I loved being at this new school.
I felt like I could become a better person. I wanted to be a better person.
I would often reflect when I was alone.
Is this what kindness is? How was I so cruel before? Who was that girl? Why did she treat people with such cruelty?
One day, I made a promise to myself.
I will spend the rest of my days — as much as humanely possible — becoming a better person.
When I had graduated primary school, I was sad to realise most of my classmates were going to different high schools.
New Beginnings and Difficult Conversations
High school began and once again, I found myself alone in a new class. By chance, the seat beside me was empty. A girl approached me and asked to sit next to me.
Instead of saying something cruel, I shyly replied with something along the lines of, “yeah, that’s fine”.
I started making new friends. With all the excitement of different classes and new friends, something dark was brewing within.
I was not diagnosed, but I would say I experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression the next four years. I had no motivation to complete my school work. I was withdrawn and often grounded for being rebellious at home. Teachers would encourage me to see a counsellor but I was terrified of them telling others what I was going through.
Besides my own personal problems, I often had deep conversations with my peers. We would talk about mishaps in life. We would talk about our pain and confusion. We would talk about trauma.
When I graduated high school, life took a few twists and turns.
The Explorer Finds the Path
After being in and out of studying for almost a decade, I finally realised that psychology was the stepping stone to my career.
The last 10 years, I have grown — at times painfully — into a different person.
Throughout the growing pains, I relearned how to be myself.
It turns out, the ability to regulate emotion did not come naturally to me. I was easily upset. I had a tendency to put myself in physically or emotionally dangerous situations.
I saw multiple counsellors through the years. Each of them taught me a skill that I can take with me, wherever this path leads. These skills can be passed down through my writing and through daily conversations.
These days, I enjoy learning new ways of ‘being’.
Knowing what I know now, I wish I had learned about how brains developed through the lifespan. I wish I had learned more about emotional regulation, mental health and career development in high school.
I suppose that is the beauty and pain of life: we can only live forward.
We only learn the lessons after the moment has come and gone.
My hope is that through the duration of my degree, I will continue to raise awareness about human emotion and mental health. I hope that once I graduate, I’ll be able to assist other people in daily adversities.
We all need a helping hand sometimes, and that’s okay.
No matter who you are or what you were, it is possible to change.
It’s never too late to be better.
It’s never too late to do better.