Growing up, my emotions were always moving at a higher velocity than those around me. Things hit me harder. Feelings caused visceral aches. I got swept away, chasing down things that weren't actually happening to me. But when you're young, it's hard to tell hormones a part from anything else your awkward body is experiencing. Boys! Training bras! How to work a tampon! Who could keep up?
At the time, I was really drawn to creative outlets - something I could funnel these emotions into and pack them away so they no longer overwhelmed me. And for a while, it worked. I was on the newspaper staff, took acting classes, joined choir, and dove into performing arts as a way to channel all this energy. It seemed like a great way to cloak all the emotions I was bottling up - just push them through the filter of a task that worshiped emotional creativity. It was a chance to become cool with all my crazy.
But as I got older and went to college, those creative outlets slipped away. High school musicals shifted to frat parties. Safe environments became littered with social pressure. And college became a chaotically wild and liberating space, but also one I wasn't sure how to navigate. I was used to steadfast and clear boundaries. I was used to being told what to do. I was never in control; I wasn't trained for independence. And as an adult - if I'm not in control, if I can't figure out how I'm feeling and adjust, I could be putting myself in danger. And in some cases I have.
I didn't know myself without boundaries. I couldn't hold myself up without the rules of the house, of school, of church. I was weak, and I learned to hate myself because of it. Even worse, I turned to other people to define who I should be and I got better at echoing them, replacing my voice with theirs. I morphed into what I thought everyone wanted me to be. I silenced any uniqueness I had and clung to the rules of social engagement, of what was popular, of what I could replicate. Looking back, I probably should have just held on to that acting degree. I spent so much time studying how to be, I could have just made a living from it.
But here's the thing about buried voices - they always find a way out. For years, I had visceral, sweaty nightmares of screaming with no sound, or dialing my mom and not being able to press the numbers. I felt trapped inside my own body. Living a life I didn't know how to control was thrilling, but it got away from me so many times. It reared its ugly head in my dreams. It forced me to look. I was hydroplaning through formative years... and scarily enough - I craved it.
It was like things were melting inside me. Like my whole body was a marshmallow in a microwave - first it felt exhilarating to watch, it felt big and fluffy. I was excited to see where this would go. Would it explode? Would it defy reality and push the walls of that little black box of wonder? My eyes would get big and it'd be mesmerizing. And then things would get scary. I'd realize the reality of the situation - I'd count down to an explosion. 10, 9, 8... it's getting hot, run... 6, 5, 4... find a safe space, a closet... 3, 2, 1... don't breathe, don't move, don't be.
I'd have regular panic attacks, except then no one talked to me about anxiety so I didn't know what they were. After the explosion, the thrill was gone. The curiosity was wrinkly, burnt and bitter. Everything felt hot and charred. The cold tiles of my bathroom floor were the only thing I knew felt right. I spent a lot of time cooling off down there.
I hated this stage of my life; only now am I realizing how grateful I am for the suffering. It's the experience we're sold in our twenties - this sprint to find who you are and what you want, all the while chugging shitty beer and flirting with the edges - of rules, our bodies, social norms, of anything and everything.
Well, what if you've never seen edges before? Or what if the edges moved, the ground beneath you never being stable? What if finding those edges meant bad things would happen? It meant people you loved would hurt you. It meant realizing your safe space wasn't safe after all.
When the edges become your nightmare, you quickly learn to keep all arms and legs inside the train car at all times... or else. You learn to control your curiosity, your uniqueness. You learn to hold it in. You're trained to never let it out. You need to bury your voice, because whatever it sounded like was wrong. You shove it in the deepest cavity of your chest and seal it with top-of-the-line sealant, because it's not safe anywhere else. And over the years... you forget about it down there. And it becomes lonely, sad, and often resentful.
But one day, if you're as lucky as I am, you find yourself amidst a community who helps you dig it up again. Like little emotional archeologists, scraping away all the dirt to unearth the magic underneath.
By the good graces of people who love me, these days, I've been spending a lot of time and money and resources on letting go of the fear, letting go of the control. I'm cracking open the hard parts buried down below and chiseling away what's kept me small and quiet for so long. I want to see the edges and be okay with them. I want to leap across them, or not - but either way, I don't want to fear them.
I am taking a weekly mindfulness course, going to therapy... learning to write again. I'm unlearning the things I was taught about control, emotions, and fulfillment. I'm digging in to the little Breena curled up inside, scared of the world, and letting her stretch a bit and be seen. And most of all, I'm starting to adore her.
I think sometimes we all forget how formative experiences and lessons were growing up. We hesitate to call them out - to really see them. We're afraid we're alone in it. That we should just get over it. For so long, those little monsters were buried under the surface, covering up what's good. And for years, it was wreaking havoc on my insides. I would be physically ill, depressed, unable to move. I'd throw up after meals. I couldn't hold down food or even a glass of wine. I'd spend thousands of dollars on examinations and procedures, thinking it must be my fault, something I'm doing wrong. So I saw general practitioners, therapists, gynecologists, gastroenterologists, had an endoscopy, colonoscopy... the works. Let me tell you - there's something about getting a camera stuck up your butt that'll make you think twice about how you're living your life...
Amidst the years of searching, ignoring the problem until a panic attack hit, then starting the cycle over again, the biggest lesson I've learned was my body and mind needed space, support, and love. What I needed was to make more room for my voice, my story. That younger Breena needed to come out and be seen. And the Breena today needs to channel that voice more and more...
I don't want to fear the edges. I don't want to be scared. I want to step to the tippy-top and shout into the void, to hear the echoes of my story in others. I want to be full on life, and I am so happy to be taking these steps forward with a community of people who love me.