At long last, mental health seems to finally be getting its due attention in the mainstream. Through the stories of professional athletes like Michael Phelps, Terrell Owens, Clint Malarchuk, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love and Royce White, the public and the Georgetown community have hopefully gained a greater understanding of the vulnerability mental illness can bring, famous or not.

Though athletes’ stories may grab headlines and inspire outpourings of public support, they often overshadow the struggles faced by everyday people. As the person who has written about all of these athletes’ stories, it is only right I now share mine.

Throughout my life, my self-image has always been an issue. Despite growing up in a well-to-do family, my upbringing was never easy. Alongside walking and talking, I learned to excel in everything I did; from a young age, my parents instilled in me a desperate need to succeed.

Since the two of them had flourished in the beacon of competition that is Wall Street, effort was never enough; results were all they cared about, and I tried like hell to make them proud. I saw my parents’ praise as validation from two people who I thought had reached life’s summit, yet they never seemed satisfied with me, which I took as an indictment of my worth to them as a son.

I sacrificed my social life and a large part of my mental health to do well in high school. I let my fear of failure dictate my life. I let the end justify the means, even when I knew the means were wrong. Though things are far better for me in college, that emptiness and futility still come back every time I make a mistake.

Still, the toughest thing about my bad habits is that they are objectively justifiable. Both of my parents grew up poor: My mother was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a perpetually sick mother, while my father’s mother died when he was a teenager, and his father never cared for him much at all. I will forever feel the need to validate the sacrifices they have made to ensure my early years were far more comfortable than theirs.

Yet, the trouble with that way of thinking is that it places your self-esteem in the hands of something you can’t control. I tricked myself into thinking I didn’t deserve happiness because I didn’t bring enough of it to my parents and that I couldn’t live in a way that made both of them and myself proud.

Perhaps the harshest challenge we can face is the rejection of the very people we are trying to please. It is difficult to accept that you cannot meet everyone’s demands, especially for young people with all the time and potential in the world. Failure is never easy. We may have our strange coping mechanisms — crying, eating, drinking, smoking, exercise — but at the end of the day, failure leaves a sting that you can’t ever quite get rid of.

The self-acceptance I sought for my entire life had eluded me despite my best efforts. While my insecurities weren’t physical, they hurt like hell. I wanted to be content enough with who I was that I didn’t need validation from others. Yet because I didn’t receive enough empowerment from those I loved, I sought it externally. I then became so reliant on those external devices for my own happiness that I never learned how to empower myself without them.

Once in college, I started doing things I loved on my own terms and became a much happier and more fulfilled person — taking more pride in my achievements for what they meant to me, not for how they were seen.

Even this column is the product of my changed mindset. I was finally able to live for myself. Now, I approach who I am with realism and acceptance; I am shocked at how much easier it is. No longer do I succeed just to beat others and no longer do I let my fear of failure and rejection determine my actions. Owning up to my insecurities took their power away and made me a better person for it.

Now, if something scares me, I force myself to face it without the need to overcome it. If something worries me, I meditate on it to find peace. I would be lying if I said those feelings of self-deprecation don’t return every so often, most notably when I screw up. But, I have come to accept those feelings and instead let them provoke reflection on how far I have come. At the end of the day, I am only trying to please one person.

To those who have taken time to read my work this semester, I thank you.

I also encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to spend time in thought. My peace has come from hours alone, mostly in silent meditation, but never feel afraid to talk with someone about what you’re facing.

Lastly, if you ever feel lost or overwhelmed: carterowen@icloud.com.

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