Blowing My Own Cover

Blowing My Own Cover

By Kate Kole

Growing up, I struggled to learn math. From long division in elementary school to algebra in high school, I had to work relentlessly to comprehend equations and formulas. I went in early, met with my teachers during lunchtime, and often stayed late to receive the extra help I needed. Even after getting loads of specialized one-on-one attention, math still felt difficult.

My struggle frustrated me. I spent hours in my bedroom at home, textbook open, tears welling up in my eyes, overcome by the feeling that I was failing. It came so much easier to my classmates, and in comparison, I felt like I was lacking some essential book smart gene.

It wasn’t until I was working as a tutor at the Reading & Writing Center in college that I could appreciate, in even the slightest sense, my difficulty learning math.

As other students came in, lost on how to start their term papers, or stumped by the feeling that they couldn’t turn the thoughts in their minds into typed words on a screen, I understood. Not because writing was my personal struggle, but because I had struggled. I got what they were going through. I could relate to the confusion of things not clicking.

My hard-fought journey to learn math made me a better tutor. It created a level of compassion and appreciation that I wouldn’t have had if schoolwork had always come easily. I was able to help others in a more effective way because I’d been there too.

Fast forward a few years, and anxiety became the math equivalent of my 20s. It often consumed my thoughts the same way a seemingly impossible geometry problem once had. Perfectionism, insomnia, disordered eating, irrational thinking, stomach problems, and self-doubt overwhelmed me. They road blocked my personal and professional life and played into a whole slew of unhealthy cyclical habits.

Unlike math class in high school where my struggle led me to instantly seek help from my teachers, I’d moved on to feeling like I could and should now deal with my issues alone. In private and in silence. Because it didn’t seem like I was just missing some book smart gene anymore, it felt like I lacked an essential life coping mechanism. Like there was something wrong with me that propelled me to feel worried and panicky. Like I wasn’t as strong, confident, or competent as other people who seemingly had all their shit together while mine was crumbling apart within me.

I spent a lot of time torturing myself. Beating myself up. Living trapped within the negative confines of my own mind. Riding a wave of feeling unworthy, convincing myself that I was, in fact, unworthy, in turn, fighting for my worthiness, and feeling exhausted anytime I didn’t add up to what I thought I needed to be, in looks, in size, in profession, in relationships, and in life. Which was pretty much always.

I sought help in various self-therapy forms. I worked out. I meditated. I practiced yoga. I baked. I wrote. I did anything I could to manage my anxiety. Keeping it at a gentle simmering rate and holding it back from boiling over. Which worked until it didn’t.

My anxiety produced feelings that made me want to escape myself. But the reality was, I couldn’t escape myself. So instead, I would eventually succumb helplessly to a Natalie Imbruglia style cold, shamed, lying naked on the floor moment.  I’d cry it all out, shower it all off, and keep going. Until it happened. Again. And Again. And again.

Until finally, I acknowledged aloud that I wasn’t okay. That after years of promising I was fine and good, I wasn’t fine and good at all. I was struggling. I was suffering. I was forcing my way through pain that I didn’t want to carry alone. That I didn’t have to carry alone. I reached out. I got professional help.

I said the things I was scared to say, and I admitted the imperfections I’d worked so hard to keep hidden. I started being real with the people that I love. And I started to practice the kind of self-love that I’d often preached but never actually felt before. I released the feelings I’d kept at bay, because I learned that I didn’t have to hold back. My journey wasn’t good or bad, or right or wrong. It was simply my own.

My experience with anxiety has made me a better human being. It’s created kindness and compassion within me. It’s opened me up to the deeper layers of myself and it’s sparked a new level of authenticity in my relationships with others. It’s prompted me to reframe my perspective towards what it means to be strong, as getting help felt like one of the bravest and hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s made me realize that I’m not meant to carry the load and this life alone. It’s shown me that both our joys and our trials have the ability to bring us together in powerful ways.

Writing this piece is scary. Publishing it is even scarier. In many ways, it feels like I’m blowing my own cover on the perfect life that I want to paint for the world to see. That I myself want to experience. But, the thing is, life’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. And that’s okay. Those deep, sometimes hard, messy, uncomfortable, and hidden layers are what make it so meaningful.

Our struggles and perceived shortcomings have the capacity to connect us as well as our humor, similar interests, and passions.  But only if we let them. Only if we can get vulnerable, acknowledge what we’re feeling, and dive beyond the shame that keeps our difficulties buried beneath our exterior surfaces.

“We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

{featured image via pexels}

7 thoughts on “Blowing My Own Cover

  1. classroomandkitchen says:

    Mental health is such an important part of our lives and so often overlooked and undervalued. There is so much stigma surrounding it. It takes real strength to not only get the help you need but to also talk about it like you did above. Bravo!


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