On the REAL stuff

So there I was, eating dinner at my desk in the corner of the athletic training room by myself after all my fellow graduate assistants had gone home, tears streaming down my face. A few staff members lingered with some athletes, but there was at least a wall you had to walk around. And I was just there, ugly crying up a storm, trying to eat and not choke on my food, sniffling like a…sniffle monster and being generally “out of it”, as they might say.

I have cried at work everyday this week. Also, it is only Tuesday. I’ll include Saturday for fun. I have needed to be 100% in at volleyball treatments, practice and games, and I have also needed to be 100% in at research. I have needed to be 100% there for my friends and my relationship, and naturally, something has to suffer.

And that something? It’s me! On Friday night I got off work and got home and wanted to do a date night. Instead I tiptoed upstairs, and cried so hard I hyperventilated while my boyfriend comforted me after having just woken up (ah yes, thank you night shift). Oh yes, it was embarrassing but much needed. On Saturday, I did 16 hours of worth of work, including spending the entire football game standing by myself on the away team side. It was 12:30am (and the game had been over since midnight) when I was standing in the athletic training room and I leaned against a wall and sank down on the ground willing myself not to cry. So I got up, got my stuff packed and asked to leave because I knew I had at least done my job but I simply just needed to leave. I just had to ask, and it was ok.

On Monday, I fell asleep during class. I had woken up at 4:45 for work, knowing full well I wasn’t going to make it home until 9pm. My coworkers joked around about things as we got on the elevator to go back down to the athletic training room, and someone mentioned how funny it was that I was falling asleep. I lost it. I burst into tears and angrily, aggressively walked through the training room and threw my jacket down in a huff. I’m not proud of myself for that. I’m embarrassed because I’m a 24-year old graduate student who should be much better. That was the moment I realized I don’t want to be this way anymore. Now, easier said than done. I went into our storage room, cried and laid down. Then I bucked up and went to research and finished my day and the best part was that I had done it. Finally.

Fast forward to today. I got back to the main athletic training room and my friends were joking around about going to see The Joker. I think there was some sort of joke involved with that. But I didn’t really have time to think about it, I had some athletes to see and deal with. I had to repack my kit, I had to print things out, I had to eat dinner… One of my friends commented that I looked stressed, but I didn’t say much, I just sort of nodded and continued. And that’s when I noticed that my hands were shaking. That, my friends, has not happened in such a long time, and that was the scariest part for me.

They continued to discuss going to see this movie. It didn’t seem like I was part of anything, it just seemed like I was there. I didn’t feel like myself, and I still don’t know if I do. And maybe my hands were shaking because I was tired and hungry, but truthfully I think my hands were shaking because I don’t know where else the emotions were supposed to go. So after everyone left I sat there and cried. I felt really alone. I felt isolated. I felt like no one cared about me. I felt too unique. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I felt like no one liked me. I felt the same way I did in high school and at church when I was younger, when I was just always on the outside because I wasn’t cool enough, girly enough, maybe good enough.

But some things changed. Therapy has been working wonders. I’ve been learning how to take all these thoughts that are quite honestly insane, and put them away. i’ve been working on either talking myself through them or completely putting them away. And today I started to talk myself out of it. I started reminding myself that I couldn’t go to the movie even if they had invited me. I reminded myself that maybe they just saw how stressed I was and thought I needed space, because if I didn’t say anything, how were they supposed to know? I realized it was fine, I don’t need to be included in everything, and that it was such a small thing. It wasn’t wrong to be upset about it, but it would have been wrong to let it continue to bite at me.

Secondly, I had an athlete who was panicking herself. I could barely get the words out to text her, and I thought about self care and how you can’t pour from an empty cup. But oddly enough, instead of sitting there and ignoring her and focusing so hard on myself, I pulled myself out of that hole. See, one of my challenges has been to be less inward-looking, and observe and be there for others. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about myself, but it means recognizing when I really am empty of any ability to care. Suddenly I knew I wasn’t, I was just frustrated and I did NOT want to take it out on someone else. I told her to take deep breaths. I took them myself. I calmed down, finished eating, and left to do more research. I turned up my favorite hip hop song as loud as I could, put on my tough girl scowl (I honestly do not know what this is, but this may be why people tell me to smile more, which is ironic because I am definitely the funniest person I know. But anyway.), and drove up the hill to researxy. And she called me right when I pulled into that parking spot, which frustrated me, but also forced me out of my funk for a second. I told her not to worry, to focus on now, one thing at a time.

So I did just that. I told myself to focus on research. I told myself to do it. Right here, right now. I brushed away all my thoughts of isolation just for a few hours and hung out with that discomfort. And I did it. I got through it. On my way home, I talked out loud about why I’ve been crying. Truthfully, I’m not awfully upset about anything. I’m just stressed. I need an outlet, and I suppose it’s coming out of my eyeholes. Look, I’m working on it. I know I am more emotional than most people, and I know I can be hard on myself, two of the most difficult things that when combined, result in sheer self-destruction. However, I’m choosing to view and use these as strengths, because I know it gives me a unique edge in my job.

So. A quite unusual approach to a story today. But I wanted to let you get a look into my head. I wanted you to understand that there is so much more going on in people’s heads than you think. I want you to understand that it’s OK. I want you to see that a thought process can be fragmented and it can be confusing and disillusioned. But I want you to know that it’s OK. I want you to know it’s OK, and that you don’t have to have everything figured out right this second.

I also want to let you know that if none of this convinces you that things are going to be ok, I don’t want you to worry. I want you to know that you’ll figure it out eventually, but you just need to hear from yourself that you’re going to be ok.

It is quite ok not to be ok, but life is about recognizing those moments and working through them to get to the moments where everything is…ok. I’ve said that word so many times, but it’s true.

Now, I am exhausted and could have gone to bed hours ago. Perhaps this lack of sleep is another reason so much fluid has been coming out of my face holes and that I am dehydrated and dreading tomorrow. But as my mom says, I like to learn lessons the hard way, and moms are always right. This kind of stuff is real, it happens, and it’s ok, but I’m going to fight back and get through it. And I’ll be…more than OK.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.