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Elizabeth: Free From Fear, Shame, and Isolation

Be brave in the face of fear. Denounce shame. Avoid isolation at all costs. Above all, know that you’re already free.

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“Freedom, to me, is being empowered to act in the face of fear or uncertainty. Freedom is acknowledging that you’re in over your head, accepting yourself despite the mistakes you’ve already made, and asking for help when you need it. Freedom is realizing that you aren’t bad, that there is help, that there is hope.”

When I was a child, I nearly choked to death on a bite of pizza. Rather than wave my hands, pound the table or otherwise signal to my family that I needed help, I panicked and fled from the kitchen table. My mother found me, blue and trembling, hiding beneath my bed.

After pounding on my back until I spat out the wet ball of cheese and bread too big for my five-year-old throat, she asked me why I didn’t try to find help. I told her that I didn’t know what was happening, and I was afraid I’d done something wrong.

I was afraid I’d be punished if she found out. Mom thinks this is an endearing story—a testament to the intrinsic peculiarity of her child. On the contrary, I recognize it as one stitch in a greater pattern of my life: a lifelong tendency toward fear, shame, and isolation.


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I recognize it as one stitch in a greater pattern of my life: a lifelong tendency toward fear, shame, and isolation.


In the weeks leading up to my suicide attempt as an adult, my behavior was similar to that of the frightened, choking child: I wondered what I’d done wrong to feel the way I did; cut, burned, starved, and shamed myself for every perceived flaw or minor infraction; disguised my pain as best I could from those I loved, and turned away from every helping hand and friendly face I encountered along the way.

It’s a cruel trick, isn’t it, that the people who need help the most are often the least capable of asking for it.


In the weeks leading up to my suicide attempt as an adult, my behavior was similar to that of the frightened, choking child


In any case, I let my fear paralyze me. Rather than acknowledging all of the negative emotions, traumatizing experiences, and failed expectations that had led me to the point of suicide—and learning to live and cope with those things without hurting myself—I got stuck in my own cycle of anxiety, uncertainty, and shame.

I hated not understanding what I was feeling, not knowing where those emotions would lead me, and not having any idea of where to go or what to do next. I didn’t know I was choking. I didn’t know that choking could kill me. I didn’t know how to spit it all out.


I didn’t know I was choking. I didn’t know that choking could kill me. I didn’t know how to spit it all out.


In the years following that attempt, I learned that the more you try to hide those struggles, both from yourself and from others, the more that those struggles cling to you. They get backed up in your throat and they fester. By accepting those emotions for what they are, you can begin to unpack them, understand them, and ultimately, alleviate them—and a major step in that process is seeking out those who will understand you and love you for the complete package of joy, talents, anxiety, flaws, dreams, doubt, beauty, and imperfections that you are.

Chances are, you’re already surrounded by those people. You just have to let them in.


I learned that the more you try to hide those struggles, both from yourself and from others, the more that those struggles cling to you.


I won’t say I’ve figured it all out now, that those emotions, thought patterns, and mental health struggles have been eliminated once and for all. But I’ve certainly entered a new phase in my life: one where pain does not frighten me; one where asking for help is considered an act of strength, not weakness.

Before I panic and flee from the table, I pause to ask myself: Why can’t I breathe? And in cases where I don’t know the answer to that question, I shake my fists and pound my feet until I can get the attention of someone who does.


I’ve entered a new phase in my life where pain does not frighten me and asking for help is considered an act of strength, not weakness.


So reader, if that’s why you’re here—if you’re reaching out with whatever bit of oxygen you have left: I see you. I hear you. It’s not your fault. You’re not alone. As Nietzshe said, we are buds on a single tree. We’re all sitting at the same dinner table, biting off more than we can chew. We’re all turning blue from fear, from shame, and from isolation.

But running away means giving that fear control over you. Even if you can’t always control your emotions, you can control your response to those emotions and, subsequently, your fate. Be brave in the face of fear. Denounce shame. Avoid isolation at all costs. Above all, know that—even if you can’t feel it in this moment—you’re already free.


Be brave in the face of fear. Denounce shame. Avoid isolation at all costs. Above all, know that you’re already free.


What Are You Free From?

 

Elizabeth Burnam grew up in a trailer park in Jamesville, New York, keeping secrets and getting her feet dirty. In May of 2018, she graduated from Champlain College with a degree in Professional Writing. Today, she works as a copywriter at a marketing agency, where she aims to live with empathy, enthusiasm, and integrity.


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