by Marquestis Bullock

Inner demons aren’t easy to beat. They take time and effort for you to escape them, which feels extremely unfair because there was never a choice to opt in from the start. They can eat away at you for so long that you build a resentment to yourself. It lays its foundations in early childhood and can build until you either succumb to them or grow to be better than them. This is the story of me doing just that.

On my first day at a new school in the fourth grade, a student called me “gay.” I didn’t actually know what the word meant, but I knew that it must’ve been an insult because of her tone, and further attacked with questions like, “why is your voice so high?” I had never dealt with being antagonized like this and knew no way to defend myself. I went home and cried and begged my mom not to send me back, but I was too ashamed to tell her why. I couldn’t make the word leave my mouth. I couldn’t have said, “the kids called me gay,” because I had no way to gauge what her response would be. What if she were just as angry as they were? She assured me that I would be fine after an adjustment period, that I would make friends and school would get better. I can’t say it ever did, but I did make a friend who never made fun of me for having a squeaky voice or for speaking properly. Like an oasis in a desert, I always tended to gravitate towards him whenever I could, to shield myself from the other students. Naturally, they began to make fun of him too, to the point where he wouldn’t speak to me anymore, and even began to join in just to avoid the tables being turned on him. I developed an intense social anxiety, and pulled away as much as I could to feel safe.

Middle school saw a complete draw to seclusion because I no longer desired social interaction. I always felt ridiculed, and whenever I thought I’d made a friend it’d turn out they were just talking about me to someone else by feeding them personal secrets and providing fuel to their attacks. I found comfort in food, which led to weight gain, and even more ridicule. I would have panic attacks whenever I had to work in groups or present in front of the class. I stopped talking to my mother about my problems because I believed that they were my own fault and there was something truly wrong with me. I heard insults regarding my sexuality and body image daily. My self-worth reduced to ashes, I developed an eating disorder. I would become anxious at simple things like picking out clothes for the day, or asking to go to the bathroom. I forced myself to be dependent of my emotions and became a walking shell. I preferred to be alone because I felt my thoughts were the quietest when I didn’t have to be around others. I felt like I was just piloting a useless body and that nothing I did mattered. Often I would dream of just having a day at school where I didn’t throw up after lunch or get made fun of.

When I was fourteen I began drinking. By the time I was fifteen the liquor wasn’t sufficing so I began taking pills as well. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than escape reality, so I was perpetually inebriated. This made me a legend of sorts amongst my peers, to see someone so care free that they’d drink straight vodka from a water bottle right in front of faculty. In all reality I didn’t feel I had anything to lose. Through this functional alcoholism I built a reputation and started getting invited to parties. Having finally found something that made me feel “happy,” I’d go. No one makes fun of the gay kid when he’s the life of the party. And no one cares how fat they are when their main focus is standing up straight. I’d found my “balance” with alcohol as my cheat sheet. However, the problem with alcohol is that it can manifests your inner thoughts in a way you can’t control. Multiply this with a mental illness and there is a recipe for disaster. I was only feeling worse and worse about myself which led me to more and more booze.

The turning point in repairing myself mentally and physically came at sixteen years old. I was at a college party with friends where there were chips on a table. My life’s cataclysmic moment seemed innocent enough, if innocent was the word for it. Someone who’d shown up late mentioned that they were upset there was no food left and jokingly made a comment regarding everyone who’d had some as being “fat asses,” because we hadn’t left him any. As soon as I heard those words I broke into a cold sweat and my heart rate skyrocketed. I began to stumble towards the door, mumbling incoherently, trying to flee. I couldn’t see clearly, and I felt like I was breathing through a straw The last sensation I remember before waking up in a hospital was feeling my pulse beating through my temples as I fell to the floor just short of the front door.

For years I was enslaved by an all-consuming beast that drained me of my energy daily. I can’t claim that I got better on my own, because had I not had the episode at that party I wouldn’t have been taken to the hospital, would have never spoken with a psychologist, never started treatments, and, most importantly, never been rehabilitated. Now my mind is stronger than ever and I monitor myself much more closely. I feel more that I can control my own thoughts. I have a close relationship with my doctor and medicate carefully using only what is prescribed. I may rarely drink socially, but never with the intention of masking myself. I now know my worth. I love myself for who I am, as I am. And no words can change that. Dependency was a symptom of my own anxiety and it is a beast that I still wrestle with, but I know I will never be as bad off as I was then. I’m a survivor. I have a story to tell, and a lot more of a story to be written.