“When we commit to action, to actually doing something rather than feeling trapped by events, the stress in our life becomes manageable.”
For whatever reason, the quiet kids are always the ones picked on from an early age, and I was no exception. Some kids didn’t want to hang out with me. Many teachers didn’t even know I was in their class. My AP U.S. History teacher made me cry because I was too afraid to ask questions. My best friend and teammate bullied me because I was too quiet for my own good. The student newspaper rejected me from three positions, and the student magazine also rejected me three times before I got in on the fourth try. I didn’t even get the position I originally wanted at a camp called Forest Home when I applied in 2015 because my “personality didn’t fit with the rest of the team.” Basically, I was too quiet for my own good.
It’s no wonder I lost my appetite and developed a stress-induced gastrointestinal disorder at the end of my sophomore year at Biola University. I’ve previously written about how the stress nearly killed me, but I haven’t explained exactly what fueled my performance anxiety. I think it actually started at home. In a household of six kids, I wanted to make my parents proud. My brothers often slacked off and didn’t get the best grades, so I made a point to become the “golden child.” Yes, I worked hard from a young age, but the trauma really started when I entered middle school. I had the hardest time making friends, so I tried to change myself and become someone people liked. I donned new clothes with a new hairstyle.
This pressure continued into high school. I started forcing myself to become more outgoing, but it was difficult and I often felt lonely because people still didn’t want to hang out with me. Academics factored in alongside that. It seemed like my school was filled with too many talented people––athletes, dancers, scholars, techies, ASB kids, and more. I was in color guard, played in marching band and jazz band, was the assistant color guard captain, and had A’s in every subject but math. However, other kids were in three sports, had a 4.5 GPA, participated in several clubs, and received many awards each year. They received all the attention, and I was stuck in the shadows.
That trauma stuck deep inside my soul throughout college. As a journalism major, I immediately became involved with the student newspaper, wrote three articles a week, and published an article in each section of the newspaper at some point. I even applied for the student magazine and yearbook, but all my efforts didn’t pay off. The people who only published about 20 articles for the entire year––versus my 50––received editorial positions, and I was left with the features staff writer position. Even though I worked my tail off as the staff writer in the fall, I didn’t get the design or features editor position in the spring when I reapplied for those vacant positions.
Eventually, I wrote some freelance articles, but the student magazine didn’t think I was talented enough. I looked at the list of new writers and editors each semester, and I was infuriated when I saw people with no published material on staff. Here I was, balancing work, 16 units, and Wind Ensemble with campus media, and I’m still not talented enough? After some careful analysis, I knew it wasn’t because of my writing; it was because of my personality.
That realization only furthered the trauma I already carried. I almost changed my major twice because all the rejections made me feel so discouraged. In addition, I started feeling pressured to become someone different––a take-charge extravert instead of a behind-the-scenes introvert. However, I knew God made a humble and more reserved leader because he was pushing me into counseling roles, so that wasn’t the answer.
For the longest time, I wrestled with this pain and tension––I couldn’t get anywhere, but I also couldn’t change myself. What could I do besides work harder and try to impress people? So, that’s exactly what I did. I worked 30-40 hours a week between two jobs and unpaid internships the spring of my junior year and final semester at Biola. I always exceeded expectations at work and made sure my supervisors knew I was a hard worker. I spent way too much time on papers and made myself so anxious that I developed insomnia. Every spare moment, I studied or tweaked every last detail of an assignment to perfection instead of focusing on more important things, such as my social and spiritual life (although those weren’t bad, but they could’ve been better).
I published over 200 articles within three and a half years at Biola, and now I’m publishing a book––but those accomplishments came with a cost. Instead of getting rid of the trauma I had since my teenage years, I only made things worse. Due to all the trauma in my life––which also resulted in overwhelming stress––I developed panic disorder and depression. As a result, my stomach also had erosions because my body was so overwhelmed and produced too much acid.
Working with three therapists helped me trace the trauma I just described all the way back to my middle and high school years. Throughout these sessions, I discovered that unmanaged stress is bad, but unmanaged trauma is even worse. My therapist and I discovered that, due to all my trauma, I developed a pathological fear always messing things up and of never being good enough: ateolophobia.
Despite all the therapy I endured, my love language is words of affirmation, so I still feel the need for people to recognize my work and say they’re proud. I even almost quit one of my jobs at school this past spring because I felt like my work was being taken advantage of. It’s also why I had a panic attack this past week in front of my supervisor at camp. I desperately want my hard work to pay off and yearn for friends that can see the beauty in my tranquil nature instead of those who push me to become someone else.
Stress harms people like a burn, but trauma destroys them like a raging fire. Without this trauma, I don’t think I would’ve become as stressed about pleasing people and earning others’ favor.