A journey towards healing after #ItGetsBetter
By Pedro Vega Jr.
Just a few days ago, I was feeling like the most blessed man on earth. I would go as fas as to sat that I was on top of the world. In fact, on more than one occasion this year, I’ve become overwhelmed with happiness as I’ve reflected on everything I have going on in my life. I have been blessed with an incredible husband, a fantastic career, two crazy puppies, a beautiful home, a sense of warmth and security, and a community that has welcomed me with open arms and shown me what love in action can look like.
Just last night, however, I felt my chest tighten as my breathing become inconsistent. The all too familiar symptoms of an anxiety attack were beginning to overcome me. Admittedly, I had been in stuck in a dark mental state for a few days now and, so far, I had failed at identifying the cause of it all. It’s almost as if it came out of nowhere and that just made it all the more frustrating. After a few days of sulking in my melodramatic misery and relinquishing power to my inner thoughts, however, I was able to recognize what was causing my breakdown.
When anything, no matter how big or small, causes me to go into a dark place, I begin to obsess about all the things I do not have and I completely lose sight of all the things I do have.
I don’t come from very much to begin with. I grew up well below the poverty line in a “lower-class” immigrant home in the Southwest side of Chicago where the best examples of living ones best life simply involved not dying young or not winding up behind bars. Despite all of this, however, I did managed to change the entire trajectory of my life when, over a decade ago— at the age of 14 and right before moving out of my family’s home— I experienced one of the most transformative moments of my life.
After surviving various trials and tribulations and gaining my share of physical and emotional scars, every experience in my young life culminated into a frantic and crippling Thursday night in the autumn of 2005. It was an evening in which I would find myself at a crossroads and I was ready to take the shortest and easiest path. I was going to taking my own life.
As I moved closer towards the path that I was so certain would relieve my pain, a force stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly became frozen. My senses shut down. I had been crying so forcefully that I could no longer see, taste, smell, or even hear a thing. I was absolutely numb. One moment I found myself defeated on the floor of my bedroom and the next I found myself extremely still.
It was a an intense form of stillness that I have never experienced again. All that existed was my own voice asking me “What if?” but even I had to ask myself “What if what?” and with out skipping a beat, I was answered.
What if you don’t do this? What if you are on the path to a remarkable life and you end it all now?
What if there is so much in store for you? More than you can even imagine? What if your future is bright and fruitful?
What if? What if? What if?
Isn’t it worth finding out?
In that frozen moment and amid all those questions I had a vision. For a short moment, I saw what maybe, just maybe, was a glimpse of what my future had the potential of looking like. I saw myself leading a remarkable life. Up until that moment, I had only dreamed of what a remarkable life could look like but I had never actually pictured myself as the person leading one.
Still confused and overwhelmed, I found the ability to take back control. In one fell swoop, I managed to make an extreme decision that would impact the rest of my life, for better and for worse.
I told myself that I had a sacrifice to make: my youth. I decided to commit myself to a life of no fun, no friendships, no play, no youthful indiscretions, no love, and no distractions. Priority number one would be to transform my vision into a reality for myself. I become convinced that if I did nothing else but work tirelessly and forgo my youth, I could achieve this remarkable life by the age of 40. I just had to make it until then. And from there on out, all I ever really wanted to do, was be 40 years old and happy.
The following morning, in an emergency session, my high school counselor told me about Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a group home for at-risk youth. In that one hour we came to the conclusion that it was time for me to move out. With out skipping a beat, Fr. Sean O’Sullivan picked up the phone, dialed the group home, left a referral message, and told me that I had the weekend to inform my family I was leaving. And so began the next 14 years of my life.
The truth is, I’ve done a whole lot in the past 14 years. In that time I moved to a group home, I attended a prestigious arts high school in Chicago and moved to New York City shortly there after where I earned my BFA in Graphic Design from one of the countries top design schools which helped me launched my career.
I’ve worked with top brands and a-list celebrities in New York and Los Angeles and met my “impossible” goal of becoming the Creative Director of a magazine by the age of 25. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I even managed to meet my husband, co-build the foundation of our marriage which has, in turn, led to the powerful partnership that that has led us to starting our first business with plans for a few more.
It’s like I said, I really do have a lot.
Yet despite all of that, I still panic and I panic a lot. It would appear that whenever one single thing goes bad or whenever one person or thing gets me upset, I spiral into a dark abyss where I suddenly have no sight of all the amazing things in my life. One the contrary, all the things I may be lacking (superficial and otherwise) become front and center almost as if to taunt me. It’s as if my mind is saying, What’s wrong with you? Why does your life not look like this? Why don’t you feel this way? Why aren’t you good enough?
I can’t help by wonder though: Who is really asking those question? Is it me? Or is a 14 year old version of myself, filled with anxiety and insecurity, still wondering if it was really ever worth it to continue on this journey we call life?
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I keep circling back to the same conclusion:
The passion of a troubled 14 year old boy fighting for his life is what’s fueled every ounce of my ambition and fortitude for the past 14 years.
However, here in lies the problem that has taken me over a decade of healing and self exploration to learn. Despite the deep appreciation and admiration that I have for my teenage self, his tenacious passion for getting us through the rough years has also come with it’s share of negative side effects.
The energy he drew from to get us through the storms also happens to be what, til this day, continues to fuel so much of my anxiety.
The same anxiety that causes me to…
… desperately seek approval and validation from others in anything I do.
… feel unworthy of all the good in my life.
… fear that people can walk out of my life at any moment.
… value other’s opinions about my life more than my own.
… never feel good enough.
… obsessively over think every decision I have to make.
… obsessively over think every decision I have to make.
God’s grace is out of order when our pace is out of order