What It Feels Like to Hide Behind Closed Doors

Taylor Mueller // As told to by Taylor Mueller

I hide behind closed doors, to which the key resides in a place that even I do not know. I try to jiggle the doorknob, but it does not budge no matter how hard I try. I can hear the voices of the outside world through the crack of the door, and I yearn to break free. I want to belong out there, but I know I do not. I want to feel like my voice belongs, but I know it is not loud enough to belong outside of these doors.

I want to speak my mind, but I am afraid of judgment and rejection, the reason why I am so quiet. I am afraid somebody will tell me I am wrong. I am afraid somebody will tell me I am not good enough. I am afraid somebody will talk about me behind my back or judge me for my opinions. Whenever I step up to say something, my opinions are immediately contradicted and shut down. I have learned to keep my mouth shut, and it has stayed that way my entire life.

Ever since I was little, my parents told me to focus on getting good enough grades in order to go to college. Never did they teach me how to have confidence in myself or how to deal with my emotions. It has always been “you should be studying for that test tomorrow,” or “why do you have missing assignments? You need to come home right after school to do them.” It has never once been, “How are you feeling?” or “I love you.” Saying those three words breaks the unspoken rule in our house; my parents and I never say “I love you” to each other. We do not express our true emotions unless it is anger or frustration, and I do not tell them about what happens at school because they never ask or show genuine interest. Most of the time, my parents are focused on my success in school and going to college, not how I am feeling.

I never told them about the bullying either. Sixth grade was when I first cut my hair short, and rumors began to spread that I was gay. At first, I got used to it, but it began to gnaw at my self-esteem. I would go to a counselor every week, but they never fixed the problem. As the rumors continued, my self-confidence slowly declined. It went from my short hair to my body shape, then to how I presented myself, and finally to the way I spoke to others. I wore baggy sweatshirts because I gained weight, and I hid in the back of the classroom, hoping no one would talk to me. My doors remained shut ever since.

Even now, in high school, I can still feel their stares burning a hole in the back of my head when I am walking down the hallway. Fitting in has always been a constant struggle for me; I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I had a hard time finding people who accepted me for who I am. I have always been the shadow that hides in the background, going unheard and unnoticed.

I have never had a real outlet for my emotions. Sure, I have a best friend that I tell everything, but I know that she is not listening. Whenever we talk, she somehow always makes the conversation about her. Most of the time, I pick and choose what I tell her because I never know who she will tell. She has shared some of my deepest secrets, yet I keep crawling back to her because she gives me a sense of belonging; she is the one who knows the most about me, even if that is not much. She always makes me feel like I can open up to her, but I doubt that the feeling is mutual.

When I talk to someone, I am always careful of what I say. I do not want them to make any more assumptions than they already do, so I plan conversations ahead of time. I want to make sure I do not say anything that will make me look stupid. When my conversations do not go as planned, I spend the next few days reliving them and thinking about what I should have said; and then, I am constantly paranoid about what they thought of me. Because of this, I tend to stay away from long conversations; I assume I will mess them up and become full of inevitable regret.

These exasperating thoughts carry on into the night. Sometimes I become so hung up on what I say in previous conversations that I do not sleep at night. My brain scans over every word I said, and I have no way of turning it off. My anxiety takes over, and I feel as if I am falling into a dark hole; I will never be able to climb out. I do not have a light source to see, and nobody is there to throw me a ladder. I am trapped in the dark, alone and afraid, scared of what I might do if my insecurities continue to haunt me. They consume me and never let me escape. I try to put myself out there, but no matter how hard I try, I always go back to being the quiet, shy student who hides in the back of the classroom, who will never be seen from behind her closed doors.