What It Feels Like to Take Off Your Hood

By Ash Flackus // As Told to Beatriz Warnes

I’ve gone through this multiple times. I have gone through these exact motions twice before this moment. I have felt the cold metal of the door handle press against my palm as I walked into the building. I have seen these dark hallways that lead me to a stranger that’s somehow going to make me okay again, if that’s even possible. I have checked in and patiently waited for my name to be called.

I sign myself in as Camille, as my mom stands by my side; I’m not Camille any more.

Instead, I am Ash.

I’m Ash: the girl with stress and anxiety who doesn’t know how to deal with any of it. Yet for now, for this purpose, I’m Camille.

Camille was me before middle school. She was the girl who didn’t fear talking to new people. She didn’t lose weight and skip meals because everything was too much to handle. But that’s who Ash is and therefore who I am now.

I walk the halls at school with my friends and my boyfriend, but behind my hood I’m nothing but a little girl scared of what the day will bring.

Today, brings therapy, a place I’ve been too many times.

I just want this time to work; I need this.

I need to be able to go through my everyday life without the crushing weight of stress that I can’t seem to shake. I don’t want to feel stares on me constantly as they watch my leg bounce and my hands tremble.

My necklace constantly finding its way into my hands as I use it as a reason to have my mind on literally anything else. Were it to wander, my mind would find itself in a place of confusion. Confusion derived from a path I have yet to walk. I don’t want to go down that road. Deep down, I don’t know if I would ever find my way back.

That’s why I’m here. That’s why I walk down these long, narrow hallways that lead me to the same person that should help rid the feelings of stress that I can’t get rid of myself. I find myself sliding into the couch, looking anywhere that isn’t a pair of eyes. I know I shouldn’t be scared and I know I shouldn’t be nervous, but that’s my reality. The stress and anxiety that I’m here to get help for is what’s stopping me from getting it in the first place.

The first time I felt that feeling, I was in a room similar to this one. The only difference was the person sitting across from me. They not only had the same profession, but also the same desire to help me. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to stay there for more than a few scant weeks. I knew she wanted to help me and I knew I wanted her to as well. She was my first therapist. As I sat in that chair, none of it felt right.

Sitting here now makes me realize what it’s supposed to be like. This second therapist I’m with now is, supposedly, better than my last. It was hard for me to build up the courage to leave then, but I did and that’s why I’m here now.

I didn’t know what I was doing; all I knew was that I had to do something.

I wasn’t content then, but I am now. It’s new to me to be content with where I’m sitting.

Obviously, my hands will still find their way to my cuticles to pick at them continuously and obviously, my mind is still screaming at me to get up and walk out of that door.

Yet, my feet never move from where they’re planted. I never grab the handle of the door that’s been staring me down.

Instead, I stay. I sit back into the couch and push those thoughts away, like I have done with so many others before them. I instead leave myself to sit with memories of the conversations that led me to go to therapy, all having to do with the people in the group counseling at the school.

They saw right through me better than I ever have. When I looked into the mirror all I saw was steam, like I had gotten out of a hot shower. Written in that steam was denial, something I was hesitant to overcome. When walking into that group session the first day, it was ingrained in me that I shouldn’t have been there.

There’s a seed planted into my head that those who get help are weak. I can’t be weak because what would that mean for me? That would mean that I couldn’t face my own problems and I’ve been taught for years and years not to be that person.

I found myself being that person. I continued going to group. In the beginning it was hard, like every step through that door was quicksand–a feeling of stress sucking me in, locking my feet to the ground. With each pass I was handed and each friend I told it became easier. I’d look into people’s eyes, seeing a thin veil of acknowledgment instead of judgement, which is what had previously scared me. When that moment finally happened, it gave me the push I needed to set off on my search for help.

That help now is different than it has been in the past. Instead of staying quiet while others speak of their own problems, it is wanted of me to share mine. I shouldn’t be nervous, this is what I had wanted.

I asked for help, but now that I’m here, with my mother and someone across from me, I can’t help but reach for my necklace that has become my safety net.

It’s a couple minutes before my hands start to falter and they find their way back to my lap. My leg stops bouncing and my eyes finally meet hers.

As our eyes meet, I finally find the confidence to take my figurative hood off. My hood the color of stress, the need behind this session: bright red. The barrier I had been so intent on keeping on starts to fade. I can finally pull it off and allow myself to feel the way I hadn’t in a while. Yes, I’m still going to be anxious, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll get through it.