By Gillian Reid, Guest Writer
What does it really mean to be a Thunderbird?
Being a ‘Thunderbird’ can have countless meanings, and everyone takes it in a different way. For me, being a T-bird is about embracing myself and going for things that scare me. This is part of the reason why I decided to spend 5 weeks traveling alone this summer—I wanted to embrace who I am and not apologize for it. Many people thought I was crazy for wanting to travel abroad alone—even my own parents. There were times where I thought “what am I doing?” and “what was I thinking?” But those questions had answers: I was traveling to find myself and figure out who I was as a person.
I suffer from anxiety and depression, so me going overseas by myself was something that everyone who knew me was scared for me to do. Even my own doctor wanted me to make sure that I knew how to take care of myself while abroad. Last year, I felt like many people defined me by my condition and let that cloud their judgement about who I was. When I left for my trip, I knew that once I got back I wouldn’t let it define me anymore.
One promise that I made to myself was that while travelling, I would do activities that scared me. I am terrified of heights, so I decided that I needed to go zip-lining in a forest and climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. After doing both of those things, I felt like I could do anything. Being on top of Sydney in the open air at night was huge for my personal growth because I realized that I didn’t need other people to tell me that everything was okay—I was finally able to live in the moment. I was so excited when I got to the top that I danced my feelings out, and I didn’t care who was watching.
A fear that I didn’t know I had until visiting in South Africa was being eaten by animals. I decided that the best way to conquer this fear was to go spend a couple hours with animals who have been known to have a hunger for human flesh. I decided that I needed to go on a boat ride in crocodile infested waters, one where the guide was feeding the crocodile less than 2 feet away from me. There was nothing stopping that crocodile from getting into the boat with us. After spending time with the crocodiles, I then decided to swim with sharks. Sure, I was in a cage, but that doesn’t always stop sharks from getting in there with you. While both of these experiences terrified me to the core, they were exhilarating, and I would do them again in a heartbeat. Those animals would have loved to tear off a piece of me for lunch, but the experience made me realize that I shouldn’t want to harm them just because they were hungry.
This train of thought led to me thinking about the relationships I have with people. I decided that even though someone may dislike me or I may dislike them, I need to respect them as a person and look out for them. Just because someone may want to tear the flesh off of you doesn’t mean that you need to harm them.
Many people think that spending so much time alone would make someone incredibly lonely and depressed, but it was the opposite for me. I had never spent so much time alone because I was scared about what I might discover. As it turns out, the time alone was exactly what I needed. I was able to interact with people who only knew me as ‘that American girl,’ and not as the person who was anxious and depressed. I never once lied about who I was or about what I do, and I found that every person I met actually valued me for me. I was able to be who I was without any expectations, and it was the most freeing feeling in the world. To know that I was myself and to see people laughing with me over what the guide said or about something one of the people in our group was doing was more powerful than anyone telling me how special I was. I could see it for myself.
During all my experiences, I realized one very important thing: I like myself. To some, that’s not a very novel idea, but for me it’s huge. I had spent so long trying to find myself, but after 5 weeks alone, I was finally able to do it. Exploring cities like Sydney and Auckland, I could take in what I wanted to at my own pace, and with every passing day I became more and more comfortable with who I was as a person. I discovered that I have some amazing qualities; and that there are things that I need to work. Yet these are things that I want to work on, not things that I’m being told to work on.
Last year I wrote an anonymous article about how it was living with anxiety and depression as a T-bird. I kept anonymous because I was scared about people judging me and defining me by my anxiety. I’m not anymore. Writing that piece was something I reflected on a lot during the summer, and while everything in it was true at the time, that isn’t who I am anymore. I no longer care about who looks down at me because of a medical condition. This is a condition that I have to deal with, and while I appreciate the support that I have received from my friends here at Thunderbird (especially the two that came to my room at 3am to help calm me down), it’s up to me to feel better—which I do. I laugh at the silly comments I make in class because it’s part of who I am, and I know how smart I am despite the odd foolish comment. Before, I would have been mortified.
Anxiety doesn’t define me anymore because I no longer allow it to control me. I have never been so calm in my life; and while it’s something I need to get used to, it feels amazing. Spending five weeks traveling alone, I was able to re-center myself and discover that despite what people may think of me, I am a good person. Yes, I am often headstrong and I can say things that some may not want to hear, but it’s because I care about those around me. I believe in being as transparent as possible so that people know who I really am.
Despite everything that happened last year, I was able to let it all go while traveling and could start to move on with the life I want to live. For me, it doesn’t matter who dislikes who because I will always look out for those around me—and I’m not afraid to do that anymore. I’m living my life by the golden rule, and everything I do is with the best intentions at heart. Being me has never felt so free.