My sister cried. My brother made a joke about two Christmases. I walked away without a word, not yet old enough to understand.

Mom brought me to a therapist. Even then I was stubborn and refused to talk about it. It took 15 years of holding everything in to end my silence. In the end, my reserved nature led to anxiety, though my therapist did not deem it severe enough to try medication.

Divorce is more than separating belongings and sorting out child support. Money aside, parents have it easy. The whole process affects the mental, physical and psychological well-being of those involved. Kids take the hardest hit, no matter their age.

When my parents split, I was 5. Inflatable letter people, balloons strung around the room, were teaching me the alphabet while one eye watched over my 64 box of crayons at all times. My biggest struggle was remembering to bring home my lunchbox so the plastic milk container wouldn’t grow mold. I couldn’t know the short-term effects of my parents’ split, let alone anything long-term.

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Divorce is not part of a kindergarten curriculum. Teachers don’t explain to little children that mommy and daddy still love you, even if they no longer love each other. Guidance counselors can’t ease the transition from sleeping in the next room to traveling over two hours every other weekend just to see your dad. My life now revolved around my parents. I remember feeling lost. The small world I lived in at age 5 came crashing down.

After they told us, I remember only pain. My brain hurt from trying to understand. Maybe I, the youngest child, am to blame. Maybe I wasn’t good enough to keep them together. My eyes hurt from crying in secret. If my parents saw me crying, it’d only make it worse. I thought I had to appear strong. I put a wall up around my heart, not letting anybody get too close and have the power to destroy me like the divorce did. Like most walls, it eventually came crumbling down.

When bottling up my emotions began to ruin me from the inside a year ago, I opened up to my cousin. Lucky for me, the cliché weight was lifted from my shoulders. Unlucky her, though, her parents decided to call it quits just a few months later. From 2,500 miles away, she keeps me sane, and I help her through what I’ve already experienced.

Except my cousin can’t be there for me all the time. When an anxiety attack hits me hard, I curl up in bed, cry, and wait for it to pass. For the milder, less emotional ones, I wring my fingers or clench and unclench my fists. I’d be worse if it weren’t for my boyfriend. Few understand what it means to have anxiety, but he tries. Trying to explain what I feel helps me heal.

My anxiety has worsened this semester, and I don’t have time to go back to therapy. That makes me anxious, but opening up and admitting weakness has actually made me stronger. I think that’s why I struggled for so long. I never reached out for someone to lean on.

It’s been nearly 16 years. I’m still lost. With some help, I’m slowly putting my world back together after it fell apart so many years ago.

Email Jess Huber at jess.huber@cardinalpointsonline.com

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<a href="https://cardinalpointsonline.com/byline/jess-huber/" rel="tag">Jess Huber</a>