I AM ME: Journey to Commencement

By Roberto Castro, Contributing Writer

Originally published February 11, 2019.


My name is Roberto Castro and as of December 15, 2018 I am officially a graduate and alum of Old Dominion University. Despite in rather unconventional or inefficient form I’m somehow still able to witness myself walk across the stage in front of my family and take part in a valued tradition along with many other classmates as well. The thing is, I never expected to be here and in some cases didn’t believe I would make it this far because part of me felt I might not live to see the day.

Everyone has their own story, however not everyone feels comfortable enough to share theirs to someone let alone the entire public. I used to not share much of anything about myself, but here is my shortened version of story: I had a relatively normal upbringing with a relatively stable home and environment. The only thing that wasn’t stable was my childhood which in fact was anything but as I began to suffer in silence with no one to turn to for help.


I began to isolate myself beginning within my own home. I was deemed capable enough to handle myself to the point where nobody ever truly “worried about me.” I always saw myself as someone capable of thriving independently and would do so for the majority of my life. I didn’t realize at the time the chain reaction it would cause throughout my life to which I now wish someone did worry about me because deep down I worried.


My habit that started to form at home quickly transferred to my life away from it as I began doing the same in school. Although I would communicate with others on occasion my inability to connect with others saw my childhood mostly absent of relationships of any kind. I mostly felt out of place or like I never belong which saw myself begin to distance from other students and adults as well.


Even though I felt something was off about me internally because of this I chose to ignore it as I felt most comfortable this way. I often times felt like my true self when only being surrounded by me and an actor when surrounded by others. Despite realizing I never truly fit in I still tended to make an attempt to not because I wanted to, but in fact because I needed to in the most desperate way possible.


I prided myself on hiding my pain. At times I was so naive to it that I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad or it wasn’t real. I didn’t realize but at the time it was plenty real and only getting worse as I felt myself slowly losing control. As the bigger the burden grew that was formed within my home so did the weight on my shoulders that was placed on me throughout my entire childhood.

I hoped to escape this feeling outside of home and school was my only resort. I had hoped it would disappear within the confines of classrooms and friendships; however this was not the case. I began feeling great emotional distress to the point where I was making desperate attempts with others to try and fix my issues; however no one could see that anything was wrong with me.


I remember feeling empty and lonely to which I felt the signs of anxiety from my youth. I desperately looked to others for help without actually asking in part because I didn’t know how to. I could also feel nobody taken me seriously, even adults who claimed they were there to help. As my symptoms grew so did my level of fear and desperation to the point I hoped somebody would come to save me. Nobody ever did which marked the beginning of my lifelong struggles.

My signs of mental health began to deteriorate as I began to mature especially into high school. Much like my youth I once again looked to anyone or anything to help ease my troubles, but it was all in a failed attempt. As I began to lose hope I could feel the change in my attitude and at this point I realized that the very thing I tried to run from and escape as a youth was lurking close behind. This was the one thing I feared would ultimately happen in my life and it was becoming a reality.

Considering who I am I internalized everything instead of talking about it or dealing with it in any way and trying to “maintain” my responsibilities for those who said I should and that my issues weren’t important enough to anyone outside of myself. The only thing I could now think of at this point in my life was all those times in my past where I felt abandoned, betrayed, deceived and neglected by everyone to whom I no longer felt sorry for myself, but instead began to fill with anger.


I began to lash out at those closest to me and even those I trusted the most to which I felt they and the entire world was against me, to which I also attributed my issues towards them. I had transformed to the point of being unrecognizable and growing physically, mentally and emotionally ill. I felt the only way to fix myself was to leave my current situation and start over again which was college. I was hopeful it would work out, but deep down I knew it had to or else I had nothing else to look forward to; nowhere else left to turn to.


It still surprises me that I was even allowed into two of the top colleges into the state of Virginia considering my less than stellar academic career. I thrived on average to above average grades strictly from completion of assignments as my test scores, learning comprehension and attention span were all mostly subpar. From an academic and personal standpoint it was easy to figure out that I despised school, but I knew it was my ticket out for better or for worse and I couldn’t have imagined it getting any worse.

I left high school partially broken and wasn’t overly excited about going to college, yet relieved that I was now alone which is something I had wanted since I had thoughts of running away as a youth. I never bought the line “college is the best time of your life” but it sounded intriguing enough to where I hope I could receive at least ten percent of it and in reality it temporarily reached that bar, but then came crashing down.


My junior year and what felt like my life came crashing down all in a hurry. I felt myself slowly deteriorating beginning my freshman year but quickly during this time to which I again tried to hide my pain but the darkness I tried to run from again had resurfaced. I began having symptoms again of lashing out, and growing physically and mentally ill much like in high school only this time things were different; things had actually gotten worse.


What began as simple anxiety issues somehow turned into panic attacks, sharp pains, and even dark thoughts unlike anything I have ever felt before. I once again felt myself drowning into a pit of darkness in front of those closest to me who I felt turn their backs to me, and others standing by watching me gasp for air. Only this time instead of fighting to swim to the surface or even stay afloat I made up my mind I was done fighting. I had reached the point where I was mentally, physically and emotionally broken.


It’s difficult being in a place like this with nowhere to go; nowhere to hide; and no one to find. I thought about all those nights where I couldn’t sleep or wouldn’t. I thought about the physical pain in my body and trouble breathing among other serious health issues I would experience. I thought about the mental frustrations of not being adequately qualified in school like some of my peers to which my teachers usually had zero expectations of me.


I thought about the emotional pain of not feeling loved, appreciated, or belonged as I was often ignored or considered an afterthought by merely everyone around me. I realized just how much it bothered me to see others experience the opposite to which I always dreamed I would one day become. My dream was to be loved and cherished by all who came into my presence which I why I tried so hard for everyone to like me.


I wanted to be my teacher’s favorite student, adult’s child they appreciated having around, and even being the best friend or person to talk to, as well as be around. Even though I never actually viewed myself as being someone having relationships with females it was still wishful thinking as I always enjoyed their presence just as much as children. After all I always believed women and children were God’s purest creations and maybe the foundation of the human population.


Most of all I thought about all of these things as a dream scenario that I was never able to obtain or even came close. Instead I was handed the opposite as a child with no special traits or qualities, no charm or exuberating personality, or even people to look to for guidance but instead ignored and considered an afterthought as if I never truly existed, damaging myself esteem since my youth. I felt like I had failed in life and never really served a purpose to anyone or anything.

Once all my thoughts came crashing down from my past to present and realizing that I was no longer mentally fit to handle the stresses I had endured throughout I realized years later that my tactics of hiding my pain or even lashing out when it became too great to carry wasn’t a way of hiding pain at all, but rather the opposite: it was a cry for help.


I had done it all these years from a child trying desperately to fit in to isolating myself to physically and emotionally breaking down to the point I felt I was going to die was all a cry for help that nobody could ever see, hear or cared about. I came to the realization that I needed help and I sought it after all these years of trying to escape the inevitable and hide my pain hoping would disappear into the distance only to find me and consume me years later.


What I finally discovered during this time was what I was missing my entire life which was who I truly am. I found my true self and learned to accept myself for who I really am and become comfortable within my own skin. I even discovered what I felt self-proclaimed purpose in life which gave my entire life new meaning. For the first time in my life I was no longer afraid, or running from my troubles, but instead chose to stand up and do something about it.


Once I realized this for myself everything started to slowly fade and for the first time ever in my life I regained control of it which is something I never had the opportunity of doing. I was able to pull myself out of the darkness and successfully finish my junior and senior year of college by a miracle leading to my graduation. I felt like myself again thanks to the one and only thing I ever needed in my life which was me. I was no longer broken, but in fact as whole as ever.

I have always felt that my purpose in life was to help others who can’t help themselves, but now I aim to help those in need in ways others are seemingly unable beginning with sharing my story to the public. I wanted to feel as if I had a voice for the first time in my life given how mute and apprehensive I have always been when it came to the things I have said.


I never truly thought for myself or expressed my true feelings simply because I was always too afraid to, but I no longer feel this way which is something that college helped me realize. My voice may not matter that much if at all which is fine, but what does matter is the voice of everyone.

Once I realized who I was and what I felt my purpose was in life I felt whole and in control again and for the first time in my life I feel the one thing I was searching for my entire life: freedom. I feel free to strive to do the things I love and try to find what brings happiness into my life without worrying about outside forces deterring me from doing so.


But I’m not special because I have yet to do anything, but most importantly I am human just like each and every living person on this Earth. My struggles are not greater or less than anyone’s because they were my own just as everyone has their own. This is the reason why this story was never about me, nor would I ever want anything to be about me.


Everyone has their own story and difficulties they endure throughout their life. None have it better or worse than the other simply because everyone’s situation is unique and poses a challenge to overcome for each individual going through their adversities. So no one should feel the need to compare their life to someone else’s because no two people are handed the same life. Everyone’s situation is unique and all have challenges they must face in their lives.


Whether you have physical, mental or emotional troubles nobody is more equipped to handle them, but yourself simply because they aren’t living your life. You are which means you are most capable of determining what is best for you in life which is why you shouldn’t let others decide that for you. What is appropriate to look for in others is help because everyone needs some type of help along the way in life in order to get through.


Given that humans need each other in some way it only makes sense to try and help those who may need it. It’s impossible to help everyone but not impossible to try and help those we know we can help. Even if it means doing nothing but simply being there for someone because sometimes just simply being there and listening to them can make all the difference.


I can attest to this which is why I hope someday I can impact those the way others are unable to or incapable of doing so especially within children and those struggling with mental health issues which is one of my reasons for sharing my story.

I strive to not only bring awareness to mental health issues, but also work to improve the care for those dealing with such and even taken precautionary measures to help treat these issues beforehand beginning with proper care for children.


My other reasoning for sharing my story are for those currently struggling with mental health issues or any issues correlating to feeling lost and hopeless. My message to you is this: You don’t have the power to decide how your life plays out, or how well it becomes but you can decide how you want to live your life.


The first step is being who you and not what others believe you should be, as well as learning to accept yourself for who you really are. The second step is finding what you truly love to do and not what you feel obligated to do. The third step is to chase happiness and discover what in life brings you happiness.


The last step is to listen to nothing I or anyone tells you because only you know what is in the best interest for you so listen to yourself and maybe even surround yourself with others who you find relatable in a personal way. I believe relating to others personally is the key to not only successful relationships, but can have a positive impact on your life.

Also remember that your flaws are just as valuable as your assets because that is what makes you not only who you are, but what you are which is human just like everyone else. This means that everyone faces challenges and sometimes you don’t always conquer them.


I wish I can tell you that I conquered all my past struggles when in reality this isn’t the case as I still struggle with the same issues daily and most likely always will. I continue suffer from anxiety and occasional panic attacks. I even continue my old habits of isolation and masking my emotions.

More importantly I continue to experience the feeling of emptiness and absence of happiness in my life that has plagued my entire childhood. I even feel anger and frustration from my past and present struggles with these feelings, especially when others have what I have been searching for which is: to feel appreciated, even love in some form, or even that I matter to someone.

It would feel nice if every issue were to resolve itself, however I realize that isn’t how life works which is fine. In actuality I appreciate my flaws even more than my strengths , and use them to my advantage because it is a part of which I am to which I’m no longer ashamed of them and neither should you.


My isolation and inability to connect with others allows me to feel free without relying on others for anything which I realize that I am and always have been stronger on my own and is all I ever really need in life.


I also use my anger and frustration to fuel my drive to succeed and overachieve while also becoming the best version of myself for other’s acceptance one day. While I’m no longer ashamed to admit these things there is one last thing I must admit.


I realize that my life has yet to start and although I have endured early struggles I will endure plenty more for the rest of my life which is something that terrifies me. While part of me is excited and ecstatic for graduation, another part of me feels fear for what lies ahead.


However, I realize every adverse situation is a learning opportunity to learn more about you and grow from in order to become a better version of yourself. As long as I remain the same reserved yet goofy, friendly, slightly awkward and kind hearted kid from Southern California who doesn’t take things too serious then I have a feeling everything will be fine in the end.


College has taught me valuable life lessons as well valuable lessons about me to which some changed me for the better and even saved my life. Although I still feel and probably always will feel lonely or out of place I realize that I will always be a part of the graduating class of 2018 Old Dominion University students.


For all my previous challenges I have faced I say thank you for everything. To my future challenges I have yet to face I say this will be quite the adventure but I’ll try to have fun in the process.


Everyone has a story.


Here was mine I hope you enjoyed and I even hope to hear some of yours.


My name is Roberto Castro.