“If you had a superpower, what would it be?”

As a child, I remember getting asked this question on numerous occasions. I have a vivid memory of one of my classmates at school answering this question by saying, “I wish I could be invisible.”

But when hearing this, I didn’t understand. Because in reality, I already knew what it felt like to be invisible—and it wasn’t as fun as it seemed.

Me? I wanted to fly. To fly far away from the world I felt so trapped inside of. Not only did my world sometimes feel like a place I couldn’t escape from, but I was often held captive as a prisoner within my own body, too.

For a significant part of my childhood, I suffered from a severe anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. This means that in select triggering environments or situations, I was physically incapable of using my voice to speak. Otherwise, I was a completely normal child, full of life and very talkative at home or in places I felt safe.

School was my biggest trigger. And, as it is not a well-known disorder, many times teachers and peers found my behavior to be confusing and never seemed to know how to interact with me. This regularly led to me getting ignored or reprimanded for my silence. For years I felt misunderstood, lonely and saw myself as an outsider.

But here’s some good news. If you are struggling with Selective Mutism like I was, remember that it is possible to break through the chains of silence and find healing. Because guess what? I did.

However, years of feeling invisible left me with some scars. And because of this, I made some mistakes. While I had recovered from Selective Mutism and was no longer mute as a result of my anxiety, I failed to recognize how powerful the after-effects of the disorder could be. Instead of dealing with the painful wounds that resulted from my Selective Mutism, I ended up ignoring them which contributed to feelings of extreme low self-esteem and depression.

Luckily that’s not the end of my story and I am now finding healing from that as well. Regretfully though, I wasted years of my life living in the past.

To help you avoid this mistake, here’s what I’ve learned:

Your past doesn’t define you

I used to struggle with the idea that there are still people out there who only remember me as the quiet girl who wouldn’t speak. In fact, the thought of this tormented me. I believed that this memory of me, in the minds of people I used to know, kept that part of me (the part I wanted to forget) alive. Twisted, I know.

But it’s not true. Yes, that part of my life happened and affected me. And yes, instead of learning from my past and using it to help me grow, I fell into a pattern of reliving those old feelings. I let them control the way I viewed myself and the way I believed others would always see me. But I promise you: the sooner you let go of these kinds of thoughts, the sooner you will find freedom and healing.

You do not matter less than others

I spent years of my childhood believing that there was no changing the way I was. I thought, “Something is wrong with me and that’s just the way it is.”

I hated being an outsider and I didn’t understand why I was “cursed” with being so different than my peers. Even after my recovery from Selective Mutism, in the back of my mind, I still felt like I would always be an outsider. Because of this, I thought it made me less of a person. Unfortunately, I continued to carry this mindset into my teen years and the beginning of my adulthood.

But in reality, no two people are exactly alike, and we all have our own unique struggles. In fact, our differences and experiences do not make us any less important than another person. Until you realize and accept this, the healing process cannot begin.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness

Quite the opposite really.

Take it from me. You won’t get too far trying to “fix” yourself on your own. I’ve already tried that and it’s a waste of time.

If you suffer from mental illness in any form, don’t wait to get help. Finding a constant support system can do absolute wonders in aiding your mental health. While seeking professional guidance works best for some people, simply confiding in a trusted friend or family member may be enough for others. Either way, never try to deal with a mental illness on your own.

Yes, it’s a battle. But it’s one worth fighting.