This past summer was an extremely low point for me and my mental health. I felt alone, even while with friends and family, would find myself overcome with a chest-aching sadness at seemingly random times, and cry on the street, and doubted the genuineness of most positive interactions I had with others. At the time, it was hard for me to pinpoint why I was experiencing these feelings - I just knew I felt off. I identify as a positive person, who loves to dance, be silly, and support and hype up those around me, so it was a mystery to me why I felt like a different shade of myself. Since mid-October, I have been seeing a therapist, Kay, for anxiety and matters related to self-esteem.
Since Kay and I have begun meeting, we have discussed how my anxiety, self-doubt, and self-esteem weaves itself into the academic and social aspects of my life. It is why I let my social life and general happiness take the third back row seat of a minivan to studying, it is why I used to dread being late for anything, even 5 or 10 minutes. Thanks to Kay and my own hard work, I can accept my anxious emotions and thoughts, understand why I am having them, and then remind myself not to give into the knee-jerk thoughts, those that are easy to accept out of habit, and take a breath. Recognizing I have ultimate control over my thoughts has become one of my favorite and most reliable tools, and I am here to share some of my experiences with you.
Knowing Myself and My Needs
Last November, there was a point when I had four exams and the SWSG fall field trip within about a week. The Sunday after the field trip, I was burned out from non-stop studying for my previous three exams and the field trip, and was having trouble focusing on studying for my last one, which was the next day. I was extremely discouraged with myself but couldn’t make my eyes stay focused on the study guide for longer than 15 seconds without my hands, seemingly out of my control, searching “Netflix” or “gmail” into the web address bar. It felt like my body was working to distract me. My roommates had left early to attend an E-board meeting. Anxious and alone in my apartment, I began pacing up and down the hallway with my shoulders slumped, wringing my hands, and repeatedly looking into the refrigerator. On my way to chapter meeting, I called my parents, two of the most supportive forces in my life and expressed to them that I was feeling anxious, sad, alone, and frustrated.
At my mom’s suggestion, I put my study materials away, went to bed early that night and woke up early the next day to study, feeling much better. When I repeated this story to Kay, all I saw in this incidence was me failing. However, this paved the way to a discussion as to why I was pushing myself so hard, why I became so upset over my inability to focus, and how my behavior was me doing something, rather than how I viewed it, which was me doing nothing. I walked around to try to relieve tension, I tried to eat something to give me energy, and I reached out to my parents for comfort. I was trying to force myself to study, even though I knew it just wasn’t happening. I studied the most I could and when I say “the most,” I mean my personal most. When I feel this lack of focus again, I’ll know it is okay to stop studying. I’ll know it’s okay to go to bed early. Whatever I accomplish, I can end the day knowing that I did my personal best, even if that means not doing any work at all.
Honesty with Myself and Others
A main theme that has carried on in our therapy is the importance that I place on relationships. I do almost everything I can to show my love and care to the people who are significant in my life. It is healthy for me to remind myself that not everyone shows they care in the same fashion, and can be as extra as me. That doesn’t mean they don’t care, or care less. But as I mentioned before about accepting anxious thoughts, I have also gained the ability to recognize what are obsessive anxious thoughts without evidence, and which are concerns that are worth me taking action and seeking communication and clarification. Being honest with people can put the initiator in an extremely vulnerable position - even sharing excitement with a new friend over the budding friendship. This may come off as dorky, but while it is providing a space to express positive feelings, it may also unknowingly provide the friend with security as well. I even took a risk and asked one of my best friends out on a date! We had a long talk and eventually, he said no. Despite not being sure of any full developed feelings yet, I had expected to feel at least somewhat bummed out by the idea of being rejected. But amazingly, I didn’t! I found that I was so proud of the courage I showed, and the honest communication we shared, that I came out of the conversation feeling more positive than ever. Taking risks is so important and I’ve realized that when I do, I can’t help but feel like I’m the shit.
I know I still have some time left with Kay, but what I have gotten out of these past months with her has been incredible. Progress in therapy is a hard thing to track - we don’t necessarily set goals for each week and she doesn’t push me to do anything outside of my comfort zone. For me, reflecting on my day, my conversations, my actions helps me keep track of my progress. I can think of how I would react differently now to past instances and appreciate where I am now in the present. Sometimes when you need help the most, it can be the hardest to gather the effort to make that call to see a therapist, but in my experience, it was a leap worth taking.
PS. I couldn’t fit it into this essay but here is one helpful resource for those with anxiety and or those who exhibit anxious behavior