Just take a pause. And breathe.
My 2019 was a year full of doubt. Doubt in my abilities to succeed in grad school, doubt in whether or not I even wanted the career I’ve been working so hard for, for the past… I don’t even want to think about how long I’ve been working for this. Doubt that I’d ever be happy with myself and my life. The past year was just 12 months of me consistently letting my insecurities to the forefront; 12 months of “you’re not good enough,” “you’re not smart enough,” “they made a mistake letting you in,” “you’ll never be an SLP” culminating in my mind until I basically lost myself for a while. To the point that I couldn’t even bear to log onto Instagram without this impending sense of doom that I would never be as happy and successful as the people I follow. And, yeah, everyone’s pretending to be way happier on social media than they actually are in real life, but I didn’t even have anything to pretend to be happy about. I was straight up miserable. Not having a good time. So my year sucked.
After a while, crying and screaming into pillows got old, so I did a little (for lack of a better term) soul-searching and realized what I’d been dealing with was unbridled anxiety that manifested in this catastrophic thinking that told me my life would turn to sh*t after every unfavorable experience, no matter how minor. That one test, one poor clinical experience, hell, one minute being late to class would absolutely ruin the life I’ve planned for myself and that I would be destined to be miserable forever.
Now, I’m definitely something of a perfectionist and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a Virgo thing, for those of you who like to bring astrology into the mix. But being so inflexible with my expectations of my future self became a huge problem when reality didn’t align with those expectations. I got so wrapped up in these visions of how things were supposed to go in my life that when the exact opposite happened I didn’t know how to cope with it. I’d never given myself the opportunity to even consider struggle to be a part of my grad school experience, y’know because I’m so smart (roll your eyes all you want, I know grad school is hard now. I’ve been humbled). And instead of taking a step back to examine the context of my situation, I automatically went into self-doubt mode and blamed myself for the way things were when, in reality, there were factors out of my control at play that had a much larger hand in my struggles than me just not having yet grown into my comfort zone in my program.
Now that this year and semester are all said and done, I look back wishing so badly that I could have been kinder to myself. All the stress I put myself through and I made it out fine in the end. And not by the skin of my teeth, either. To be a bit braggadocious, I absolutely killed it this semester. Way more than I thought I’d be able to, but I didn’t think I’d be able to because I was so busy kicking myself for not being 100% at everything instead of enjoying the fact that regardless of what little mistakes I made I was still learning and growing.
So, as we prepare for another year, another decade (*internal screaming*) if it would help literally anyone at all, I’d like to leave a few tips for the over-thinkers, the perfectionists, the self-doubters, those who lack confidence, the ones who will be just fine in the end:
- Breathe. You’re not going to be any help to anyone if you’re a panicked mess. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a second to steady yourself with a few deep breaths. You’d be surprised at how thirty seconds of steady breathing can clear your anxious little head.
- Context is Key. So you’re struggling. Figure out why. Are you not grasping something because you didn’t study adequately or because your professor is a scatterbrained nincompoop who possesses the communication skills of a grape nut? Sometimes you will fail because of your own lack of skills. Sometimes, you just don’t have the right support. Regardless of which it is, figure out how to handle it. Work a bit harder or figure out what supports you need to get yourself where you want to be. Ask all the questions. Literally, all of them. Even the dumb ones.
- Nip It In the Bud. Literally, the second you recognize your thoughts spinning out of control, stop them. Catastrophizing will never be the answer. Ever. You’re not going to wind up living in a damp box eating a stranger’s leftover pizza crusts for breakfast just because you failed a quiz.
- Make Time for Yourself. Watch some Netflix. Eat some ice cream. Cry. Read a book. Call your mom. Sit outside when it’s warm and soak up some sun. Pet a bunny. Whatever helps you relax, find the time to do it. You have your entire life to work hard, but all that works is going to need some play if you want to be a well-balanced individual.
- Be Nice to Yourself. You’re not an idiot. They didn’t make a mistake. You deserve to be wherever you are, if that’s where you want to be. You’ve got what it takes. You can do this. You’re going to be okay. I love you and you love you and you’ll be just fine.
I’m not one for making new year goals, but I do hope that moving forward from the dumpster fire that was 2019, I and my fellow twenty-somethings navigating through our respective existences find more ways to enjoy ourselves, to be kinder to each other and ourselves, and to make the most of the fleeting youth we have. To remember that with life comes the good and bad, and how we react to what we experience is just as important as the experiences themselves. That we may be thrown into the lion’s den, but all hope is not lost. We’re going to be okay.
That’s not too cheesy a way to end a post, right?
See you all in 2020. ✨