Getting older and becoming more of an adult comes with some growing pains, as my mom calls them. I’ve definitely been going through them.
My twenties have so far been punctuated by a pervasive and increasing sense of uncertainty. Even though I’m learning to cope with the ambiguity of this part of my life, sometimes I struggle with it.
Additionally, moving from the relatively carefree period of my teens and childhood into the ever-increasing responsibility of my twenties has been shocking. And there is a little tint of sadness at the edges of my life as I watch my parents age and bury people I have loved dearly. The sadness comes from the events themselves, but also from the knowledge that such heart-wrenching things are normal.
So how do I make peace with the messiness of life? How do I end up like one of those women who’ve gone through decades of life and some hard things but still celebrate its goodness in the way they live with joy and optimism every day?
Anxiety is something I’ve been dealing with since I was a teenager. It’s that overwhelming sense that things have gone wrong, are going wrong, and will go wrong and that I will suffer the terrible consequences. As a teenager, I was convinced that I was always making some grave social misstep when I interacted with people, and as a result, I felt that I was constantly being judged. I didn’t think anybody liked me and I isolated myself. I watched people’s interest in me dwindle, hemorrhaging friends every year. Devastating words like “failure” and “loser” and “alone” reverberated around my mind, chipping away at something inside me every time they collided with my insides. No one really called me these things to my face, but in my experience of anxiety, I was my own bully.
Fortunately, once high school was over and I went off to university, things slowly got better. I didn’t leave high school without scars and tattered self-esteem, but experiencing the freedom to take care of myself for the first time helped me begin to heal. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I could have alone time to get myself together. I could try to face social situations that intimidated me slowly, in a way that didn’t provoke a breakdown.
So when I left undergrad a few years ago, my anxiety came with me, but it was controlled. Instead of a wild, ravaging wolf, I had an unruly retriever on my hands. I could put it on a leash.
I thought that was the end of that, until last week, when I found myself awake at 5 am, on the verge of tears, and quickly spiralling. What?
Sometimes, I get really anxious at night. My mind starts wandering to all the things I’m uncertain and insecure about: by the time I’m ready to enter the housing market will I be priced out? What if I never find a job I actually like? Does the fact that I’m a late bloomer mean that it’s too late for me to find a relationship?
Last night, as I not-so-gracefully gave myself over to the anxiety spiral, I read about a man who had his mugshot held for ransom. It basically ruined his life for a bit. Now, I don’t have a mugshot, but I do have a name twin. She has the same uncommon first and last name as me, and she’s made it her username all over the internet. So I googled my own name, as I sometimes do, just to make sure that nothing shady was going on.
I clicked a Facebook link, curious to see what my name doppelganger looked like, only to find that the Facebook profile was actually mine. It was a page from the hormonal, angst-filled cringefest of my early teens, and I had long ago abandoned it. “Abandoned” meaning that I logged out one day and never signed in again, leaving it up for the whole world to find on Google.
Naturally, I logged in to change my privacy settings, because no future employer or date needs to see how awkward I was at age 13. Curious about this time in my life that I try not to think about, I started clicking through my old photos. Was my hair really that healthy? And was I really that cute?
Hello! I’m officially back from my hiatus! Thanks for your patience with me. If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that I was dealing with I-took-on-way-too-much-itis. Symptoms include stress-eating, tears, procrastination, and the urge to curse people out. Treatment is getting ish done.
Now that I’m finished with the craziness that was March and had some time to reflect, I have some thoughts about why I took on too much in the first place and how I’m going to avoid that in the future. Let’s talk about FOMO (fear of missing out), unrealistic expectations, and the dreaded P-word: priorities (dun, dun, dun). Read More
Grad school is a different beast to undergrad. The stakes are higher, because now, I find myself doing work that can launch a career. And the margin for error is smaller. It doesn’t take much to fail, and if I do, there is often an impact on people other than me. The combined workload of my courses, thesis, and research work is a lot heavier than undergrad, and at this point, I’m also starting to get a very scratchy itch to see what life is like outside of school (I’ve been a student for nearly 20 years!).
If anxiety sets in, I start to feel like I’m in a pressure cooker, and I get a sinking, helpless feeling in my gut when I realize how much I have to do. This is when I tend to procrastinate, which provides a very temporary escape, but in the end, only worsens the way I feel.
I know I’m not alone in this (and if you can relate, neither are you!). Other grad students (see here too) experience anxiety, and it’s something that can be managed. I know that immobilizing nervous feeling all too well, and while I’m far from perfect, I have some strategies for keeping my anxiety under control. I don’t always follow them, but when I do, they help me a lot.
However, I’m not a professional, so don’t substitute this for professional advice. If you’re in need of help, you can go to your local student wellness office. If you’re in a crisis, you can call your local emergency number.