Finding Strength In Suffering
I think the most ironic part about being a psychology major is that you are constantly learning the warning signs, symptoms, devastations, recoveries, and prevalence of mental illness - yet you are so oblivious to being able to notice them developing within yourself. I guess that’s just one of the flaws that comes with being human – we will never see ourselves entirely accurately. When you think about it, the only true reflections we have of ourselves are our mirrors and the people we surround ourselves with.
I never really used to think much of the phrase, “You are your own worst enemy”. I thought it was kind of silly, I mean, when you think about the people who have put you through a lot – you being the worst enemy? Not likely. Well, that changed for me completely these past few months. The worst person in my life was staring right back into my eyes when I would glance in my mirror.
I’m not going to sit here and apologize for how emotional this post is going to be, and I’m not writing this with the intention of airing my dirty laundry. Writing is my way of making sense of the constant whir going on inside of my head, and it is also my strength. It gives me the strength to understand, and it also gives me the strength to empower others. I hope you will gain both the power of understanding, as well as the strength of empowerment through reading this post.
Where to start? So, I think it has been blatantly apparent that I have been less than “okay” this semester. I am going to be really blunt and say that I have been dangerously “not okay” this semester. I always heard the stories about college students who just couldn’t take the pressure – the ones who let it consume them, the ones who failed miserably and dropped out, and the most heartbreaking of them all – the ones who took their own lives. I gripped tightly onto the, “That will never be me” mindset, and I truly believed this with all my being. Well, to my own dismay, I started to become someone I wouldn’t even be able to recognize if I were looking at my present self this time last year. The source of this all? The pressure to be perfect. The pressure to be the very best person I could be. The pressure to completely neglect myself as a person just to get that extra point, that assignment done, that extra hour of studying. I let school selfishly take over my life and control who I am.
Looking back, I can’t help but laugh a little at how typically my life spiraled out of control. I should probably explain how this started. do you remember when I did my ‘confessions of a workaholic’ post? In there, I explained my constant problem with taking on more than I can handle. You think that a person with so much personal experience on the matter could take her own advice! Unfortunately, this was not the case. I started the semester knowing I was in for it. I was starting off the year as a first-time RA, psychology club president, and taking six classes. Keep in mind, I had never taken more than five, because I knew that was basically a death sentence. I found out in horror this summer that I was seven credits behind (because I was a transfer), so I had to quickly play catch-up if I wanted to graduate on time (and not be in a semester more of extensive debt). No pressure, right?!?!?
To make matters worse, my workload was the worst I have ever faced in my entire existence. This is probably not going to make much sense if you’re not a psychology student at monmouth, but try to bear with me. So for my major, there is something called the research sequence, which is composed of four classes: research methods, statistics (this is not the same thing as the stats you’re thinking of – this is the analysis of research you are conducting), experimental (conducting, understanding, and creating experiments), and then thesis (your own semester-long project, in which you create, carry out, analyze, and present an experiment of your own). I need to emphasize how rigorous these classes and how it is highly recommended that you only take one a semester. Well! With the way I set up my schedule in my previous semesters, I was stuck taking two research classes in one semester. Now, to make matters even worse, experimental is extremely hard to understand without taking statistics prior. So, at this point, I am taking a class in which I have not learned the material for prior. A little nightmarish, right?
In case you were wondering, it doesn’t end here. One of my other four classes is a class called field experience. This is a class in which you intern somewhere, journal and log your experience every time you go in, create a project to benefit the company you are interning for, and then present about it at my school’s psychology research conference. Naturally, this is another one of those classes that is recommended you take by itself – not with other research classes. So to summarize, this semester is an internship, 3 extremely difficult and laborious classes on top of my other 3 classes, being an RA, and then being a club president. I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me – I'm saying it to give you an exact idea of what I am faced with this semester. Don’t forget the whole social life and staying alive thing, too.
It goes without saying that I bit off just about three more mouthfuls than I can chew. That being said, I do truly love the things that I’m doing. Being an RA is probably the best part about my semester so far. my residents are great, and we have a strong relationship. My staff, both inside my building and outside, are phenomenal people, and we all work together so well. being the president of psychology club is really rewarding, as well. My e-board is a great group of people to work with, and we have so many visions and goals for our club this year. This is why it is really hard for me to hear when people tell me I need to “drop something”. In reality, these are the only things I have the options of dropping (because my classes are obviously not an option). However, these are the things I truly enjoy – the things that enhance me as a person and allow me to grow as an individual on a daily basis. These things are not the problem – school is – and now you can truly see my dilemma, right?
Truthfully, I started off on the wrong foot this semester. RA training was a week straight of long days and very minimal sleep. We immediately went from training into the first day of school, and I think that really threw me for a loop in the long run. I felt like I was running on empty, and I never really got that opportunity to collect my thoughts and process just how much I needed to prepare for this semester. Well, one week led to another, and I was behind on even having my school supplies. I was trying to stay on top of my classes, but adjusting to newly being an RA was something I underestimated. As an RA, you have to develop and carry out programs, address immediate issues, be on duty, and design door tags and bulletin boards to keep your residents educated. trying to find time to do all of this and not let the club fall behind was something I just felt like I didn’t have enough hands for.
I started to feel like I was being pulled in every single direction – and a person can only handle so much. It was really starting to become clear that I was putting my classes last, and instead of letting this motivate me, it started to induce a great deal of anxiety. This anxiety began to consume me entirely. I was feeling like a failure in just about every single class. I have never felt like I had such a little understanding of my classes, and I didn’t know how to handle that feeling. And of course, feeling like a failure only decreases your motivation. So take my almost-entirely-diminished motivation, and add it to my increasing workload and try to predict what happens? I stopped sleeping, I started to get panic attacks, I started developing horrible eating habits (fluctuating between not eating and then binging), I stopped exercising, I started having issues with my memory, I became irritable and tense, and I even began to stop going to my classes. I was utterly going against everything I once stood for. I channeled my anxiety into some really horrible habits, and it was becoming a terrible look for me. People were beginning to see past the happy face I was desperately attempting to deceive people with every day.
All of this being said (and I thank and applaud you if you have gotten this far) being able to recognize what happened to me is the most important part. Yes, there are a ton of things I would have done differently if I could. Yes, I am still suffering from the anxiety of it all. Yes, I still have apprehension about the rest of the year. But, what matters the most is that I am still here. I am still fighting. I managed to hang on this semester (even if it was by a pinky), and I refuse to let go. I will figure it out. I will be “okay”. and I will take care of and love myself. This is not who I am, and I need and want to change. I understand that all of these things will take time, and I owe myself the patience in getting there.
You are more important than your grades. I’m not saying not to work hard and do your best, but when it comes to getting a proper night of sleep or studying for that test, get the night of sleep. Twenty years from now, you’re going to be thankful for the health that you have, not necessarily that grade or that GPA. Of course grades and GPA lead to a successful job, but you have to remember that in order to be a successful worker in the real world, you have to be just as present mentally as you are physically. The habits you create now will follow you in the long run, so please take my advice on this. I get it, I really do. But, what you need to remember is the happiest people are the ones who take time for themselves, and no paycheck is worth trading in your happiness.
It is so easy to hate yourself for not being the epitome of perfection, but you just have to realize that you can’t hate someone for what they physically cannot be. I always say to people, “always treat yourself as you would your best friend”. You have to be your own best friend. At the end of the day, all you truly have is yourself. I’m not saying that to minimize the great people in your life and all that they do for you – I'm saying it because without your mental and physical health, no one can save you except for yourself. You need to be the one who is in control of your life, and you are not weak for asking for help.
I think one of the reasons I write posts like this is because it holds me to a degree of accountability. It propels me to move forward and stay true to what I write. So, I thank you all for being my inspiration and the audience that reads.