Living up to my own expectation. Sophia's story.
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Hello Guys & Girls!
My favourite quote at the moment is ‘nothing will ruin your twenties more than thinking you should already have your life together’ but actually we could extend this to the whole of our lives. Maybe we never ‘have it together’, maybe we just need to accept that life is a whole bunch of ups and downs and the process of learning and growing never stops. The quote may imply that by the time you’re 30 everything is supposed to just fall into plan, but I doubt this is the case. The ‘failures’ aren’t the problem; it’s how we respond to them.
My name is Sophia, and I’m 22. My 20’s haven’t been that fun as of yet, because the majority of this new chapter has been spent dealing with anxiety & depression. I now feel I’m coming out of the other side, slowly, but boy has it been a journey to get here, and the journey isn’t over yet. Accepting that it will be a slow process is half the battle in itself. Anxiety is a horrible thing to have to go through, and to anyone reading this who is going through it, I feel your pain. From the intrusive thoughts, to the depersonalization, to the feelings of depression, to the racing heart and the tight feelings around your chest. The problem is, no one can see this from the outside. My life became very small, I’d gone from being a very bubbly personality who was constantly busy, at the gym, being a social butterfly, working, studying, to someone who struggled to get out of bed. It was absolutely terrifying.
I think it’s difficult to say what caused it, it’s probably always a combination of things but then there’s a certain event which triggers it all. I’m very knowledgeable about anxiety now, and what would’ve happened is that, if you imagine a cup that is slowly filling over time, and each stressful/emotional situation fills up the cup a bit more and the issues don’t get dealt with, you just carry on with your busy life, and eventually that cup overflows. Your body is communicating with you that certain things need to change/need resolving. I have been through quite a lot in the last few years so, to be honest, looking back, it’s probably not surprising that I went on to develop anxiety. I’ve been through a lot with my parents, moved out at a young age and didn’t feel like I had much of a support network, then in the last few years I went through a bereavement, a break up, and I dropped out of university which I have regretted ever since. All of this happened in a very short space of time and was clearly too much for me to deal with. But I just couldn’t forgive myself for dropping out of Birmingham. This is how ridiculously hard I am on myself. What I would’ve said to my friends is ‘of course you’re not stupid, you were going through so much at the time, anyone would have struggled. You’re not a failure, you can resume university at any time and your health is more important than anything.’ But what I constantly said to myself was ‘you’re an idiot, you’ve ruined your whole life, how could you be so stupid to make such bad decisions, you’re such a failure.’ So, couple the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on, with my extreme self-criticism and the pressure that I put on myself, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate recipe for anxiety. Just whack it in at 180 degrees and wait for your breakdown to rise.
An amazing book, which has helped me so much, called ‘At last a life’ written by Paul David, explains that the rules for psychological suffering are the same as physical suffering. If you eat too much bad food, you’ll feel sick, if you drink too much, you’ll have a hangover, he explains that anxiety is no different and it is literally your mind & body’s way of telling you things need to change. When you think of it like that, anxiety is really a friend, even though it makes you feel like you’re dying. One of those friends that give you tough love and you don’t want to hear it, but you eventually realise they’re right. I have gotten to the point where I truly believe that once I’ve recovered from this, I’ll be grateful that it happened to me.
My coping mechanisms at the beginning were; constantly googling and looking for answers trying to find a way out of this hell, every day hoping a miracle answer would just pop up from somewhere, ramming positive affirmations down my throat, constantly analysing how I was feeling and doing anything I could to make the bad feelings go away. Oh, and I was on and off medication about four times. But now, with the help of Paul David’s book, I’m kind of just embracing it all. Stop the fighting. He says, ‘the only way you’ll get better is if you stop trying.’ If I feel anxious, fine. If my mind wants to throw out some weird thoughts, let it do this thing. It’ll get bored without my attention. The more you just let anxious energy be released without adding more anxiety to it, the quicker you’re going to be free of it.
I’m reading such a good book at the moment by Ruby Wax, called ‘how to be human’ and on her chapter about how to raise children she writes about how important it is to teach kids how to fail. She says that most of the kids who got straight A’s at school will now be out of their minds and the prom queen is probably a coke head. I think this is what’s happened to me (not the coke head part, I solemnly swear), but because I always thrived at school and got top grades, I feel like you have this expectation put on you that you have to keep that up for the rest of your life. But I do think most of the expectation comes from myself, not other people. So, because I had never really had anything ‘go wrong’ before, I literally thought it was the end of my little world when something did. We all need to develop a growth mindset, one which embraces mistakes as an opportunity to grow and learn. We don’t tell a baby to give up or that they’re useless when they keep trying to walk and don’t quite grasp it, do we? So, I think we all need to apply that to ourselves, for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t matter how many times you get something wrong, as long as you keep getting up and trying again. We all need to realise that every single person makes mistakes, and a lot of the time we compare ourselves to people who seem to be extremely successful, but we have no idea how many times they fell down before they got there.
One piece of advice to my younger self would be, stop being so hard on yourself. (If I had a pound for every time someone has said that to me, I would literally be a millionaire I swear.) Also, that it’s okay to make mistakes because you’re human, and that I don’t always need to have all the answers and that’s okay. Demi Lovato’s latest song ‘I Love Me’, (come on we all love a bit of cheesy pop) really resonated with me when it says ‘I’m a blackbelt when I’m beating up on myself but I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else’ and I think a lot of us are guilty of this. I’m learning to try and speak to myself as if I was speaking to my best friend.
So, as I said I am in a MUCH better place than I was but it’s not an overnight process. The engrained habits that have been a part of me for 22 years take a while to undo. But my goal is to learn to be kinder to myself, take the pressure off and be okay with where I am right now. Think about it like this- wouldn’t life be boring if you had everything you wanted right now and didn’t have anything to work towards? Another quote I like is ‘you can be both complete and a work in progress at the same time’, I think I heard that on a Jay Shetty podcast.
I am going back to the University of Birmingham this September to continue my law degree, and I am shitting myself about that. I’m going to be very rusty but so would everyone else if they’d been out of the game for a while!
I think there is always lessons in the dark times to be grateful for. You just have to look for them.