I didn’t realise how bad it had become for a long time. I could still have fun with my friends, even though I constantly worried what they really thought about me; I could still study at University, even though the further I went with it, the more I felt like a fraud; and I still had a great family to come back to, even though I couldn’t meet new people, or socialise, or have a boyfriend. I was still able to participate. But I was masking the pain, even from myself. I didn’t know who I was. And I was afraid that who I was wasn’t good enough, so I let my real self hide, while my surface self pretended to get things done.
It wasn’t until I got my first ‘real’ job after graduation that these feelings really started to escalate. It just took too much energy to ‘fake it’ anymore…. I hated my life. Something had to change. I resigned from my work and sought counselling. There were many helpful conversations, but one moment sticks with me even today…. I was talking about how one of my high school friends was living in London and how I would love to do that, but that it wasn’t something I could do because it wasn’t ‘me’. Her reply of ‘why not?’ probably doesn’t sound profound on the page – but it stopped me in my tracks. I had gotten so used to thinking of myself in a certain way, putting limitations on myself and thinking I wasn’t capable, that I didn’t even notice it wasn’t true. Why couldn’t I go to London? What actually was stopping me?
I was able to go and live in London and travel around Europe for eight months with my sister by the end of that year. It was the best decision I ever made in my life. I was so nervous, but so excited, and I learnt so much about myself during that trip. I could stand up for myself! I could handle unexpected issues! I could connect with new people, just by finding one thing we had in common, and being willing to share and listen! It didn’t happen all at once, but finally I was starting to listen to, learn about, and trust, my real self.
One of my realisations was that I’d always been interested in psychology, and how and why the brain works the way it does. I don’t really know if this interest was strengthened due to my experience or was always there, but I re-enrolled in Uni to study Behavioural Science part time, whilst working full time to support myself. I specifically told myself that I would only continue for as long as I enjoyed it (unlike my previous degree), but loved it, and ended up graduating after 5 years at the end of 2019.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, especially when my father passed away at the beginning of 2018 after only being diagnosed with cancer two months prior. It felt like my life, and my family’s life, changed in an instant. It was really hard to learn to live in a world that he wasn’t in anymore. But I was better able to handle my thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and trust that I would be able to come through the grief eventually. The last few years have taught me that not only is life full of ups and downs (some really high, and some really low) but that I can handle it – sometimes with help from others, and sometimes not all at once, but always by being kind to myself about what I need in the moment.