Mental Health Struggles: a view from the inside out - Part III
upcoming & remarkable - a special series by talents on the rise
in the flow
They say the third time’s a charm. After I enrolled in college for the third time - following my dream to study Art History - I decided to put the past behind me. No more perfectionism or procrastination. No more feeling bad and beating myself up for my prior mistakes. I’d learned to let go, embracing the Tabula Rasa philosophy to the max.
The first year flew by. I passed all my courses, started amazing friendships, and felt like I was living in my flow. The feelings of guilt and shame started to make room for ambition and drive, and I dared to dream bigger again. During my second year I therefore decided to do an Entrepreneurship Minor next to my regular classes, an new internship, and to continue working at my side job. In hindsight overly ambitious perhaps, but at the time I was determined to make the most out of the momentum.
In the beginning I was able to manage all of it, because I was still riding on the excitement of my new-found drive. During my Minor Entrepreneurship I was setting up my own business while I was having the most amazing experience at my internship. Like a sponge, I was soaking up as much knowledge as possible. The fact that I felt tired most of the time, was totally worth it. After all, when would I get another opportunity like this?
But after a while, my tiredness made room for exhaustion. I was having a hard time to keep everything up, and to keep going with all of my activities. Eventually the feeling of being one step behind with things started to creep up again. In response to this feeling I made sure to schedule in some me-time for relaxing and doing absolutely nothing.
I remember one moment in particular: I was sitting in the living room, enjoying my time off as I had just finished my to-do list for the day. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks, an entire evening where I could just sit back and relax. All of the sudden, an eerie feeling started to creep up. Even though I had literally nothing to do at the moment, I still wasn’t able to relax. I felt this tension throughout my entire body, like my body was still in a state of stress. I actually was kind of surprised by this feeling and couldn’t quite understand it. “Why am I feeling stressed right now? Why the hell can’t I relax?” I felt confused, and most of all disappointed. I was wondering how and why I let things go this far, up to the point where anxiety and panic attacks started to take over my existence.
The anxious mind is a strong and powerful one. It can outrun, out-power and outwit any rationality and logic. Anxiety exists in a spectrum, and one way of another, we all experience it to a certain extent. This is what makes us human. Anxiety is a very normal response from a strong, healthy brain that thinks there might be some trouble, and immediately responds by making us a stronger, faster and more alert version of ourselves.
But as with all things, too much is indeed too much. With my brain being oversensitive, everything in my life became a threat. A crowded street, loud noises, or even sitting on the couch doing nothing. It felt like my body had switched to a permanent panic mode, and no longer knew how to switch the panic-button off.
The fact that I was suffering from anxiety, didn’t really come as a surprise. I recognized the symptoms that appeared as a consequence of pushing myself too hard. The more important question was, why did I let this happen? I realized I felt an enormous pressure to succeed, to make up for my past mistakes. To prove that I was good enough, or rather better than I ever was before.
This pressure led to ignoring any warning signs my body was giving me. I knew I was doing too much, but I simply refused to listen. After all, everything I did, was for the greater good, an investment in my future.
And that was exactly the problem. As a consequence of my future-focused-anxiety, I started to feel detached from the present. I was not merely investing in my future, I was living in the future. Anxiety thrives on the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’, and transports even the calmest of minds to a state of threat and uncertainty. After I enrolled university for the third time, I was finally following my dream of studying Art History. I had achieved and accomplished a part of my dream, but I wasn’t able to enjoy my accomplishment, because another dream was already knocking on my door. As I crashed down, amidst of another anxiety attack, I finally had to confront the truth: I was broken.