Throughout my entire school career I was known as this determined, ambitious and curious young girl that wanted to take on the world and learn as much about it as mentally possible. I graduated from school with nothing but straight A’s and headed into the realm of higher education with even more determination than before – and ultimately missed a part of myself getting lost for a while along the way.
No Breaks – Just Full Speed
When you live your life on full speed for a long time, you don’t even realise how your perception of your own performance changes with it. Simultaneously, you step into a whirlwind of pressure you put on yourself and expectations of others you FEEL like you have to meet, And it only takes so long until you believe that you’re about to break.
Going to uni was definitely one of the best experiences in my life but it was equally a time of realisation, struggles and the occasional breakdown every now and then. Because suddenly the full speed lifestyle I had been living, began taking its toll on me. While others seemed awfully careless about their ultimate grade in a course, I felt like all that I was doing and all the time I was putting into my studies was never enough at the end of the day. I initially started studying Music, which was something I really enjoyed but knew it wasn’t exactly the right thing for me and my future career after the first semester.
Which is why I added my major in English Language and Literature (still the best decision I’ve probably ever made in my life). A normal person would simply drop the first choice they made and would put all their time and dedication into a single study only.
I decided to just do both.
And was back on that full speed track I didn’t know back then would result in me questioning myself and my abilities – and the ultimate loss of motivation.
I sped through both of my studies in record time, finished all my courses in the span of 3 1/2 years while working in a day care and simultaneously trying to gain work experience in the field I was aspiring to work in – journalism.
In September 2017 I got offered my dream job at the newspaper and I would be downplaying it if I said I was over the moon. But the dream job came with a price. I was in the middle of my last semester at uni and sleep became a luxury I barely ever got back during these days. But I still didn’t complain – because I loved my studies and I loved my job.
To the outside world I played it cool, didn’t let anyone see how much I struggled to balance all my responsibilites out behind closed curtains. I had set my own expectations so high that I didn’t only feel like I was disappointing myself for feeling this weak and defeated but I also felt like I was disappointing everyone else – especially my parents who were impatiently waiting for their first daughter to pick up her degrees.
The Scary Weight of Anxiety
When my first anxiety attack hit me, I was waiting for my last ever uni exam to start, hadn’t slept all night and was running on three cups of coffee. I had never experienced anything like that in my entire life. This overwhelming feeling of pressure on your chest and feeling as if you needed to gasp for air while the whole world seemed to collapse above you was definitely amongst the worst experiences in my entire life.
I had never felt so out of control in my entire life and at that moment I realised that I needed a break. A break from the full speed, a break from all the pressure I had been putting on myself for years and a break from this life I loved but was too busy filling it with way too much ambition for a single person to handle rather than memories that would last a lifetime.
Loss of Motivation
In the first months of writing my bachelor theses I had not only lost all the inspiration I was usually overflowing with, I felt like every sentence I was putting down in my computer was incredibly dense and pointless to the topic I wanted to cover. All the determination and love i had put into every single course of my two degrees had suddenly vanished and for a while I really felt like giving up. But giving up was never an option to me. Even though I felt so mentally drained and exhausted and unable to put my thoughts into words, giving up never even crossed my mind.
Am I a Failure?
The ugly truth about the human mind is that it never really lets you rest. Even though I needed the time to take it slow and really find my passion and love for my studies again, a voice in the back of my head kept scolding me for having hit the brakes. So everytime the night fell down, I started hating myself for not pulling through and graduating as quick as I had anticipated. (Friendly reminder that I had only studied for eight semesters at this point, for two full time studies this is a perfectly fine amount of time.)
I continuously felt like the biggest disappointment, felt like I owed it to my parents who had carried me through my entire life with love and support and felt like the worst failure every time I gave this pressured part of my mind the chance to sneak its way into my thoughts.
Most of the time it’s not only intrinsic pressure manipulating you into thinking you aren’t good enough, it is additionally the pressure unintentionally put on us by those we love. Especially when you’ve shown yourself giving 150% 24/7 it is almost inevitable for your surroundings to have incredibly high expectations – and because you love them and you want to make them proud, you want to give it your all, all the time. Even if your body is desperately screaming for a break.
Sometimes we forget
That side of me that had been living on the edge for so many years, constantly pushing and aiming for more sometimes made me forget of what I had already achieved. Made me forget that I have a full time job I genuinely love more than anything and was about to finish two bachelor degrees.
In the end it took me 10 months to finish both papers and I am glad I gave myself that time to rediscover my love for uni again. Sometimes you feel like plummeting off the face of earth but that never means that you cannot go back. We are young and wild and still growing, even those approaching their mid-twenties. Because we never really stop doing so.
Listen To Your Body
2018 has been amongst the best and worst years of my life in many different ways, but now I can say that I have overcome my insane and unsubstantiated fear of being a disappointment and a failure. For someone who is as much of a perfectionist as I am, letting go of that perfect life line I had scheduled for myself was both hard and important.
I realised that each individual life has its own pace, its own twists and turns and at the end of the day we’ll all find our way somehow – as long as we listen to our heart and body. Mental health is so much more important than drowning yourself in self-imposed pressure and expectations we’ll never be able to fulfill. Life is about doing things you love and enjoy with passion and the time and effort they deserve, but they shouldn’t take over your entire life.
No matter what we do, we should thrive to make our lives revolve around something that makes us happy. Putting pressure on ourselves and letting society manipulate us into thinking nothing we do is enough is toxic and dangerous and lets people push themselves into unhealthy state of minds. Our brains are like sponges that soak up all the knowledge we’re exposed to but if we let it dry out, nothing will ever stick.
Knowledge is a gift, but so is living and no matter how long it takes you, one day you’ll cross the finish line.