The Summer of Growing Tough Skin
I’ve debated writing this post for the past week, and only now have I decided to make it happen. It is with a nervous yet hopeful heart that I write what will perhaps be one of the most vulnerable posts I’ve shared on this blog, and the wider internet realm in general.
It begins with a simple premise: these days, I’m not very happy. The past few weeks have been really tough for several reasons, all of which contribute to one another such that they form a vicious, messy web that only grows and grows in a cycle fed by positive feedback and confirmation biases all pointed cruelly and accusingly at myself.
Those are just words. What I mean is waking up after many hours of sleep and still feeling incredibly tired. Feeling physically drained for a large portion of the day and not knowing why… talking to doctors and juggling potential what ifs that confuse more than clarify. Living and working in a super homogenous and exclusive society where I physically look like a local, but don’t talk, dress, or speak like one, and consequently am seen as something ‘other’ when all I really want is to feel appreciated and belong for the first time in years. Not feeling appreciated as a complete human being in any other circumstance, least of all by myself. Feeling generally uninspired to write or create; not feeling the urge I used to feel for writing about beautiful moments or sensations or things, and wondering if it’ll come back. To make up for it all, trying to seize control of every minute of the day in order to ‘maximize’ the pseudo-virtues of productivity and perfectionism… and ending up struggling with bouts of anxiety when it comes to the smallest of things, even basic things such as not knowing what I’ll eat for lunch or not being able to write a blog post. Not being surrounded by people or things that particularly inspire a want to change. And, when the next day begins and things are still the same, constantly thinking that it’s my fault, that I’m not doing enough, that I don’t know if things will change and that perhaps I won’t ever be the creative and prolific person I once was.
And trust me, for a control freak like myself, that thought is terrifying.
For those who know me well, it’s not a surprise to hear that I’m incredibly strict with myself. I may be very generous in my dealings with others (in the act of, say, giving advice or consolation), but very rarely do I offer the same patience to my own way of being. Having high self-expectations is the sharpest, ugliest kind of double-edged sword: on one hand, I can easily attribute many of my ‘success’ and achievement to my tendency to always out-compete my previous self, be it in the gym, in the prolificness of my artistic expression, in academia, etc. I work really hard, but — damningly — I rarely give myself time to rest… which leads to feeling a constant sense of anxiety over whether or not I’ll continue to perform at a high level, not only in tangible areas like writing but also in intangible areas like relationships with others. If my sister or a friend was going through a hard time, I’d tell them to have compassion for themselves and take their time. For me, after a day of anxiety I’m already scolding myself for pitying myself too much and not ‘getting on with it’.
Because this sense of control has done me so much good, I’m unable to shake it off and embrace a more spontaneous, less high-strung / achievement-based lifestyle. I guess you could say it’s kind of like unhealthy dieting for someone who wants to look a certain way: although the method is dangerous and inadvisable, one is tempted to continue on because the tangible outcome looks so ‘good’.
It’s tough, but I’m trying to wean myself out of it. Why? Because I’m rational enough, at this point, to prioritize my long-term well-being. I know that if I let the mental habit fester, I’ll only dig myself into a deeper hole that may prove to be even more difficult to climb out of later on, when I’ll have a bunch of other real-world issues (i.e. adulting) to worry about.
And so I’m taking myself by the hand and trying to help myself, one step at a time. One of the ways in which I’ve been doing that is by expressing my vulnerability with more candour — yet this process hasn’t been without its ups and downs.
I think it’s important to be vulnerable and to be able to talk about your fears and weaknesses. This is what makes us human, after all, and to be relatable is one of the biggest services you can do to a world where many feel like they matter less because they’re not ‘enough’, and consequently are unable to flourish and contribute to the world in the way they could. Yet during the past year, whenever I talked to one of my Bridge Year peers about my perceived flaws, I always felt like I was unnecessarily down-talking myself and painting myself to be weak and flawed to others, which meant that they would see me in that way, which meant that it would essentially confirm my initial doubts and thus make me even weaker and more flawed.
If a tree fell but no one heard, did the tree fall? Likewise, if someone was hurting but no one knew, did the person hurt at all?
Of course they did. But we live in an age of constant judgment and scrutiny, in which for many, if not all, people, there’s a lot of pressure to be doing well, and being honest about not doing well can sometimes be hurtful for your self-image and how others perceive you. And so sometimes we think it’s the better option to stay silent and just deal with it, because then at least you’re still ‘achieving’ in the eyes of others.
Well, even if publishing this post means that someone could hypothetically see me as more flawed and weaker than they thought I was, I’m happy with my decision. I think there’s strength in honesty, but even if there wasn’t, then this is me, and I think the first step to getting better is embracing all of my highs and lows equally as part of who I am.
Besides, I think it’s fitting that I start considering these ideas now, just as I’m about to head off on one of the biggest (and probably most daunting) adventures of my life: college. I’ll definitely be alongside some pretty amazing and accomplished people, and I know for a fact that I’ll sometimes slip into the old ways of comparison and wanting to be perfect all the time. That much is inevitable. But what I can do now is start teaching myself that it’s okay not be okay, and that this summer is a good example of that.
For those who may’ve read my blog for a while (which I really appreciate, thank you so much!), you’d know that every year I like to write different kinds of series — for instance, last year’s series on my European travels, my Scandinavian series, etc. This summer, I’d like to start a new series that’ll hopefully inspire and motivate me to take care of myself better. Let’s call it The Summer of Growing Tough Skin. I’d like to write once or twice a week about, well, my life as it is, positive habits I’m developing, things I’m grateful for and other small but hopefully interesting topics. At the end I hope to have a collage of a summer dedicated to self-love, after years and years of summers and winters and autumns and springs dedicated to overachieving and expecting myself to exceed my own expectations.
I’m excited to see where this goes!
To end, I’d like to write a few side-notes (out of love). In no ways is the intention of this post to receive pity, nor is it to cry for help. Instead, I’m trying to do two things: first, by writing this post I’m essentially both subconsciously and consciously convincing myself that what I’m experiencing matters and I need to take a step back to address it (i.e. that I need to take care of myself instead of distracting myself with other things); and second, I’m trying to emphasize the importance of compassion, especially for yourself. And in that spirit I hope that whoever reads this post understands that a lot of people, even those who like to write about their cool life experiences in upbeat and flowery language, go through tough times and that ultimately, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
And I guess that’s why I decided to write about all of this in a blog post as opposed to a journal entry. I’m a regular journal keeper, and so inevitably I’ve written a lot about this summer’s struggles in the ol’ pen and paper fashion. Yet when I write on the blog, I feel like I’m talking to someone other than myself, which I find beneficial in this circumstance. It tells me that I’m not alone.
And that, for a moment, makes me a little bit happier. 🙂
P.S. How fitting is it that, on this day last year, I donned by backpack and headed to France? It seems July 15th is a day of many adventures.