BY TAYLOR HAFNER
The past few months (my last of college) have been about as hectic and anxiety-inducing as I anticipated. What I didn’t anticipate, however, is just how I would fail to live up to my own expectations.
You see, I usually think I do a bang-up job of taking care of myself. I know Taylor; I know her needs and I know how to fulfill them. But it’s safe to say that something about my situation was failing me.
I had to hustle harder. Do more, be more productive, gain more accomplishment, make more friends, spend more time socializing. Worse, I felt inundated with emotions (which are usually my specialty–I’m good at feeling my feelings if I do say so myself) that were wearing me out. I was struggling to figure out at what point my problems ended and someone else’s began. This emotional confusion left me feeling shockingly unsupported. Looking back, I can tell that I had fallen into the trap that is not placing our own wellness high enough on our priority list.
Except, I’d convinced myself that all of these feelings were normal.
Maybe I should be feeling this way, I mean, stress is a motivator, right?
My problems are just your run-of-the-mill senior in college problems.
Other people have such worse things going on.
This last one got me. I was so aware that others were struggling harder that I couldn’t allow myself to have problems, too.
The reasons I knew I needed to go back to counseling were perhaps normal problems, but they weren’t affecting me in a normal way:
I was tired.
One of the main reasons I finally realized I needed some help was that I felt too damn tired all the time, and not just in one or two ways. I couldn’t sleep because I was too wired. Listening to my best friend felt exhausting, though I knew that wasn’t really her fault. My brain and emotions were on 100 percent of the time.
I didn’t normally feel this way.
Sure, my empathic qualities may allow emotion to pour out of me more quickly than it gets poured back in, but this wasn’t usually how I felt about life, about myself, or about others. I feel like we make it our prerogative to be so busy that we come to embrace exhaustion, pain and suffering as our new normal, as long as it’s in the name of productivity or busyness. But I didn’t want that to be my normal. Some long-past anxiety symptoms were coming back and they certainly weren’t part of my day-to-day.
I didn’t want to place myself first.
I was shying away from placing myself in an important position, at least, a position important enough to give myself what I needed. We’re taught to be selfless as often as possible, but what sometimes happens instead is we dismiss ourselves in the midst of comparison. But here’s the thing: stress isn’t one size-fits-all. We all have a different level of resilience. What might not bother someone might aggravate someone else. We all need to listen to that voice inside that says, I could use a hand here.
I uncovered a big problem.
You know how I was having trouble determining where my problems ended and another’s began? Yeah, that was the issue. In trying to check in with myself, I caught myself actually measuring whether I was okay by measuring whether everyone else in my life was okay. I eventually found out that my tendency to take on others’ problems was causing me tons of undue stress.
So I scheduled an appointment with my university’s counseling center. The center can only provide so many sessions a semester and not all of my peers had been satisfied with their services, but I was simply in the very great need to talk to someone. Anyone. So I made the appointment, walked in the door and did just that. I assured the counselor that I knew my problems weren’t the biggest and she stopped me. She repeated back my stressors and told me that they certainly weren’t too small and that I did need help. And when I left the comfortable seat of the chair in her plant-filled office two months ago, I immediately felt the tiniest of weights lift from my shoulders with the knowledge that I was taking a step toward a better state.
So today. Well, I have to admit that today I am much the same. Still stressed. Still a bit tired. Still burning with a desire to be farther in life than I am and to have more done. I haven’t yet mastered separating myself from others’ issues and emotions. Nonetheless, I am learning how to maintain balance in my life and to keep myself accountable in new ways, with a little help.