Friday, December 23, 2016

It's okay to be you the way you are.

I finally finished the semester last week, which was a huge relief. It's hard to believe it's over, especially hard to believe that I finished my research papers. It's interesting how much less burdened I feel now that classes are over; I can sleep better and I don't feel like the world is in danger of caving in or a deadline is looming over me. Yet I still feel a constant niggling in the back of my mind as I binge watch Season 1 of The Bachelorette (...and The Bachelor...and The Crown...and twenty Hallmark Christmas movies...) that I ought to be doing something purposeful now that I have time off. But I also don't want to burn myself out by putting pressure on myself all break and forcing myself to work on all my creative projects I don't get to work on during school.

Today though, I found myself cleaning my room which then led to scrapbooking some loose momentos I had saved and eventually I actually found myself sketching and brainstorming for a creative project. I didn't force myself to do any of those things; they all just felt right in the moment, so I followed the creative flow and enjoyed it. I guess it's a reminder to let things happen naturally. I find myself putting pressure on myself in so many areas of my life, sometimes without even realizing it. In the back of my mind, I have a program running, asking one question after another, chasing its tail, circling.

What career should I pursue? Am I on the right path? How do I even pursue any career? Am I really using my talents enough? Should I pursue a more creative career? How would I even do that? Should I really go to grad school? But if I didn't, wouldn't I always feel a void? But if I did and later changed careers, wouldn't I have wasted my own (and others') time and money and taken the opportunity from someone who really wanted it? Will I ever find someone who I'm compatible with? Will I ever have the opportunity and courage to get to know a guy? Am I even attractive to guys? Am I too closed off? What if I date someone and get my heart broken? What if I date someone and they just want to have fun, they aren't interested in a serious relationship, and I get my heart broken? Or they find out I tend to be more marriage-focused and get freaked out? What if all men are immature? Etc., etc., etc....

Encouragement courtesy of "The Latest Kate"

Even though my anxiety isn't overwhelming, dominating my thoughts the way it used to, it still is operating in the background of my mind in many ways. Wondering if I'm making the right decision in something as small as choosing what to order for lunch or something as big as what career field to work in. Worrying whether I said the wrong thing or came across the wrong way in a conversation. Debating whether I offended the friend(s) who didn't reply to a message I sent. Wondering whether I should put the effort in to keep up or reignite friendships that have stalled or that I purposefully ended. Worrying whether I'm taking too many classes in the spring semester. Debating about whether I screwed up in this way or that way, trying to nitpick the ways I might have failed today, yesterday, two months ago. Going over conversations from weeks, even months, ago in my head and kicking myself.

I spend so much time regretting, second guessing, obsessing, questioning. I like the times where I just get to be unashamedly me. Where I revel in the moment. Go with the flow. With mental health treatment, it's easy to get to a place where you're just pressuring yourself to improve and berating yourself for messing up or not making enough progress. But the standards of progress are pretty arbitrary. Beating yourself up turns into another impediment to your progress. You become your own worst critic, worst enemy, feeding all the lies and inner darkness that have been pulling you down all this time.

From The Latest Kate
For a good month and a half or more of this last semester, I put a ton of pressure on myself to make more friends, talk to people, make conversation with guys I was interested in. I didn't do much of any of that. It was too uncomfortable. And honestly, I'm kind of glad I didn't force things. It would have been awkward and weird. (And sometimes there's a benefit to waiting around and observing a guy for a while before you try and make a move on him...He seems great until one day he says something in class that makes you think, "Gosh, I'm glad I didn't get involved and emotionally wrapped up in him...But that's a side note.) I think there's something to be said for following your gut: if a certain situation arises where it feels right to assert or push yourself a little, go for it. But don't beat yourself up for not seizing every moment or for not forcing yourself to grow. Sometimes therapy can push to hard and we need to give ourselves a break or else we'll end up back in an emotional wreck.

Looking back at this semester, I didn't achieve everything I dreamed of, but I did good work in my classes, I forged relationships with professors for the first time ever, I made some acquaintances, and I continued to work on myself in therapy. I am learning to both be more open to possibilities and opportunities, but also to back off of forcing myself to fit a mold I think I'm supposed to conform to. And I'm realizing that many of the accomplishments I made this semester, even if they were small, were times when I just saw an opportunity arise and took it. I didn't push something. I didn't awkwardly start a conversation with the guy I sat by in class, but when he passed by me on the way to a presentation, I wished him good luck because it felt natural. It wasn't a complete game-changer, but it was seizing the moment and being braver than I used to be.

I have a sticker of this on my computer as a reminder. (The Latest Kate)

The holidays can be a time of comparing ourselves to others and being confronted with ideals we think we should live up to. We remember the New Year's resolutions we didn't fulfill. We read the Christmas cards and wonder why our family can't take a good picture or why we can't get it together to have a Christmas card-worthy life. I personally wonder where all the time went and regret (and beat myself up) for not using it better, enjoying it more. I see and hear so many things - on TV, from friends, in music, even in therapy - so many ideas of what I think my life should be and how I'm not measuring up. I keep worrying about times this year that I might have messed up.

I hope you and I both, reader, can put aside some of those worries, that pressure, and enjoy the break from stress. And carry into the New Year the knowledge that we don't have to be perfect, we don't have to fix ourselves. We don't have to have all the answers. We are allowed to make mistakes. We are allowed to not care for a little while whether or not we made a mistake. We are allowed to accept, even embrace, ourselves just the messed up way we are. We are allowed to revel in our own uniqueness and stop hiding the parts of ourselves we're afraid others will judge. It's too tiring.

You are making it through each day, and that is progress. You are surviving, and that is accomplishment.

I am trying and that is enough. I am taking baby steps and that is moving me forward.

"Progress is progress no matter how small." (Thanks for that wonderful mantra, Kate!)

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