Relationships aren’t just about you and someone else, sometimes they’re between you and yourself. And they’re never perfect.
A student, impacted by the work that we do on Road to Employment reached out to us after emerging from a hard time in their life, asking if they could share the story of how they came to the realization that caring for themselves mattered as much as caring for the needs of others. We said absolutely. The stresses and anxieties that youth face today are as emotional and physical as they are economic. Sharing their story this month seemed very relevent.
I’ve always been a nervous person, managing to survive, and be successful. But I’ve always been able to complete what I set my mind to, never taking time off between semesters. I jumped from one academic year to the next, working and managing to juggle extra-curricular activities, on top of enrollment in summer courses. I always set myself on a path, pushing myself to keep going.
It was in a recent semester that I finally snapped. I was working around 30 hours a week between two jobs, one of which caused me physical and emotional stress. I was taking a demanding course load, and one class simply would not click. There’s no shame in this; everyone has their weaknesses. The problem I faced was that I simply had no time to work at it the way I personally needed to, between work and my other courses wondering what my next step would be.
One night, after struggling to concentrate on my work, my eyes snapped open and I found myself breathing heavily. My entire being felt disturbed. I had to sit up and look around, and when I did, everything seemed smaller, as if I’d taken a step back from reality. I used any tactic I could think of to help me sleep. Nothing worked. Eventually, my sobbing woke up my sibling, who came to comfort me until I exhausted myself into a fitful sleep. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.
When I woke up, I was still in a panic, and I couldn’t calm down. I was able to hide it during the day distracting myself with work, but I couldn’t eat. I love food, but nothing tastes the same the second time around. The next few days were the same. Nights were the worst. I desperately needed sleep but each time I tried, my entire body would convulse, and nothing could keep me calm. I knew that it was all in my head and that I had snapped because of the pressure and expectations I had set for myself. But physically in the midst of it, these fabrications of the mind had become a living nightmare.
Not knowing what else to do and knowing I needed some way to finish the semester, I went to the clinic, and they prescribed me patchwork medication. It worked. I was finally able to sleep at night. However, it wasn’t a permanent solution, so I sought therapeutic help, abandoning my social obligations, quitting the stressful job, and dropping the course I simply couldn’t maintain. This would mean that the work I had put thus far into it disappeared. It would mean that I would be in school a bit longer and I wouldn’t move on to the next stage of my education as soon as I thought, lagging behind everyone else in my year.
Yet, in the end, I didn’t consider myself a failure. I realized that in life, things happen. I was very lucky to have such an amazing family to support me in everything and never pressure me. It was all in my head, and I needed to allow myself to just enjoy my life, bask in the accomplishments I’d made thus far, and realize that I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself. The very moment everything was settled and I’d relieved all the stress I possibly could, I felt a huge wave of relief.
Now, I’d like to say it was all unicorns and rainbows when the semester was over and that I didn’t need the medication anymore, but I still found myself relapsing. I had many stressful things beyond school and work that still affect me. I need help right now. And after asking for it, I’m doing very well.
I wanted to share my story with the help of Road to Employment because I know their goal is to help youth prepare for the world by bringing to light the stories and experiences of others. At my lowest, I was going to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. I felt so abnormal. But the more I explained my situation, the more I realized how very normal I was. I heard stories from parents who had to take their burnt out and stressed children to the hospital, from people my age who sought help after their mental and physical breakdowns. I spoke to people who regularly went to the pharmacy for their prescriptions. I was surprised as everyone I spoke to and heard about are so well put-together. They currently have everything going for them, and yet they were once in a similar position as I. Things really do get better. Asking for and receiving help is nothing to be ashamed of. I have not judged anyone, regardless as to their situation. So why should I be so hard on myself? Why should anyone?
Shame is not a factor in my anonymity here. I like being faceless. Intentionally telling my story without the reader knowing my gender, sex, race, or religion will allow everyone to be able to relate to my experiences, and not my person. Know that there is help out there and that you can take a break. It’s okay to lower expectations of yourself and take some extra time. Life is not a race, and permitting yourself to slow down does not mean you will come in last.