Friday, 13 December 2013

Anxiety Diaries | Victory

It will have taken me seven years to graduate by the time I wrap up my degree next summer. I left school with straight A's at A Level in 2007, but it's taken me until now to race towards the graduation finishing line. Why so long? 

I've found one reason after another to delay finishing my degree for the past two years or so, and at the heart of each 'reason' is fear. I started a Twentieth Century lit module, and dropped it pretty soon after because it wasn't what I'd expected. I signed up for an advanced creative writing course having loved the intermediate course I'd completed the year before, only to withdraw due to fear of developing writer's block and failing the course completely. I started a history course but decided I didn't like that much either, so I deferred another year and signed up for a Shakespeare course. Along the way I've tried various different subject areas, studied part time, full time and then part time again. 

Which brings me to now. Two weeks ago I reached breaking point. I was in essay hell battling Macbeth and every fiber of my being wanted to quit. Not only was I in essay hell, I was in panic attack hell, insomnia hell, headache hell. I couldn't concentrate on note taking, I couldn't seem to string a coherent sentence together. I felt absolutely horrible. An all too familiar string of thoughts began playing through my mind: 'It's not the right course for you... You're just not clever enough to do well... If you mess up your final course it will bring down your degree classification... Wouldn't you prefer to try another history course instead?!' 

In the past, I would have listened to that voice wholeheartedly. Woohoo! Freedom! Another chance to get it 'right' next time. Yet this time, something stopped me. Whereas usually this voice would dominate, I could sense another voice, very faint but definitely there: 'pick up your pen. Pick up your pen. You're the only one who can work through this. Pick up your pen'.

I didn't pick up my pen. I resisted, and resisted and cried and panicked and resisted some more. The voice was patient. It wasn't going anywhere. It was as if I knew, on some small level, that I had to keep going, and that this was it: this was the test, a chance to change my previous patterns of behaviour. This was a chance to build resilience and it was a chance to be brave, even if the thought of hiding away was infinitely preferable. 

I was curious. What was on the other side? I'd been running for so long, out of fear of failure and fear of the next stage of my life being a blank page that I hadn't stopped to consider that the other side, post fear, post running away, post graduation, might be nice. The other side might be a good thing. I might like it there. 'The best way out is always through' so said Robert Frost, and I started to wonder if he was right. Wouldn't it be a shame to never find out? Hadn't CBT taught me that I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions? That I have a choice and I can choose to stop running? I can choose to be... happy. 

It might not seem like much of a moment, but this was significant for me. It meant that over the past six months or so I've been growing a stronger voice within without even realising it, a voice willing to speak up when I'd rather take the easy way out. I was holding myself accountable and not letting myself get away with running. I was telling myself 'you have to face this'. 

So, after a prolonged struggle, I did. I chose to face it head on. I requested an extension for the essay I was supposed to be writing, and I managed to slowly piece together an essay plan. I wrote the essay, sent it and gradually began catching up on all of the reading I'd missed. I'm still a little bit behind but I'm still here, I'm still on track for graduating this coming summer! I'm still ploughing ahead, even though it feels scary at times. 

I've grown tired of having to respond to comments along the lines of 'wow, so... When exactly will you graduate?' I'm tired of letting fear dictate my life. I deserve to graduate; I work hard and my hard work should pay off! I deserve to move on to the next stage, be that further study or carving out a career path. Or both. Who says I can't do both?!

I've always thought I lack resilience, but I'm learning that with every victory, big or small, comes an inner strengthening and a stronger voice. I don't want to bury my head in the sand anymore. I won't let myself off the hook so easily. Victory feels pretty darn good! 

To anyone reading this and wondering if fear has the upper hand: you can do it, whatever 'it' is, whatever your fear. I promise. 

The other side is already shaping up to be all kinds of wonderful. 

Baci e abbracci, 
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  1. What a great inspiring post. In struggling fearing a few things at the moment which is making me unhappy. I just need to find a way like you to pull through!

  2. What you were going through sounds so frustrating for you, but keep fighting through! I sometimes get so angry at myself and panicky that I can't do something right and it builds up the pressure, but you really do deserve it after all the hard work. I wish you the best and a lovely weekend!

  3. Wow this was really intense to read.

    Inspiring too, the fact that you kept frighting through is brilliant, life sometimes can kick so hard that you just want to stay lying down. But you're right, you do work hard, you do deserve to graduate and with a good grade too. Who care's if this isn't done how everyone else would do it?

    Hmm maybe...

    P.S. Macbeth was horrific, I remember doing it at A-level and I can't even bring myself now to think about it!

  4. You're so inspirational! I, and I'm sure many others, can relate to this and you are not alone in what you are going through. It's so great to hear that you have that stronger voice at the back of your mind because it will really help keep you going throughout your course and remind you that you can do it. I've been in 'essay hell' too due to anxiety in the past, but it is possible to get out of it. Let me know if you ever want to talk via email as I've been in a similar situation to you in the past xx


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