People say that you are able to tell a person’s true strength based on the way they react towards hardship. Personally I (foolishly) thought I’ve been through some tough times in my life, but this past year of my life proved otherwise. I was not only struggling academically, but also physically and emotionally. I dealt with constant self-doubt, grief, my pride, stress affecting my physical health, and overall frustration at the person I had become.
I always prided myself on being “the strong one”: the protector, the one who tries to shield others, the one who does not cry in front of others, the one who is contented in her solitude. That’s the girl I always prided myself on being. This past year showed me how my pride became my own enemy. I suppressed, I dragged, and I barrelled through things. Halfway through, I had lost all motivation of why I was pursuing what I was doing. I no longer had the will to study, my smiles appeared from an automatic switch I flick on whenever I stepped foot outside my room. Routine, routine, routine – and yet,
Hence, here are some of the ways I took charge and redeemed my life back all over again:
1. A hair transformation
There’s this ongoing joke that girls change their hair after going through a monumental event in their lives: whether it be a new job, a breakup, a new stage of life, new-found love. This can be one of the most drastic, yet semi-permanent way to change ourselves up.
I personally told myself that I wanted to change up my hair colour after I was done with my post-graduate course. I hated the version of myself I had become, I didn’t want to remember her. I told myself I was going to do a drastic change to symbolically ‘get rid’ of the me I became this past year.
What changed after getting the courage (and prior approval from my family) to change up my hair? As cliche and as shallow as this may sound, I felt a bit of extra confidence in my step. Did my circumstances change? Did the sadness that I felt go away? Maybe not. But changing my hair psychologically symbolised that I was going to take the reins and do things differently this new season of life. All my existing circumstances and problems may still exist, but I would try and do things differently this time to get through better than my last attempt.
2. Incorporating something different in my usual routine
Whenever I start to feel disheartened, I try to sit down and reflect on what I did. I walk through the process of my last attempt, and try to pick out what I could do differently in my next attempt.
I failed several papers during my post-graduate studies. Out of these several, I failed three major papers of my course. I felt ashamed, disappointed, and angry at myself. At the same time, I felt that it was fair. It was fair that I failed because I had lost all motivation to remotely put in effort when I was preparing for them. I was feeling so down, out of it. I didn’t want to wake up on some days because I wondered if it was worth waking up to the hell I created.
When I found out I failed, I’m not going to lie, my pride took a huge hit. I angrily told my family over the phone, “I’m not coming back until I finish this. I will not show my face anywhere or to anyone until I graduate, even if I don’t recognise the person I become anymore.” I would occasionally reference the need to be reckless in my life to forget I was in this mess.
After all that I was spouting on about, I came to a realisation that my own pride was my roadblock. I needed to have a change of environment. Otherwise, I would be repeating the cycle of my loss of motivation and despair over and over again.
I decided to tell my family that I needed to come home instead. I finally took initiative to make some adjustments to fight against the toxicity in my head. Initially I was going to wait it out, push myself through to stay abroad until I could return with a qualification. Deep down I realised that if I did stay abroad any longer, I would not have been able to take it.
3. Recharge and relax with the people I love
So what was the effect of my choice? I may have still been anxious, I was reluctant to repeat the process of taking these dreaded papers again. However, I did notice that I was definitely happier and in a calmer state of mind than I was during my last attempt.
Having a break with family allowed me to really rest. My family have been nothing but supportive. I also realised that the person who had the most expectations of me, was myself. No one was actually disappointed nor furious at my failure. I was my own enemy, always had been. As a friend of mine had quoted memorably upon finding out the news of needing to resit our papers, “you did not fail, you just postponed your success.”
4. Questioning my purpose, pursuit, and ideologies
As I mentioned earlier, my pride really took a hit this past year. There was a huge disparity between the way I viewed myself a year ago, in comparison to this past year.
To be completely honest, my relationship with my self-esteem has always been rocky at best. One of my best friends picked up that I had a tendency to underestimate how much I meant to others. It’s odd admitting this here as I often preach about the importance of self-love through my writing. Yet here I am, grappling with the same issue.
Was I a hypocrite? I used to think I was, hence I never spoke on things I had not fulfilled to its fullest. There is a lyric in rapper NF’s “Change” that goes, “And everyone around me kinda thinks I’m a great guy, but I don’t ever think it so I think I’m a fake liar.” Through writing, I discovered that I wasn’t necessarily a hypocrite. Just because I may not have yet fulfilled my ideology to its fullest, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t trying. Just because I may not have met my goal yet, it didn’t mean I was not actually believing in it. I believed fully in what I talked about, even if my own journey has many a glaring imperfection.
Three years ago, I was holding a position I was thankful and proud of. I invested everything into it, to a point it became all that I am. My self-esteem was thriving from the position I was holding. “Our Madam President!” I loved my job, I loved the people, I loved it all.
However, I failed to realise how dependent my self-worth and self-esteem was on this title. Last year, the truth of parts of my inadequacy was revealed to me. I was in sheer denial at first, as I genuinely was unable to recall details fully. When I finally accepted that the picture was not as perfect as I painted, I lost it. I felt shattered. My self-worth was so dependent on a worldly title, to the point I was not able to see what truly happened aside from the success. When I came forward with a public apology, I felt small, weak, pathetic. A good friend and sister of mine reached out to me despite being miles away, asking me what happened and if I was doing okay.
Maybe to some people, the breaking was unnecessary. “If that wasn’t revealed to you, maybe you wouldn’t have felt all the darkness that you felt during that time?” Maybe. However, I knew it was entirely necessary. I needed to be shaken up that way. I needed to escape from this fairytale I concocted to boost my self-worth and self-esteem based on things that should not be defining my worth.
5. Allowing myself to feel
Despite the toxicity, negativity, and self-hatred I had towards myself, I concealed as much as I could when I was out in public. After a while of doing that, I started feeling a disconnect between me and the person I showed the public. Failure had affected me deeper than I thought. I isolated myself because of how ashamed I felt. By doing this however, I closed myself from many people (who actually never based their friendship on whether I passed or failed) and opportunities.
When I slowly came to terms with accepting my reality and what I could do to move forward, I felt more at peace. When I felt more at peace, I felt happier. When I felt happier, I felt less anxious. When I felt less anxious, I felt better fit to try again.
It is okay to try again. It is okay to fall and not rise back up immediately. You will be able to take charge of your life, and by doing so, you will remember again what it feels to really be alive for something.