2020 the year of growing pains

Writing this post a little late, but I thought I should still write this review as my annual tradition to take stock of where I am. Reading my past posts and journal entries, I return to a snapshot of me at that time. It’s most interesting to see how events had turned out. Perhaps, I can learn to trust my instincts more too.

In my 2019 review, I wrote about the things I’ve done and what I planned to do. All those plans meant nothing much when I had to reprioritise taking care of my mental well-being when things got crazy in 2020. This year I’ll try something different. Noting down lessons I’ve learned rather than what I had done as I want to carry them forward into 2021.

The best thing I’ve done for myself was to invest in therapy when I knew I was losing it during Circuit Breaker. The journey with Steph, my therapist, helped me dig deeper inwards, facing up to my insecurities, fears, and unhealthy thought patterns.

This post is for my future selves, and for anyone who might need to hear that you’re not alone in facing these struggles too.

Accepting imperfections

“This is not enough. I’m not enough.” This is the core negative thought pattern that I’ve been working through and trying hard to undo. Growing up, this thought trailed my every action, and my being. I realised only recently that it served me when I was younger, when setting goals like getting good grades was the path to success and teachers pushed us to reach for the stars. I’m grateful for that environment that led me to where I am today, but it was more than due time to let that approach go.

In adult life, there are no objective ways to measure life’s successes like getting a grade. You can’t get an A1 for being a good daughter, or employee, or friend. Eventually I began to adopt this ‘moving goal posts’ mentality. Growth is important, but I was not used to celebrating my personal progress and little wins. It was always about focusing on the things I need to do better. I’ve got to stop beating myself up over not meeting expectations, or for making mistakes. Dust myself off, and carry on.

What I need is more concrete ways of defining my own success, and what it means to be ‘good enough’.

Obsessing over perfection and unrealistic expectations tilted the balance for me. A balanced life to me is metaphorically being able to comfortably juggle enough balls in the air without panicking. We all have things that we want to keep up with; roles, projects, time for ourselves and loved ones. But we have only that much capacity to juggle all of them well. Letting go of imperfection means deciding which are plastic balls that can be safely dropped without breaking while continuing to pay attention to the rest of the glass ones that need attention. Anxiously trying to juggle everything and making sure they were all up in the air was beyond exhausting. Trying to do so was probably why I send myself into the dark side of burnout and overwhelm over and over again.

Time to prioritise and drop some balls, create space to recharge and pick them up again when I’m ready, and if necessary.

Feeling worthy

What makes a life worth living? A person worth loving? The idea put forth to me is that: by merely existing, I am worthy. That doesn’t make sense to me just yet. I feel like I have to be good at things, to be productive, to be likeable, all things 100% in order to be accepted and loved. This is a tough one and needs further thinking and exploring. How do I feel worthy and deserving of good things?

Maybe it starts with first accepting my flaws and imperfections, making peace with the fact that we are humans who can’t be all that perfect.

Acting with self-compassion and self-love

The first two points relate to my thoughts and feelings, and these translates into behaviour according to cognitive behavioural theories. They come hand in hand. I will work on being kinder to myself, listening to my own needs and inner voice. Most importantly, learn to communicate those needs effectively to those around me to receive support.

Self love often means making selfish and difficult decisions. Not taking the easy way out, giving in to temptations or conveniences. But it also means giving myself the break I need to recharge my batteries.

The reminder to myself here is that if I take care of myself well, I’m a better person for others. I have more capacity to hold space for others, and to be present.

Moving through life sustainably

This was one important lesson last year, as pushing myself over the edge had resulted in a magnificent crash and dysfunction. At work, I didn’t pull the brakes early enough and let stress and anxiety take control. Even dabbling in different sports and activities outside of work as part of self-care made me feel bad as I struggled with more intruding thoughts of ‘I’m not good enough’.

Nothing. Worked.

I ended up feeling lethargic for months and eventually felt a deep sense of dread for the work I’m doing. Apart from anxiety, I felt confused, afraid, and frustrated as I thought this was a role I could finally settle down and grow into. Something broke and I cried for days, weeks, and it turned into months of feeling low and disengaged from life. All I wanted and needed was sleep, but I didn’t feel rested. After trying and failing at many different ways to make myself feel something positive, I turned to psychiatry. My mood was finally lifted with the help of medication, after enduring 2-3 weeks of awful side effects that made me even more depressed and off.

In December, work tapered down and I took a break to recuperate. The fog started to clear, and I’m so grateful to be able to feel the simple joys and pleasures of life again. Keeping this up, and staying within my zone of tolerable stress will be the work for 2021.

This episode taught me the value and importance of sustainability and leaning into my needs. Even when I felt like I didn’t know what I needed, leaning into taking action and talking to the right people led me out of the dark.

Life is tough. In healing past trauma and hurt, growing pains will be felt. But I’m glad that I’m not alone. Thankful to have met some beautiful souls, with some becoming a great source of support when I needed a shoulder to cry on.

A resonating message I received from a manifestation card recently at a yoga retreat read:

“My capacity to tune in to the ENERGY OF LOVE gives me the words I need when I’m ready to speak up, the compassion I need when it’s time to forgive, and the power I need when I am lost.”

This message from the universe tells me it’s okay to be lost, I just need to find the inner strength to get back into the game and navigate through the foggy paths ahead armed with lessons learnt and a supportive community. In time, I will be able to speak up again, and forgive what needs to be forgiven.

Onwards, you go.

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