If anyone were to ask me to describe myself, I’d probably include “perfectionist” in the mix of descriptors. I’ve been told I’m a bit Type A, whatever that really means, and I can get pretty wigged out if things are unorganized or disarrayed at a seemingly wrong moment in life. It never really took a toll on my pre-college life, and I never felt truly inhibited by my need to “succeed” and my over-achieving tendencies. I just always figured that it was a path to a strong future and happiness.
This year, I wasn’t just getting a little over-stressed when times at school got tough. I was having physical pain. I’d skip full meals to save time while working, and I’d restrict myself from my favorite foods if I scored poorly on an exam. I started having all sorts of stomach problems, and I just didn’t feel like myself. I could be reduced to tears at the slightest inkling, and this got to be regular.
In college, we’re bombarded with a gazillion and one expectations: We must be above the mean, we must have a stand-out GPA come recruitment, we have to kick butt on our 50-percent-of-your-final-grade exams in order to get that GPA to get our dream jobs and to have a good life and ultimately be happy. This was my downward spiral.
So this year, I’d study, take a test, let momentary emotions come and go, vent to my mom about whatever I inevitably goofed on and then just move on with my day. Then the test results would come — in the form of charts and graphs of grade distributions. Cue my anxiety.
Thoughts would race in record time (I’m talking 47 seconds flat) from “Guess I need to study more next time” to “I’m a failure. I’ll never be successful — I’ll just be a laughing stock. What am I even doing here? I don’t belong here.”
This year, I felt like I was being shown with statistical evidence that I was inferior to my classmates. That I was unable to handle the stress to get to the top, wherever that may be. That I was just not good enough. And that, worst of all, I no longer deserved happiness or love until I picked up my academic game.
This year, I realized I had a problem.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
For as alone as I felt, I knew that other people — maybe some of you — had to be feeling the same way. It’s virtually taboo here to hint at insecurity or failure. If you’re not talking the talk or walking the walk of “success,” you can’t sit at the big boys’ metaphorical lunch table. People get the same bland comments any time “How are you?” or “What’s new?” is asked — everyone is “good,” “tired,” or some derivative of the two, regardless of how they really are.
Late last semester, I cracked. I hit my lowest low, and I knew I needed something more to protect me from my own mind. I started going to counseling on campus with a pro.
Therapy is showing me, in a plain-as-day sort of way, the power of thought in every capacity.
You can channel your thoughts to be however you want, really. If need be, you can stop them dead in their tracks and refocus them on the beautiful realities of your life.
You can realize the beautiful realities of your life. You can enjoy them and cherish them and make more of them. And best of all — you can believe them.
Some days are hard — really hard. You can’t see things straight or clearly, and throwing in the towel feels like a good alternative.
But anxiety is only a part of you — a small part of you, no matter how big it seems.
And you’re not alone. You never have to be.
Erica Ligenza is a Wharton sophomore from Reading, Pa. You can email her at email@example.com. Excerpts of blog post republished with permission.