Hey, you made it through the first term of university! Can we have a pause for applause, please?
Yes, you’ve cried. Yes, you’ve had days when leaving your room took more than a couple of thoughts and deep breaths to achieve. Yes, anxiety hasn’t decided to fully retire to The Bahamas, never to be seen by you again (yet). But you have persisted through these feelings and honestly, they’ve been rather fleeting for the most part. More like occasional-dandruff-to-brush-off-the-shoulders level, a minor inconvenience, rather than taking-a-few-days-out-because-of-flu level.
I know part of you is still in disbelief that things could have gone so well, anxiety-wise anyway. You’re still looking over your shoulder, waiting for the palpitations to pounce and the shaking to start. But this isn’t your reality anymore. At least, it isn’t at the moment. I know you have not digested this yet; you don’t believe it’s going to last either. I’m hoping time will offer you the weight of this revelation and comfort of such certainty. You deserve that.
I thought now would be a good time to show you how far you’ve come – by telling you some of the feelings that have become (happily) absent from your mind since the start of university. These are the fragments of your life that anxiety no longer controls through its puppet strings of anguish and fear…
You don’t feel intimidated to share your ideas in seminars. You don’t just speak, begrudgingly and awkwardly, in a way that is painful for everyone to sit through; your audience doesn’t pity you and pray for an ending. Instead, you speak (almost) confidently, often without tripping over your words and give your thoughts an authoritative weight.
You don’t feel embarrassed to have fun dancing in a club. Admittedly, you don’t really go out much, it’s not really your scene anymore. When you do go though, you throw yourself into the present moment. You are there, and you are moving with an ease unhampered by the thought of others judging you.
You don’t feel like negative emotions have stopped you from making friends. If you’ve found someone interesting, and it’s not a completely weird situation in which to strike up a conversation, you’ve talked to them. You’ve kept yourself open to new people, purposefully positioning yourself in social settings to invite such interactions.
You don’t feel like you have to pretend to be someone else with your flatmates. Because of this openness, you’re honest about who you are. You have shown people how social you can be without compromising your cosy-evening-in-over-nights-out tendencies.
You don’t feel stupid and incompetent (all the time, anyway). Of course, confidence is a fragile concept, at times intangible in nature, with a permanence belonging to a quixotic reality. Yet, here at university, you have moments in which you feel on top of things. Trust me, you did not achieve that status at college, so that is a huge step forward.
You don’t feel like you have to avoid the kitchen in your flat. Oddly specific I know, but if you remember, it was of great concern in the months leading up to university. When you went travelling, you lived in a shared house; your irrational fear of preparing food when anyone else was present grew so problematic you ended up living off food that kept the time you spent in the kitchen to under a minute. That’s not a particularly healthy range of edibles.
You don’t feel like you have to hide your emotions from everyone. You have a lot of emotions, I know you came to terms with this a long time ago. It’s not your fault you can cry at a TV advert – but shielding the world from the waterworks doesn’t allow you to grow, both emotionally and more generally. You’ve let various people into your most vulnerable moments at university, which has brought you closer to each other.
You don’t feel self-conscious strolling across campus alone. Being on your own has not ever been much of a worry to you – you were a solo traveller after all – but being perceived as isolated has caused you to stress before. That concern now seems to slide off you like oil from a spoon.
I’m not saying that you will never feel anxious in these situations again. Mental wellbeing is not an achievement that once successfully attained it is guaranteed forever. It is a continuous journey: something to build upon by pushing boundaries, reinforcing good habits, and noticing, then amending, any sign of regression. But you have made some serious progress along that journey; in just two-and-a-half months, too.
You’ve been working on your mental health for a long time and finally you’re starting to see all of that effort pay off. The hours of self-reflection and exposure to stressful situations; the self-motivation to keep trying to overcome the insuperable. The seemingly insurmountable summits of social interaction have, over the last ten weeks, become mere molehills of mild inconvenience.
Damn, I’m so proud of you. Hold onto this feeling, it’s a good one.
Wishing you the best for the second term ❤
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