(This inspiration of this post comes from Sarah Bareilles’s song “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress the Musical. If you want, I recommend listening to this song while reading this post).
Today marks my 27th year on this earth. It feels weird to say that, but it’s true. I am heading into my late 20s.
This week is not only significant to me for that reason, but because it marks the end of a chapter of my book and the beginning of a transition period before I start writing the next one. I should really say while I figure out the subject and direction of the new chapter, but it is a transition nonetheless.
Friday was my last day as a supervisor at the law firm. In a rare moment of prioritizing my own needs, I decided to take a step back at work. I asked to be replaced as a supervisor and transitioned back into a senior case manager role. As of Monday, I am no longer a supervisor. (Okay, so I had to take the weekend and most of Monday finishing up work to officially pass the torch, but I am officially free as I write this).
I am honestly very happy about this decision, but I did have some reservations. Does this make me a failure? What are people going to think? I am used to people seeing me in a certain light, associated with my intelligence and work ethic. I like when people tell me I’m like Superwoman, because that is what I want to embody.
However, I needed to make this move more than I have ever needed to do anything in my entire life (I supposed other than those obligatory things like filing taxes or registering my car). Sometime this year, the stress of my job had my anxiety at an all-time high. I didn’t feel like an actual person but something that was existing inside the shell of my former self.
I made so many efforts to make this work. I made significant life changes aimed at helping me cope better with my stress. I felt an improvement for about a month, but that didn’t last, and when things returned, it felt even worse than before. I was sick all of the time, not sleeping, not able to take care of myself. I’ll tell you this, it is no way to live. I wouldn’t even call it living. I’d call it existing or surviving, but it’s not living. I tried everything I could. I couldn’t possibly do anything to make things better short of quitting my job, so that’s what I did.
After just one day, I felt so much better. I slept better, felt less anxious, and had more energy. I didn’t even finish my one cup of coffee today when normally I need several to just function. And the kicker is my productivity improved tremendously…imagine that!
I know what some people are going to say: maybe you just needed a break. It is true that I haven’t taken a vacation since 2016, a little less than a year before I started the supervisor position, but trust me, it is more than that. It is this exhaustion that comes from forcing myself to be something that I am not. I felt like I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
This isn’t a new feeling for me though. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to shove myself as a square peg into a round hole, trying to live up to the expectations that have been set for me (by myself and by others). I’ve spent so much time trying to be this person that had already been crafted for me, so much so that I lost a sense of myself and what I really wanted to do with my life.
From the time I was ten years old, I was told I’d go to law school and become an attorney. It was as if it had been decided for me already. The expectation was that I’d do something of that caliber, something that matched my intelligence. I even believed it for quite some time. At one point, it was my “dream” to be a Supreme Court Justice, but then I hit my rebellious phase. I detested the idea of going to law school because it was what everyone told me I should do. I started to explore other ideas, but those ideas often got shot down as not being good enough for someone like me.
I think I played a fine line between the part of me that is independent and says, “I’ll do what I want,” and the part of me that wants to please people and says, “I’ll do what I am supposed to do.” Honestly, those are not the same thing. I am a person whose logic and reason is equally matched with passion. When I am passionate about something, it absorbs my entire being. It’s all I can think about, but often times, these passions deviate from this path that I’ve been told I must take.
For example, I had this brief moment in high school where I wanted to be a literature teacher. I was told that I don’t want to do that because that would be a waste of my intelligence. I find statements like that to be incredibly insulting to teachers, and also counter-intuitive. I think it is an insult to teachers, as if deeming that this profession is reserved for less intelligent people. I disagree with that, as I encountered plenty of very intelligent people who have been teachers of mine over the years. It also just doesn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t we have the expectation that teachers be intelligent? These are the people who are teaching your children. For future generations sake, I hope we are hiring intelligent teachers.
Though I understand what is meant by these statements. The implication is that I should chose a profession that fits the reputation of a bright and talented person, one that pays a lot of money and allows you to rise through the ranks and become “successful.” I tried so hard to convince myself this is what I should do, but the truth is the harder I tried, the more unhappy I became.
I have always been a very competitive person, but oddly enough that competitive environment is what makes me so unhappy. I think it is because the only acceptable outcome for myself was absolute perfection. I pushed myself to attain that until I had nothing left to give. I have done this over and over again, throughout high school and college, and again as an adult in my job.
This is an incredibly toxic lifestyle to maintain. It sucks all the life out of me, all the joy out of me, all the good health out of me. Sure, I have had some periods where I was doing better than others, but in general, I struggled to be well and to be happy. I didn’t quite realize this until recently, but I have been incredibly unhappy for the past 15+ years of my life. That is over half of my life!
There was this memory that recently came back to me. It was from when I was 14/15 and someone who became a dear loved one to me asked me (on our first encounter) why I wasn’t singing and clapping during youth worship. I said matter of factly that it was because I lost my enthusiasm when I was 11 (which was interpreted as my having my joy stolen when I was 11). I swore that I was being sarcastic, but when I sit down and think about it, I think I was subconsciously telling the truth. When I was ten or eleven years old is the last time in my life I can remember being truly happy, before I started living a life that wasn’t authentic for myself. Maybe I truly had lost my joy.
I had actually come to believe that I was incapable of being happy until I realized that I had just gone so long without things in my life that actually make me happy. I had resigned that this was just how my life was going to be. I have had trouble recognizing what brings me joy because I had shied away from anything that didn’t fit this pre-planned life. I tried to fight this for so long, being in denial of the true problem. I did this by pushing myself even harder. I set goals for myself, and when I set a goal, nothing could stop me from achieving it. I set out to become our high school valedictorian. This was the most important thing to me for those four years.
See, I convinced myself through my entire adolescence that my intelligence was my only redeeming quality. I felt if I didn’t achieve this accolade, then I would have nothing. I honestly thought that it was going to make me happy, like it would just fix everything. I was incredibly depressed and highly anxious throughout high school, though I refused to admit it and acknowledge that the driving force of these issues may have been the pressure I put on myself to be perfect. I didn’t care because all I was focused on was the end game. The saddest part about that is that I did achieve my goal, and for a hot second it felt good, but then it left me feeling sadder. I felt empty and lonely. I realized that I had driven myself down into a hole for something and I didn’t even feel good about it. I honestly just like like, ‘okay, I achieved what was expected of me. Now what?’ It didn’t fix anything. It didn’t make me happy. It just left me feeling more darkness.
It wasn’t until I went away to college and started investing myself in relationships as much as I did in my school work that I learned of value in other areas. It also made me recognize my value outside of my intelligence, and I started to love and respect myself more.
It just isn’t always easy to maintain when I kept feeling pulled back in this direction of giving up my entire life for my schoolwork. This always led to a decline in my physical and mental health. I have a very difficult time coping with stress and anxiety, but I feel these come tenfold when I am over-committing myself to something. To push through the anxiety, I have turned to some very unhealthy coping mechanisms. We probably all know what that can look like. I think everyone has some sort of coping mechanism they use on some level. For me though, it can get so serious that I cannot function for periods of time without using those behaviors frequently. My main coping mechanism has always been food. I have long used putting food into my mouth as a way to block and bury those negative emotions I was feeling. It has been my way of getting through hard times and being able to perform adequately when I feel like I am about to fall apart.
The obvious negative consequence of this of course is the effect is has on my health. Constant binging has led to periods of serious weight gain, loss of energy and stamina, increased headaches and stomach problems. It also long-term has worsened my mental health, even though it feels better in the moment. I can’t tell you how many times I have hated myself or been disgusted with myself for what I have done to my body. It makes me feel unworthy of positive things.
As a result, I have flipped the switch many times when I became so upset with where my physical health had deteriorated. I convinced myself that if I just lost the weight I gained, I would be happy. Maybe that would help to an extent, but it certainly isn’t going to work when I approach it the way I have approached my work. I know how to lose a great amount of weight in a short period of time. I have accomplished this a number of time through over-exercising and under-eating. These extreme behaviors on both ends are disordered eating. When I finally acknowledged that, I felt like I was better equipped to do something about it.
That is why I checked myself into an intensive outpatient therapy program for eating disorders around this time last year (end of October). I did this for about a month (my first ever mental health treatment) and I have continued to see an outpatient therapist regularly since I was discharged from that program after a month.
I would love to say that I went to treatment and then everything just got better. I can’t do that. What I can say is that I gained a lot of tools on how to approach recovery and what to do when I have slip ups and relapses (and I have had a few this year). I had to finally acknowledge that it was my job that kept pushing back into symptom use. I had a couple bad relapses this year, and ultimately, I just could no longer handle doing my job without using my ED symptoms.
That is why I have decided to prioritize my health and emotional well-being over the job and give it up. I have had a few people question my decision and express their concern for me due to my decision. It is funny because I am concerned about what was going to happen if I didn’t make this change. Like I said earlier, I just don’t want to live like this anymore. I feel like I deserve better. I think that anyone would deserve that.
This decision came at a perfect time, too. I am exploring potential career paths for the graduate programs I have found. I have finally decided that instead of trying to fit into this mold crafted for me that I am going to pursue my true passions. This is in part where my blog came into play. I have long been passionate about food, but it is something I stayed away from expressing because of my damaged relationship with food. However, I am finding a balance in taking something that has controlled me for many years and use it for something positive. I love cooking, and I feel so good about putting nutritious food into our bodies. I know I still have some thoughts to work out, but thanks to finding my passion again through this blog, I have new goals for myself that don’t feel like they are going to slowly kill me.
Of course, I am still a reasonable and realistic person. I know I need to be able to pay my bills and afford a place to live. I have also gotten accustomed to a certain way of life having been making a good bit of money. I just know that no amount of money is going to be worth it if I am at a job or career that is making me so unhappy or stressing me out so much that I am sick all the time. I won’t let that continue to be my story.
So please, for those of you who are trying to rain on my parade and talk me out of my future plans, please read this post first. I am not scared of what is to come, and I am not having doubts that I am making the right call. I have actually never been more sure of anything before. I don’t really have faith in much anymore, but I do have faith in myself. I still believe in myself and my capabilities (including the ability to know what is best for me) and I hope that the people in my life will trust me enough to let me do that and support me through it.