Eden-Rose Baker is a journalism junior and a Mustang News opinion columnist. This article does not reflect the views of Mustang News.
Last quarter, everything made me anxious. It got to the point where I was afraid to come back to school because I was afraid of everything around me. So, I’m only in five units this quarter to focus on my mental health and have decided to document societal expectations I’ve realized due to others’ reactions and what I have found out about myself.
This is my third week as a part-time student. I’ve never been a fan of productivity culture and have wanted to take time off for a while to prioritize myself, but there was always this feeling that I would be missing out on something if I didn’t keep the same schedule as my peers. Finally taking this time has only proved my suspicions right.
Every time I bring this up, the first question I get is: “How are you filling your free time” or “How are you keeping busy?” During week one, after dropping my classes, this question came up in my head, and I was admittedly putting pressure on myself to stay busy … until I vocalized this question.
One day, I asked a group of peers what I should do with my free time, and one person simply answered, “You can relax,” and this opened my eyes.
For so long, I have been conditioning myself to be preoccupied — essentially not allowing myself time to feel. Not allowing myself time to process was catching up to me; I was feeling like an anxious mess all the time, and these feelings caught up to me when I drank. Drinking and realizing that I couldn’t run from myself pushed me to take time alone and become my own friend.
Not being busy isn’t what scares us; we are what scares us. Being alone and realizing that we, as human beings, sometimes need to have a hard look in the mirror, fix ourselves and unlearn our habits is scary.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that people are afraid of not doing what everyone else is doing. I thought about taking a fifth year and voiced it, and another peer said, “Why would you want to be a fifth year?” Admittedly, when I was alone in bed thinking about this possibility, I was scared. What would I do when the majority of my friends are gone?
Now, I am singing a new tune and have my answer to the question: why wouldn’t I want to take a fifth year?
The thought of going on your own path and being alone is daunting, but with every path is something new. One thing that I’ve realized is that you’re never going to truly be alone – you may feel like it – but you won’t.
When you go down the path that is best for yourself and try something that you are scared to do, you are more likely to find people in the same frame of mind. When around people you can relate to, your feelings and sense of self are more likely to be validated.
Anxiety feels like the theme of my life right now. Taking time off of school to focus on my mental health sounds like a cure-all, but it’s not that simple. One change doesn’t instantly resolve the racing thoughts or the constant fear that I’m not good enough or that something is going to go wrong at any moment.
The truth of the matter is that creating change doesn’t work if it’s superficial; simply taking time off doesn’t magically fix your mental health. I need to constantly focus on the root of my issues to remind myself that most of my worries are a projection of past trauma.
Working on myself is constant and grueling and is probably tougher than any assignment I’ve had at Cal Poly.
People keep asking me what I do with all my newly acquired free time, as I mentioned last week, and that question just annoys me because working on your mental health is exhausting and, sometimes is, a full-time job.
The truth is, I am not picking up new hobbies or trying new things, which some people expect. I am relaxing, sleeping and trying to refill an emotional cup that was emptying. Sometimes being unproductive is the most productive long-term decision.
When work builds up, I feel the desire to procrastinate because it is too much to handle; what I didn’t expect is that it feels the exact same way when you have too little work. When deadlines seem far beyond the horizon, I have plenty of time to sit back, relax and do nothing, which I love and wish wasn’t so deceiving. When things don’t feel urgent, I don’t feel the motivation to do anything.
It’s weird feeling like you’re in a slump when life is going well, and there’s nothing really to stress over. I’m so used to chaos that when there isn’t any, or when my fight or flight is deactivated, it feels like life isn’t actually happening. I need to be able to reassure myself that life does not need to be chaotic to be exciting and motivating.
The slump continued, but through therapy, I found a way out: allowing myself to dream. My entire life, I lived with one purpose: to make my mother happy. For so long, I didn’t want to disappoint or make other people angry, so I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I rather just knew what I was “supposed” to do, and it left me uninspired.
My therapist had me envision my life in 20 years and be completely honest about what I wanted. At first, I couldn’t see anything. I knew what my mom wanted, but once I allowed myself to reflect, I began to see what I wanted. I saw that going on my own path was achievable, and once I saw that, I began to wake up in the morning with energy and not feel like I was weighed down with anxiety that kept me bedridden.
I am okay, and that is enough. Since moving away from home, I have been focusing on my anxiety and self-confidence. To feel more confident, I would make myself feel larger than life and like the best person in the world. The crashes from that are brutal; when I get tired from putting too much effort in, I feel like a failure and wonder why I can’t sustain that lifestyle.
What it all comes down to is that I don’t need to do too much or too little of anything; I just need to find what is sustainable for me. I don’t need to be the best or the worst person in the world. All I need to do is exist, feel alive, be okay and allow myself to be human.
If I didn’t have this time to prioritize feeling good about myself, I probably would not have found the peace that I have today.