The Myth of Growing Pains

The past few weeks have been exhausting. I’ve been extraordinarily busy at work, as we are currently in the process of moving the library to an entirely new building. But the thing is, even when you’re crazy busy, your mental health doesn’t stop needing tending. In fact, your mental health needs to be tended to especially when you’re extraordinarily busy. 

I broke down a lot a few weeks ago. At one point Eli told me, “You are not failing your mental health.” It turned out to be the thing I needed to hear the most. Even when I think something I wish I didn’t, or do something I wish I hadn’t, it doesn’t mean I’m failing. This has sort of been the theme of these past few weeks. Realizing that at this time in my life when I’m trying to make the things I’m doing succeed, I am what is slipping through the cracks. My book and schoolwork take priority, and so does showing up at my job. But just because I have to prioritize other things doesn’t mean I’m failing. It means I haven’t gotten the chance to try. It often feels like, and this notion makes me feel extremely old, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Nevertheless, thinking back on it now, I realize that I have been prioritizing my mental health without even realizing it. I took a day off for myself a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago I had a very rough morning at home before I left for work, and then I drove to work, walked in, hid in the children’s section and cried. Multiple people were sent to check on me, and I somehow managed to have actual conversations with them. I pulled myself together. 

I ended up having a really fulfilling conversation with a coworker of mine who said, 

“It’s so hard to prioritize your mental health.” 

To which I replied, “I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to work on school from 6-9 am and then work from 9:30-5 pm and then be in a relationship and also prioritize myself. I haven’t figured that out yet.” For some reason it has felt wrong to admit to myself and especially to my coworkers that I’ve been having a tough time figuring out the work-school-relationship-life balance. I think I've been afraid that if I said it out loud, people would think I’m a fraudulent 21 year old who really shouldn’t have this very professional job and I’d be fired. But much to my surprise, my coworker replied,

“Me either.” 

Even though neither of us had the answer, it felt good to admit the way we were feeling. Eventually I apologized for falling apart, and she told me that I do not have to. I said I felt like I should do this between 5 and 9, not the other way around. And she said, “It’s always going to spill over. It’s always. It can’t be done in those fringe hours.” 

The most common thought in my head as of late has been that I'm failing myself. I'm not doing enough work for school, or on my book. I'm not accomplishing enough at work, I'm not finding an apartment fast enough, I'm not saving enough money, I'm not doing enough to make my family happy. Finally, the thought that precipitated the conversation with Eli, I'm not happy, and I'm letting that slide. The thing is, though, I am doing enough. I don't know how many times I'll have to write it down here before I start to instinctively believe it, but I am doing enough. I'm writing every day, even if it's just a little bit. I go to bed early and get up early, I do what I can for myself in that time. I steadfastly guard my time with Eli, even though it never seems like enough. I have moments of happiness in between the stress, and I'm hoping those numbers increase. I was vulnerable that morning at work, and I said yes when my boss asked me if I wanted to go home early that day. I need to give myself credit, because I am advocating for myself when it’s hard, and I think the most important thing is I I am no longer taking people’s bullshit. I feel like Emily Gilmore in season 5 of Gilmore Girls, when she’s all liberated and not putting up with Richard ignoring her anymore.

I think I’ve been really hurt by some rhetoric going around lately. I spend a lot of time on social media, both in my job and in my life, and there’s this idea that’s been floating around that I’ve really come to hate. I'm so over the idea that "growth" requires us to push ourselves to the edge mentally & emotionally. We have romanticized pain to the extent that we now believe we need it in order to grow. F*ck that. I can grow anywhere, anytime. Challenges & obstacles allow us to rise to the occasion, but believing that we need to constantly break ourselves in order to grow as humans? That sounds like toxic garbage to me. I am strong and growing when I work too hard, and I am strong and growing when I give myself a break. I refuse to judge myself against unhealthy standards. I do not need to break my stem in order to grow.

In the past few weeks I've seen enormous growth in myself, although it may not be in ways that makes everyone happy. I see myself putting my feelings first, and encouraging rather than discouraging myself. I say what I'm thinking, and I don't feel the need to control how everyone else is feeling (ie- other people can be sad or mad, and it is not my job to fix it). Letting go of that has reduced a lot of stress in my life. 

I still backslide. There are moments where it feels like I'm free falling right back into the abyss. But each time, the recovery time seems to get faster. I still fall as hard and fast, but I come out of it quicker than I used to. And that is growth I am proud of. Not when I break myself, or psychologically undermine myself to push myself further than ever before. Growth is when I recover, and realize a little more each time that growing and pain don't have to be inextricably linked.