Courage

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” — Thucydide

I’m very much a person who lets her fear rule the course of her life, for better or for worse.  Fear is a very natural emotion, and it’s one that warns us we’re heading for danger before we get in too deep to save ourselves, but as someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, I have to be very careful about knowing whether  my fears are justified or whether they’re anxiety disorder induced fears which also seem very, very real when I’m worrying about them.

My most recent encounter with this has to do with university applications.  I’ve applied for a variety of courses, some ‘safe’ and some that are ‘not-so-safe’, and I’m struggling to make my decisions about what to do with my future.

Let’s start from the beginning.  Last October, I was about to only apply to three vet schools, but my favourite teacher suggested I add Cambridge to my application because since I was able to see the advantages of other universities and wouldn’t be heartbroken if I didn’t get into Cambridge, I might as well apply because it wouldn’t do me any harm.  I recently got an offer, and my teacher admitted to me that he’d all along felt that I was not applying to Cambridge because I was afraid of rejection (and I could write a whole post on just that…maybe I will).  Now that I have the offer, I have pressure on one hand from my parents who don’t want me to go to the UK, and pressure from my teacher who has supported my UK university application along every step of the way and who thinks that Cambridge would be a very good fit for my personality, and I’m stuck in the middle.

In my previous post, I talked about my struggles with needing approval from others, so the pressures on me to make a certain choice are especially difficult to deal with.  I know that no matter what I decide, whether it’s with my university applications or anything else in life, I will most likely have to disappoint some people, and that is a very, very hard thing to accept but something I’m going to have to work on.  But now I need to realise that the only person I truly need to avoid disappointing is myself, because this is my life and I am going to be the one most affected by the decisions I make.  I also need to look on the bright side of things, no matter what choice I make, there will be someone who supports my choice and agrees with me.

The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage.  If I have the courage to make my own choices, I will have the freedom to live my own dreams.  If I have the freedom to live my own dreams, I can find fulfilment in my life.

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Approval

A while back, someone described his horse to me.  He said his horse would bring him things, or bring things to little children, and speculated his horse probably wanted the approval.  A year later, I got a dog.  It was easy enough to realise that she’d do things for a reward of getting to play fetch, but eventually, I realised that even when she wasn’t being rewarded with her favourite toy, she’d still often do what I asked.  My approval was enough reward for her to comply with a request, even when she didn’t want to do whatever I’d told her to do.

Approval isn’t something we often talk about, and yet, it’s something that governs most of our lives.  My earliest memories involve seeking the approval of various adults I liked.  Even now, I find myself evaluating my self-worth, not on my own terms and values, but often on whether I am able to gain the approval of the people I like.

It’s perfectly normal to desire approval from others.  We’re very social beings, and our desire to please others is what makes us able to function as a society.  Sometimes, though, we find ourselves trying a little too hard and giving up too much to be accepted by others.

I hate disappointing people.  I really, really do.  I hate it to the point where I will agree to do things that are difficult/unpleasant for me if someone asks me to and I will make huge decisions in my life that aren’t necessarily the best for me just because I don’t want to disappoint someone.  I have known for quite a while that I’ve been spending my life living someone else’s dream, and yet I didn’t want to change, to live life on my own terms, simply because the fear of disappointing others and the desire to gain their approval was so strong.  In small things, this is okay, and it’s what helps people to have smooth social relationships, but when I make big decisions according to what others want, it can really hurt me, because I’m not making the best decision I can for me and that can have a huge impact on my future.

It’s hard to break free from the need to please others, to gain their approval.  The reasons why I do that are so tied up with my past, and my self-worth being predicated on others’ opinion of me and my anxiety regarding other people and everything… But I have to do this.  For me.

Fear

I was talking to someone about IB exams, and we both agreed that the absolute worst part of the exams is waiting for the exam results once the exams are over.  One of the things that came up is that we’re often afraid of failing, but if we do actually fail a test/exam, we’re normally less upset about it than when we are waiting and wondering if we’re going to fail.  Why is it so?  Why is the sense of finality (even if it’s about something negative) so comforting?
I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon, because that’s pretty much what anxiety is, isn’t it?  Worrying about things happening and making yourself even more upset than you would be if it did actually happen.  And the worst part is, I can’t stop thinking about whatever it is I’m worried about, even when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.  In fact, I think I worry the most when there’s nothing I can do about the situation, which on one hand makes absolutely no sense (after all, why worry if the worrying can’t change things), but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense (feeling out of control in a stressful situation strikes me as a reason for being worried).
I think the reason why worrying is so much more painful than our worst fears being realised is that the finality brings us some kind of closure.  Certainty is always comforting, if only because an unknown fills us with a need to change, to do something to alter the course of our future, while certainty gives us a starting point from which we can assess possible options.  It’s hard to assess options and prepare for the worst case scenario before it’s happened because we’ll tell ourselves that we’re being pessimistic and ridiculous, but also because it feels too much like we’re getting ahead of ourselves and tackling a problem that hasn’t even happened.  Waiting for something to happen just makes us feel really useless and not in control, because there is absolutely nothing we can do to resolve the uncertainty.
Humans like to control their destiny.  Or rather, we like to feel we do.  We get so much comfort from the illusion of being in control that we blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault.  It’s so much less painful to believe that we’ve done something to deserve the bad things that have happened to us than to believe that we actually can’t prevent them from happening and sometimes bad things just happen to people.  Feeling like we’re lost or floundering when we’re just sitting around worrying while we wait for something to happen is therefore far more awful than actually having something bad happen and feeling like we can take steps to minimise the effect it has on our lives.

When tiny things become big things

I had a fight with my father today.  I got invited to a cocktail-type event to meet other people who are applying to the same university as I am.  I was informed I could bring guests.  I asked my parents for permission to go, and immediately they took it upon themselves to write to my school and ask the principal if there were students from the lower years interested in the same faculty who wanted to go to learn more about the profession and the university.  I didn’t mind at all, I’m always happy to talk to other people and happy to share my experiences with them, and I was quite willing to bring some of them along to the event, because I think it will be a good experience for them.  It was how my parents decided to handle it that I wasn’t happy about.  I would have preferred to have been more involved in this process because the invitation had been extended to me, not to them, and also because of my anxiety, I like feeling like I’m in control of the situation, because it helps curb my worrying a bit (and I’m already worrying because I feel like I need to make a good impression on the other people who will be there).  I mentioned to my parents that although I was allowed to bring guests, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to invite so many to come with me, especially as I believe that ‘guests’ was meant to be interpreted as family and/or significant others.  My father took this as a personal attack, started getting angry, and things went downhill from there.  Honestly, I think I was at least partially at fault for this turning into an argument.  I could have remained silent, I could have presented my side of this more tactfully, I could have done any of a hundred things to make the situation better, but I didn’t.  So a situation that honestly wasn’t that big of a deal suddenly became a huge deal.

Now I sit here and wonder why that happened, and I start to realise that it’s the small things.  The nervousness I felt at being invited to this event, the fact that my parents invited guests for me without really consulting me about it, the fact that I felt nervous because I don’t know these guests that well, the fact that… and so on.  All the small things added up together meant that I was stressed and I wasn’t thinking clearly and I said things I shouldn’t have said.  Even now, it feels like a much bigger deal than logic tells me it is, because I’m afraid.  I am really, really afraid, and I’m not even sure of what anymore because all of the fears whirling around in my head are getting mixed up together and I can’t even process my thoughts clearly anymore.

Today was hard.  There simply isn’t any other way to put it.  And hard days happen sometimes.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.