2019 has been a really tough ride for me. I could easily say it’s been the worst AND the best year thus far. It started off somewhat hopeful but, soon enough, I was brutally caught up by all my unresolved past issues and fell apart completely. The amount of distress, pain, and shame I went through on a daily basis was unimaginable. I had nothing left with me. I was a shell of myself. I realised that, up until this year, I wasn’t thriving like I’d thought; I was merely coping. I’d collected many intense experiences but never processed them properly. As it turned out, all I did was run away from myself and my life. I was lost. I was scared. I was insecure. I was at rock bottom.
But rock bottom was also where clarity finally arrived.
For the first time in my life, I saw myself for real. No ego, no pretense, no bullshit. I saw what I had and what I didn’t. I saw who I really was and, eventually, I recognised how strong, how resourceful, how capable, how precious I was. I knew I deserved more and I could do so much better. This was not it; This couldn’t be it — I thought. So I put a stop to all the self-destructive behaviours, all the sunk costs that should’ve been cut a long time ago, all the relationships that didn’t serve my long-term interests. I turned to my core values for guidance. I picked up every broken piece and put them back together by little effort each day. It wasn’t a smooth journey. There wasn’t a clear cut point where things just became different. It was a long, gradual process which was very difficult.
2019 is definitely a year of rebirth for me. I can proudly say that I’m now in a much better place and I’m truly happy with myself. Here are the three major things I did this year that have radically transformed my life:
I had tried therapy once back in 2017 but I stopped attending it after the first session when I literally cried in front of a stranger at 9 am in the morning. It was a bit too much for me at the time. I clearly wasn’t ready for it. This year, however, I was finally in a place where most external aspects of my life were relatively stable; I could dedicate some proper time and energy to my internal deep-rooted issues that had been looming over all my adult experiences. Also, I’ve recently turned 25 and, at this age, life just felt so much more real. I couldn’t afford to mess around anymore. The panic attack I’d experienced earlier this year was a true wake-up call that I needed to straighten out and do something different or else I might seriously ruin my future.
So, for five months now, I’ve been seeing a therapist once a week without fail. At first, it was mostly me talking about my issues and whatever was on my mind that day. As time passed, my therapist started to understand me more and be able to walk with me through my past trauma and any troubling thoughts I had as I was slowly opening up and processing them myself. About three months in, something really shifted in me. I felt calmer, lighter, and more positive. I stopped being in my head all the time and my thoughts were naturally diverted to the things outside me. I sat with difficult feelings more often, I had more energy to care for others, I turned to myself for comfort, and I could actually soothe myself instead of needing others to make me okay. I feel okay on my own now, and it’s amazing.
One hour a week isn’t much but just to have that safe space to specifically unload all my heavy thinking and analysing was immensely helpful. Hearing myself talk out loud about all the small and big things going on in my world, I couldn’t turn a blind eye to any problems and keep making the same shitty decisions. I also have better relationships with people because I wouldn’t ever have to use anyone as a sounding board — I’ve already had a professional for that — and instead of dumping my complicated problems onto some poor friend who is rightfully ill-equipped to help me unpack, I would calmly share with them about my reflections and resolutions which might be useful for them too.
One of the highlights of my therapy is when I broke into tears talking about how much I’d changed; I was grieving the loss of the person I used to be. I would then joke that I finally “graduated” from my long-standing issues. My therapist didn’t see it as a joke. He said I was transitioning from a girl into a woman. I was no longer operating as a vulnerable child that constantly needs care and protection; I was the healthy adult and I was whole and completely capable of meeting my own needs (“Vulnerable child” and “healthy adult” are both concepts in schema therapy.) How I relate to others have completely shifted. I understand that it isn’t all about me. I’m more able to see things from others’ perspectives and add value to my relationships with them now.
I wouldn’t say therapy 100% works for everyone but it’s definitely worth a try. If you’re in the UK, you can use the free talking therapy services with NHS or go to private clinics which are often covered by company insurance.
Improv (What is improv?)
If therapy helps me find out who I am, improv has further helped me become that person. Improv is such a specific, relatively uncommon thing to do, but I want to call it out because, first, it’s accessible to everyone (It costs money to learn, yes, but it’s not too expensive) and, secondly, it’s beneficial for everyone. People think if you do improv, you must be a comedian or at least want to perform on a stage. But you don’t have to perform on any stage to benefit from doing improv. Improv is about collaboration, building trust, and being in the moment. It’s no different from going to the gym or doing meditation except that it’s incredibly fun and funny and wonderfully wholesome.
For the past two months, I’ve dived into the world of improv by taking weekly classes and watching some live shows. It’s essentially people playing games with each other. Through these games, we bond, we have fun and, intentionally or not, entertain an audience. Improv creates an extremely safe and supportive environment for everyone to be fully themselves and freely express themselves. We’re also taught to be a team player and adopt the mindset that focuses on supporting and connecting with others by default. Making mistakes is encouraged, bringing out your unique self is celebrated.
Because of such nature, it has helped me step further out of my own head and boldly into who I want to be in the real world. It’s like a tool I can use to break free of the invisible glass box that has all along restrained and shrunk my true, large self. I feel more animated, lively, confident. I worry less about little things and enjoy myself more in every moment. My anxiety is almost non-existent nowadays and I’m so much more comfortable taking space. In a nutshell, doing improv put me into a relaxed, free-flowing, vibrant state of being that has transcended into my everyday life. It’s the ultimate self-care and self-esteem building.
Taking time for myself
2019 is the year I finally took time for myself, just myself. For a while, I deleted all the dating apps, I deleted phone numbers, I said no to invites. All I did was focus on myself, do my things, go to my therapy, take my improv classes, play sports with my friends, and spend time with my family. I changed my habits, my lifestyle, my mindset. I would still routinely break down in tears and anxiety about the unknown future, but I show myself compassion and I stand up again, push myself forward little by little. In the background, detachment was slowly happening — detachment from unhealthy fixations and self-limiting beliefs, from outdated narratives of myself, from people and things that were not right or even enough for me, from anything and everything that I thought had the power to make or break me but ultimately got nothing on me.
2019 is the year I finally managed to build trust with myself. I thought I would feel secure by having relationships, possessions, or professional achievements. I didn’t know that emotional security ultimately comes from the deep trust I have in myself right where I am. I feel secure when I trust myself. When I took the time out being completely single, I proved to myself that I was totally capable of taking care of myself, of choosing the things and people that did me good, of making healthy, beneficial decisions for myself in any given situation. Telling myself I love myself is not enough though. Love is a verb; I needed to take actions and those actions needed to be consistent over a long period of time. I had to give myself clear, convincing evidence that I cared deeply about my well-being and long-term interests and I met my own needs perfectly well.
I know these words might sound like any passing self-help texts you read on the internet, but to me, after everything I’ve been through, they have so much depth and meaning. In the past, I was always terrified of being alone, I was so weak, I was desperate for anything that could mute my self-loathing for even a brief moment and make me feel superficially better. But for the first time in my life, I actually feel strong and okay. I’m healthy physically and emotionally. I don’t need to be filled; I’m already full. I have so much to give and share with others. Importantly, I love myself and the life I’ve built so dearly because I know how unbelievably tough it has been to get here.
This doesn’t mean my life is perfect; I don’t believe there is such perfection or such perfection is worth striving for anyway. There are always some issues here and there, there will be times when I feel down and depressed, but at least now I know for a fact that I’m whole and enough for myself and I’m committed to maintaining this healthy headspace regardless of where I am at in life. From here, the rest should be easier.