Prior to this summer, I was dead-set on finding myself a quality internship. I’d been interning for two summers in a row – and I knew the only way to keep myself productive would be working. I scoured through Linkedin and Handshake trying to find the perfect internship that would be worth it. I finally got a dream internship through a connection I made through a previous internship. However, there was a sudden, sour realisation I experienced when I was discussing starting dates with the HR department. While there was an excellent opportunity lying in front of me, I simply couldn’t be an intern.
During my first year of college, I observed many moments of self-realisation where I wanted to further grow or change old thought processes. An important realisation was that through my childhood and adolescence years, I’d ignored my mental health. While I was aware of how severe my anxiety was or the dreadful, negative energy I experienced or even unknowingly had let it encroach on others – I did very little to change it. I completely let my anxiety define and control me. It had become a part of me – and I knew very little of myself outside of my anxiety – therefore, I refused to let it go. However, as I reached senior year in high school, I knew I wanted to desperately change and set free – but that was a conscious decision that I needed to live by and control.
In IB psychology, we learnt that genetics and environment played equal roles in affecting an individual’s behaviour. After a long chat with my father regarding his generalised anxiety disorder, I was well aware that genetics played a role in my life. I paid very little attention to the impacts of the environment I was in. However, upon moving to college, I EXPERIENCED the crucial role that environment played. Within months of moving to a new setting and starting a new life on what felt like a blank canvas – I instantly felt like a happier person. I stood taller, I smiled harder, I laughed more. I felt confident. There was something refreshing about the immense change that had just taken place. While there was social and academic rigour, I had never experienced the same anxiety I grew up with. A negative energy that had physically and mentally drained me had now become invisible and a concept of the unknown. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I felt every single night because to be able to re-discover myself again – and to figure out who I really was – was exciting.
I fell in love with life again. Now, of course, I had my own moments of anxiousness like most people my age but to compare it to the level of anxiety I had experienced during my childhood is nonpareil. Returning home to Singapore and having my family and close friends mention the changes of a ‘different’ me was rewarding. While I personally didn’t take any measures to tackle my anxiety disorder – the ability of experiencing a new energy around me felt enough – and I suppressed any last bit of prior anxiety.
However, the attitude of suppression birthed a new problem. When you simply suppress a memory or an emotion – it’s bound to haunt you in the near future. They say ignorance is bliss, and I can guarantee it. Coming home this summer was something I looked forward to during the semester. I was ready to be pampered by my parents, bask in Singapore’s overwhelming yet amiable heat and meet all my close friends. Summer was the perfect time to overeat mom’s food and lovingly hassle dad with all my desires.
Unfortunately, while I love Singapore with all my heart – I couldn’t hate to admit the change in energy I feel when I stay here longer than a few weeks. It’s almost as if the fear of the looming, stale anxiety will soon return to haunt me. I felt constantly vigilant in an uncomfortable way – and that’s when I knew my decision was clear. Rather than emailing HR my start dates, I simply emailed them that I was no longer free this summer. I knew I needed to take time off to heal and eliminate any smears of detritus negative energy. Keep in mind, I wasn’t experiencing problems with my mental health. As a result of self-awareness, I knew I needed to purify my system of old, lingering problems that hadn’t previously been dealt with properly.
I decided to make this summer my project: Self Care Summer. A whole few months of self-devotion. I was able to take 3 weeks off to travel and experience pure moments of tranquility in isolate nature in Europe. I cut myself off from several social media outlets and limited communication with others. I knew I needed this for myself. It’s difficult to do a social-media detox especially when you’re bred in a society that glorifies likes, comments and a salient social media presence. We’re so used to waking up every morning and spending the first 5 minutes mindlessly scrolling through posts that we’d missed when we were asleep. Our mind has simply been trained to do that – to feel constantly occupied yet distracted all the time. I have to admit I struggled the first few days. I felt restless. Our fingers are so equipped to switching screens every few minutes. Anyway, this isn’t some hippie moment where I quit social media forever because, truth is – while I’ve been learning to use it less, I still continue to use social platforms.
However, through this detox – I felt more pacific. I used my extra time to go back to loop-holes in my adolescence years and overcome those moments. I tried to recover my forgotten hobbies: drawing and reading. I believe I’ve truly spent more time in understanding myself better – gaining more control of my weak moments and strengthening my mental state. It’s perhaps easier to repress a memory and move on – but being able to recover painful memories- learn and overcome from them felt far more satisfying. I feel more in touch with myself and calmer. Today, I know I can say I’m happier to have rejected an internship. Yes, it would have looked amazing on a resume but deep down, I knew self- care was essential to my personal trajectory of success.
Being able to concentrate more on my health: physical or mental has proved to be viable to me. While the past may never be erased, having control over when it makes its returns has been reassuring. Similarly, with mental disorders – while it too makes its sudden appearances, I’ve learnt to take a step back, analyse the situation and take further control over it. Being in control of my reactions to negative situations has been rewarding. To be able to remind myself that it’s not me, it’s simply an external cue that soon will pass. To remind myself to not get caught up on the negative energy or romanticise the bittersweet moments of the past – but to simply let go.
So readers, this is me. This is me being vulnerable and raw to you. This is me revisiting areas of my life that I wanted to forget – but being able to grow and learn from it. This is me finding a happier and healthier version of myself. I spent a majority of my high school letting anxiety take over, let it be an excuse for many things. I was insecure and I regretfully hurt a lot of people because of it. Now, I apologise for the burnt bridges. I’m grateful for the restored ones. I’m blessed for those who’ve loved me unconditionally. This past year has been so eye-opening to me. I feel so blessed to be able to have these past few months evoke a new calm and positive energy inside of me. I feel happier and more confident – and to say I’m grateful would be an understatement.
If you’re in a difficult place or you’re struggling with your mental health – please don’t feel afraid to ask for help. Always be aware you are not your disorder or a negative phase – it’s simply an external cue and it will pass.