So much of this year has been about getting back on track with taking care of myself and fostering my interests. Although college can be a time of great growth, it can also become totally overwhelming and pull one’s attention away from other important areas in life. Looking back on my experience in college, I can see how I neglected to build a solid foundation of self-love and care I could return to in times of stress. I put taking care of and appreciating myself last so I could get ahead, giving into the demands of constant worry and fear. The result is something I am still cleaning up to this day.
When I graduated in May, I thought it would be easy to get on top of these things. I would have more time for myself and I could finally pursue what’s truly important to me. However, life quickly challenged that notion, introducing me to the reality of the working world and adulthood. Although I half expected this to happen, I was still surprised and annoyed when it did. I guess I figured wishful thinking and denial could postpone adulthood while I got my sh*t together. But life continued to get busier and I kept making excuses to justify why I was waiting until after the stress ended to be happy and healthy.
If you’re of a certain age, you may be thinking: “WOW, another millennial who isn’t prepared for the stresses of adulthood. How sad… and expected (yawn).” But hear me out. I was, by no means, sheltered or spoiled when it came to earning my degree. I commuted to school everyday, paid for a HUGE portion of my own tuition, worked up to 3 jobs at a time, coordinated my FAFSA every year, filed my taxes more or less by myself, traveled to South Africa ALONE, and started handling several of my own bills shortly after I started college. I’m really proud of how independent I have become and value my college experiences far more because I achieved them on my own. I know a great deal of this generation has had similar experiences and we all, unfortunately, have mountains of debt to prove it.
But what I’m getting at is not about independence or achievement. It’s not about knowing how to act professionally in the workplace or taking care of your own finances. It’s not about stepping up and “taking responsibility” for your life. Although, that is important and should be done to find personal success.
Instead, it’s what gets overlooked: sanity, good health, mental wellness, happiness, family, faith. The stuff that gets glazed over or ignored in our go, go, go culture. The first thing to go when life gets busy and the last thing they teach you in school (if at all). Some people are better than others at managing this and have found ways to take care of and affirm themselves despite the chaos. However, if you’re anything like me, you have no idea where to begin. Life just continues to get away from you.
Something I realized recently is that you can’t wait until every challenge has ended to start living and taking care of yourself. Life will, quite literally, be over if you do that. And while, I’m not on that end of the spectrum, I certainly don’t want to get there. Being diagnosed with celiac has made me more mindful of what I’m eating and how it affects my body. After two years of suffering with symptoms, I finally had an answer and I knew following a gluten free diet couldn’t wait. I couldn’t just put it off until “I had time” to read labels and see a nutritionist. Mindfulness had to happen immediately so I could get better. No excuses.
The reality of adulthood is that it’s messy. Things go wrong and people hurt you. Responsibilities multiply and the pressure to keep it all together keeps mounting. The time you have to foster healthy habits dwindles. No one can possibly prepare you for the life you step into post college, especially when we learn from the world around us to internalize our personal problems and suck it up even when we are exhausted and can’t function. In many ways, college only reinforces this problem.
When I said I had a reality check, it wasn’t concerning bills or accountability. Instead, I was kicked in the ass by my own habits, overwhelmed by all that I had neglected while I was working to earn my degree. College gave me an excuse to abandon myself. Instead of having faith in the future, I lived in fear. I forfeited myself to gain some sense of security in my studies and my career. In the process, I gave less time to what mattered, stretched myself thin, wore pajamas to class to avoid being late, and let my stress get the best of me, all the while pretending I was Wonder Woman to avoid failure. Self-neglect appeared in countless places in my life and instead of addressing the issue, I looked to graduation as my savior. I would be free soon, I thought.
Getting a celiac diagnosis was my first wakeup call. I know it’s not something I could have avoided through better health but it helped me wake up to the necessity of caring for myself and taking time to heal no matter what my life situation looks like on the outside. Now my eyes are open to all the other areas where I neglected to care for myself and I just can’t look away.
I’m starting to understand that life will continue to challenge me and adulthood will become increasingly more complex but that doesn’t justify ignoring my needs. I can’t wait until everything is perfect and stress free to create healthy habits. Graduating college or getting a new job doesn’t magically erase the challenges of a busy life; it only magnifies them. REALITY CHECK: healthy and happy habits start here and now or not at all. No excuses.
Here’s to a brighter, happier, healthier future.