For the past four months, when anyone would ask me how I was feeling, only one word came to mind: exhausted. As the semester progressed, I began to add the phrase “per usual” to this response.
Do you want to know a secret? Every single time I answered, I hated myself.
As long as I can remember, I’ve hated saying no. I always wanted to make everyone happy and show I was worthy of their trust. When I went off to college, what made my parents most fearful was going crazy due to overcommitting myself. In their defense, I’ve been known to give my all, even when I shouldn’t. In high school, I was that girl who made the study guides for everyone in the class, even when the other students didn’t treat me well. In college, I would spend too much time helping someone else on their homework or talking out their problems before I’d have the chance to do my own work. I’ve always been this way—it’s just who I am. I didn’t think that a time would ever come that this quality would actually become my downfall, so I continued to live my life blissfully unaware of the consequences.
The past four months have been full of teaching moments and character building situations. For a Type-A, perfectionist, need-to-be-in-control type of girl, this was brutal. Living with anxiety made it all the more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So many times, I felt like I was being backed into a corner and being punished because I had nowhere else to run. I tried to see how God could be at work in my senior thesis that required me to sacrifice everything in order to put a temporary fix on the real issues that were happening. I didn’t understand why my job called me in so many times while I was not on the clock to ask me simple questions. I started to become distant and bitter because I couldn’t comprehend why everyone needed me all the time. I never asked for this amount of responsibility and I kept telling myself that my situations were so unfair.
Fortunately, this season did not come without moments of bliss and joy. My new relationship and friendships have been such a blessing since they’ve empowered me in my darkest moments and encouraged me to keep pressing forward. They have been my cheerleaders, therapists, and superheroes all the while personifying the gift of unconditional love.
Now that this season in my life has come to a close, there are three things that I look back on and wish I could tell myself:
Learn where your boundaries are and stick by them. Anyone who knows me can testify that I am an incredibly driven person. When I know what I want, I give everything I am to that cause/project/assignment/job/relationship. This is a quality about myself that I have grown to love. However, I wish I had found my boundaries without actually crossing them. It’s important to realize that this wonderful characteristic also comes with some weaknesses. I have trouble giving up control when I don’t trust others. This translates into taking the majority of the work for fear of others ruining it. Four months of this behavior has made me understand that this doesn’t help anyone. People will never learn if you take away their opportunities to grow and I cannot expect to take on the work of multiple people and achieve perfection. I can’t do everything or fix every problem—but that is okay! If your mental health suffers as a result of a situation, making progress is nearly impossible. Learning to find your boundaries without crossing them is the best thing you can do for yourself. Sticking by these boundaries can be uncomfortable and awkward, but it saves you from an unbearable amount of stress later!
When I am spread too thin, I am unable to be present for the ones I love. This was undoubtedly the most painful and difficult lesson I had to learn. My focus was so often on myself and my inability to keep up with my responsibilities, that it was difficult for me to notice when my friends needed me. It may seem obvious, but since I had less time to spend building my relationships, I felt more alone than I ever have. There were so many times that I would spend time with my friends…only to be interrupted by work or my senior thesis group…and I would have to take time to solve the issue before I could give my full attention back to my friends. I am so thankful for friends who stood by me and were so understanding and supportive instead of turning their backs on me.
Saying “no” does not mean you are admitting to weakness. Instead, you are showing wisdom and discernment by saying you don’t want to take on more than you can actually handle. My work ethic can sometimes take over the rest of my mind and I tend to think that saying “no” to someone means I am not capable enough to balance this new task. It may take the rest of my life for me to learn that saying” no” should not make me feel incapable, untrustworthy, or unworthy. It takes discipline, maturity, and self-understanding to know what you can and cannot handle.
Putting yourself first may not always be as easy as one would think. Although we are generally taught to put others first, there are some situations when you have to ask the question, “What about me?” so that you can help others by helping yourself. After all, you can’t expect to pour into others’ lives if you are empty and have nothing to offer.