The concept of happiness is a peculiar one. Everyone thinks they are an expert on what happiness looks like and everyone has nuances on what makes them so. I can still hear myself saying in the mirror last month “You should be happy Pol! You went out for dinner and you got good grades”. Or “Why aren’t you pleased Pol? You have people that love you and a roof over your head.” Yet, try as I might I could not feel content. I was being ungrateful right? Although I knew I could have continued with my routine of going to uni; going to work; doing readings; starting assignments; crying over assignments; crying over emails…I knew that I shouldn’t. I could either continue going through the motions making myself miserable. OR I could take control of the direction that my mind was heading and simply take a time out; go home to doggy shaped cuddles and to mum-made brews…you’ll be surprised to know that I took the latter option.
Now, this was not the first time I had felt like this and it certainly won’t be the last. I had just somehow erased from my memory that university was a breeding ground for comparison and self-doubt. Because the truth is that, no matter how much I adore my cohorts, everyone feels like my competition; we are all applying for the same jobs, the same internships and the same voluntary work. For me at least, my anxiety is like pizza ragu; mostly temperate but sometimes scolding. It’s bubbling under the surface waiting for me to cave in. So, when Joe Bloggs says he has secured 5 internships and gained 10 voluntary positions, I think “oh no”. When Sarah Bloggs says she got 100% on her assignment, has a position on the student board, is a member of the publishing society and has an internship at Penguin, I think “Oh no, oh no!” And finally when someone says they have all of the above, a plane ticket to New York and a 10k Instagram following I just about mentally implode and scream “I HATE YOU!” in the poor sod’s face.
Of course, a handful of these people aren’t to be wholly believed. If you have really got all that experience and you know Charlie Brooker personally why haven’t you been offered a job? Like me I suspect that they’re faking it. They’re like the antithesis of that person who says “I haven’t revised at all” due to the consensus everyone else has taken. And so, faced with everyone busy exaggerating their CV to the tenth degree, rationality advises me to take everything on this course with a pinch of salt. To concentrate on all of the many things I have accomplished and continue forwards with my blinkers on. Yet, somehow in a technological age where a day away from the phone feels like a year in exile, it is hard to simply cancel out the white noise I sense around me. There are still all these other ways to compare ourselves and even more ways to allow ourselves to feel less than. As much as I would love to simply not look at things like Instagram and LinkedIn, for many industries these are necessary tools to staying up to date with trends and increasing job visibility. I therefore can’t help noticing the “congratulate Rachel on her new job” and “congratulate Stephen on his promotion” notifications. Just as I cannot avoid the fact that immediately after submitting three assignments five more will take their place…and emails reading ‘Have you thought about your dissertation yet? Have you applied to any internships? Have you picked next semester modules?’ will reach my inbox. It came to a mute point in which I inwardly screamed and physically cried “Will it ever be enough?” “I need to know what is enough!”
My returning home last month was something my mum called “returning to neutral”. This sounds overly bohemian and appears much nicer than it actually felt at first. Despite still feeling quietly perplexed, being at home did allow me to feel far from the maddening crowd. I was no longer letting the angst of everyone around me seep into my skin and I was no longer vacuuming everything good in my life to fit my own perception of low self-worth. You see, like so many others I foolishly believe that not “sticking something out” makes me a failure. Like admitting I feel broken is some form of dramatic act. Yet, I know full well that no one hands out medals for perseverance. There’s no need to be a soldier; you’re not doing anyone any favours. I only ended up ringing my mum five times crying “I just feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m going to turn up to university one day and someone is going to catch on and say “you don’t belong here””. Surprisingly she laughed and said “Oh Pol. Everyone feels like that. No one really knows what they’re doing half of the time”. So, with this news, I went home and found the book ‘I’m Absolutely Fine: A Manual for Imperfect Women’ lying on my mum’s bed. I realized in that moment that the answer to the age-old question ‘Is it just me?’ is no. It’s no, even when you don’t believe it.
It is true though that life can often feel like a solitary intellectual experiment. Although I theoretically know that I am not the only feeler of despair and inferiority, I am the only one that is left with my own incessant thoughts day in day out. I can’t just take my never-ending concerns out of their casing and put them on my bedside along with my reading glasses. In fact, after all my catastrophizing, it is I that has to write that assignment; has to apply for those internships; has to make time for making time, because no one can do it for me. It is on that musing that I think the anxieties and emotions linger. I know deep down that these pressures will not just vanish because I feel a bit upset about them. And so the obligations pile up. Obligations that I know if I tick off may lead to a more “fulfilled” life. Of course, there is no hierarchy of personal achievement; it’s all relative. Fulfilment is a reward that I can allow myself to earn right now.
In times of panic I convince myself that everyone is better at adulting than me. I saw on social media and I heard in conversation that they were all assuredly happier and adultier than me. However, if I could see the wood for the trees I would see that the permanence of my tasks is a positive in times of stress. Those things I worry so much about will still be there when I return as a healthier, fully functioning human being. The “You have to do it now! All now!” mentality is a neurological gremlin that only exists if I feed it. I ought to remember that those snapshots of human interaction are not facts, they’re just that – snapshots. They are a glimmer of a moment within an entire day. A day that could have been as laborious as mine because there is no pinnacle moment of adulthood or permanent happiness. There is no emotional equilibrium gained upon getting your first “adult” job. In order to be truly content, I must accept that simply being myself is enough. That is always enough…
…even when a photo from last year ties my ending better.