I’ve been operating under a huge misconception of what true confidence means.
Having confidence doesn’t come from achievements and lack of failure. It’s the belief that even if you fail, you’ll be fine.
Recently, I’ve struggled a lot with this, especially as a college junior looking for an internship. I already have depression and anxiety and the prerequisite low self-esteem really didn’t help. There were also a couple of other rough things that happened over the past two months that really made it feel like I was a failure through and through. That no one liked me. I felt so incredibly lonely and trapped in my thoughts that I didn’t talk to any of my friends for two months… which, predictably, made things worse.
I didn’t eat. The only things I could drag myself out of my bed for was to go to the bathroom and to work. I had no appetite and if I ate anything more than a small bowl of oatmeal, I became nauseous and couldn’t eat anymore. There were entire days where I just drank water. When I tried to sleep at night, I couldn’t fall asleep and when I finally did, I couldn’t stay asleep. The insomnia lasted for three weeks. I was constantly lightheaded and dead inside. I wanted to d*e.
I could handle stress. I could handle incredibly stressful situations. I have managed incredibly stressful situations since I was very young. But this was an attack on the inside. My mental walls were strong but that didn’t do anything when the damage came from the inside. I was being eaten alive from inside out and I couldn’t do anything about it. What do you do then when your enemy was yourself?
Then, internships came up and my depressive episode flipped and I became hyper-anxious. I went to donate blood yesterday and my resting heartrate was 98bpm which almost disqualified me from donating because it was too high. I agonised about how unqualified I thought I was and my already-low self-worth kept plummeting.
On those nights where I couldn’t sleep until 4 or woke up at 4, I searched up how to become a police officer, how much does Red Cross pay their phlebotomists and how to become a librarian and any other careers that I could think of. I was trying to look for an easy way out where it’s guaranteed that I could have a job.
So what stopped it? What stopped the free fall to rock bottom? For some people, when they imagine people not wanting to stay alive anymore, they imagine people who had lost everything or people with horrendous injuries or suffering from some other horrible fate that d**th was the preferable option. But I had a decent living situation. I wasn’t in immediate need for money. I had a week’s worth of subscription box meals in the fridge. I had a roommate right next to my room and my family was just a call away. However, all these things didn’t figure into my head when I cried for the gods, God, anyone to free me from the living.
It’s all so small now that I think about it. Why was I so stressed and so depressed that I wanted to d*e? How did such routine things such as applying for internships become so much of a burden that it formed a singularity in my chest and collapsed it into a black hole? How could I, a student going to a state college about to start her career, so deprived of hope that I would be willing to throw away the rest of my life?
You get the idea. It’s also kind of surreal when I look back on it afterwards. Every time this has happened so far, I’ve managed to crawl out. The sun has risen on every black night so far. I’m just afraid that the next one might be the one that gets to me. That during the next night, the voices yelling at me to d*e in my head will swallow up the sun forever.
The thing about those voices is that they love to generalise everything. They spin tales of how no one likes you or that you’re a failure or selfish. They tell you that you’re unworthy in a thousand voices and in a thousand ways. But when it comes down to it, the real source is only one or two things. They take a breakup or a D or even a B+ on a test and they take advantage of an already low opinion of yourself and spin it into grand tales of your failures.
They’re the biggest purveyors of absolute bullshit.
They’re like that retail worker on commission that tells you that the jewel-toned grandma blouse looks so good on you. Or Alex Jones who tells you you need to buy his male vitality supplements. Or the proverbial high school classmate who peaked in high school and just hit you up on Facebook talking about some “side hustle” as a “boss babe”.
You shouldn’t let them talk to you like that. They don’t know you. Uh uh. Stranger danger.
The thing that got me out was the realisation that even if I got rejected from everything, even if I couldn’t get a job in my field after college, I would be fine. I wouldn’t really be unhappy working at Trader Joe’s or Costco for a living. I would be okay working at a bakery or a cafe for a while. I don’t have very high aspirations in terms of material success in my life. As long as I can have a good book and a hot cup of tea before bed, I can be reasonably content.
The spoon-fed diet of what my life should look like has poisoned me. I’m surrounded by a society and people that sees school, then college, then an internship and a high-paying job as what young people should aspire to. Everyone seems to want the influencer life. Expensive outfits, cars, etc. etc. That’s some people’s dreams and it’s not wrong or even necessarily shallow but it’s taken me a long time to realise that it’s not for me.
In college, it’s all about the grind. You envy the geniuses that get a job offer from the NSA sophomore year. You might even harbor some secret hatred for the person who got an internship at Google because their dad is a senior software developer there. You envy the overwhelmingly white Greek life students and their ability to get opportunities just because their parents and chapters’ alumni are well-connected and presumably rich. Colleges delight in how hard it is to pass their “weeder” classes. Lots of professors and TAs seem more than happy to mentally torture 18-year-olds to test their “resolve” and “commitment”.
This all puts a niggling thought at the back of your brain that says that you aren’t good enough to achieve what you’ve been told is the only option. My brain has made it into an ultimatum of either I succeed by this standard or I’m disgusting garbage.
I have to preface all of this by saying that, again, I am by no means struggling in any life-endangering way. What I’m struggling with seems like a pretty good deal to those who had to drop out of high school to work to support their families or saw joining the military as their best route to get a college education. Or the millions in danger of or already evicted in the ongoing housing crisis. Or the other billion humans who “have it worse”. I understand that. That’s just how all-consuming mental illness is.
As someone who has grown up in suburbs around the country, this was the diet I was fed. The people around me were consultant this or engineer that and the goal was always one of those identical five-bedroom houses with a two-car garage and a wreath on the door and a trampoline in the backyard.
But that’s not really what I want. Once I freed myself from this attachment to the ideal of a middle-to-upper-class life, a lot of my anxieties evaporated. I have other skills that I have at my disposal. I am highly educated and young and able. There are alternative paths even if this one fails and I have to take a break. As long as you’re still alive, there’s still chance for change.
I hope this helps alleviate some people’s thoughts and worries about their future.
I’ll talk to you soon.