Those of you who knew me before I turned 17 will remember me with at least one of the following words: Smart or Hard-Working. If you knew me really well, you might have described me as “passionate” if you were one of my friends or, “a pushy, know-it-all b*tch” if you weren’t, although I’m sure quite a few of my friends will still think of me as the latter too and I won’t blame them if they do. I would like to think that no one really ever hated me, although being high school, I suppose that is definitely possible. I was never considered a complete “nerd”, I was never one of the popular kids and I never got invited to a party in high school.
Although, really, that is because I would never have gone to one and I suspect that everyone knew it. This made me rather socially awkward in most circumstances. I remember visiting a friend of my friend’s and him asking me if I wanted anything to drink to which I replied (I can still hear the derision in my voice— or was it panic?): “I don’t drink!”. He looked at me weird and said something along the lines of, “Really? You should probably drink more water, it’s good for you.” I’m sure Sam will remember this day quite clearly and laugh at me still. However, that situation just highlighted my social awkwardness even more, made me blush (you can’t see it but I can feel it), and made me even less likely to go out anywhere. But that was all fine and dandy. I was never the pretty one— rather, I was always the smart one. So I played that up. I won prizes at school, I went to leadership conferences, had half a dozen roles on volunteer boards and project organizations. I met and chatted freely with Prime Ministers (2 in fact), thought I understood youth– tried to get them to vote, to become involved. I learned how to shoot a gun, play a trumpet, did homework until 3am, worked so I had money to spend. We were never rich and that always weighed on me, it still does and maybe distorted my view of life a little more than it should have. I would estimate that throughout my teens I got less than 4 hours of sleep a night. In my community, I was the shining example of everything your kid should live up to, and I blossomed under the love and guidance of teachers, aunts & uncles, and everyone adoring me constantly. Some of the wiser ones warned me about burning out and I scoffed. I’m superwoman, that will never happen to me. I smiled and appreciated their kinds words but never really internalized them. I was happy. I was fine in my skin. I knew that I would get a good scholarship, that I would help the world— find the cure for cancer or become a leader in the UN or something. My school and my career meant everything and as long as it was never too clear whether I was best or second best at school, I was fine.
At 17, after years of constant whining for (and working for)… I finally achieved the absolute pinnacle of my lifetime. I received one of three scholarships for Ontario to Pearson College in BC (www.pearsoncollege.ca). 80K scholarship for two years of study in British Columbia. I didn’t care what it meant except it meant a ticket out of my life and into something bigger, grander than I even knew. Pearson was, is, continues to be everything for me. I grew up there, I hated it there, I loved it there. I made amazing friends and mostly, it opened up to me the possibility and the idea that you needed to find something that “makes you happy” in life. And when you have never grown up with the idea that you can be perfectly happy in life, that you can actually do what you want to do. That is possibly the most radical idea ever heard of. I’m not joking. Now, all those blogs and self-help books about happiness don’t mention that it is a skill to be happy. That not everyone is told growing up that it is ok, and in fact, many cultures (incl. mine) will say you should be happy but in fact mean that you should sacrifice everything for your family and your career. “Do what you want to do!” will proclaim self-help books. “Find what you love and pursue it!” and the other side of the head is, “WORK. WORK. WORK.”
At this same time though, I stopped working quite so hard as I had throughout my life so far. I started scuba diving instead of studying. School became hard. The fact that I had never studied in my life became difficult for me to bear. My grades got worse, my self-confidence plummeted. I became worse and worse at dealing with day-to-day life and instead became of a day-dreamer. I saw friends being able to buckle down and study when needed but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know. Fear of not being the best made me not try at all. And that is the worst problem with overachieving kids— we are told over and over how amazing we are, how many things we will accomplish, etc. etc. And its amazing for most people but for some of us, it becomes a sense of paralysis. The fear of never being good enough, of never living up to our own expectations. There is probably nothing worse than feeling like you are not achieving your full potential.
This has affected me intensely in the past 8 years since starting Pearson. My university career was an almost utter failure, made worse by the fact that no one believed how badly I was doing. And worst of all, when I tried to seek out help, it became more of a, well, you know this is wrong with you— why don’t you study more. Why don’t you plan more? It became clear to me that I was depressed but by the time I had realized that I needed help, university was almost over— meaning free health care is over, meaning no more access to free school psychologists. Before clearing up my own head, I was off to Rwanda on a crazy trip that made me stronger and weaker and ultimately made me understand that I needed to just be for a while. And then I was living on an island for a few months where I though I would be able to figure myself out but have yet to do this.
But I struggle everyday with this see-saw of something I characterize as depression. I know it and it hits me too often. And when it does, I lose myself entirely in blame games and name callings. I make endless lists that never get accomplished and keep busy at work— or pretend to at least— but I am absolutely overwhelmed and not sure what step to take. Sitting down, thinking logically, one step at a time. I get over it. I move on with my life, my projects, my cooking. There are things that overwhelm me now— my weight and health problems, my lack of a thesis and not doing as well in grad school as I would have liked, being far from my little home in Newfoundland, finances, not being able to go exercise everyday, not cooking every night, not writing in my journal every morning, planning my wedding from a distance, mentally preparing for being married, etc. etc. SO many things are overwhelming but life goes on. SO many things are absolutely wonderful. And that’s fine. But sometimes, I wish life would just stop for a moment so I could catch my breath, and just concentrate on being happy and healthy… and not always so worried about being who I was when I was 16. Because that’s the worst part about it really. Is that I have already been the person I’m trying so hard to become.