I haven’t been writing on here much in the last few months because school is back in session and I am in my grind element once again. Being a full time astrophysics student, juggling a part time job, having mental health issues and a newlywed husband who I want to spend time with can make things get kind of hectic inside of my head. As the semester reaches its half-way point and my midterm grades are coming in, my imposter syndrome is kicking into high gear. “Am I going to fail quantum this semester?” “If I do, will people around me think less of me?” “Maybe I am just a lazy person who is never going to achieve her dreams.” “I am getting older by the day and my time to finish school is fading out of reach.” Self-doubting thoughts like these have been swirling inside of my head ever since I started thinking about going into my major. The thing is that I wouldn’t use this same style of judgement on any of my friends. Why am I hitting myself with a crazy harsh set of criteria that is only reserved for myself? I feel like I need to reflect more on my life from an outside perspective to remind myself where I came from and how far I have come.
I started out my adult years by being kicked out of my mom’s house by her third husband. My mom was yelling at me because I wanted to move to L.A. after high school and study audio engineering; she always told me that I would make a good teacher and tried steering me towards that instead. Her husband got involved, things got heated, and the rest was history. I was on my own and confused about how to navigate this newfound adult life that fell into my lap. My high school best friend’s family let me stay with them for a semester while I saved up money to move to Oklahoma to be with my long distance boyfriend.
The day that I moved into my dorm room, he called me and broke up with me. I had just turned 19, was in a new state, and had a self-esteem that was hopelessly deflated. I rode the waves and continued the elementary education major that I signed up for. I actually really enjoyed learning about child psychology and lesson planning. Looking back on it, there was a calming aspect to studying to be an elementary education teacher. It seemed as though I had the world all figured out back then and I am so glad that I didn’t.
While the classes were fairly easy, I couldn’t say the same about living in a rural part of Oklahoma. I always felt non-white as I walked around campus and my new found agnosticism was hiding behind closed doors as I went to school events that centralized around Christianity. I didn’t fit in and the loneliness of it all was overwhelming my life, that is until I met “D”.
D was a high school friend of my roommate. He would hang out with her brothers back home in New Mexico and I noticed him as they were all Snap Chatting one day. He and I hit it off and after some months of back and forth, he moved into my dorm with me. From the start, he was never someone who I would say had ambition. What he did have though were ideas and I was craving any kind of intelligent conversations I could get at that point. He had a sharp tongue and while he pissed me off a lot of the time by his willingness to give up on himself, I craved the toxicity that he brought into my life.
It wasn’t all bad with D though. He was the first person in a long time to tell me that I was smart and that ultimately led me to believe that I could go into the field of astrophysics by starting from the bottom. He also convinced me to move out of Oklahoma to the west coast where I felt much better socially. Unfortunately, D was also a manipulating narcissist who used me quite often. I got a job while he didn’t. I went back to school, he complained about the world. I explored religions and he clung to the title of a Nihilist. I’m sure that you can tell by now that D and I didn’t live happily ever after. I actually ended up breaking up with him because he had been sexting other girls for at least the last six month of our relationship. I am grateful for D’s role in my life though, because it was the wake up call that I needed to finally get help with my mental health issues.
As I started my journey through therapy, I was working full time and getting my prerequisites out of the way so that I could hopefully go to university. By this time, I started dating my now husband “N” and for the first time, I felt like I was challenged in a new way with love. N brought a balance that I needed in my life by being the first person who I felt like wasn’t expecting something from me. We broke down emotional barriers that I had grown over the years and faced my fears of abandonment head on. Because of him, I started to feel this weight that I owed everyone around me something, starting to lift off.
I got accepted to university about a year and a half ago and the pressure of taking 17-21 credits a semester has gotten to me. I have been paying out of state tuition for so long that the finances of going to school weighed heavy on my time frame to graduate. Thankfully, I recently got granted residency of the state I am in and I am now paying instate tuition which is 3 times less than what I was paying before. I have been given the gift of more time with my education, but I still struggle with feelings guilty for not working myself to the ground.
My late start in my major, the competitive undertones that my major carries, and my recovering self-esteem are all making me feel like I owe the world this quota of achievements in order for me to be accepted. The truth is that I know that I can’t produce that quota and be happy at the same time. For me happiness is getting enough rest, having time to eat, and spending time with those I love. I don’t feel like those boxes are being checked.
I always hear people in my major saying things like “I am afraid of losing momentum, because if I do then it will be so much harder to start back up again.” I feel like this statement is just not a valid when it comes to curious, lifelong learners. I think that the most difficult part for high achievers isn’t working hard, but slowing down. We are so afraid of losing grip that we never let go. We always turn in our homework even if we don’t understand it, we neglect our needs in order to succeed, and we are constantly stressing about our grades so that we can get to this next level where we will chase new achievements. I wanted to study physics because I want to know more about how the universe works. I want to revere in the beauties and mysteries of nature instead of worry about the bureaucracies that come with getting accepted into grad school. How am I supposed to take 6 classes and also work enough to have money to live? I think that I am taking on too much, but my unattainable self-standards are telling me that I don’t deserve to reassess and try again next semester.
It’s an ongoing battle to balance life and school. I’ve been in school for six years now and I don’t have it quite figured out. What I am doing though, is trying to follow my intuition and get better at trusting myself. An affirmation that I am going to try to integrate into my everyday thinking is “I truly believe that I can learn anything that I put my mind to”. It’s not about the end point, but about the journey that each and every one of us takes that makes our lives worth living. If we neglect the day-by-day, then we lose out on so much of our lives.