Striving for Acceptance and Approval
On Monday, January 2012, it was a beautiful, bright, sunny day, and students were eager to explore their newly enrolled secondary school. It was the first day of Secondary 3, and the excitement was palpable. As I walked through the crowds towards my assigned classroom, I felt a suffocating feeling in my chest. To ease my nervousness, I crossed one arm over my chest and quickened my pace, tugging at my bag.
A minute felt like an eternity as I sat at the back of the classroom, observing the students chatting. Tilting my head curiously, I listened to their conversations and became absorbed in their overlapping voices. “Should I walk up and introduce myself?” I wondered. But I quickly dismissed the idea and shook my head. Deep down, I wanted so much to strike up a conversation with them and fit in.
The next two weeks passed by in a daze as the school day routine continued. Despite that, I still yearned to connect with people. On the first day of the third week, I devised a way to blend in. “Yes, I will just have to pretend to be like everyone else,” I thought to myself. With this newfound strategy, I felt more upbeat and transformed into someone new—someone who was fun, outgoing, and knowledgeable.
However, I didn’t realize that pretending was much harder than I had anticipated, and it made me exceedingly anxious throughout the day. I was very anxious that someone would soon expose me as not genuinely fun, outgoing, or knowledgeable. Pretending was also incredibly draining; I would collapse onto my bed after each school day, feeling exhausted both physically and mentally.
As time went by, I gained more and more “friends,” but none of them knew the real me. They only liked the facade I had created. I was terrified of revealing my true self because I was certain that no one would like me. At this point, I always experienced symptoms of anxiety, such as sweaty hands and a suffocating feeling in my chest. Moreover, the more “friends” I acquired, the more exhausted I became as the duration of my pretense lengthened. And the longer I pretended, the more nervous I grew, caught in a vicious cycle.
Emotional Roller Coaster
It was another typical school day, and the last class had just ended. As students rushed out, I remained seated at my desk, jotting down notes and waiting for the crowd to dissipate. When things became less chaotic, I headed to the bus stop. Throughout the entire bus journey back home, I felt very moody, unhappy, and kept to myself.
The next day, during a lunch break, as I was eating my noodles, a few classmates greeted me and placed their food on my table. I continued to put on my persona, striving to be outgoing and friendly, carefully choosing each of my words and occasionally stuttering. However, this time, as we hung out, my laughter and speech became more upbeat and outspoken, and my voice grew louder than usual, drawing laughter from them as well.
Among the group of people I met during lunch that day, there was a guy I became incredibly close with. He was the first person I had formed a genuine connection with. With him, I felt safe enough to let my guard down and be my true self. I started spending most of my time in school and outside of school with him.
One day, my parents took away my phone and confronted me about my relationship with him. A heart-wrenching fight broke out between my parents and me. I fought desperately for this relationship because it was the first time in my life that I felt embraced and special. However, when my parents objected to it and even threatened to withdraw my schooling, I had no choice but to break up with him. Once again, I found myself alone and feeling lonely.
Life Goes On with Pain
The struggle was real. I was unsure of what to do with myself, feeling hopeless and lost. Nevertheless, I continued to move forward like a zombie, convincing myself to focus on my studies while pushing everything else out of my mind. However, it was just too painful for my mind and heart to handle it alone.
During my later years in secondary school, I became noticeably quieter. But inside my mind, it wasn’t quiet at all. The pain of not being understood by my parents and the anguish of the breakup continued to fester within me. There was even a moment when I zoned out during a conversation with a friend. Also, I found myself breaking down over a small dispute. These incidents prompted me to seek help from the school counsellor, but to my great disappointment, nothing seemed to change. I wasn’t sure where to begin when talking to the counsellor and found myself tongue-tied in her presence. The reason? I didn’t feel like I could trust her or open up to her.
After several fruitless attempts at seeking help from the school counsellor, I stopped going altogether.
Negative thoughts and emotions began to consume me. I was harsh towards myself. I pushed myself to succeed and maintain control in life, leaving no room for mistakes. I suppose the reason behind this mentality is rooted in a previous incident, when my parents wanted me to break up with my ex-boyfriend.
Striving for Control and Security
Reflecting on my secondary school years, my parents’ opposition to my relationship with my then- boyfriend made me feel powerless and like I had no control over my life. In response, I became extremely driven and determined to regain control by securing a scholarship. I believed that if I could become financially independent, I would never have to rely on my parents again. I threw myself into my studies, dedicating almost every waking moment to studying and striving for academic excellence.
Although I managed to get a scholarship, I still didn’t feel secure, so I kept striving for more, hoping to gain as much independence from my parents as possible.
Socially, I have maintained a similar demeanor to my secondary school self, maintaining a similar social circle and interacting with my friends in a similar manner.
Meeting My Future Husband
My best moment during my diploma year was meeting my future husband, someone who never judged me and fully accepted me for who I am. Every time we interacted, I felt as though the world around me had come back to life and regained its vibrancy.
Having someone to care for me in my life was wonderful; however, I still experienced symptoms of anxiety from time to time. During that period, I even took up a meditation course for anxiety relief and learned some relaxation techniques. Although it did help, the symptoms of anxiety came back on and off.
My First Job After Graduation
Two years had passed, and my final day of polytechnic had arrived. I was fortunate enough to secure a job before graduation, but the transition was far from smooth. The fast-paced and high-pressure environment of the advertising industry was a shock to my system, and I struggled to keep up with the demands of my new role.
As I adapted to my new work environment, I unconsciously created a new persona for myself – someone who was very knowledgeable in the field. This unrealistic self-expectation put immense pressure on me and made my daily life incredibly challenging.
I recall a specific instance where my manager assigned me a new task and asked if I had any questions. Despite my many concerns, I felt compelled to maintain my “know-it-all” persona and hesitated to ask for clarification. I wanted to appear perfect, believing that if I was, everyone would like me.
I meticulously checked and double-checked every detail before submitting the task to my manager, all the while nervously tapping my foot as I tried to figure everything out on my own. However, despite my best efforts, the task was filled with mistakes due to my lack of understanding and experience. My manager was unhappy with the outcome, further exacerbating my nerves and adding to the stress of my daily life.
The Turning Point of a Breakthrough
As pressure piled up in my career, my symptoms of anxiety worsened. I started to experience intense and overwhelming feelings that began to disrupt my daily life. I realized that I didn’t want to feel out of control or be unable to function due to these intense emotions. So, I decided to look for treatment options for anxiety and seek professional help.
Luckily, I found Fion when I was searching online for a counselling centre.
The Help-Seeking Process
The first time I went to see Fion, I was filled with anxiety. But to my surprise, my sessions with her went exceptionally well. I gained something valuable from each session, such as learning to identify and manage my unpleasant emotions. Learning to identify the feelings I had was important because these feelings carried an important message that something was missing, and that’s why I felt this way. It was very liberating to understand and befriend these emotions, and by doing so, I began to understand where the hurt was coming from and learn to heal from it. I can now better embrace myself for who I am by acknowledging my imperfections and my past relational hurts and pains. Throughout the entire process, I must admit that being open and trusting the counselor was extremely important.
Even better news is that, over time, I have learned to appreciate myself more and how to soothe and comfort myself during difficult times. Regardless of how unpleasant the situation may be, I can take care of my own feelings, which has given me the confidence to keep going. Additionally, I felt a sense of safety with Fion that I hadn’t experienced with previous counsellors, and this gave me more hope.
As I grew closer to Fion, I was often amazed by how therapeutic each counseling session was for me, regardless of the difficulty of the issues presented to her. I realized that by facing my inner feelings and fears and learning to understand and befriend them, I was able to alleviate a significant portion of my anxiety.
Thriving with Gratitude and Peace
These days, I am grateful, content, and at peace with myself.
I no longer strive for perfection; instead, I thrive by accepting and embracing myself when I make mistakes or am not perfect at my job.
I thrive by living in the present moment and cherishing meaningful connections with people. I thrive by appreciating myself and celebrating every moment of success. The picture of lotus came out to me when Fion processed my inner peace with me, may this picture bring you peace and comfort as well.