I don’t like to admit this – I don’t think anybody would want to admit this, but for the sake of honesty I’ll admit to being a pretty jealous person. I don’t like this about myself, but I also don’t believe it’s anything remotely abnormal. In a perfect world, yes, I would love who I am, I’d be content with who I am, and not care what anybody else thinks of me. But am I jealous of my friend’s with perfect skin while I wake up in the morning and have to brainstorm how I’m going to cover up all of my acne? Hell yes I am. But this is more than just blemished skin and 30 dollar cover up – more complicated, and it involves a deeper sense of jealousy that I’m still working on.
Let me tell you about my friends. My friends, are the most amazing, inspirational, go-getter’s; the most active and influential, people I know. And I love them – more than that, I’m incredibly proud of them. One of my friend’s, I honestly watch in awe over the way she lives and balances her life. She’s a full-time student, she has two jobs, several volunteer positions on the go at once, she works out, and makes time for a very active social life. I’m incredibly thankful to be a part of the time she has so carefully mastered the art of balancing. I have another friend, she just applied to her master’s program, and she’s nervous about getting in. I wish I could send specialized letters to each of the university’s stating you’re absolutely crazy if you don’t accept her while citing several expert sources with a complete bibliography, because seriously. She balances a GPA unfathomable to me, volunteer experiences, lab opportunities, a great workout routine, and an awesome social life and at least in my eyes, she does it all with ease. Needless to say, I have friends who are in sports, who work several different jobs or one job with many hours, who volunteer, who are full time students, who are in clubs or on committees, who do this, and that, and sometimes, from the comfort of my bed I feel irreparably jealous.
So for quite a long time, and still today, I began questioning myself – a lot. Am I just insanely lazy? Because obviously it’s my fault that I don’t do more with my life, and if I’m really jealous then the simple answer is to change the way I live my life – get involved or whatever. This is half true, and also pretty naive, and it took me a long time to understand where this was coming from and still it requires some self-reflection.
Here are a few things I know, or am learning. One time, on a bus ride home from school I was sitting across from a friend who expressed very deeply that while he was okay with having alone time, being around people, is what energized him. He needed social situations in order to rejuvenate himself, which is totally amazing and totally not me. I love people – I love my friends, I love meeting new people. If you know much about me at all you’ll know I love deep and meaningful conversations, and I can engage in very social events and enjoy every second of it, but, that’s not what rejuvenates me. In fact, socializing is often times exhausting despite how much I cherish it. So I need time to myself, to rest, to do nothing. And sometimes, I need to factor “alone time” into my week the same way other people may factor in social excursions or coffee dates.
I was getting to know a wonderful person over lunch the other day, and during this time they shared aspects of their busy life, their goals, their plans and so on. And I listened in awe attempting to fathom a life that busy, while also understanding that while their life was great for them, it was not for me. The way they choose to live their life, and the things that wake them up in the morning are things to be immensely proud of – I am proud of them. But one thing was very clear to me during this time – something that has been becoming clearer over the past several years: people have different capacities for life. What one person can handle, another person might not be able to – similarly, what energizes some people, may exhaust others, and one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is first recognize that, and then over time, work within that knowledge.
I want to emphasize the work within that knowledge part, and avoid suggesting to work within those limits. Because I don’t consider it a limit – or I did, and am discovering that it is not. There was one day where I became incredibly concerned that I would never be able to do more, that things would always add up to being a bit too much. I began to wonder whether this capacity I had was permanent, and it wasn’t until I began to look back over my life that I realized with the utmost certainty that this capacity is malleable. But there is no pretending that tomorrow I can wake up and live the life that my friend’s live, no matter how envious I am for how they live it.
Last week I finished a hike with a close friend and as we left the trail we started talking about how the way we grow up influences who we are today – our understanding of the world, how we live our own lives. I know the whole nature vs. nurture debate, so for the sake of this let’s pretend it’s 50/50, because at least for my life, I think that’s kinda how it was working. I think I was born with a capacity for life that started off smaller than maybe it did for some other people, I also think I grew up knowing limits. Let me explain.
I grew up imagining that each day was a glass and if too much was poured into that glass, it would spill over. Often when it did, it was met with tears – perhaps a fight in the kitchen – perhaps the swinging open of a car door before the breaks had fully been pressed. I think you get to a certain age and you start to reevaluate your childhood, how you were raised, whatever hardships you might have gone through. This happens at different times for different people, but I think everyone has a childhood that at some point they work to come to terms with, and since perhaps it is something I haven’t completely come to terms with, I won’t go into extensive detail, but I’ll give you some background.
I’ve mentioned having anxiety pretty loosely over the past several years, so most people who know me understand it is a part of me, but in a relatively mild way. When I was a kid, it was quite a bit different. I was terrified majority of the time, and I can’t really tell you why. I remember countless evenings sitting at the top of the stair steps, paralyzed with fear, and sobbing. Now it seems incredibly silly, but I was too terrified to go up the stairs alone. I would wait for my parents to come up stairs first, and then I would follow, slowly. While some kids – and by this time I really wasn’t a kid at all – cherished the first moment they were old enough to stay home alone without a babysitter when their parents went out, I was petrified of it. I lived beneath a heavy weight of fear that stemmed from things unexplainable, and I lived under it most of the time – with and without reason. At the time, my allergy didn’t help, and that in itself provided something more tangible to be terrified of. So as a kid, my capacity for life was pretty limited – it is hard to surpass your limitations when you are simply terrified. Sleepovers were hard, eating at a friend’s house was hard, being away from my parents was hard, being at home was hard, so it didn’t seem like there was much room for relief in my life, and everything felt like it was far too much.
But I knew limits in other ways too. Between having a mother with clinical depression, a brother with anger, and me with my own severe anxiety, our family could only handle so much. I don’t remember everything, but I remember that even small things, like asking if one of the neighbour girls could come over for a sleepover, could be met with a swell of tears and the inability to cope with something as small as that. At the time, I didn’t know how to cope with myself, let alone the rest of my family, and I think between all of us we were simply attempting to cope with one another, and every single day, was borderline too much.
While I think I was born with much of my anxiety, I think the rest of it, and perhaps the severity of it, was born out of the tension I found myself growing up in. Between that and my own sensitivity, household fights would send me into distress. My brother and I didn’t know how to co-exist, and it seemed to very quickly surpass the normality of sibling feud’s. I wish I could say we all understood it now, but perhaps that is something we are still working on – I know I am. But if it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t have known what to do with a kid like me either. My family and I did our best, we worked within the knowledge of what we could handle, even if at many times it wasn’t very much – it was quite a bit for us. And I am thankful for the transformation we have made today, and the unconditional love we have for one another, but our past still exists despite the importance of our present.
But the point is I grew up understanding limits, and I grew up not being able to handle too much, and here I am in my twenties, and I’m just working all of this out. I have a deep-rooted concern within me that I’ll never be able to handle as much as I would like to – that I’ll never be able to do the things that my friends can do – that perhaps my capacity is not flexible, or malleable, or whatever. Sometimes, I worry I have known limits for so long – and for good reason – that I am simply too accustom to them. And so when I said earlier, to work within your own knowledge of your own capacity, this was a revelation for me. Because if you take away the jealousy – if you take away how my friends live their lives vs. the way I live my own, and if I really just look at my own capacity, my own set of limitations, I finally noticed how much they have expanded over the past several years.
Because 4 years ago, I would not have been able to get on an airplane and move across the country, and two years ago, I quit a part-time job when the semester started because I didn’t feel I could handle balancing both. Now I’m on the other side of the country, I’m working a part-time job that I enjoy and I’m a full-time student, and I’m handling it just fine. In comparison to my friend’s lives, this often feels like little or nothing, but in comparison to my own life, it’s everything.
This being said, I don’t want to use this as an excuse for laziness. Because sometimes, yeah, I’m just lazy. I would like to hangout in my bed all day – I have a serious, deep, love for my bed. I would love to say I’m a morning person, but I’m not, and waking up before 9am is met with many consecutive yawns and the immediate daydream of falling back asleep (which I often do). Some days, I could probably do more than I do – I could probably push myself a bit harder to get out there even just a bit more. So I don’t want to excuse that with some semi-emotional and pretty vague back story on mental health, family problems, and potential limitations. But I think both exist. I think sometimes I am lazy, to which I’ll say I’m also irreparably self-aware so I’m working on it – but sometimes it’s more than that. And in order to combat my jealousy and misunderstanding for why I never felt I could live the life I envied my friend’s for living, I needed to gain a better understanding of myself – of why I look at life or handle life in a particular way, and where I think that stems from.
I also don’t want to pretend that a bad case of anxiety – or a bad case of anything – is some excuse for living life a certain way. In other words, I know everybody goes through their own shit, and everyone also handles it differently. Anxiety is pretty common, to think that any kid who grew up with intense limitations in their life because of some kind of mental illness they or a family member had, is now struggling to balance life is simply not the case. But here’s the thing, and at the end of the day there’s really no argument – everybody handles life in a different way, and to pretend you can compare history’s discounts the entire personal experience.
We all have our own back story’s – our own confusing childhoods – our own interpretations of our day to day lives – and our own sense of jealousy’s. The emphasis is that they are our own, that there’s a reason we don’t live somebody else’s life, and I think to be comfortable with your own existence you need to be able to accept who you are and what you can handle. And once you’re there, then you can work on it. It doesn’t have to remain that way forever, but if you’re going to move forward you’ve got to have at least some kind of understanding of where you’re at – where you’re moving from. I won’t claim to have the full picture, but working on realizing a lot of this stuff was a huge revelation for me – and a huge reason to stop beating myself up over not being the person I constantly envied. Realizing this didn’t give me a reason to sit back and let my life rest cautiously beneath limitations, but it did help me to accept myself – to stop comparing myself – and to decide to work on myself.
I guess the point is, sometimes I’m jealous, but I’m working on it. Sometimes I’m terrified my capacity for life will never expand, but I’m working on pushing my limits. Sometimes, I’m just lazy – and I’m working on that too.