Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 21, 2021

Baby steps and missteps on the path to well-being

By SOPHIA LOLA | March 13, 2021

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Last week I did a couple things I’m proud of. I updated my resume, which I’d been telling myself I would do for months. I also called the Counseling Center for drop-in hours, after finally accepting that I could probably benefit from therapy, which is something I’ve been working toward for years.

I was only able to do these things because I sought and was receptive to help, which can also be hard. It’s much easier to ignore a problem until it goes away, even though it often festers and returns to the surface later down the line, instead of actually going away. That’s essentially what happened here. I finally hit the point when internships and summer plans needed to be addressed instead of pushed off until next week, the week after or the week after that (you get the point), and a huge wave of burn-out and pandemic blues has been creeping up on me for weeks.

So I confided in my mom and a couple friends about my feelings, thinking it would help to verbalize them and have someone listen to me. But they went beyond just listening and validating me (though that was definitely beneficial too). They gave me specific advice and perhaps a low-key intervention, and then solutions to these problems suddenly seemed within reach. 

My friend Laura told me to not let myself off the hook, but to still be gentle with myself and to just start the job stuff, even if I couldn’t finish it right away or all in one go. Hearing that made me feel calm and confident enough to start working on it later that day, after having felt absolutely paralyzed with fear about it for months. I finished my resume the next day.

My mom and my friend Sara were the ones who catalyzed me calling the Counseling Center. I had cried and word-vomited to both of them, separately, about how stressed, unmotivated and overwhelmed I’ve felt recently, how it’s rare for me to fall asleep easily and wake up feeling fully rested and ready for the day. They listened with a lot of compassion and offered reassurance that I would be okay in the end, which was nice. They both also said something that stopped me in my ignore-the-problem-until-it-goes-away tracks:

“This has happened to you before. You should talk to someone.”

And they were right. They reminded me of how I had contemplated talking to someone many other times I was struggling but had always put it off until I felt relatively better. At that point, I’d tell myself it wasn’t necessary anymore. Being confronted with that truth (not exactly a flattering one) forced me to recognize an overarching long-term pattern and stopped me from dismissing it as a bunch of isolated, acute instances. I admitted to myself that if I wanted to see any real change, to better take care of myself and feel happier in both the short term and the long term, then I had to take the first step.

So I called the Counseling Center last Wednesday morning to go to drop-in hours. The only availability for that day was when I was in class (so much for “dropping in” whenever...) and they said to try again in a couple days when I was more free. I was disappointed but tried not to let it scare me away, and I set aside a few more potential times within the next week that I could try again. That’s what I was proud of. I had made an effort, and I knew I could do it again and have it actually lead somewhere next time, so I saw this first attempt as progress.

All of that, the resume and internship stuff and calling the Counseling Center, happened over the course of two days, and what a great two days they were. The next few days, up until right now even, were a lot different.

Riding the high of finishing my resume, I started writing a cover letter for an internship but got stuck in the middle of it, and now I haven’t looked at it in about three days because I’m too scared to. I had a creative writing assignment due last Tuesday that I still haven’t finished (my classmates and I admittedly turn them in late every week), and I didn’t email my professor to explain how much I was struggling with it until the night before class, almost a week later. Many of my dishes have been on a four-day vacation in my sink, and I wanted to do laundry and change my sheets but have yet to actually do that. 

I could go on about all the other things I could’ve, should’ve done — things I wanted to do and felt like I genuinely would be able to do, especially after my steps forward in productivity and self-care at the beginning of last week. But instead it feels a little like I’ve come undone again, as if those steps didn’t actually mean anything. I’ve been sad and on edge for most of the last few days; anything related to productivity or self-care/maintenance seems scary, painstaking and exhausting. Ultimately, I know that when it feels nearly impossible to take care of myself, that’s really when it’s most necessary for me to do it.

This is where Laura’s advice has especially resonated with me. I can’t let myself off the hook with internship and summer stuff, nor with pursuing therapy. I can’t not do those things or only make one attempt at them and never follow up, because they have to happen eventually — soon even. But I can be gentle with myself. Things can happen in bits and pieces. I can get scared and pause or even fall backward along the way, because nothing has to be finished or perfect immediately. I will not feel okay immediately, but that’s okay too, as long as I keep taking a few wobbly, but sustained, steps to get there.

Sophia Lola is a junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., majoring in Writing Seminars. She is a Magazine Editor for The News-Letter. Her column explores personal growth, whether it comes an inch or a mile at a time.

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