On the home stretch.

Tomorrow marks the final stretch of my endeavors with university (well, for the time being anyway). It’s the second half of my final semester of my undergraduate degree, which I feel has gone on for decades. But really, it’s been about four and a half years, only a year and a half long than it was supposed to be.

It feels as though so much weighs on tomorrow. Having the opportunity to complete my degree, once and for all, feels surreal. It’s been a long time in the making. Everyone has a different path I guess, and there isn’t a right amount of time that it takes for anyone to complete anything. It’s different for everybody. But this chapter, I’m so ready for it to close. Especially with our next chapter waiting and getting bigger by the day!

At the start of this semester, so a few months ago now, we found out that we have a baby on the way, who will arrive in March!

We are so unbelievably happy. And scared. And excited. And full of hope.

We get to meet our baby in about 6 months. And that thought is so strange. Knowing that our lives are going to change dramatically really soon, but also knowing that we won’t understand the full extent of it all until it actually happens.

I used to think that the semester where I got so low and sick that I dropped out of university was the most difficult and challenging. But looking back, although being sick was awful and terrible and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, it’s all of the time since then that’s actually much harder. Being sick, in comparison to recovery, is easy. The illnesses take over. You can give your whole life to them. But recovery is a fight, a huge decision on every moment of every day. Fighting your brain rather than just floating along with it is far more terrible, rewarding, and life-giving.

This semester has been really difficult to be honest. There have been so many times where I am doubting if I could complete it. I am still thinking that right now, and I probably will until the moment where my final exam is over. I’m taking the equivalent of six papers, off my medication due to pregnancy, and am growing a human. Morning sickness has been really hard. We are also planning our move in about a month and a half. I feel as though I’m whinging way too much. We are so, so lucky. And I will never be able to understand how truly lucky we are to have this kind of life.

Cameron has been my rock through it all, and I have no idea where I would be without him. It has also been a big relief to be finally telling our friends and family our exciting news, because that takes a big weight off in a way. Everyone has been so supportive, kind, and full of love. We feel so loved.

The day after my final exam, I think I’ll cry and sleep and then cry some more out of pure relief. To make it through university will be the biggest weight off my shoulders.

In a month and a half, things will be so different. Sometimes I think about how different everything is now compared to in the past and it hurts, like people and places and relationships. It’s happy but sad at the same time. In a month and a half, it will all be so bittersweet.


The last first day back.

At the moment, I’m sitting in the beautiful sunshine rays on the bus, on my way to my first day back at university. It’s also my final year, making it my last first day, in a way!

The first day jitters are all too real, but I’m excited too. I love learning, seeing friends all the time, and the environment at university too. However, I’m also looking forward to this year being over, and for being able to move on in a way, and begin a career.

These past couple of days have been blissful, and I wanted to write about some small joys that I have found in them. 

We have been visiting family who live down on the other end of the island, and where we are planning to move to in the near future.

The anticipation of visiting them, which we do at least a couple of times a year, fills me with anxiety each and every time. But the strange thing is that upon every return back to our home city, I feel a sense of peace, confidence and contentment that I don’t get elsewhere. It makes me never want to leave, and all the more excited to move there.

I didn’t have data on my phone meaning no internet or social media, which is such a good thing to do every now and then! It really helped me be more engaged in the moment, and to compare myself to others less.

We met and played with a bunch of beautiful, gorgeous dogs, one of them being the biggest I have ever seen. Her paws were huge, and she was definitely a gentle giant! There is something about dogs that fills me with hope. They see the best in people, and are so light-hearted. I reckon we could all learn a thing or two from them.

We also sorted out a lot of big decisions regarding our house for when we move down. It has taken a big chunk of pressure off us, which can only be a good thing right? I love all the planning and inspiration involved, and the feel you can get from each place about whether it’s right for you or not. And the prospect of having a veggie garden in the near future! So exciting!

We spent a lot of time with our family, which was beautiful. We are so thankful to have such supportive, encouraging and kind people surrounding us. They make us laugh so much too, which is a great bonus!

And all the little things add up too. Seeing the rushing blue rivers, the purple alpine flowers, all the alpacas, horses, bumblebees. Drinking fresh orange juice, singing along in the car, burgers, seeing friends unexpectedly.

All these little things make life so beautifully rich and sweet.

They make life worth living.

Perfectionism and it’s shadow.

Perfectionism is something that is sought within, an ever-increasing height that we strive to leap over. It is impossible to reach, but the attempt is forever. Perfectionism is cruel, unhealthy; a dark shadow that clouds.

Everything I find most beautiful in nature, isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s wonderfully flawed. Each element is different and intricate and vast. I adore rugged landscapes, coastlines carved by the sea and the rich spectrum of species that each ecosystem is uniquely blessed with. It is within these environments that I feel most free, and most safe to be myself.

afterglow, avian, backlit

The people around me, like nature, are also not held to my impossible, perfectionistic standards either. I don’t criticise their grades; I feel proud of them. I don’t measure their bodies against the ideal; I treasure how real and how human the flow of their home is. They each have their flaws. This is what makes them, them. And I love them dearly for it.

But when it comes to me, my brain switches from relishing these differences between us, to the fear of never being good enough. I am suddenly exempt from from this freedom to appreciate what makes everyone, and everything else, special and unique. The pressure to be this impossibly perfect person that has been conjured up in the darkest corner of my anxiety, is terrifying, because I can never be that person. I feel as though this fear of failure restrains me from living at all. With every task I have to strive higher and higher each time, and each accomplishment is never good enough. I find it hard to complete things unless I know that they are absolutely the best I can do, otherwise I struggle to do them at all. And even then, the apparent flaws become ever large, clouding out anything worthy that is actually there.

My eating disorder grew on the constant, inner, bombardment of never being good enough, and fed on my striving for perfection. Although it manifested initially in my physical self, the perfectionism is not limited to just my body. It criticised my every social interaction, my grades and exactly who I was at all times. I would (and sometimes still do) lay in bed at night, trying to sleep, with my brain obsessing for hours over my tone in an earlier conversation, or if I possibly hadn’t come across exactly how I had intended. I could feel okay getting an A grade, but this little voice still pipes up with “it isn’t as good as it could be though.” Even writing this piece, I feel like a fraud, because how could I be a perfectionist when there is so much wrong with my writing?

art, back view, backlit

In saying this, I have gotten better with my perfectionism over the years. To be honest, failing all of my exams at my worst (an academic perfectionist’s most horrific nightmare) actually did wonders for challenging my perfectionism. When I failed all of my exams, and became the exact opposite to my perfectionist self, my brain was a war zone. However, beyond my own head? The sky didn’t fall in, my friends and family still loved me, and I learnt I was no less of a person. Life moved on. It kept going. Experiencing a complete failure of who perfectionism told me I had to be, was life changing. I survived without it. I grew beyond it.

Recovery from the eating disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder, have allowed me to challenge this suffocating voice in my head. Anxiety and perfectionism are strongly linked, and perfectionism is a risk factor for many mental illnesses. The typical low self esteem and high levels of self critique that perfectionism supports, are kerosene for igniting many unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviours. Throughout my recovery, I have gotten far better at challenging the notion of never being good enough. Little things, like continuing to write or run when it’s messy and not going how I had envisioned, have gone a long way. Just simply starting, or trying things out, have helped me to become more comfortable with not being good at things, and instead just enjoying them for what they really are.

backlit, beach, beautiful

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Anne Lamott’s wise words acknowledge the alternative to perfectionism – not necessarily failure, but rather fun, play and joy.  Experiencing life as it is meant to be lived; messily and with the curiosity of a child.

Have you heard that quote about comparison being the thief of joy? It’s safe to say that this thief has a partner in crime. Perfectionism. Robbing you of joy since yesterday.

Choosing your path. Or walking around.

As the end of high school approached, it was drilled into each of us that we must have a plan. We were given pages upon pages of post-school propaganda, detailing everything from entering the armed forces, to university, to joining the sisterhood. There were countless career fairs and talks by people “from the industry”, which were always those who had a very victorious job. The sort of job that is clean cut, and that you will stay in for life.

Not having a set career for post-school life wasn’t merely frowned upon; it was unheard of. By the time we walked out the gates for the last time in our final year, we had to have chosen our path, our ingrained footsteps towards a pleasant future. When I completed school, similar to my peers, we had each decided what we wanted to do with ourselves amongst simmering pressure. Pressure to decide, at 17 and 18, what we would be doing to pay the bills for the rest of our lives. University was heavily pushed, far more so than trades or heading straight into work, with the unspoken message of university being a better and more respected option than the rest.

fashion, footwear, grass

For some reason I still don’t quite understand, I decided to study psychology at the university all my friends were going to. I don’t really know why, but I was interested in the mental health field. From the attitude of the school I went to, the ambitions of clinical psychology and even more so psychiatry, were hailed as the sole, successful paths in this field. And so I began university with already failing mental health, and proceeded to drop out 18 months later at rock bottom.

At this stage, I was completely and utterly lost. This was partially due to the illnesses I was experiencing, but also because without university and my set career path ahead of me, it was easy to start to question who you are without it all. And I didn’t like what I found.

It was terrifying at first, not complying with what I had been taught my whole life. Not consistently making progress towards that set career we decided upon while we were still children. I felt as though I had failed myself, my education, my family and my school. Within our plans in our final year, there was no room for mistakes. You pick something that is deemed “good enough”, like medicine or law, and then you head out and do it. Massive shifts in mindset and personal circumstances changing weren’t part of the ideal equation.

adventure, backpack, beach

As time went on, I slowly began to recover, and I was left with exactly what I had been taught to fear. Not being in the prestigious and ambitious game. Not complying with the decisions I had made while still in school. At the time, I was working full time in a job that I didn’t exactly hate, but it was boring, and wasn’t what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.

At this point, I was living exactly what school had taught me was wrong. Not excelling. Not being perfect. Not following the “good” path or the “right” path. I was 20, and this is when I learnt that not following the path that is set ahead for you is okay.

The break from constantly striving for success in something I wasn’t even sure I liked, gifted me the time and energy for other realms of life. I was healing from years of mental illnesses, I was working on my relationship with my now husband, I was rekindling the fire and reigniting long hidden passion for life itself. These endeavors are not what we were taught you should be doing after you leave school. However, I discovered that they were far more important and meaningful than where I should have been instead.

adult, agriculture, alone

With time to think and breathe beyond the suffocating pressure, I came across something that truly intrigued me. It was a geospatial science course at a local university, an institute that is viewed as less prestigious, and thus not as good, as the one I had previously attended. I began, and I have never looked back. And things have worked out better than I ever could have envisioned in my final year of school.

I am now 22, and am two thirds of my way through my bachelor’s degree, studying what I wasn’t meant to study, and having made more mistakes than I can ever count. And guess what? I am so happy. I truly enjoy my field, and I am thankful for the experiences that made me deviate from where I was “supposed” to be.

Please don’t get me wrong, I believe it is good that school tries to prepare students for the world beyond. However, acknowledging that it is okay not to know, and that it is okay to change, is also necessary. I am also a strong advocate for taking time to experience life outside of school, before committing to a particular course or field of work. Work in a boring job for a while. See where your mind wanders, feel what pulls you in. Find out who you actually are without the overwhelming pressure to decide exactly who you are at 18.

autumn leaves, canine, cocker spaniel

Not one of my friends that I left school with have stuck exactly with what they initially decided upon leaving. Many have changed majors, some have changed universities, and others have changed careers. And it’s brilliant. We are creating who we are. We are not static creatures.

Go out and be changing, be dynamic, and don’t be afraid of how you will grow in the process. Most of us don’t know what we are doingAnd that, that is truly okay.