“…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
– Steve Jobs, Commencement Address, June 2005
This is one of my favourite quotations and I have a few favourites from Steve Jobs, whose life philosophy I find hugely inspirational. I chose to copy this one today because I feel as if I have had an epiphany. I feel as if I have looked back and have now connected some of the dots of my life, that the zig-zag lines of a dot-to-dot truly do reflect the ups and downs of the years gone by, and that only now are they beginning to make sense as a whole, as a bigger picture.
For a long time I have known that I have an anxious personality and that I am prone to stress. Some situations forced me to realise this, and before I realised, I had suffered with these things not actually knowing that they were the labels for the way I was feeling. I can look back on my life and can identify anxiety attacks from the age of 12, and I can identify that during A levels I lost weight due to stress, but at the time I didn’t really know what I was experiencing. Then in my second year at university I was forced to understand the meaning of stress to a debilitating level when it made me nauseous, dizzy, emotional, and lose weight. It didn’t take me long to “recover”, but three years later, when I took my first job abroad, I experienced this kind of stress again, and this time it was accompanied with visual distortions. Enough was enough. I couldn’t stick my head in the sand any longer. It was time to learn how to manage stress, how to become more confident, how to conquer my fears, etc.etc. This is when I dedicated myself to my own personal development, and when I vowed I never wanted to go through that kind of stress-related illness again.
So, aware of the triggers, and susceptibility to stress, I didn’t let it stop me doing what I wanted to do in terms of working abroad and training to be a teacher. I thought I would be able to “manage” the stress when it happened by using strategies I had learnt through self-help. And I could. I got a lot better at looking after myself and have avoided the kind of illness I had before. But it came at a cost.
I was so afraid of what might happen if I got too stressed that during my teacher training I, ironically, did not deal well with the stress. It made me defensive, it made me doubt that I could cope, it made me question if teaching was for me if I didn’t have as much stamina as the other teachers in the staff room. I was afraid of feeling anxious. I was “fearing the fear”, “being stressed about being stressed” – the ultimate vicious cycle. I feel that my fear contributed to the alienation I experienced at my last workplace; I admit that I wasn’t at my most charismatic with colleagues because I was full of self-doubt and a preoccupation with NOT GETTING TOO STRESSED for fear of what would happen to me if I did.
Until now, I had been able to join up some of the dots in my picture. I had labelled the feelings I felt, I had identified my issues, I had begun to learn how to manage them, I had also learnt that trying to manage them too much could cause further problems… so what next?
As the summer holidays draw to a close and I am about to embark on a new teaching position in a very different situation to my last work place, I have joined up some more dots. And I would not have been able to get to this point without some of my lovely friends listening to me talk about this and helping me to understand further. So I would like to extend a big thank you to all the people who have always been there when I needed to talk about “my issues”.
I have come to understand that, before, I treated anxiety and stress as if they could be cured and as if they would eventually go away, that one day I would have finally learnt to manage them successfully and, as if by magic, I would not experience them any more, and if I did, the effect would be negligible. However I now realise that this is sadly not possible. I need to let myself feel these things, but most importantly, I need to believe that if I feel stressed or anxious, I will be able to handle those feelings, I will be able to cope with those feelings as best as I possibly can.
It is not about avoiding, preventing, curing, hiding, repressing – it is about feeling, and knowing that I can deal with it. After all, I felt these things before, and I got through it. So I can do it again if it happens again.
I feel that now I can go forward with more compassion to myself and others, with more clarity, more commitment, and less resistance to the feelings I didn’t want to feel.
The past has been connected, but the future stretches ahead as a vast expanse of as-yet-unconnected dots, and I am going to step out and allow myself to wholeheartedly experience whatever comes next, trusting in my own ability to handle whatever happens as best as I possibly can.
Thank you for reading,