How embracing the pain improved my relationships

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Throughout high school, I was consumed with wanting as much control as possible over my achievements to offset the lack of control I had over family life. My household was a constant warzone, where banging doors and shouting voices became the default background noise. I had a perfectionist helicopter mom who was overly involved in my academics, extracurriculars and personal life. I was afraid of saying a word to my parents, out of fear of being chastised. The only way I felt I could mitigate the amount of anger in my house was by making my parents proud and taking control over my accomplishments.

This left me in a conundrum of restlessness and anxiety, feeling as if my life was being swept away into a vortex of nothingness. Everything revolved around statistics: GPAs, test scores, mile times and 5K PRs, body weight, snap scores and Instagram followers. I had equated my worth with a series of arbitrary numbers, chasing perfection to distract myself from the emptiness I felt.

In the end, it only made me more shallow, competitive and empty, always left wanting to do better. This caused me to spiral into depression and anxiety, to the point where my body and health were also deteriorating.

Then one day during calculus class, I got an unexpected text from my mother. It was a long paragraph explaining how she wanted me to take a break from all extracurriculars. All of the accomplishments I was working so hard toward didn’t matter to her: All she wanted was for me to heal.

Initially, I was devastated to the point of tears because these activities gave me a sense of distraction and security. But looking back, I am so grateful I followed her advice. It forced me to figure out what I was missing, what my purpose was and the traumas I had to overcome. No external source or accomplishment would solve my problems.

My priorities shifted from wanting to do as many activities as possible toward restructuring my days and reshaping my mindset so that I’d feel less stressed. My busy 15-hour schedules turned into relaxing days of journaling, baking and hanging out with friends. With the help of YouTube videos and Instagram guides, I trained myself to reshape my self-critical thoughts into words of love and positive affirmations. I would set reminders on my phone, write on note cards and post-its and read them every time I had a negative thought.

Engaging in healthy thoughts and habits became easier as I became closer to the people I used to push away, especially my mother. I learned to ask for help and see that act as a sign of strength instead of weakness, which has carried on into other aspects of my life to this day. My mom, who I used to see as an obstacle, became my best friend, giving me advice that only she could give. She would share wise lessons about listening to my gut, outgrowing stepbacks and doing what’s right for my health. I opened up to friends who I didn’t think would understand me, and had conversations about body image, family pressures and self-love. This allowed my relationships to get deeper and stronger.

My purpose has been shaped by the pain and suffering I’ve gone through, as I now go through life with more care for helping others. When a friend expresses feelings of inadequacy and disappointment, I hold their hand and listen with empathy. If I notice abrupt changes in someone’s personality and habits, I check in with them to make sure they are okay, the way my mother looked after my safety and well-being. As a result, I think they feel validated, heard and hopeful for a brighter future.

As I walk across campus, watching students with their heads buried in textbooks, hoodies engulfing their faces and eye bags from minimal sleep, I feel a need to check in and make sure they are okay. I look around and wonder how other people are doing, realizing that others’ lives are just as complicated as mine.

Mental health challenges have the power to rekindle relationships, the way my mom and I matured through our love for one another. The struggles we face are what bring us closer to those around us. By simply speaking our pain out loud, we can cultivate new connections with people who are going through similar struggles and who may know how to help.

Mental health comes with many challenges but with them also comes character building, deeper relationships and purpose. Now, instead of chasing control, I chase freedom. And that’s allowed me to find meaning in every aspect of life, in pain and in joy.

Contact Geraldine Yue at [email protected].