On (Not) Being a Failure: My Post-College Journey

When I graduated college in 2009, I had a plan. I would move back home and live with my mom until I found an entry-level job as a writer or editor. Then I would get an apartment, maybe move in with my college boyfriend, and begin my “adult” life. I anticipated that all of this would take about six months, max.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way. Turns out, there weren’t really any entry-level jobs in my field because of the recession. There weren’t any jobs, period. I spent over a year applying to dozens of positions, anything I was even remotely qualified for. The result of my search was some sporadic editing gigs, a very-part-time job teaching computer lessons to old people, and an ill-fated administrative assistant position for a company that almost immediately asked me to compose college admission essays for non-English-speaking students. I left that one more deflated than ever.

I didn’t know back then that I wasn’t alone in my aspiring adult struggles. Despite the fact that some of my friends were able to find jobs and be independent, many of these fell through, or were exaggerated. Personally, I tried to avoid telling anyone that I lived at home and only worked part-part time doing freelance editing gigs. I was embarrassed. I still am embarrassed. Because, going on five years later, that part of the equation hasn’t changed.

Yep, folks. I still live at home.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve been stuck in the same place all these years. But that’s not really true. Because I couldn’t find a full-time job, I decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time writing, taking classes, and working on this site. My college relationship ended shortly after I graduated, but after a few years of dating disasters and discouragements, I found an awesome boyfriend who is always there for me and is my number one fan.

\It’s because of said boyfriend that I felt inspired to write this post. I’ve been so discouraged lately, feeling like nothing has changed, that I’ll never be truly successful or independent. As I wrap up my graduate degree, edit my two ongoing manuscripts for publication, and begin to contemplate re-entering the job market, all those fears about being behind, being unsuccessful, and being a failure have returned, full force.

I want to be an “adult” so badly. I know my boyfriend is right when he tells me that no one is where they thought they’d be. There are others out there going through what I’m going through, especially those pursuing creative endeavors. I really just want to be a writer who makes enough as a freelance editor and writing teacher to support that dream. It’s still not clear whether that will be possible or enough. Right now, it isn’t.

I don’t necessarily have anything motivational to end on. I just wanted to be honest about my new adult journey because I don’t want to hide anymore. As twenty-somethings, we’ve been led to believe that adulthood works a certain way, and that it has a timeframe that must be followed. If you’re not able to follow that timeframe, you’re a failure.

Even though I feel like a failure at times, I’m really just trying to find my way in a world that’s changing and uncertain. I’m lucky to have a mother who supports me and my dream of being a writer. I’m also very lucky that I have a few good friends and a wonderful boyfriend who helps me feel accomplished and talented whenever I feel down and hopeless. There are a few parts of the equation I’ve gotten right, but none showed up the way I expected them to. I can only hope that’s true for everything else, that the pieces will fall into place when they’re ready to, and when I’m ready for them to.

Are you still trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing? Or are you someone who went through this already and came out on the other side? 

What is Anxiety Disorder?

Photo credit: Alana SaltzIn previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’ve dealt with anxiety disorder for most of my life. Although I think mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized with time, I’ve noticed that anxiety disorder is still very misunderstood.

Life is stressful and anxiety provoking. Everyone struggles with anxiety, often on a daily basis. So what’s the difference between being anxious about the realities of life and having an anxiety disorder?

Think of anxiety disorder as being similar to clinical depression. Everyone gets depressed at times depending on their life circumstances. Clinical depression, however, is when depressed thoughts and feelings occur constantly over an extended period of time, often without cause, and aren’t easily relieved. The same is true of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is when a high level of anxiety is consistently present and is easily triggered and heightened by circumstances that most people don’t think twice about.

For example, my anxiety often comes up in relation to social events. I get anxious when I’m going to an event or party where I don’t know a lot of people or when I’m planning a date with someone I don’t know very well. Sometimes the anxiety appears in the form of worries about feeling awkward or uncomfortable, having to deal with potential traffic or parking problems at the venue, and the possibility of getting physically ill during the event.

While everyone might feel nervous about things like this, sometimes these fears cause me to feel nauseous or trigger a migraine that makes me feel unable to go to the event at all. I’ve missed out on parties and have cancelled dates because of this on many occasions. When anxiety affects the quality of your life this way, it’s time to consider the possibility that it may be a disorder.

I’ve been coming across more and more people lately who have complained to me about being anxious a lot but feel they aren’t being taken seriously. I’ve come up against that problem many times in my life. People constantly tell me things like, “Don’t worry” and “Just don’t think about it” and “What is there to be anxious about? You’re being ridiculous.” Of course, comments like that only make me feel worse about being anxious, and feed into the endless cycle of anxiety.

The cycle goes like this: You feel anxious, then you feel bad about feeling anxious, which causes you to feel even more anxious than you did in the first place. You start to feel like there’s something wrong with you, that you aren’t normal, and you wonder why you can’t just make the anxiety stop like everyone says you should be able to. One of the best ways to stop this cycle is to feel understood by others and to be easy on yourself about these feelings as you work on them.

For me, the most difficult part of having anxiety disorder has been the physical symptoms that accompany it. I can’t tell you how many different doctors and specialists I’ve seen over the years. I’ve gone to doctors complaining of constant stomachaches, headaches, and migraines. On average, I missed about 20 days of class every year when I was in grade school. Doctors have done tests and prescribed medications despite never finding an actual medical cause or condition.

When it all comes down to it, I can see that these pains are caused by my anxiety. However, they are real pains and symptoms. Anxiety can cause an increased acid build-up in your stomach leading to nausea and cramping. It can also cause tension in your neck and shoulders that triggers migraines.

I believe there needs to be a better public understanding and awareness of anxiety disorder. So many people who suffer with it feel isolated and misunderstood. If you think you might be struggling with anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to start feeling better. Consulting a professional is always first on the list of recommendations. I also suggest looking into alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation. And being open and honest about your feelings and concerns with your friends and family can make a world of difference. If they aren’t getting it, tell them that you really need them to understand that these feelings are real, and that this is a real condition.

To learn more about anxiety disorder, start with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website. Psychology Today’s website is a great resource for finding a certified therapist near you. There are also numerous guides and workbooks devoted to helping people overcome anxiety disorder.

Just remember, if you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety disorder, be gentle and understanding. It’s not a disorder that will go away overnight, and I’ve spent years in therapy working on making things better. I still go through phases, like over the past few months, where the anxiety is worse than usual. But I try to remember that there’s nothing wrong or broken about me, and that I will get through it. Having the right support system in place makes it that much easier.

How to Step into Uncertainty And Get Closer to What You Want

Life is full of uncertainty, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If life were never uncertain, it would be boring. So why do we crave change and variety so much, yet become frightened when it actually happens? I’m currently taking Mastin Kipp’s “Discover the Wisdom of Your Fear” course, and it’s given me the chance to look at how I’m living my life and think about where I’m letting my fear of uncertainty paralyze me from moving forward.

Credit: Matthew DevalleBefore I continue with this post, here’s a little back story about me: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at the age of seven. As someone who’s spent most of their life dealing with GAD and has been through years of therapists and medications, this fear of uncertainty has been an ongoing battle for me. My life has been dominated by never-ending thoughts of fear, worry, and anxiety.

I want so badly to know what’s going to happen to me in the future so I can prepare myself to handle it. I run all of the possibilities through my head again and again until I become too anxious to do anything at all. I can’t even count how many opportunities I’ve missed because I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of facing the uncertainty of new experiences.

That’s why I haven’t been nearly as productive as I should be with my writing, this blog, figuring out my career, and even in my personal life. I make excuses, telling myself it’s okay because I have a disorder and have no control over it. For most of my life, I’ve let my anxiety disorder diagnosis define me. It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve been able to take a step back and ask, “Is it really this mysterious chemical imbalance in my head stopping me from living my life, or is it something I have control over, that I can change and work with?”

I’ve realized that it is something I can change and work with. Because every time I pull myself out of the cycle of fear and uncertainty and take a step forward, I feel incredible. I have this amazing sense of control and power over my life. And every time I let the fear stop me, I take a step back and miss out.

To be honest, I almost didn’t even write a blog entry this week. I told myself that no one really cares whether or not I write anything, and what the hell do I have to say, anyway? That’s the main thought that’s been stopping me from blogging and writing for the past few months. But then I thought, maybe if I stop worrying about what to write and just write what I’m feeling now, someone will connect with it. Maybe if I take control of my anxiety in this moment and channel it into something meaningful, I’ll be a little closer to living the life I want.

This entry is my step forward for today. What’s yours going to be?

On Being Awesome, and the Importance of Community

If you’ve ever seen the phrase “DFTBA” floating around the internet, you may have wondered what it means. “DFTBA” is an initialism that stands for “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.” I heard it for the first time when I started watching the VlogBrothers on YouTube almost a year ago today.

Back in September of 2011, I was feeling far from awesome. I was going through a painful breakup, I was struggling through my first semester of graduate school, and I was having a lot of trouble with my memoir. I found myself completely creatively blocked and stuck for the first time in my life.

But as I made my way through the archive of Vlogbrother videos, I felt a sense of comfort and connection with these two nerdy brothers who proudly shared their nerdy lives with the world. I also discovered that there was a huge community of people who watched their videos and connected with them as strongly as I did (we call ourselves Nerdfighters). It amazed me that this community of quirky, unique, nerdy people all found each other through a series of videos on the internet. I started going to Nerdfighter meetups in the L.A. area and attended the Tour de Nerdfighting show in Santa Monica back in February.

Still, what continues to amaze me most about the Nerdfighter community is our catchphrase, “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.” It’s so simple, yet so powerful, because it’s just so easy to not feel awesome. I know I didn’t feel awesome last year, and there are certainly days I don’t feel awesome now. And if you don’t feel awesome, it’s easy to forget to be awesome.

To me, being awesome means being yourself and being proud of who you are. It means embracing the things that make us unique, the things that make us different, the things that make us nerdy. And the positive, awesome energy I felt watching the VlogBrother videos online and meeting up with people in real life helped me get through my slump last year.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about community. Without community, it’s difficult to tune into the awesome parts of ourselves that, on our own, we might think are strange or weird. But when we see others being proud to be different, proud to be dorky or awkward or nerdy, it’s a lot easier to be proud of those things too.

Who Am I, Really?

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who I really am. I’m not sure there’s a “true self” exactly. I think all of us are a big mess of contradictions and personalities. For example, some people would describe me as being a quiet person while others have told me that I talk too much. Both things are true. When I’m in a new social situation, I’m often shy. When I’m with close friends, I might end up talking a lot.

I guess we present different sides of ourselves to different people…or even to the same people at different times. Yet there seems to be this idea floating around that we need to embrace our “true selves.” But what if I’m not sure which self of mine is the true one? And what if my true self is not the one that other people want or need me to be?

I’m really struggling with this issue in my writing because I’m not quite sure who exactly I am now or who exactly I was as a kid. I’m trying to write about my childhood and teenage years with honest self-reflection, but it seems impossible to pinpoint what the hell was actually going on back then or even what’s going on now.

Part of me feels like I need to censor myself, and I think that’s the problem. I’ve been told my entire life that I’m too emotional. I’ve been told that I cry too much, complain too much, and that I’m depressed and/or anxious too often. Despite the strides I’ve made and all the work I’ve done to change this, there are still people out there who look at me this way.

We’re rarely encouraged to talk about our emotions in real life. Mental illness, despite its prevalence, is still a taboo topic of conversation. I’ve been hesitant to mention it here even though it’s the focus of my memoir. But in writing, expressing honest emotion is a necessity. Even in blogging, some sort of emotional connection to your reader is required.

I think that’s why the writing I did as a teen feels more honest and uninhibited than my recent work. I hadn’t learned to control my emotions and impulses, so they flowed easily into my writing. At the same time, I had a lot of trouble making and keeping friends because they were overwhelmed (and occasionally annoyed) by my emotionality.

Is there a way to be open yet reserved, emotional yet controlled? Is there perhaps some sort of happy medium I just haven’t found yet? I don’t really have an answer or conclusion for this post because I’m genuinely struggling with all of this right now. Maybe I’m chasing a sort of self-awareness that doesn’t really exist.


Do you think we, as people, have a true self?