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The Virtue of Knowing Your Limits

February 16, 2016

On December 31, 2015, I sat down to write out my year in review. I slogged through my calendar, day by day, and dutifully recorded the most significant events on a timeline. Long before I’d reached December, it became painfully apparent that the last year had been mostly marked by notable negatives: two terrible breakups with the same wonderful person, an extended month-long departure from work thanks to one week spent in the psych ward and a follow-up two-week intensive partial hospitalization program necessitated by my obsession with suicide, a brand-new diagnosis of PTSD (on top of my existing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression diagnoses), several failed medication trials, the list goes on.

While bitterly compiling that summary of 365 very troubled days, I felt empty, alone, and hollow. I was completely unable to pick out any triumphs. During the first six weeks of 2016 I’ve tried to look over my timeline and find beauty and strength within all of that failure, and I think I’ve succeeded.

I look at my easily-digestible version of 2015 and there, hidden between the scrawled lines of missed engagements and disappointments, is a newly-discovered skill. For all of my setbacks and tribulations, I finally learned how to ask for help.

I’ve always been extremely prideful of my self-sufficiency. From a very young age I’ve preferred to learn new things on my own and at my own pace. And I’ve always felt great shame in admitting my faults, even if the standards and expectations I have for myself are much, much higher than those I hold for others. I’ve always taken on a lot at once and have largely gone unpunished for that behavior since I (luckily) have a natural aptitude for academia.

This past year saw many instances of me skirting the very edge of disaster. I could feel myself being effective: getting things done (both at work and at home), taking on more — but there was always a sneaking feeling that at any moment things could go horribly off the rails. I felt like I was holding a multitude of loose threads, every now and then acquiring new ones. I’d succeeded in keeping everything untangled and tidy, but each new addition threatened to throw the whole of my existence into chaos.

And then it did.

After having been at my lowest, planning unspeakable events, hospitalized, barred from access to even my spiral-bound notebook, I can now discern when I’ve surpassed my personal bandwidth. I can look at what’s currently sitting on my plate and be able to say, “goodness, I can’t eat all of this on my own!” And here’s the kicker: people tell me they actually admire that trait.

Despite my knee-jerk reaction and initial disgust towards parading my vulnerabilities, it is in fact liberating and allows me to veritably be stronger. It seems counter-intuitive, even now, but makes a lot of sense if you allow logic to take over. If you are able to ask for help and receive some reinforcement, of course you’ll be more robust and able to withstand more.

While I have to constantly remind myself of this because drawing attention to my weaknesses still feels unnatural to me, I know I’m better for it. My life feels more balanced and others trust my judgement more. 2015 was one for the books. However, I’m going to try to remember it not as my resentful, December 31st self did, but as The Year I Learned To Ask For Help.

This was originally published on Medium

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