Self Care and Selfishness: Seeing the Difference

I left school eagerly, without looking back. I left school with hope for college to be where I’d finally blossom into exactly who I wanted to be, free of the proverbial shackles of cliques and their influence and free of my own second-guessing and self-sabotage. That was naïve.

Sitting on the precipice of ‘the real world’ here in final year I am lucky enough to look back on my first two years of college, and my years in school. In school I was not by any stretch of the imagination a happy person nor was I who I wanted to be. I socially camouflaged myself into whatever group best shielded me from whatever it was I feared on that day. Social exclusion, fights, slurs, whatever. I often did this at the expense of hurting truer friends for my own temporary shallow comfort.

Throughout my first year of college this did not do me well. I threw myself into situations I was not comfortable in and told myself it was for my own good, I was “getting out of my comfort zone”.

It soon became clear that getting out of my comfort zone meant being reckless. Not reckless in the fun and life-loving sense that we could all benefit from but reckless in that I was being cruel and fickle, spending all this time following every selfish whim I had without ever getting what I really wanted or feeling any great sense of comfort. I handed in rushed assignments with once-overs, and I barely scraped by in grades. I was far too used to getting just good enough grades in second level to be concerned about something as trivial as a work ethic. But hey, I was having fun, so I couldn’t see the harm.

A conversation with someone I love changed my trajectory. Sound simple? It was.

In second year I was living pretty well, feeling more confident and more assured in what I and my talents could achieve, both academically and personally. I was getting better grades, albeit I still wasn’t going to win a Nobel Prize any time soon. That lasted until the second half of the year, when I found out I failed a module from my first semester. I had been living in a cosy little bubble of arrogance that came from my intelligence, my easy upbringing, and my loving and supportive family. How could I possibly fail when I’m reasonably talented, even if I had no drive or solid work ethic? The bubble was popped by that failure.

It sounds privileged and I don’t expect anyone to cry me a river, but that’s the way it was. I struggled through the second half of the year like an ox carrying the burden of my own doubts, financial pressure and fear of losing my grant didn’t help ease any pressure on my fears of failing the year and repeating past mistakes of half-heartedly doing coursework.

It was a hard year and I had a horrible time. A friend recently told me she was worried about me last year, that I had almost completely seceded from my social life. I realised this year just how important a healthy social life is in balancing your life to be a happy and productive person. I spent the second half of last year working away thinking I was doing my best when I was actually sabotaging myself by overwhelming myself with imagined pressures until I’d snap and do next to no work for a long period of time.

Here in third year I see that I got almost a first average last year even with my failed module. I’m feeling much more confident because of this. I feel that I can finally see a reward for my work. But I also know that I cannot and will not isolate myself again. Even when I don’t want to. Self care means doing what you sometimes don’t want to do, because it’s what’s best for you.

If I am blossoming as I expected leaving school, I do not know what I’ll be. A mere dandelion seed in the wind or a great oak, I do not know. But I do know, whatever I’ll be, I’ll be doing just fine.

Conor O’Doherty

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