As a teenager, I believed in social norms and I strove to fit in with the culture around me. In my Southern California hometown of San Diego, the expectation was that you should be athletic, pretty, social, and outgoing. However, I always resented the confined box I was told to live within, always trying to reject the status quo in small ways, but it was not until I moved away to South Carolina that I was fully able to rebel. When I enter undergraduate at the University of South Carolina in 2015, I decided to break with my upbringing and find out for myself who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live.
I stopped going to the gym. I stopped micromanaging my food. And I stopped caring about my appearance.
Instead of getting a summer internship, I went backpacking alone throughout Europe and South America. I started to eat carbs. As a joke, I would talk loudly about my love for gluten. I lost muscle and I gained a squishy midsection, curvy hips, and thicker thighs.
To my SoCal friends, I became unrecognizable.
I was rebelling against everything I was told to be and I was loving it.
After a few years of this “Eat, Pray Love” lifestyle, I came to the point where I was not simply trying to be a different person, I actually was a different person.
I could no longer wake up military-style at 6 am to go to a workout class.
I had to eat carbs at each meal; rice and bread were my new religion.
I had to wake up slow and live my days by my impulses, rather than by my calendar.
I ate what I felt like, sometimes that was a salad, other days it was pizza.
While I felt in my psyche that I was in a more balanced state of mind, I did miss some of the self-control I had over myself. I had become a person of whim, who could follow their instincts but who lacked a filter on these impulses as well.
The anxiety arose when I needed to exercise self-control and I couldn’t.
I would promise myself to accomplish X task, to refrain from saying X thing, or to wake up at X time, and I did not do it.
As a person who could always rely on me, I suddenly saw my unreliability for what it was. I had become unstable, and the reality of it slapped me hard across the face.
From pure control to pure instinct.
Regrouping myself, I decided that there must be a balance between the two.
I set off to find that point.
First, however, I had to understand the source of the problem.
What Went Wrong
I was trying to rewire my habits, which meant first rejecting the impulse towards control and then searching deeper for a freer instinct.
I learned to reject self-control.
This internal pattern breaking and rejection of self- control became my new normal. I shed old habits, and my sole new habit was the rebellion of constraint.
And because I could not constrain myself, I could not predict my actions.
What ensued was an inner state of chaos as I felt “unhinged”. The anxiety came from the fear of the unknown — and I was the unknown and the uncontrollable. Because I could not know what I was going to do, I could not trust myself to act correctly.
A Balance Point
By the end of 2019, I realized that I wanted certain habits back again. Above all, I wanted the ability to create and stick to a routine, to build and live by healthy habits, and to work towards a stable life. I had new dreams and new life goals, I was no longer a free-floating traveler, I was a woman with a mission.
I have been working since the beginning of 2020 to rebuild my habits and self-trust. Quarantine was my catalyst, as it forced me to stay home and practice self-reflection.
Rather than becoming my old self, someone who conformed to external expectations, I am learning to conform to my own expectations.
There are qualities I wish to possess, a body I wish to have, a mindset I want to live within, and a life I want to strive for.
We Are What We Do
The way I live my life, day in and day out, will dictate if I will reach my expectations.
Habits, and the self-trust to follow those habits, are what will bring me to my goals.
The more I do what I say and the more I show up for myself, the more I will trust myself and the less anxiety will plague me.
If you want to be the best version of yourself — and not what other people expect you to be — ask yourself, what are you doing to build that self-trust? What promises do you make and what habits do you practice? Are they in line with what you want? And if not, how are you going to change that?
And remember, choose wisely.
Note from the author:
I write to build understanding and create conversations, with a larger dream of exposing the beauty within these interactions.
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