There was a time in my life, pre-suicide attempts, that I possessed ‘oodles’ of self confidence. I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted without thinking about what others thought of me. It was wonderful. Somewhere along the line though my confidence got shattered and my spirit battered. Doing what I wanted no longer came as easily to me. I constantly worried about what other people would think. This happened sometime after I attempted suicide at 18 for the third time landing myself a spot in the I.C.U.’s Critical section and suffering brain damage. Suddenly I found I couldn’t just do what I wanted to anymore.
So what happened? Well for one thing shame does nothing for self confidence and I had an abundant amount of it after trying to kill myself and failing. Not only that but stigma from being mentally ill wore away at my confidence. It’s hard to be confident when you’re hiding who you are from people afraid of their judgement. I was afraid people would think poorly of me, that they would look down on me for what I had done. This wasn’t something I was used to. I was used to being an overachieving, do good’r. Now I had to re-frame how I saw myself; I could no longer view myself as before, I had to completely shift my focus to incorporate the ‘new me’. What transpired was my personal inner transformation.
Generally when we think of someone transforming themselves a positive connotation occurs. But in my case it was exactly the opposite. My transformation was negative. I loss my self confidence and had precious little self esteem to call my own. When I saw people and they asked me how I was doing I simply told them ‘fine’. Who really wants to hear you’ve had a major depression and tried to commit suicide? The people who knew what I’d done because they lived in residence with me were surprised I’d returned to university. I guess they figured I was going to transfer schools or not come back at all. On this account I felt proud of myself because I told myself I wasn’t going to be a quitter or ‘drop-out’.
The other major piece to my diminished sense of self arose from my newly acquired ataxic gait I’d received after overdosing. A not so lovely reminder of my failed suicide attempt. I felt that I drew attention to myself because I walked without coordination and balance. The brain damage I’d suffered impaired my preprioceptive sense to the point where I had trouble walking in a reasonably straight direction without considerable effort and sustained attention to my feet. Normally when we walk we don’t think about it we just ‘do it’ but I had to look at my feet and the surface I was walking on to help me maintain my equilibrium. When I didn’t I frequently found myself veering left and right similar to an intoxicated person. People generally did not remark on my walking except for kids when I was coming home in the evening. Then I would get comments like “oh she’s been drinking again”, which would not have been too bad if it weren’t for the fact I’ve NEVER drunk alcohol-EVER. Knowing I had killed off brain cells from my suicide attempts left me less than keen to experience further destruction of my brain cells from alcohol. I know one doesn’t loose many brain cells from drinking unless it’s heavily but I didn’t want anymore brain cells dying. Having difficulty walking for years after my suicide attempts reminded me constantly of why I didn’t want to drink.
In addition to impaired walking I dealt with anxiety over getting a job. I felt like I had little to offer despite having completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in 5 years instead of 4. To me, that extra year made me a ‘failure’. Who would want to hire somebody who can’t finish their degree on-time? Now I realize how silly and misguided my thinking was but at the time I was convinced of my short comings regarding employment.
Instead of being proud to have finished my degree whilst mentally ill and not adequately treated, nor accommodated academically, I picked apart everything I saw as flawed in my actions. I just couldn’t see how I’d done anything worth a congratulations. My GPA didn’t please me either because it was equivalent to a “B-” and my last couple of years in university I’d been getting B+’s and A range grades. The first couple of years of university weren’t great for me because I struggled to get my depression under control so lacked the concentration, focus and memory needed to succeed. The last half of my degree, by contrast, was better since I had managed to adapt better to my situation and knew more strategies to help myself academically. I’d also made an effort to reach out to individual professors and request extensions on papers/assignments when depressed if I felt they were sympathetic types. This helped a lot too, as prior to that I’d been handing assignments in late and getting deductions on my grade.
So far I’ve been discussing how I loss my self confidence from 18 onward. I finished university (my BA) at age 24 because I started at 19, after withdrawing a year earlier to seek treatment for my mental health, and took an extra year to finish. Once finished I felt an immense sense of grief and pain. I didn’t know how to identify myself in any other way than as a student. My plans for further studies didn’t flow smoothly because I lacked the knowledge of application cut off dates for graduate studies. They’re a lot earlier than undergraduate application dead lines. Thus, I had a year to ponder what the heck I was going to do. Most of the graduate programmes required higher grades than what I had. So I went with Social Work, a professional degree, but still at the undergrad level. The GPA required for admission was lower than most I’d been exploring and it sounded interesting.
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