I Finally Asked For Help!

Growing up, I always felt the pressure to prove myself. I wanted to be the best in class and on the sports field. I wanted to be the best in all extra mural activities- speech and drama, music, debating and public speaking. To achieve this, I pushed myself extremely hard, hoping that all my efforts would be recognized, especially by my parents. I yearned for their validation so badly, that I cried from bitter disappointment whenever they could not make it to any of the prize-giving events, Matric farewell or significant milestones in my life. Their silence or what seemed dismissive demeanour whenever I came home with a straight A report card shattered me, pushing me to do more, to study harder and get 100% for all my subjects. I believed that if I achieved 100% in all my courses, maybe that would be a good enough reason for them to validate that I was a brilliant child. This was sadly still not the case.

This journey carried through into high school and university. I passed Matric with two distinctions and completed 5 degrees all in record time. Yet, I still didn’t get the validation I thought I deserved. Strangely, I am still not sure what this validation is or how it should be delivered to make me feel like it is there. Professionally, my career has progressed very well. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for really great corporate brands. I’ve had amazing opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, meet amazing people and explore new skills I didn’t deem possible. I acquired material possessions fairly early in my life- a car and house before the age of 28 years. I travelled internationally and acquired 3 additional postgraduate degrees all before the age of 30. I registered a company and started two other businesses while still in my corporate job and was selected for one of the most prestigious fellowships. According to my very high standards, I’ve done exceptionally well but these accolades still didn’t fulfill or assure me that I’m doing well. I still have feelings of inadequacy, of not being or doing enough.

This blog post, however, is not about bashing or criticising my parents or their parenting style. It is not about blaming them for not validating my performance or self-proclaimed brilliance- that’s too much responsibility for anyone. It is not their fault I felt this way. They gave me the best opportunities I could ask for in life- access to the best education and provided for me financially albeit difficult. This blog post is about me facing my issues and dealing with them head-on. It’s about holding myself responsible and accountable for my feelings and decisions.

For years, I refused to confront this because I was scared. It was easier to hide behind another qualification, join the next youth organisation or do anything that would occupy my time. It took me a lot of time and kept me busy until something went wrong. When my world felt like it was crumbling in 2016 for example, I attempted psychotherapy. I only made it past the first session, walked away and never went back because it forced me to deal with this issue. The reason I went there in the first place was to complain about my work challenges and ask for help. The session, however, ended with us talking about how not being validated impacted my life. When our conversation got to this point, I fled and never went back.

“There is no weakness in asking. If we wait for someone to give us what we want, chances are we might never get it” Abhishek Ratna

It took me 4 years, thirty days of the nationwide lockdown and a pandemic to gather enough courage to ask for professional help. I finally brought myself to call ICAS, a health and wellness program where you have access to psychotherapy, financial advice and professional services to name a few. I hesitated for hours before making the call, because I knew how the conversation would go and dare I say end. I knew what I needed to confront. I was afraid that by making this call, my perfectly curated life would come under extreme scrutiny. I was not ready, but eventually made the call and spoke to one of the counsellors for about 2 hours.

The conversation was very unstructured at first, but towards the end, she helped me find clarity on my key issues. She helped me figure out a starting point and shared tips on how to methodologically approach each issue. I would be naive to think that a two-hour session would undo the damage I had inflicted on myself over the last 3 decades. This session gave me tools and frameworks I could apply immediately. It gave me strategies to gather my thoughts and prepare to move forward. After a few weeks, I will call ICAS again for a follow-up session and hopefully commit to a few more psychotherapy sessions.

What did I learn from this session?

For the first time in my life, I learnt just how important talking to someone objectively about your issues is. This is extremely helpful because it gives you a different perspective on things. For years, I’ve relied on myself, family and friends for advice, which can be very subjective at times. The second lesson I learnt is that it is okay not to be okay, but equally important is to ask for help as early as possible. Asking for help has been particularly difficult for me, but I’m learning to seek help and to stop trying to be a hero. My last lesson from this journey is acknowledging that I’m extremely hard on myself. I’m learning to forgive and be kinder to myself. I’m also redefining my definitions of brilliance, success and failure. I’m learning to play to my tune, measuring up to my standards and being accountable for how I treat myself. I am a work in progress, working hard to confront all of my issues. This also includes making some drastic changes to be at my best. I am taking this time to work on myself, rely on my own “brilliance”, appreciate and validate myself and ask for help. I’m choosing to bet on myself. Who are you willing to bet on?

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