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A sad story ep 4/8: The cost of playing it safe - falling

Chapter 4: The Cost of Playing It Safe: Falling

The day I lost my heart was a turning point for me. I felt my personal development was being stunted by my school situation, stunted because I couldn’t grow personally & express myself behind the mask I had to wear in order to fit in and mask my boredom & contempt for my symbiotic “friends”

Knowing this I had two choices: Change Schools OR Stay and stick it out. I chose the latter, because of the fear of the unknown, and lack of self esteem. I chose to play it safe, to stay.

And so it was. For another two years I harbored the silent pain and resentment of having to pretend. At the end of High School I wanted to put hundreds of miles between myself and my ‘old town issues & fake friends.’ but being so embroiled in the motions of being my mask (Sebastian) I made a ‘safety’ decision. One that would please everyone it seemed. One that no one would question because of the prestige it carried.

Out of fear, I wouldn’t dare say “I don’t know what I want to do with myself after High School.” So I told all concerned that I was going to become an electrical engineer. (Even though my final results for mathematics on standard grade were poor) I thought that through shear will power I could do anything.

Now normally the mention of going to waste time trying to study engineering (because I wasn’t really suited) would’ve made me second guess it, but as Sebastian, I had no objection to give. As I read the acceptance letter the faint whisper of the real me was screaming underneath “Why are you doing this, is it really right for You?”

The problem was I couldn’t tell if it was right for me personally, but I knew it was right for Sebastian, It pleased everyone; parents, peers, society and that made it alright.

Next year came I moved to another city 166 miles away from home and I made it into the engineering course by means of a bridging program. And even my mask (yes I still had it on) couldn’t buffer the reality – I couldn’t pull this off for anyone.

So during semester break I decided to drop my course & I applied my credits to another course in the same faculty, but one that didn’t require such intense mathematics, but more arithmetical type maths.

Architecture it was. Also even further from home this time, 555 miles from home.

So; it was further from home; still as prestigious as becoming an engineer and it pleased my peers & parents knowing I was going to one day become a success because of course Architects make a lot of money

A safe bet for social acceptance and self esteem. Or so I thought, Harry came up to study in Cape Town with me as well, by coincidence, at another college, I was in Varsity. He was there for a year then left the city to work for his father back home instead.

When he left I had no one left to impress, there were no other peeps from back home, no one to pretend for. It was just me, all alone and what happened next would forever change my life pattern & undermine my whole reason for being where I was, and even my reason to live...

I took off my mask for a second.

And in that second, that I had taken it off for the first time, I couldn’t escape the site of the truth approaching – that I’d lived a lie for 6 years. I was so hurt by this realization that I cried in my apartment for hours. I couldn’t deny the truth I’d neglected, that my goal, my reason for being in Cape Town 555 miles from home and studying to be a big shot successful Architect – was not true success but only to be seen as successful.

At the time I was too proud to accept this truth, I saw it as a hole in my mask that just needed to be patched and everything would be fine again - as it had been in the past. So my patch solution included: stepping on the career accelerator, I filled my time with work, work and work. No fun. No time to relax. I thought, “If I dedicate all my time to study and work then there’s no way I couldn’t do well right?” the quicker I sprint up the career ladder the sooner these fears and doubts will go away.

But gradually I started to show signs of burn out. I was working too hard at working too hard. My body tired and my spirit like a stubborn child refusing to play along with the lie it had outgrown, my mind fell victim to the fetid cycles of home-school-home. I stalled. Still clinging to the old mask and the thought that willpower shall quiet all fears. My hands refused to pick up a pencil; to draw a line. My mind refused to absorb knowledge about cantilevers, flying buttresses and hydro-dynamic equations.

I suddenly burnt out and exhausted all my bodies’ resources in the attempt to patch my mask. – It was all I thought I could do, because even that pain was easier to bare than facing the truth the “shadows” the “darkness” – that if I don’t pull this off this time I won’t have another shot at being seen as successful ever again in my life.

My life depends on this working out.

When people asked me, “so what do you do?” I felt like I was being put under a microscope, because I attached jobs to self worth, It was as if they were really asking, “So how much are you worth financially?” “How important are you in terms of your career?”- “therefore how much respect should I give you?” – All this is what I read between the lines of: “So what do you do?”

So I chose a prestigious career to pursue so that I would know I’d be seen as important. So in effect I’m taking out the guess work as I know what other peoples’ reactions would be i.e. they would be impressed.

Now all of that was in danger. The safety of knowing that I was a success in people’s eyes, was in danger, it was getting close to mid-terms and my grades were falling due to uncompleted tutorials and projects, and I couldn’t stop them from falling, as I was now burnt out and powerless.

Out of desperation I went to the student counselor, no help there, she was trained to deal with paper-cuts like; “do you miss home?” “Do you need to learn how to manage your time?” - My issues, it seemed, were over her head. -- Time to call in the professionals.

Dr.W was the first psychologist I’d ever seen. And I didn’t know how to approach being a patient. I didn’t even know what my problem was exactly, that’s what he was for – duh.
I couldn’t speak my mind with the mask on, so I thought I’d write my life story out over a weekend on an exam pad, 30 pages long. From childhood till 21 and recite it to see if we can pick anything up, maybe that could help to fix my problem quickly before mid-terms.

Dr.W couldn’t help crying during one session as I read aloud. The therapy didn’t help my immediate situation because I wanted it to help me get better without changing my personality. It’s like someone trying out an exercise program but still staying on the same diet that made them fat in the first place. Dr.W tried to corner Sebastian but he was too slippery, philosophizing his way out of reach every time.

By now it was 2 weeks before mid-terms, it was critical to study by the way. The plane I was piloting, flirted dangerously with the ground, caught in the fog of anxiety, worry and pure terror. I was in deep. And in the cock-pit, alarms and red lights had been going off for so long that I became deaf and numb to the sound wave vibrations, looking at the gauges the alto meter had become stuck, tired and overworked and I couldn’t tell how low I was really flying from the ground.

A week before mid-terms I had stalled completely, I couldn’t leave my room at home, with the hope that I might catch a spark to pick up a book and I’d be able to study and somehow be fit to write mid-terms. I didn’t buy myself food, I didn’t eat. Dr.W recommended medication and after seeing the psychiatrist Dr.E I was told I had social anxiety disorder and that the prescribed medication would take a few days to take effect.

I didn’t have a few days for the pills to work and help me get out of this situation. So I used the only other avenue left, medical leave. I asked Dr.E to admit me to the mental health clinic where he was resident, coincidentally over mid-terms week, even though it wasn’t really necessary, so that I could get a doctors letter to excuse me from writing exams – volunteering to stay in the “loony bin” - that was the extent of my desperation, to salvage the mask.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the “loony bin”. It was a mental health clinic dash rehab. They really had all sorts there. Some were really sick, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how normal most of them were, just like me, they could think intelligently and hold a conversation about anything, my ego took a dive, when I realized how much I had in common with those people as we were encapsulated by the safety of the clinic, away from the fears and stresses of the outside world, it really was a haven and I had a complete meltdown there.

Dr.W came to visit me for sessions while I was there and during that time, not having the distraction of having to worry about making a plan to pass exams. We made enough progress for me to finally admit to a profound answer to the question, “Why am I stuck?” - I was using Cape Town and studying architecture as a barrier to protect who I thought I was and I had become stuck.

I was discharged from the clinic a week later. I went back to varsity to see what options I had left after the mid-terms had been written. The dean’s secretary had received my sick letter, and I was permitted to write my exams during the mid year break with all the other rewriters.

Exams results would only count 40% towards my predicate mark, the other 60% came from tutorials and projects submitted during the months leading up to mid term. I didn’t have any “submitted” stamps on any of them which would have proved that I at least submitted them, although not up to pass mark yet.

And so would have to explain the reason I wasn’t in class or hadn’t submitted them (during my burn out period months before exams) which would have been embarrassing as well as degrading for me to do. It was hard enough knowing that the teaching faculty had read my sick letter that mentioned “emotionally unfit at this time.”

The odds were truly stacked against me now, like a mountain and I knew I couldn’t do the distance. I couldn’t; Sebastian couldn’t; University couldn’t either. I had that feeling someone gets when they come home from a short trip away to find their house in flames, and they know it’s too late to do anything, but to watch as the house burns to the ground.

I made the arrangements to cancel my course of study and I was anticipating the weigh of more depression as the cancel button was clicked. But as I walked out of the building for the last time, I felt a lot lighter like a weight had been lifted. I got back to my apartment and felt relieved that I no longer had to toil like my whole life depended on it.

I now had only one avenue for staying in Cape Town: Get a job. Otherwise go back home. The thought of getting a job stressed me out, on top of which I didn’t really have a good reason for staying in Cape Town, as I now knew I didn’t come here for me.

My burn-out ordeal left me emotionally and mentally impoverished. My mask was half a mask by now, the bottom broken off to reveal the bottom half of my face. Dark thoughts started to invade my mind at this point, as my life didn’t have any of the qualities I wanted others to think it did, It held little value for me I thought it just a matter of time before suicide would be the only option.

So location wouldn’t matter. It would be harder having to go back home, but at least there I knew what was to come, whereas here there was the unknown I couldn’t anticipate and plan for. So I chose the lesser of the two evils.

I left for my home town with much fear and loathing, to fall back into the piranha tank of old ‘friends’ of my old town, that up until now, I’d tried so hard to stay away from. I anticipated all the old friends laughing at the Zero that couldn’t make it in the big city, coming home with his tail between his legs.

A summary:

Rudboy41 didn't gain a sense of love or basic trust from his parents in early childhood, that trust acts as a safety net in the real world, when a person faces a scary situation he can fallback on his trust in himself. Because Rudboy41 didn't have a basic sense of trust (inner balance) he balanced his safety on (external) objects, e.g. career success, friends & money. And when these externals fell away what Rudboy41 thought was his safety net, was gone and he fell in on the emptiness within himself.

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