Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Letting Go of Life’s Plan A – How I Beat My Anxiety and Redefined My Success

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We all think we know how life is going to go when we’re younger – but pandemic or no pandemic, life has a funny little way of changing its plans on you. Here, guest writer Chloe Tonkin writes of her own experience of letting go of her own Plan A, and battling with the crippling anxiety that came along with it.

So, I recently celebrated my 30th birthday and, as tired a cliché as it might be, the milestone has left me taking stock of my life.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I felt pretty relaxed about leaving my twenties, even excited. The date came and went, and I had an incredible day celebrating with my closest friends. They spoilt me rotten and I was left feeling nothing but grateful for my life and the people in it.

However, a few weeks after the last of the party debris had been cleared away and the last of the cake had been eaten, a familiar yet unwanted guest reminded me of its presence – anxiety. And this time it meant some serious business.

Anxiety is a constant part of my life and has been to some degree since I was a teenager. I use lots of different methods and techniques to manage it, from yoga to meditation to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

It’s a constant, tiring battle that has taken me to some strange places over the years but, for the most part, I have been able to keep it in check enough to function day-to-day.

But this time was different.

The reality is that my life at age 30 doesn’t look exactly like I thought I would. It’s also a little different to how it looked just a year ago, when everything was arguably “on-track.”

I was following the blue-print I had created for my life – I was living with a partner who I was very happy with, in a country that I loved (I’m originally from the UK). I’d just been promoted at work, and I had also started getting some of my writing work published – a long-term goal that I was finally pursuing.

Plan A was in motion. I had nearly everything that I’d ever wanted, and everything else seemed within my grasp.

Fast-forward to now and things are less certain. I found myself single, and now I’m dating again, getting to know new people and contemplating what it is that I want from a partner, and whether I want marriage and children someday.

Covid, obviously, has taken it’s toll – a global recession has left a question mark over my career and what it will look like over the next few years. Any travel plans, or plans to visit my family in the UK, who I miss very much, have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.

So by their powers combined, my uncertainties grew and morphed, eventually coming together to feed into my now overwhelming anxiety, which worked them up into a state so grim, I couldn’t stomach it.

Despite knowing how lucky I am to have my health, my family, my friends, my job and a future of endless opportunity, my anxiety could not ignore how I had not achieved my ‘Plan A for age 30’ and the realisation that, thanks to the unknown challenges presented by Covid, life would never be the same again.

All of the uncertainty crippled me to a point that I’d never experienced before, where sometimes I couldn’t even hold a full conversation. I couldn’t take in what people were saying to me, withhold information or complete small tasks without feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. Sometimes, I couldn’t even look at people in the face.

Thankfully, the people around me were compassionate and kind enough to give me the space I needed to put my health first. After some time off work, and commitment to getting better, I started to feel my focus and determination return.

With the worst period of the anxiety of my life behind me, I’ve started to think about life and the future a little differently. I’ve realised that everyone’s Plan A has gone out the window and, in that, we are all in the same boat. The pandemic has forced us to look at we have, be grateful for it and wait and see what happens next.

Although it is important to take one day at a time, I don’t believe in abandoning a plan completely. Goals and the desire to achieve them keep us moving forward, and without any kind of plan – we would never move forwards.

However, I now understand that our plans can be constantly fine-tuned and tweaked – adapting to the unexpected gifts and challenges that life throws at us. You just have to make sure it is your plan for right now – and not one put on you by someone else, or by society. Or even one imposed upon you by a former version of yourself.

Recently, I’ve been going back to the drawing board, examining my Plan A and adjusting it to create a Plan B that is less specific but more suitable to me now.

I might never have a family of my own but I will continuously work to build strong relationships with the people in my life, so that I am always surrounded by people I love. After all, a family can come in many forms and it’s up to you to define what the word means for yourself.

I might not ever make it to the top of my profession, but I’ll strive to always do work that excites and interests me.

I might not ever win the Man Booker prize, but I plan to keep writing.

And finally, I plan to keep adjusting my plan as life changes, and even if life looks nothing like I thought it would in another 30 years’ time, I’ll be appreciating every aspect of it along the way anyway.

Related: Read Capsule’s Kelly Bertrand’s ode to turning 30 – 30, Flirty and Thriving? Why I’m Happy I’m Single, Childless and Cynical in 2020

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