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[re:tell] The Road to Self-Love

[re:tell] The Road to Self-Love

Post-secondary education is a whirlwind. You’re stretched thin with encroaching deadlines, you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a personal life under financial stress, and all the while, trying to stay sane! 

After graduating from university, I went back to college to complete a post-grad. I struggled with anxiety and self-doubt and on top of it, I had to deal with a break up for the first time. I reached out to Real Campus and was provided with the tools to help me focus. Each session was an opportunity to better myself and grow. Over my sessions, I was able to build my own self-help toolbox. I pulled myself up out of self-doubt and discovered a confidence I never knew I had.

They say it’s not about the destination but the journey, and as cliche as it sounds, it’s been true for me. The road to self-love and acceptance was definitely hard but worth it. There were many days I didn’t want to practice using my new tools. I wanted to sink back into my old, comfortable ways. Each time it happened, I thought back to my goal and to how far I had come. I relied on my counsellor for the support to push me and help me do things that I knew I had to do but was afraid to.

Once, this meant having a talk with one of my good friends about how they hurt my feelings and were not being supportive. Before therapy, I buried my feelings and let them eat away at my self-worth. This time, I was able to have a mature conversation with my friend and it actually went well! It was such a relief to know I had been scared of something that did not happen. As a bonus, it boosted my confidence and reduced my anxiety.

Therapy also helped me to recognize the friends and people in my life who were doing more harm than good. It gave me the confidence to do something about it. I found the support I needed elsewhere and I am much happier because of it. 

Therapy was a fundamental player in my journey to self-love and self-confidence. The stress of postsecondary education, the anxiety caused by keeping people in my life who were not the right fit, and the lack of confidence I had in myself was all piling up. Real Campus helped me to deal with each stressor one step at a time and helped me realize that it’s okay to ask for help.

I am a strong believer that thoughts become things. With a new confidence and sense of myself, I was able to find a full-time job in my field right out of college. Therapy allowed me to see my worth and to honestly enjoy each day that much more.

Sarah graduated from Seneca College in August 2019. 

This blog is part of our re:tell series that showcases stories from Canadian postsecondary students.

[re:tell] The Dark Side of a Shiny Life

[re:tell] The Dark Side of a Shiny Life

To those who don’t know me well, my life looks exciting. I’ve been halfway around the world to attend conferences, I’ve lived in five countries in the past 6 years, and I’ve met phenomenal people along the way. But there’s a dark side to it. Dealing with life on your own in an unfamiliar country where you have no support system is hard. It gets harder when you add the complications of immigration. 

Throughout my bachelor’s, law school, and master’s programs, and while working at different courts around the world, I always saw myself as a high achiever who couldn’t fail if I put my mind to something. In 2017, I achieved an extremely important goal in my life, something I had been steadily working toward for nearly a decade⁠. I was accepted into a renowned doctoral program at the University of Toronto and offered great funding. This reinforced the image I had of myself. 

Leading up to the program, I was excited to move to Canada even though it meant I had to leave people behind. 

My move happened to coincide with the beginning of the #metoo movement. I was heartened to see people talking about their stories but there was a dark side for me, as well. Everywhere I went I was inundated with stories involving violations ranging from sexual harassment to rape. It was difficult for me. I could no longer ignore my own story of sexual violence, which I had hidden and denied for over 5 years at that point. 

I tried as best I could to ignore it. After all, I was in a challenging program with tight deadlines and couldn’t afford more stress. But I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares, I avoided going out and meeting people, and every little worry I had turned into a catastrophic spiral of thoughts that wouldn’t let up. 

Then I didn’t meet one of my program benchmarks. I still had no idea what was wrong. I thought I was crumbling under academic anxiety but it just didn’t make sense. I was prepared for this program. I’d been in high-pressure situations before and I always welcomed the challenge. 

In October 2018, after a whole year of trying to deal with these symptoms on my own, I realized that my anxiety wouldn’t just magically go away. I needed help.

I decided to go to therapy, where I was diagnosed with PTSD. When my therapist told me, I only felt relief. I wasn’t upset. I was relieved that I had finally discovered the cause of my misery and that I could put a name to the monster in my closet.

Like many people, I was under the mistaken impression that war veterans are the only demographic that deals with PTSD. I now know that the incidence of PTSD in survivors of sexual violence is also high. Once I knew what I was going through had a name, I read everything I could about it⁠— research papers, anecdotes, spoon theory, etc. I even researched other anxiety disorders because it helped me understand and accept what was happening. It was like another education for me.

But I was still an international student in a full-time study program. I now had to navigate the challenging and complex bureaucracy at the university. I had to go through the accessibility and accommodations systems, the school of graduate studies, and my own faculty. I was going through so much, yet I had to connect with people in multiple departments to find out how I could do right by myself. I had to navigate financial issues, too. Graduate students receive a measly $500 a year for therapy under the university health insurance plan. It was stressful, to say the least.

This year, I finally caught a break. I changed my project and supervisor. I was able to open up to my new supervisor about some of the issues I faced. 

It has taken intense therapy with a fantastic therapist. It’s taken a ton of willpower to keep at it and to keep at my homework on the days it felt like everything was lost. It’s taken a lot of support from people who went out of their way for me. It’s taken all that and a full year to finally reach a point where I am not dealing with symptoms on a daily basis. 

I still have days where the intrusive thoughts are too much and I’m sent into a panic, some days to a point where it’s difficult to breathe. I now know how to deal with symptoms in a healthy way without getting anxious about the anxiety. I have new tools in my toolbox crafted specifically for these situations. 

Over the course of this year I’ve learned so much about myself, the human mind, and the world. I’ve learned that if I can survive all of this then I have the fortitude and resilience to get through just about anything. So here I am, living my most authentic life, and always learning new things. I think that’s all life really isan ongoing process of evolution and learning.

 Aishani Gupta is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.  

This blog is part of our re:tell series that showcases stories from Canadian postsecondary students.

[re:tell] Moving Mountains

[re:tell] Moving Mountains

Living with family while studying can be a little like riding a roller coaster. You never know what’s going to come next.

For me, it’s a struggle day in and day out. From my home, I commute at least two hours each way to and from school in downtown Toronto! I usually start my day at 6 am and don’t finish until midnight, if I’m lucky. Every jam-packed day, I push myself to commute, attend class, do homework, keep up my social life, then mentally prepare myself to come home to chaos. On any given evening, my younger brother is being yelled atturn off your video games! go study! stop making a mess! etc, etc. My mom’s busy with chores, cleaning the house and coordinating with my dad who won’t be home until late because he’s still out running the family business. 

 

When you live at home as a student, you have to wear many hats. You’re pushed not only to be aware of your own life and what you have to do to succeed at school, but you also have to manage your time so you can be there for your siblings, parents and friends. No day is like another. 

 

Each morning there’s a new set of circumstances that will define my day and I have to figure out how to navigate the terrain in front of me. What happens when my brother is late for school and we need to get to college at the same time but only one car is available? I take one for the team and make sure he gets to school and is hopefully learning away before I rush to catch my train downtown and apologize profusely to my professor. I am constantly being pulled left and right and every direction. My life is a full-blown operation that I share with the immediate people I live with. 

 

First year was the hardest. I had just been introduced to a new world of college, commuting and higher expectations than ever before. There were days I would come home fuming with frustration. Despite my best attempts to make each day a good one, I would have to divert my plans to include managing carpooling with my brothers, helping my dad with admin for the business, participating in extracurricular activities, and explaining to group members who lived close to school how working on a group project in the library into the wee hours of the night was just not possible for me. 

 

I felt like I was both failing and being stripped of an authentic college experience. No matter what I tried to do to ease the stress and pressure by planning in advance and staying organized, my arms were being stretched until I could barely hold it all. I pushed myself to a point where I genuinely hoped I could stay awake for 24 hours. The constant struggle to find enough time to share my day with everybody made me more aggressive, frustrated and simply stressed out. I was running out of time to study and do my best in school trying to stay active and involved with the people who needed me at home. 

 

Now that I’ve given you a taste of the rollercoaster ride that is my life, allow me to share some of the positive elements to living at home. While I have to sacrifice when it comes to my social life and going out with my downtown friends, there is a special feeling of warmth I get that can only be found at home. The saying “there’s no place like home” could not be truer. When I come home after a bad test or a fight with group mates, I always find people who love me waiting at the dinner table ready to hear all about my day and distract me from the constant chaos that is post-secondary education. Family may not always understand what it’s like for me to juggle all of this while I’m still developing my own identity, they are always there for me when I need to escape after a nightmare week. 

 

Living at home is an experience. You’ll cry, you’ll feel like you’re losing a battle with time, but you’ll also find a lot to appreciate. It’s the little things like sharing family dinners, getting help with washing dishes and doing laundry, and having a clean, safe space that feels like home. You never forget that you’re not alone when there is always someone there by your side.

 Himanshu Luthra is a degree student at George Brown College. Check him out @the.luthra.life

This blog is part of our re:tell series that showcases stories from Canadian postsecondary students.