The Night that Changed it All
I’m two and a half months into my first year of grad school. At this point, I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, intimidated, terrified of failure, in desperate search of a reason to quit, and working harder than I ever have. It was a Thursday night and I had only one more class in the morning to get through before the relief of the weekend would settle in. A “relief” that would still wake me at six AM in a panic to get everything done perfectly. These were miserable days. That night, I sat down in the living room of the beautiful condo I was fortunate to be renting and opened the assigned textbook for the next morning. That’s when it all started.
As I opened the textbook, my eyes fell upon the 12 point, single spaced font. There were two columns on each page. There were hundreds of pages to get through. It soon dawned on me there was more to read than I could possibly get through that night. Even as I write this, I can feel myself back in that moment. The sheer panic building as the tears were starting to well up for the umpteenth time that week and my relaxed breaths soon turned into tight gasps. I could feel the fear rising in my throat and tightening my chest as my thoughts spun out of control. I started gasping for breath. My thoughts were no longer under my control.
“oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god… There’s no way I can do this I can’t there’s more to read than I can read what am I going to do oh my god I’m going to fail I can’t do this I’m going to fail I’m a failure this is it I can’t survive this I’m going to break I’m a failure I’m not enough I’ll never be good enough” and on and on it went. For a few minutes, I blacked out and lost memory. I do remember watching my arm reach over to pick up my phone and feeling confused. My body was moving but I didn’t know how it was happening. In addition to everything going on internally, watching my body move without my intention to do so was…. terrifying.
Somehow, to this day I can’t explain it, I picked up my phone and called my mom. She answered and heard me gasping for air. I couldn’t get any words out. She, of course, knew exactly what was happening. Momma’s can be all-knowing like that.
She started yelling at me. Not because she was upset or scared, but because she knew I wouldn’t be able to hear her over everything happening internally if she didn’t yell.
“CAMMY” she yelled “YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE ENOUGH. JUST AS YOU ARE. YOU ARE ENOUGH.”
At this point, my memory goes blank. Somehow, I had moved myself from the couch I was sitting onto the kitchen floor and placed a paper bag over my mouth in an attempt to regain control of my breath. As I was listening to my mom yell on the other end of the phone, I had a distinct moment of clarity. That inner guidance I was trying to ignore came through loud and clear and spoke to me. I believe, in my core, God came through to me in that moment and the message was this.
“This is what perfect got you. This is what 25 years of working so hard to be perfect got you. Sitting here on the kitchen floor with a paper bag over your mouth with no control over your body. This is what fighting against yourself has gotten you. That time is over. Perfection had it’s time. Screw perfect. Now, choose brave.” (Yes, I do believe in a God that uses phrases like “screw perfect”.)
As those words sunk in and I hung up the phone, I slowly lowered the paper bag from my mouth. I could feel some tingling in my fingers as I started to regain control of my extremities. My eyes sank to look at the paper bag and I noticed it was wet. The only way to logically explain this was that I had been crying. I lifted my hand to my face and wiped away the many tears; I had been crying. That made the most significant impact on my conscious thought. Throughout this entire experience, I had been crying and had no idea.
“Okay.” I thought. “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t do this anymore. From now on I have to choose brave.” I picked myself up from the floor and went to bed. That in itself was my first radical decision. I put my body to rest. I put my mind to rest. I put perfection to rest.