I’m writing this post to my past self. The girl that was stuck in severe anxiety and nearly killed herself by wanting to do everything perfectly. That girl that felt she needed to be special, to do her utmost best and be a kind of prodigy in order to be deemed normal, to be accepted, to be loved.
And maybe I’m even writing it to a part of myself today. Because in the end, we take our little girl with us wherever we go – even well into adulthood.
We think that once we’re adults we’ll just have it all figured out one day and we’ll know how to do life. What is right and what is wrong and how to reach this perfectly tranquil place where you live happily ever after.
News flash from that adult future – my current present: this place doesn’t exist. Neither does a manual on how to live life.
As a little girl I remember feeling hopeful when I found a book my mum had put far away on some shelf which said: “This is How You’re Supposed to Behave.” It was an extremely outdated etiquette guide with very disturbing ideas about gender roles. Nevertheless I was happy to know a book like that even existed: a book that would tell you what you were supposed to do as a human being in this world once you grew up; how to live life.
I forgot about it and luckily never really studied it in depth, but it was curious that I liked the idea of there being a book of the rules of life. It would be able to tell me what to do, how to live, how to be right. How to be perfect.
No wonder I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at the age of seventeen. I was studying to become an English teacher, which had been my dream since I was fourteen, and I had just gotten into a relationship with my best friend. I had found purpose and love: no way I was going to screw this up!
And so I subconsciously put an enormous amount of pressure on myself wanting to make it work at all costs. I monitored everything I did, I did my very best at all times and made sure I gave my all. I had absolutely no self-awareness; everything was focussed on performing well both in love and at school. My validation was coming from the outside and so I had to do inhumanely well in order to survive.
I wanted to know what was right. I made up rules in my head about what I was supposed to do and be and just started living according to those self-imposed rules, living in a self-made prison, creating my self-incurred crisis called anxiety disorder.
It was all in my own head and in my own hands, but I had no idea because I was just trying to survive. The little girl in me had always done the same: she’d always looked at her surroundings, using her excellent observation skills and her highly sensitive scanning capacities on the people around her to find out what their needs were and would act accordingly. She thought she knew what others needed and so she provided that in return for their love and attention.
Once it had been of the essence to find out what was right and to avoid what was wrong. Right would mean love, wrong would mean no love. You do the maths.
Obviously I would’ve died to get my hands on a manual titled How to Live Life.
I didn’t know how to just live. I actually didn’t even care about that. I just wanted to be able to follow rules and be right and be safe. I just wanted to be approved of, to be accepted, to be perfect at all times.
And that my dear reader, is incredibly draining, utterly useless and actually impossible. And my mind and body showed me by putting me into lockdown and throwing me into anxiety disorder. I couldn’t do what I always needed to do to get my rewards, compliments and applause. I had to stay indoors, lie in bed and take medication to even function properly.
I don’t want you to have to go through the same ordeal and that’s why I’m writing this post.
I want you to see that there is no right way of doing life. There are no rules. There is no right or wrong.
Take living in another country for example. I moved to Florence, Italy in 2010 and I had to find a way to fit my Dutch values into the Italian system, which in other words means: mission impossible.
I had to make life work playing by new rules all of a sudden.
In Italy it was ok to be late, to eat pizza with your hands and to touch other people to show your appreciation. It was ok to be loud, to express your femininity and to just be insanely happy with life as it is, without having your work to be the sole reason for your existence. Everything was different, yet it was all good at the same time.
What I thought was right, wasn’t right in another place and the other way around. So, I realised that actually, there is no wrong or right. All we can do is just surrender, dive in and go with the flow of what life throws at us – and learn to surf the waves.
Moving to Italy required an enormous amount of psychological flexibility to adapt to a new culture and a lot of courage to immerse myself in the new language and express myself properly, stumbling from one mistake to the next. It took a lot of resilience to set up a new life in a completely foreign context, but I loved it and so I was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.
I was even willing to fail. I was willing to feel lonely. I was willing to make mistakes while making my dream happen: living in Florence. And this determination got me to a place where I now experience true fulfilment in life – and I consequently cured myself from anxiety disorder.
So, remember: it is your life, you are you, and there are ten billion ways in which you can do things. And you can decide which one you’d like to try. You are free. There is no obligation. There is no rule book. There is no decision that will mean life or death.
Life is a game and it’s fun to join in. And you don’t even have to win it, because, truth be told, you can’t. You’re going to die anyway so you might as well live it while you’re alive.
You can’t manipulate the way life goes by studying the rules tirelessly and trying to stay in the game at all costs. Your time will be up one day. The game of life isn’t about winning it, it’s about playing it. It’s about finding that one reason for playing; how it will go you’ll never know, but you’ve got to make yourself want to stay in the game.
Living a full life means dancing with opportunities and setbacks, chances and discouragement, positives and negatives. It’s all part of the picture. Life is interesting because of the ups and downs. They will happen inevitably so it’s not about keeping events under control, but finding a way to deal with them when they come your way.
And that all starts with you and how much you love yourself, accept yourself and really dare to go for what you truly desire.
Realising you don’t love yourself and that you have been putting other people’s happiness before your own out of outdated safety regulations is hard. It’s soul-crushing to realise that you haven’t been honouring your own needs because of fear of abandonment and lack of self-worth. But it’s a start. And if you’re willing to look yourself in the eye and see this painful truth, you’ve opened up the path for healing.
You’ve created a crack through which new, fresh light can come in.
You’ve found a way to discover new truths and implement them. By yourself, or with the help of a professional, you can get to your core and look at what is really real: that you are an incredibly worthy creature that deserves to be loved and live a full life, just because you exist. Once you feel into this truth you can start affirming it with spoken affirmations, feel it in your bones by visualizing it and actively encouraging and supporting yourself like you would with your own little girl. The only things she wants to know is that she is loved and you can tell her that every day.
Tell her how it is.
Tell her she’s allowed to make mistakes, to f*ck up and to say the wrong thing. That she’s worthy of love even if she does something wrong. She is still loveable even if she feels like sh*t today. Tell her she’s valuable because of the whole package; not just the pretty parts.
So, this is an invitation from me – and from your little girl – to you: allow yourself to live, fully.
F*ck the rules. Screw up as much as you can. Get dirty. Make mistakes. Hurt your head. Be ugly. Spend too much money. Do something stupid. Make ugly art. Eat bad food. Get drunk. Express yourself without any filters. Love like it’s your last chance. Get over-emotional. Be loud. Hug someone. Smile at strangers. Be yourself so fiercely that people will feel free to do the same. Be you; all of you.
Because you are stunningly beautiful in your perfectly imperfect uniqueness. Now go and live your life, it’s out there waiting for you.
Love & courage,
P.S. If you’d be interested in healing your inner little girl’s wounds, escaping from the prison of perfectionism and finally just become yourself; the powerful woman you really are, then check out my package Dive in Deep. We’ll discover what it is you truly want, we’ll find your blocks and limiting beliefs that are getting in the way and then I’ll help you move beyond them. You’ll be able to let go off old, excess baggage and you’ll finally feel free to live life YOUR way – and fully enjoy it!