Breaking Down, Building Up
“Balance is key,” they say.
I’m a workaholic Libra, so I strove for this idea of “balance”, an obscenely unattainable state wherein my career, friendships, romantic/family relationships, health, extracurricular activities, and home were all kept in order by a perfect time management schedule. Month after month, I would juggle a thousand balls and wonder why the hell I felt so exhausted and inadequate.
I was still hanging onto this mentality when I decided to commit to what could be equated to a Master’s Degree in wine while still working full-time. I would work a full day, and then go home and pore over maps, outlines, textbooks, and podcasts, furiously cramming and berating myself because my house wasn’t clean or I hadn’t connected enough with my family.
My work life and personal life unexpectedly and catastrophically fell apart before my last exam and paper, and I made the abrupt decision to quit my job without another full-time opportunity lined up. I remember submitting my two weeks notice, taking a shot of tequila, and wondering what the fuck I was doing and how I was going to survive. Oh, and I was $13,000 in debt.
I felt like I needed a victory of sorts, so I resolved to finish the wine program (in between furiously scanning Indeed). I moved back to Austin, launched a wine consultation company, started working for an advertisement agency, picked up freelance jobs, constantly felt sick with fear about money, and kept studying. I felt perversely motivated by intense emotions: terror that I couldn’t pay my bills, guilt that I was responsible for this mess, sadness that my previous life had all but erupted into flames. My greatest fear, losing control, was coming to fruition, and I couldn’t seem to stem the hemorrhage of pure panic.
Eventually, I crashed, hard, and went through a breakdown after my last WSET Diploma exam. I spent a few weeks on and off in the cocoon of my mother’s house, and ended up submitting my final paper while she literally sat beside me. I had a few panic attacks, some in public, and wondered whether I needed to be institutionalized or placed on medication. Convinced I had a hormonal imbalance, I got blood work done and went off of birth control pills. I thought I was a fucking lunatic.
When you’re deep in the trenches, you often don’t see the silver lining. But a breakdown prompts massive self-reflection, and I realized that I either had to change, or else my health would continue to suffer under the strain of shockingly vicious self-criticism.
So the work began, a series of online workshops, meditation practices, and clean eating regimes. Despite my utter mortification, I asked for help from family and friends; to my surprise, they came to my aid graciously and without judgment. I talked to numerous therapists and life coaches, resolved to cut out alcohol for a while, and reluctantly analyzed my relationship with myself. And what I found wasn’t pretty.
The tough realization was that inner Daniela actually quite cruel to herself. I lived under the attack of my own brain, a tyrant that whispered hideous criticisms regularly throughout the day. And I kind of thrived under the perverse conditions; they were comfortable and, dare I say, motivating. To me, there was value in my pain, however draining it became.
Well, it turns out that self-castigation prompts mental and physical issues (who knew?) and had to stop. I have always prided myself on my willpower, and found it natural to determinedly throw myself into a project: Operation Love Daniela. Don’t get me wrong, the journey has been riddled with fetal positions, bouts of anxiety, and roars of frustration, but it’s coming along nicely. I still have the same insecurities and habits, I just notice them a lot more and work to correct them. And one day, it won’t feel like work.
If you’re struggling, too, always remember that you can ask for help. The election to remain in a rut is everyone’s to make, but sometimes crawling out requires assistance. And usually, the worst moments birth something even more beautiful.