There’s a pair of leggings buried in my closet that I promised myself I’d never wear again.
Last year, I spent practically every day wearing those leggings in my bedroom while I worked at my desk, surrounded by notebooks that were running out of blank pages and frozen meals I forgot to finish eating.
Those leggings remind me that I let my need for perfection take over my life. Regardless of whether it’s about academic achievement or applying eyeliner in the morning, I feel defined by my ability to succeed in every task I complete.
I’ve always been self-critical, but my need for excellence became undeniably apparent when I began college and created a schedule that kept me continuously on my feet.
I justified my jammed schedule by telling myself that the more time I spent on academics and extracurriculars, the more I would grow as a student and a journalist.
When Temple initially transitioned to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was so determined to keep my momentum that I failed to consider how it would affect my relationships with others and with myself. Instead of leaning on my friends and family for support during the pandemic, I pushed them away in order to focus on my work.
In quarantine, I was determined to avoid feeling as stuck as I felt the summer before college. Toward the end of my senior year of high school, I thought college was an unlikely option for me because it was too expensive. Instead of celebrating that summer with my friends, I spent hours on phone calls with financial advisors, just looking for ways to afford school in the fall.
From March 2020 to May 2021, you could frequently find me crouched over my cluttered desk, typing papers and avoiding anything that I thought would slow me down. I ignored FaceTime calls, I avoided leaving my room, I set 7:00 a.m. alarm clocks before I went to bed at 4:30 a.m.
As schools and businesses slowly began reopening in Fall 2021, I tried to maintain the lifestyle habits I adapted during the peak of the pandemic.
Yet, I worried that when I wore the same leggings everyday and disappeared to room for days, people would begin to notice. I worried that people would notice and push back against my unhealthy decisions in a way that wasn’t possible during quarantine when I was isolated.
But the transition to post-quarantine in August life was practically seamless for me because nothing had really changed. When no one commented on my excessive work habits, I realized it’s because my lifestyle during the pandemic was identical to my lifestyle beforehand.
I had always chosen work over myself.
That realization crushed me. I needed to change, I needed to find a way to continue working towards a future as a journalist without feeling confined by it.
It was a gradual transformation that began with respecting my body’s signals.
Now, if I feel my eyes becoming heavy, I take a breath rather than a sip of an energy drink. When I haven’t heard my own voice in a while, I know it’s time to get out of my room.
For the first time, I’m accepting that long nights out with friends and waking up late can be parts of my everyday life rather than privileges I earn by working tirelessly.
Slowly, I’ve learned to close my laptop screen and make dinner plans, to go out without constantly listing everything I needed to accomplish when I return. When I start to feel work taking over my life again, I take walks, call friends, cook food and remind myself that the world will continue if I miss a deadline.
Through making new friends when the school year started and cherishing the free moments I had, I reminded myself that I’m more than a name in a byline. I am more than just the work that I do.
It isn’t going to be easy to break these old habits and form healthier ones, but that’s the beauty of my new mindset. I haven’t forced myself to master the art of self-care, I’ve accepted that I’m allowed to try even if I’m not perfect at it.
I’m donating those leggings tomorrow morning.