Confidence is a funny thing. I have always maintained that confidence is the key to attracting any kind of attention, no matter what you’re wearing, how much make up you’ve put on or even when you last had a shower. If you exude confidence, other people are naturally drawn to you. FOMO makes them wonder exactly what you’ve got that they’re missing out on.
As a wide eyed and somewhat sheltered eighteen year old, confidence came naturally when I realised that as long as I looked like I was having the time of my life, people would approach me. Its safe to say, this trick definitely came in handy as I navigated the various clubs, pubs and bars of Oxford when my shift on staffroom duty ended at 9pm.
The thing is, while this is all very easy to say, confidence once lost is very hard to find again.
I spent the best part of two years trying to ignore the fact that my self-worth was slowly yet surely spiralling out of my control. Despite countless encounters with friends who spoke openly and candidly about their own struggles with mental health (the majority of whom had progressed to a stage that I feel very lucky not to have experienced), and who I very much empathised with and supported wholeheartedly, I never bridged the gap between them and me. They’re not ok. I’m fine.
For me, it was a phenomenon that I had been a spectator to since the age of fourteen. Having relegated myself to the sidelines of mental health – as a viewer and not a participant – I managed to flatten the spectrum into concrete boxes of black and white. The world for me, at least in terms of mental health, was subconsciously divided into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, but in this lens, the haves were the ones with the problems.
Unfortunately, skipping the subtleties of mental health can only work for so long.
I had justified my decision to go and speak to someone once a week as one that was pre-emptive. After all, I didn’t have any problems, I just didn’t want any in the future. Future Beth was going to be alone for a year on exchange and I felt like she might need the extra support. The more I went, however, the more I realised just how much I needed it. Not having a diagnosis didn’t mean that I was fine, in fact pushing my own mental health to the side while I filled my life with school and hobbies and six jobs was unsurprisingly its own form of denial.
I won’t take you through my personal journey with counselling, but I will say it helped. It didn’t restore my confidence immediately, nor did it cure me of the occasional bout of social anxiety but I found that the more I put into it, the more committed I felt about turning my mental health around. Now, if you’ve met me, I talk very openly about my mental health because I’m so conscious of the consequences of ignoring it for so long.
At the end of the day, what I’ve learned is to be gentle with myself. I went on exchange a little more prepared to take on a year by myself, but no less anxious. What I found in France was a group of friends that I love, a lifestyle I adore and a mindset that could not be further removed from how I was feeling in Sydney. Even so, I’m very aware that a change of location doesn’t constitute a quick-fix for mental health.
I still live a little bit of a rollercoaster but I’m definitely learning to control it. Honestly, this post has been hard for me to write, and I’ve left it off countless times over the last year, coming back to write it each time in a completely different headspace. It is still, like my self confidence, very much a work in progress. At the end of the day, as easy as it is to base my self-worth on other people’s compliments, the journey to create confidence within yourself, while difficult, is far more rewarding.