Please welcome today’s guest writer, Lisa Philippon. Lisa graduated from Calvin in 2011 with an English degree. She lives in the Cleveland area where she works as a physical therapist after finishing a doctorate in PT at Cleveland State University.
This summer, after finally graduating from physical therapy school, I realized nothing is what I thought it would be, nothing like what I imagined seven years ago standing at Calvin’s graduation with an English degree in hand.
When I was twenty-one, I used to imagine what it would be like when I was finally done with graduate school and living in an economy with better job prospects. I used to picture myself practicing physical therapy in an airy, sunny gym wearing a sky-blue polo. I’d be smiling as I sternly, but encouragingly, helped high school athletes rehab back to their sports while doing burpees or mountain-climbers. I thought I would have the Zen and unruffled demeanor of someone who practiced yoga during the week and hiked and camped out on desert mesas on the weekend.
Presently, while I do practice PT, I work in nursing homes with floral wallpaper from the eighties, and I wear trendy clothing such as poodle-print scrubs. Most of my patients are octogenarians, and I spend more time than I care to admit helping them to the bathroom in between exercises.
Instead of moving out West like I imagined, I find myself tethered to the Midwest by necessity. I finally realized, when the stressors of undergraduate and graduate school had ceased, the feelings of panic, sadness, and fear that kept me up at night throughout my education had not magically faded away. There was just no longer an external cause or situation I could make a scapegoat of.
Instead, I had to acknowledge that I—or more specifically, my chemically unbalanced brain—was the origin of my unhappiness.
While seeking help recently has brought some solace, it also meant that I had to account for depression and anxiety, two unforeseen medical diagnoses that led me to understand the importance of a support network and a good counselor and how moving more than 500 miles away alone may not be the smartest move for me personally right now.
A large source of anxiety for me is the disconnect between who I am and who I wanted to be. It was hard for me to accept that I’m too stubborn and that I get too invested in causes or people I care about to be that mellow, yoga-practicing version of me with a desktop Zen garden.
But it’s easy to fall into the trap of wishful thinking: If I moved to Denver, I would finally be happy. Truthfully, I know I would probably be sitting on the floor of an absurdly expensive, closet-converted apartment bingeing Netflix rather than camping out with new friends.
After seeing the dissolution of my imagined reality and future for myself with the sobering presence of my hard reality, I know that I need to learn to be happy with who I am, where I am. I used to be afraid that self-acceptance meant complacency and stagnancy. But I am finding that acknowledging who I am truly, warts and all, has led to the opposite.
I see my faults, my virtues, and my quirks like my craving for ice cream in sub-zero winter conditions: rather than feeling restricted by them, I see these characteristics as guidelines rather than edicts written in stone.
Recognizing my depression and anxiety has led to me on the path of beginning to find ways to work with it rather than trying to barge through it and hitting a wall. Craving to be the extroverted persona I imagined for myself has led to me to trying things that would have been terrifying for me at twenty-one. I used to think going to a party where I only knew a few people was terrifying, but when compared to dabbling in online dating, that was only a minor inconvenience. There’s nothing like a first date where you are trying to play “Guess Who?” based on a potential stock photo with strangers in a coffee shop and, after you meet him, trying to gauge whether or not he’s a serial killer over small talk.
There’s a good chance that you won’t be who you thought you would be and where you thought you’d be at in or even out of school, and that’s all right. You also don’t have to fully love yourself and your life to be the type of person you want to be. In the journey of trying to become what I’m not, I’ve been finding out that I am capable of more than I thought. I don’t fully like my present self, and I’m pretty sure my idealized self is from a motivational poster I saw in my high school’s computer lab.
But I like the me in progress.