In retrospect and beyond

So.. my first three months of 2021, huh?

I was supposed to strictly follow a schedule of writing a monthly Taking Stock post after my December 2020 entry but things happened and life kind of became a whirlwind lately. So here we are: into month three, and just barely gotten back the energy to open up and talk about myself honestly again.

I admit that I was probably oversharing about my mental health status in my public socials, and there are times when looking back, it made me uncomfortable. But I realized that: 1.) talking about it helps, 2.) it’s more comfortable for me to let it out in a place where I’m practically anonymous, and 3.) someone somewhere might feel good that someone is feeling the exact things they feel at the moment. Despite my inhibitions, I feel that that sense of community is really important and useful for me and to others as well.

But I digress.

These past months (probably even before the quarantine), I’ve been experiencing heightened social anxiety. I’ve always been anxious but I noticed that this was a different case than usual and that it was grossly affecting my everyday dealings (both personally and professionally). It transformed into this monster of a thing that made it hard to sleep, to concentrate, to relax, to basically stop my mind from running all the time. It exhausted me so much. And the hardest thing about it was that I can’t explain it away. It’s the sort of thing that you cannot really put in your documents as an excuse why you desperately wanted to take some time off work – at least, I’m afraid that if I advise it as it is, they would say it’s not a valid enough reason to do so. And so I tried to endure it. But it was very hard. Thoughts of not living up to my expectations of myself and that I was failing others constantly run through my head. Expectedly, it became unbearable and everyday just became stifling. Looking back, I imagined The Bell Jar metaphor multiple times: Esther inside the bell jar, the circulation of fresh air cut off; trapped, the air sours – festers. I panicked, so I sought help.

And it was one of the wisest things I’ve done in my life.

I’ve always appreciated the magic of counseling and therapy since I’ve already had a run of it back in 2019 but this time, it was different. We dug deeper, did more, and spent more time talking about things and trying to root out all the bad that are holding me down. It was magical but hard and exhausting and so very worth it. Long story short, and just to put it bluntly: it started as counseling for heightened social anxiety that transformed into therapy for PTSD.

And the reason why I am writing this (and felt the need to write it) was that: today is the last day of my therapy. 🎉

I expected to be emotional for the whole duration, but to be honest, yes, it was messy business but rarely did I cry. That’s why I was surprised why the waterworks were suddenly turned on after the last session of internalizing. The moment I opened my eyes, the dam broke. I wasn’t sad – I was hopeful and proud, and just thankful. I get emotional over books all the time but it’s different being emotional about somebody’s story versus being emotional over your own – which I rarely (close to none, as I usually dissociate) happens to me.

It made me thankful to myself, mostly – the effort I exerted and the little things I did in the past to cope with things that I do not understand. I somehow unconsciously filled my life with little pockets of joy – calligraphy, writing, anime and books, books, books – where I could draw happiness from. I was lucky to have a support system – family and friends that know exactly when I’m feeling off and recommend appropriate solutions for things they can’t handle. I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to ask for professional help if I don’t have this particular dear friend of mine – because I honestly used to be very afraid of even the idea of that.

This may probably be too personal a post to share here. But I really want to celebrate and mark this day. And I can’t think of a better way to commemorate this little achievement of mine than to leave a written record in this little corner of mine on the internet.

After this last session, this is the first thing that I wrote in my Evernote log:

You are resilient, more than you realize.
Thank yourself for all the little things you did to cope with things and feelings you don’t understand.
You saved yourself. It’s you.
You just needed other people to guide you, point you the right way.
You beat yourself sore, trying to crawl out of that dark place.
And you did. It took you long, I have to admit, but goddamnit, you did.
And that is what matters.

The days ahead are yours for the taking.
It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t you dare let it hinder you from doing and getting what you want.


Recent books I read that helped me in this journey:

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker on recognizing toxic things you were actively putting yourself through. I’ve talked about it extensively in basically all of my socials (public and private) because I felt like this is just one book that I have to share to hopefully let others have the same experience with it as I have. Looking back, I think finishing this book has been one of the major triggers that made me re-examine all the toxic things I was actively doing to myself. Case in point: depriving myself of sleep by choice. This single-handedly changed my relationship with sleep and I’m still continuously working on it. I’m just barely scraping the surface of finally having healthy sleeping habits but the results have been amazing so far. I don’t feel guilty resting and sleeping anymore (apparently, it’s a thing for me before).

Know My Name by Chanel Milleron not letting a traumatic event define you. This was such a sweet revelation. I know it would be good but I didn’t expect it to be this good. I know I can’t really claim to experience even half the things that Chanel had but there’s a lesson to be learned, among others, at how she handled this whole experience. Besides the beautifully written prose (it was soooo good), it was a reminder that you don’t need to harden yourself to weather the storm. “I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm.” It’s such a beautiful sentiment: that there were so many beautiful things that await you if you just hold it out. I was in such a hopeful state after listening to it that it prompted me to write a personal post on progress.

You are more powerful than anyone who has ever hurt you. It is not pathetic to feel and react. You are stronger than you know, even if you can’t feel it yet.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas on recognizing that the bad experience and the feelings associated with it is not ‘you’. I might get a few raised brows listing this but I guess reading so much SJ Maas book in the past let me learn to enjoy and just take what I like in her books and ignore the shitty parts sprinkled in there. Anyway, why am I defending my reading choices? 😂 Nesta’s struggle to come out of her dark place really resonated with me. The anger, having her toxic behavior as an outlet, her bitterness. Then her finally putting in the effort to be better, the meditation (which was timely since I’ve been trying out breathing techniques when I was reading this), the found family/friendships. It was such a journey and I was tearful at the end of it. There was one scene where someone (can’t remember who) told her that she is not her power and I was just emotional when I read that because it was exactly (in a way) what my therapist told me in one of our sessions: “You are not your anxiety.”, “You are not the traumatic experience you’ve had in the past.”, “You are not your grief.” And I guess realizing that those things are external to me and can be cut off is one key thing that I learned how to look at it to actually process them. Also, this quote from Amren:

That’s the key, isn’t it? To know the darkness will always remain, but how you choose to face it, handle it… that’s the important part. To not let it consume you. To focus upon the good, the things that fill you with wonder.” She gestured to the stars zooming past. “The struggle with that darkness is worth it, just to see such things.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman on why it’s ok to make mistakes because we’re all just trying to figure it out anyway. There are just so many major nuggets of wisdom that could be had from this book that I don’t even know how to describe it or single out a focal point for it. But I guess, aside from the beautiful story and how wonderfully it unfolded, some of the valuable things that I could take away from it (if I have to choose) are: that it’s more common than not to be fearful of the future and that making mistakes is ok. That it’s okay to admit that you don’t know what to do. That it is important to make lasting human connections and continue to nurture them. That it’s ok to need help and be helped. After my last therapy session today, I feel like I’ve spent a good hour crying. And the one thing that runs through my mind while I’m at it is that line from this book that read (*spoiler-ish, highlight to read*) {You saved yourself. He just happened to be there.}. And I think that would partially demonstrate how close this book to my heart is. I was so glad I read it when I did. 💛

They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness – I still have a little around 1 hour in the audiobook before I fully finish this book but this has honestly been an emotional roller coaster ride from the beginning. JVN’s positivity is so infectious and his energy is so big that you don’t really expect him to have experienced this kind of trauma and hardship in life. That he did made him more admirable and amazing in my eyes. “Would you love me if you saw me in a bad moment? Would you love me if you saw all my parts?” The book was so achingly raw but JVN’s words and narration lighten it a bit. This was supposed to narrate his journey towards self-love and I can’t wait to listen to the rest of it.

The power we assign to people is the power we give them. It wasn’t organic to the relationship.

Other notable books I’ve read in 2020 that I felt deserve to be mentioned as well:

* see the end of this post for the comprehensive list of trigger warnings for the books mentioned above

Other media moments that made me love life more:

🍂 The Bold Type – This show was just so criminally underrated just because I don’t really see anyone in my feed talk about it enough. I feel like this show sets itself apart from other American show in a way that there were not much sex and complicated romantic relationships in it but it instead focuses on female empowerment, inclusivity, feminism, and found family (one of my fave female friendships!). I can’t remember the last time (in recent memory) I binge-watched seasons of an American show this enthusiastically. I absolutely loved the main trio and I want a boss like Jacqueline. Season 1 was such a masterclass and the way the last episode ended was something that I still think about even after several weeks of finishing it (watch the whole season to get context, it was just crazy how a lot of things were leading up to it). It was such a feel-good show with a really powerful and inspiring message. I urge women to pay attention to it. (And the musical scoring in this show is just so crazy good!)

🍂 Between Us Queens Podcast (spec. ‘nag-quarter life crisis ka na ba?‘) – I don’t know… but hearing these gorgeous ladies have the same insecurities as I have was rather comforting. But it’s more than that. Hearing them talk about the elephants in the room that people usually don’t discuss out loud is such a breath of fresh air and made me feel more normal and at peace with my feelings. Honestly, this podcast is a gem – from their very first episode and, with each one that they post, it was just so relatable and accessible. They also have a thriving Facebook community where I always usually read something inspiring to start my day. I recommend this podcast with all my heart.

🍂 Elizaveta Tuktamysheva‘s comeback to the Worlds Figure Skating Podium – I don’t talk about it enough in this blog but figure skating athletes have been a constant source of inspiration for me. This Liza moment was so recent: from beating the odds and being selected for Worlds in a very cut-throat playing field in ladies singles from Russia, to finally going back to the Worlds stage 6 years after winning the title (and was her last appearance in the comp), Liza was able to skate a clean short and an impressive free despite a fall. She ended up nabbing silver at the end and the look on her face when her score was flashed just sends me (see below 👇). I was just imagining the pressure of proving the RusFed’s decision right and having all these younger skaters get ahead of the game, year after year. Then finally having this comeback, leading to a Russian podium sweep. One of the most inspiring athletes ever. I’m placing her side-by-side with Wakaba Higuchi and Satoko Miyahara as my fave singles ladies skaters ever. I don’t do figure skating, but they make me want to improve more in life and take on any hurdles I encounter my way.

If you’re still here, thank you for taking the time to read this. I know it got a bit rambly most times but do know that I appreciate you making an effort to go through it till the end.

To future self: Please don’t delete this post or make it private in the future. 😉

Content warnings (some maybe spoiler-y):

  • Know My Name – sexual assault, extensive description of PTSD, public shaming
  • A Court of Silver Flames – grief, sex addiction, mention of substance abuse, recalled sexual assault, sexism, war themes, abandonment, PTSD
  • Anxious People – suicide, attempted suicide, mention of substance abuse, hostage, death of a loved one, grief, PTSD
  • Over the Top – sexual assault, sex addiction, sexual orientation discrimination, bullying
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – abandonment, death of a loved one, grief, PTSD, cancer, domestic abuse, substance abuse

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Auditor by profession and a 'round-the-clock geek 🤓 from the 🇵🇭 and currently based in Belfast. I'm a coffee-holic INTJ with an unhealthy obsession with books and stationery. I word-vomit over at Twitter and posts book pics at Instagram: @pagesandcc . I also blog at .

9 thoughts on “In retrospect and beyond

  1. Riza, I’m proud of you for finally seeking help and I’m glad that it has been helping you too. I’ve yet to face mine, but I’ll get there. *sending you hugs*

    Liked by 1 person

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