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LESSONS I LEARNED THE HARD WAY- When we don’t feel the fireworks.

On Friday I received the amazing news that I had passed my VIVA, the final part of the process to allow me to qualify as a Sport and Exercise Psychologist. But it was not quite the moment I had dreamed of.

I had been working towards this goal for the past 8 years but when I saw those results, I didn’t jump for joy as one might expect. I did not feel the fireworks. Instead, I sat sobbing uncontrollably. All the hard work and countless hours of reading, writing, personal development and CPD had been worth it. I could hold my head up high and say “I did it” but all I wanted to do was lie down and breathe. I don’t remember ever thinking specifically about how amazing this moment would be. I didn’t explicitly expect to feel fireworks or jump for joy, but I thought it would feel different. All those years of work were over in that one minute. Done. Finito. Finished. And all I could ask myself was “what now?”. I felt relief and sadness, and a little bit lost. I was grieving the end of this chapter of my life.

The psychologist in me wanted to reflect and question why I felt this way. But I was equally ashamed and embarrassed by my feelings. I assured myself when I got to share the news with others, I would feel the joy. When we celebrated and opened the champagne, I was sure it would come. When I posted it across my socials and was flooded with validation from my peers and colleagues it had to come, didn’t it? And then I spotted it those “when…then” traps.

Whilst reading this you may be thinking “Jeez she sounds ungrateful”, I felt that too. The shame I felt for not being ecstatic confused me and I found myself seeking alternatives for this exhaustion, sadness, and relief that I couldn’t explain. It was only after sharing these feelings with my partner that I realised I had finally allowed myself to be sad. I needed to stop suppressing and questioning these emotions and just sit with them. I reminded myself that we can feel both sadness and joy at the same time. Just because these were not the feelings that I or others had expected me to feel, did not make them any less valid.

Writing this I wonder if this is weird feeling is something many of us may have experienced, particularly since the pandemic, where students have been submitting and receiving work completely online. It made me think how the social interaction of going through these experiences together affects us? Am I struggling to really feel the joy because I am not with those that have experienced it with me? Would it have been helpful for me to manage my expectations surrounding this moment, as I would do with a client? Or will I feel the fireworks when I (hopefully) get to walk across that stage and graduate? Only time will tell, but what it has reminded me is that it is possible to feel many emotions at once and our feelings are valid. It is important to accept and lean into them because “Emotions are like tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.”- Emily Nagoski


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