Late winter and spring were a journey through darkness for me, but I feel like I have finally come out into the light.
The past few years I have had a policy of “just say yes” to everything—every bike ride, race, trip to Sedona/Moab/Canada, or bikepacking adventure. I thrive off of a packed weekend and post-work schedule of outdoor activities. Getting outside to exercise solo or with friends helps calm my mind and gets me through hours of sitting at a computer for my day job.
This year, I had to just say “no” to everything so I could focus on my career, and I lost my physical, emotional, and social outlet. I had to take my professional engineering exam in late April, which meant spending my weekends indoors studying in addition to a full workload. It nearly killed my soul, but it’s the biggest and most important milestone in my career, and necessary for me to advance in the environmental consulting field. I put so much pressure on myself to pass the first time (only about 64% of people pass on their first try) and to be the first female PE at my company, that my anxiety about the exam grew to be almost unmanageable. I started having physical manifestations of anxiety like body tingling, shortness of breath, and chest pain, which was a terrifying experience and made it hard to focus on studying*. I would allow myself to go on one bike ride per week, but even then, I would get mad at myself for being out of shape and having rusty skills, and guilty for taking time off from studying. I tried to stay off social media because it made me sad and angry that everyone else was seemingly out having fun all the time, and I had nothing happy or positive to post about.
As my exam approached, I had to get through my least favorite day of the year—April 9th. This marks the anniversary of my brother’s death in 2016 after a 12-year battle with drug addiction. Every year in the weeks surrounding that date, I relive the intense feelings of grief, anger, and loss at his passing. My anxiety and insomnia grows even worse than normal, and I feel fatigued and exhausted by social interactions. Usually riding my bike is one of my biggest comforts during this time, but I was now studying two days per weekend to prepare for my impending exam. My life was devoid of joy, and I struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Exam day came, and I was tired and extremely nervous. I felt like I bombed the first half, and almost drove away at lunch and didn’t come back. I took a deep breath, reminded myself of my inner strength and tried to focus on positive self-talk, and went back in and did better on the second half, but was still afraid that wouldn’t be enough to pass. I went home and spent the weekend in a black depression, thinking I had failed and would have to re-take the exam, which would mean more weekends of studying, and admitting to everyone at my company that I was a failure. I went on a group ride to “celebrate” being done with the test and my friends were shocked at how down I was, compared to my normal cheery self.
Six days later I got my exam result. I HAD PASSED. I was so relieved I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop crying—my own personal hell was over, I was done forever, my hard work had paid off. The burden of my intense anxiety about the exam mostly melted away and the darkness lifted. For the first time in months, the future looked bright and hopeful. I am still working on fully digging myself out of my mental and physical hole, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I can finally brush the cobwebs off my bikes and start planning out as many summer adventures as I can possibly fit into my schedule!
*I would like to thank my therapist and my fiancé for their support while I navigated this dark time. There’s no shame in asking for help!