Written by Charlie Martina
When you’re young, everyone’s always asking what you want to be when you grow up. You answer, and they grin at you in admiration. This weird conditioning essentially teaches you to pigeonhole yourself into a career at age five. What people don’t tell you is that it will be borderline impossible to decide what you want to do when you grow up, and even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, you probably haven’t.
When I was a little girl, part of me wanted to be a performer and part of me wanted to be a scientist. I was fascinated by the world, particularly the spheres I felt I wasn’t talented enough to enter. I doubt anyone who knew me at all would’ve pinned me as the next underage X-factor winner, me being the painfully shy and sensitive child I was. Nor was I a child suited to scientific discipline — my head was too far in the clouds.
Nothing went by me unnoticed; I absorbed every good and bad feeling felt by everyone in my vicinity. I felt a dampened version of the euphoria of a singer performing on a stage in front of billions, just as I felt personally rewarded when science had a breakthrough. Even if I didn’t belong on stage or in a lab, I wrote about these observations plenty.
Fast forward to my early teenage years. From age twelve, I suffered with mental health issues. We didn’t have much money growing up, and I got called out at school because of it. The world felt prickly and sharp, scratching me at every turn.
This was when I decided I wanted to be in a helping role. I wanted to take on everyone’s problems and find them solutions ASAP. I wanted to make other people like me feel less alone; I wanted their world to be soft and squishy instead of dark and daunting. I wanted to take the weight off everyone’s shoulders. I wanted to be a counselor, a psychologist, a caretaker, a social worker, a healer; I wrote about these dreams, too.
I had a series of caring jobs during and after university. I worked in child-care, teaching, support work, care work, and I even did a five-week course before I was supposed to start a social work master’s degree. Some jobs I quit, other’s I was “let go” from. I was told I was too caring, too emotional, too unstable. I wasn’t in the right place on my “emotional journey’” was a favorite line of mine. I scoffed at people in response–-they needed someone soft and sensitive like me to work with the people who needed it most.
What I didn’t know until recently, was that they were right. I wanted to help others, but I took on the worries of other people to an overwhelming level. Changes and troubles in service-users’ lives would affect me deeply… I could never put the burden down. I was certainly in no position to help others without helping myself first-–it was almost selfish of me to be doing it in the first place.
I quit drinking at the beginning of 2021. Since then I feel everything fully. I feel things even more intensely than before. Other changes in my life–-growing older, being in lockdown, spending less time in demanding frontline work–-have all helped me to realize things about myself. I need more time alone than I thought, I have a lot more to heal than I thought, and I still don’t really know what on earth I want to do.
It doesn’t have to be “I want to do this” or “I want to be this” anymore. This moment is all that matters, and right now—