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Cashing in on Small Wins

Updated: Mar 30

Photograph by Tanalee Youngblood

The upwards battle of mental health can be menacing, especially when finally confronting the challenges that remain ahead. My journey was with anxiety and the very physical symptoms it manifested. I suppressed my concern for my bodily reactions until I no longer could. I used to brush off my anxious vomiting with excuses, like "food-poisoning" or "car sickness," raising the eyebrows of my loved ones, without allowing them to interject with their concerns. How could I have food poisoning when my partner and I enjoyed the same meal for dinner and he felt nothing at all?

Truthfully, I was never forced to address my insomnia and incessant vomiting until being confronted with a standardized exam that I needed to take to enter professional school. I laid awake in my bed sweating for eight endless hours. Every hour or so, I'd wander over to the bathroom and settle in with my head slumped over the toilet until nothing remained in my stomach but aches of emptiness. Thus, I showed up to my exam in a zombie-like lucid state. This exhausting process happened twice, each time before this apparently "life changing" exam. I finally managed to take myself to a doctor and seek help, frankly, only out of desperation. I would've likely ignored these tendencies forever, if not for this specific exam. The truth is, most of the time, I was high functioning despite these symptoms. I could still perform the way that I aspired to in school, and so, I didn't feel it was necessary to treat.

At the beginning of my journey, I didn't think of my mental health as a journey at all. My attitude was plainly, "prescribe me some pills to fix me." Give me something to stop my nervous vomiting and let me sleep for eight full hours while my body tries to fight through it. Despite feeling ready to ace this exam, my body wouldn’t let me. Speaking frankly, that was all that I cared about. I didn't care about my physical exhaustion, my metabolism in overdrive, my panic attacks, my lack of sleep, or my incessant vomiting. All I cared about was my exam. That was my problem.

I didn't understand the magnitude of the challenges that I was facing; sleeping and circumventing my vomiting and panic attacks was no small feat. And so, over time, after writing this godforsaken exam six times, I began to learn my body's language. I needed to remind myself that the pressure I placed on myself to bring my goals to fruition on my timeline was ultimately contributing to my own painful demise. I began to understand the value of my small wins. I may not have slept more than four hours but I didn't vomit! That was a win. The next time around, I slept five hours and I didn't sweat through my sheets! Another win. It was step by step until I stopped caring about my exam score and started caring about my body and my mind.

The sixth time I wrote it, I slept eight hours through the night, didn't sweat through my sheets, didn't vomit, and I ate breakfast! A win. My score was average but I survived. A win. This was through a careful balance of medication, sleeping aids, journaling, and conversations with my loved ones about how they can offer me support through this process. It wasn't until I confronted my journey head-on, and measured my change incrementally, as opposed to a final desired product I was desperately chasing, that I actually began to see improvement in my body and mind. This careful concoction of self-care that I developed through two years of trials and tribulations was an accumulation of small wins and I finally got to cash in.


Thurka is a 20-something Tamil woman who is interested in politics, with a fervour for social justice. She is a passionate feminist who recently completed her Master’s in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction, focusing on the ongoing injustices faced by Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka.

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