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May 29, 2019
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The Difference Is You

Diana Bärenz, Program Assistant SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's blogs are those of the authors, and they do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University or SFU Public Square, or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

It was a long journey to get here!

And I'm not talking about the almost 8,000 km distance between my small German hometown and the city of Vancouver. I'm talking about all the steps on my way to personal development I needed to take, in order to be able to gather all my courage for going abroad on my own for months. To be honest, this has been a really long journey for me because of my self-doubt and my insecurity. I guess, when I came up with this idea of travelling to another continent on my own for the first time, I didn’t believe that I could really do it. But all my fears and all my worries were basically the reason why I had to come here for this adventure. Since my senior classes at high school, I was craving for change; I needed to get out of my hometown!

Now, I’m sitting at my desk in the SFU Public Square office in the downtown of Vancouver – on the other side of the world – and I’m writing my first blog post, looking back at my adventure:

Before my journey began, I knew that I would have to leave my comfort zone like never before to get here. I wasn’t prepared for the actual extent of upcoming challenges, I think. There were so many first times which were a great deal for me: like my first day in the office, my first meeting, my first event, my first time managing our engaging pop-up exhibit, my first time leading the staff meeting, and so much more…

In situations like this, my anxiety keeps illustrating all possible worst-case scenarios, and I always overthink how I act upon others and if I do something wrong. I’m an expert at getting worked up, and it’s often the case that my heart starts racing, that I get this awful feeling in my chest, and that I probably even start shaking. In the past, I always tried very hard to hide this because I felt so weak, especially in episodes of depression. But pretending to be happy after crying for hours the night before, or while thinking dark thoughts, is very painful, and it gets harder the more you do it. This basically holds me back in every situation where I want to be the best version of myself. I’m glad that I learned that it wasn’t healthy at all how I dealt with my mental health issues in the past and now I’m looking back at how I have grown. The time with Public Square wasn’t “just” an internship where I developed and enhanced diverse skills I can use for my professional career. In fact, I learned very much about myself. I think the most important insight is that I’m even able to pick up my courage again after a panic attack, or something else I suffer from, just by myself. I’m strong enough to fight my demons.

For sure, everyone has to find their own ways to pull themselves out of a dark place mentally or find ways to handle the exhaustion of ongoing confrontation with challenges out of their comfort zone. First and foremost, it is essential to stay away from people who dismiss mental sickness, who try to convince you that it’s your fault that you feel this way and who think that the solution is just being a bit more positive. So when people tell you that there’s something wrong with you, they are obviously wrong. You never know why they might be saying something like that. Potentially, they can’t handle their own insecurities and they are jealous of your strength. Anyways, keep away from these toxic people! So from my perspective, you need a small circle of true friends you can count on 24/7, especially in emergencies, and who will never judge you. They’re simply there for you and never get tired of listening to you talk about what concerns you. I’m damn grateful that I have got friends like this; friends who are loyal since kindergarten, friends who became family, friends who want to see me win. In addition, I think it’s a good idea to develop a kind of personal ritual that supports you on the spot in being the best version of yourself in challenging situations. For me, this ritual is listening to a certain song I got to know because one of these people, who mean the world to me, liked it very much. Now, it always lights up my mood, boosts my confidence, and empowers me.

Here in Vancouver, it is priceless to work in a team of people whose support and appreciation is even louder than my inner anxious voice, like in the team at Public Square. They created an environment where I could flourish, and we built friendships, even though my social phobia steadily questions if they just pretend to enjoy spending time with me - as it always does.

So in the end, I can only thank you, Janet, Kady, Kat, Kevin, Landon, and Nicole, for this incredible chance I can take so much from! And especially thank you, Kady, for what you saw in me from the beginning, and for even making me see this.

It feels awesome to be part of the Public Square family!

And although I obviously don’t want this amazing time to end so soon, I feel ready for a new chapter now, with all these insights in mind…

This is my private email I’ll also keep back in Germany: diana.baerenz@posteo.de.

Feel free to message me if you have any questions or comments, or when you just want to share thoughts.

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