Besides being my favourite park in Sheffield, Bolehills was made for Roly-Polies. The increasing gradient of the slope that encases the children’s playground was designed for them. Laying on your side: your eyes gorging on the panorama of reservoirs, peaks and forests; your nose grazing on the post-rain smell of petrichor, it only takes a little push, and suddenly the sky and earth become a wheeling blur around you, your pulse quickens, until suddenly: gasps and chuckles competing in your throat, you find yourself spread-eagled on the ground, waiting for the spiralling earth and sky to disentangle themselves for long enough for you to stagger up the slope and repeat the entire dizzying process.
Roly-Poly races were the foundation of my mine and my boyfriend’s planning meeting over our upcoming ten months of long-distance. Most of our strategic relationship discussion was done whilst leaning off the playground’s rope pyramid, and if things threatened to become too serious, there was always the zip wire to create clarity.
For me, the post-exam euphoria can fade all too quickly, and I can find myself allowing gnawing thoughts to slide into my mind that tell me to fear the future: in the same way that anxiety slowly sapped my self-esteem whilst doing exams, if I wasn’t careful, I could propagate fear over the next upcoming challenges, and the endless list of possibilities that I will never be able to control.
What kicked me out of this habit was reading back through my journals. My fear of the future shrinks significantly when I realise that I have defied the previously all-consuming fears over moving house; making friends, and defining myself over other peoples’ opinions of me.
Resting in the present; on the cusp of another transition from University and summer, I am choosing to laugh and find joy. Now is a time to savour the past; to celebrate the barriers overcome, the friendships made, and the staggering enormity of content learnt. Now is a time for ice cream and inflatable canoes; for underground adventures, and nights out. Now is the time to cherish days with the friends who will have graduated before I return, without clinging on to them too tightly. Some friends will just have been in my life for the last two years; some will stretch on into the future. Attempting to bring control will just result in suffocation.
Looking towards the future, in the same way that I refused stress whilst revising, I will not speak fear over a place before I have even arrived. Whilst thinking about Senegal, I found myself envisaging a barren environment full of loneliness and unbearable heat, that I would hate every moment of. However, upon reflection, I realised that this could easily become the reality if I allowed these thoughts to become my expectations, as this would be the lens that I would view Senegal through whilst stepping off the aeroplane.
Instead, I am choosing to be filled with excitement over everything that I will learn as a student there: the amazing people that I will meet; the new adventures and experiences and hobbies that I will discover. If I can survive three months of my breath spiralling through my kitchen as blizzards raged outside and water poured through the kitchen ceiling over this last winter, 90% humidity in Senegal will be a breeze.
I am not starting my year abroad unaware of my limitations, or the huge challenges that struggling with mental health can bring. Before University I completed a two-month Human Rights Internship in Togo and afterwards needed a term’s counselling to recover from mild PTSD. I will do what I can with the capacity that I have and allow grace for myself when I need to stop.
On the other hand, if I accept my brain’s fears for the future, then they will become the reality that will dictate my life. I will be robbed of so many adventures and fulfilling life experiences, if I am too afraid to take a risk. I would rather crash and burn and return home from Senegal six weeks later, then fail because these spiralling negative expectations had prevented me from even stepping onto the plane.