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Authentic Eagles: Bridgette McDermott on Vulnerability

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Bridgette McDermott,  A&S ’15

Anyone that knows me well is fully aware that I have a bit of a “Type A” personality. I love efficiency and organization. I pride myself on my ability to think in a clear, logical fashion. I spend an, arguably, unhealthy amount of time color-coding Google docs, creating Doodle polls, and refreshing my email inbox. I’m the first to admit that I, at times, epitomize the stereotype of the overcommitted, overworked, and overachieving Boston College student. I’ve never been ashamed of this image or afraid of the stigma that often surrounds it. But, in the last year, I’ve realized that I am much more than this identity.

I remember returning to campus last January, refreshed from winter break and excited to see what the spring semester would bring. However, within the first two weeks of being back, that eagerness and enthusiasm was quickly replaced with anxiety and stress. I was struggling to manage 140 tour guides, to engage with my 33 sophomore residents, to balance my undergraduate research fellow position, to plan for my upcoming APPA trip, to handle the most challenging course load I had ever taken on, while also trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. To say that I was overwhelmed is a bit of an understatement, but from the outside this was in no way apparent.

Friends would consistently comment on how put together I always looked or how well I was able to balance all of my commitments. I would usually smile or laugh to switch the topic of conversation, to avoid expressing my true emotional state. But, in reality, I was beginning to unravel. I honestly felt like I was drowning, working so hard to keep my head above the surface, but never allowing myself to breathe. I hated dealing with these emotions. It was clouding my rational approach to everything. I couldn’t understand why the things that usually brought me so much joy were causing me so much pain. And despite all of this, I wouldn’t allow myself to feel anything, to ask for help or to seek support. If I exposed this side of myself, the side that I had kept hidden for so long, I would have to admit that I had failed, a thought that absolutely terrified me.

I finally reached my breaking point the night before a midterm in one of my Philosophy courses. I had sat at a table on the 3rd floor of O’Neill for hours and hours, but it hadn’t helped. Never in my life have I felt so unprepared for something. I could feel the anxiety building up inside of me, causing this endless knot in my stomach to form. But, once again, I just  tried to brush off those emotions, to tell myself that I was fine and that everything would work out. On my walk back to Williams well after midnight, I sat down on a bench in the McNeill Garden and burst into tears. I probably sat there for a good twenty minutes, just completely crying my eyes out.

This was the emotional release that I so desperately needed, the wake-up call that would finally encourage me to face my insecurities. In between tears, I began to realize that by never allowing myself to be completely vulnerable due to my fear of failure, I was also preventing myself from the true happiness that I deserved. I was subsumed by this desire to be perfect, completely blind to the fact that these moments of “failure” would make me stronger, more self-aware and better able to live authentically. So, after that exam at 10:30 the next morning (an exam that I would prefer to forget), I decided to make a change, to open myself up to the people around me. I confided in my parents. I grabbed coffee, lunch, and dinner with trustworthy friends. I allowed myself space for quiet reflection. For the first time in three months, I could breathe again and I have to admit, it was a pretty incredible feeling.

I wish I could say that this situation changed over night, but I would be lying. My discomfort with vulnerability is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. I consistently have to remind myself to close my Google Drive or to ignore the ten emails awaiting responses in order to think about how I am actually doing. I have my good days and my bad ones, but I know throughout this challenging process, I am growing and becoming the person I want to be, rather than the person I think I should be. Even though it is, at times, absolutely terrifying, I remain committed because I truly believe in those moments. The moments when I am completely myself, when I acknowledge that “I am enough,” I find the greatest happiness.

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