it feels like September flew by, and yet so much happened in September.
I do not remember when it started, but it was around the time when I realized I had to be a certain way, and accomplish certain things to level up in life. And in the process, realized I hated having to fall flat on my face, watch my world grow pixelated and start over. I simply did not have the social skills to walk it off like a champ. I’d just look less cool walking the same way I always did: slumped, small, not wanting to wake up the neighbors.
So I anticipated challenges before they manifested themselves, saw conflict and displeasure in people’s faces a nanosecond before they articulated it, and whenever I could get away with it, delegated, postponed or avoided any task that involved direct communication.
But that did not, in any way, erase the lump in my throat, or the burn in my stomach every time I was at a decisional crossroad or in front of a human being that was outside my comfort zone. Anxiety was like this orange ghost that zoomed into my life whenever it got the chance, to ensure that I never ever reached my potential.
I never got used to living in anxiety, but weirdly enough, over time, an odd kind of familiarity did set in.
I still fucking hated the anxiety, and was envious of people who did not second guess every element in their lives, but I also had no choice but to get to know anxiety better. After so many one-on-ones, it was inevitable.
And over time, I realized:
- While too much anxiety caused me to curl up into a ball and not do anything, anxiety did not always intend to hurt. In fact, it made me better. It allowed me to zoom in on the details, double-fact-check and in general, give people accurate rather than half-assed information.
- I am a very complacent individual, and it took that anxious I-am-going-to-lose-it-the-world-is-going-to-fall-apart rush for me to sometimes, give pressing problems the attention and priority they needed. It would, surprisingly make me sit down, take deep breaths, tell myself that no, I was not going to fuck this up before giving my full, undivided (basically, no social-media in the side) attention to every piece of that puzzle before I miraculously arrived at a solution, did what had to be done and experienced that sweet a-ha moment.
- That bittersweet anxious sensation would push me to prepare for, research-to-death and conquer every possible caveat that underlay whatever I was freaking out about. Catastrophizing, in a way, prevented the actual catastrophe from happening. Even if shit did hit the fan, since I’d already pictured and dreaded the catastrophe a billion times before, it simply was not as impressive in real life. I could jump right into problem-solving mode.
Recently, a friend asked me how I had learned a random hack that I’d showed her. As I explained to her about the time when I “got anxious” because I had to get something done and couldn’t because I did not know said hack and therefore, had to look it up, I found myself talking about it rather nostalgically, and fondly. This AMAZED me but also made me realize that over time, while my world remained pixelated, anxiety, the orange-neighborhood-ghost, had leveled up from enemy to frenemy.
Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
It’s been a year since I started grad school in California, and I couldn’t be more different from the person I was last Fall. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the new environment, the people or my classes (though all of these things were unexpected protective factors in keeping me afloat).
Age has a way of hardening you, making you cynical and less wistful about the time you have right now and the times ahead of you.
I know I sound like an 80 year old (I’m slightly younger than that), but I haven’t felt the weight of age, and the chronology of time as much over the years as I do now. I finally choose to see ALL of the people I thought I knew all my life, and I’m stunned by the details I overlooked. Meanwhile, I make careless squiggles over an extra glass of wine, and GET the phenomenology of hair turning gray (and almost get how to use the word phenomenology).
I am more self-conscious than I’ve ever been about what I write here but I am just as invested. If anything, these posts weave continuity – help me parse out the me in ninth grade who constantly wished for life to resemble a movie from the me right now, who finally sees that it always was, I just never chose to see the gorilla – because I was told to shut up and count the players in white (see video if you need a reference to the reference: https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo).
Why do we push the people who care most about us to their limits?
I guess this needs context, as everything does. And third person, because that reduces responsibility and accountability.
Once upon a time, there lived a girl. Girl has self-esteem issues. She needs people to tell her what she is. She claims to be an individual, but she is constantly afraid of driving people away. She does not want to be alone and shunned and unwanted.
And then there are diamonds-in-the-rough that walk by, and tell her she’s great. Only, she does not believe them. So she needs to know if it is true. She sees how long they will stick around and maintain the story that she is great. The one with common-sense walks away. The other stays, but she throws pebbles their way creating ripples and ripples until even that…diamond/person gets chaffed. Because now, she needs to know if they think she is great despite her acting out and being unreasonable and annoying and inconsiderate and aloof. She needs to know how much she is worth, despite all of that graininess and flak that surrounds her. Only, that isn’t so great, is it? She is acting out of fear, and that closes and constricts everything she has to offer.
If the girl walks down this path, all of that glitter and promise will remain hidden under layers and layers and layers of guilt and delayed gratification and disintegrity (probably not a word). It is the new year. She needs a new storyboard.
She ran her fingers over the tiny prickle on her forehead – a frickin’ pimple in the beginning of December. Winter was her favorite time of the year. All of those snuggly jackets and unapproachable boots – she could pull them off. The bulk makes her look healthier, unlike the summer skirts that betrayed her carrot stick legs. But clearly, winter was not without its warts.
She finger-combed her hair as she hunched forward, trudging past the zillions and zillions of people making their way from one metro-stop to the next. She hated the way her bangs fell flat, and then curled so frightfully near the ends. She stared at the Asian girl in blue sweatpants who walked past her, the girl’s pin straight hair parting so effortlessly. “How did it feel to have wonderfully approachable hair like that?” she wondered.
She tried pulling her hair behind, but of course that exposed the scar near the beginning of her hairline. She let it fall back down her shoulders. Her hair was greasy from hairspray, and terribly layered. She felt like Professor Snape.
Her lips tugged downwards as someone bumped against her, muttering “Sorry.”
She nodded vaguely, her bangs still covering her face. How did the blonde woman in front of her have such bouncy, salon-style hair? How did people manage to style their own hair? Did they wake up every morning just to make their bangs fluffy and wonderfully soft? She had tried styling her hair. It made it greasier and wavier in all the wrong places. She pulled her hair back again, her fingers clasping it into a ponytail. She pulled it to one side, letting it hang down one shoulder, as she reached Platform 6A.
She tried to picture how she looked right at that moment, with her hair like that. Oh lord, it would be like that Instagram picture of hers from a year back. She was with her best friend Eric, whose face reflecting his sunny disposition. She, on the other hand, had one side full of hair and the other side of well… air. it looked awkward and unnatural. She untagged herself from the picture, but when she did stumble into it on Eric’s page – she always winced.
She continued finger-combing the front section of her hair, as a text from her ex-boyfriend popped up on her phone. It was an even more obnoxious reply to her obnoxious text. She caught her reflection on her phone screen, as her screen faded to black. The corners of the tiny hairs that blended with her bangs were curling up again. She pressed it flat. They curled up again. She pressed it flat, tucking the piece of hair under her bangs.
Her train finally arrived and she thought, I can’t wait to get back home, shower, grab a bite to eat and then study. I can’t study with my hair like this – no.
He was making his way to his stop when he bumped into something solid.
“Sorry,” he said reflexively- and caught sight of the woman as she blended with the crowd.
Only she didn’t quite – blend with the crowd.
She was slightly hunched, but walking at a remarkable pace. Her hair – there was so much of it! It was neither straight nor curly – it tumbled down her back in mesmerizing waves. He hadn’t seen hair like that before!
As he reached his station, he saw her again. She was peering into her phone – but her profile betrayed elegant, sharp features. She turned around and he met her eyes – but she was looking past him. She hadn’t really met his gaze, she was lost in thought.
He wished she would’ve met his gaze – those were eyes that had the potential to sparkle and light up the lives around it. She looked wistful. There was a genuineness about her that was absent in the vacant glee of the lipsticked woman on his other side, who was squealing “How ARE you, Carol! You look FABULOUS, simply FABULOUS, dear”.
As the train droned in, and she disappeared with the crowd – he caught the last glimpse of those untamed, beautiful, beautiful locks that her fingers wouldn’t let go of.
He wished she’d smiled at him when their eyes had met. He would’ve made some inane comment about the subway service. And over the course of that conversation, he’d have told her, quite tactlessly, how distractingly beautiful she was.
- Eat while you are eating
- Study when you are studying
- Watch TV while you are watching TV
- Cook when you are cooking
- Say what you are feeling (you don’t get coolness points for not saying what you should be saying, and are thinking, and are feeling so intensely)
- When you are on the phone, listen to what the other person is saying and respond to it
- If you can’t help someone, say you can’t help them
- If you feel like staying in, stay in
- Tasks that take less than ten minutes, start and finish immediately. This includes random shit that bugs you, which you can just clarify (“Did I annoy you too much that day?” “Was that insensitive?”)
- Text when you are texting, but probably not when you are studying, eating, talking, on the phone or in the middle of an urgent task
- Ask for what you want
- Accept that people will put themselves first, because they are protecting their interests and their heart
- Put yourself (and your friends and family and anyone who contributes to your well-being) first
If you are thinking “well, duh” and “this is intuitive” – great. Oftentimes though, it should be obvious but it isn’t.
From: The girl who eats while she studies, lets the pot boil over when she’s worrying about a term paper due in 24 hours, texts when she reads and reads as she texts, says something and means something else as she’s scared she’ll lose coolness points
It’s you, your earphones, your notes, printed words. It’s the rustle of paper of the person next to you, just as involved in her music, her squiggles, her rented text.
It’s your love of learning, heightened – expanded.
There will be no movie-like storm-ins, interruptions or revelations here. It’s a quiet buzz that takes you closer to your truest inclination.