This is 27

Around this time last year, I saw my plans of studying abroad come to an untimely end after my scholarship applications were rejected.

I was understandably discouraged, but still determined to give it another go ’round. Staying true to that promise, I submitted my applications once more with hopes of a different outcome.

Today, I write this after facing rejection for the second time in a row.

Yes, that’s right. I didn’t get a scholarship this year either.

6b4

That awkward moment when your scholarship applications are rejected for the second year in a row. (Source: Know Your Meme)

I would be lying if I said reading through those generic rejection emails didn’t feel like a punch to the gut. As much as I would like to preach detachment, a redemption arc would have been particularly welcome at this point.

Feeling like one of your lifelong dreams is slipping through your fingers is also a bit disconcerting, to say the least. Although I’m trying to reason with myself by holding on to the mantra, “This isn’t a dead end, but a detour,” it’s still sad to have to put something you care about (and which you have fought for so wholeheartedly) on hold indefinitely.

In moments of clarity such as this one, I realize that this is just part of my story, a blip on the radar, a small inconvenience; that just around the corner, better things might be in store for me.

I certainly don’t know what meaning all of this holds (if any), but I hope it will make sense in due time. As a matter of fact, when I look at the circumstances that have brought me to this particular crossroads, I realize things eventually fall into place and someday, I will come to that coveted understanding which now eludes me.

The truth is that at 27, I still have a hard time letting go and exercising patience. Everything I do is imbued with this sense of urgency, and as irrational as I know it sounds, part of me feels like this can’t wait. Perhaps the hardest thing is coming to terms with the fact that it has to, regardless of how desperately I want it or how much of myself I have poured into this.

Saying yes opens you up to a world of possibilities, but that doesn’t only include the wonderful stuff you rave to your friends about, or the good news you share with your parents and siblings. It also encompasses the failed ventures, embarrassing faux pas, and many other ways in which you can (and do) fall flat on your face from time to time.

It’s neither pleasant nor empowering, much less encouraging, but this is what 27 looks like for me. In the interest of preserving my sanity, I will move forward with a new line of questioning.

To quote the wonderful Hallease:

What will I become from this failure?

I figure that in the face of this impasse, that will prove to be a more fruitful endeavor.

Besides, I’ve always reveled in a good challenge.

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Struggle, defeat and ‘feeling too much’

2016 was a rough year for a lot of people. I realize I’m not the first to echo this sentiment, but since I’m including myself in that group, I thought it important to emphasize this point.

Last year was challenging in ways I could not have foreseen and it definitely took its toll in other, more subtle ways which I am still trying to process.

When I look back, I specifically remember the feeling of dread that seemed to intensify as my birthday inched closer. In past years I haven’t been exactly ‘celebratory’ by most standards, but 2016 found me completely dejected at the thought of it.

I didn’t want to celebrate. I didn’t want gifts. I didn’t want people congratulating me. I didn’t even want to acknowledge that particular Sunday as anything other than a day of the week.

“What is there worth celebrating about my mundane existence in this world?” “What’s the use, anyway?”

That is essentially how I felt about the whole thing; that was my thought process going into it. At the heart of it all it wasn’t really about turning a year older, but coming to terms with the realization that time was passing while I remained still…and unaccomplished, and unfulfilled, and directionless, etc.

Turning 25 was just another unwelcome reminder of the fact, and I just didn’t want to deal with all that it implied. Instinctively I knew better, but I also felt miserable, and deconstructing my own feelings seemed like an undertaking far too ambitious to even attempt at that point. I was genuinely exhausted.

With that being said, you can only ignore things for so long until they surface again, and that is exactly what happened on New Year’s Eve, when it all hit me full force.

People around me were eagerly making plans to ring in 2017, but at most, I felt detached. I had spent the majority of the day at home, feeling like I was going to burst into tears at any moment and struggling to keep it together.

Source: Know Your Meme

Sure, I’m a nostalgic. I’m particularly fond of the past and I tend to idealize it. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. But somehow, this was different—I felt very fragile.

I was in the middle of a Youtube binge when I got a call from one of my friends. She was at the nearest fast food joint and she wanted me to meet her there. She had a gift for me.

I got dressed hastily and made my way there by foot, where I greeted her with a big hug and the best smile I could muster. I was really happy to see her, but I felt awful. I tried really hard to keep my composure as I opened her gift: a notebook and a picture of us and some of my other closest friends.

We spoke about a lot of things, and after being rendered incapable of reading the note she had written for me, I joked about being a sentimental mess. One thing led to another and I opened up about my year at length, and that is when I realized that I had not reached out to many people, much less talked about how much I had been struggling.

I had spent the majority of the year pushing things aside for the sake of pushing on, but it was all finally catching up to me. It didn’t feel great admitting that I had been feeling so hopeless and defeated, but that was the truth.

And I think it was also the turning point.

Upon returning home, I sat at the edge of my bed and cried. I cried for the year that had transpired, for the people I had neglected throughout (myself included), for those I hurt, and for the hardships endured. I cried because I was sad and ultimately, just really tired.

It has been a really rough year — I finally concurred.

Now, you might be wondering why I’ve taken the time to mention all of this, or why I have chosen to focus so much of my attention on things that are inherently unpleasant. And yes, while I recognize that I could have very easily just glossed over all of this as if it had never happened, I simply don’t want to.

Looking past the fact that this exact attitude aggravated an already difficult situation, I think it is also important to acknowledge that I am not the only one who feels this way. A lot of people struggle on a daily basis to get out of bed, to find meaning, to feel worthy or reach out to other people. A lot of people suffer in silence.

We compare ourselves to others because it is simply in our nature to do so, but in the era of social media, where everything is carefully curated and everyone around you seems to be living their best life, knowing that you are struggling can make you feel more alienated than ever.

I have oftentimes wondered why people don’t talk about these things or why we have such a hard time acknowledging our worst moments. The conversations I have with my closest friends reaffirm that I am not the only one who feels this way, but I also don’t see other people having these discussions on a greater scale. Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy.

With that in mind, I suppose this is my humble contribution to this discussion: admitting that I struggle too, that life gets to be a lot at times, that I get overwhelmed and anxious and I give into the most negative of thoughts; that I spent a great part of last year in a serious funk and it took me until it was virtually over to recognize it as such.

Source: newnoisemagazine.com

Source: newnoisemagazine.com

Coincidentally, last year I also read ‘If You Feel Too Much’ by Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit which helps people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

Although at first glance it may seem like a string of different anecdotes haphazardly collected over the years, there is most certainly a unifying theme that connects them all, and that is hope.

The hope that even though we struggle, things can get better; that we can still find beauty in the midst of hardship; that although we will most certainly face defeat, we will also celebrate victories down the road.

This feels like a particularly timely reminder given the circumstances I previously described, but also a very important thing to keep in mind going forward.

“I’m starting to believe those things, that the best is yet to be, that life comes back, that the dreams that live inside me are there for a reason, that life is not just a tragedy, not just a story about losing. It is also a story of surprises and grace and redemption, of conversations and moments that feel like miracles.” – Jamie Tworkowski

I lost sight of that for a while, but I think it happens to all of us at one point or another. However, rather than keeping silent, I am choosing to be open. In the spirit of the work being done by people like Tworkowski, I am choosing to talk about it.

I am convinced, now more than ever, that he is right in affirming that we need to fight to remember the good, to remain hopeful, to uplift other people and serve as that reminder to them that things do get better, that we are in this together, and ultimately, that they are not alone.

As for me, I have decided to welcome 2017 with enthusiasm and a renewed sense of purpose, going out on a limb as I pursue my dreams. I don’t know how things will turn out, or if they even will, but I figure at the very least, I will be happy knowing I gave it my best.

It is most definitely worth the trouble.

A year of going without

Last year ago on Halloween, I made the decision to stop wearing wigs.

I find it delightfully ironic that I chose to do this on a day where people traditionally deck themselves out in costumes and makeup, when essentially, I felt like I was finally ridding myself of one.

While others were excitedly transforming themselves into someone else, I felt like I was shedding past pretenses and coming into my own self.

At first, wearing wigs worked out very well because it concealed my alopecia and frankly, that wasn’t something I wanted to or was ready to deal with at that stage, be it on my own terms or in my interactions with other people. Sure, I had the awkward encounter every now and then, but for the most part, I could live out my life as a relatively unassuming human being.

At the core of it all, I just wanted to be accepted and I really thought that if I could pass as a normal person with hair, I would be fine. At that time in my life, everything seemed to hinge on that: if I have hair, if it grows back out, if I keep this up, if my classmates don’t find out the truth, etc., it’ll all be alright.

And sure, while the wigs helped me live out my life and made me feel more comfortable and assured, eventually I started to feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction creeping into my life.

When I look back I can’t really isolate a specific moment, but I’d say it was moreso a mixture of many elements coming together and leading me to the realization that as much as I thought I was
fooling everyone else, I was really just lying to myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think wearing wigs is great and I’m a really big advocate of doing what feels right to you, because each of us are on a different journey. It’s how you feel that counts the most and it’s a very personal choice. I support freedom of choice.

However, I got to a point where wearing them, though safe and familiar, no longer felt good to me. It’s as if I had gotten to a point where I was using them as a vehicle to disguise my problems and sweep them aside, and that was deeply alarming to me.

With that being said, and despite the apprehension that began to build inside of me, I still didn’t feel ready to go without, much less begin to have open conversations with the people I encountered about what I was going through. That took a lot longer, and is another story all on its own. I won’t go into details about it in this post.

Suffice it to say that as time progressed, I looked at myself in the mirror and felt that the reflection staring back at me was no longer a representation of who I was on the inside. At that point, I was aware that I no longer felt the need to wear a wig, that I felt beautiful without one, that my life no longer revolved around the expectation of my hair growing back and most importantly, that I was at peace with the fact that it would probably never happen.

I was bald, and I was okay with that. Slowly but surely (and painfully at that), I was coming to terms with it. It was just a matter of time before I made the choice to get rid of my wig all together and little by little, I was preparing myself for that.

Listen to Shia. He knows what he’s talking about. (Source: comicbookmovie.com)

Last year, I started looking at scarves online. I had decided that would be the next step for me. Not completely au naturel, of course, but definitely a big change from wearing wigs and a step closer to presenting myself as I felt I truly was. I bought a number of them too, not only as a reminder of the promise I had made to myself, but also as an incentive to just do it.

Staying true to form, I then began to worry about the minutiae of following through with this idea: “How will I go about this transition?” “How am I going to explain it to people?” “What will I tell my coworkers?”, and so on and so forth. I mean, surely I couldn’t just walk into the office one morning and act normally as if nothing had happened.

But then I showed up at my friend’s apartment wearing one of those scarves one day, and after a lengthy discussion, that’s exactly what I chose to do.

I set my sights on October 31st and when the day came I went off to work wearing a scarf on my head and my anxiety on my sleeve.

As is the case with these things, it wasn’t as horrible as I had initially expected and I was perfectly fine after the fact. Now I wear scarves all the time and although I haven’t made any dramatic declarations, I think that the people who know me have assimilated the change as well.

Sometimes I even question whether ‘change’ is even the right word. More than anything, I feel that I’m just reverting back to a more natural state and trying to embrace the person I’ve been all along.

Ideally, I’d like to get to a place where I don’t feel like I have to wear anything, but for now I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with this particular choice.

Freedom to be myself and present myself as such.

On looking back and moving forward, or my life at 24

I was planning on writing something to commemorate my 24th birthday, but when October 9th rolled around I found that I didn’t have much to say.

You know, a couple of years ago I wrote a note on Facebook for one such occasion. I always tend to go back to it, because it gives me a vantage point into who I was then and inevitably, also makes me think about the changes I’ve undergone throughout my life, which brings me to my next point.

This year in particular, my birthday was less a celebration and more of an opportunity to reflect on the person I’ve become. Most of the time, all of this information sits somewhere in the recesses of my mind and although I’m very much aware of it, I don’t always take the time to bring it to the forefront and much less, share it with other people.

I’ve put in a lot of work towards being more open and transparent with myself and others, but a lot of my experiences are still neatly tucked away, only to be evoked by me in moments of quiet contemplation, or in rarer circumstances, when someone asks me questions or I choose to disclose something in the hopes that it’ll be useful to them.

When I look back, it surprises me how closed off I was to the world. I saw things through a lens that only allowed for black and white and my response to everything was either an effusive yes or a staunch no (mostly no, to be honest). I judged others harshly and met their intentions with the utmost suspicion. Having to deal with people was the ultimate inconvenience and an insufferable waste of time. It was a matter of “me versus them” and since they obviously didn’t care to understand where I was coming from, why should I bother? I was convinced that I knew better.

At least that’s what I told myself then. And what I kept telling myself for years, until I got to a point where I saw that narrative exactly for what it was— a really elaborate and deeply entrenched series of excuses.

To this day, I think that making the conscious decision to question myself and my motives, and to act in ways purposefully intended to defy all of those preconceived notions, has been (and continues to be) one of the most fruitful endeavors of my life.

What started off as a personal challenge has transformed into a life philosophy that guides the way I approach situations and frames how I perceive them. Slowly but surely, my perceived struggles became opportunities to thrive.

Nowadays, I’m still daring myself to push further into uncertain territory in spite of my fears and it’s in this process of upping the ante that I have finally realized that most of my limitations were really just a product of my own imagination. Whereas before I constantly doubted whether I could, I now focus on proving to myself that I can.

When I look at my present self, I’m humbled by all that I don’t know, and this fact alone has led me to be a lot less categorical than before. I recognize reality in itself is much more complex and nuanced than my limited perception of the world leads me to falsely assume.

This has also led me to a drastic shift in postures— from one of imparting judgement to one of seeking understanding. My attitude towards others was so disdainful and I was always zeroing in on the negatives, but over the years that disapproval has been replaced with a deep sense of empathy, a feeling that even overwhelms me at times. Sure, no one is perfect, but each one of us also has really positive things to bring to the table. It has made me make an effort to see people for who they are, and accept them just the same.

Granted, sometimes things don’t work out, but that’s just part of life. I bid farewell to those who are no longer in mine and wish them the best moving forward. I don’t have the time, desire or energy to hold grudges or bear resentments.

It’ll probably sound clichéd, but when I made an effort to sympathize with people and look at them through a different lens, I realized the things we had in common were infinitely more important than the differences. That in the end, regardless of the mistakes we’ve made, we are all endowed with dignity and we should be treated with kindness and respect— even at times when we may be seen as ‘undeserving.’

The way I now see it is that we are bound together by our humanity, and when I commit any kind of transgression towards another person or the space we share, I’m not just affecting the individual, but the collective as well.

Now, I don’t mean to exaggerate my impact on the world, which I understand as very minimal, if not totally insignificant. However, my wish is that regardless of how limited my sphere of action or influence may be, that at least my impact is more positive than negative.

Leave people or situations a little bit better than you found them. Relatively simple, right?

If these twenty-four years on Earth have taught me anything, is that you can always do better and if you have the choice, you might as well go for it.

In the end, the only person stopping you is yourself.

About a Place Called The Pits

reality presents itself—
loud and unrelenting,
burdensome,
heavy,
but my pace remains steady
and I carry it all.

Not everything is fine and dandy all the time, which is just the way of the world, I suppose. There’s always a tension or a struggle that is front and center, whether moral, financial, health or relationship related, emotional, etc.

The truth of the matter is that nothing is ever really perfect, and although I try to take that into account on my day to day, I’m also human.

I get discouraged.

I get bummed out.

I doubt.

And when things get really bad, everything seems to devolve into a great, big vision of doom. The realism with which I usually view and make sense of the world turns on me, swiftly transforming itself into a deluge of negativity.

“I’m not good enough.”

“Things won’t get better.”

“No one cares.”

“It’s hopeless.”

“What’s the point?”

I make an effort not to dwell on these feelings for too long and fortunately, I’m always able to bounce back. However, sometimes I also wonder whether I’m just shrugging things off and sweeping them under the rug, like I’ve learned to do after years of persistent conditioning.

It’s times like these that prompt me to look back on my childhood and try to decipher the origins of specific behaviors.

Like, why do I feel the need to disguise how I really feel? Why do I insist on telling myself I’m okay when all of the evidence points to the contrary?

It’s weird. As a child who felt constantly accosted and hurt by people’s reactions towards me (i.e. staring, prying questions, pointing, laughing, etc.), I expended a lot of energy trying to prove to others (and perhaps, myself, to a large extent) that I was completely unaffected. So much so, in fact, that I still have a very difficult time acknowledging negative emotions and being honest with myself about how I truly feel at any given moment.

Now, that’s troubling for many reasons, but the real irony lies in the fact that you can’t constructively deal with things that you actively deny. It’s a catch-22 if I ever saw one.

Get it? It's an analogy.  Wow, I'm so clever!  (Source: metro.us)

Get it? It’s a metaphor for my feelings! Wow, I’m so clever! (and by that I mean I’m not). (Source: metro.us)

Maybe this is my way of trying to reconcile those inconsistencies and striving to be a little bit more honest with myself.

Or perhaps I feel guilty because I’ve been inadvertently snapping on people for no apparent reason these past couple of weeks.

As is almost always the case, I’m the last to read the memo.

My bad.

 

If Only

In the month or so that I’ve been away from this little space on the Internet I’ve partaken in all sorts of different things, but I won’t make a point to list them here.

If anything, these adventures have led me to conclude that there’s a fine line between trying to be a bit more adventurous and just being completely self-indulgent. Sure, saying yes is great, but you also have to know when to do so and when not to; striking a balance is important, yet elusive.

It’s also really easy to get swept up in the periphery and lose sight of what it is you’re after. In my case, for example, I do want to develop a more open attitude toward new experiences and push myself to try new things, but strictly as a means to help me face my fears and insecurities, and not just for its own sake.

When people ask me about my dreams and aspirations, I always seem at a loss for words. All sorts of thoughts and ideas flounder about in my head and I try to verbalize them as best I can, but I know I sound incoherent at best. I can’t point to specifics, like a white-picket fence, a family of five, or successful career in ”x” field, and that leaves me feeling inadequate, because I feel like I should have things figured out.

If only, right? (That's Demetri Martin, btw. This is from his "If I"  show).

If only, right?
(That’s Demetri Martin, btw. This is from his “If I” show).

Looking back on the goals I set while taking the Blogging 201 course, I realize they were well-intentioned, but ill-conceived. Yes, I want to share my adventures, but only when I feel that it will contribute to the vision I have, and not just for the sake of meeting a deadline. I also want to work on Tunesdays, but as of now I don’t have the necessary equipment to make it happen, and that’s essentially why I haven’t posted anything. It’s not that I’ve forgotten, just that I’ve had to put it on the back burner.

It’s a process, and as much as I dread the thought of it, it’s not perfect. However, I watched Demetri Martin’s “If I” once again today, and in the midst of all the palindromes, I also found some words of encouragement:

“You can’t figure out a person, definitely not yourself. You can’t maximize a life. What you can do is try to be honest in the choices that you make. Be true to yourself, no matter how embarrassing those choices are.”

All is still well in my journey of self-experimentation. There’s just some tweaking and readjusting to be done.

Another day, another iteration, right? In the end, it’s all feedback.

 

A hell inside my head

Whew! This week has been intense, to say the least.

Monday was especially challenging in that it was one of those days where I felt I couldn’t do anything right. Some really strong feedback at the beginning of my day left me feeling aloof for the remainder, and although I tried being gentle with myself, the voices inside my head really took it upon themselves to berate me for my lack of oversight.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m being fed a lot of information at once, I become overwhelmed and it’s incredibly difficult to function when I’m in that state of trying to gather my thoughts and process everything.

Source: caiusalexandru.tumblr.com

And just like Sheldon, at times it really is like that for me as well. Fortunately though, I was able to bounce back and I was really in my zone for the rest of the week, which in retrospect just seems like one big flurry of phone calls, meetings and the like. Hell, I’m still working on things as I write this, but I guess that’s beside the point.

I tend to demand a lot of myself, but I never think it’s good enough. I guess that can be positive in some respects because it pushes me to do better every time, but it also has a negative impact in that it makes me feel like I’m not good enough, and that in itself just intensifies my feelings of insecurity. It makes me doubt myself a lot as well and all of those thoughts, simultaneously going off in my head, leave me feeling seriously exhausted.

In my mind, I like to imagine that everyone has this on and off switch for their thoughts and worries, but I feel like I have a difficult time turning mine off. If something goes wrong at work, I tend to keep thinking about it long after I’ve come back home, and it’s not even on a conscious level sometimes, but something that stays in the back of my mind. At times I have a difficult time relaxing and taking time to detach from those situations, and that kind of scares me.

It feels like there’s always something to be done, some priority to manage, something I missed, some problem that needs solving…It’s like I never have the time to just be at peace and alone with my own thoughts most of the time, and for an introvert like me, that is a nightmare. It’s as if I’ve lost my center and am desperately looking everywhere in attempt to find it.

Now hunched over my laptop, my shoulders begin to ache as I write this. With the clock almost striking midnight, I could really use rest right about now. However, part of me insists on continuing, almost as if a penitence for procrastinating.

You think I’d have learned my lesson by now.