The story of how I conquered a remnant of my past

I will unabashedly admit that I have done something brave today. I initiated a Facebook message conversation with a guy whom I was insanely, unhealthily obsessed for the last two years of school. Please excuse my naive self for believing that I was “in love”. 

This may sound terribly inane but allow me to put it in context. I did not just have a crush on this guy. I was literally, completely consumed with a burning passion for him and I have sacrificed many nights of sleep and nearly 20 months of my adolescence simply wondering if he will ever know of my existence. In retrospect, it seems as though having such an intimidating crush on someone who was so distantly acquainted with me seemed quite stupid. But somehow, I could never bring myself to get over it. After a while, it mellowed down to a sort of celebrity crush, the kind that leads to intense admiration from afar and serves as visual relief but nothing beyond that. I tried to get over my very chance emotional entanglement with this guy by telling myself that I was 17, and so what indeed did I even know about life or even about him.

I had spoken to him once, on November 4th, 2010. He was part of my scavenger hunt team and I thought he was rather charming. As events played out, my friends and peers were mocked at several checkpoints for random dares, such as coming up with pick-up lines, etc. My stupid hormonal heart went aflutter when he decided to ask me out. Since I am Maestro Supreme of masking my emotions, all my friends sensed that there was something more than just plain simple fun going on (at least with my mixed reactions) and therein began the endless rout of being teased and so on and so forth. As I studied in an all-girls’ school then, information spread faster than a disease vector in unsanitary conditions.

I very painfully remembered that I had forgotten to introduce myself to him. Not only that, as the day wore on, I took to being slightly mean to him, because I was so afraid that my obvious affection would show through and I desperately did not want him to know that I had, dare I borrow the cliche, fallen in love with him at first sight.

I was entranced, enamored, charmed, attracted, madly blushing and rather obsessed with this boy whom I had no possible way of contacting ever again. I didn’t have a blog, nor a Facebook account nor a Twitter account. I was literally non-existent online and email seemed too archaic and personal. I also didn’t have my own mobile phone. (quite a sheltered life, what?) Whatever I heard of him after came through to me via friends and of their friends. The press helped considerably as well. The genius that my object of affections was, he went ahead to win a scholarship awarded by NASA. I discovered that he even shared the same love of engineering and robotics as I did. In some way he was inspiring and awesome, and if it wasn’t for certain other unfortunate events, I was in a very real danger of staying forever charmed by this boy.

Something happened which made me re-evaluate my friends’ circle and discover that there were indeed some non-friends in that lot. Perhaps it was a combination of events, but it changed me rather deeply. One of my closer friends decided to start talking trash about me to the rest of the school, suddenly deemed me too uncool to hang out with and was greatly resentful of the fact that I was nominated to the student council over her. To make matters cumulatively worse, she started dating this boy knowing full well that I was deeply vested in him.

It was a harsh wake-up call, but I’m glad it came sooner rather than later. Though I struggled to deal with the heartburn and sadness of having to cut a toxic “friend” from my life, I was now also burdened with the fact that he would now forever remain unattainable. They broke up two weeks later, and in some sadistic parody, all the teasing had re-started and everyone assumed that I now had the fresh opportunity to try my luck with him. All the while, he didn’t even know me. Turns out my former friend went ahead and did or did not tell him of my existence. Indeed, it was a true soap-opera style lovesick drama that played out for a year or so.

For nearly a year, my obsession remained. I used to sit at the piano and compose pieces for him (all of which happened to be on C minor). I used to sit everyday at home and write these long letters to him, which were basically my diary entries just titled to him and musing about his life. I still have that hugely embarrassing portfolio of approximately 147 pages of penmanship. I even wrote stories about sending the letters to him and musing his possible reactions. But all day and all night, I could not stop thinking of him. It came to such a point that I could exemplify my situation only in a story. This was a work that is posted on my stories blog here.

As luck happened, I met him again on August 26th, 2011. It was a very fleeting encounter. I did not dare to meet his eyes, and I was mortified of presenting myself to him ever again. I could not find the emotional balance between detaching the fantasy version of him in my head and the very real figure before me. Nor could I find the courage to speak up and pretend to be normal. I earnestly wanted, oh I had yearned so terribly, to tell him of my feelings but when the opportunity came to see his face, I was mute. It wasn’t that I was simply mute, my social skills were completely paralyzed. I said hello to everyone in the room except him, in case he mistakenly assumed I was partial to him. I made an awkward fool of myself, and drowned myself in tears knowing that I had sacrificed a valuable opportunity.

Other things happened. We graduated school. I came to terms with the fact that I would never be so unguarded with my trust (work in progress) and so on. I came to the States. He went to what I discovered afterwards was Hong Kong and life went on smoothly. I assuaged myself by saying that perhaps it was a good thing we were not friends, even. Then he wouldn’t have had to be involved in the drama that ensued. Perhaps it was better still that we were not dating, because my self-esteem was scarred beyond repair and anyway, we would have had to break up because academics and priorities. 

I joined Facebook, finally and was talking to one of my closest friends from high school. She was the one who helped me through when my entire friend network was collapsing and she has rightfully earned the title of being my best friend. We were ruminating about the past and he cropped up in the conversation. On a daring whim, I hazarded a friend request and it surprised me to no end that he even accepted. I thought he would have forgotten me after a year. But he didn’t. I don’t know whether that made things worse or not. He remembers me being awkward and clearly not at my best.

The year moved on. I will now shamelessly admit that I do stalk him from time to time, when I find myself feeling low. I croon secretly to his charming images and fawn over them. Don’t cringe. I’m pretty sure everyone has that one crush in their past who still makes them feel all gooey inside. As it turns out, he eventually won a prestigious position on a geo-climate mapping project to Antarctica. His friends cheered for him all over his wall. I silently glowed with pride in the rare moments that his memory came to me.

Just a few days ago, he was tagged in a massively attractive picture of himself and I was reduced to fangirling about it to my high school best friend. I grudgingly admitted that I would never in my life have the courage to ever speak to him. Under some crazy influence of adrenaline and peer pressure I gave into the huge fallacy of sending him a “Hello”. Believe me, there could not have been a more lonely Hello in all the world at that moment. It simply sat there against that brutally white, empty background, simmering as it were, proving my obvious token of stupidity and bravery. I tried to think up of a million excuses to justify it. Eventually, it got to a point, where I literally turned my phone off for a while and avoided using the Messenger app. If I don’t look at it, it won’t bother me, I said.

For five hours I didn’t have to. When the sun finally dawned on Hong Kong, I got a reply back, “Hi. What’s up?” So familiar. So disarming that for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to say. I then banked on some of my courage. Come on. I’m an international Ivy League engineer. I can design machines. Surely, I must be able to handle conversation with a normal human being. I now declare with beaming pride that I managed 20 minutes of conversation with him. I asked him whether he really did go to Antarctica. He asked me for my source of information. I felt that telling him I stalked his profile would be a bit too obvious. So I employed my high school best friend as a scapegoat. To my immense surprise the conversation continued.

I could not flirt. I could not even be as funny as I wanted to. I just couldn’t. But I could politely ask him very academic questions about his project to Antarctica.So I did. We talked about constructing triangulating micro controllers, and how to use radio waves to log data between three different ships and how to manage interfering signals and so on. I mentioned largely that my curiosity was fueled by work in similar domains and asked technical questions for the most part. Nothing better to hide social ineptitude than talk of whether 2.4 GHz is a good frequency for one robot to talk to another. Here is an excerpt.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

He was funny at times, open and sharing all the work about his project with me. He used more emoticons than I did. He was surprised with a “Oh? Nice” when I informed him of similar interests in robotics. But he didn’t ask me any questions whatsoever. I terminated the conversation very politely with a “Well, thank you for your time :)”. He replied with a “No problem. I should get back to work anyway.” And I know that we will perhaps have no pretext to speak to each other again.

But I conquered my fear. I was not a complete ass. I made my existence known. I wasn’t too intrusive. I kept it short and then I ended what I had started. This is why this is is important to me. I am one step closer to feeling proud of myself. I don’t know if we’ll ever be friends, let alone something more. I tried, that’s all.


Second Chances

Today, I’m going to talk about two teenage girls who have been on very different ends of second chances. Before I begin, I must insert a disclaimer about how I don’t really know either of these people very intimately.

I received news from some friends back home that a student in my school who was in senior year of high school, committed suicide. Now, I didn’t know this girl, and I don’t really know what her problems were but I was rather rankled by all the sanctimonious comments on Facebook about how suicide is wrong. It’s hard enough as is to classify something as complex as the termination of your own life as “wrong” or “right”. More so, if you are the person who has to take the decision, surely you must have arrived at the conclusion after some thought.

She was 17 years old, talented, capable and most people were too blinded by their rosy glasses to find any fault with her life.But clearly, she did and that’s why she did what she had to do.  I am now going to do one of the most unfair things that I have done: attempt to understand her situation. 17 was one of the harder years of my life. I was under dual pressure from the academic standards of two very different countries, attempting to rein in my raging hormones, struggling to find some meaning, some light at the end of this endless vortex of intensity.

For the first time in my life, I scored a 10/50 in a school exam, knowing full well I would have to hand my report card in during college applications. I spent all my time wasting away in the hopeless desire that some entity who barely knew my existence should be obliged to return my passion. I was desperate for social recognition and searching for some sense of worth in the midst of all these rapid changes which were forced on me too fast and too harsh. My self-esteem was eroding and every time I would try to recombine the crumbs, a new onslaught of stress and pressure would reduce me to bits.

There are times when I was so wrapped in my own bubble of demons that I had contemplated what it would be like to not exist. I knew that there were people who would hurt themselves and show their scars proudly, in some pathetic embodiment of bearing all the angst in the world. There was a time when pessimism was cool, and unfortunately there are still people who thrive on cynicism and negativity. But I wasn’t one of them. It annoyed me to no end that these people sought public sympathy by displaying their wounds.

But like the girl who died, there are some wounds that we inflict on ourselves that cannot be seen. Some demons that we decide to grow inside our heads, whom we grow dangerously dependent on. We call them different names. They thrive on different external sources: that low grade, that rejection, that disappointment that our parents tried to hide and so on. I don’t know what hers was. I do know that life wronged her in some way. But, even then, even as she is gone, I am left with the incredibly stupid hope that maybe if she had given life that second chance, she could have still lived for the little things: sunshine, nature, love and a future.

The second person I’m going to talk about is Rebecca Black. No, I’m not trying to trivialize something as serious as suicide by talking about a pop star, but today I watched the video of her new song, Saturday, and I’m actually moved to talk about her.

Granted, Friday wasn’t a song that I liked, but every celebrity makes some awful faults from time to time.  I watched as the masses unleashed their seemingly infinite reserve of cruelty on her. I’m not trying to make a statement here by saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to have negative opinions, but I’m also saying that YouTube video comments appear to showcase a highly caustic section of our society.

But forget all that. Forget what happened two years ago, with an awful song and the notorious ridicule that followed that girl.

Today, I heard the song Saturday, because like the rest of the world, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Like the horrible biased creature I am, I walked in expecting to be disappointed, expecting something that would disgust me and then I could walk out with the satisfaction of shaking my head and saying, “Nah, I knew this girl had way too much time to waste.”

Here is what surprised me. The song wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t earth-shattering, ground-breaking, miracle-inducing awesome, but clearly Rebecca had matured as an artist and customized her work better to suit her target audience. I don’t know how much effort went into this and I dare not contemplate but when the video ended, and I actually pulled the seek back to re-listen to some of my favorite parts, I wondered what an enormous change it must be. Here she was, a teenager trying to make something of herself, changing one prejudiced person at a time.

What touched me about the song was that she actually mocked her own former work, Friday, in the piece. Hats off to the courage of the girl who can pick up the pieces and start again from some of the most unforgiving audiences in the world, accept that her previous work was not it and mold her creative efforts into making something more palatable. She is so brave that she is willing to try again, even though she knows what the risk of failure on such a large magnitude feels like. I didn’t have too many positive opinions about the video of the song, because as always, it appears that audiences seemed to like parties that are sexualized or alcoholic and so on. But the very fact that she had grown up enough to take charge of her responsibilities and try again actually makes me admire her somewhat.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I think it’s amazing that she did. I want everyone in the world, everyone who had formerly hated her, or her work or anything, to give this 16 year old a second chance.

Why do I feel so strongly moved to bestow my supposed power to grant her a second chance? I don’t even know her. I’m literally just one more data point in the YouTube count of views. But from one view to another, I very naively want life to be a little more forgiving to this girl than they were to the girl in my school. Because I know that there are times when we come to heavily depend on those second chances and that we never find them when their existence would mean everything.

I understand how illogical it is for me to compare the lives of these two teenagers. Rebecca Black is obviously a celebrity and even though people cringed at her for quite a while, she was still a very popular figure. Nobody probably knew this girl in my school, but then again she never had to face the same magnitude of ridicule that Rebecca did. They’re different people. They lead different lives, yes. So what?  Life was unfair to one of them, and the other is trying to fight the rising tide.

I also watched her own reaction video to Friday. The more the video progressed the more melancholy and awed I felt. This girl has the courage to belittle her own best efforts before an entire audience that made her bow to their nastiest of opinions. She is strong and her tenacity is admirable. There are some responses and claims which say that she did only to make herself more likeable or whatever. Yes, maybe she did. We all want to be liked and appreciated. Is it so wrong for her to ask for some redemption?

Clearly, she loves doing what she does so much that despite the fallout, she is willing to invest so much more of her time, money, emotion and energy into making another work. I don’t know what her driving forces are, and I (probably incorrectly) assume that she faces just as much pressure, if not more from within, than the deceased girl did.

I will end this on a note to my past self. The self that has passed from the same shadows that haunted the poor girl who died. The self who, much to her own surprise, emerged victorious enough to accept an admission to an Ivy League Institution. No matter what our reasons and decisions are, we have eventually reached the points we wanted to be. We all wanted a second chance. We all wanted to give second chances to those we could have, but we missed. Maybe the girl who died really did try, and for reasons that only she could have explained, this seemed to be the only way out. Maybe Rebecca will someday be the idol of many. I certainly know that if it wasn’t for second chances I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

Schools and classmates

Before I left Bangalore, I was swamped with friends from my school who insisted on meeting me. Out of courtesy, and also perhaps an abiding curiosity, I agreed. I had obviously expected that people would have changed. But what I realized most importantly, was that we had become what our conversations reflected. They were an odd mixture of the legacy of the nurturing of school combined with the opinions that we had formed on grater interaction with the outside world.

Most of my schooling happened on two sides of the same road. Crossing the huge main road that divided both campuses seemed like crossing the gulf to another world. Until tenth grade, I was in a school of very modest resources. The only thing it could boast of was a huge campus that was shared with a convent and a cathedral. An institution with paramount importance to discipline, this institution seem to engulf me in its own bubble of reality. This semi-isolation emphasized the focus of my interests to the people and ideas within the campus. When my life was so strictly organized, there was very little I had to worry about. It was only when I would leave school that it would strike me that there was very little beyond academic sustenance that my school had to interest me.

This internalization lead to a group-ism culture as we grew up and were trying to associate ourselves with our perceptions of the outside world. As one of the few who had evaded being tied down to any one specific group of classmates, I came to realize that there was a lot more to people than met the surface. For example, one of my most cheerful classmates had a job washing dishes so that she could afford the shoes that were a part of the school uniform. Not once did her hardships reflect in her demeanor, something which I admired her for.

As the self-established misfit, I was perhaps not as teary-eyed as some of my other classmates when I graduated from this institution. My curiosity was raring and I thought I was ready to go out into the world. My academic performance allowed me to enroll in the one of the best schools in the city, right across the road.

I don’t think I can capture just how vast the difference between the two environments was. Literally, I experienced a culture shock my first few days there. For a school that was “affluent”, there was an increasingly marked exposure to other schools and other academic environments. The sheer resources available to me were obviously so much more. But what really struck me was the people, the social culture of this new school.

Discipline was one of the first casualties of the moral curriculum. The school offered so many extra-curricular activities and so many brilliant opportunities, that it was simply impossible for everyone to adhere to the schedule. A social life was a sort of mandate among most of the people. I opened up to be a completely new person here. I learned how to manage people, and for the first time in my life, made to the coveted student council. There was a lot of infighting between students and the prefect body, and everyone who was anyone had a world just beyond the academic demands of school, which made schedules rather spontaneous.

I felt the increased expectations that come with a student of some authority over my peers. My friends expected me to treat them as before, to extend my privileges over them enabling them to get away with what they shouldn’t be able to by virtue of our affiliation. My teachers expected me to set an example for them by establishing the difference very firmly. As someone who had been an outcast for quite a while, I wasn’t quite so willing to let go of my large, nascent friend-base.

But it wasn’t as rosy as it appeared. I had been in the school for one year and I made it to the student council, bypassing all the other people who wanted to hold that position and had attended the school all their life. Quite understandably, they were not too pleased with my nomination. I began to lose some friends. In order to contain this attrition, I treated them as equals. I even let them get away with several violations just so I could get back their trust and their supposed company. I was too immature and too poor a judge of human character to know that some people should just be left alone. People were envious of me for wielding some elitist privileges, but I would have gladly swapped the stress of the responsibilities with anyone else. As unpleasant at it may sound, it was still a very formative experience and I am immensely grateful to the school for letting me discover the managerial side of myself.

What struck me as odd was that this school, with all of its purported reputation, had very few students who were truly driven to do something. It seemed as though they were merely drifting through life, not knowing what to choose from the vast array of options available to them. This was such a contrast to my previous school, where discipline had channeled me. Instead of being focused, my energy was now being dispersed over a wide array of possibilities. Luckily for me, I knew exactly which one of them was going to work out for me. But there were several people, who came from families that were in the upper socioeconomic bracket of society, who were lost. Besides doing well on some class tests and networking with as many people of the opposite sex, they really did not know what else there was to their life. Yet, they claimed they had more “exposure” to the world.

I will always cherish the people from this school who inspired me to take pride in my difference. Even in this mass of aimless people, there were still a few whose enthusiasm served as a wake up call. I had enough of running after people who claimed to be my friends and desperately trying to forge new contacts with people who were clearly indifferent. I had to appreciate the ones who were still with me and I am unbelievably thankful to them. These people allowed me to let my weak side show and still encouraged me to think of the bigger picture.

I felt very strongly sometimes about how the people in this school seemed to take so many things for granted. They expected honor and privilege and the “good things of life” to come to them on a silver platter, all dressed up in pretty packaging. Even then, they would simply sit in class, trying to be rebellious, perpetually petulant. So different from the girl in my old school, who struggled for the basics of her education through hard circumstances and still turned up with the brightest smile I’d ever seen. Some of these people taught me that education, in itself, is a privilege. Others taught me how to not treat the people and institutions who formed the fundamentals of my exposure to this world.

One of my reunions with the people of the new school turned out to be very boring. While they were still beyond the confines of school, all they wanted to do was just gossip. It seemed as though their lives revolved around pop culture and stereotypes and boys. I had flown in from New York, and from all the different experiences they could have asked about it, they just wanted to know what the pop-culture/stereotypes/boys were “really” like. For two hours, they compared my narratives with their preconceptions and then moved on to discuss the equivalent of other people’s lives. There were two other friends there who had more pertinent (and less annoying, I might add) questions to ask, but their queries were brutally cut short by the deluge of useless data.

I understand that I might have come off as rather judgmental in this piece, but it strikes me as rather arrogant of people to assume that only these facets of a person’s life can be interesting. It surprises me even more that this sort of conversation annoys me now, when I had survived two years of listening to it. I guess I’ve just crossed another gulf to another world, while they’re still firmly rooted where they are.

Weird outcast

One of the hardest things I had to deal with was my self-image. Since I was an extrovert, constantly seeking the opinions and validations of others, it was hard for me to have a constant opinion about myself. In the quest for an identity, I was looking to be part of a larger, more well-known group. In a nutshell, I wanted to be popular, and recognized and have lots of friends and be admired. It’s a human need, so I didn’t think it was unfair of me to ask for it. However, my definitions of what it means to be admired and popular and respected changed with maturity and time.

To be honest, there was a while when I was scared of being alone. I just did not want to be left out of anything. This anxiety translated itself into a supremely inconvenient habit of being too curious, asking too many questions and not being discrete/tactful enough. In the process of wanting to be included so badly, I was alienating people away from me and thus left with deep insecurities about whether I would belong anywhere. I was trying too hard to belong. Of course, they would try to be as nice to me as they could, but I could see them slowly backing away from me. To my face they told me I was “unique”. It took some level of cringe-worthy snooping to realize that behind my back I popularly known as a “weird freak”.

It was a devastating discovery, and my parents still remember all those days I would come back from school crying and wondering what I wasn’t doing right. Self-delusional, I thought that if I walked away from them, pretended that I didn’t need them, they would probably come for me. I was the only one who was further hurt by the discovery that they didn’t. Nobody seemed to need me as much as I seemed to need them. Again, I was alone and anxious.

Between my transitions from groups, I slowly learned that adjusting into some groups was easier than others. In my school, this group sub-culture was the norm. Everyone was identified as part of a network, and without that you were literally nobody. As the cliched stereotype of high school dramas have established, they were undoubtedly pretty and/or affluent and/or seemed to know everyone. Clearly, as I was still a loner, they didn’t know me. So, I had to publicize myself by displaying behavior that would make them take note of me. I carefully observed the mannerisms and behavior of the cool girls’ gang in my school. It wasn’t too hard to locate the common factors that endeared them all to each other. The only problem was that I didn’t seem to have some of the native attributes to belong to that group. If I tried hard enough, I could replicate the same behavior and belong with them. Maybe they would even appreciate my effort.

I used to get sad and angry over the fact that reality continued to prove me wrong. I had the arrogance to assume that I knew enough about human behavior to be able to safely tell how a group of adjusting teenagers would behave. Strangely enough, I was actually an integral part of this group for a while. I cannot tell you how happy the fourteen/fifteen year old me was to actually find people whom I could talk to, who trusted me, who confided in me. However, my behavior had changed. Within the group I was trying to be the nicest person possible to everyone else. But beyond that, I had acquired a snooty attitude (a symbol of my new social status?) that served to only repel more people away from me than before. It dawned on me that the people who were nice to me even when I was a loner now avoided me. I tried to justify their behavior as jealousy. They weren’t part of the cool gang and I was. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care. But instinctively, I knew that something was not right.

That’s when our differences began to show, and I began to grow increasingly disillusioned with my new status. Maintaining it seemed to involve telling many lies, being two-faced and more so, keeping up a physical appearance that had to meet some expected standards, all of which I was terrible at. It was too much effort to keep up so many concurrent charades. I longed for the quiet of having my own thoughts for company. I longed for a conversation that did not involve demeaning someone else for no fault of theirs, or for something that did not involve the opposite sex, or something that wasn’t even emotionally demanding. It was a huge transformation that I was now actually running back to the solitude and silence which I had so abhorred. With a pang of regret, I chose to leave.

Back in my self-imposed exile, I welcomed the emptiness at first. I told myself that I was better off and I even tried very hard to believe it. But I still felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, that I was an outcast and maybe I just didn’t have what was necessary to belong to any group. I managed to make new friends, find some old ones, but even then it wasn’t a group. It was more like a community of misfits who hadn’t been completely accepted anywhere, each one scared of being hurt again by another, reserved and guarded and sort of unfriendly.

I grew to learn to respect this community. They were friendly enough for the short duration we spent together, which was a very pleasant replacement for adhering to a group protocol. They kept their conversation to non-private topics, so I didn’t have to be emotionally burdened with anyone’s secrets. I learned what it meant to respect someone’s space, what the difference was between being eager and being too eager, what it meant to not fit a generic mold. I was influenced by their fierce pride in their diversity. So I was weird, according to those not in the group. By categorizing me, they made their labels their problem. Not mine. I was still me.

A year or so later, everyone was suddenly filled with affection as we would be graduating from school. All these petty groups would now be dispersed into the big wide world, where we wouldn’t be sheltered any more. More so, all these differences and squabbles seemed so much smaller in light of what awaited us beyond the school’s comforting archways. As a final form of seeking redemption, I tried one last time to look actively for friends. To my immense surprise, people had evolved to a level of greater tolerance. The very distinct boundaries between groups blurred as graduation approached nearer. “Everyone is my friend now, because these are the people I grew up with” was the general slogan. I was relatively more social once again.

In retrospect, I remain close friends with those other misfits who endured me for the longest. They were the few who didn’t chose to categorize me as weird. They didn’t even call themselves as outcasts. Admission into this group was much more easier and welcoming. But the learning experience left some lasting memories. I had learned to become comfortable with myself. The solitude forced me to forge my own identity. While the experience was rough, I remain sincerely grateful to them. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be unique and proud of it.