Philosophical Musings While Popping Pimples As An Adult

You know how you brush your hand across your face and feel a slight bump where there wasn’t one before? The bump beckons you to the mirror. After a few increasingly frustrating cursory scratches, you discover it’s a pimple. And if you’re like me, you have little to self-control and patience. The infidel pimple must be uprooted from your skin by the militant aggression of your own fingers. These migrants of rebellion, dirt and pus cannot settle in the otherwise smooth flatland of your face. I know I’m advocating for a course of action that every dermatologist and every Person With Amazingly Clear, Flawless Skin will frown at, scoff, abhor. Don’t touch your pimples. Leave them alone. Like the rebel forces of the state, if you don’t pay attention to them, their campaigns weaken and they they must leave, ousted by the lack of support.

I’ve never had breakouts as frequent as these when I was a teenager, which is when these outbursts are expected. Hence as a 22-year old, I shake my head at the absent-minded bothering of the pimple by my fingers. Are pimples a rite of passage? is this like learning to drive to learning to hold your drink? Having pimples is sort of like wearing the publicly-visible “new-to-this-adulthood-thing” sticker. It makes the bearer self-conscious. It makes me want to look more closely at myself.

Am I still a teenager under all of this? Am I so eager to pop the pimple because I want to oust all evidence of my awkward teen years from my life? Am I unable to resist bothering the bump, no matter how small or how large, because I am hell-bent on “cleansing” whatever perceived negativity high school or being an awkward teenager might have left behind?

It’s odd for pimples to be popping when I’m beyond the normal age range for them, I think. Are they indicators of other health issues that I’m having but denying? I push the pimple for answers and revel a little in mopping up the response with a clean tissue paper. This cleansing is undeniably satisfying. If anything, I would like to weed out all of the problems in my life the way I pop the pimple. Effective, persistent and satisfying results.

Though it doesn’t appear to be so, every mismanagement of the pimple results in disrupting the surface of my skin. It’s not easy to discard toxins from your skin or from your life and perhaps you bear marks of the aftermath for a while to come. After a while, it has been done. The skin hurts, the face hurts, the pimple has given up and you’ve gone so far as to hurt the skin which hosted the pimple. Now the lesson remains, a maturation if you will. You could have been the bigger person and left the pimple alone. All it wanted was some attention and a space to call its own.

Or you couldn’t resist. You’re an adult; you can do what you want.

 

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Red Lipstick

I had this very uncharacteristic epiphany as I passed by the Sephora near Times Square, on a bone-drenching Tuesday afternoon where I was trying to navigate past the stampede of DSLR-bearing tourists without an umbrella. I don’t know why, and I perhaps can’t explain this is in any other way except for a sudden uprising of my feminine side, but I really wanted to wear a red lipstick. Call it a flashback of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani and every other woman in the world who has wielded the red lipstick, but it doesn’t just ooze color, it oozes confidence.

I hope this post doesn’t make me appear superficial because I seriously am investing my words and time into describing red lipstick and what I feel about it. But honestly, I had never experienced such a strong, inexplicable feeling from owning, wearing or even using a tube of red pigment.

There’s a milieu of research and articles and information about how red lipstick has been known to boost self-esteem because many women deem themselves worthy of self-care when they apply it. There has been research that shows that in times of economic hardship, red lipstick is the most frequent and common impulse acquisition. Corroborate this with the fact that red lipstick brings attention to our mouth and what comes out of it. Lastly, red lipstick serves as a marker of sexual arousal. Therefore, women who wear red lipstick are perceived as sexually confident, attractive, dominant, assertive and feminine.

And I, a straggling, awkward, wet, somewhat lost, umbrella-deprived just-barely-post-adolescent decided, right after finishing a $5 pad thai and battling the screeching wind, that I wanted to wear red lipstick.

As I’m a poor non-financially independent college kid, I decided that making my virgin purchase from Sephora from New York City (8.875% retail tax, thank you very much) was pushing the financial freedom I had been bestowed a little too much. So I splurged on an affordable stick of Revlon. To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the shades and colors and variants. After all, what is the difference between lipstick, lip-butter, lip-tint, lip-stain and basically every other item that is prefixed with a “lip”?

The next few seconds found me frantically asking Google which generic red would serve my purpose. I say generic because there apparently exists a whole other science in color-matching with skin-tones, which seemed to require another college education to master completely. Honestly, I just wanted a red lipstick and I wasn’t having any of the baggage or expertise or qualification that came with acquiring one humble tube of the stuff.

I almost felt shameless in ripping off the packaging as soon as I had swiped my credit card for it, but I did. I was so scared of being judged for putting on red lipstick in public, that I sneaked into a cubicle at a public restroom and used my phone-camera as a mirror. I don’t understand why I should feel safer putting it on inside a cubicle, when I very well could have used a public mirror outside the stalls, But I eased myself into it gently.

One swipe. Deep gasp. Too much color. Look at that, you look like a vampire after a lunch buffet. Blot. Blot. Blot. Blot. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Then blot some more until the tissue paper is wearing the entirety of the one swipe and my lips look reassuringly normal. In an instant I felt as though all my stupid, naive and momentary dreams of sporting red lipstick had faded. For that one crushing moment, I remembered how I had been labeled “not pretty enough” and instead of a noble quest to discover the feminine, I felt as though I was part of a cheap charade. That somehow my awkwardness had made me unworthy of desiring to be confident, let alone desired.

But I didn’t give in to the cowardice. Everybody has to start somewhere. The only person judging me is myself. If I don’t experiment at this age, then I will never experiment at all. Fostering what could perhaps be called a scientific curiosity at the outcome of the experiment, I tried again. Half a swipe. Blend with finger. It took me a while, but I added on layer after layer until my lips had reached what I deemed as a very appropriate shade of red. Not vampire drool but just red.

And I wore it home. I promised myself that once it was on, I wouldn’t fidget with it. Leave it alone. You can’t see what’s on your face anymore, so it’s not your problem. I didn’t think it would last for more than an hour, but once I verified my reflection in the waning daylight, I actually felt happy with myself. I actually felt as though I wanted people to see and validate my red lips. It’s stupid and I know it sounds very silly, but as a few heads turned, I wanted to smile and tell them, “Look, I’m growing into a woman now.”

But I didn’t. For making baby steps, I surpassed my expectations and maybe someday, I won’t even need to tell people aloud. Even if I might look like another girl with make-up on, at least the mirror smiles back knowingly to me.

Reference Links (all the historical lipstick knowledge didn’t dawn on me from nowhere):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html

https://psychologies.co.uk/body/the-power-of-red-lipstick.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick

Real research here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431912000497

And another one: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/viewFile/15080/11738

 

Romance, race and questions of identity

Sometimes I feel that my opinions or perspectives are less judged harshly when a fictional character speaks them instead of a true human being. But maybe it’s time to express a few of my opinions as personal, however unpalatable they might be deemed. I haven’t talked about romance for a while on my blog, and recently something has come across which has spiked my radar.

I decided to put one fine Monday of my summer to good use: foray the universe of Harry Potter fan-fiction. For whatever expectation I had of fan-fiction, this work has surpassed it completely and I must somewhat shamefully admit that I am addicted to re-reading this whenever I can. I don’t want to sound like I favor one fandom over another, but here is a Draco-Hermione version that actually does the characters justice. Bex-chan, the author of this fabulous work has my immense support and gratitude. If you are above 18 and you so dare, here it is: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

I have recently been trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be ashamed of secretly indulging in a good/turbulent/passionate love story every once in a while. Given that I have a history of severely shunning the feminine aspects of me and my awful, short romantic history, I feel that the appeal in reading a good love story lies in that I can picture myself as the female protagonist easily, and be assured of having my affections returned. After all, it is flattering to be admired, isn’t it? It is flattering to know that someone out there who is charming and attractive cares about you, accepts you for who you are, changes you into a better person and embodies perfection. Even if such a person is a work of fiction. Even if the high is momentary. For that period when you are trapped between pages of your escapism, the assumption of guaranteed admiration is enough.

So there I was, several chapters down and embodying the very spirit of Hermione, until I realized that the physical descriptions started to fail. My illusion began to fall apart because even though the romance between a Muggle-born and a pure blood wizard sounds tenuous, it is far more tenuous to assume that someone will transcend the cultural baggage that I carry from home and the ethnic boundaries that my tradition has established. How can I ever expect someone in the real world to adapt to the collection of dissimilarities that I am? At what point does the illusion become too lovely to be real and should I stop this stupid fragile heart of mine from nursing the notion that perhaps someday I will experience something similar?

At the other end of the spectrum is the Yellow Fever syndrome or equivalents. The idea that someone’s availability is dependent sorely on how exotic they are. There’s research on this as well, and it is encompassed by an umbrella theory called “Exotic is erotic” by Dr. Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University. This is the borderline racist territory that we, as human beings, are superficial to the point where we reduce a strong relationship to the mere fascination of the obvious.

I apologize if I sound like a pessimist, but too often I see this portrayed in real life. There may be many multiracial couples, but they are sparse in the Indian community that I interact with. There are many examples of Indian boys from back home who would unabashedly admire the blond girl in shorts and would even frequent many a frat party or so to “get with” her. But should they chance upon an Indian girl there, her reputation is ruined forever. She is no longer one of the girls that they can take home and show to their mother how pure/chaste/marriageable she is, even though they’d rather hook up with the blond girl that with her. My hope is that the “many examples” are not all, and perhaps even beyond the boundaries of race and ethnicity there are people who love other people for simply being people.

For a very long time, I had tacitly assumed that I could never be perceived as desirable by anyone who was not Indian, and even among them I was perceived to be as quite the oddball. But I have put in a lot of work on my self-esteem (namely by focusing my anxiety and efforts elsewhere), and I have realized that perhaps there is more than just beauty, more than even an attraction to a personality that boils down to a relationship. From the relationships that surround me, I know that a lot of what is love appears to be duty, sacrifice, teamwork and the tenacity to ride through the hard times. Even then, do I dare to hope that even some of the glamour of intense attachment will come alive from the pages and touch my life?

Perhaps it has already touched my life. Perhaps a corner of my mind is softly wrapping up the memories like delicate figurines for the one day when love will come knocking again. Until then, I continue to read and be overwhelmed with vicarious joy.

Reference links:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart/201304/yellow-fever-the-exotification-asian-women

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1002050303320#page-1

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-01742-006

 

 

On how the competence of a human being can be condensed to a number

http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx

I read this story and while I don’t actively devour Chetan Bhagat’s literature, this piece resonated a little too deeply with being a prospective college student and wondering if scoring a 90%, or even 92 or 95% aggregate is ever good enough.

After I read this story, I reflected a bit on how far my life has come. I study in a prestigious Ivy League university now, yet I complain about my struggling GPA (which is still better than most), how difficult life is and how stressed out I always am. I forget that I have survived worse moments of uncertainty.

Today, I’m sensitive about the fact that my GPA is not 4.0. I forget that there was a time when I had scored 10/50 in a very important Math test. I constantly hear from my peers around me (blame me for being easily influenced) about how their GPA is at 3.9, 3.8 or even 4.0. I forget that there are many others among that privileged 3% admission rate who have GPA’s of 2.0. Columbia’s own Nobel Prize Winner had a GPA of 2.8 when he graduated. But I can’t seem to stop beating myself up for that fact that I’m not on the Dean’s list, even though I have two research projects and a hackathon victory under my modest belt.

The following paragraph summarizes the awful whispers I pick up from those who frequent job fairs and recruitment events and networking events.

“Jobs look for GPA and how good you are at what you do, combined with all your extra-curriculars and how well you present yourself and how essentially superhuman you are because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Nobody wants ordinary. You’ll never get anywhere without a big name on your resume. Don’t hold back from writing your skills on your resume. Don’t be a machine. Show them you’re a human too. Laugh, smile, dress like so and flatter like so. “Network”. “Connect”. Know people and stay on their mind because that’s the only way you’re going to make money and be someone.”

Obviously, the fact that making it to Columbia is a difficult task for many and the hardships they may have gone to be there and the person who they truly are will never make it to that crisply edited, sharply formatted glossy paper that hides among a possible million more. So you’re applying to be a computer science researcher or technology developer? You’re from Columbia? Okay, so you’re good.  But that GPA isn’t 4.0. Like the protagonist of the story, being good is never as worthy as being good enough.

There were so many other subtle hints in this portrayal that stuck out to me. The indirect ways parents hint at their children, and the sometimes futile lies children have to maintain in order to preserve the social fabric. The idea of your classmates having girlfriends and/or boyfriends and wondering if the elusive and confusing process will remain as awkward as ever.

But maybe in the quest of trying to fit in and stand out and find multiple identities and be good at something, I’ll find the way to strike that balance. And maybe that will be more than a number, let alone in base 10 than in binary. Maybe that could be an elegant function whose solutions I still seek.

Crossroads of shame

I have survived many self-revelations this month. But I have come across one that is slowly eating away at my defenses and therefore I am in a dilemma.

I have dug deeper into my psyche to understand why I prefer rationality over emotions, given that I feel my emotions intensely. Maybe this has something to do with denying my femininity all these years. I am tired of having my sensitivity abused, and so I locked away all these feelings knowing full well that my mental state would be a lot happier under the binding rigid rules of logic. My rationality and perception of reality forms a titanium-alloyed barrier between strong, damaging passions/obsessions and my true self. This compartmentalization has worked wonders to my self-esteem and to the general structuring of my life. I allow myself to feel happy or sad, but never overjoyed or devastated, because I will not let something so subjective affect me so strongly. I simply cannot be eaten away by the products of my own psyche.

When this academic year began, I promised myself that I would strictly put an active barrier in my mind to the possibility of romantic relationships. Given how awful my freshman year experiences were, I feel like the rest of my years in college will simple be spent in cleaning up the mess that I made in my naivete. Sincerely, I wanted to be able to survive one complete year in college without feeling emotionally swayed by anything that remotely implies romance, or even bordering platonic. The mechanisms I have developed have allowed me to live the other aspects of my life fully and well. However, a latent problem is cropping up a bit more frequently since the span of last semester. Let me deliver devastation right into your lap.

I’ve started feeling slightly attracted to a friend.

The sentence above alone does not capture the despair with which I write today. This is not the result of an arbitrary hormonal upswing. I wanted to write these passing feelings down in my journal. I thought then that I would close the remarks I had made with a comforting “This is probably the only time I’ve redeemed him from my bad books” and so on. What really unleashed the disaster was the slow horrific realization as I combed through my previous diary entries that I had been ignoring this growing problem for a while. There are many entries where I’ve tried to write off these feelings as something else. This soft-spot has been feeding on an incredibly large  reserve of pity, and mixed emotional boundaries. Every time, every single time I’ve delineated the large expansive list of why I cannot, why I must not and the nightmares of the past come back to haunt me.

At the core of all this, I just want to make him happy. Except I can’t because happiness comes from within.

Even now that I write this post, I am trying to reel in the fallout, telling myself to focus on work. But I desperately need an outlet. I need an external source of information to confirm, strengthen and validate the walls of my logic which are crumbling in the onslaught of a new discovery.   Having crushes has been something that has devastated my emotional well-being earlier and I have been so traumatized by those feelings that I am somehow at risk of punishing myself.

I am at the cross-roads of shame because I feel my safety mechanism against pain is hurt (by having a crush), and there’s the bewitching, unfortunately inevitable outcome that awaits me if I choose the path of action. I could not have been more certain of the fact that my “affection”, if it can be called is return. As it is, I don’t feel appreciated by my friends. But to expect someone as emotionally dysfunctional as him to regard me with a soft spot is expecting the infinite from nothing.

There is a beautiful, self-sabotaging lie that is singing to me that perhaps taking action on this opportunity could result in a golden horizon beyond the immediate obvious wreckage of my bleeding heart. No matter what the illusion, I don’t want to give into this. I have been scarred by this enough. Perhaps the very fact that I am even writing this here means that I need an external source to remind myself that I did not put in this much work into building my self-esteem to stumble upon something like this.

I am so incredibly ashamed and angry and disappointed in myself for even having these feelings, let alone conjuring ghosts of action upon them.

In my defense, the only thing I have to proud of is that nobody besides me is aware of this crisis. Being the alleged open book that I am, I have learned how to mask the feelings from the person who I want to bestow them on. How dare I grant myself the privilege to bridge someone else’s deep internal wounds because somehow I just want to see them happy. Is that pity? Is that affection? Given that I’ve never been reciprocated and I certainly won’t with this, why do I subconsciously seek out relationships that are unequal?

Hear my silent teary denial try to form answers to the rhetorical questions posed above. I’m waiting for the wounds of the past to scold me again. I need to remind myself that no matter what I should never ever take action, because the outcomes of all of these is a very obvious rejection, and I do not want to put myself through that degree of self-worthlessness again. I hope to someday look back and laugh at how absurd these feelings are, and not remember them with the terror that I experience now. I watch the shadows of my insecurities run through the streets alongside whispering to the stranded me, “You’re not pretty enough. You’ll never be worthy enough.” and I hear the distant patrols blaring over them. “You have not come this far to give in. Only you know what you bring to the table.”

Until the tears dissolve my fears, I have to continue to run away from this elaborate self-punishment.

Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

“I am not my suicidality”

This post was written by my friend, Rakhi Agrawal. She is a brave, strong, woman and I feel that in light of recent events that have happened in my life, her story has touched me very deeply and I think it is worth telling. 

"I am not my suicidality."

“I am not my suicidality.”

http://www.whatibeproject.com/portfolio-item/i-am-not-my-suicidality/

Trigger warning: suicide.

“The seventh grade. I have wanted to die since the seventh grade. Sure, it sort of started off as an attention thing. “Oh, okay. You won’t include me in your plans. That’s fine. You’ll be sorry when I’m gone.” But somewhere along the way, it became real. Very real. Perhaps it was the death threats at home. Or maybe my inability to keep any friend for any substantial amount of time. Maybe it was the hundreds of lunch periods I skipped just so I wouldn’t experience the overwhelming reality of how alone I truly was. Perhaps it was the countless nights where I drove around for hours on end until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and finally found a dark corner to sleep in.

Whatever the reason, as I matured, so did my suicidality. It became something I kept as a deeper secret, and that I actively desired. And craved. And fantasized about. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to kill myself. I am suicidal on a daily basis. I know that probably sounds crazy to most, but I am. Every day I wake up knowing that if I ran into the perfect situation—a gun casually lying on the sidewalk, a runaway car with no driver or oncoming traffic, a burning building—a way that minimized my pain and didn’t cause harm to anyone else—I would choose to die in a heartbeat. Philosophically, I believe people should have the right to die if they want to—it’s your body, after all. Who am I to tell you that you must live if your pain is that high, your suffering that real.

I say this as someone who has lost a friend to suicide. As someone who knows people who have lost loved ones to suicide. As a person who very much would love anyone who wanted my love. As someone who works to help stop suicide.

But there’s this: every time I am on a subway platform by myself, I look at the incoming train and have to stop myself from jumping. Every time. Every time I’m on a plane, I wish and hope that the plane miraculously crash in such a way that would keep every part of the plane in tact, and every passenger alive and unharmed, except for myself. Every time I hear of someone suffering, I wish every cancer, disease, illness, and misfortune upon myself and away from everyone else.

There are days when I am more suicidal than usual—when most things in my life seem to be going wrong and I see no light at the end of the tunnel. On these days, when I am actively suicidal, I exhibit some tell-tale signs of what everyone else would see as depression—I want to rot away in bed, shut everyone out, quit every activity, job, and commitment that I may have, and crawl into a hole.

I have tried to kill myself. I’ve made a couple shitty, impulsive attempts. I’ve come so close to being kicked out of school for my suicidality that I could taste the pavement on the street. I’ve been hospitalized four times, all which have left me worse off than I had been before.

A former friend who visited me the last time I was hospitalized sent me an article on trauma. As someone who has dealt with her share of PTSD, I eagerly read it, searching for something that resonated and rang true with me. In this piece, they described two types of people needed to survive trauma: firefighters, who will come running in a crisis, who will battle the blaze with you until you are ostensibly safe, and builders who will be there in the long run, who will give you the steady care you need to reenter the world. I think this structure holds true in life more generally, too. And as far as I have found, crises come easy (firefighters abound), but builders are the rare ones. I’ve lost most of my friends because they couldn’t handle my honesty. My dark, gloomy, intense honesty.

I’ve been poor, I’ve been homeless. I’ve been raped, I’ve been beaten. I’ve lived out of a car, I’ve starved. I’ve been essentially orphaned, I’ve been abandoned. I’ve been wished dead, I’ve been told I’m going to rot in hell, that no one will ever love me, that I’ll be found in a dumpster on the street. But nothing ruins me more than being alone. When I look around and don’t see people—any people to call my own, who are consistently there, and will be there for some time to come—this is what intensifies and solidifies my desire to kill myself.

But even with all of this, I am so much more than my suicidality. I am not crazy. I’m not insane. I’m capable. On most days, I am functional. I am warm, I am positive. I am loving, I am not dark and gloomy. (And even if I was, why is that bad?) I am intense, but I’m also fun. I am capable of laughing. I do not need to be coddled or tiptoed around. I need as much support and love as the next person. But I am not my suicidality.”

Columbia’s 2014 Mental Health Awareness and Random Acts of Kindness Weeks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6H35s_kTmH8

Photo by Steve Rosenfield

 

Three enlightening rules on re-evaluating friendships

You may or may not know that I’m a very self-critical person who tends to pay undue attention to what goes on in the world around me. Whenever I sink into this habit, it is a sure indication that my self-esteem is crumbling, because instead of supporting itself from within, it seeks validation from outside. This has led to a rather worrying trend of how I “listen to what other people have to say” too often. Or more accurately, I “take what other people say too seriously”, etc. I sometimes forget that these people I’m listening to are as immature/insecure and fragile as I am, and that they too are perhaps projecting aspects of themselves instead of confronting their true selves.

I had a very enlightening conversation with my father last night. Here’s what I learned from them. 

Rule 1: You are permitted to be selective

I am so tired of apologizing for myself, that I have abused the word sorry a little too often. No, I’m not sorry for liking the kind of music I like, reading the kind of books I like, having the kind of opinions I have. I understand that my world-view is still very young, and that these opinions are subject to the passage of time. However, I’ve spent hours and hours in misery, moping and wondering why my opinion is so different from other people’s, and why they think the way they think. I should have cared less, if not at all. But in times of self-contemplation, I always forget that I get to choose the people I call my friends. I have enough self-respect to know that my loyalty is earned, and therefore, when people seem to abuse it, I have the right to walk away. You don’t have to be with people who don’t make you happy.

Rule 2: There are no standards.

This is sort of derived from rule 1, and while somewhat controversial, I tend to agree. I’ve heard enough of things like, “Oh, he’s usually a nice guy” or “Don’t be so harsh on her. She’s actually a nice person.” This has led my self-criticism to believe that my “standards” are too harsh or too high, etc.

Let me use some observations from my over-analytic mind and make my point as a mathematical proof

  1.  As free, sentient, sapient human beings, we have earned the right to dislike and disagree with things that we dislike and disagree. Sometimes, we can rationalize these feelings. But it is not necessary for us to explain to everyone why we have to.
  2.  All human beings do not judge other human beings equally or by thee same criteria. Hence the subjectivity in opinion.
  3. This brings us to the idea that people have standards. Whether we consciously admit it or not, we do have certain standards for the people we call our friends/employers and/or the people we choose to be in relationships with. Some may make these standards public and obvious. For example, there used to be this rather snobby classmate who decided to include only those from affluent families in her friends circle. (It’s a petty standard, you could say, but it’s her standard and so it’s not subject to our opinions).
  4. Therefore, these criteria by which we evaluate apply to every human being we interact with. Before a person becomes your friend, you are treating them a certain way anyway. A person’s standards do not necessarily apply only when they know that they are being considered as potential friends/lovers.

So, there you go. There are no “standards”. There are only “ways to treat fellow human beings”. You can be nice about it or you can be nasty about it. Those are your choices, but nobody in the world should be able to tell you that your standards are too high. I’ve discovered that when people usually tell me that, it means that they are more lenient with bad behavior than I am. Should I be sorry that I was raised to treat people with respect?

It doesn’t matter what the other person says or does, if they cannot make you feel respected or cherished in their company. It’s simply a waste of time that could have been spent with someone else who truly does make you feel that they are worth investing time and emotion into.

Rule 3: Having expectations is okay

I’ve heard a lot about this. “Don’t expect too much from people, so that way you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.” This sort of misleading optimism is the kind that has made me tolerate many instances of bad, negative behavior for that one in a million chance that they might actually be nice to me for a change.  There’s always the few days when people are having bad moods, mood swings, etc. As a friend and a person, you should draw the line if someone is projecting their negativity onto you by default or ALL THE TIME. 

As someone who has suffered enough of this (and if you’re someone like me, listen up), you do not have to forcibly expose yourself to other people’s crap. Just don’t. It’s unfair to yourself to test your tolerance level. It is not character-building in anyway. I’ve ended up feeling miserable, inadequate, naive, shut-down because of my happiness and the other person continues to thrive among their own biases. It is okay to decide that enough is enough. It is okay to decide when something is not enough. 

More so, it is okay to let these demands be known to the people involved. If they truly care, or were simply ignorant about what was upsetting you, then they will bother to listen. We can’t expect people to change themselves (Fact: they won’t. Time will). But if there’s any relation in which we feel that our sacrifices are unequal, or non-reciprocated, then it’s time to either stop making those sacrifices or let the other department know that there is something bothering you.  It’s okay to expect, especially if you’re trying to meet their expectations.

There you have it. These are what I think should help me re-define the people I hang out with, so that their negativity doesn’t affect me as strongly. Maybe I could grow a thicker skin, or maybe I should have to focus my energy elsewhere in my life so that my social life doesn’t turn into a liability? Let me know if you have similar/digressing/other opinions below.

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.