How to keep my new-found sanity from disappearing next semester

Winter break is ending and I am binge-blogging because I know that once college catches up with me, I will barely have time to sleep let alone write. A lot of things have happened during this break, things that I’m proud of. I’ve worked on myself to change my outlook on many different aspects of life. I’m worried that once college begins, and the external pressures that I have been pushing out of sight crop back up, my new-found resolve will crumble.

I want to trust myself better.

One of my resolutions is to not be a pushover. This should come rather naturally to me because I am quite aggressive and can even be territorial about the things that matter to me. I’ve been told that I “come on too strongly”. I’m not going to punish myself and say this is bad because it’s a part of me. Suppressing it for all these years has led to other people using me and getting away with it. Unfortunately, the new safeguards that are in place may not be finely attuned. Which means I am now paranoid about other people using me and treating me like a human doormat and at some level I am being reduced to someone who is transactional instead of generous.

I need something to remind myself of my goals and ambitions and needs. I need something that is capable of telling my barriers when to lock down on the situation and when to permit things to pass. I need to find other instant stress relievers. Writing is one of them, but in the vortex of blind rage, the last thing I am going to do is sit down and compose my thoughts coherently, let alone record them.

So I asked for advice from some of the most trusted sources in the world: my parents.

My father says that the primary cause of my insecurities and my unnecessary emotional stress is my poor health. He is right to a large extent. I don’t know why I thought I had bragging rights to the fact that last semester I survived for nearly 7 hours on a single green apple. Then I thought I was going to prove my strength by pulling off nearly 4 hours of sleep every two days. And then, I was expected to code up a proof for Leibniz’s formula for pi in less than 100 characters in a nightmare of a programming language called Lisp.  To top this all off, I would obviously be unable to solve the problem, burst into tears and start questioning everything from my math capabilities to the fundamental reason for my existence. Yep, this is the Amazing Race to Mathematical Understanding. I have inserted a proof here, for those people who do understand that this is truly less than 48 hours of nerve-wracking stress and worth only 5 points of my homework.

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz_formula_for_%CF%80

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz_formula_for_%CF%80

Indeed, I have lived the zombie life. No matter who you brag about this to, they will wonder how you are alive and marvel at your strength. Silently, they may think that you are surely on a path to an early death. Deep down inside, I know this is not sustainable and treating myself like a prisoner sentenced to hang is not something I particularly enjoy. So full points to father. Healthy body = healthy mind = 100% functional sanity = 0% worrying about what other people think/do/etc.

My mother reminds me of something else entirely.

Back  in India, every Saturday evening, we would go to a nearby Hanuman Temple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman). Every month, we would attend a long ritual, I forget what the precise name of it is, but it was a sort of recounting of the heroic tales and prayers asking for forgiveness and blessings. At the end of the prayer ceremony, all the attendees would have to tie a sacred yellow/red/orange strong on their hands. This string was so strongly bound that there was simply no way to take it off without cutting it. All day and all night it would stay on the wrist of your choice. It was a string that would protect you from all evil and guarantee the blessings of the deity in whatever task you chose to perform. Maybe it was years of conditioning, but I have become so used to it that without wearing the bracelet/wrist-band my wrist feels a little odd about it.

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits: http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=98851

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits: http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=98851

I don’t know if it protected me from evil, or whether I felt that I had divine approval about any task by virtue of the string alone. But I do remember my mother telling me that whenever I was angry/depressed/hurt, I should look at the string and remind myself to calm down. Years of wearing the string taught me that every time I look at is, it serves as a divine reminder that I have better things to do in my life than be frozen by my own stupidity.

I haven’t been able to attend any such ceremony ever since I arrived in the States. But in memory of that turmeric-dyed string, I now wear a sports wristband with me. It has the flag of the United States on it, so religious symbolism aside, it serves as a direct reminder to what my overall purpose here is: to educate myself and become a better, upstanding member of human society.

Like Wonder Woman's bracelet, this has the power to let e be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

Like Wonder Woman’s bracelet, this has the power to let me be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

As long as I remember these two things: stay alive and stare at band when in trouble, I think I’m going to be okay. Finally, I feel a bit more equipped dealing with the next semester now.

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A Place For My Head

Wake up in the morning. Wear my work face.

She is strong and driven and determined. She is on her way to get things done, and do them right. She’s the face that’s hardest to keep on and also the most fulfilling. In a strange way, it feels good when she’s clamped on me. But in other ways, the hinges refuses to clasp when I need it on me the most. She’s a temperamental face. But she makes me the happiest.

I feel like I’m worth something when I can be productive, which eventually results in me being happy. “I’ve got my life under control, ” I tell myself. Work face allows me to schedule some self-awards as well. The small kind, the one that only you can provide for yourself. Maybe I’ll have a Teriyaki Chicken lunch special instead of bland dining hall food. Maybe I’ll go say hello to that random stranger who needs help holding the door open. Maybe I’ll just lock myself up in my room and let my playlist drown me. But only for a while. Beyond a point, Work face wants to get back to the grind and I am obliged to obey her.

Work face is slipping off. More frequently than I want to, but I’m grateful for those days when I can keep her on long enough to call it a day.

With my friends, and their lives, I give Work face a break. Human beings are not rational, methodical problem sets that they can be dealt with in segments or in logical ways. I wear my Watching face.

She’s the one who notices how the grass sway and how people interact. She’s the one with hawk eyes. She’s the one thinking up of story lines and blog post ideas, about things to write about and things to do and ways to be creative. She’s also the one who is willing to do more than necessary. Like listen, contemplate, think and maybe even indulge in philosophy. I’ve found that my friends frequently need this side of me. But she is a heavy face to wear sometimes. She comes with her own emotional baggage, anxiety and the redundant results of far too many over-analyses and an unforgiving memory. She’s the first to jump at the sight of panic, but she’s also the one who is my storehouse of kindness and empathy. She’s all about poetry and aesthetics and the transient spiritual nature of the equation. She’s worried about the larger details of life.
I can’t tell if she’s at conflict with Work face. But that’s okay. Watching face needs her time as well. Though heavier, she fits me more smoothly than Work face, so I have no choice but to carry her everywhere.

There are several other faces that I wear and I would love greatly to expand on them all, but I don’t think I could be explaining the entirety of myself very well just by these vague descriptions and metaphors of what each face helps me do.  I have seven listed, which may be a variable number and often times, every other face besides Work switch roles.

Because this is not a conversation about faces. It’s about the medium that hosts those faces.

When I want to do something that cannot be filed under the functionality of any face, the information persists in my head. It’s sort of like a crash dump for when a compiler comes across an error in the code. All operations, whether valid or otherwise, that need to be processed after where the error is detected are forcibly written out to some remote inaccessible buffer and the program exits. Unfortunately, my brain cannot exit the confines of my head, and thus those ideas and memories lurk somewhere, waiting for a face to claim them and execute them.

I am now at such a point in my life that the random misfits have overcrowded the capacity of my limited brain. My head hurts. It wants to be acknowledged, to feel like it belongs. Unfortunately, time and fatigue are not exactly working in my favor. So I keep pushing things out. Procrastination on a whole other level. Work face has been a bit overused the last few days and she’s showing signs of wear. But I have to let her condition go by unnoticed until this endless, almost infinite stream of duties that are expected of me become something worthwhile.

It’s 2:00 AM and Work face has literally registered her protest by slithering off me and lying like a smoking hulk on the table where I have a problem set due tomorrow and I’m still at question 3 of 6.

This gives me an opportunity to dump everything into this big white box here so that I don’t go to sleep and dream. I don’t like dreaming when I’m asleep. My brain believes in combining the random elements of my existence from the real world and from the residue of shadows and phantoms into some utterly believable illusion, which keeps me trapped for the rest of my slumber. Luckily that’s been approximately five hours each day for the last week or so. Every evening, when classes end, I come back from work and I tell myself that I’m probably going to need to pull an all-nighter. My roommate, who is under comparably equal pressure, laughs and says that she should start keeping a count of how many times I say that and then proceed to crash at the relatively early 2:00 AM. No, not early in the morning. Where I’m at, this is early in the night. At this time, I can still text a normal person and know that they will reply to me within their time, because everyone is up and about.

But I can’t. My body and bones are tired. My brain is not doing the simple functions right. I’m walking into glass doors that have the letters CLOSED in capital letters on them. I’ve forgotten that I need to sign the white slip before my credit card payment gets processed. I am trying to use a pencil eraser on a pen mark. The list is endless.

And I can function like this no longer. So, I  thank all my faces and my weary head for doing their job right.

Next weekend, I will make the time to go spend at least an hour in solitude at Sakura Park. It’s quiet for the most part, has several cherry blossom trees and I think the scenery is beautiful. I’m usually not an outdoors person, but in my head, that’s a designation for a place where I need some kind of detachment from this world. I want to play on the piano for at least an hour. I want to write a story for my other blog.

My faces need rest and my head needs to breathe. Goodnight.

Learning how to forget

I usually tend to remember anything that has been spoken or read aloud to me. When I try to remember something, it comes back to me almost as if I’m watching the video footage my eyes recorded during the time of the memory. The advantage of remembering something at that level of detail is that I can jump to my favorite parts, pause, annotate, add little reminders to myself, comments about my own behavior, observations about others’ and then continue. My brain allows me to edit these videos in a fashion where I can even mix these up by categorizing them under certain emotions. I went on to sort them under people, events, occasions, emotions and reactions. As a rather lonely child, I would mentally store many of the conversations I had with people around me. The larger the repository of life experiences I had, the easier it would be for me to know what kind of a response would be appropriate in multiple situations. It was likely that I could even find trends in the behavior of other people that would help me to predict their behavior to some extent and so, model my own.

Some of the disadvantages of having a memory that let me preserve an almost infinite capacity of history is that it took me some time to realize exactly what I wanted to populate the space between my head with. There seemed to be two main partitions. The academic one was clean and well-maintained. Information input into it was a routine and fairly smooth procedure. But the other section was devoted to the more “problem” aspects of my life, namely, what comprised of social skills and being accepted into a larger collective.

Initially, I did not use any content filters. Anything and everything that people around me said or did or indicated would simmer in my head while I pondered on how to process them. I was perhaps too young to differentiate between what was appropriate or inappropriate then, so I didn’t know how to tune the noise out. Perhaps another reason why I couldn’t ignore people so easily was because it conflicted with this innate need for social company. I wanted to be talked to. I wanted to talk to other people. It was only years later I realized that different people prefer different conversations. But when I was at a stage of still looking for what the suitable criteria would be for a friend, I was accepting everyone and anyone into my life. Nobody had set me out into the world with an instruction manual clearly delineating what I would like and what I wouldn’t. While playing back those memories, I realize that several of the ones that affected me very deeply should be promptly transferred to the recycle bin. It was then that I learned to forget, and more importantly create a defensive mechanism that would prevent similar from being stored into my memory again.

Even while remembering, it seemed easier to recall the situations and people who affected me negatively stronger than those who had a positive impact. Instead of letting these go, I stored them as future references of how mean people could be, as a lesson to myself. Effectively, I was telling myself, “Look, Person A did this to you. This is what he/she is truly capable of.” If their behavior did not seem to comply with their usual state, or if my perception of that person had somehow been colored before I met them (Yes, I was terribly impressionable then), then this wouldn’t surprise me. Otherwise, I would try to convince myself that their misbehavior was probably unintentional, or maybe they weren’t talking about me or maybe they just had really poor communication skills and I was misinterpreting. Yet, the memory never really faded away, or better, erased itself.

As a self-conscious teenager, my perception of self amplified. I don’t mean that it gave me a huge ego boost. I mean it literally made me scrutinize my every movement like some internal paparazzi. For some reason, known only to my past self, I managed to conclude that in order to be socially acceptable I was going to have to analyze my own behavior to a greater degree than I scrutinized others. They could do as they please, they weren’t subject to my power of mutability. But I was. Eventually, it morphed to a situation where I would over-analyze my public behavior and begin to store a growing series of memories dominantly comprising of my unacceptably bad behavior and my mistakes. I could let others off the hook. However, I couldn’t extend that same courtesy to myself. Worse, when I was in a foul mood, I would masochistically play back these memories to myself and punish myself for not having “done the right thing” (kept my mouth shut/ thought twice/ calmed down/ taken action, etc.). In a nutshell, processing this much bad data was wearing away at my fragile self-esteem.

Internally, I justified the self-abnegation by claiming that I was allegedly guiding my own character to some ideal of “being a good person”, something which seemed to be the largest common factor of all the people around me who were socially popular. But what defined being a good person changed with time, attitudes and people. I could not possibly try to disperse myself over such a large, diverse, albeit conflicting, pool of attributes without having some semblance of independent choice. It started with parents and my family. Their ideals took priority and as I interacted more with the outside world, I began to know what I liked and what I didn’t and whether my preferences in themselves were all right. I was not going to let that annoying sneering voice inside my head question my worth.

Some of the tactics that helped me get rid of the excess junk was to allow more of my work/academics/hobbies to infiltrate my mind. This way I was too busy focused on doing something productive than nitpicking myself. There was always writing, which helped me clear out my system to a large extent. Whatever it is, I think that’s a unique discovery cycle for each person. There is no sweeping general solution, unfortunately.

One of the biggest cleanup tools that helped me excuse, if not completely forget about, those awful memories was accepting the fact that they were mistakes. Surely, if I had reasoned enough with myself to learn to forgive other people for making their mistakes, I could do the same too. I was not going to treat myself any differently than how I treated them, or how I wanted to be treated by them. More so, I had learned to laugh at myself. Looking back at myself, there have been some pretty comical incidents which felt anything but from a first-person perspective.By forgiving myself, I was minimizing the importance of negative memories inside my head. I wasn’t blaming anyone for anything. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that of someone else’s either. Circumstances would happen. Without remembering them as mistakes or unfortunate incidents, to be more precise, I would be disrespecting the gravity of the situation without making myself wallow in guilt about it. It was okay to make those mistakes, at least for the first time. It was okay to be me.

In fact, it was one of those realizations that prompted the creation of this blog. I can now safely look back at my thirteen/fourteen year old self and not cringe at myself. I was naive, I was silly, I was mistaken, I was young, I was many things back then. But today I have grown up (or at least, I’d like to think so). I have to be many more things now. I am many more things now and that’s what matters.