A Kind of Adventure

When I think about my childhood idols – all characters in my favorite novels, the superheroes in my comics, and the legendary figures in mythology – I always admired their courage.  They were never okay with living in the comfort zone, they craved adventure, and they lived with a purpose.  It was a kind of life, a kind of story, that most of us leave to fictional characters.

Thankfully, my problems never got to the level of battling monsters or saving the world from alien species.  As a fairly normal teenage girl, my daily problems never got too far above a really difficult math test.  Still, on the precipice of what is about the be the rest of my life – the end of high school, moving away from home, starting my career path, figuring out what I want to do with my life – I feel the fear that a hero might have.  I feel as if I’m stepping out into dangerous, unknown territory, with no idea of my destination, but with the strong sense of a purpose – a really good reason – to take the leap.

I know how silly this all probably sounds if you’re older than I am, but put yourself in the position that you were in when you first left home, if you’ve experienced that yet.  Personally, I was born and brought up in the same town.  Most of the friends and connections I’ve built have been throughout the past seven or eight years at the least.  And I’ve always been very close to my family.  For all my life, this is all I’ve known.  And I’m not really anxious to leave.  I’ve always wondered why people have said that young people should travel and see the world, live in exotic locations, break away from their hometown.  I love my hometown, I love the people in it, and I’m comfortable and happy with the connections I’ve made.  I don’t really see a reason to leave.

Except, inexplicably, I’m leaving.  I’m moving across the country for college, to pursue a program that isn’t offered in my area, in order to fulfill a dream that I’ve had forever.  This dream – this purpose – is what I want to do with the rest of my life.  It’s the goal of my quest, the Holy Grail at the end of my journey.  Like my childhood heroes, I’m embarking on this new adventure, and I’m venturing into new territories, to fulfill my purpose.

And even though the idea of chasing my dreams and becoming the person I want to be is amazing, and is an opportunity that I’m eternally grateful for, I could seriously use a dose of that heroes courage right about now.  Because while the rest of my friends are going shopping together and having fun getting ready to go to the state school, I’m about to fly across the country all alone, and the word ‘college’ makes my palms sweat and my stomach to collapse in on itself. College is a difficult enough transition for most people, but the addition of moving so far from home, and to a college where everyone already has friends makes it worse.  I’m starting to question everything.  Is this ‘dream’ even worth it?  Do I even know what I want?  Why am I taking such a risk when my goals are so uncertain?

For so long when I read those books about adventure and quests and courageous heroes, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of an adventure myself.  But now that I get the opportunity to have my own adventure, I find myself balking at the thought.  It turns out that the idea of adventure is much more alluring when I know I have a safety net.

It turns out that the idea of adventure is much more alluring when I know I have a safety net.

But I guess that’s why we admire heroes so much.  They do what makes them afraid, they step outside of what they know, what they find comfortable, and they do it all in order to fulfill a purpose.  To save the world, or change it, they face fears head on.  And though my pursuit of a college degree may be a little less courageous than defeating an alien army, I’d still like to think of myself as a hero, and my impending semester away from home as an adventure with a purpose.

And though it may be easy to wallow in self-doubt and anxiety and a longing for the familiar, every good hero knows that determination and a lack of doubt are the only ways to face the unknown.

It’s the only way to be brave.

 

 

 

#nofilter

When I look in a mirror, I think “Hey, not bad!”.  But then I take out a camera and suddenly, my body has morphed into that of a hideous monster.  All my curves are in the wrong places, my face is marked with countless flaws, my hair looks flat and messy.

It’s a weird thing to like yourself until that camera comes out.  In an age of Instagram and Snapchat, pictures really are worth a lot more than a real-life interaction.  Our future employers see our social media online before they meet us in real life, mutual friends have most likely seen our pictures on Facebook before they’ve been introduced to us, and even our future dates judge us based on a few thousand pixels on a phone screen.  When I talk to people, I don’t find myself judging every flaw in myself, or feeling self conscious, but the moment we pose for a photo, every insecurity triples.

But this isn’t just about pictures and physical insecurities – it’s about low self esteem in general, and how it almost ruined my friendships and made my lose all motivation.

Starting about two months ago, I started doing this awful thing where I scrutinizing every detail of pictures that my friends and I took.  I began picking out every flaw in myself – my smile, my hair, my lips, my stance – and taking in how flawless and effortless my friends’ poses were.  Every time a friend would post a photo of me, I would rush to go analyze it, rate it, and, usually, ask them desperately to take it down or un-tag me.  Usually, I’d get the same response – “Sure, but why?”.  And I couldn’t explain it in words.  “I look terrible” usually elicited a response along the lines of “You look beautiful!” or “Don’t have such low self esteem!”.  But I couldn’t put in better words why I thought the way I spaced my legs or tilted my face made me look fat or why I thought my smile or stance made me look weird and unnatural.

Even worse, I started resenting my friends for looking nice in these photos that I looked like garbage in (at least in my mind).  I pored over every one of their photos, a task that only resulted in me feeling worse about myself.  I saw comments on social media in our group photos calling them beautiful, flawless, adorable.  Me?  I was chopped liver, most likely to be cropped out, most likely to be photo-shopped over.

All my insecurities compounded in social situations – especially ones where there were pictures being taken.  Recently, I graduated from high school – something that’s generally a happy occasion.  It’s also an occasion where people take photos with their families and friends and favorite teachers, all dolled up in their dresses and grad caps.  Knowing there would be pictures, I put hours of effort into doing my hair and makeup, changing my dress multiple times, freaking out over small details.  Even on a happy occasion, all I remember is feeling so so pathetic and low.  In every picture my friends and I took, I look distracted, trying too hard – not genuinely happy.  I remember running to my mom that night, on the verge of tears, telling her I wanted to leave early.  I remember being so angry at my best friends that I didn’t talk to them.  On the night of our graduation.

I know I can’t re-do that night, but I really wish I could.  I let my insecurities and low self esteem ruin what was otherwise supposed to be a happy night.  As the pictures and videos of all my classmates on graduation night slowly appeared on Instagram, my self esteem sunk lower and lower.

The next day, my mom told me that she wanted to make a graduation photobook for me, and asked that I gather up any pictures throughout high school.  I steeled myself for what I assumed would be hours of torture – seeing myself in hundreds of pictures over the last four years, cringing at all of the imperfections, comparing myself to my friends.

As I made my way through my massive library of photos from my phone, however, I had a surprising discovery – I…actually didn’t look that bad.  In most of the pictures, I saw myself laughing, making weird faces, and generally acting silly.  And…I looked good doing it.  Even alongside my more popular friends – the ones who look like models even when taking a candid – I realized that I looked best in a picture when I was…myself.

Probably isn’t a shocking revelation to many – we’re told to be ourselves and to be true to who we are in practically ever kids book since the dawn of time.  Still, in the age where social media is our lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can be better by mimicking others.  While changing and bettering ourselves is definitely not a sin, trying to become someone we aren’t – in this case, me trying to become my friends – only ends up bringing us right back to the start.  In all the pictures where I’m desperately trying to imitate the manicured smiles and poses of those around me, I look unnatural and unhappy.  In the pictures from the years before my obsession with hating myself, I have an easy smile, ever-present messy hair, and dimples.  I look like myself.

And sure, there are pictures from those times that I cringe while looking at, but who looks like a model 100% of the time anyway?  If a picture on Instagram is how people will see me, I’d want let them know that I’m a goofball, I’m naturally outgoing, I love to laugh, and that as much as I’d love to tame my hair, it always finds a way to get in my face.

If there’s some overarching lesson I’ve learned from my Instagram feed, it’s that a person can only be at their best if they’re being themselves.  We’re always going to end up being a cheap discount-store version of someone else, but as ourselves, we’re one of a kind – we’re priceless.

Something’s Wrong

I am in a place where mental illness doesn’t exist.

It’s a utopia where one can be in control of their emotions and mind at all times.  Where no one kills themselves because they have a void inside them they can’t fill, where no one slowly wastes away because the thought of eating makes them throw up, where no one stays home for weeks and weeks because getting up feels like lifting the sky.

Unfortunately, in this utopia, mental illness does exist.  It’s just in hiding.  In this ‘utopia’, the people who kill themselves are just weak, those who waste away needed to be stronger, and the ones who can never leave the house are just lazy.  I’m in a world of denial.

Everyone around me seems ill, but everyone around me also thinks its normal.  My friend had a panic attack and then got angry at herself for having one because “it interferes with her studies”.  People I know have depression but mask it with loose friendships and a tight smile.  Everyone I know is falling apart but sewing themselves back together.  Except that the thread gets weaker and weaker with every patch.

Because everyone is sewing themselves back together to seem normal, it makes us all feel even crazier.  Am I the only one who is feeling this way?  Why do I feel this way?  Am I just weak or lazy?  We ask these questions because no one tells us that our issue isn’t as simple as idleness, it’s a complex illness that takes years to treat and work through.  When I tell people that every month, I sink into depression – depression where I can’t work, I don’t have the motivation to eat, and where I don’t care about anything but sleep – they look confused.  Some of them assume depression isn’t really real – it’s a trick of the mind.  A self fulfilling prophecy.

I wish I could tell myself that when I’m hugging my pillow while lying on the ground, sobbing, but not knowing why.  I wish I could wipe away the tears and say “it’s just a trick of the mind” and then get up as if nothing is happening.

But I can’t.  Because if it’s a trick or trap of the mind it’s a damn good one, because I can’t seem to find my way out.  Especially not when no one is willing to give me a hand up because they refuse to see the trap at all.

“Guys!” I yell, “I’m not standing in a sea of loneliness and despair because I like it!  Come help me out!”

“You’re weak.  That’s why you’re standing there.  If you really wanted to get better, you would swim yourself,”  they reply

What they don’t realize is that the current is against me.

It’s easy to wrap mental illness up and say that therapy and pills and behavioral changes are the best cures, but if enough adults tell me that I’m normal, I’m just being weak, I might actually start believing it.  It might be a long time before I realize that nothing is actually normal, and that I’m actually strong for fighting a disease for so long.  By that time, I will have struggled for ages without therapy, will decide against it, then spend the rest of my days in deep depression.

When adults and the environment don’t accept mental illnesses as what they are, it can be more traumatizing than the illness itself.  People end up feeling even more alone, even more hurt, and often wallow into themselves, which just makes it harder to recover.  It makes us feel like we’re going crazy because we don’t know why we feel so sad or angry or anxious all the time, but everyone around us is saying that we can simply “control” it.

I hope that one day others won’t have to live in this dystopia.  I hope that the world can accept mental illness, stop discriminating against those that suffer from mental illness, and that no other person will have to feel so alone, like their calls for help are being echoed back with no answer.

Never Present

So I’m about to leave high school pretty soon and suddenly every high school movie I’ve ever watched is running through my head and I can’t help but feel unexplainably sad.  
I mean, I know in the grand scheme of life, leaving high school is going to seem pretty miniscule, especially to those who have seen much more of life.  But to me, the end of high school seems like the end of everything I’ve known.  It seems like the moment I leave, this door will close, a door I can’t go back through, a door that leads to my childhood, my life so far, and everything I cherish from those times.

I sound silly – I know.  Just because I leave home doesn’t mean my parents will suddenly disown me, or that my friends from home will never speak to me again.  I know that I will always have the memories of growing up.  But for some reason, my chest tightens and I feel like my heart is breaking whenever I realize “this is my last year.  This is my last first day of school, my last first period class, my last school dance, my last choir concert”.  

For the last six years of school, I’ve been counting down the days until I can leave, worrying endlessly about getting into college, preparing and planning for the future, and often forgetting to enjoy the moment while I can.  I think that’s a common feeling in many people – we plan and worry for the future so often that we forget the reason for the present – to enjoy and cherish.  And even when we get to “the future” we don’t stop to be happy that we made it and celebrate our achievements, instead we keep going, keep planning.  In the end, we will never be satisfied.

To a certain point, this attitude can be good – it can motivate us to keep moving forward and never settle for less than we are capable of.  But overdo it, and we become unhappy and frustrated and forget to live.  

After three years of high school I have never once been to a school dance, never had a weekend completely free.  I’ve skipped friends birthdays, locked myself in my room to work, and spent hours feeling insecure about where i was at in life – was I behind everyone else?  Did I measure up to the standard?  

Now, with the end of high school in sight, I regret all of the time and energy I wasted worrying about the future, not taking a break when I knew I needed it, jeopardizing my health for the sake of “my future”.  I regret not taking moments to appreciate my friends and family, spend time with my mom after her long work day, or just relax on my own with a good book.

What’s the point of planning for the future if you can’t enjoy it when you get there?  Even if I achieve everything I hope to, will I ever feel happy if I’m constantly reaching for something else?

The future isn’t a guarantee – we may live for seventy more years or we may never see tomorrow.  What we can guarantee is the moment – something we already have in our grasp, but it’s up to us to make the most of it.

Breaking Silence

You ever have that feeling that you absolutely had to say something, absolutely had to scream what you feel, voice your opinion, and you’re ready to finally stand up for what you believe in and…

…and then you try and open your mouth and its just glued shut.  You try and make a sound but nothing comes out.

Part of my issues with social situations come with my inability to filter what I think, but for some reason, whenever I actually think I have something important to say, or something that I feel strongly about, its as if my brain shuts down and ever intelligent word leaves my mind and I just end up sitting there, seething.

I think that’s why I love to write and blog so much.  When I write, I can get my thoughts down on paper (or a computer screen) and take a good look at them, edit what I want, and say it in a way that I know others will understand.  And when I write, I’m anonymous for the most part.  Either what I write is completely private and hidden away (yes, I still keep diaries.) or it’s online and without a name, assuring that none of my friends or family see it.

I can never trust my ideas, opinions, and beliefs enough to really stand up for them and not back down.  There have been countless times where my friends and I have gotten into disagreements and I have just backed down, not trying to cause a confrontation.  There have been many times that I know I’ve been wronged where I’ve held my tongue.

True, I’ve gotten much better at standing up for myself.  If someone is blatantly hurting me or someone I care about, I rarely stand for it, whereas a younger me would have turned the other cheek.  But I still feel insecure and unsure when I stand up for myself – what if my words come out too harshly?  What if I’m wrong?  What if I get in trouble for this? – and so my argument comes out shaky and quiet.

I think it mostly stems from my dislike of confrontation.  I tend to avoid confronting others even over simple things, and even making simple requests of others can become a big chore for me.  I need to become more okay with rejection, denial, and, sometimes being wrong in what I’m standing for.  We all are, sometimes.  And that’s okay – just as long as we apologize for and learn our mistakes.  Be open minded and listen to all viewpoints, but don’t back down from your own just to be nice.

In the words of my choir teachers: Loud and Proud, Strong and Wrong.

Behind

It always feels like, no matter how much I do, how hard I work, I’m always behind everyone else.  Everyone else is better than me, working harder than me, getting better grades than me, winning more awards than me.

A few years ago, I had absolutely nothing special about me – my life revolved around school and I still did horrible in school.  My life revolved around getting into a good college and then getting into med school, which meant all my focus was put on getting straight As.  This is still my goal, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to detour a bit.  In fact, it’s encouraged.  If I were to apply to college a few years ago, I would have been a joke – barely passing her classes, no extra curricular activities, my main hobby writing fanfiction with my friends.  If you were to ask my younger self, I might have described my current portfolio as my goals.

And yet.  I still feel like I’m not good enough.  No college would even think about accepting me, let alone an honors college program.  Meanwhile, my peers confidently look at applying to Ivy League schools with scholarships.  I’ve improved so much and yet I feel so much farther behind.  Is this because I have a skewed view of where I am in comparison to others, or is it because I am truly behind?  My friends would say the former, but my mother would vehemently defend the latter.

I guess I’ve always looked at myself in this way – behind everyone else because that was, I felt, the only way to constantly push myself to be better.  But there is a point where constantly thinking I’m behind and putting myself down stops becoming a force of motivation and just becomes a negative attitude that brings me down.  The key is to find a balance between taking it easy and constantly feeling inferior.

Right now, however, getting myself to think “hey, I’m doing pretty okay.  I need to stop thinking I’m a failure” is a very difficult task.  It’s as if everything in my brain is programmed to constantly remind me of my failures – failing speech competitions and getting bad essay scores even though writing has always been something I could count on to be pretty good at – and others successes.  Even when I accomplish something big, I can really only relish it for a little while before my brain comes knocking.

“Hey idiot, you’re still sooo far behind everyone else.  Look at them – acing Calculus 3 Honors in junior year.  Look at them, winning every speech and debate competition.  Look at them, president of half the clubs at school.  One award doesn’t make you any less of a failure.”

I’ve defended this attitude to myself by saying that thinking I’m indefinitely worse than everyone around me has had the positive effect of always forcing me to work hard.  To always have a higher goal in mind.  But, as I’ve now realized, it has also had the negative effects of rarely ever standing up for my ideas because I feel they aren’t good enough, never basking in my own successes, and always being stressed about something.

So, balance is the key.  Getting a big head and thinking everyone is below you and that you’ve definitely achieved everything you wanted is useless – it makes you complacent and teetering on the edge of falling from that success.  But constantly feeling inferior and like you’re lagging behind just makes you blind to your strengths and successes, and hyper aware of others’, causing a lack of confidence and self respect.

It’s a balance that I need to work on, but I’m willing to change my attitude.  I’m willing to recognize my strengths and work harder to become better and understand my flaws and weaknesses and that they don’t make me completely incapable compared to others.  I’m willing to start seeing others and myself for what they really are – flawed and strong in our own unique ways.

adjective 1. suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.

Weird.

Its a word, an idea, that’s been applied to me in many different ways, and that’s the first thing I want to change about myself.  People can tell you that, hey, being weird is okay!  And natural!  And everyone is weird in their own way!  Weird is good!  And then they go back to their groups of friends and laugh at you because you’re so weird and god what a freak.  

If I were to tell the people that know me now that, when I was younger, I was painfully shy, they would probably laugh and tell me I’m lying.  But I still remember myself on the first day of kindergarten, huddled in a corner, scared, crying and wishing I could go back home.  Eventually, as my school days progressed, I came out of my shell and made friends, real friends I could have fun with and be myself around.  And then, around 6th grade, I realized that ‘myself’ was usually translated to ‘weird’ when other people talked about me.  And I was weird – I wore different colored socks, sang loudly at lunch with my friends, and wrote silly stories in class and shared them without any shame, and read badly written fanfiction in the middle of the night.

My middle school was one of those “advanced honors” program middle schools, so everyone else in my class seemed to have their head in a textbook 24/7, complaining about an A minus on a test while I struggled and earned low Bs and Cs.  Along with my horrible sense of fashion (It took me a surprisingly long time to learn that plaid and stripes do not mix) and general weird demeanor, this did not bode well for me.  I went through three years of school totally oblivious to the fact that my best friends and I were social outcasts.  I may have gone on in blissful ignorance, except for the fact that my outcast best friends all went to different high schools, and I instead wound up at the school where all my…other classmates were.

It was hard to adjust to a school where all my classmates were already deemed to be geniuses, all winning piano competitions and Science Olympiad medals, math bowls and essay writing contests, but all I was known as was “that one weird kid that hung out with other weird kids and was kind of stupid”.  On top of that, I had to make friends with the geniuses – I, a mere mortal, mingling with gods.

And it wasn’t like these gods/geniuses/classmates were socially inept either – oh no, they knew exactly how to act in every situation.  They were quite and poised for their parents, talkative and persuasive in debate class, reserved but polite for teachers, and joking and jovial with other classmates.  Meanwhile, I was on the side, my weirdness and general social awkwardness seeping through into every situation.  People who talked to me generally kept a metaphorical six foot radius away from me.

I eventually did make some great friends, but compared to their social grace in seemingly every situation, I still stand out, feeling more like a pity friend, or a jester than anything else.  I’m still super weird – I make self derogatory jokes just to make other laugh and I half a horrible affinity for puns which just kills every conversation.  I still read (and write) fanfiction and don’t hide my loud and almost obnoxious nature.  I’m that friend, essentially, the one that no one wants to bring home to their parents but the one that everyone wants to bring to the party in order to make fun of.  Even though I’m finally part of the crowd, not in a corner by myself, my presence is one that everyone could easily do without, and I am someone that no one takes seriously.

I would like to change.  I would like to become someone I am not – quite, poised, reserved, only talking when I need to – and not for their sake or for what they think, but because I am so goddamn tired of being relentlessly known as the weird one, the one that’s ‘out there’, the one that’s kind of a freak.  I’m so tired of no one really taking my ideas and feelings seriously and no one thinking I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I’m hardworking enough.  All of life is about labels, whether we like it or not.  When people label you in different ways, its our job to understand those labels and realize that we don’t have to bend to them.

I’m tired of weird being stuck to me, and I’m going to tear it off.