Category

life

Category

my insecurities

I think we all have insecurities about our appearances. I definitely do, and have had ever since I spotted the first pimple on my forehead. My acne, my nose, my underarm hair, thighs, arms, big toes, stretch marks, and the way my weight gain has made a lot of these more protruding. It speaks a lot about my own self-esteem and the fact that, at the crisp age of 22, I am as insecure as ever.

Then there are the other insecurities, the kind that stem from our experiences and our character, things that are deeply ingrained within our psyche. I have them too, and they don’t seem to get any better with age.

being rejected from college the first time

Back in 2016, found myself in a gap year after none of the 13+ colleges i applied to accepted me. None. There is no “community college” where I come from, so my options were limited. I decided that a gap year was the most viable choice given my options, and I reapplied to another 13+ universities the following year,  and have been in college for more than 2.5 years now. 

But to this day, I’m still haunted by those rejections. They are hard to accept, no matter where they come from. I’ve since received a lot more of them, in the form of club, job, among other rejections. Receiving rejections awakened a lot of insecurities and resentment in me. Sometimes, I felt like I had been cheated, that I had deserved that position. Sometimes, I felt like I had failed myself when I was younger, that I should have pursued another path to prepare me for this moment. But all these negative feelings were counterproductive; they just bathed me in a pity pool for myself. It was unproductive and hurtful, and I am still working to make peace with that.

my voice

I think we all think our voices sound really different or weird when we listen to it on a recording. I have a particular distaste for mine. Whenever I hear my voice coming out of somewhere other than myself, I cringe. Hard. I know that if I hear my voice often enough, I’ll eventually get used to it. But it hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not counting on it.

To make things worse, I can’t sing. Because I studied music back in school, I needed to sing for my music theory classes, and it was hard. It was hard to listen to my voice, hard knowing that the teacher was listening to me intently, hard knowing that my peers were also doing so as well. Those music classes may have helped me sing notes in tune, but they didn’t help me sing in tune to songs overall because I just never practiced. I never wanted to hear my voice out loud. I am trying to coax myself into singing again, just because it can be good for my soul, but it’s been hard to make it stick. I like humming, though.

feeling like i’ll never be ___ enough

Everything I set myself to do, whether it be my career aspirations, side hustles, hobbies, or simply something I want to learn, more often than not I’m plagued by a fear of not being able to do it. This is particularly so when I’m just finding my bearings and everything about that thing seems so amazing and complex that I find it incredibly hard to truly feel that I, too, can do it.

being seen alone (and introversion)

Ah, the paradox of being an introvert with a fear of being spotted in their zone. I love venturing alone, eating alone, being alone – yet I’m horrified by the idea of being seen alone by someone I know. It makes no sense, because I never judge people who are doing their own thing, alone. That thought rarely, if ever, crosses my mind, yet I just can’t shake it off about myself.

I have a feeling that this insecurity is deep-rooted in my experiences when I was younger. Growing up, I was encouraged, pushed and convinced that I had to be more outspoken with my ideas and behavior. My dad taught me that I had to speak up in every opportunity that I could, because if I didn’t, then how would I be able to succeed when I got to college or the workforce? If I didn’t practice then, I would never be able to speak up for myself. My parents taught me that parties and hanging out with friends were just wasting time that I could be using to prep for the SAT (or SAT Subject Tests or ACT or TOEFL or homework), yet when I found myself in fun and sociable situations I didn’t enjoy them. I had voices pull me from the extremes of a confusing mixture, even though I never asked for any of it.

While I went through a lot of effort and anxious moments to practice being more social and confident when I was younger, not much about me has changed. I am introverted as hell, I’m not a huge fan of public speaking but have become okay with it as my confidence has naturally evolved on its own, and I have come to the realization that I don’t like parties. Or hanging out with more than a few people at once. And I’m okay with it – but I still fear being judged when I’m in public.

my social anxiety

There’s this phenomenon called “imaginary audience,” wherein we believe that we are the center of a narrative and everyone is paying close attention to us. We feel like we’re being watched all the time, our every move being monitored. It’s most commonly associated with teens, though it can happen at any age. I’m 22, and I’m still one of those people. Every time i step out into a public place, I fear being seen if I’m on my own.

I talked about being seen alone just now, but now I’m talking about the fear of not knowing what to do when I have to confront that situation. I fear running into people I know, or running into acquaintances and not knowing what to say. Do I want to acknowledge their presence, or just brush it off? Do they even remember me? Should I have a small conversation, or make up an excuse to walk away immediately? Do I even want to talk to them? Hell no. It’s all these “What if…?” scenarios that leave me ruminating endlessly.

Along with this, I also fear planned outings with friends. I’m lucky to have met people in college whom I love hanging out with and have no anxiety whatsoever when I make plans with them. But I also have friends, or groups of friends whom I do get anxious around if I don’t know them as well, and it can get pretty awful in my head in the hours leading up to the meet up. 

However, something that I am proud of is that I am becoming more okay with not having social plans every weekend. I love spending Friday nights at home and occasionally going out on weekend (or not at all). Whereas my younger self would have felt the need to go out in FOMO, my current self is content with my own company. That, I do have to give myself credit.

my shyness

So, not only am I a major introvert, I’m also shy. I was incredibly, astonishingly shy when I was younger. I always have, and always will be. Through my experiences growing up, I have learned to pretend to be otherwise when I’m interacting with others. I have grown comfortable to be my full, silly self when I’m with someone I get along with and trust, but I am still my same shy self on my outer core.

I can understand why my parents pushed me to be someone who I didn’t want to be. They wanted to prepare me for the real world, but what they didn’t realize was that this was something I had to face on my own terms. Shyness is fragile; you can push, but if you push too hard, all the effort might backfire. While some of the experiences I had did help me break out of my comfort zone, I also have memories of things people said that broke my confidence. They were situations that wouldn’t have happened had I not been put in that position; but I was, and I have to learn to be okay with that.

feeling insecure

And so it comes full circle. I am insecure… about being insecure, self-sabotaging my way to failure. I am so in my own head, so conscious of my fragile existence, that I fear how others might see my insecurities and think of me. It’s something that I hold myself responsible for, because I know that, at the end of the day, 99% of it is in my head. Everyone else who, by the rare chance, notices something that I don’t want them to, will completely forget about it by the next few minutes. If I just use myself as a test subject, I’ll realize that I couldn’t really care less about other people’s flaws and insecurities – and if I do care, it’s always to compare my own flaws to them, because I am so fixated on myself. I am still stuck in my own narrative, and I hope that acknowledging it can help me take the steps I need to take control of it.

-Michelle

lessons from this semester in college

I am halfway through my junior year in college. I’m still having trouble assimilating this, as I still remember sitting in the car with my dad, right outside my dorm room the start of my freshman year. It was not long after my brother had graduated from college. He told me, almost nostalgically, “In a blink of an eye you’ll be graduating too, you know?” I had nodded absentmindedly; I was more worried about my soon-to-be roommates and the new life I was going to have to adjust to. But, in the blink of an eye, 2.5 years of college have gone by and I’m baffled as to how it all went by so… fast. It’s easy to dismiss your parents’ nostalgic comments about time flying by, but you begin to know how they feel when you feel the fleetingness of time yourself. 

Every semester in college has brought me its own challenges; within the classroom, in the club(s) I was immersed in, among the groups of friends I made, and in the adjusting to living away from home as a young adult. Each semester has brought unprecedented challenges, each leaving lasting impressions in my psyche. I am grateful for these experiences, but also scared about the new knowledge I have unraveled around me. I have answered lifelong questions I’ve had as a child, only to find newer and more complicated ones. College has done little to solidify my identity; if anything, it has created even more disturbance in myself. But despite the trials I’ve had to face, I am hopeful.

The following are some of the classes I took this semester in college. I was lucky to get into all the classes I wanted to enroll in, and they made me fall even more in love with my majors, psychology and cognitive science.

Developmental psychology: This class took us on an odyssey about the developing years of a human life, from the moment the baby is in the womb to the crucial first years of their life. As a psychology class, we read a lot into the research of how and why we behave the way we do at certain stages in our lives. It turned out to be a surprisingly enlightening class, as I not only learned a lot about myself and my behavior as a child, but it also allowed me to be more compassionate of other, younger children.

I learned that we use infant directed speech (aka baby talk) when talking to babies not only to aid their linguistic development, but also because that’s what we have learned to do evolutionarily; in the “hunter and gatherer” era, our voice was a way to coax our babies to listen to us, especially when we couldn’t physically do so in times of danger. This may also explain why we also use baby talk with our pets – even though we clearly know they will never learn our language the way a baby does. 

I also learned that, as teenagers, we are inevitably plagued by the so-called imaginary audience phenomena, wherein we believe that we are the center of a story and everyone is paying close attention to us. This really helped explain why I felt so self-conscioius whenever I was out anywhere public as a teenager – and it also helps rationalize why I sometimes feel that way even now. 

Psychology of sleep: I learned the detrimental, sometimes even long-lastingly so, effects of sleep-deprivation. We delved into research on the different types of sleep-deprivation, its interactions with drugs, alcohol, and mental illnesses, and came to the solid conclusion that sleep has survived the trial of time because it is, unarguably, essential to our health and survival. There is no way to fight against sleep and no way to compensate for it with anything other than sleep. Sleep drugs that are marketed to help you sleep better cannot induce natural sleep – which is the only kind of sleep that is restorative for our system. We also explored the theories of dreams, from Freud’s interpretation that they were censored versions of our repressed wishes (oh, Freud) to the idea that they serve to help us forget some memories in order to make room for new ones. We learned of really interesting cases like Kenneth Parks, a kind man who drove nearly 13 miles, let himself in the house of his in-laws, and brutally killed his mother-in-law. He was asleep during all of this, and turned himself to the police station once he realized what he had done.

There is so much research about sleep and why we need it, and the detrimental and sometimes even deadly consequences of sleep deprivation – yet we still fight against it. I find that, especially among teenagers or college students, there is some sort of pride associated with sleep deprivation, “yeah, I don’t really need that much sleep” or “I’ve only been sleeping 5 hours this past week.” Gee, if you knew that your lack of sleep now significantly makes you perform worse on daily tasks and could even affect your risks of irreversible illnesses like Parkinson’s – you would think twice about it. It baffles me why we fight against something that is so essential, so important to our existence.

If sleep were a drug, it would be a multimillion dollar industry. It is what sustains our livelihood, our health, our most essential systems to function as a healthy and happy human being. Yet, we treat it like a burden. It baffles me.

Health psychology: This class basically delved into research dealing with mental health and simply the psychology of the medical field. It brought to light research that showed significant implications of depression, anxiety, social support, and other mental health related factors on our immune system, cardiovascular health, as well as predictors of future diseases. It was incredibly enlightening and relieving to see the medical field start to operationalize mental health factors into their research.

However, this class also brought to light the essential difference between Western and Eastern medicine. Western medicine is very much concerned with science and research; if something can’t be proven, it doesn’t exist. Eastern medicine – or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), at least – is more concerned about the human knowledge that has been passed down for centuries. A lot of what is practiced by TCM hasn’t changed much over the years, because the foundations were built long ago. Western medicine changes every few years of research or so. Each has its benefits and flaws, and each treat the human body differently. Taking this class allowed me the pleasure to see how Western medicine may be approaching the field in a more holistic and individualized way, but it also highlighted that it will stick to its scientific, research-based approach. This seems to be the dominating approach even in Eastern medicine in the modern day now, but I have strong belief in TCM and the foundations that we have built centuries ago. There are things that can’t be explained by theories or proven by research; and most importantly, science is only true until it is proven otherwise. It doesn’t withstand the test of time as well.

Introduction to linguistic science: Basically, an introductory course to linguistics. Phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics – yeah, I am still somewhat baffled by these terms myself. But they essentially break down languages to their very basic units, and through these units we were able to compare languages and how they came to be. Something that really fascinated me was sociolinguistics, and how the very specific language that we learn can determine how we see ourselves and others.

Let me explain with the famous example of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Martin was a black high school student who was shot to death by an adult of mixed race. Rachael Jeantel was on the phone with Martin right before he was killed, yet her testimony was completely dismissed and ridiculed. She was a speaker of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which has some variations from the English that is generally regarded as standard. The court couldn’t understand her – perfectly spoken – English because it wasn’t in the dialect that they knew and because they didn’t have an AAVE interpreter at the time. The court ended up misinterpreting and dismissing Rachael’s testimony because… well, because it was a tragic form of racism. Who are we to decide that our language, our dialect, is superior to others? Why is it that when one form of dialect is deemed as “standard,” the others suddenly become inferior, less-than? The truth is, language is a social construct.

This class really opened my eyes to the nuances of language and its power to shape our thought. As a Taiwanese person who grew up in a foreign country, I felt conflicted when I started learning Simplified Chinese (which used in China) instead of Traditional Chinese (used in Taiwan). I felt an unspoken sense of duty to stick to my roots, but also compelled to learn what the majority considered to be “standard.” I studied abroad at an intensive language program in Beijing where they taught me the “standard” way to speak Chinese, which really showed me how much of my Taiwanese accent stood out to others. It confused me for a long time, but this class showed me that no language is superior to another. It is only regarded so because we made them so. But every language and every dialect is valid. I may be learning Simplified Chinese now, but I still cherish and value Traditional Chinese, and am striving to be able to use both interchangeably, depending on where I am.

Cognitive psychology: This class was at the intersection of my two majors: psychology and cognitive science. It was another research-based class where I learned about myriads of theories about the human mind and behavior. It wasn’t so much depth as there was breadth, but I was surprised by how much the topics we covered unleashed new thoughts and novel ideas within me. One idea that really resonated with me was mental imagery, visualizing an experience in your head. This is particularly important for experienced athletes, musicians, or artists. When I played the cello back in high school, I would notice that the best players would often fall into trance-like states while they rehearsed musical pieces with their imaginary instruments, or just in their heads. Mental practice became just as important as physical practice – but only for those who were experienced, who had memorized the movements of their artistry so finely and so accurately. Mental imagery might very well be what distinguishes the mediocre from those who excell, because the latter are basically living half their lives immersed in their art. Amazing. I had known this phenomenon all along, but finally putting a term on it felt really good. 


This semester’s classes showed me that my majors’ classes are essentially consolidating years of solid research and evidence for the theories that have been proposed thus far. It has shown me that most studies are valid until proven otherwise, which means that new research will need to be done continuously. It showed me that most people who study these majors do end up pursuing a research position in a subfield that they’re passionate about, because research is the overarching foundation. It further proved that I have no interest in pursuing such career; while my majors are both considered STEM at my university, I see them as more holistic studies of the human mind. I am excited to see what I will learn in my remaining semesters as an undergraduate, but even more excited to see what I choose to do with all this knowledge.

-Michelle

some days, i don’t feel like doing anything

Some days, I just don’t feel like doing anything. It probably happens more than I would like to admit. It can hit me all day, or sometimes just for a little while. It comes and goes, and it’s dreadful when it shows up during times when I need myself the most.

This is an old pattern that has repeated itself for a few cycles now, and something that I noticed is that it tends to happen towards the end of something. The end of a semester, a program, a period. Instead of giving my last push, I find myself giving up before I see the crossing line. If I were to take a guess, I think it’s because all the novelty of my surroundings have worn off. I have gotten used to my regular class schedule, the voices of my professors and the presence of my peers, the work I’m assigned for each class. It’s that feeling of going home after a long day, changing into your pajamas and throwing yourself onto your couch, unwatched and unsupervised – except that this feeling just keeps spreading to your daily life.

You would think that knowing this, knowing that comfort is what leaves me feeling unmotivated to work, I would find it easy to get myself up and go somewhere new. Work in a cafe, study in the library, anywhere but home. But as the weeks go by, I grow closer and needier of home. I rush home after school, anticipating the comforts of my bed. My room beckons me more and more, and after a while, I stop resisting it. I tell myself that I deserve it, that I worked hard for most of the semester, and that it’s okay. But really, I’ve given up.

The one thing that has prevented me from falling deeper into this hole is when I finally reach the end of the semester, and I leave this place for some time. I might go back home to my parents or travel, anything but stay in the same physical place. And it works.

Physically pulling myself away from this place throws me into a world of novelty once again, even if I’m not doing much. I have to readjust to the new schedule, maybe a new weather, and – most importantly – I’m with my parents, my security base. There’s something healing about being with my parents that I’ve only gotten to feel after being away in college for more than two years, and it’s something that I cherish. 

Then, when I’m back in college, I start the game with a strong mentality, whispering to myself, you got this. And for the first few weeks, I do. I’m on my A game, feeling the most productive, albeit tense, I’ve been in a while. Then that feeling starts to creep up to me again. I fight it, I really do. Sometimes I win, sometimes it does. 

So, what now?

I have just ended a semester in college, and am spending winter break with my family. I’ll be able to rest, eat well, and simply reset my system once again. But I’ll also do something different this time. I’ll have a plan for next semester. I’ll make a plan that I won’t be able to refuse when that time of the semester comes again, and hope that it works.

-Michelle

a stance on life and death

I wasn’t brought up in a religious household. Sure, my family is Taiwanese and grew up immersed in Buddhism, but few of its tradition and practices were passed down to me. My parents had a very practical way of raising me when I was younger, and religion wasn’t something that they were particularly preoccupied with. It wasn’t something they were much involved in, either. Still, I can’t say that we were devoid of religion, especially if it pertains to spiritualism. Growing up, I had a hard time differentiating between religion and spiritualism, simply because the two seemed so intertwined – I’m often confused by the two terms even now, and I’ll try to explain that as I go along.

In my immediate family, there are things that we believe in, things that we can’t explain with science. We believe in things like spirits, the afterlife, and a higher self. Of course, we relate them more in terms of Buddhism, but I personally don’t see these phenomena as solely pertaining to my religion, as encapsulating them under “religion” seems to limit what they meant. I never felt like my religion was mutually exclusive from other religions; I always felt like it was just an extension, another form, a different perspective. Believing in the existence of a higher self was important when suffering was an inevitability; believing in a higher entity allowed me to see that there was meaning beyond what I could comprehend in that moment.

I recently came across the book of a psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Weiss, who found himself delving into the idea of past-life regressions and reincarnation. Mind you, these were ideas that he had never learned during his extensive education nor his experience as a therapist, until one patient regressed to a past life during one of his hypnotherapy sessions. He has since done many past-life regressions through several patients, and even learned some enlightening lessons through them. In his subsequent books, he relates in detail what happened during these sessions, and what he took away from each of them. Rather than study his patients with the scientific perspective that he’s been taught throughout his years in school, he learns to approach each of his patients with an open mind, and see what he can discover. It’s also important to note that these past-life regression therapies started in the 1980s – a time where duping could not have been facilitated by the Internet era. 

A concept that Dr. Weiss learned from this experience is that our souls continue living after our physical bodies die, and souls can reincarnate in different physical bodies for many lifetimes. This is a very powerful statement, one that he was able to translate into terms that allowed him to bring some form of peace into dying patients. We may also have encountered this ideas in famous figures like the Dalai Lama, or simply regular people who relate their own psychic experiences. Again, Dr. Weiss’ point is not to indoctrinate, but rather bring to those suffering in life and fearing death a peace of mind. It’s a simple idea: our physical bodies die, but our soul lives on. We live on. This lifetime is just one of many.

Something else that made me ponder about is the idea that we are not born with a blank slate. When we’re born, we may have had several past lifetimes. We may have committed crimes, suffered, accomplished amazing feats – but we won’t consciously remember them. However, what we did in that lifetime can and will influence what we do, and what we’re drawn to. The purpose of past-life regression therapy is to go back to your past lifetimes and figure out what tormented you, because the mere knowledge of what happened to you will bring you a sense of peace. In a hypnotherapy session, the therapist guides the patient through their past lifetimes, allowing the patient to see what happened to them, and the rest is healed on its own. Personally, I think it’s a fascinating concept, but I also think we’re all skeptics until we get to experience them for ourselves – if we get to. I don’t think that knowing our past lives and having these psychic experiences is something that everyone needs to know in their present lifetime. I think there’s a reason why we don’t typically remember them in the first place, and for most people, it should stay that way. 

Dr. Weiss found that some people had unexplicable illnesses or irrational fears that were healed through past-life regression therapy after years of failing through traditional therapy. One had a pain on the back of his neck for a long time; it turns out that he was stabbed on the back of his neck in a past lifetime. Another one was so afraid of drowning and refused to get close to the water; it turns out she was drowned in a past lifetime. These patients’ fears were “magically” cured when they found out what had happened to them in hypnotherapy. They had found the source of their fears, and that was all they needed.

I’m not advocating nor trying to indoctrinate you with any of these findings, I’m merely writing about some impressions that Dr. Weiss’ work have left on me. At the end of the day, it isn’t about what you believe or don’t believe in. It’s more about opening your mind to different forms of knowledge and making sense of this world in a way that helps you to both appreciate life and relieve yourself from the fear of dying. For this reason, I think religion can be a powerful source of comfort, and a guiding way to live life. Like I said, I’m not particularly religious, but embracing spiritualism and its endless knowledge of possibilities has been relieving for me. I encourage you to open your minds to different ideas too, and to embrace those that you feel ring truest to you.

Belief can be powerful; it can help us heal, relieve our fears, and allow us to live more.

-Michelle

i’m afraid of running into people i know

It can be so awkward.

I guess I’m talking more specifically about living somewhere where you will inevitably run into the same people at some point or another, i.e. college. The people you live with, take classes with, interact with – they all unwittingly integrate themselves into your life without either one of you consenting. And if you’re not friends, if you’re somewhere in between, it can be so awkward running into them somewhere else other than. Do they recognize you too? Should you talk to them?

It can be so awkward for me. Particularly so when I never knew that person well in the first place. Maybe I worked on a group project with them for a class, and then saw them in another one of my classes the following semester. Maybe we tried out for the same club, only to find out I got rejected and she got in; we also take the same class. Maybe it was someone I knew long ago but wasn’t really friends with, and now we kind of see each other regularly in class. I hate it when these occurrences are in a repetitive setting; you can’t run away, you can’t leave, you can only talk or not talk to them. Most of the time, I choose the latter. It’s easier. It’s most likely they don’t remember you, feel indifferent towards you, or maybe they feel the same way and just want to avoid that awkwardness.

Admittedly, this doesn’t happen with everyone. There are people, most people, with whom you just don’t feel that awkwardness around them. Who make it easy for you by deciding to just talk to you after not seeing you for a year. Who wave a simple hi, and avoid the small talk altogetther. Why can’t I be one of those people? Why do I pay so much attention to those that I’m not even friends with?

I  can’t tell if this is me being socially anxious, or simply being anxious. It’s just something that happens, and it’s kind of the reason what makes me want to move to a new city every once in a while. To restart, to forget about all those awkward interactions that could have happened. To not think about how awkward I am. Until I meet people again, and those faces appear again.

Everything is made easier when I’m with someone, though. I can be with someone and be fearless as ever, going to places I wouldn’t go by myself for the fear of being seen. Maybe I’m just afraid of being seen by myself. It’s not something I’m ashamed of per se, and I never think that about someone else. But it’s just hard for me to be by myself, outside, and run into someone who is not by themselves. All these thoughts about them thinking I’m a loner start racing in my head, and it makes me want to run back home, lock my door, and veg out, trying to forget about what just happened.

I don’t know where this fear stems from, and I know I’m not alone in this. I always hear people saying how they don’t want to do this by themselves, go there by themselves. Some of them are extroverts who find comfort in company. Others just don’t like to be alone. Many reasons. But it’s hard to tell whether that fear stems from insecurities that they can’t really put into words. I’m not afraid of being by myself, I like being by myself; I just don’t want to run into people when I’m alone and ruminate about them thinking how alone I must be. Why I am so insecure about what others could potentially think of me, I’m not sure. 

I know it’s all in my head. I have to remind myself that others are just as self-centered and insecure in their own minds to even care about seeing me. It’s hard to remember, though, when you’re so stuck in your own mind. Regardless, I tend to imagine the interactions to be way more awkward in  than they actually are, which has made me be more willing to put myself out there more. But it’s not always easy. I’m constantly going back and forth, debating whether I should go out or not, do this or not, for whatever irrational fears are residing in my head at that moment. It can be hard dealing with myself sometimes.

-Michelle

i struggle to make friends

I don’t think most friendships are meant to last, I really don’t. For the longest time, I thought they could. Or at least, I hoped they would. But they would all seamlessly leave my life just as soon as they had entered it. One stayed, even as she moved away freshman year of high school. We thought we’d see each other next year; no, maybe the following one. We continued talking often; but after several years of keeping in touch, she, too, faded from my life.

I don’t go looking for friends with the expectation that we will be friends forever and ever, because if I did, I don’t think I would have any friends left. I now see them as people who are meant to come in and out of your life at that specific point in time, and I don’t find the gradual distance that naturally separates most friendships as something to mourn over anymore.

Of course, as the unbearably sensitive soul that I can be, I still hesitate to let people into my life. There are the simple questions of Do I like them? Do they like me? Do I like spending time with them? How convenient is it for us to see each other? Do we “click”? that get answered as time goes by, and if they are welcomed by both parties, then the acquantainceship blossoms into a beautiful, complicated friendship. But then what happens?

There are so many layers and levels to a friendship, yet the one that we crave the most is also the one that can potentially hurt us most. When I considered someone my best friend in the past, their words and actions had more weight on me. Just like it’s easier to talk to them than other people, it’s also easier to get mad at them when they don’t seem to be reciprocating the same level of attention to you. It’s strangely comparable to that of a romantic relationship, minus the romance, obviously. 

As a junior in college, I’ve made several friends in the past 2 years of college, a few whom I consider close. I think this is the most natural progression in terms of friendships. As freshmen aka the “newbies,” we spent the most time trying to get to know people and broaden our horizons. But by the time junior or senior year comes around, a lot of us settle into the few solid friends that have accompanied our experience thus far. It’s the same for every aspect of our lives: everytime we move or start something new, we need to put in that extra effort at the beginning. We’re more willing to get out of our comfort zone, in the hopes of finding that sense of community. But as time passes and we get comfortable, we start being more selective about who we see and what we do. 

There are also those friendships that you know will end by the end of a period of time. It’s a strange feeling, befriending someone, both knowing that it will eventually come to an end. This past summer, I got unexpectedly close to a few people at the program that were all in. We only knew each other for 2 months, but we spent that time living, studying and exploring a foreign country together. It was an intense but incredibly fulfilling time, and the friendships were what made it hard to leave the place. But something that consoled me was that we left as friends, and though we rarely, if ever, talk nowadays, I find comfort in that if we get to see each other again in the future, we will resume our friendship just like before. Or maybe not. Maybe that summer spark will be gone if we get to meet again. This doubt is what holds me back the most, as it’s this melancholic desire to keep the memories as they were that often prevents me from reconnecting with old friends.

As you can see, through time I’ve learned that I’m not usually the type of person to make a lot of friends nor keep in touch with old ones. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might meet someone with whom you have a connection that transcends any distance. But those are rare and hard to come by. So for the most part, I won’t let the fear of losing the friends that I have stop me from forming my own experiences. This is my choice, one that comes mainly from my inner drive, but also from the fear of being the one left behind. 

Essentially, I think we each have to find what friendships mean to us and the value we want them to have in our lives, just like being in a relationship. As someone who was born in one place, grew up in another, and is now studying college elsewhere, I don’t have a place where I call “home.” I have several homes, but none are truly home. I’m fortunate to have either family or friends in each of the homes that I have, but I will always be an outsider in those places, either because I haven’t lived there enough or because I’m simply not a local. This mentality is what drives me to want to live in different places, and maybe someday I’ll find a place where I would want to call home. Maybe someday, friends will be more than just a temporary part of my life.

-Michelle

the meaning of life

We are never truly present in the current moment. When we’re not mulling over the past, we’re dreaming of the future. We map a course for our imminent future, but sometimes those around us swerve our plans. We think we dictate our lives, but the truth of the matter is that we have limited say in what happens to us, what we do, who we are. From the moment we are born, our environment and the people we meet subconsciously push us towards one direction. Given this one life, we have no choice but to believe that this is the life we’re meant to take, that our deepest truth goes so far as we can reach.

I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life a while ago, and the plot disrespects the common traits that define a book. On the surface, the story follows the lives of four characters in their 20s living in New York, slowly but surely making their way to the top of their fields. The book focuses specifically on Jude, a brilliant lawyer who’s also a mathematician, cook, musician, among other things. His very twisted and traumatic past is revealed to us in a series of flashbacks intertwined into the chapters. There’s no clear plot, not exactly a clear climax, and an ending that leaves you wishing you never opened the book in the first place.

If there’s something that this novel wants to convey, it’s that our relationships define us. The relationships that we have with our families (or lack thereof), our friends and enemies, our colleagues and acquaintances. They are the core of our existence. Yanagihara claims that our closest friendships are the only ones that subvert any rules and expectations imposed by society, and thus are the most powerful kind of relationship because they are limited only by the participants. It can be beautiful, messy, disastrous.

When you are a spouse, a parent, an employee, a citizen, you live by certain rules, some of them dictated by law, others by social expectations. But friendship is the one relationship available to us in which the laws and limits are defined only by the participants.

Something that Yanagihara asks the characters, albeit discreetly, over and over again is, What is your life purpose? Why are you here? Why do you exist? Who are you existing for?

There are snippets and themes of this novel that remind me of the sitcom Friends. A group of friends in their 20s, figuring out their lives in New York City. Most of them remain childless, at least for the earlier portion of their adult lives, which means that their social circle is essentially their second family. Some then go on to form their own circles or families, while some find their partner within this circle. Friends conveyed the idea of an alternative lifestyle, one in which your friends were all you needed. A Little Life seems to convey a similar message, but also shows the omnipresence of societal pressure and the eventual acceptance of this lifestyle.

This novel followed the characters from their early adulthoods to their last stages in life, and though my own life is distinct and free from so many of the challenges these characters had to face, I couldn’t help but see myself facing those challenges too. Fiction books have the power of transforming you into a character you didn’t know you could be – that’s why I love reading so much. Yanagihara allowed me to see what’s in it for me in the next few years to come, but most importantly, she allowed me to think beyond what I have already imagined for myself. While she was telling Jude’s story, she was also asking me those pressing existential questions. 

What kind of life do I want to have? This is the question I ask myself most often nowadays. Not What’s my life purpose? nor Why am I here? I think they essentially guide us down the same path, but the way we ask ourselves that question can help us manifest our goals better. I don’t think about what my purpose in life is, because I think it’s constantly evolving. I don’t think about why I’m here, because I’d rather appreciate the gift of being here. I think about the kind of life I want to lead, because it makes me focus on the values that I have and the messages I carry into the world. It makes me ponder about my insecurities and how my actions are a direct reflection of the past I have. It shows me that I may still be uncertain about my own decisions (and very insecure about my actions), but so long as I know that it’s the life I want to lead, I will do it.

-Michelle

guilty of privilege

I guess I’m posting this to put into writing for you to know that I’m aware of my privilege, and for me to find some sort of comfort in confessing my feelings through writing. There are different kinds of privilege, but the one I have and want to talk about is socioeconomic privilege

I was born to two loving parents, who built the wonderful lives that we have from the ground up. My mom raised my brother and I, and set an example for how a household should be run. My dad graduated from college not knowing what to do, but made it his goal to educate himself and support us financially. They struggled, but they conquered. I can say this now, but I went through none of that struggle. All I saw was my family together, always in a nice home to live in, receiving great education and healthcare. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had everything that I needed.

I grew up and have lived in Peru for most of my life, where I attended a private bilingual school. There, I met quite a diversity of people in terms of nationalities, but not so diverse in socioeconomic status. I did pretty good at school, was involved in music and community service – where I got a glimpse of the lives of people who lived in different socioeconomic circumstances. But I feel that they were just that – glimpses of what others’ lives were like. I wasn’t truly a part of their community; it wasn’t my reality. I knew I was priviledged, but I just believed I deserved it all along.

I took a gap year before college, with college the only thing on my mind at that point. I didn’t have to worry about finances, and my parents are (still) very much opposed to the idea of me working to earn a living before I graduate for college. I had the time, the resources and the ability to do what I think was best for my personal growth, a luxury that only few have. I’m still in college, so these conditions still apply to my life.

Then I came to college and what I came to discover flooded me with guilt. I arrived at my prestigious but public university, and though the ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) didn’t faze me, their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds did. I met people who were paying their way through college with work-study, working tiring part-time jobs to support their living costs, or simply having money being a constant anxiety in their lives. There were also people like me, who didn’t have to worry about financing their way through college. If they did, they sure didn’t talk about it. A lot of the talk around money was how little they had and how expensive life was here. It wasn’t like I have never been around people like this; it was the fact that we were all in the same environment, yet the person sitting next to me in class or even my floormate was struggling to make ends meet while I had little to worry about.

I internalized this as a sign that I didn’t deserve this privilege. All people would talk about was how hard they had worked to be where they were, how many hours they work to pay for food, how hard they work to build their lives from the ground up. There’s a sense of pride that comes with being the founder of your own success, and I admire that. And as much as I wish I could relate, I can’t. I didn’t come from an impoverished background nor deal with struggles that have left me to fend for myself. I owe my current and future successes to my parents, the environment and the opportunities that I was raised in. 

I struggled coming to terms with the fact that I was basically the rich kid at a boarding school. Don’t get me wrong – my family’s not gloating with money, nor do we “appear” to be rich. But few (if any) international students get any financial aid or scholarship at an American public university, so you can estimate how much I was paying. None of my peers ever bothered me about it, no one ever suggested that I did not deserve my spot at college, but there is a certain stereotype that comes with being an international student that bugged me. I knew I wasn’t “one of them,”, but… was I not?

I didn’t do great my first two years in college. I guess on the surface I seemed to be doing pretty well. I had pretty much decided that I was going to do a double major in Cognitive Science and Psychology, with a minor in Chinese, after my first semester. This meant that I had to plan my classes carefully – and I did. And although I am sure I have developed my academic interests in these two years, I also struggled in a lot of my classes. I had to drop, P/NP (pass/no pass) and simply give up on classes that I couldn’t keep up with. I had to face the reality that college was not like high school, and effort did not always produce the desired result. I was heavily involved in a community service organization as well, and I discovered my newfound passion for social good here. But my performance in academics continued to bother me, and I let it bring me down.

I know that this form of self-deprecation is not only unreasonable, but it’s also futile. I did not choose the conditions in which I was born in, and the fact that I was born into such great conditions is something that I should feel grateful for, not guilty. If someone else were feeling like this, I would tell them the exact same thing, so why have I been trying to make myself think otherwise? Secondly, this form of mindset is counteproductive. What do I get from despising myself for something that I have no control over? Nothing, other than time taken away, time that I could otherwise be using to improve upon my life, and potentially the lives of others as well. 

I once asked my dad, the breadwinner of the house, about us being “rich,” and he actually laughed at that. He told me that it wasn’t that we were rich, it was just that he just happens to invest most of what he earns into my brother and I. This includes education and healthcare, but also everyday things that I need – furniture, groceries, and any small things that I want. This act of love has a lot to do with the impoverished environment that he grew up in, and the way he has internalized is best for his children to grow up. So yes, I am rich. I am rich of loving parents, of a life that is full of possibilities, of first-world problems that I am thankful to have. I am lucky, so lucky, and can only hope that this luck is not wasted on me.

– Michelle

 

hustle till you burn out

I just finished my second semester of sophomore year in college back in mid-May, and it was possibly my worst semester thus far. I wasn’t really enjoying my classes, which were either too challenging for me to keep up with, or not really inspiring me. I questioned whether I deserved to be a student here, with my parents paying a sh*tload for me to be such a mediocre student. I took up a leadership position for a service organisation that I’ve grown to be genuinely passionate about, but the role exposed me to all the behind-the-scenes drama that often left me emotionally and socially drained. I was also in my second semester in the boxing team, and though I’ve been passionate about it since day one, I kept having really odd injuries (i.e. I would always get side stitches whenever I run, and running is a vital part of our physical training), which gradually made me not want to go to practice. I got the flu twice and a cold pretty much every other week, which always sent me spiraling down in a highly unmotivated state for days on end. And possibly worse of all, I developed binge eating habits that made my weight fluctuate about 12 pounds this semester.

Externally, I was okay. I still tried my best in school, I was still being active (enough) socially, and I let myself rest when I got sick. But I became incredibly insecure about my academic abilities, my hobbies, and most importantly, my self-worth. Of course, deep down I knew that the only thing wrong with me was how I was dealing with the challenges that I had. Instead of actively finding ways to deal with my (first-world) struggles, I let these problems get the best of me, and my body just… shut down. It’s not a coincidence that I was so sick and injured at the same time as I was so stressed and overwhelmed. My poor health and negative mentality was a negative cycle that I couldn’t break out of. I constantly felt like there was something wrong with me, and I couldn’t shake it off.

In essence, I was constantly burnt out. I wasn’t exactly hustling and over-exerting myself per se, but I wasn’t giving my mind and my soul a break. Even when I didn’t have any impending tasks due in the next few days, I would dwell on the homework, tests, and projects that I would need to do in the foreseeable future. I was holding myself hostage, without any way to liberate myself.

At last, sophomore year came to its eventual end. Summer break came and I was freed of the constraints by which I had naively bound myself to. My grades were okay, my physical health was questionable at its best, but my mental health found the light at the end of the tunnel. I left my college town and traveled to Taiwan, where I spent a month with my extended family. I ate grandma’s food, played mahjong with my grandparents, and bore the presence of my annoying (and maybe a little cute) six-year-old cousin.

It was in this month where I found myself… healing. I’m hesitant to say the word because I’m not sure something was “wrong” with me in the first place, and if physically leaving a place is all it takes for me to “heal,” then I really question if I was simply experiencing a circumstantial crisis. But I use the word healing regardless, because my body was showing some signs of recovery without my conscious awareness. My eating habits were once again normal and recognizable, and this was the main thing that kept my head up. My mind would often keep me awake at night and my sleeping quality wasn’t best, but I don’t think they’ve ever been optimal. I did get tonsillitis towards the end of my stay in Taiwan, which was unfortunate, but I blame the hot, humid, rainy and sometimes unpredictable weather in Taipei.

Currently, I’m studying at a language intensive program in Beijing. I’ve barely started, and though being back in this school setting makes me worry that I’ll go back to my unsustainable lifestyle, I think I’ll be okay this time. I mean, this program is known for its rigor and I know I’ll be learning and studying half the day every day, but I’m vowing to keep my stress at its bay. It will just be me and Chinese, and all the fun trips and activities planned for us in the program. It’s all taken care of, which is reassuring as I have little to worry about besides studying.

I guess the one good thing that has come out of my self-imposed stressful experience in college thus far is getting to know myself better. I live by routines and order, and I even schedule my “spontaneous” activity. I’m a live-by-the-book kind of person, as much as I hate to identify myself as one. I read books from cover to cover, have to floss and brush my teeth (in that order) every single night before bed, and I’m kind of a control and clean freak when it comes to certain things. When I took on several responsibilities in college – despite them not being that many – these responsibilities threatened my “flow state,” and I crashed. I guess my natural response would be to shy away from these situations, to prevent myself from being at risk of burning out in the first place. And that’s what I’m doing this summer.

But come junior year, and I’ll be back at it again. I will be taking the classes that I need to, exploring different fun classes and clubs, and ultimately pushing myself. Because only then can I stress the limits to which my mind is constrained to right now, and grow.

-Michelle

mid-college life crisis

As I am nearing the midpoint of my college career, I find myself at a crossroads in life – ambitious and driven, yet oftentimes feeling lost and confused. As a college sophomore, I will officially be declared as a Cognitive Science and Psychology double major and Chinese minor by the end of this semester. I hold an officer position for a service organization that I am deeply passionate about, and I am in my second semester of being part of the boxing club, which continues to push me physically and mentally. I am lucky to be able to have these opportunities and to have met so many inspiring people through them. I am also eternally grateful for the support my family gives me. But I’m confused.

I am confused about my college experience. In my first semester, I took classes in Philosophy, Psychology, History, English and Neuroscience, Astronomy – and I either loved or learned a lot from all of them; if I was lucky, I got both. I was challenged in the fields that I am naturally inclined to, and it felt like I was in control. Come second year, and I am confronted with two classes that have made me question my academic ability more than ever: Computer Science last semester, and Discrete Math this semester.

CS was a struggle, and I lagged behind as the weeks went by. I passed the class nonetheless, but I passed knowing that all that I learned would soon be forgotten. My attempts to wrap my mind around the concepts and apply them to the lab, homework and projects were ultimately futile, because I had little interest in them. But more discouraging was the fact that I was not able to even keep up with the class soon after it had started. I could watch the lecture webcasts and sit in discussion section, and leave not getting much out of them. I wasn’t being challenged in the way that my Philosophy or Neuroscience classes did; in my mind, I was threatened by this class that neither posed an interest in me nor gave me the opportunity to catch up to it in the first place. With this CS class, I learned that if I ever do learn CS, it wouldn’t be in a classroom setting.

Currently, Math is an ongoing struggle. I have always somewhat excelled in math in high school and got near-perfect scores in the standardized tests, but college is just a whole different thing. Not to mention that before this semester, I have not done Math for nearly 3 years. I enjoy the Discrete Math class I’m taking, and can see how applicable it is to my major, but I am also so far behind class that I often skip lecture to catch up on the textbook readings. One time not long ago, I broke down on a phone call with my dad, asking him what the purpose of me being in college is if I wasn’t even getting everything I could out of it. He explained that not all the classes are going to be as fulfilling as I think they will be, that it wasn’t about how much I “remembered” from these classes, but rather it was the skills that I got out of them. Most importantly, he put things into perspective for me. Talking to my dad made me see that my struggling right now is not the end of the world (duh), and that I shouldn’t base my self-worth on my academic performance as much as I’ve been doing.

Making peace with the fact that there are subjects that I don’t like and simply can’t excel in has been hard. Especially because the subjects that I’m a failure in are STEM – which my university is very prominent in. My parents used to be way stricter with my performance in school, and for most of my life, school has been the thing that I was good at. Or tried to be. It was the only way that I knew how to learn, the only way that I knew how to “succeed in life”. But that is so not the case now. After going through my gap year before college, getting involved in so many activities and experiences outside school, if there’s one thing I have learned it’s that learning occurs everywhere, anywhere. With this in mind, I have also realized that the only way I can make the most out of my college experience is to study the subjects that I truly, wholeheartedly enjoy. Not only because this is what we’re supposed to do, but because I will be doing a disservice to everyone if I forced myself to study a subject like CS simply because I think it’ll make myself look marketable. Even if that earns me the “skills” that I need to secure future employment opportunities, my dispassion for this career would not benefit anyone, and it simply wouldn’t inspire me to excel.

On the contrary, pursuing a career that I can passionately delve into will better equip me to serve the world in that field. It will enable me to wholly delve into my classes and actually remember what I was taught. And even if I forget most of what I learned during college, the person that I become because of it will continue to thrive. It will allow me to see the world in my terms, and to find solutions to problems that I am willing to take on.

With that being said, I’m glad I took that CS class. It exposed me to CS for the first time, and while I have no intent in pursuing it further in college, I might change my mind about the subject in the future – and who knows what could happen then? The reason I’m double majoring in Cognitive Science is precisely because this subject demands me to dabble in several disciplines, including (but not limited to) Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Education, and Computer Science. It challenges me to think in different dimensions, whether I like them or not.

All in all, I think I have gotten a lot out of college thus far. I have been challenged to think differently within my classes, about my classes, and outside my classes, and I might not remember most of what I learned 10 years from now, but the person that I am now has forever been shaped by these experiences. I attend a pretty huge university, and such environment has definitely made me realize what a tiny, average person I am amidst so many talented people. It has grounded me, humbled me, and ultimately inspired me to continue trying to be a better me.

-Michelle