Emotions—Just Like Riding a Bike

It took me a long time to learn how to ride a bike. I think I learned when I was five, and it took the entire summer just for me to be able to ride a short distance on a dirt road. For some reason, I lacked both balance and confidence, so I couldn’t just hop on the bike and go.

I imagine it was frustrating for my father because of how easy riding a bike should be, and I was making it much more difficult than it had to be. He started to get angry, and he would yell at me. This rattled me, making it even harder to ride my bike. Not to mention, I WAS A CRIER, and so I’d be sobbing uncontrollably while trying to somehow will the bike into staying up on it’s own or, better yet, disappearing altogether.

Once my nerves were rattled, I stopped making progress, and I was doing much worse than before. This, in turn, frustrated him even more, and so he would yell more. He would make threats of punishment and say that I was going to be a laughing stock around all the other kids. I would keep saying I didn’t want to do it, but he wouldn’t have any of that.

I have no idea how long we would be at it each day, but it felt like hours. Every afternoon, I waited in dread for the words Let’s get the bike out. I would get an intense sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that would only worsen as I wheeled the bike off the porch and onto that dirt road.

I’m not saying he was a terrible parent for putting me through this. I needed to learn how to ride a bike, and he was doing his best to help me. All parents get frustrated at things their kids do. This wasn’t the cause of deep resentment that I have held within my core for all of these years. It wasn’t psychological trauma. I don’t think any less of my father for this, and I still love him dearly.

My point is that I hadn’t thought about this in probably fifteen years.

Since that summer, I hadn’t ridden a bike at home. There’s really nowhere to ride my bike, and none of my friends ride bikes. The only time I’ve ridden it since that summer was on bike trails a few times.

Yesterday, my dad fixed up a bike for me to take to school. It’s a ten-speed, and I had never ridden anything other than a one-speed before.

He called me out when he was finished working on it. He wanted me to try riding it so I could test out the different speeds. I grabbed the bike and turned around. In front of me was the same dirt road I had learned to ride the bike on.

All of a sudden, all of the bitter memories flooded back into my mind. The same feeling was in the pit of my stomach. My legs shook as I got on the bike. As I started riding, I heard my dad yell from behind me, “Change speeds!” I couldn’t even keep the bike straight at that point. In that moment, I was the five-year-old girl with the purple bike and pink helmet. My heart pounded in my chest, and I had to put all of my concentration into breathing.

It’s really interesting how easily strong emotions can return like this. I wasn’t just remembering the memory. I was living it. Every single emotion I felt, every bodily symptom I had came back in similar force.

Sophomore year of college, I went through a really bad spell with my mental health. It was one of the two worst time periods in my entire life. I listened to the album I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling all the time during this period because I had just recently bought the album, and it made me feel strong. Now, every time I listen to this album, I get taken back to that period all over again.

Similarly, when I was a child, there were songs my mom would listen to while cleaning the house on Saturdays. One of them was “December” by Collective Soul. Another was “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M. Now, every time I listen to these songs, I get the happy, carefree feelings associated with innocent childhood.

I can understand how songs and places can bring back strong memories, but it is shocking how strongly and vividly it can bring back the associated emotions. How can a simple test drive on a bike trigger symptoms of a mild panic attack? How can listening to music make me think about suicide?

I guess this just makes me wonder how much of what I feel is based on the present reality and how much of it is rooted in some abstraction from my past. What if the reason I hate Tim Allen isn’t because he’s Tim Allen but because his jawline reminds me of some cartoon villain from a Disney movie I watched once when I was three? What if I don’t actually hate the taste of beets, but the first time I ate beets was the day my first cat ran away? Maybe I only like Jason Bateman’s hair because it is the same texture as the blanket I was carried home from the hospital in.

They say that all we are is the sum of all of our past experiences, but does that also mean that our present reality is only a sum of all our past experiences, too? Does this mean that we’ll never be free of our baggage?

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People need to live their own lives and let other people live theirs

Let’s take a moment to talk about the maternal side of my family because it’s the one I’m closer to. I have seven cousins, and all of us are close in age, with the oldest being five years older than me and the youngest being three years younger than me.

The oldest, Bethany, graduated from college in four years with a nursing degree and is currently working at a local hospital doing exactly what she went to school for. She also recently got married and is renting an adorable townhouse in a respectable area. She lives within her means while still spending money on niceties like housewares, nice clothing, and quality food. She has earned herself the family award of Most Successful Storybook Life.

My brother, Jake, went to a community college while working part time. Once he received his associate’s degree, he got a mediocre job doing what he was trained to do. He has switched jobs twice since then, each time moving up the ladder. He now has a very decent salary. He bought a house a few months ago that was a fixer-upper, and he works on it evenings and weekends. I suppose he’s planning on flipping it eventually. He earned the family award of Hardest Worker.

I recently graduated from college, and I’m about to set off to work toward a Ph.D. After that (granted I succeed), I’ll probably tack on a few post-docs until I run out of free formal education, and then I’ll try to get a job as a research professor at some university somewhere. I received the awards of Most Intelligent and maybe Highest Projected Return on Investment because my family thinks that the more education I get, the more money I’ll make once I finally get into the work force.

My cousin, Erin, graduated high school the same year I did, and then enlisted in the army. She’s planning on reenlisting once her terms up in a year and a half. I suspect she’ll make a career out of it because she loves it, and she’s really doing well. She’s also taking classes part-time so that she can gradually work toward a degree. She has earned the award Bravest. She also earned the award of Most Aloof because she doesn’t visit or call as much these days because she’s busy serving our country or whatever.

Her brother, Ross, followed in her footsteps and also enlisted in the army. I don’t keep in touch with him very much, so I’m not sure what he’s up to, but he survived basic training and is currently stationed very far away. Erin says he absolutely loves it, and so I’m sure he’ll do great things as well. However, he’s the youngest, and so no matter what he amounts to, he’ll always carry the award Most Immature/Never Really Grew Up/Only Enlisted Because He Didn’t Know What to Do with His Life. Mind you, his family lives in a different state from the rest of us, so we really don’t get to see him all that much, even less now that everyone is getting older. Therefore, no one really knows him that well. But he’s the youngest, and so he always seemed immature, childish, whiny, clueless toward life because he didn’t have the same wise disposition us older children had by comparison.

At least he’s not one of the “Disappointments.”

One of Bethany’s brothers, Mike, went to school for computer stuff. He wasn’t very good at math and had trouble passing calculus, so, after being there for four years, he graduated without a degree. Or maybe it was a degree with no major. I’m not really sure. That doesn’t matter though, even though everyone thought that meant he was officially a “Failure.” He retook both calculus classes he needed over the summer and earned his degree in computer stuff. He’s been looking for a job for about nine months, now. He’s had interviews, but nothing really stuck. He’s working 30 or 40 hours a week at a reasonable place right now, though. That, apparently, doesn’t cut it for us. He’s still awarded Least Ambitious. Because, obviously, the economy isn’t that great because he’s not trying hard enough. Because the 40% of college graduates that are unemployed simply don’t want to work.

His younger brother, Shane, dropped out of college at the end of this semester. He simply wasn’t doing well and decided that he had better stop wasting time and money. Now, this was horrifying news to everyone in the family. How could he do this? He used to be so smart! Why would he be so selfish with his parents’ money? He’s just as bad as his brother! It doesn’t matter that he currently has a full time job with overtime that also has a program where, after he works there for six months, they’ll pay for him to go back to school to continue his education. He’s been awarded the audacious title of The Failure.

Finally, we have the cousin whose name makes everyone cringe—Clara. She’s three years older than me. She ran away from home a year after graduating high school. I’m still not sure why—there are rumors, but I don’t know what exactly is the truth. Still, she had an associate’s degree already because she took college classes while she was in high school. She was legally an adult when she left home, and she lived in her car while working two jobs. She befriended “Weird People” and did “Weird Things” to her appearance. Now, she’s sharing an apartment with two friends, working, and she’s in a pharmacist’s assistant training program. No one ever forgave her for running away from home, and so, she’ll always carry the title of The Dark Spot in Our Family.

My long-winded point is this: not everyone is going to conform to our personal expectations for them. There are so many ways to win at life, and only a small portion of them follow the strict formula we’re taught growing up. People can either do their own thing and be happy, or they can try to follow what other people want, fail, and then get criticized for failing. So what if Clara lived out of her car when she had a perfectly good place to live with her parents? She made her decision based on what she wanted, and she’s doing great. Throughout Shane’s entire life, people had told him that he was so smart, he should be an engineer. Anything less than that, and he’d be wasting his life. So he went, it wasn’t what he wanted, and he had to change course. He’s happy now doing something he enjoys, and maybe he’ll go back to school with a major that is more aligned with what he really wants to do.

We need to stop judging people for how they live their lives. You live your life the way you want, doing what makes you happy. I’ll keep pursuing degrees until they kick me out of academia. Clara will keep living a life of independence from everyone. Erin will go on protecting our country, and Mike will keep looking for that perfect job. We’ll make mistakes, but they’ll be our mistakes. We’ll have happy lives, and they’ll be our lives.

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I am so F#*$&ing exhausted

So tired. So done.

Last year, I had the energy and anger to argue with people, pull out facts, retort their misinformed comments, backhanded insults and racism, and keep coming back for more.

I can’t do this anymore. I’m just too tired.

I go to my Aunt’s house one a year right around Christmas for dinner. They’re all Trump supporters, but the backwoods Pennsylvania Trump supporters that don’t actually understand the issues and grumble about guns and tax cuts. Last year, I got into a heated debate, me against about 25 people, and I was winning by a landslide. Throwing out facts, debunking their claims that had no factual basis, and I was getting a high off of it. It was fun and I felt good defending what I believe in.

Now, a year later, a year of constantly defending my beliefs (and basic human rights in general) with people who are completely ignorant and retain absolute 0 of my factual arguments, I just can’t take it anymore. I’m not talking about generic disagreements, but ones that are the most fundamental (i.e. human equality), arguing against ideas rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. It’s everywhere, all the time.

Before dinner last night, I got into a debate with a relative about politics, but I was tired, sober, and sick of going through the same thing over and over. Every time I’d try to get out of the conversation, it’d be “You see, you really don’t know anything about it,” and then I’d have to get into it again, explaining why mass shootings are not the same thing as car accidents caused by using a cell phone.

Luckily, politics weren’t brought up too much that night. I think everyone was a little wary of me after what happened last year, and that’s fine by me.

But, what if they had brought it up? Am I obligated to defend my beliefs against other people every time the topic comes up? If I stay silent, am I passively supporting what they’re saying, even if it’s just a holiday dinner with family?

I worry about “picking my battles,” because that implies that certain issues are more important than others, and that puts civil rights on a hierarchy. And I can’t just defend issues that are the most directly related to me (e.g. women’s rights and LGBTQ rights). But, does that mean that I have to go after everything? Silence equals complicancy, but what if I’m just silent sometimes? Is that something I’m willing to compromise on?

I guess this only becomes a source of internal conflict for me when I’m the only one in a group of people that has a differing viewpoint. When there are others on my side, we can take turns, support each other, and it’s easier. But when it’s just me against a group and I have to combat everyone collectively, it’s really difficult.   This happens at every family gathering obviously, but it also happens in my liberal bubble at school. It’s everywhere, all the time, and so I always have to be on guard for it.

My question is: is it okay to sometimes remain silent on these issues, or is that essentially betraying my personal beliefs? Does anyone else share my total exhaustion, or am I letting my privilege get the better of me?

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Am I a Passionate Person?

This question came up over dinner last night when I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He was updating me on all of his cool stories about going to different conventions, video game tournaments, cosplaying, and the diverse group of friends he has that just keeps expanding. He had so many stories, so many characters in each story, and he seemed genuinely excited about his life.

And then there’s me. It took me all of 5 minutes to update him on everything that happened to me over the year, and anyone I talked about was “my chemistry grad student friend.” Yeah, I have no friends in the new world that aren’t chemistry grad students. This problem is something I’ve been trying to fix for a while, but it’s very difficult for reasons I discussed in my last post. I go on zero adventures unless you count blacking out and puking in a Lyft an adventure. My life is dull, and I’m just so goddamn bored with it.

I told Norm, the friend at dinner, that I wanted to be a part of some community like all the ones he’s in.

“Just join one. Become a part of one of those communities. It’s not hard,” he said.

I scrunched my face, flashing back to college, when I joined the Hindu club, the Unitarian Universalists club, the gastronomy club, the nonprofit theater club, 2 writing clubs, a poetry club, the Irish club, and a charity club for providing free wheelchairs to people in third world countries. “I can’t just join one if I’m not passionate about it. Everyone sees right through it, there’s no connection, and I don’t stick with it.”

“Then what are you passionate about?”

I hated this question because I hated the answer. “I don’t think I’m passionate about anything. I work all day, come home and watch TV, and fall asleep at 9:30.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, that’s normal. That’s most people. Maybe you haven’t found it yet?”

“That must be it. Everyone has a passion, right? I just need to find it.”

“I don’t think that’s true. A lot of people don’t have passions. I mean, think about all the people around you. At least 90% of the people I know aren’t passionate about something.”

It was cruel, but he was right. So many people I talk to don’t seem passionate about anything and are kind of just stumbling through life. “Oh god. Am I a passionless person?” I took a swig of my room temperature rose wine. “I am one of those people. There is not a single thing that I’m passionate about.”

He helped me brainstorm for a bit, maybe drawing, maybe cats, but these aren’t things that I invest my soul in. Cats make me so goddamn fucking happy, but I don’t have any in the new world, so I can’t really call it my passion. Drawing I just do as a stress release to take my mind off of things.

And then it hit me. Writing. The thing I hardly ever do anymore, that’s become difficult to do, but the thing that I’ve been invested in wholeheartedly since I was a wee tot.

I realized that my passion, my THING, is writing, so long as it hasn’t burned out since I haven’t been doing much anymore. But it’s the perfect thing. I get my escapism writing fiction, my stress release writing poetry, and my sense of community by blogging. Maybe you guys can be my non-chemistry grad student friends =)

So that’s my solution. To keep myself a passionate person and to not fall into the trap of just getting by, I’m going to keep blogging. Because, honestly, this is it for me. If I can’t do this, I’m not passionate. I’m just an empty vessel working paycheck to paycheck until I die. How’s that for an ultimatum?

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What I’ve learned about friendship from the few I have left

So I’ve been thinking about it, since I’ve been on a lot of dates recently (*fist bumps Tinder*) and none of them have worked out, which is fine because it’s just statistics. You have to comb through a lot of people to find your soul mate. But, I look at these people, and I know they’re not my soul mate, but they were really fun to go on dates with and just hang out with. But I could never sustain a friendship with any of them that was more than just the occasional texts asking how things were going and getting a drink every now and then and sticking to stilted conversation. So I’ve wondered what makes a viable friendship that is fulfilling instead of just draining?

I hypothesize that it comes down to at least one of a few roles that that person needs to fulfill.

  • They’re convenient. These are the ones that are interchangeable when you switch jobs, locations, etc. They’re around, you see them a lot, and so they’re good people to do stuff with. It’s effortless to hang out with them because, as your go-to people, there’s no catching up. You just talk about your days, go see movies together, have wine nights together, and it’s a small group of you, so it’s easy to find at least a few to do something with when you want to, and you’re not obligated to go to something if you’re not feeling it because there will be others going.
  • You share a special interest. Not that you both like movies, but that you both like gritty, slasher, independent horror films. You both like cosplay. You have similar skill levels in tennis, so you practice together. It’s something that you can’t get just anyone to do with you, but that you love doing. You might do other things as well with this person, but there’s that one particular thing that makes them special.
  • You can open up to them about things that you can’t with other people. This is the thing that all of my friends I’ve stayed in touch with over the years have in common. There’s something that I can talk to them about that I can’t talk to other people about. These aren’t the people that just say “you can tell me anything, I won’t judge.” Literally everyone says that, but you’re not spilling your guts to them. There’s a reason you can talk to these friends specifically. For example, my best friend from high school was the first person I told I was bisexual, and the first I told I wasn’t Catholic anymore. He also happens to be atheist and bisexual, but more importantly, we have similar mindsets when it comes to aspects of identity. He’s able to listen without judgment and identify with a lot of the things I tell him. He knows most of my deep, deep, dark, dark secrets that I don’t even feel comfortable thinking about in my head.  One of my best friends from college is someone I can talk to about stresses associated with fear of failure, meeting others’ expectations, sexism, and emotional wellbeing. I can tell her when stupid things are bothering me, or when I haven’t been taking care of myself and need help. We’ve seen each other through some really difficult times in college, which makes me feel comfortable telling her these things now.

Nowadays, this is something that I subconsciously think about when forming friendships. I made a group of grad student friends when I started grad school here (my convenience friends), and they get me by on the day-to-day things because they’re super fun to hang out with, and we understand what each other is going through when someone needs to vent. So, when I make new friends, they have to be either special interest friends, or emotional connection friends. Otherwise, it’s just more people that I have to see regularly, and as an introvert, that’s just too exhausting.

Are there other categories of friends I’m missing? Am I generalizing too much? Am I missing the true meaning of friendship? Please let me know what you think. As someone who has trouble maintaining friendships, I’m really not the person of authority on this matter.

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Screaming into the void isn’t so bad

Because I just recently got back into the habit of blogging again after close to 2 years—and because the episode of The Handmaid’s Tale that I was watching wouldn’t stop buffering—I went back and reread some of my previous posts from way back. And I noticed that a lot of them were good—no, I take that back. A lot of them were damn good.

While I was reading through them, I noticed that a lot of the posts that I really loved and were my favorites to read didn’t get any likes or comments. It’s quite possible that no one had even read them. However, I really like going back and reading these, and I feel that they make a good addition to the compilation on this blog that encapsulates who I am as a person.

Whenever I publish a new post, I’m like a WordPress stalker, constantly refreshing my stats to see if I had any new visitors to the page, seeing how many views I’ve gotten, waiting for the likes to roll in.

Most of the time, it’s incredibly disappointing and a wee bit disheartening. No one likes my post, my stats are stuck at 0 views for the day, and I can’t help but feel like it’s a waste and the whole thing is pointless.

But really, I’m doing this blog for me. Since the very beginning, it’s only been for me. It’s an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, and so it shouldn’t matter how receptive other people are to it. It would be nice to know that I’m heard, but it shouldn’t be a discouragement if I’m not. I’m the main person reading this blog, and I’m 100% satisfied with it.

I know a lot of other people who blog express similar concerns with not being heard, but it’s okay. A lot of bloggers also note that, starting out, you don’t get a lot of reception, and it’s only after time and commitment that you gain a following of readers. So I’m not worried. I really, really enjoy writing posts, and I get to be one of those pretentious people that call themselves bloggers, so I’m cool with it.

Although, if you do happen to read this, can you do me a favor and drop me a comment? Just a quick “hi” is fine, just something to let me know that you’re out there. It makes me feel less lonely. It can get cold here in the void.

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I’m Destroying My Body

Since today is the first day of New Years, I want to write a theme post about health. Lately, I have not been taking acre of myself At. All. When I say lately, I mean probably for the last six years, but really only the last year counts. I’m slowly beginning to realize that I’m not 22 anymore. I’m not going to say how old I actually am, but I’m not 23 or 24 anymore either…

I have this problem where I get overwhelmed pretty easily, and while it makes me thrive and become insanely efficient at work, it completely ruins my personal life. If I’m stressed out, I avoid everyone, eat massive amounts of garbage, don’t exercise, and sleep and watch TV nonstop. I really wish I was one of those people who enjoys taking baths and using face masks to de-stress, instead of frantically cramming chips into my mouth while I binge watch Arrested Development.

This past October was particularly bad. Two or three times a week—let me reemphasize, two or three times a week—I would eat a family-size bag of Doritos as my dinner. It was a weird coping mechanism, but after an exhausting day at work, I could stop by the gas station near my house, pick up a bag from Bryant, the cashier who knew me way too well, and lay in my bed watching TV. It’s a disgusting habit, but it got me through some rough times.

Until it broke me. Come the beginning of November, I had lost a lot of weight (yayyyy!) but my face was breaking out like crazy—you could barely see my chin under all that mess. The reason for most of my stress was a conference I was presenting at in the beginning of November. As soon as I got back from the conference, it was like my body shut down. Within hours of walking in the door to my house, I was bedridden. My body was so sore and energy-deficient that I could barely find the strength to roll over. I spent that weekend in bed scrolling through possible causes for what was happening to me.

I had the epiphany to try eating food other than Doritos. I felt a little bit better throughout the week, but had almost no energy. The Friday of that week, I again felt my body falling apart. I had muscle pains, had a constant feeling that I was going to throw up, wished that I could through up, and couldn’t stay awake for more than 2 hours at a time.

After that, I realized I needed to fix myself somehow, like hit a reset button or something. I went on a “whole foods” detox diet, which just meant that I wasn’t eating anything processed, and I cut out dairy and starches. I also forced myself to exercise for an hour 3 times a week. It was incredibly difficult to do, but I quickly started to feel better. I kept with it for 2 weeks, but of course, I can’t keep with anything for very long, and so I started to slowly relapse. I didn’t get back to my low point of a whole bag of Doritos for dinner, but I had half a bag for dinner two nights in a row at one point. I tried to keep to whole foods most of the time, but I continued to frequently get bad stomach pains, had no energy, and just barely eeked my way through the end of the semester.

Now that I’m at my parents’ house, my healthy-eating habits lasted all of 2 days (if that…) and I quickly sunk into the habit of constantly snacking. I’ve been getting god-awful stomach pains, mostly at night. The pain has been so bad it’s been close to unbearable. You’d think the terrible pain would be enough to motivate me to continue to change my ways, but nah. Since the pain comes about 4 to 6 hours after I eat the bad stuff, it’s not enough of a deterrent, apparently.

Yesterday, I got very, very sick again, to where it was too painful to even pry myself out of bed. It was kind of sad because I completely missed New Years, but maybe it was a sort of rebirth. Last year, I drank way too much on New Years Eve and spent all of the New Years Day puking, which I interpreted as a symbolic “purging” of the past. This year, perhaps spending New Years Eve swaddled in a blanket, fast asleep, represented a re-emergence from the womb, and here I am, starting anew.

I’m laughing at myself as I write this because it is so ridiculous. I try to give my experiences meaning, but not actual meaning like to not eat chocolate truffles and barbeque potato chips late at night, but a deeper, spiritual meaning, so that I can feel enlightened without having to do anything. Whatever. I always knew I was lazy.

My point is that I need to start taking care of my body for real. I’m at the age where I can’t just destroy it on a daily basis and expect it to still function properly. So sad.

And I’m realizing that I should probably see a doctor.

Growing up sucks.

Posted in Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment