Monday, May 22, 2017

Three Hundred

If I don't decide to go back someday and delete any old posts, this will be my 300th blog post to date. It's astounding how long I've managed to maintain this blog and post on a somewhat regular basis. I feel like I've put off editing this draft for a long time because it does reflect on some heavier topics, but it needs to be said. I'm currently sitting in a library at UC Davis (visiting Wei-Wei!) with nothing else to do for a few hours anyway. All the events on my schedule so far have been checked off — blood work, Teach For America interview, housing, internship prep — and soon I'll start packing for my new apartment and D.C. I'm looking forward to my summer even though I was initially hesitant that I wouldn't be doing enough of a "prestigious" internship. If anything, this semester has taught me not to overcommit myself. Additionally, I have five essays to make up, and I want to enjoy and sightsee in D.C. as well. Besides, non-profit work in D.C. should be very engaging politically.

This summer has started off on an incredibly happy note. My friend Madison graduated, a year early similar to my own plan, and we went to the beach to celebrate surviving finals together. We headed out via public transport to Ocean Beach in SF. It was excessively windy, but warm. I felt like a child again as I waded through the gentle, but bitingly cold, waves. We dug around for sand crabs for a bit before moving further up the beach into warmer sands. It might have been too comfortable as I ended up falling asleep for two hours. I thought I escaped the sun unscathed but unfortunately woke up the next morning with a very angry red sunburn on the back of my legs. That was a week ago, but you can still see the purplish patches on my legs even now.

I honestly don't know if I'll ever see Madison again now that she's graduated, but something she said to me will stick for a very long time: "I don't know what you'll do in the future — it could be big things or little things — but I do know it will be good things." Coming from someone who's only known me for a semester, yet said with so much conviction, her words renew my resolve to strive to be a good person despite my habituations based in toxic defense mechanisms. Sometimes it's weird to realize that so many things in my life have been not normal. A friend offered to help me figure out my insurance and lease and bank account; in the process I realized that my parents had been neglecting to provide me healthcare except in the most extreme cases all my childhood. I didn't know how a lot of these things worked for most people. It turns out, insurance is pretty straightforward and is not as much of a hassle as my parents made it out to be.

As much as I have an idea of what I'm doing in life, I'm still working on figuring out who I am and how life works. Easy things to start with are exercise and eating right; harder still are interpersonal relationships and being a decent human being. I'm in a constant process of unlearning toxicity: my manipulative tendencies, my selfishness, my carelessness for other people's feelings. These things developed as protective mechanisms against abusive parents, but as I move into a new stage of life removed from these negative inputs, I feel ready to get help for my mental health problems via long term counseling and medication if necessary. Medication will probably depend on what happens when I go to get a diagnosis. I think that it is likely bipolar II, which is effectively treatable with lithium. Right now I feel very stable but the past few weeks have proved that things can spiral very quickly, very intensely, especially after contact with my parents. I'm seriously considering going no contact after I graduate. Maybe someday I can reconcile with them, but right now there is some need to maintain a separation. Just the other day my mother called me and started to guilt trip me, bringing up hurtful things that happened over a decade ago. My core anxiety is based in the belief that maybe they were right all along and they're wonderful people and I'm simply too sensitive and ungrateful. Of course, there is plenty of evidence otherwise, but I think therapy is necessary to help me fully accept my circumstances.

Sometimes I am frustrated by how these things outside of my control have hampered my ability to live fully. I wonder what I'd be able to accomplish if I had a different childhood, one that didn't leave a burden of mental health problems and trauma. Honestly, either way, I'm probably going to live a fairly unremarkable life. But as long as I can live a life with integrity and always work on self improvement, that seems pretty good. I'm working on accepting the in-betweens: I am not perfect, but I am not a horrible person either. I'm generally a decent human being, but I have my flaws. My environment is not perfect either, but I must accept that this is life. Sometimes my schedule isn't ideal. Sometimes I need to have time to do other things. I can't anticipate all of the things life throws at me, but I can accommodate when there is time in schedule. And yes, maybe I'll be a bit bored, but that's probably better than dying of obligations I can't handle when my mental health downswings. I need to have time for my hobbies, to go out and have fun, to be there for my friends. I have as much control of my life as to not give up on my ideals and not give up on addressing my shortcomings, and as far as I'm concerned, that's not settling.

There is time still for figuring out how to be a responsible adult. I have a year left of college but I'm already excited to graduate and live my life on my own terms. The dream is to get an apartment, get a cat, and work out all the technical details from there. The soft skills, like organization, perseverance, resilience, I have down already. Ideally there will be time and money for personal endeavors and all the things I want to do, like traveling and painting. Above all, the autonomy of living on my own will allow me to continue to develop my identity. I think it's safe to say that I spend an above average amount of time drowned in introspection, but there's so much more to understand about myself.

With this dream comes the urge to completely start afresh and isolate from everything I know now. Granted there are some people who I do need to distance myself from, but despite my insecurities, I need to remember I do have real friends who care for me, even if they don't show it all the time. Consequently, I am making an effort to appreciate my friends who are there for me even when I'm not able to be a good friend. They are so important in part because they represent positive external reinforcement to validate the internal thought processes around the good and bad aspects of my life. I am capable of validating myself but sometimes it is exhausting, and it is ok to let others help. Furthermore it is necessary to reciprocally support them too, especially during times like finals when everyone is stressed. My deficient mental health is not an excuse to hurt people, ever, and if there are inadvertent consequences, it is my responsibility to make sure that my friends are ok too, as soon as I am able.

On a final note regarding mental health, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I'm moving toward a more realistic approach to handling my mental health. I'm going to have to accept that it takes more time and energy than I'm currently allowing myself to expend. I'm trying to convince myself that it's the responsible thing to do to actively maintain my mental health instead of ignoring it, letting it fester and deteriorate to the point of crisis. When I write it out like that, it does indeed sound reasonable, but for some reason I can't help but feel like I'm being lazy or making excuses when I'm in the midst of a mental health trough. For some reason I feel like I don't deserve the extensions and accommodations; it's difficult to accept that this is my reality when I want it to be different. A part of my reality is that I need to stop and think, "Hmmm, I'm feeling vaguely suicidal, maybe something is wrong and I should stop," instead of feeling like I'm deficient for feeling that way and getting more stressed. I want to work but my brain is not able and I don't know why. I don't have an excuse, because this is not an excuse. It's time I show myself the sympathy I would show for other people. ◊

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