the depression police

Today, Anna Akana came to my school and gave a talk about Asian Americans in media. Last year, I watched her videos on depression, and she helped me realize that…feelings are valid–or that you can’t help much the way you feel–and so why be so self-conscious and apologetic about it all the time………..I had this paralyzing fear that I was overreacting, being a drama queen, griping at every minor hardship in life. I was so terrified of recognizing my own feelings–a recognition that felt voyeuristic, maybe narcissistic, and perhaps contrived to even think that I had depression. After all, so many people have it so much worse. I hadn’t become entirely dysfunctional to the extent that I couldn’t at least get out of bed for a meal, and I hadn’t truly, seriously attempted to take my own life. Who was I to suspect that I was clinically depressed then? How could this be valid amongst the backdrop of all the people who are suffering so acutely?

This has really stuck with me: nobody is out there playing depression police. If you tell someone you’re depressed, nobody’s going to fire back “You fraud! You’re not depressed! I know the precise chemical balance of your brain, and there’s no way you have depression, you liar.” When put like that, it all becomes so simple and obvious. I was spending so much time worrying about how my feelings might be perceived by others that I couldn’t recognize how irrational my fears were.

I felt such a strange, self-conscious sense of revolt at my narcissism, a reluctance to recognize my own feelings, and frustrating inability to convey in earnest my tangled mess of thoughts. How do you explain you don’t want to exist anymore or begin to describe your sense of depersonalization, disconnect, and self-apathy? These nebulous feelings seem so uncomfortable, ineffable, and out-of-place.

My heart is so full. Anna Akana is just as endearing, insightful, and cheekily honest as she is in her Youtube videos. She’s made me think more critically of media representation of Asian Americans and how this shit actually matters. We consume these TV shows, movies, films, and episodes on a day-to-day basis. The tropes and motifs shape our own perception of ourselves and how we fit into the world. People shouldn’t walk away from superhero movies with the impression that some white man is always the guy to save the day. Rather, movie-goers should feel kick-ass and empowered themselves, a feeling that has to stem first and foremost from a place of connection. I don’t know about you, but as a 5 foot 2 Asian girl, I don’t particularly identify with a middle-aged white man.

During the follow-up Q&A, a lot of questions came up about mental health. Hearing Anna talk about her sister’s suicide and the time a girl walked up to her at the DMV and started crying while explaining how Anna’s video made her reconsider committing suicide brought me back to that strange period in freshman year when things seemed hopeless and eternally dark. I think that I’m growing healthily these days, and I’m grateful that time kept inching forward back then and that I was able to stumble upon Anna’s videos.

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a sense of deep nostalgia

something I wrote a while ago. 

What are we but bifurcated flesh vessels of sentiment and overthinking neuroticism? My first year in college has sent me plummeting down a strange road of nostalgia. In all the pandemonium that comes with change and growing up, I always look back to my past with wistfulness — one that makes me wish I had cherished my childhood more fully and lovingly. I’m so terrified and indignant of my future that I’ve created a comfortable cocoon of reminiscence as a form of escape. I’m stuck in the past, and it precludes my moving into the future. I should grow up, but I can’t extricate myself from this tangled web of nostalgia.

I’m seven years old. Houses blur together as the bus rumbles forward, dropping off each student back into their pockets of homes. How weird and magical — we all fit so neatly back into our little drawers, tucked away in brick-laden homes at the end of small suburban cul-de-sac’s. The pattern of blurred houses has long been imprinted in my head. I count off the landmarks as they pass: white stucco house, red window-panes, oddly-misshapen shrub. Sometimes, I play a game where I close my eyes and visualize the sequence of roofs and concrete driveways, timed with the methodical lurching forward of the bus. Finally, the bus turns into my neighborhood. I get off, pause under the giant oak tree, and start walking home with Nathan, the boy who lives across from me. I’m grateful to have a companion. Who else would fend off the bumblebees when they come buzzing by? I eat dinner routinely at 5pm everyday and then rush outside to meet my neighborhood friends, so we can play Ground or explore the unconquered corners of the subdivision. We are curious, raucous, and tireless children, golden-skinned from flouncing around under the sun, tinging the outdoor air with the ring of our exclamations and laughter.

Seasons pass. Walking home from the bus stop, I carry my violin home through the sticky humidity of summer, the pollen dust of spring, the drifting colors of leaves in the fall, and the crunching of fallen branches in the winter.

By the time I’m in seventh grade, my older sister has left for college. The house feels strangely, eerily vacant. Reluctant as I am to admit it, I miss the liveliness of the house when we were both in it. I even miss the derisive, older-sister comments she made that I certainly did not care for in the moment (was I really that annoying?). By this time, I have discovered the magic music box that is the Ipod Nano. I don’t heed the passing of houses on my bus rides so much anymore. Instead, I transport myself to some other realm: a cloud of moodiness and childish angst that enshrouds my soul when I feel like a dramatic 11-year-old listening to Avril Lavigne, or a chipper fairyland when I listen to IU. I look forward to the days when the cafeteria serves pasta alfredo, I sit in orchestra class and annotate my repertoire music, and I start a fashion blog with my friend, Rachel, in a spur of ambitious, teenage excitement. We play the violin together in our first pit orchestra experience. “It’s a fine life!” Nancy really did hit the nail on the head with that line. Now, my 18-year-old self wonders how I did it. Was I oblivious to the concept of loneliness entirely? How did I not see how blissfully simple my life was? When did it all get so hard?

Year 15, and I’m in my first relationship. I first knew there was a meaningful connection when our conversation gave way to talking openly about our fears of death. I am brazen and vocal with my impressionable, literature-derived opinions. It all happens so fast. I don’t think I can ever watch “The Wind Rises” without feeling a strange heart pang. I don’t think I can ever disassociate all the smells, sounds, and places I’ve come to tag with this singular person. Weird how this is the time I’m happiest and saddest. In the summer after tenth grade, we visit a Barnes & Noble, so I can “study” for my SAT subject test. I tell him my favorite reading spot is the corner behind the wooden pillar in the children’s section. I can sit there for hours, engrossed in whatever young adult romance or manga issue I’ve picked up until my butt is sore. He carves AS + MW into the column with his car key that day. We vacillate between strangers and intertwined souls for the next three years. This past spring break, I wandered into that Barnes & Noble and curiously ventured towards the kid’s section. But our etched names had long disappeared, probably sanded over by some exasperated janitor or worn out by the passage of time. Strangers again now.

Flashes now. A sleepover at Rachel’s house during which I stuff my stomach with her homemade pizza. A slow walk down the path to Roger’s Bridge under the light of the moon. A catastrophic orchestra audition in which I botch the Bartok excerpt I had practiced for months. A night when I stay up until 3am to finish Flowers for Algernon; I’m breathless and jarred. That time I laughed so hard I swear I formed abs in my mere 5 minutes of hysterical laughter. A meaningful text conversation that goes from 11 to 4am and by the time I put down my phone, my retinas are burning, and I can still make out the white static of the phone screen in the darkness as I blink. All these memories comprise fragile slivers of time. If I blink, they’ll disappear.

Voices in my head. All my dozens of past selves are talking simultaneously. It’s times like these when I wonder if nostalgia can kill. All it takes is a worn-out song from my Ipod Nano days playing in an H&M or a blur of a face I think I recognize from my past to hurtle me back into the past. What am I? Slave to nostalgia? I know I can never viscerally feel the same as I did when I was 7. The imprint of the memory lingers and taunts me, but the feeling itself has long been gone. So here I am: 18 years old, but still 5, 8, 15, and 17 at heart — torn between growing up and remaining young at heart. When did the two become mutually exclusive?

floating islands of thoughts

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My brain is mush because I just pulled my first all-nighter of my EXISTENCE last night and feel very uncentered and unwholesome at the moment, so I won’t be capable of stringing together any coherent thoughts for this post. But here are some things I’ve been thinking lately:

  • I think I’d rather be kind than successful or intelligent or cool….although of course these traits don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But I’d rather just be a HUMAN first before anything else, if that makes sense.
  • feeling unhealthy. I need to eat fruits and vegetables…
  • I need to figure out how to not be a chronically compressed spring of stress. Once I descend into my frenzied state of panic, I am rendered useless for at least 2 hours and not much can salvage me at that point, so I should probably try and figure out how to avoid reaching that stage.
  • time as a concept and as a token of…care? concern? regard? compassion? I’ve been in such a quagmire of schoolwork, extracurriculars which I’ve overcommitted to, and intermittent existential crises that I struggle to allocate enough time to myself to recenter and be whole. It follows that there’s even less time that I have to spend with people here. I want so badly to be able to give time and spend time with people here, especially since I’m finally coming out of my rut and feel like I can actually maybe probably connect with humans. But there’s always a buzzing voice in the back of my head reminding me of the impending doom of responsibilities that are poised to strike at any moment. Always feeling like I’m missing something and running out of time.
  • Sleep is a necessity. unfortunately.
  • I can’t tell where I am. I hit really low low’s. But I don’t stay so despondent for months at a time anymore. And that’s great. That’s progress. But I’m always in this perpetual state of flux and never feel fully at peace with myself or where I am in life. Perhaps that’s what it is to be human.
  • The word “nauseous” is quickly being adopted into my daily vocabulary
  • I started this “INITIATIVE TO IMPROVE MY LIFE” which is an ambitious Note on my iPhone enumerating at least 10 different bullet points which, if followed, will drastically improve my life. But so far, that’s not going so great. I don’t feel in control of my life which sounds passive and almost lazy, but I feel like this piece of fluff being thrust around by the whims of winds and external forces…

to think about…

On overcoming existential loneliness with the realization of existential freedom (how to get to this point? I still don’t know): 

Does this new fulfillment empower us to love in a new way? Instead of trying to use others to fill our aching existential Void, do we now appreciate them for the persons they really are? Has our former need to cling to others disappeared because their absence does not throw us back into loneliness of spirit? If we discover how to live beyond existential loneliness, are we empowered to love from fullness rather than emptiness and need?

a shrinking city

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photo highlights:

  • rachel’s ~*wall*~*
  • strawberry matcha latte + boba from boba guys
  • sunset at the highline, objectively the best park in the world
  • several street view photos for which I stopped directly in the middle of the walkway and valiantly risked my life for the sake of PHOTOGRAPHY

In the spirit of college student spontaneity (or would it just be called procrastination?) and a caprice centered on sheer infatuation with New York City, I hopped on a Bolt Bus into the city with a few friends.

I went into the city with new friends but also met up with an old friend and fellow salami lover, Rachel. She lives in East Village, a quaint and thriving place with small eateries crowding every street and young people out late into the nights. I’m thankful for the slowing down of life over fall break and getting to hang out with my high school friend, no impending obligations or deadlines to worry about. We always eat until we fall into a vegetative food comatose, which I’m sure helps with the carefree attitude too. This time around, I explored and roamed the city with new friends. Sitting on a bench at Union Square Park to people-watch and digest the exorbitant amounts of food we ate, peering down the aisles and shelves of books at The Strand, and walking along the Highline during golden hour–the meaning these places and experiences is imbued with isn’t exclusive to the locations themselves. Even though I’ve been to New York more times than I can count, the city feels like a new place each time I spectate with different people.

Gazing out a floor-to-ceiling window and looking down on the miniature, toy-like streets, I felt a weird sense of reticence. If I lived here and could see the entire expanse of the city every day from my couch or from the bathroom sink while I brush my teeth, would I feel the same pang of affection each and every time I glanced out the window? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s best if I don’t wind up living in this city–I’d never want to get used to this place and have it lose the sparkling feeling of excitement and newfangledness. It’s human to take what’s there for granted.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I attended a pre-college program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I grew enamored with the buzz buzz of NYC, the clanking and clattering of the subway, and the vitality/vibrancy of all the streets, with its swarms of people, all with places to go and things to do. The breadth of the city astonished me…hey, look at me: a small girl inside an entire city, a needle in a haystack. But the city seems to shrink each time I come back. I’ve grown more familiar with the subway routes (although I am still perfectly capable of hopping on the completely wrong subway). I expect the drifting smells of food vendors and car exhaust and am no longer disarmed by the density of skyscrapers. My sense of complete anonymity, immersion, and smallness has faded a bit over all my visits, leaving behind weird traces of nostalgia and a reluctance to grow up.

Here is the theme of the movie of my life: the vie to reconcile with this concept of “growing up,” a Holden Caulfield-esque rejection of adulthood. Maybe I’ll be ruminating over this until I’m 90 years old…

timestamp: 3:36am. I need to sleep earlier.

and we live to see another day

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Every Thursday morning, when I witness the sunrise through my window on the 17th floor of Harrison and after I lethargically click the “submit” button for my comp sci homework assignment, I tell myself incredulously, “It’s Thursday…I live to see another day.” Wednesday’s constitute the weekly apex of assignment deadlines, stress, sleep-deprivation, and all the classic college student tropes that are pitiful but altogether relatable. I’ve fallen into quite a consistent routine: I submit the first assignment around 10pm (for which the deadline is 11pm). Then I proceed to start Latex’ing my next homework problem set. Every Wednesday there’s a creeping feeling that I won’t make it, or that tomorrow is some insidious doomsday. But every Thursday morning, no matter how sleep-deprived I am, I feel relieved–relieved to see the sun, relieved to have survived another long Wednesday night, relieved that I get a new day to breathe and reset.

That’s the weird thing about life. You think you won’t make it. There’s no way. There’s so much. All at once. It’s too much.

But somehow you muddle through all of the shit. Who cares if you fell 1000 times on your way? You’ve lived to see another day.

A few months ago, I wished for nonexistence…emptiness…reprieve from the senselessness and absurdity of being alive; why was the pace of life so consistent, relentless and unforgiving? Couldn’t the clock slow down a little? Give me a chance to catch my breath and figure out all these pesky things clouding my mind?

But I lived to see another day and another… and another. Isn’t it ironic and unfortunate (and maybe stupid) how the worst experiences help you grow the most? I guess Nietzsche was right.

I’ve lived to see another day, and seeing the light has never felt so sweet. I feel so FREE right now. I had two midterms today, both of which I’m upset about because I know I could have performed better if I had had better foresight, been more disciplined, and worked harder. But I’m trying to…let go. I’m still working on keeping my head above water, meaning not sweating all the small things like my midterms or my homework grades. Fall break is in 2 days, and I plan to aggressively chill.

feeling small

drawings_michel

Among thousands of students, the large majority of which are geniuses in some form, I struggle to reconcile with my feelings of inadequacy–especially since I’ve transferred into the School of Engineering this year. By some odd stroke of good fortune and I guess hard work, I wound up receiving a teaching assistant position for the discrete mathematics course that all comp sci majors/minors have to take (CIS 160).

I applied for the position because I wanted to keep learning and to join a community of people in which I could grow. I acknowledge that I worked my ass off last semester and sold my soul to office hours and problem sets, so receiving this job makes me feel like the hard work has paid off and at least somebody thinks that I’ve grown. But working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence, deep understanding, or teaching ability. When I tell friends and colleagues that I’m a 160 TA, they widen their glimmering eyes in what I perceive to be respect. This reaction makes me feel bashful and sheepish and confused and turbulent all at once. I want to exclaim, “Don’t you understand! I’m not even smart or qualified. I’m not a math whiz! LISTEN TO ME WOMAN. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING OR EVEN WHO I AM.”

I held office hours today and walked out feeling like a desolate puddle of melted human. Understanding material sufficiently to execute a homework problem and mastering concepts so that you can dynamically bend and morph them into clear explanations are two completely different beasts. I have no confidence in myself, and that self-deprecation projects itself into my answers. I can’t stop thinking that if my previous self had me, Annie Su, as a TA, I would hate me. Why do I feel so drastically under-qualified for this job?

The TA’s for 160 are all quirky, intelligent, and nice people, and I’m grateful to have been extended a hand into this community. But being around these people throws me into a limbo of anxiety and self-doubtThis dude popped out of the womb doing math competitions. And that girl over there interned at Facebook, Apple, and all those sexy tech companies with coveted internship positions. What am I but a small, random outlier? All I have going is hard work. Slow learning. Inquiry. I know that dwelling on what I’m not doing right is wasting what little time I do have to improve and learn…but I can’t help it. And it also frightens me how ungrounded from reality I am. I can’t even think about job stuff without becoming somewhat nauseous…I’m not ready, qualified, or mature enough to participate in the adult world…

I’m starting to learn more and more that I am not these people and never will be. I’m not an AMC champion or a genius software developer at the ripe age of 17. I don’t have any of those things going for me, but that’s ok. My own set of skills (not really sure what they are though) are different. And different != bad. What I like to talk about and ruminate over, what I read voraciously until 3am, what I’m curious about, what I think about in fleeting while on the elevator–these constitute who I am and what kind of person I want to be. Why do I fret over not being like the others? The world needs more kooks, right?

(in theory)

Then the disconnect  between sound logic and visceral feeling sets in. I can’t help but feel small and inadequate anyways.