Fifty Five

Last Wednesday,

A classmate said, “You don’t smile.” “There is no joy in school,” I joked back. It was more of a half-joke, because I really don’t find any joy in school. My friends know it, my husband knows it, and even my teachers know it with my daily “unimpressed” expressions that make it very obvious I am a non-traditional age student. Only my husband knows that my lack of smiling is completely intentional. Smiling means weakness and approachability. I help people who ask me to help them out and share my opinions and experiences with them only to the extent of not making any relationship stick. This time around, I am refusing alliances, jealousy, and attachments.

I don’t know why I’m doing this, actually. Maybe it’s the spirit of competition, or maybe I stayed in Europe for too long and absorbed that comfortable coldness. Being alone in college made me notice why I was so successful in high school. Yes, I was a sleep-deprived over achiever, but take away the “sleep deprived” and “over.” There’s just “achiever” left. Effortless, isolated achievement that gives me time to myself and room to think. This also reduces emotional damage in case my bipolar symptoms pop up. I still get rages every couple of weeks and these strange bouts of sadness and happiness.

I also signed up for a counseling appointment and a health check up. I don’t know if I am playing too much Diablo or stressing out about the skeleton I am drawing for Life Drawing, but I have been having nightmares about my worst days, skeletons, and zombies for the last two weeks. Hopefully, the counselor can help out with that. Maybe it’s midterm stress? I experienced nightmares at Smith too that drained me of my energy on a daily basis and made me jumpy and anxious. Since it’s a pattern, I’m looking forward to the day I don’t have nightmares anymore.

Fifty Four

This past month,

I have been trying to blog regularly–two posts week–to retain my ability to write and publish before I become a sketching robot for a big company. I’m following WordPress’s daily prompts, and today’s word is “subdued.” WordPress has not been the relaxed social media and blogging platform that Xanga was, but daily prompts provide some semblance of a community. So here goes:

Being subdued in American culture has a bad rap for being unimaginative and average, and I have experienced the benefits of being subdued and the hard life of not being subdued. Whenever I subdue or limit myself, I go beyond what I expected to do and end up being proud of myself. It is only when I lose control and fail to subdue my grandiose expectation for what I deserve and how I deserve to be treated that I end up a wreck and hate everything around me.

I never subdue my thoughts, but I’ve learned to subdue my behavior. When I didn’t, that is when I end up withdrawing from college, seeking new interest, and having to start over again. Even now, I have a hard time subduing my anger when getting feedback from my teachers who don’t acknowledge what I actually did right. I never know what I’m doing right, and when someone tells me I’m doing one thing wrong, my immediate reaction is that I am doing everything wrong. When that happens, I have learned to subdue myself with a wry smile and express my desperation for approval by throwing whatever I am holding in my hand on the table before I fix my mistakes. When I do subdue my expectations for how I do, I usually end up doing better than I thought.

I think I finally learned that concept when I was in Denmark for two months. Danes’ culture have The Law of Jante, where you should not expect to be better than others and set low expectations that are easy to reach. There was this feeling of people appreciating and taking advantage of what they have regardless of what they could afford. Living there would make me redefine the word “subdued” as “low-key.” Regardless of my internet temper tantrums, my mental health this semester is golden solely due to my expectation of earning no higher than a B in every class. Whenever my jealousy gets the better of me, I remind myself: Be the best “B” student there is, and everything becomes okay.

Subdued

Thirty Six

So it’s been a while,

Because it’s been a while since I sat down with myself like this. This quickly passing summer has been to blur to me. I passed my classes, started a summer program, and most importantly, fell in love. I also called the suicide hotline again, thought about cutting, and cried many many times. And yes, I also had many moments of hating science and research and the whole damn crowd of people in the neurobiology building where I work until I finally got most of my shit done.

So some things haven’t changed at all. I still go to my therapist every other week (except that one week when I called the hotline), write in my diary when I feel like my life is crumbling (again), and fight with my mother (like on Friday). I still hate and love people at the same time and then hate myself for hating them at all. I’m learning to trust people with my secrets and feelings, and I realized that’s what makes me start to love them: trust. The other day, I spilled complaints about my PI and the grad students with some fellow lab members who I felt distant from and they felt the same damn shitty feelings as I did. Instant friendship.

But then I also realized, I need to forgive my grad student as well. While he’s supposed to be leading us, he does have moments of weakness that humble me as well. Today, I asked him for some edits on my abstract (due tomorrow, poor guy) and he said some edits and I asked, “So is it okay to say it like this?” and I recited an edited sentence. He mumbled, “Yeah, you’re a native speaker. That sounds good.” Well, at one point I wasn’t a native speaker, so I am not any better than he is. My point is, he let his guard down after he learned that I understood Chinese (when I nosed into a conversation between him and another international student about his crush, “Lemme see! Lemme see!”), and as a result, I feel like I can actually talk to him now. Also, that man needs to lighten up.

Thirty

To my surprise,

I finally had an accomplished week without a breakdown. I took two exams (one after asking for an extension), I actually communicated with a professor about my needs by asking for that extension, I didn’t slave over a reflection for a pass/fail class (I was able to let go), I actually understood both genetic lectures this week, and I completed my computer science assignment without any harm to my self-confidence. In genetics lab, I sort of freaked out, because we are going off schedule to try to get positive strands to show in our gels. And when I did, my classmates showed sensitivity and care. They talked to me in a careful and concerned tone, because they hear my frustration whenever a procedure changed from what is written on paper. Their care calmed me down. I wish I thanked them for that, but that thanks has expired.

Today, I spent my day downtown. I ate alone, I shopped for my friend’s gift, and I shopped for myself. It was a wonderful experience where I looked at cheap music, gifts for my friends, and potential places to eat or visit. Most importantly, it gave me the room to reflect how my week changed my attitude and to truly rejuvenate without feeling guilty about it.

I’m not letting my guard down though. My suicidal/self-harm thoughts didn’t just disappear after a positive experience or a smooth week, and I am content with them being there. Forget mindfulness or self-care – these terms are used so much recently that I think they are losing meaning for me. What I am starting to grasp is self-awareness, letting those dark just sit there and be washed away as I gather my mind and body together again. It’s like offering a truce to my dark self. I am not going to fight my suicidal/self-harm thoughts (because that only strengthened them and exhausted me), but I am not going to surrender to them either. Like my prescription taped on my wall for tranquilizers that I never took, I will use them as a reminder of my experiences, my healed scars, and my journey ahead. 

Twenty Nine

Since it’s almost midnight,

I’m not at my most optimistic, but I’ll try to lighten up before I sleep. I had a dark moment today between 9 PM and 10 PM, when I was about halfway done with my study guide. I saw that my therapist-friend was on Google chat and asked her what would justify an extension for an exam, because my test anxiety made me want to run to the third floor of the science building I was in and jump from the open stairway like a fucking bird. So I sat there, whimpering to my friend on Google about how I cry so many times a week and clenching and rubbing my fists on my legs trying to console myself with some sort of pressured touch, to remind myself that I’m still here and that I should give myself a few more minutes of precious life. This has happened before.

Actually, this happens several times a week. I was on my phone with my therapist, and we were talking about coping methods. Once I printed my study guide and went into the supply room to staple it, I saw a pile of rubber bands and grabbed a few. I put it on my wrist and snapped it, and it felt great. It was like cutting except it wasn’t. With each snap, my heart felt lighter, because the pain 1) woke me up and 2) reminded me that I still felt. Pain without scars, just like school.

I fantasize everyday about quitting school and going on a soul-searching trip where I learn everything I wanted to gain from school organically, healthily. I would be back in California, have a decent secretary/teacher’s assistant job, and take online classes where I can go at my own pace. I would feel so in control, empowered, and intelligent, but that’s not what college is for is it? Grad schools and companies won’t be impressed with me unless I am a survivor, not a thinker or writer or researcher – a survivor of this hell we call higher education.

And so I stay, trying not to let school get in the way of me having a tomorrow. I have to remind myself why I’m not going to try to fly like a bird or not-eat until I faint, because I need to return to California in one piece. Better days are ahead of me. I know it.

Twenty Eight

By the end of the first week back from break,

I was not just cutting, I was cutting addictively. I threw away my blade on Sunday for the sake of telling my therapist during our phone session that afternoon that I threw away the blade like I promised at the beginning of spring break. I wrapped the knife up in two layers of paper, taped it, and hesitantly tossed it into the trash outside my room. I still regret it whenever I face my stress, anxiety, and depression and think, “Wow I would feel better if I just sliced a few on my legs.”

I cried that night. No, I sobbed. I just laid in bed and felt powerless and scared. I was scared I wasn’t going to get enough sleep and end up suffering through the next day. I was scared of the feelings that my cutting helped numb. My poor housemates must have heard me whimper, “Help me… help me…,” because I felt like I was going to die. Throwing away the knife may have affirmed my commitment to stop cutting and disturbing those around me, but suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety remain. And worse, the numbness is still here. If something wonderful or tragic happens, my emotions just draw a blank, because I don’t want to feel anything anymore.

If I can think of one comforting thought, it would be that I am almost done with my semester here. I finally found a major advisor, and not only that, this is the first teacher here who I reached out to and had a connection with. This may be the mentor I was waiting for. I know I shouldn’t wait for important things like finding a good mentor, but I learned enough about myself in the past year that I take a while to muster up the courage to form an interpersonal relationship. She also supported my dream to become an ob/gyn even though I feel less supported in that goal than my path to becoming a researcher. In fact, she was the first person other than my grandpa to believe in me like that. 

Twenty Seven

Since I hate lying,

I definitely cut again (and again and again), but I also want to say that something positive came out of this first week: I’m reaching out for help. I’m planning on calling the counseling center for group therapy recommendations, and I’m calling my therapist back in California tomorrow. She made me sign a non-suicide and non-self-harm contract when we first started our sessions, and I broke that contract multiple times. I’ve broken it, because I have moments when I’m full of self-hate and anger at my lack of control. Hurting myself physically is easier than being honest with myself and getting things done the hard way (aka controllable discipline, concentration, and other characteristics I envy in other people).

What made me stop today was a Skype call to a friend who left my school. Whenever I have an encounter with my mental disorders, my mind often wanders to her, because we are not that different. I might as well have left like her if it weren’t for my beautiful friends, and she might still be here if she had friends as wonderful as mine. She understands my addiction to hurting myself, and she told me for her it’s been a few years of doing it, stopping, and relapsing again. That’s when I gulped and saw the omens. I know I may very well be cutting for years and years if I don’t deal with it now, because I’m already hooked into this cycle of cutting myself, feeling great, getting shit done, and then crying myself to sleep at night out of guilt as I think about the possibility of people finding out.

Why do I feel guilty? If I killed myself from suicide, everyone in my school, everyone back home, and everyone I interacted with online will feel guilt. But I’m alive, and my fresh cuts are going to make people feel uncomfortable, which makes me mentally apologize, “Sorry, that you had to see this.” That’s what happened in lab this week, when I wore my short sleeve shirt, because the weather was just so beautiful that day. The teachers saw them as I acted more upfront than usual (because I developed this strange “Fuck everyone else” vibe since I started), and my friend freaked out. No more short sleeves for a while.

And just as I don’t want to bare my scars anymore, I want to end on a more optimistic note: the weather’s clearing up, I’m going to tutoring, I’m doing readings for class, I’m working in the library, I have plans for next semester. I no longer have to escape to the warm rooms of the greenhouse. I also thank myself for identifying this addiction and understand that breaking this cutting thing will be a day to day process, if not a fight. Even though the thought of staying at this school feels like a death sentence sometimes, I do have my bouts of optimism and appreciation for being here. Like today, they tossed Caesar for us and served pesto pasta for dinner. Yum.