What I’ve learnt from being forced to talk to people on the phone

To preface: I used to absolutely hate talking to people on the phone. I would avoid it as much as possible, to the point where even talking to my own family on the phone felt like an insurmountable ordeal in my life. I know I’m not alone in this, and that heartens me. In a few short years, I will be able to successfully sidestep the phone and conduct all my dailies without having to talk to anyone at all. As it is, I could probably live a talk-on-the-phone-free lifestyle but I do not have the luxury of that. Mostly because I will be working for people that still expect me to pick up the phone and talk to a person.

Now, before you start shaking your cane/mortgage/NOKIA 3310 at me, I will have you know I am not an antisocial person. I am just an anxious person. Like every other millennial. Also, none of us actually likes being anxious, we just have to develop coping mechanisms and cross-stitch reminders that we can do the dang thing, you All-Lives-Matter-touting ding-dong.

And so, let me launch into what I’ve learnt from being forced to call people on the phone – something I’m actually capable of doing now!

  1. Let’s start with the basic essentials: always leave your name and a number/email you can be reached at! I cannot stress this enough, and will be calling back (this was an accidental pun and I am thrilled) to this point later.
  2. When you do leave your name and number, make sure you spell your name out as painstakingly as possible. This is my usual spiel: “My name is Neiha Lasharie; that’s N- N for Nancy-E-I-H-A, Lasharie, L-A-S-H-A-R-I-E, Neiha Lasharie.” Why N for Nancy? Because I’m tired of being called Meiha and I live in constant fear of the day I have an international flight ticket with the wrong spelling of my Pakistani passport-holding name.
    1. Subpoint: memorize some approximation of the NATO phonetic alphabet. That way, you don’t have to scramble to find the stupidest word possible that happens to start with the letter in question, or end up in a situation where you forget that Phoenix does not, actually, start with F, or decide that “hallelujah” is the word you’re going for instead of, I don’t know, hotel (I have done this).
  3. Almost always, the person answering the phone will tell you their name right at the beginning. If they don’t tell you their name – or you forgot/were too busy panicking to register it, it’s nice to ask their name again right before you get off the phone. Write it down somewhere, it’ll come in handy later down this list. If nothing else, the person on the phone appreciates it, and it will make this mutual ordeal seem a bit more palatable and human. Look at you go!
  4. (Increasingly) no one actually likes talking on the phone. The person you are calling wants to get off the phone as quickly as you do. You don’t have to exchange pleasantries; in fact, the more streamlined you can make your phone call experience, the better it is for them to! Stick to the bare minimum; if they have questions, they’ll ask you. However…
  5. …you just put down the phone and realized that you forgot to give the person you were talking to a key bit of information! Dang it! “That’s too bad I guess, oh well, I could always-” don’t you do it, 19-year-old Neiha, don’t you throw the person on the phone under the bus for something you should be responsible for! You call that person back! You call them back as soon as possible so they still remember you and you don’t inconvenience literally everyone around you except yourself! Anxious child!
    1. This is where having left your name and number really helps, along with any correspondence number/order number/reference number if applicable.
    2. Additionally, if this a customer service type situation or there’s more than one person likely to pick up the phone, having the name of the person you talked to previously handy will make a big difference! Either they can run a note to the other person, or just hand the phone over if possible.
  6. If this is a work-related thing, or you have to ask a detailed question to someone, it’s good to write a script. But like, physically write it out if possible. You will 100% remember individual points way better if you lose the script because you wrote it down by hand. Scripts are also extremely handy if the call goes to voicemail and you panic – because as much as talking to another person is rough, talking into the void is way worse.
    1. Depending on the type of person you are, you can either write out the entire script word for word, or bullet point it. I personally prefer bullet pointing it.
  7. Speaking of voicemail: when you leave one, it’s helpful to speak as slowly and clearly as possible. No one actually knows how voicemails work, especially in an office setting. Speak slowly, carefully, and repeat things. Say your name in the beginning, and repeat your name at the end. Say your phone number twice. It’s also helpful to give the time and date you made this voicemail, and if it’s something where a follow-up will be needed, give the person you’re trying to reach the courtesy of telling them you’re about to hound them. But in a nice way.
  8. The build-up will always make it worse. Counting down the minutes to a phone call is hell. Usually, it’s not even worth it; the call goes to voicemail, and you’re left kinda underwhelmed. Just go for it. I know that’s not always possible for a lot of people, but for me, I sound and feel way more natural if I just pick up the phone and call someone instead of when I’m hyping myself up for it.
  9. During my first co-op, whenever I had to make a phone call, I would always isolate myself and find the most remote location possible. I didn’t want anyone to witness my embarrassment. But – and this is a good life lesson in general – no one cares if you stumble over your words. People stutter and stumble all the time. Now, I actually prefer calling people when I have someone around. It emboldens me.
  10. Always have something to write notes on. Make sure the thing you have to write notes on isn’t your phone. You WILL miss something in the transition from ear to speaker. This is crucial if you’re asking for contact information. Always have them spell out the name. Always confirm the number/email you’re been given. Basically, treat that situation with the same care you wish a Starbucks barista took when scrawling your name onto a grande iced latte.
  11. PACING HELPS SO MUCH. YOU WILL FEEL BETTER. But also don’t slip. I’ve definitely slipped during a phone interview.
    1. ALSO SCRIBBLING. This is something I picked up from my mom. Just doodling on a note card or newspaper or whatever it is you have nearby helps you focus.
  12. If you’re talking to someone important on the phone, don’t panic. It’s a totally different atmosphere than when you’re meeting with someone in real life. You don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing, or your body language – as long as you treat them with courtesy and respect their time, you should be good. But also, chances are, you’re talking to their secretary or assistant; be nice to them too. Actually, be especially nice to them – they have total control over whether or not you’ll get to talk to their boss.
    1. Some of the best interviewing advice I’ve ever been given has been from my father. This is very useful for an in-person interview but also applies to a phone call. Make yourself feel physically bigger; take a deep breath, square your shoulders, hold your feet shoulder’s width apart, just make yourself feel powerful. You’re feel more confident for it.
    2. The other best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is from a friend who didn’t even really mean it as advice; pretend you’re someone you really admire. Don’t, like, steal their identity. Just put yourself in their shoes, and you’ll find yourself adopting their perceived confidence too! This is the one piece of advice behind my public speaking success.
  13. Finally, it doesn’t matter who you’re calling, be as courteous to them as you would if you were talking to them in person. If someone is explaining something to you, make sure they know you’re actually listening. Ask questions. Be patient if you need to repeat yourself. Feel free to make fun of the situation, if you mess up! Don’t immediately hang up because you called yourself Zach and your name is definitely not Zach. It’s okay to ask someone to hold because you need a second to take a deep breath and dive back into it.

Okay, wow, this is way more advice than I was expecting to give. Feel free to ask me any questions! I’m happy to answer as best as I can! Now back to trying to get a hold of literal ambassadors!

An unqualified guide to bullet journaling for mental health

This guide was requested by a friend but in all honesty, this is something I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. This is no replacement for actual honest to god therapy, so please do seek a counselor if you struggle with some of the issues I vaguely allude to! Also, naturally, content warning for discussions of mental health and vague references self-harm and such.

To relatives who might be reading this – I promise, I’m good and well-adjusted and happy, and I’m okay weathering awkward questions if it means someone might find some use in this guide!


When I started bullet journaling last December, I didn’t realize how much it would help my anxiety and generally facilitate a more organized existence. While I was never a mess, I wasn’t necessarily organized either. Bullet journaling helped me keep track of all my deadlines, my daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks – whatever I needed from it – in a space that was as accessible as it was a creative outlet for me. Moreover, I found that it was incredibly helpful in tracking my mental health concerns; primarily my anxiety and complex PTSD.

Initially, I used it to log things I wanted to discuss with my therapist. I could only afford therapy every other week and didn’t want to forget anything important/catastrophic that happened during the days betwixt. I also started making a point of writing down important takeaways FROM therapy. I explained to my therapist what I was doing and why, and she encouraged me to write notes, doodle, scribble during our sessions. Keeping notes also helped my mindfulness and concentration. My mind tended to wander a lot – still does – but bullet journaling and my journal itself served as a focal point to remain present and not dissociate wildly.

The most destructive manifestation of my complex PTSD has been a tendency to self-harm. Proximity to a therapist was an easy way to work through what led to self-harm and how to avoid it, but upon moving to the Netherlands for a few months, I needed to find an alternative way of coping. After a few disastrous near-brushes with self-harm and anxiety attacks, I tried to look at ways I could “weaponize” my bullet journal against my mental health issues. Understanding the enemy is part of the fight, so I Googled ways that people used their bullet journal to track mental illnesses.

This was a huge preamble, I know, but I wanted to make a convincing argument! Here are the strategies I use to aid my mental health (also this guide assumes you know the basics of bullet journaling):

  • Mood tracking: Granted, I’m not great at this and I often fall asleep without filling in my mood tracker – but for the two months that I did religiously, it was really interesting to see my mood throughout a given month at a glance. With my monthly calendar filled in, and by referencing the daily tasks associated with any day I was curious about, I began to make associations e.g., dealing with finances was an immediate downgrade to my mood, as a general rule of thumb I was a distinctly happy person but days that started off as being coded “mixed” would often be coded “anxiety” during the latter part of the day – and days that started anxious ended up turning into angry days. The codes I used were: anxious, happy, sad, hyped, angry, mixed, and meh. You can use whatever codes you’d like. I fully intend to get back to mood tracking starting November and I’m considering switching to mood tracking as part of checking off my tasks at the end of the day instead of flipping back through to the mood tracking page.
  • Master-list of symptoms and manifestations of anxiety: Another really frustrating manifestation of my complex PTSD is a reduced capacity for memory. While this is annoying on a day-to-day level, let alone as a tie-in to dissociative amnesia, it’s really hard to learn anything about your mental illness when you can’t remember you learnt anything. This is a bit vague, so I’ll give an example: in the first few weeks of realizing what CPTSD was, I read pretty widely about it and the symptoms associated with it. In the months after, I would often forget that something I was doing persistently was a symptom of my CPTSD and would get really afraid and concerned, only to rediscover or be told by a friend that I had already identified action x as a symptom of CPTSD. Cue feeling really stupid and being upset that my memory had gotten so bad – which, incidentally, has triggered self-harm before. You see the utility of this. So in order to alleviate this feeling, I’ve identified all the symptoms of CPTSD that I’ve experienced before in order to have a single point of reference (eg., emotional flashbacks, hypervigilance, concentration issues, trouble breathing). Everything is a bit more palatable, once written down.
  • Master-list of tried and true self-care or preventative strategies: This is pretty self-explanatory. I tend to forget everything in my rush of panic, including what strategies calm me down. Listed self-care techniques include: watching make-up tutorials, taking a shower, drawing something beautiful and then destroying it (very therapeutic), working out (nothing like burpees to distract you!), grounding strategies including meditation, deep breathing, being mindful of my body, counting off sensory triggers, etc. Preventative strategies include: covering my arms and legs as soon as possible, getting fresh air, drinking or feeling something cold, turning off my phone, calling someone.
  • Self-harm tracking: This is a two-part tracker. The first part of the tracker is tracking days without any self-harm. For every two weeks I go without self-harming, I make a conscious effort to treat myself – whether to a smoothie or something decadent I wouldn’t normally let myself get, or a new piece of make up, whatever you want. It’s something to look back at and be proud of accomplishing. I’m a bit prideful, so seeing the tally end suddenly because I’ve self-harmed bruises my ego. This works in my favor; often, right at the cusp of self-harming, I’ll think to myself but you were doing so well! You had just a few days to go before the next two-week bench mark! and it honest to god works (for me). I’ve also written right at the top of my tracker “no shame, just move on” for if I do self-harm. You can adjust this for panic attacks or whatever you want, and have the benchmark be as long or short of a timespan as you’d like. The second part to this is logging instances of self-harm. I took this template from Lindsay Braman and if I do self-harm, I list events that transpired before the breakdown and identified symptoms/emotions leading up to it as well. Hopefully you won’t have to fill this out, but if you do, it’s a good way to foster awareness of yourself. Eventually, I would like to create a similar log for emotional flashbacks. I will say, I don’t create a monthly log for self-harm tracking, mostly because I (on average) self-harm once a month so I don’t personally find utility in that.

I hope all of that makes sense and that you can see some value in tracking your mental health. Some other points to note – please make time TO update your bullet journal! Whether it’s five minutes a night or in one big chunk at the end of the week, you get out of your bullet journal what you put into it. You don’t have to make it look excessively creative or pretty. The aesthetics of my bullet journal have deteriorated significantly since I started it (I’m on my second bullet journal now) but I absolutely love it still, and I’m not lying when I say it helps keep me sane. Also, your bullet journal doesn’t just have to be geared towards mental health! I use it as a commonplace notebook for literally everything, including books I want to read, research interests, goals for the year, plans for the future (grad school, etc), assignments for the semester my measurements/sizes because I always forget – whatever you want! The most important thing is to not make your bullet journal a burden on yourself. Don’t overtax your bullet journal, and don’t overtax yourself. Good luck!

“I promise there’s a reason I’m flushing my hair!” and other superstitious concerns

“I can’t help but feel that this is my fault.”

My best friends, my mother, and my therapist have all heard me say some variation of the above sentence. This tends to be in response to some kind of bad news, and no matter how much physical distance is between the epicenter of the bad news and myself, I always find some way take responsibility for the ensuing tremors. Lip-biting, hand-wringing, that sentence is both an admission of guilt and a desperate need for reassurance. Usually, the response is “Oh my god Neiha, stop!” or “Shut up. Stupid chit. (angry cat emoji)” or “Now what could make you think that?” from my best friends, mother, and therapist respectively.

The former two usually nip it in the bud. Can’t blame them. But my therapist’s open-ended question gives me – stammering, probably shaking – pause.

What could make me think that?


I’ve alluded, previously, to my superstitious inclinations, but I have never fully explored how my superstitions came to be and what role they play in my life. As with most things, I can attribute a lot of my beliefs to my Pakistani upbringing. My parents never reinforced this, being scientists, but it’s hard not to internalize what society tells you.

South Asians, in general, are an unfathomably superstitious lot. To ghair folk, that may seem absurd and yes, it totally is, but it is also as much a part of our culture as our food or clothing. Our superstitions seem to inform societal hierarchies, biases, behaviors, upbringing, schooling, even where we live. Our superstitions serve as the lens through which we perceive the world. We are morbidly fascinated with what we are, in theory, supposed to be afraid of. A lot of our superstitions stem from religion – such as reciting verses from the Quran to protect oneself, though Islam is most certainly not the only religion that guides superstition – but largely, our superstitions stem from time immemorial and have been distorted depending on the family that the superstition has circulated in and throughout generations. Even the most highly-educated members of the gentry are wont to follow some neighborhood spiritual healer. However, it is difficult to properly research the roots of South Asian – let alone Pakistani superstition – due to said distortion and lack of academic research into the topic. So for the purposes of this exploration, I will be relying largely on my memory and the iteration of superstitions that I was exposed to.

I grew up with a taweez around my little neck. Fairly innocuous, a taweez is a small leather pouch worn like a locket, with the pouch containing a verse from the Quran that is said to protect you against the evil eye. Almost every kid my age had a taweez, sometimes even older kids – but while the taweez soon disappeared from around my neck, the phenomenon it was trying to keep at bay was a ubiquitous power in my life and in that of so many others. The evil eye – nazar, in Urdu, which literally just means sight but as a noun and duly capitalized in English transliteration takes on a much more sinister meaning – has become a well-known concept by now in mainstream culture, having been attributed to a variety of cultures even outside Islamic countries. (As a quick aside, I found it funny as a kid that whenever people used to go to Turkey, they would bring back the eerie blue variations on our taweez. If nothing else, I was impressed at the utility of the evil eye: a souvenir, a protective totem, and very on-trend for the time. Besides, a literal evil eye to ward off the evil eye in addition to our own cultural attempts at warding it off? Beyond extra). For a lot of people, wearing the evil eye or hand of Fatima/hamsa as an accessory might be nothing more than cute, exotic jewelry, but it garners both an eye-roll and genuine approval from me. Hey, intentional or not, you’re protecting yourself I guess.

The evil eye is simply, intentional or otherwise, the result of someone casting a jealous or malevolent gaze on someone. This in turn means something bad happens to you; you get hurt, your finances take a hit, etc. At worst, the evil eye can be attributed to black magic (kala jadoo, a most Pakistani fear). The reason children especially are kitted out with a taweez is that younger children are quick to trust, and don’t necessarily know how to protect themselves from the evil eye; as such, adults must pick up the slack. In fact, pretty much whenever I get hurt, there’s always someone around to say, “Nazar lag gayi Neiha ko” (lit. Neiha got hit by nazar. Also, I’m 22 and this still happens). The process of avoiding the evil eye is a lesson in humility; you ascribe any talent, beauty, accomplishment, etc, to God’s will – “Mashallah, you look beautiful.” God wills it, and thus, can apparently shoulder the burden of malevolence.

Now that I think about it, the lesson is less about humility and more about displacement of responsibility. Lack of humility only attracts malevolent intent, so you make God deal with it? That doesn’t seem completely fair.

There were other superstitions: not stepping on a pillow or you’d give your mother a headache, not stepping over someone who was reclining on the ground or they wouldn’t grow taller, making sure shoes weren’t strewn around with the soles pointing heavenward, getting rid of fallen hair and nails in a way that they couldn’t be collected by evil sorcerers (for real)…in addition to more paranormal fears, for example, that isolated, mountainous – generally veeraan – places are usually breeding grounds for jinn-bhoot (a pretty general term for any big evil phantasmal types), that resting under a tree during the night was a sure-fire way to get yourself possessed by a jinn and subsequently exorcised, or that any number of houses were haunted and that houseguests of the spirit variety could be kept away with a huge, wrought-iron “Mashallah” affixed to the facade of your house.

These are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. I remember thinking that I wasn’t completely convinced by these superstitions. I used to pride myself on that. Sure, I was afraid of jinn stories, but what Muslim kid/adult/old person in their right mind isn’t? I had no fears regarding giving my mother a headache by stepping on a pillow, or of stunting someone’s height. Besides, most people my age were tall enough and should have been grateful for what they already had that I didn’t.

It’s only really in retrospect that I realize how many superstitions I actually did internalize. I avoid lingering for too long under trees at night. I think part of my gung-ho desire to live in a city stems from avoiding the aforementioned veeraangi. But I didn’t realize just how much of the more ridiculous stuff I had internalized until, last year, a friend caught me flushing some hair I had pulled out of my hairbrush down the toilet…

That was a very strange cultural quirk to explain.

But apart from the more concrete superstitions, there is a general spirit behind superstitions that is just straight up part of being desi: this greater sense of culpability, that everyone is capable of causing harm even if they don’t necessarily intend to. It is as victim-blaming as it sounds, that people can also just put themselves up for spiritual harm – that’s a pretty toxic mentality, but it’s one that I observed in myself a lot following my burgeoning anxiety. Humility is one thing, but to be actively deserving of malevolence is kind of an alarming concept to internalize.

But as it turns out, superstition is an easy vehicle to transition into when you already have anxiety. So what could make me think that something horrible that happened so far away and is, by all accounts, unrelated to me, is actually my fault?

I expect something bad to happen after things have been going well for some time. Living in a country where people don’t necessarily say “Mashallah” a lot doesn’t help that fear; but even so, if I receive bad news following a spate of good luck, I immediately blame myself for not being humble enough. I caught someone’s nazar, but it’s ultimately my own fault, surely. Something bad happens at home? Well, that’s my fault for not being an upstanding Muslim, or for staying out too late, or for becoming too self-confident.

Okay, but what does this have to do with anxiety?

According to Kierkegaardian philosophy, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Rather than feeling as if you can do whatever you want, anxiety feels much like the way standing at the edge of a particularly long drop does – except near-constantly. The dizziness of freedom also means it’s difficult to ascribe responsibility to anything. Life just is. But life can’t simply just be; life has to have a rhyme or reason. Surely, that’s what religion is too, a desire to make sense of the dizziness of freedom, to organize yourself around something rather than constantly face off against a precipitous drop. But if existentialism is to embrace the drop, then superstition is the exact opposite. To be superstitious is to analyze every drop within an inch of its life and to assess where you stand in relation to it and – well – how that drop could actively make you and everyone around you suffer. Superstition isn’t absolution or relief or even order the way religion can be. Superstition is, as the wonderful Mashed Radish describes, all about excesses, too muches, over-s, supers – so it is excessive, too much, over-, super-absolution. In short, it is a solid crutch for anxiety to lean on and reinforce its grip on your gut and your brain. It is self-imposed punishment, it is responsibility where no responsibility needs to be taken, it is guilt in the guiltness. If anxiety’s evolutionary role is to heighten ones fight-or-flight reflex, superstition’s evolutionary role becomes what makes you stand there, pointing and screaming as something starts gnawing at your leg.

It’s hard enough balancing your identity if you moved from a more communal society to a thoroughly individualistic one. You feel guilty about something at any given point. But to be superstitious on top of that, and to have anxiety on top of that? Might as well have a flip-flop dangling around your neck that you can self-flagellate with. It’d be a quicker job.

For me, superstition reinforces my self-loathing. If nothing is immediately around to be responsible for x terrible thing that has just happened, well, then it’s my fault. If I bear a cross on my back, it is one carved out of a heinous wood comprised of both anxiety and superstition. Add to that cross various socio-cultural expectations (both communal and individualistic), burdens, pressures, etc, and it’s no wonder that I had to go the ER for back problems this past June (for real).

Does this answer my therapist’s question? At least in part, yes it does. And, well, you don’t have to but if you wouldn’t mind, throw in a Mashallah at me every now and then, yeah?

Max Weber should have lied

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Pictured: Rotterdam’s City Hall which, I soon realized, has a statue of Hugo Grotius, who lay the foundations of international law – of which individual dignity is a cornerstone. Not pictured: me crying at the statue a little.

I’ve written pretty extensively about my horror, anger, and fear at the American attempts at a Muslim ban and its various iterations. But aside from the practical shortcomings and moral depravity of such an attempt, there was always another layer of outrage towards it:

How the hell can they make the visa process any harder and nerve-wracking than it already is?
Growing up brown and especially Muslim, there has always been a degree of solemnity attached to traveling. To be able to hop on a plane, with little to no paperwork required beforehand, is a distinct privilege that those of us with Certain Passports will never experience – and similar to how in some cultures learning to drive a car is a rite of passage, where I grew up? Your first visit to the consular services of a foreign country was about as important as learning how to make doodh patti chai right. Being granted a visa was something to celebrate. Commiseration over a more-likely-than-not visa denial was a week-long affair. Angry declarations of “I have a case, I’ll appeal their decision!” were, although well-intentioned, usually not pursued – and if pursued, doomed. No word of a lie, all the stages of grief were present in the aftermath of a visa denial.

I wish I could make light of this reality. But the fact of the matter is, realizing how little other countries want you is scarring. I have friends who have traveled all over the world, and it’s something I could never dream of doing simply because the process to get there is harrowing and exhausting. You need to steel yourself for a trip to the embassy. Every relative and family friend that has experienced the process even once will inundate you with tips: make sure you smile a lot, be as deferential as possible, try not to stutter or betray your anxiety, do NOT raise your voice, memorize the address for every location you’ll be staying at, have bank statements ready…on and on and on, until your brain is cacophonous with mantras. My A levels were nowhere near as stressful as the lead-up to my appointment with the American consulate in Dubai for my student visa.

I consider myself lucky. I’m a tiny woman, I look harmless. Others? Men? They don’t get the sympathetic looks and reassuring smiles I may sometimes (sometimes) receive. The first time I traveled to American with my family, my brother was detained by virtue of being a 20-something Muslim, Pakistani man, even though he had a freshly shorn face. Yes, you have to look the part too. Sufficiently western, your face hairless as the day you hopped out the womb. Hopefully, your parents had the foresight to give you a name that isn’t threatening or that – given the ubiquity of names that have Islamic connotations – doesn’t have Islamic connotations. My grandfather and grandmother, despite having a son who is an American citizen (a son they visit annually and stay with for basically half the year), get routinely pulled aside because my grandfather’s name is Aziz.

Look upon the cosmic injustice of a system wherein your name is looked at with suspicion because you share it with some shitty terrorist, ye mighty, and despair.

I thought I was a veteran when it came to foreign bureaucracies. Since I study in the United States, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of bureaucracy, and I’ve learnt to take the anxiety in stride. I thought this meant that I was set – talk less, smile more, laugh at their jokes, get waved through without a fuss. But my passport does weigh heavy in my hand, and I expect the worst no matter where I am. At least that way the cacophony of advice given to me throughout the years is quick to return to my head – like a rolodex, arrogantly waiting for me to flip through it.

So imagine my horror when I wake up to get registered at the city municipality where I live in the Netherlands and I find that I am quivering with a bureacracy-anticipating anxiety I thought I’d outgrown. I check, double-check that I have the right documents. I realize that I don’t know where to print the documents I only have digital copies of. I’m so anxious that instead of refunding the 1 euro credit I still have in the coffee machine at the City Spar downstairs, I just buy myself another coffee and walk around lamely with two burning, sleeveless coffee cups in my hands. I tell my mother I’m going to take the 30 minute commute to work, print my documents at the office, and then travel the 30 minutes back home – this is at 9:30am. My appointment was at 11am. I very quickly realized the stupidity of my plan, and also threw away the second cup of coffee.

While waiting for a floormate to print out my documents, I thought I was going to vomit. I felt dizzy. I was genuinely afraid that I was going to be sent back to Dubai, or Boston, or wherever, and my kindly co-op advisor would use my story as a warning to other students: “Don’t be like that girl. Bring an actual copy of your birth certificate when you go abroad. Jeez.”

So much for the hallowed professionalism of Northeastern students.

More than that, I was afraid to become a cautionary tale told to other young Pakistanis looking forward to traveling. I have had the opportunity to do so much more than is expected from my little green book – to be relegated to “Look, opportunities don’t pan out sometimes”? I couldn’t. I can’t.

I speedwalked the 10-minute route to the municipality in 5 minutes. I was there 40 minutes early. So I started writing this blog, to process this residual trauma from one-too-many cautionary tales. And I started thinking about Max Weber, one of my favorite sociologists. He was wary of modernity and the automation inherent in it; not in the sense of robots or artificial intelligence, but in the sense of humans not being able to realize their natural autonomy. In political science, we are taught the three Weberian features of modern states in the post-industrial era: territoriality, violence, and legitimacy. All these elements feed and reinforce one another. From these elements come further factors such as a monopoly on the use of force, and, for our purposes, bureaucracy. It is essential for a modern state to use its legitimacy to create a central government efficient enough to maintain things like censuses, be able to levy taxes, and, well, make the lives of Pakistanis & Co. really rather miserable. The United States of God’s Good America is (are? I’ve been staring at the plural too long) uniquely talented in this regard. And I recognize the need for it, truly I do. I study international security and from an objective standpoint, I get it, you have to be careful – but there are now entire populations terrified of the act of traveling, or have otherwise relegated themselves to not traveling. Dignity is the cornerstone of human rights; it is the central, foundational component in every treaty, statute, convention, etc, that comprises the human rights regime of our (post)modern reality. And one of the main push factors towards radicalisation of every sort is indignation: shame, degradation, isolation, all go against this foundational understanding of dignity. Being detained because your name happens to be Osama, named after one of the original Muslim Caliphs? That does not security make.

The proto-existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard (one of my favorite philosophers) characterizes anxiety as being the natural state of mankind in the face of possibilities. There is So Much in the world, therefore I am anxious. The world is composed of plurals, therefore I am anxious. We are multitudinous, therefore I am anxious. Bureaucracy, that central component of statehood, is itself sprawling and full of indefinites and unknowables. Therefore, I am anxious.

All the opportunities I have before me, in their glory and their hope, are overwhelming, and a good 60% of those opportunities require navigating the indefinites of bureaucracies.

I got lucky today. The bureaucrat I dealt with was a lovely man, and I was registered with the municipality before my appointment time even technically came around. But this anxiety will live with me for as long as my passport (the loaded entity that it is) bears potentialities…and I will carry the indignity in my heart forever, and unwittingly pass it on to my children. Iyad El-Baghdadi, an Arab Spring activist-turned-asylum seeker, talks about how his “[his] statelessness makes [him] fall between the cracks of this world order.” I can’t relate to that – but what I know is that, conversely, my statefulness (state-fullness), this Pakistaniat and all that is perceived as being packaged with this country of 180 million and counting, has me wedged in the cracks of a world order I have dedicated my life to understanding. What a truly postmodern heritage.

On discipline, or how I’m learning to stop self-flagellating

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I started bullet journaling over winter break. It has been one of the better decisions I have made in the past few years, and I’ve seen the direct results of embarking on this organizational journey in my day-to-day life. I’m less anxious, more organized, I remember both short-term and long-term goals; the act of putting together my bullet journal spreads is something that soothes me immensely. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (badly), my spending (mostly retroactively), the books I read (which is awesome!), my research ideas (also incredibly useful) and to chart my goals for the coming year and how far I’ve gotten in attaining them. Part and parcel of this was deciding what I wanted the defining theme of this year to be – not a resolution (I would most definitely break that out of sheer defiance) but a broad theme under which I would operate myself.

I chose discipline and creation. Creation because that has always been a part of who I am, and discipline because I need it in order to keep at my creations. I was proud of this. I felt like “discipline” would capitalize on the momentum I had garnered the semester before – my long-awaited 4.0 semester where everything would finally fall into place and where I wouldn’t let set-backs hurt my grades. Neiha today is a far-cry from the girl who loudly proclaimed in high school that grades aren’t more important than extra-curricular activities and what you do (or the girl who wanted to be pregnant and married by the time she got to grad school, which now makes me feel crippling terror but that’s neither here nor there).

…I mean, I still believe that. I just don’t really have the luxury of functioning under that one-sided dichotomy.

I have always tried to be a good daughter. I never gave my parents any trouble, I never fought them on things, I accepted the curfews and the modi operandi of the Lasharie household knowing that once I went to college, I would need to nurture my responsibility. And I did. I stayed out late, but I always got home safe or made sure I had a couch to sleep on somewhere I was comfortable. I traveled, knowing I was responsible for my own well-being and itineraries. My parents were always okay with this, with only the occasional “Be safe!”

I did my laundry, I minimized eating out, I budgeted my spending, I filed my taxes, I looked into my credit, I applied for loans when I had to, looked at scholarships without much of a result, funded my own therapy, applied for jobs – both co-op and part-time – just so that the end result was that I could be less of a burden on my parents.

The unopened monthly billing statements are why.

My parents have told me they don’t care about my grades. They want me to be successful and happy in my ambition. But my grades are a way to prove something – “Look! Your investment is paying off!”

It wasn’t that my 4.0 was why my parents were so proud of me this past semester. It was because that 4.0 included an A in math, a subject I’ve struggled with so much that it became a family joke. We measure my success by looking at the things I struggle with and seeing to what extent I can overcome them.

We.

I, on the other hand, being the loathsome and self-minimizing person that I am, measure my failure by looking at everything I have wanted to do but haven’t done. I have so many personal projects that I want to do, ideas I have conceived, research I want to undertake, plans I want to execute – but there’s always, always something stopping that. And yes, I know that rationally, I can’t do everything I want. And that rationally, not a big deal. I just need to discipline myself and then I can assess the extent to which all my projects can come into fruition.

But it feels like everything I want to do is being done better, faster, by other people; my peers at that. Or it feels like I’m not qualified to do the things I want to, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. This blog is an example of the former. I’ve had this WordPress since – god, tenth grade? It’s been 7 years or so, and I still don’t have a format set up; I don’t have a reliable uploading schedule, and I don’t really have a theme apart from occasionally off-loading my opinions or existential crises. Hell, I’ve been playing with the idea of buying the domain name since Freshman year of college and I haven’t gotten around to doing that.

As ever, my conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. But for every excuse, no matter how reasonable and justified, I have to wonder – will there ever be a perfect time where I can give justice to all my projects?

Probably not.

So I guess here’s a second conclusion: there is a time for everything. It will suck, and I will most definitely get bogged down by my own deficiencies, but if my goals right now are to a) give my parents a return on their investment, b) be financially independent, c) keep my mental state from fraying (again) and keep my PTSD at bay (yikes); and d) pave a way to an actionable future, then I guess I need to give this current zeitgeist of my life its due.

I’m always bitching about how it is part of the postmodern condition to reflect back on all of humanity and wonder why we don’t have a defining array of characteristics for our time, but isn’t that exactly what I’m doing? I’m experiencing the postmodern condition in the microcosm of my own life.

That’s dumb. Instead, well, I guess I’m going to try and celebrate what I am able to do by doing it to the best of my ability. Here’s to another 4.0 semester, good mental health, financial stability, and continued poems and research endeavors. The Speakeasy Symposium, personal branding and such will have to wait until I’m ready. And that’s okay.

Short note: Happiness?

I find myself nervous when I’m too happy. There was a time I used to say without any hesitation that I am a happy person; optimistic and bold, I used to walk forward bravely into any situation, ready to handle whatever crisis came my way. My infamous “crisis head” lends itself well to unpredictable situations, and that assurance bolstered my confidence.

I don’t know if I can call myself a happy person so easily anymore. I’m still, at my core, a happy person. I’m more…frightened now. Ever since my anxiety took hold, I feel nervous about expressing happiness. I get nervous when I’m too happy, because it feels like only a matter of time before I have my happiness taken away from me. It’s easy for that train of thought to snowball into a self fulfilling prophecy and that’s…what usually happens.

I have a lot to be happy about and I know that. I doubt I will ever be an unhappy person. But I’m sad that I can’t give myself the luxury to anticipate happiness anymore. The thought of visiting Pakistan for the first time in years has me feeling nervous. What if something bad happens while I’m there? What if I’m judged for being less Pakistani than I used to be? What if my clumsy tongue stumbles over Urdu out of excitement and I fall back into a protective mantle of hushed English?

What happens if a fight breaks out in my family and I am paralyzed?

I tend to receive bad news or experience bad things when I share my happiness. Call that nazar if you’re superstitious (I know I am, a little) but I’ve been trying to hold happiness close to my chest. I feel wrong guarding it so jealously when my first instinct is to be outwardly happy and share the happiness, but I’m scared.

I guess that’s what it all boils down to. I’m tired and scared. It’s a shitty, shitty place to be, especially when you’re sleepy and it’s close to 11pm. Hopefully I can come up with something more inspirational with the sun.