Forgiveness, can you imagine?

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-04 at 2.18.54 PM
There aren’t too many pictures of me from graduation, but I think this one – overwhelmed, holding way too many things, but so happy – is a pretty good summary of both graduation and my college life in general.

As of May 4th, 2018, I am the proud owner of a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Affairs. If you’ve been following this blog since its very inception in 2010, then this might be tripping you up as much as it tripped me up. I still have vivid memories of giving college acceptance updates when this blog was still Neiha Thinks This. To be done, to have crossed out the erstwhile biggest item in the To-Do List of my life seems bizarre.

Of course, in the process, comparatively smaller items on my micro to-do list fell by the wayside (including my plans to put up a blog post every month), but it’s hard to give myself too much of a hard time about it when I am in possession of the most expensive piece of paper I will ever hold. It wouldn’t be very poetic to let my graduation month pass without a blog post reflecting, properly, on at least some facet of the past five years. (NOTE: It is now June 3rd. I let May slip by without finishing this blog. Ha ha.)

I’ve been afraid of my last semester of college since I first stepped foot in Northeastern’s campus and realized I was home. Which is weird – being afraid of a milestone seems absurd. I couldn’t wait for my high school graduation so that I could be done with that chapter of my life but at the same time, those two milestones aren’t even worth comparing. My high school experience was not great. I had friends, many of whom I’m still close to, and saw some successes but I was always held back either by teachers who called me “too passionate” or resource crunches. I could never pursue knowledge to the extent that I wanted to, short of fighting my way into taking an independent study A  Level. My interests were belittled. And when I tried to leave high school behind in favor of greener pastures, I had my character, intelligence, and values attacked by the one teacher I was still in contact with and looked up to. I have no qualms about discussing this now: that messed me up. After working through this with my therapist, it has been concluded that most of my impostor syndrome and self-flagellation can be attributed to That One Teacher. Which is upsetting, because said teacher is why this blog exists in the first place.

I guess that’s a good transition into what aspect of my college life I want to reflect on this time: forgiveness. Specifically, learning how to forgive myself. While at therapy the other day, talking about some or the other requisite self-image issues I still have, we hit upon a bit of a revelation. I still hold on to the naive belief that, at 23, I shouldn’t have body image issues anymore. It was a hope that persisted throughout my teenage years. With age, all of this would go away. And of course it doesn’t. In my particular case, we noted that a lot of my issues that have roots in childhood often get triggered by specific events. None of my issues are ever in isolation, and if they flare up, it’s because something else has flared up concurrently that exacerbates the former. And then the revelation: I immediately realized that these issues aren’t just disparate, they’re parts – “tendrils” is how I described them – of the same large behemoth: how I see myself in relation to where I want to be. Each tendril is situational, variables that act up and inform the central question: am I on my way to becoming the person I want to be? It seems silly, but after months and months of working through each tendril in isolation, having a larger framework to work against was a pretty major breakthrough.

And, of course, it all goes back to ambition. Sometimes I think mine has gone stale or has paled in comparison to the people around me. That’s not the case; my ambition is stronger than it’s ever been. The two biggest driving forces behind my ambition have always been service and spite. The former is decidedly more noble than the latter and will always be more important – nothing I do matters if it doesn’t help in some capacity. The latter grew in size and force over the years, reaching its peak in college, but it has always been there. It’s always played a bit of a tempering role to the complacent, afraid side of me. My successes in high school despite the odds? Spite: if I can’t succeed despite the odds, what’s the point? Fighting my way back from a D in economics? Spite: “he looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid.” Deciding, once and for all, that I will get a PhD? Spite: no one ever gets to call me a pseudointellectual again. And I don’t get to believe it.

And here’s the thing, a lot of my spite is intrinsic too. I live to spite myself because at the end of the day, I’m my worst enemy for these things. I treat myself like absolute trash. I’m the one that allows myself to listen to people who want to put me down because in my heart, I believe that part of service is taking all criticism on face value and becoming “better” for it. The roots of that are in the one trait I fear most in myself, arrogance. A “trait” that came out of insecure teenage bravado – forgivable! And yet, unforgiven. If arrogance is self-assurance without limits, then I would strive to be the opposite of that.

I think spite is a necessary driving force. For me, it forces me to take what I judge as a failing on my part and reevaluate it. It forces me to for once in my life give myself a break, because I can actually do the things I am told I can’t do. I spite myself so as to learn to forgive myself. Arrogance is bad, yes, but I’ve never actually been arrogant, I was just called that by someone at the age of 13 and it stung enough to stick for ten whole years.

I have so much I still haven’t forgiven myself for, from the banal to the serious. The last five years I’ve been at college are pockmarked by those moments. I think back on them and my immediate urge is to rip my own skin off. To blame yourself so much that your instinct is violence towards yourself? The cruelty of it all.

I want more than anything to be of use. I don’t need to be lauded, I don’t need to be appreciated, I just want to help and create and cultivate and study. Any moment where I have been less than those things is paramount to failure in my book. And yet, I graduated and I graduated pretty dang well. I have made life-long friends, I have been a mentor, I have learned so much, and I have even been able to help in that process. More than any other time in my life, I did the best I could and now that it’s over, I’m so proud of myself.

I think that might make it easier for me to forgive myself one day.

On a lighter-ish note, what comes next after the above detailed milestone, you say? Waiting for the US government to get back to me about whether or not I can stay in this country for the next year! Finding a full-time job! I have a part-time gig as a research assistant which I am so excited for and which will help tide me over until I can get a full-time job with benefits. I’m also ~paranoid~ so I don’t want to give more details on that until I get said government approval.

Over the next year, I will be studying for and taking the GRE and applying to graduate programs in political science/international affairs with a focus on ethnic conflict and global governance…and I think most of them will be PhD programs. I’m about 80% sure on that. That’s the most sure I’ve been about anything with the letters P, H, and D in it! I will also be fine-tuning my research article on sex trafficking in the EU and hopefully getting it in front of a panel of academics to get feedback. I’ll try my best to add updates here but they might go to LinkedIn first.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, thank you for sticking with me despite my unreliable upload schedule. It means a lot to me!

Trauma is a scary word & other reflections

When my clinician told me that I was going through a phenomenon called retraumatization, something clicked in my brain. It was a satisfying, crisp sound – a little bleak as far as eureka moments go but I suppose that’s basically just character development. Every appointment since then I’ve learnt a bit more about myself and man, oh man, does the human brain hold a grudge against itself.

Long story short, a bit more than a month ago I was hacked and experienced something that in higher education terms is dubbed a Title IX violation. Ever since that event, I’ve been dealing with anxiety – something very, very new to me – and while I understand that’s just how people respond to horrible, traumatic experiences, I didn’t realize just how deep that ran with me. I envision that most recent event as the final trigger in a series of Tom and Jerry-esque traps, elaborate and seemingly disconnected at first but culminating in a fabulous (and destructive) finale. And I suppose sexual assault is a lot like being struck upside the head with a mallet: stars in front of your eyes, the feeling of being winded, staring down at yourself in third person. The difference this time around was twofold.

First off, I refused to admit that I’ve been through such sexual trauma of a debilitating nature before in my life (I was much too young); secondly, well…the mallet that hit me took a bit of my spirit with it. You know that old adage that says you can only be strong for so long until something finally breaks you? Something about camels and straws and broken backs?


And like, luckily, I’ve been working towards piecing together the parts of myself that have been broken with the help of an incredible support system, but it freaking sucks to not be able to get out of bed some days because you’re terrified of going outside, or to avoid the mirror on bad days because the sight of your own nudity triggers something visceral and hateful in you, or to be unable to carry a conversation with your own best friends because it’s so hard to concentrate, or to admit to professors that you’re sorry but you physically cannot finish an assignment-

So on.

And at first I didn’t have the word for it. I was just so angry at myself for not being strong enough to just weather the consequences; and I was angry at myself for not being patient, for trying to rationalize everything I was feeling so much so that I refused to actually feel it. I didn’t know I needed to be told that I was traumatized until a licensed professional told me I had not only been traumatized, but that I was retraumatized; PTSD because of PTSD, pretty much. It was almost a relief to have my sudden downhill spiral spelled out for what it was. I was valid in my debilitation. I was valid in my anxiety attacks. I was valid.

It’s been a month and it isn’t all that easier. But I have learnt to be patient and take care of myself. I have learnt to say “I’m not okay” because sometimes, I need to admit that I’m suffering. I have learnt to face the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and soothe them within the parentheses of my mind and my heart.

I remembered I had this saved to my drafts from sometime in November. I was debating whether or not to publish this for a little while, but with 2016 right around the corner it only seemed right.

Since writing this post a number of things have changed. Most importantly I’ve been going to a specialized clinic in the Boston area. It’s helped a lot and I’ve only really been to two official sessions. I still have a lot to learn. My own anxiety gives me anxiety and there’s days where something as simple as riding the train two stops makes me feel like I might die any moment; dissociation is a real issue, and it’s hard for me to concentrate on something without a secondary focal point to facilitate the first (so like stress balls and stuff). It’s gotten easier to talk about everything and I’m far more open about how terrible things can get which is awesome progress as far as I’m concerned. And more than anything else, I’m ending this year with more respect for myself than I have ever had before in my life.

I have been shown tremendous kindness, gentleness, grace, good-humor, love and support in such myriad ways over the past two and a half months that if I can end 2015 having given back a fraction of what I’ve experienced, I can say it has been a successful year. Despite all the sadness, the chaos, the bullshit, I can say 2015 has been a successful year.