I’m still here

I can explain my absence pretty well, though I can’t necessarily excuse it. For the past half-year, I have been busy either studying for the GRE or working on applications for PhD programs in political science. When not doing either of those, I work full-time as a research assistant. When not doing any of those three, I have been making time to read and write poetry.

I am incredibly, unbelievably happy. I absolutely love my job. For the first time, I feel like I have a genuine shot at a poetry side-hustle. I have an idea of what I want to do in the near-future, and that is deeply reassuring. And, since I am the way I am (i.e. incapable of taking any good news in good faith), all of this means I am filled with abject terror at the prospect of losing this happiness and, specifically, of failing. And right now, the biggest possible/plausible failure for me is a failure to get into a doctoral program in political science.

At this point, I should apologize. Not having written anything that isn’t a poem or for research purposes in months means I’ve lost my ability to write in a way that’s charming, relatable, or funny. And maybe I shouldn’t reduce this to charm, commiseration, or funniness.

I’ve talked about imposter syndrome a lot in the past. The concept isn’t new to anyone anymore, and that’s good! The more accessible this idea becomes, the easier it will be to talk about imposter syndrome and its effects on people. My specific imposter syndrome makes me feel like the best con-artist in the world; that I’ve duped everyone into thinking I’m intelligent and capable, when really I’m a slacker, a procrastinator, a plagiarist, a regurgitator. But I’ve done that concept to death, and I think what’s worse than the imposter syndrome is the opposite: if I’m not an imposter, if I truly am successful, if I truly am worthwhile, then the fall will be even worse. At least if I fail as an imposter, I’m getting what I deserve. That’s justice. That’s accountability. I can self-flagellate and feel a grim satisfaction. But if I fail as Neiha Lasharie, then what happens?

My therapist and I had a breakthrough recently. She was listening to my usual self-deprecating diatribes (“I’m a horrible person masquerading as someone with good intentions,” etc) and then, after intently scribbling something in her notes, said, “You’re gaslighting yourself.”

I felt like an old-timey bank robber, suddenly thrown into sharp relief by a helicopter spotlight. “Oh. I am.”

My therapist went on to say that it was obvious that I had picked up the language of gaslighting from people throughout my life, that it wasn’t something inherently in me, but a learned behavior. And if it was learned, then that meant it could be unlearned. I felt both guilt and relief. Guilt at the fact that I had been doing unto myself what I swore I would never let anyone else do to me, and relief at knowing. I’ve seen a change in myself over the past few weeks since that breakthrough, but it has opened up another avenue of fear. I’m assuming that my imposter syndrome – and maybe that of other people – is related to the self-gaslighting behavior that I’ve learnt. But I’ve become so used to my imposter syndrome as truth that I don’t know what is on the other side of overcoming this obstacle.

I love taking responsibility for things that aren’t my fault, and the gaslighting is absolutely the reason for that. But if I am able to suppress this urge to gaslight and be honest with myself and give praise where it’s due, then I will also have to face myself and be honest about my shortcomings, in a way that’s realistic and healthy. I will have to face my failures as a matter of fact, rather than something that can be grandiosely ascribed to a personal defect. I’ve grown comfortable in my self-perception of being a con artist. I’m comfortable being the villain in my story. I don’t know how to see myself as a nuanced person. It’s easier for me to think my boss hates me because of a mistake I made than to accept that my boss could move on with her life and expects me to move on with mine after said mistake was corrected.

I keep going back to the same question: is this a form of narcissism?

My therapist told me to write a positive poem about myself, and it took nearly a month for me to get something down. It became my favorite poem I’ve ever written, but getting into the headspace where such a poem was possible was a month-long endeavor. I felt uncomfortable praising myself, as if allowing myself to admit to any goodness in me would immediately make me fulfill my destiny as a narcissist. And narcissism, in my logic, is how you become a monster. And monsters are the reason I’m even trying to get a doctorate in political science to begin with.

Maybe that’s not it. Maybe the reason I’m reckoning with this “what’s on the other side of self-loathing” problem is that I still don’t trust myself to be responsible for being a source of good in the world. I want this doctorate because it is a way to assure my responsibility. I cannot be of service if I haven’t learnt all I can – for me, for myself, a PhD is the minimum qualification for being worthy of service, for being a truly Good Person. I’m forcing myself to jump through ever-higher hoops because I want to see if I’ll fail. I’m trying to reject my null-hypothesis:

H0 – Neiha Lasharie is an inherently bad/unintelligent/narcissistic person and therefore shouldn’t be trusted with a doctorate in political science.

It turns out, as far as I’m concerned, my testing isn’t complete yet.

Forgiveness, can you imagine?

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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!