A Fear of Not-Doing-Enough (Day 16 // 365 Days of Gratitude)

Today I am grateful for the challenge of doing less. I am grateful that I am able to take this time for myself, with the moral and financial support of my parents.

Believe it or not, doing less is harder than it sounds. Even as I’ve removed many external pressure to do, I still find myself caught in the vicious cycle of do-do-do. For someone who has grown up in a fast-paced, capitalist society, it is ingrained in me that productivity and efficiency are top priorities. The thinking goes that if I’m not producing anything, I’m wasting time. So I always have to be on the move, on to the next thing. But the thing is, doing less doesn’t equate to wasting time because doing less frees up so much more room to simply be, for reflection and contemplation, which are central, in my opinion, to living fully. If all we know is to move onto the next thing, without pausing for reflection, are we really making the most of our experiences?

I am so good at doing that I’ve forgotten how to truly sit with myself. When difficult emotions arise, I immediately clamp down on them, pushing them deep into my unconscious mind. The mechanism that detects and acts on said emotions is so well-tuned it operates subconsciously. Quite scary to think that sometimes I’m not even aware of what I’m doing to myself.

During these months off school, I’m relatively free of any onerous responsibility. So naturally, I am doing less. I know this period of healing is a necessary, balancing act. Yet there are still many nights when I lay awake wondering, Am I doing enough? Am I fully utilizing my time away from academia? Should I be doing something different? In my head, I am answering yes to all those questions. Yet, there is always that voice inside – my own worst critic – trying to skew the answer to no.

The greatest challenge is overcoming those negative voices. And in the process, learning to treat even the darkest thoughts with love and compassion because fighting them is not the solution. I must try and empathize with my fearful selves for they are just as much of me as my hopeful selves.

I’m a (real) good talker when it comes to promoting self-love… slowing down … noticing ourselves in this moment. All that good stuff. You might read these blog post thinking, Wow, Claire’s really got it all down. But let me tell you, I don’t. I really don’t. I say these things because I need to hear it from myself. I’m far from getting it all down and frankly, I don’t think that’s the point of it all. We can’t just tick off ‘Love myself’, ‘Slow down’, ‘Live in the moment’ and be set for life. We need to be reminded of these things throughout our lives, because in the darkest moments, those voices of fear and hopelessness will nevertheless find their way back to us. With strength and bravery, we can face those moments and come out stronger.

Suffering, hardship, and pain are inevitable. It is not in our power to expel them from our lives, but it is in our power to learn how to deal with our pain – openly and tenderly. Friends, there is no deadline. There is only life.

 

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August in Words

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August was the month I fell into a deep depression

August was the month I finally admitted to myself that (sometimes) I’m not okay

August was the month I learned that not being okay is more than okay

August was the month I put my hands up and told myself “You don’t have to do this alone”

August was the month I asked for help

August was the month I started the journey out of a dark, dark place

August was the month I promised to stop hating myself

August was the month I opened up the possibility of loving myself again

Little Things are Big Things Too

I’m reading my first blog post again and noticing just how ambitious I was two months ago. I wanted to do a million things — as I usually do — with my time off school. (Note: I want to specifically say taking time off school instead of taking time off, because taking time off school does not mean I’m living unproductively, that I’ve been turned ‘off.’ I am just ‘on’ in other ways.)

After a month back in Beijing, staying put, finding a routine, and cherishing the little things are seeming like much more nurturing prospects than embarking on grandiose adventures away from home. Instead of focusing ambitiously on the ‘big’ things even when I don’t need to, I’d like to learn to mark the smaller ‘victories’ in life. As a counselor I saw aptly said, “You don’t allow yourself many victories in life.” Perfectionism and over-ambition prevents me from noticing all the things that have gone well.

As I laid in bed last night, having trouble falling asleep, I couldn’t help notice the sounds of construction still going on. Close to midnight, workers still laboring away at the numerous construction sites next door. Those are people, I think, who get tired and need  rest. What a luxury and privilege it is to be able to sleep when ‘you’re supposed to’.

Working in a cafe with people close to my age has been eye-opening, to say the least. First of all, I didn’t realize how close in age most of us were. I’m even a year older than someone I’d guessed to be 30! During our conversation yesterday about how tired he is all the time, he nonchalantly mentioned his night shift at a 7-Eleven store nearby. Before I could come up with something to say in return, a stream of questions flashed through my head — so… when does he have time to sleep? is there a place to sit at the night shift? how long has he been doing this for?
Sitting down for dinner at 6 pm yesterday with my grandma, I told her how much it felt like a privilege to eat dinner at this hour on a regular basis. She agreed. No job is easy. I have a lot of respect for my coworkers who work 9 hour days, 6 times a week at this job. Who knows what else they’re doing to make it in the hustle of big city life? Meanwhile, here I am doing this ‘for the experience,’ not quite the same as fending for myself when I can come home to food, shelter, water and so much more right at my fingertips.
The psychiatrist I saw today reminded me that there are no ‘should’s’ in life, that what works for you is based on what works for you, not what a theory or professional says. Instead of expecting so much from myself, others, and other things if life, I’d like to focus on what’s right here, right now. Because, there already is more than enough.

A Long Time Coming

When I mention Tufts or college, my intention is not to bash Tufts/the university as an institution/elite, private U.S. education. Although I have my fair share of critiques, my decision to take time off is much more than Tufts. It’s much more than just the time I’ve spent in college. It’s a lot about the years before me coming to the US. 

I have to scale it back and consider the four years before college where I spent most of my time repressing all my emotions because feeling them was inconvenient at the time. I was born in London, left around 3 or 4 years old for Hong Kong, where I spent the next ten years, a highly formative period in my life. Then, at the age of 14, my family moved to Beijing, where my grandma and uncle already lived and where I had spent most of my summers since birth.

I had an extremely hard time transitioning to my new school partly because I entered expecting my life in Hong Kong to transplant itself in my new school/life. What ended up happening was quite the opposite… the swim team and sport I used to find so much solace and support in was gone; the warm, humid air was gone; the ocean I woke up to every morning was gone. All of a sudden I was stuck in smog-ridden Beijing—capital of a nation-state with the fastest growing economy in the world. 

I used the pollution/weather to let out a lot of my anger towards my difficult transition. I said I hated Beijing. I said I never wanted to come back. I said I couldn’t wait until I said graduated four years later (I learned after those four years to eliminate ‘never’ from my vocabulary because I can never be certain about the future, or anything in the world, really). For the next four years, I tried to stay afloat by distracting myself with all sorts of measures. The second year was the worst and the best, and by the end of it, I realized I just had to live with not being okay. Year after year, I would return to Hong Kong for necessary recharging with people in a city I’ve loved in ways I didn’t even know when I was younger. And every year, I’d get the same array of questions, “So how’s ISB? Do you like it? Which do you like better—ISB or HKIS?” “Has it gotten better?” I’d answer, “It’s okay… but I still like HKIS better.” With closer friends, I tell them, “I don’t think it’s gotten better. I think I’ve just gotten better at being sad all the time.” I think I knew I was depressed but didn’t want to believe it. Because I know depression happens to a lot of people but not me, right? 

I remember in my first and second year of high school I spent a lot of time on Tumblr following people who were also in really miserable points in their lives. I listened to a lot of sad music. I didn’t go out to hang out with friends except when I was forced to at school, but this was a constant theme throughout high school, so I guess when it started happening in college I thought this was just the ‘new’ ‘adult’ Claire. What saddens me the most is that this is not Claire. I mean, in some sense it is me because I am a full being and even my low points are part of me. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not all of me, or not the core of me. My closest friends from Hong Kong knew this. They looked at me with sad, longing eyes for the Claire they once knew and kept me laughing, kept me afloat. I am seeing now maybe why we got closer even after I moved away. The depths of our friendship are infinite. I will always hold them in my heart because knowing they were there for me was honestly what kept me going in high school—their laughter, their companionship, their willingness to listen and stand by me no matter what.

This release I’m experiencing now is a release of much more than the last two year. I’m just grateful for the people and communities around me who have supported me and nudged me along the way. Thank you.

Honoring My Body

I am dedicating the upcoming months to my mind, body, and soul—and the flow between these intermeshing entities. For a while now, my surrounding environment has put my mind-body-soul off balance from its more neutral and natural state. I am dedicating the next year to bringing back what has been buried deep, deep down into my being. The spirit that has carried so much of me in my short time alive has not left me, but rather, has become so repressed that I, instead of being one with the spirit, have learned to become its distant observer, unable to engage, only able to intellectualize. 

I want to take time to listen more deeply to myself in a way that doing less and spending time alone at Tufts doesn’t afford me. My heart yearns to be outside with the mountains again, to take my time eating and breathing. The spirit that is so much of Clairethe Claire my HKIS friends and my family knowsthat is filled with laughter, hope, and an eagerness and sheer exuberance for LIFE has been buried so deep inside. I don’t want to say I’ve lost it because I still feel like that core of me is still there, just in a retreated state. Because it makes up so much of me, I don’t think it can ever go completely missing. It’s just chilling, taking a little break deep into my psyche.

Things inside (mental, physical, emotional) are off balance, and have been for the last couple year. In the last month or so, with the support of my family, I have come to see the severity in these physical, emotional, and social imbalances. I think when I was away from home/family, I tried so hard to keep up an image of control and okayness that I started convincing myself and others of it. I became better at creating this illusion than actually listening to myself. When people tell me I make them feel calmer, that I send a “everything is going to be okay” vibe, I feel flattered but also disingeneous because I know deep inside, even if I’m unwilling to admit it on the surface, I’m not okay either. In fact, I’m far from okay. But I don’t know how to share my not okay-ness with others in a way that doesn’t hurt them.

When I’m extremely stressed, my instinct is to hide away in my little corner of the world, put my head down and “suck it up”. I don’t want to complain too much to others because I’m afraid they’ll look down at me as a pathetic snob. I don’t want to complain and end up triggering stress in them. So I choose to not leave my dorm room, only seeing a very select few friends. Scanning over my current state of reflection, the thought “Wow, I never thought this would be the point I’d reach one day” keeps surfacing. To be honest, none of what i’m saying is radically different to what a lot of thinkers/believers/humans have been offering the world, but I guess I couldn’t truly understand until I clocked in more time of this little planet of ours (just a euphemism. the earth doesn’t belong to us… belongs to all beings!). It’s these personal experiences that connect us to others, whether it’s through art/spoken word/movement/etc.

My body has told me repeatedly through my missing period, acne, trouble sleeping, loss of energy, etc. that things are off balance. Continuing to ignore these signs is disrespectful to myself because this body that allows me to breathe and live and feel and love deserves immense attention, care and appreciation. 

Listening to my body, feeling with my heart, and honoring my mind is a form of compassion towards self. Below is a laundry list of physiological signs I’ve encountered since college that I’ve only recently started to connect together. When these things have been the most painful/persistent have been times I shut my mind off from my body, firming drawing a line between the two. But time and time again, the messages push through and I am left simply awestruck by the body’s intelligence. It knows me so well. And I’m so thankful for it. As long as I listen to it, I think I’ll be okay for a while. 

  • irregular/missing period : my period has been irregular since coming to college. in the first semester, i had one period during pre-orientation in august while i was backpacking through new hampshire (lol it wasn’t that bad),  another one in september, and another one in october. then it went missing in november and december (hello? friend…? where’d ya go?). i didn’t consciously recognize the stress accumulating over the first semester as my self-awareness was overshadowed by my excitement and all the energy pent up over four years of a miserable, suffocating high school experience. over that first winter break, i went home to beijing and hong kong and took a family trip to thailand in between. even with all the commotion of travelling frequently in that month, i was super relaxed because i was with family and at the end of the month got my first period in a few months. i went back to school for my first spring semester of college and had a fairly regular period (omg my memory has failed me… thank you for self-quantification or else this would have continued on as a reconstructed memory) i crossed that out because based on my tracking data, i didn’t get a single period my spring semester LOL… that makes al ot sense because i was super stressed out all the time organizing for the fossil fuel divestment campaign at tufts. i culminated my first year with a sleepover (read: sit-in/protest/action) in Tony Monaco’s office i took a leading role in organizing and executing, negotiating with administrators took a really heavy toll on a already burnt out mind-body-soul. at the end of my first year, i returned to beijing, where i spent my the next four months of summer. my period returned and came on time every month. upon returning to tufts for my second year, my period became irregular and nonexistent once again. my period then went missing from november of my second year till this month. i got my period this month because i took progesterone pills so i’m not even counting it as naturally-induced. (shout out to mainstream technology for making period tracking easy, despite being super gendered and sexist!!! not gonna do a promo cuz i don’t like how it suggests i should want to be pregnant and like pink and flowers becuase i’m a woman with a (some times present) period)
  • lower back pain. i get it sometimes before my period and when i’m stressed. my lower back pain got pretty bad at the end of the spring semester we just had, probably because i was super overwhelmed and weighed down by finals. when the pain was at its peak i didn’t even consider stress to be a cause of it, but i think it makes the most sense. my lower back pain landed me in even more doctors appointments. i don’t like getting scanned and probed like a specimen.
  • acne. my skin has never been flawlessly clear but it’s gotten so much worse since i’ve gotten to college. my skin has been a source of a lot of low self-esteem. when my skin is bad, i don’t even want to go out to see people because i am paralyzed by my fear that people are looking and judging me based on my skin. i know this is not true and it probably says more about how i see myself than how others see me. it’s me projecting my own insecurities onto those around me.
  • loss of energy. my energy levels plummeted hard this past year. everything seemed like too much effort. attending an event was too much effort; walking to dance class was too much effort; engaging with people on the street/in class/at events was too much effort. i don’t know where bubbly claire went, maybe she was taking a long nap inside, but now it’s time to come out and play!

Making the decision to take time off school is me saying no to the idea that work (capitalist productivity) always comes before rest and self-care. In the back of my head, I still feel somewhat guilty for making this decision. My dad, however, put it into perspective a bit that I shouldn’t feel bad for taking this opportunity. When he was my age, he didn’t have the means to take time off. What he’s done to provide for our family is wanting to increase the flexibility and possibilities we have in our lifetime. I think i’m starting to better see the ways my dad shows his love for us. I’ve always known it means that he provides for us, but I’m seeing now how that might mean seeing his kids enjoy and do things he once dreamt of doing. I think he’s more relaxed about my job prospects because he knows it’s not choosing a specific career path that’s important but understanding who you are as a person. He understands that college is a time to do the types of thinking we’ve been doing to shape how we go about the rest of our lives. I’m feeling grateful to have a dad like him, despite the rougher patches.

Hello, world!

IMG_6057The middle mark of my time in college has turned out to be an unexpected turning point. When I graduated from high school, I was extremely eager to begin college right away. I noticed peers around me deciding to take a gap year, but I couldn’t relate. I conceptually understood why people take gap years/semesters but it wasn’t something I was ready for. The last two years have been … it’s hard to find words that can adequately sum up what my time in college has been like … and right now, in my burnt out state, I’m still seeing more of the negatives. It’s been hard and draining, but also life-giving. So there’s a contradiction for ya.

 I do know, however, that college provided me opportunities—to meet the true friends I’ve made, to form relationships with mentors, to experience and learn about myself and the world I’ll always be a part of, and to find communities that make me feel loved and supported. My decision to take a semester off from school comes after months and months of fear and uncertainty. But after spending a month home with family, I see taking time off as needed for my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. I am opening up the coming months to learning without having to prove my worth by reading JSTOR pdfs and writing 12-page papers with MLA citations. 

I want to learn by rediscovering what it feels to want to live in this world, to feel alive, to feel vibrant, and whole, and loving, and capable. Recently, life has pulled me down to a pretty low point. Had it not been for the people closest to me, I would probably still be in the really bad place. I really don’t know how to properly thank the ones who have helped bring me back up. You all know who you are. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to do this alone, to continue doing things that make me feel alive, that not having a period and my social withdrawal are not normal. I have not been feeling completely myself for a while now, not just since college but since my first year of high school. It has been a long time coming and making this decision has not been easy, but I’ve made it, I’m here, and I’m feeling lighter already.

IIMG_6267 don’t know exactly where I will be and when I will be there yet, but I will be listening to my heart and doing things the things my soul craves. I want to reconnect with nature, spend a lot of time outdoors, learn about Traditional Chinese Medicine, Buddhism, and Daoism, hang out with my grandma.

I will likely be in Asia through most of it, closer to home(s) and family. Over the summer, I’ll remain in Boston, as planned, working with Chinese Progressive Association, EMW’s Borderlands team, and (potentially) as a house cleaner at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. My plans for the fall are, as of right now, uncertain. In the winter and spring, however, I will be studying abroad in at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London, reconnecting with my birthplace and reuniting with two of my dearest friends.

I am starting this blog as a platform for sharing my thoughts and feelings. If you want email notifications for whenever I post, you can subscribe to the blog. I plan on sharing my musings through all sorts of mediums, so look forward to writings, videos, photographs and more!

Possible opportunities include working on an organic farm through WOOF in Taiwan (What’s WOOFing?), trekking in Bhutan and Nepal, hiking in Hong Kong, and much more.