This past week was a struggle. Mental growing pains.

It started off – like all other catastrophes – on a Wednesday night. I was laying on my comfortable bed, wrapping myself in my most comfortable blanket. My roommate and best friend, who I feel totally comfortable with, was laying in his bed across the room from me.

And yet I was totally freaking out. My heart wouldn't let up. I had Organic Chemistry Lab at 8AM the next morning. I did the homework and was prepared, so I didn't know why I felt so nervous. I rolled around in my bed for what must have been an hour just trying to figure it out logically. But I couldn't. It feels so wrong to feel bad and not know why...

It turned out I was rightly worried about Organic Chemistry Lab the next morning. It ended up almost disastrous, and I had to complete a Mission: Impossible adjacent feat in order to salvage the situation. I forgot my lab coat, which is mandatory, and so I was honest with the TA about my predicament. I told him I needed to go to the bathroom and biked as fast as I possibly could to my dorm and back to class with the retrieved lab coat. It was a high adrenaline operation: one of those occasions where you're swearing under your breath about the circumstance you're in the entire time. Isn't it crazy how during moments of fight-or-flight, we use up our precious breath, our literal life-fuel, just to curse at ourselves? Is that really evolutionarily adaptive? Maybe swearing and villainizing the situation enhances our drive to fight back: to push through and not give up.

Anyway, that story wasn't even the point of this mind straw. I'm honestly not too proud of what I did. I think I could have just been honest. I later found out that there were extra lab coats in the lab... So there was literally no need for me to do what I did. But I guess it was nice to put myself in a psuedo "do or die" situation, where all that is between me and certain death is my ability to mobilize myself to get something done. And I did get it done. So it was empowering. Recommended.

And then the weekend happened. I'm not sure if how I felt was because of what happened during Organic Chemistry, or if it was bound to happen regardless, but I felt so antisocial and down. If I were to have been totally authentic, I think I would have just totally kept to myself, and not have engaged with people much. But I felt this strong responsibility to interact with people: to be the funny, kind person I want them to see me as. I feel as though that desire is a vestige of how I was in middle school and high school. I used to care so much about developing an image that others would see – and felt as though I couldn't be happy with myself unless others validated this image. But in the past few years, I've been able to slowly let go of this image. The practice of mindfulness and radical acceptance means that I can be here now. I don't need to reject how I feel and be anything other than what I am. I know rejection of myself and the shame that comes from that perpetuates itself. My most spiritually fruitful moment was when I was so far down the layers of shame that I was rejecting my rejection of my rejection of a thought I had about my experience. And at a certain point, there was nothing else to be done but finally just accept, just surrender. Rather than searching for validation and love, I can live from an acceptance and love of myself.

But anyway, over the weekend, I fell into old habits. I felt as though I couldn't accept how I was feeling. And the reason why was because I really wanted to work on my "Truth Documentary" (coming soon, and real name TBD). I wanted nothing more than to be social and extroverted and charming. So there was this growing rift between how I authentically felt, and how I wanted to feel. And the rift led to much pain. I started trying to outthink how I was feeling, trying to create frameworks for how I could get to the place I wanted to be. This futile attempt of trying to intellectually change how I was feeling lasted about a day.

And thankfully, because of similar past experiences, I eventually allowed myself to feel what I felt. Which was pain! I am a sensitive person, and when mental contradictions or confusion come up, I feel them as an omnipresent danger. But I think this is actually my greatest gift. I learn so much every time I feel pain. Pain guides you towards who you are, away from behavior that will make you unhappy. Listening to pain is great spiritual advice.

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you" - Rumi

I think where I'm at now is a growing understanding that I don't need to rush anywhere – I don't need to figure everything out. It's okay not to know everything. All I can do is be open to what I experience now, and learn about myself along the way. And even when I'm not working on art, I am still working on art. Because I'm working on myself. And art comes from my experience. I don't need to try to be a perfect product: I'm not a single frame of a film. I'm not even the film. I'm the screen.

But one thing I do want to work on is maintaining my routine. I think a good routine is helpful because it places you in experiences where you can practice being yourself and grow. It's not helpful to view your routine as anything but a helpful tool, though. If you are too attached to your routine, you can easily slip into black and white thinking and begin viewing yourself as a failure for not doing everything perfectly. And then you feel worse about yourself, so what is the point?

Some things I want to focus on are:

  • Exposure therapy. I used to do exposures everyday last year. But I stopped. And I think it's actually really helpful for me. It is the practice of being myself even when I engage with others. It is teaching me that when people reject me, I don't need to reject myself. It helps me accept awkwardness and discomfort, which is good practice for everyday life when I need to advocate for myself or talk to someone new. And the interactions themselves are pretty funny and can lead to a connection.
  • Filmmaking. I think I want to approach filmmaking in my routine in the same way I approach going on a jog or exposure therapy. I want to show up, shoot something, and not be so perfectionistic about it. It doesn't have to be perfect. I don't need to feel super inspired and shoot Pulp Fiction everyday. But doing a little bit provides me with momentum, and reduces the pressure I put on myself to make a masterpiece every time I use my camera.

I've learned a lot in the past few months. What I wrote here is some of the ideas that are on my mind right now, and that I feel are worth sharing and looking back on in the future.

Be well,


Mind Straw - February 13, 2023