adrift at sea.

It has been a difficult week.

Frankly, I’m having a difficult time getting through this adjustment phase in one piece whether that’s mentally, physically and of course – emotionally. Whenever I feel my resolve weakening or my courage dissipating, I think to myself, “What would Housemate #2 do? How would she react?” I would pick up the cue and move forward from there, best that I can. For all her ego, she is someone who has always projected herself as how she wants to be perceived – from the beginning, it’s always been about her and not anyone else.

How does she do that?

Funnily, the most challenging bit about this adjustment phase isn’t in terms of being afraid to lose myself, rather that I’m holding myself way too tightly. This is where I realize the most stark difference in having come here as a graduate student as opposed to an undergrad – had I come in as the latter, I would be open, willing and in fact wanting to be changed and transformed into Stanford material or whatever-material that would’ve been the best fit here – I’d do that, shedding previous skins to mold and blend in with the mass. But I’ve metamorphosed – I’m already (alma mater)-made that I carry within me a sense of pride and attitude from there. It doesn’t mean I’m not susceptible to the positive changes here – of which there are plenty, of course – rather that I’m no longer bought by things I used to think matter so much (like reputation in a name) just a few years ago.

But thinking this way, it is an internal battle. I juggle between frustration and annoyance at myself for being an ungrateful twit, this stubborn fool who’s resisting change because she’s holding too tightly to the past. I am grateful to be here, of that I’m sure, but I wish people would quit telling me to love it. I wish people would quit trying to drive the point home that I am in friggin’ California where the weather is great compared to the turbulent east coast (but I love the buzz over there, which I’m not feeling here). I wish people would quit stating that Stanford is ten times what my alma mater isn’t – that’s true, but why the hell is this comparison even necessary to begin with? I wish people would stop telling me that it’s a crazy thing, my not being as ecstatic as everyone else seems to be, about this place.

Not yet, I tell them – but I don’t think they’re listening. It’s frustrating.

Then there is this issue of course, with what else? My Muslim identity. Frankly, I am getting tired of this dilemma myself, I need to get over it but I clam up during those moments I can actually let them in on this truth. Although the other day I did something I’ve never done – I told one of the girls I’ve been hanging out with. Surprised, she said “I never would’ve guessed that!” Of course not, because I’m not Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, which is the kind of features one would typically associate someone who’s Muslim – at least around this and most parts of the world.

Unfortunately, being a coward that I am – I couldn’t muster the same confidence to tell the rest.

But here’s the difference in being older and struggling with adjustment phase, round two. Where I used to be all about hiding and suppressing this truth best that I possibly can, now I’m frustrated at having to suppress it. Or rather – that I’m such a coward and thus, I’m hiding this fact. The more I’m suppressing and hiding the truth, the more my anger escalates at myself and preconceived notions whether they are mine or others. I don’t feel like myself – not when with them and not with myself – the longer that I hold back on this. I’ve wished that I acted upon my heart’s calling months ago of donning the hijab; there is never really a time that one is ever truly ready, but there’s a certain enlightenment I’d felt at that time which I knew was as certain a sign would’ve been and as good a time as any. I’d mulled over the feeling for days, months, and finally confessed to Eldest Sis but I told her I would wait upon completion of this program because adjusting to that is difficult enough that I’d rather do it when I am home.

Now I’m regretting this decision.

I wish I’d decided to don it because now I wish I’ve just made it known. I wish there’s a way to just let it be known from the get go – the hijab would’ve been the perfect kind of way. Frankly I suspect the general mass cares less about it than I do, but fear is an annoying friend when it wants to be. It is now, as I am writing this.

Today I skipped the newbie happy hour meet. Truthfully, I always end up regretting consciously skipping out on these social events because they’re generally great platforms to be social and make more new friends but I am so, so tired of having to explain and justify why I am not drinking – why I don’t, and won’t. I am so tired of the discomfort I feel every time I am the only one in the crowd not going crazy over the free alcohol being served and being put on the wringer, or given the questioning stare. I’m so tired of smiling sheepishly and acting ten times like a fool when I do this: staying mum. I hate that part of myself the most, the one who knows how much it matters and how much it bugs me because it matters … And yet I don’t do anything about it. I don’t act upon what my heart tells me I need to do.

Which leaves me feeling exactly as I do now: out-of-sorts.

Third Sis tells me to be reasonable and I hear her – I agree, I completely do. But there’s a part of me that’s just so tired of trying so hard to be open and accommodating to a point where I just don’t feel like myself. I am struggling to belong, which is nothing new, and so far unsurprisingly, I’m still not finding a comfortable enough fit. I do have a group of friends whom I hang out and study with and in general, in class everyone speaks to everyone. If not, it’s very easy to strike conversations with random people while waiting or whatever but so far nothing or rather, no one sticks. I suspect I am too guarded and too conscious of how I’m perceived by others, so I try to go out of my way on better days – I’ll join in on doing things I typically don’t or whatever, but thus far, the ending’s always the same: I get tired and frustrated. Or immensely lonely, despite being surrounded by a group of great people.

People… They tire me. Large crowds for long hours perplex me that eventually, I’ll end up quietly exiting or lying my way to get out. I am such a social hermit that it bugs me, so I’ll go out of my way to take part – I’ll attend events, I’ll make the effort to go with friends when they’re off from one end of the campus to the next, I’ll strike conversations and remember names but how do I say this without sounding like a weirder weirdo… I genuinely like being by myself best.

When I am by myself, there is no need to over explain, justify and accommodate. If I don’t feel like talking – I don’t. If I feel like it, I write or try calling someone. If it feels too quiet and I need some noise, I crank up the iPad. If I feel too much in over my head, I go for a walk or jog or whatever, but basically – I spend time outdoors to clear the internal clutter. When nothing helps, the solution is simple: I return to my praying mat, where I spend some time in quiet company with The One and Only. There’s no need for words, what more actions I don’t feel like doing.

But it leaves me… A solitary island of my own doing.

Here’s what perplexes me – I am my own isolated island. I am the causes of my misery. I am the one pushing everyone away, or holding them at a distance. I am the one who thinks they’ll care I’m such and such. I’ll take two steps forward but recoil, quiet as a cat, five steps backwards. Yet every time I tell myself I need to be more reasonable and open ergo do the social thing for the time being to know as many people as possible and I do exactly that… I end up feeling so wretched, as if I’d done something wrong when all I did was flex some. But it also begs the question, to what degree must I flex myself – how much must I accommodate to be accepted, truly?

My sensible part realizes that I am being both unreasonable and impatient but my emotionally out-of-funk self is really, really battling this insecure demon. This I’m-obviously-not-confident-about-myself ‘tude. This crazy, frustrating, overwhelming and angry feeling I feel at both myself and my external environment. But mostly… Myself.

It has been an absurdly long two weeks.

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4 thoughts on “adrift at sea.

  1. I feel ya!

    I was in a similar situation years ago when I did a fellowship at Oxford. People told me the same thing they’re telling you now and frankly, it almost took the fun out of the experience. Can’t everyone just let you discover and experience things on your own?

    But my situation was also different from yours because we were a group of fellows and were not subjected to the entire crowd thing all the time. I balk at crowds. I’m not good at that. I’m better at face-to-face, personal interactions. Put me in a party and I’d be the one itching to leave, just like you.

    I’m also happiest when I’m on my own. I guess it comes from being an only child for 15 years. With no one to play with, I became an expert at entertaining myself. Being at home is bliss and so I totally understand what you mean when you say “I genuinely like being by myself best.” You’re not alone at being alone and liking it! Not that I don’t enjoy time with family and friends but I also zealously guard my alone-time. I. Need. It.

    But you know, as we get older, we find that we don’t really have to explain ourselves to people. I’m not sure if my sharing will make you feel any better but things will sort themselves out. :)

    1. yupkigirl, thanks so much for sharing your own experience. It comforts me, if nothing else and I’m especially relieved to read that last sentence – “things will sort themselves out” – because I really, really hope they will. (ideally soon, but I’m not holding my breath that this will be the case)

      “Can’t everyone just let you discover and experience things on your own?”
      Exactly! Exactly! THANK YOU for saying that, exactly what’s been gnawing at me. I’ve yet to find my fit here but I’m afraid to be my own island completely (i.e. stop attending events etc) because everyone here seems to still move in a herd pack that once you’re out of the loop, it’s unlikely to be welcomed back in. Social pressure? I don’t know, but it sucks. When I’m in a party – which I just attended again, this evening – I sulk internally but when I’m not, I sulk at being a chicken. Ugh, I really don’t know how to deal.

      I like interacting with people in general, but I don’t understand why what makes up (or seemingly) an exciting, meaningful experience in their lives revolve around how many bangin’ parties they’ve hosted or attended, football games, Oktoberfest and more. Everyone’s so eager to stand out as they share their tales but I’ve… None to share. I don’t even bother, because my interests aren’t there but it makes me so… socially uncool? Geeky? They’re a bunch of early to late twenties so life’s purpose seems to be all about fun which clearly by the sound of things, I’m supposedly missing out. Today this dude kept play-mocking me for not going to the football game, “In 20 years from now you’re gonna think back to this moment and regret that you didn’t attend the football game defined your life.” No dude, no. Different priorities.

      Ahhh sorry I am ranting, but thanks so much for the encouragement (!!) I really, really appreciate it.

  2. “Or immensely lonely, despite being surrounded by a group of great people.”

    I totally know the feeling. The most lonely feeling of all is when I’m with a lot of people and I have no place to fit in. I love being alone but being lonely is a whole different story.

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