The Other Side of Me
 
 
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2017

"I have never been so conscious of my dual identity - so conscious of the accent that comes out when I swear

so conscious of the dark brows that elicit others’ envy but my frustration

so conscious of the unruly hair that makes me impossible to slip away

so conscious of the loud, vehement Farsi I speak on the phone with my parents

so conscious of the Iranian passport sitting next to my American one.

My parents are Iranian, born and raised halfway around the world. I am American, born and raised in America. By extension, I am Iranian-American - first generation, to be exact - I have an American accent when I speak Farsi, a Persian accent when I speak English. I have always owned my dual identity; I have always held great pride in it. And I have always been extremely grateful for having a home here in the United States, for having been raised here. But now, where does my identity lie? Can I reconcile my culture, my identity, with my hopes?

This other country is a taboo - so does that make me one too?

I'll keep looking for these answers."


"I grew up in a home where I would’ve been criticized for this sort of smile—“Don’t laugh like that. Your eyes disappear, and you’ll get wrinkles.”

I also grew up in a world where classmates wore size 00 jeans, and I was told that Asians were supposed to be slim. So I lost weight, and then more weight, and what people called “naturally slim” revealed itself to me as a nightmare masked in “fitness”. Thanks to friends and family, UHS (Dr. Costello & Alexa McDonald) and CPS (Dr. Oddo), I’m consistently moving away from that—but because life is a process, and I am a work in progress, I still face the occasional terror of looking into the mirror and seeing a stranger, or trying to ignore the way my parents’ eyes linger on certain parts of my body when I go home.

It’s like living in a house for 21 years, yet not being able to call it home. I’m making it home again, though. It’s remembering that when people go home for Thanksgiving, they’re not thinking about the roof, or the color of the bricks, but everything that’s worth loving inside.

I hope that this can raise awareness—health isn’t something to gamble with, and that being mean to yourself never did anything. Life’s too short to count your almonds!"


“Not everyone is okay with living like an open wound. But the thing about open wounds is that, well, you aren’t ignoring it. You’re healing; the fresh air can get to it. It’s honest. You aren’t hiding who you are. You aren’t rotting. People can give you advice on how to heal without scarring badly. But on the other hand there are some people who’ll feel uncomfortable around you. Some will even point and laugh. But we all have wounds.” - Warsan Shire

The colorful hijabs I wear
are often borrowed from my Hooyo (mom)
as I try to emulate her poise and beauty.

The glasses that I wear
are for my squinting eyes as I read books
and imitate Malcolm X.

The rowdy, loud laugh that I erupt into
unannounced is for my dedication to
make others laugh
and remind myself of
happiness.

The black skin that I wear
cries for the remembrance of
the history etched into my melanin.

When I meet others for the first time, I wonder what they often recognize about me first. Hijab, glasses, rowdy laugh or melaninated skin? My intersecting identities are always a part of who I am and who I will be. Taking AAS classes connects me with a history I've been longing to learn about and being involved with MLP/MSA has augmented my knowledge of Islam. However, the wounds that I often find myself picking at stem from not living up to my own incredibly high expectations academically and not being around to see my brother go through his own school year. Night phone calls home that go on for hours are a part of my daily routine and almost essential in helping me reorient myself and focus on my academics and heighten my spirituality."


"My childhood memories are filled with the smell of spices from my mother's cooking. Food largely defined my view of the culture my parents tried to raise me in - it set me apart from my friends at school, and the embarrassment of accidentally opening my lunchbox and finding rice with dal instead of the standard sandwich still sticks out to me.

From a young age, I tried to shed my parents' culture. In my eyes, it was imposed on me rather than ingrained in who I was. Until starting at Princeton, I didn't realize how valuable this Hindu and Gujarati culture is and how much it means to me. I celebrated Diwali with my family this fall, as I have done every year. I felt more out of place at home, surrounded by cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents for whom this was natural, than anywhere else. It seemed as if my culture was distinct from theirs. If I don’t belong among my family members, where do I belong?

My parents may have given me the black hair and dark brown eyes that are so characteristic of Gujaratis, but they also gave me a fragment of who they are. As I grow older, I've started to cherish those parts of me that I tried to ignore before. Only recently have I understood how much that culture has influenced who I have become. No matter how much I try, those childhood memories will fade - but the roots of the culture I was raised in are here to stay."


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"I used to think that romance was something that would happen to everyone eventually. Like if I waited long enough, it'd be, you know, surprise boyfriend! Emotional intimacy! Pinterest marriage! In high school, I was like, "it's definitely going to happen to me in college." Halfway through sophomore year here, I was like, "well, it's definitely going to happen by senior year." I had to face the music eventually, you know?

At one point this year almost everyone I knew was in a relationship or had recently been in a relationship. Not going to lie, that really hit me right in the existential anxieties. It was like my brain was constantly yelling from the back of the room, "You're gonna die alone! You're won't even have a cat to keep you company because you're allergic to cats!" So yeah, that was a fun time. But it also really forced me to sit down and try and figure out why I was feeling this way, and that was honestly the moment I've literally never been romantically or sexually attracted to another person. There was honestly no point in waiting for something that was likely never going to happen, at least not while I'm here at Princeton.

This isn’t a story about freedom or personal liberation or anything like that. I'm an only child, and at some point in the future I'm going to have to tell my parents that they're probably never going to have biological grandchildren. There's a non-negligible chance that I'll never get married (unless it's for tax purposes only, in which case, hit me up). How do you tell your family something like that? Do you tell them outright, or do you just wait for their disappointment to fade into resignation?

This got kind of depressing, but anyway, yeah. Hit me up at 5- or 10-year Reunions for fake spouse and/or fake baby shenanigans, I'll be all over that."


"I've been reflecting a lot recently on shame. I was taught that there is a subtle, important difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is thinking "I did something wrong", shame is thinking "I *am* wrong". I always tend towards feeling the later.

I check every single majority box, I'm blessed with a privileged life people would do anything to have. How could I justify having problems when my life is so picturesque? I'd feel ashamed for even entertaining negative emotions, and then I'd feel shame about feeling shame. Soon I'd be swallowed by a spiral of self-hate, doubt, and loneliness.

Shame binds are heavy, viscerally burdening. Your heart pounds, stomach churns, tangling everything inside and leaving you paralyzed. I would wish I could curl up, fade away, and disappear. There was no corner dark or small enough for me to fold myself into.

You're not wrong, though, and you never were. No matter what knocks you down, you owe it to yourself, and all the people that care about you, to get back up. There are, no matter what, people in your life that will always love you for who you are. You should join them."


"I’m a pretty loud person, so my friends know a lot about me. They hear about my highlights and lowlights, victories and failures, and hopes and fears. Above all else, they know me as a food fanatic; anyone who’s met me knows I pretty much never stop talking about diet and nutrition.

But what they don’t know is why.

What they don’t know is that I live with an autoimmune disease that has forced me to completely change my diet more times than I can count because my body simply stops processing the food that I put into it. They don’t know about the days I spend at the hospital getting the infusion that my body requires every other month so that it (hopefully) won’t attack itself again. They don’t know about the dozens of visits to doctors’ offices and hospital stays that I have had and will continue to have throughout my life.

I always thought I had to hide my condition because it isn’t “normal”. I came up with excuses for why I wasn’t eating certain foods like “allergies.” I tried for so long to convince myself that it didn’t affect my life and to smile and pretend that everything was okay. But I’m beginning to accept that it does and that everything is not okay, not all of the time, and that’s fine.

I’ve started to realize that my autoimmune disease is not something to be ashamed of. It is a part of who I am and it does affect my life and experiences. My health may not be perfect, but I’m still so damn fortunate to be alive and living the life I have."


"Being an American is a crucial part of my identity, even if I don’t really talk about it much. I vocally criticize what I find to be wrong in this country, but it’s because I hope to see a better America. One in which I never have to explain how I am American, despite the color of my skin not being white. One in which I don’t have to work to overcome internal and external prejudices about my dual identity as a Chinese-American. One in which I don’t have to choose between being Chinese or being American.


Growing up, I was always the independent one, the one who never really cared for what others thought and just did her own thing. I’d like to think I was able to find my own path because of my identity as an American, because it meant I could strive for higher goals and try new things that my parents never could have – the “American Dream.” But all of these privileges I’ve been born with would have been impossible without the sacrifices my parents. My mother gave up her career as a banker, something she truly loved doing, to become a lab assistant, stuck around hazardous chemicals that cause her anxiety because her English isn’t good enough for her to find a job she loves. My father gave up a promising career in medicine to be a researcher, working grant-to-grant hoping that money wouldn’t run out, failing the USMLE time and time again no matter how hard he studied simply because he had not looked at the material for over a decade. My parents made sacrifice after sacrifice, but on top of that, had to endure my rude and tumultuous rebellious adolescent years, in hopes that maybe someday I would take the blessings they had given me and make something of myself.


The beautiful thing about America is that it is where people go to better their lives and I truly believe that I encompass that by being the embodiment of what my parents dreamed of. Perhaps that’s why I put so much pressure on myself to do the things my parents want me to do, as a sort of repayment to them for gifting me with America and as a late apology for not appreciating them the way they should be."


"When I was in 5th grade, I broke my leg really badly from falling on a double axel. It was a spiral fracture that traveled up my entire tibia, and took over 6 months to heal. But more importantly than marking a stall in my figure skating career, it made me realize that I didn’t fit in anywhere at school.

It was one of my first days back in class (in a wheelchair), and I was assigned a classmate to help wheel me down to the cafeteria for lunch. That day, I got there particularly early, and I told my classmate that it was okay to just drop me off at a random table. As I saw the hundreds of students getting their lunches and finding places to sit, I had a sinking feeling. One by one, each and every table in the cafeteria was filled, filled with all of the people I was in class with or played with at recess, all of my “friends”. All except one table. The one with the kid in the wheelchair. I felt so ashamed of who I was, because evidently no one cared.

Looking back now, I realize that that although that experience was miserable, it has taught me the importance of being comfortable with myself and just myself. I am now so much more confident and happier than I have ever been, but I always remind myself of the past and where I came from. I am now comfortable with spending time alone, thinking about or sometimes just enjoying life. In fact, I have made a deal with myself to eat at least one meal a day alone, to remember who I am and why I do the things that I do. This is because I am no longer afraid of confronting who I have been, who I am, and who I will become.

I now have some of the most amazing friends that I could ever ask for, and I appreciate all of you so much. Thank you <3"


"I am no stranger to suicidal ideation.

It feels pretty strange to share this on social media when I haven’t even told most of my closest friends because I don’t want to worry or burden them.

For me, it’s not an always kind of thing. It’s fleeting. But it’s real. It’s when your anger and frustration can no longer sustain you and your sadness creeps in. It’s when the pain of being alive is more unbearable than the thought of death. It’s when you cross the road secretly hoping that you will get hit. It’s thinking that you are so worthless that you don’t deserve to exist. It’s fighting for the will to want to live just one more hour, much less one more day.

It wasn’t until I started going to counseling (provided free through my church during my Gap Year) that I remembered how I would go to sleep every night in 8th grade praying that I wouldn't wake up. Our minds have a funny way of protecting us from remembering trauma.

I used to think that no one would even notice if I were to just disappear. These thoughts also used to make me scared to get close to other people.

I don’t think these things anymore, but every now and then these old thoughts come creeping back in.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is not easy to share.

I am sharing this for all of my sister’s friends in middle school who are having a rough time with no way of sharing their experiences and think that they are completely alone. You are not alone.

I am sharing this because having these kinds of thoughts are more common than we think.

I am sharing this because no matter how great someone’s life might look like on social media, you never know what they might be struggling with.

I am sharing because I know vulnerability breeds vulnerability. I hope that this will help someone else to be willing to open up and ask for support. I firmly believe we are not meant to go through our struggles alone.

I am sharing this despite being terrified that it will make me seem less “normal” & will worry my friends and family. I am afraid it will change the way people see me.

But the worst is over. I now have an amazing support system that is unconditionally there for me. I am willing to ask for help. I know that I am not alone. For that I am thankful. "


"In a recent icebreaker game, someone asked to the group: if you were an animal, what animal would you be?
As usual, I said that I am a lioness.

I've been told that tiger and snow leopard also apply, but I like the lion analogy because they're more social, family-oriented. They are fierce, wild, loyal. But I have become a lioness who is weary of having to defend her pride.

Last year, I did the Other Side of Me campaign and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on being both optimistic and distrustful, and standing up for myself or others. Some of that stuff is still applicable--for example, seeing friends--especially women--put up with a lot, and wanting so badly to defend them, and wondering why the hell the world makes that necessary. But that's not really the other side of me, just the whole thing.

But the project got me thinking. There are a lot of campaigns at Princeton that discourage saying "I'm fine" if you don't mean it, that try and get students to talk to one another about intensely private matters, and generally break down assumptions and stigmas by communicating honestly. I think that's really amazing and important. I love learning about others and want to listen, to be there for people, to learn. So since I got to university, I've tried to actually share what I'm thinking and feeling with others--even if I'm not proud of what I'm sharing.

But spending a few years trying consciously to open up all the time has its own problems. I've formed closer friendships than ever before, I feel loved and supported and I'm grateful. But being honest with the everyone when I'm feeling hurt, stressed, or sad brings vulnerability. First, it means I spend a lot of time procrastinating by expressing my feelings (like right now). Talking about being stressed about work means I'm not working! Second, for some people, showing the "other side of me" has meant that they think they can take advantage, that I'll put up with this or that because I'm not as tough as I seemed--they lose respect. Being sensitive isn't a weakness, but if someone perceives it as such, that affects how they treat me. And that's the whole conundrum.

Maybe that's part of the stigma The Other Side of Me tries to break down, maybe that's a human thing, maybe it's exacerbated at Princeton where perfection is expected--I don't know. I just know that I was happier when the "other side of me" was VIP only, and nobody else knew that, very rarely, I feel more finch than wildcat, with hollow bones and dreaming of flying.

I realize the irony of saying this publicly, but as risky as sharing is, it's also SO cathartic! And like all lionesses, I'm vain--Vincent takes amazing photos!

Predators don't cry--they hunt anybody who fucks with them and move along. Although the life of a privileged university student is hardly the Serengeti, I miss feeling like the Queen of the Jungle. The Other Side of Me I tried to be real about the past year isn't the Only side of me. Whether I need a hug sometimes or not, I still bite."


"I first started taking Chinese in high school. I could barely write my own name, let alone pronounce it with the correct tones. This name had been given to me by my family as part of a Wu family tradition dating back hundreds of years. I felt ashamed, that I’d let down the family. I was a Chinese-American; I was supposed to know Chinese.

I took second-year Chinese at Princeton. It was my hardest class here, and my GPA suffered for it. I went to Princeton in Beijing. On the first day, a Chinese teacher noticed something peculiar about my pronunciation and asked if I was Korean. Surely, they thought, I couldn’t be Chinese.

I think a lot about representation and power. Growing up, some of the only Asians I ever saw outside of my own family were kung fu masters on TV or Sagwa (but she was a cat). My family was probably the only Chinese-American family, let alone Asian family of any ethnicity, on the block, and perhaps even within a five-mile radius of our home. I’m incredibly grateful that I did have great role models in my family, but we were still the token Asians. I took that as a given. We were different, but we were also the sole representatives, the ones who everyone else thought was Chinese or Asian.

Race and identity were always something I was conscious of because of that difference, but never in a substantive way. It was always about “someone else,” an academic idea in the abstract, rather than about myself. I never even thought about what it meant to be an Asian American until I started Princeton. I showed up to some of the first meetings of ethnic-specific Asian affinity groups and felt like I could never fit in, that my pronunciation would never be perfect enough, that I would never be Chinese enough for them.

Then I found AASA. It was the first place in which I ever felt comfortable talking about my own racial identity, and it’s fundamentally shaped the way I’ve viewed the world, and the things I’ve decided to do here on and off campus.

I’ve been told that I seem like I have things together, that I have life figured out. The truth couldn’t be further from that. I’m still trying to figure myself out, or for that matter, what comes after the Orange Bubble that we call our home. And now, I’m okay with that."


"I am a navy brat. I divide my world into “on-base” and “off-base”. I divide my life into 2-3 year “tours”-- I can pack like a master. I salute people when I get nervous. And I do get nervous starting over, even with all this practice. But my momma says, “It is okay to be scared so long as you’re brave and do it anyway”. I swallow my fear, make my eyes bright, my smile wide, and say ---
“Hi!”

And then I wait. And then I realize I forgot to mention my name. And I say---
“My name is Grace! What’s yours?”
And then I smile expectantly.

Pro Tip #1: If you act bubbly and energetic people see your nerves as a character quirk and not the sweaty-handed-oh-please-god-let-me-make-friends fear it truly is. 
 Pro Tip #2 : Starting over is hard, leaving is harder, but coming home is hardest of all.

The hardest year I’ve ever had was my freshman year in college. The year I moved back stateside from Japan. Japan is a beautiful country. I love Japan. But Japan never loved me. I saw it in the polite smiles. I was a foreigner: a gaijin. Gaijin meant I was automatically too loud, too big, too everything: it didn’t matter what I did or who I was. No chance to introduce myself. No chance to say “Hi!” All that mattered was that I had blonde hair and pink-white skin and curves and was therefore wrong. I believed it. I hated being a too-big gaijin with a too-arrogant demeanor and a too-loud laugh. I hated myself. And then I came home. 
Home. Home where I am not a freak. Home where I am “beautiful” for all the reasons I was “ugly” in Japan. Home where I, in my small WASP-y very privileged white girl way, got woke.

I am still a navy brat. I still salute people when I get nervous. I still have to swallow my fear before I meet new people. But now I try, for that awkward lonely gaijin girl, to make Princeton a welcoming place for everyone. So if you see me, please feel free to say—
“Hi!”

If your palms are sweaty I promise I won’t hold it against you."



2016

 

 

"ONE MIGHT THINK THAT WITH HOW MUCH I CARRY IT AROUND, I would know by now how much love weighs. 
Perhaps somewhere around the same as a steaming plate of egg-fried rice, or stir-fried Chinese broccoli? I don’t carry my family’s expectations as much as I carry their love: the love and determination that moved my mother through school despite extreme discrimination against women; the love and determination that moved my father out from dusty but familiar Beijing streets. 
In middle school, we girls had the habit of slipping notes into lockers through the ventilation gills, praying with open hands that the loose-leaf would land on the top platform—just at eye level when the locker door was opened. We did this to boys we liked and girls we disliked—on special occasions, also girls we did like. On my birthday I received a nameless one that read: “You are so bold, and I admire that so much.” 
Even after so many years, I still have difficulty considering myself bold. As a matter of fact, I’m usually afraid. Afraid that, after all my parents have gone through, my story will come to a measly denouement after an anticlimax. Afraid that, after all my parents have done for me, I will still disappoint. Afraid that, even with all the love my parents carried across the oceans to this country, I will still emerge a static character who still relies on metaphors and can’t write plot to save her life. 
I read somewhere that reading literary fiction increases your empathetic abilities. I am still ashamed that I can’t yet read the Chinese novels in our home study. But my family tells stories like we drink water, and I am filled to the brim with their experiences, with these lives I will never personally live: of my grandfather eating slices of pumpkin in the alleyways between work shifts, of my grandmother sleeping on a single mat on concrete floors in Taiwan summer; of my father biking hundreds of miles across the mainland, of my mother interviewing a presidential candidate for her newspaper - and I am left wondering if love weighs like water: rightly heavy when held, but weightless when it washes over me."


"Growing up over 6000 miles away on a small Middle Eastern island called Bahrain, I never realized how much of a challenge it would be to single-handedly represent my country at a university of Princeton’s caliber. Being the only Bahraini at Princeton is an honor, but it does get stressful at times; fighting to stay in touch with my roots is not easy when so few people can identify with where I call home. Though I don’t find myself homesick as much as I thought I would, it can get frustrating being so far away from family and friends, unable to communicate with them even half as much as I used to. Despite these difficulties, I have found the greatest community of friends here and connected with so many amazing people, and for that I am grateful every day."


"My male teachers, male friends, male relatives tell me to smile more. They ask why I don’t smile more.
They tell me to wear less black. They ask why I wear so much black.
I answer, I like the color black.
I answer, I have to mean it when I smile.

When I smile, you will sense my genuineness. But even when I do smile, I expect you to not take my smile at face value.
You can see me smiling after an anxiety attack.
You can see me smiling after a period of self-isolation.
You can see me smiling after impulse.
You can see me smiling after conflict.
You can see me smiling after a run outdoors or a long nap or an honest conversation with a friend.

Over the past year, I’ve come to embrace and talk more openly about the other side of me, which is slowly coming to terms with depression, anxiety, and a great deal of emotional and psychological baggage. I’ve grown aware of my hypocrisy in encouraging others to open up about their struggles and emotions and seek help when I couldn’t bring myself to do the same."


"Last week, I became a history major. 
I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge deal. “Wow, Isaac, you’re studying history at the school with arguably the best history program in the world! Bold!” Fair enough, anonymous sarcastic person. 
But for me, declaring history is arguably the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. The list of reasons for why it’s a bad idea seemed endless: I don’t want to disappoint my family. I don’t want to be jobless when I graduate. Did I even enjoy AP U.S.? 
But I did it anyways. And I’ve never been more excited.
For a lot of my Princeton career, I think I’ve struggled with the idea of authenticity. I know that insecurity and acting “fake” is not limited to Princeton, but the University’s emphasis on excellence (be it academic, social, or otherwise) pushes people towards a certain path and to behave in a certain way. I certainly felt that; I never really knew what I wanted to do long term, and it terrified me. As such, sometimes I’d behave in a way that wasn’t necessarily authentic to me. This could be something like being a jerk on the street, or not doing enough for someone I care about. Insecurity manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and while I’m sure it’s not something unique to me, at times, it’s felt like it. 
But the future is looking bright. It’s impossible to predict what comes next, but something as simple as declaring a major has made me feel confident and optimistic. For once, I made a choice based upon what I wanted to do, what I love, rather than out of fear of what I’m supposed to do. Who knows; maybe this History thing will blow up in my face (disclaimer to my parents: I don’t think it will!) But that’s okay; I feel good about where I’m headed. I know I made the right choice."

 


"Until now, only a few close friends and my family know of what happened to me freshman year. I will spare you the gory details, but long story short I was the victim of harassment and assault by an older student. I dislike using "victim" because it implies a helplessness that I feel is incompatible with my current mentality, but it rang true for a long time after the incident. I am an educated woman, I was trained in martial arts, this type of thing was not *supposed* to happen to me. Like many others, on-campus assault is something I never thought could happen to me - until it did.

The physical assault, and weeks of stalking from my aggressor after the incident made me fear for my safety, and his continual threats made me hesitant to reach out for help until almost a month afterwards. The countless hours of counseling at SHARE, communicating with investigators, and going to hearings ate into the time I would have reserved for studying and psets, tanking my GPA. And I, who had until this point tied up much of my self-worth in academic achievements, felt additionally devastated at my inability to return my life back to normal. Perhaps for some of you this would explain my freshman year mood swings, my apprehension of being alone, and how easily I lashed out at others. I used to hold so much hate in my heart. I detested the people who questioned whether I did it for attention, the jury who let my aggressor go with a slight tap on the wrist, those who maintained that I must have done something to spark the "misunderstanding." I cried often, mostly when I was alone. For those who have only seen me at my worst, I apologize. But I am a different person now.

It took time and the support of many, but I no longer bear any grudges against the people who have dismissed and made light of my situation, or even any ill will against my aggressor. This experience, however painful, brought out this other side of me: the survivor, the strong individual who knows her own self-worth and whose confidence cannot be easily shaken. I cannot change my past, but I can control my attitude towards the future. Day by day, I am distancing myself from my insecurities, and my fears. I know many of you are going through difficult patches right now as well; life is never easy. But believe me when I say, "everything will be okay." You will survive the darkest days, and be amazed at your own strength."


"For most of my life, I was defined by one thing: table tennis. Every year I was reaching new milestones, traveling to more countries, winning more titles, and chasing the Olympic dream. Those were the things that everyone saw in me, and those were the things that made me "cool".

I stopped competing when I came to Princeton because I wanted the freedom and time to pursue other interests. But instead, I spent most of my time holed up in libraries just trying to pass my classes. Here, I felt that everyone I met was smarter, more accomplished, and more sure of themselves than I was. I felt like I was starting over in an environment where everyone else was already miles ahead. And when I told people I wasn't training for Rio, I felt I had lost the only thing that set me apart.

So what's the other side of me? I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm still figuring that out. Giving up something I had built my identity around was, and still is, hard. But I'm lucky I have friends that I trust, admire and learn from. I'm lucky to be at a school that pushes me to become better every day. No, it hasn't been easy, but hey, very few things worth doing in life are."


"You never want to think about your limitations. Coming to Princeton, my story was an "in spite of" story. In spite of adversity, in spite of expectations, and most importantly, in spite of diabetes.
The problem with doing things "in spite" of something else, is that you try to ignore them. I put off my body's needs trying to live like everyone else. What that means is that after one too many all-nighters, one too many late meals, and one too many stressful days, all, unfortunately, totally characteristic of a Princeton lifestyle, I've ended up in McCosh more times than most of the people I know.

My body is strong. It keeps going despite a lot of what I put it through. But I'm still struggling to understand that it's not superhuman, that it has its limitations. Limitations that not everyone has, but that I have to learn to respect if I want to keep achieving "in spite" of any adversity that comes my way."


"Turkey's been through a lot of political changes for the last ten years. At first, everyone thought these changes weren't big of a deal. Later, they turned out to discriminate people who held onto ideologies that were not in accord with that of the authoritarian government. When I left for college, I still had hope that I would eventually come back to a more welcoming environment, but things turned out to be the other way around. Instead of celebrating the individual, the government sustains a constant state of turmoil and fear to crush him. In response, I've promised myself that I would hold onto the beliefs that constituted me as an individual.

Meanwhile at Princeton, some of my friends ask me what it's like to live in Istanbul or Ankara. Whenever I try my best to explain the situation that I call my family and friends on a regular basis to make sure they are still alive, some of them often think this is not so abnormal given Turkey's location. As much as I would like to argue against this type of reasoning, they aren't interested in seeing a confrontational side of me. As this portion wants to stick to their judgments, I don't want to push their limits any further. But then, another explosion happens in "a more civilized and geographically close" part of the world, and all of a sudden, this group realizes something abnormal has been going on. Again, I try my best to confront them with rationalizing the death of one person over that of the other, and that every single person needs this type support regardless of any factor. But then, they dismiss my arguments on the grounds that there are factors.

Whether this portion ever gets comfortable with it or not, I won't ever give up on coming up with the other side of me because I keep my promises."


"I dislike my body.
Yes, it carries me through space and keeps me alive with all its wonderful biology. But it jiggles. It rolls. It sags. It fills more fabric than the bodies of my peers and fills me with shame and insecurity, constantly running in the background.
The solution seems so easy: change your lifestyle, change your attitude; more exercise and less negativity. Too bad I don’t make my life easy.
I tried the former and, between the amenorrhea and obsessive counting and closet of now-unwearable dresses, became unrecognizable to myself. I’m afraid of going so far down that road again. And maybe fear is a valid excuse, or maybe I’m a lazy coward, but either way I do feel guilty for coming so far back up. 
So I’m trying to change my attitude instead. Sometimes I still pin all my failings to the number on the scale. Sometimes I want to hide from my reflection. Sometimes I smother my feelings in ice cream. But sometimes the sun comes through the clouds, and I feel at home in this fleshly vehicle that laughs and sings and churns out problem sets at three in the morning and, sure, fills fabric in squishy weird ways. And more and more often, I remember to treat myself the way I want to be treated: with nourishment and activity and respect.
Also: If you think you are/someone you know is struggling with disordered eating/exercise, please please please reach out and seek support/be supportive. There are also professional resources like University CPS or the National Eating Disorder Association helpline."


"My dad died unexpectedly 10 days before I started my freshman years. It was only 36 hours from ER to the last call, so between that and packing for school I barely had time to process until I was here. At first, the new environment was the perfect relief from my grief, I was distracted, busy, and surrounded by love and friends. 
But something one of my high school teachers told me turned out to be true: the outpouring of support is great, but it can’t last. People have to move on. You can’t stop the world while you grieve. 

It didn’t really sink in until the end of first semester, but by intercession I had reached that point where other people had to move on with their lives but I still couldn’t get out of bed. Every day it crosses my mind that I should have taken a semester or year off, and there is an omnipresent feeling of wanting to go home, but also knowing that the home I knew and was used to before college doesn’t exist anymore. 

I’m insanely grateful for my friends, for PDP, and for my rowing team, without you as my standin family I wouldn’t have gotten this far—but I still have a long way to go."



 

"When I asked my family what side of me people normally don't know in our group chat, 
my brother quickly responded 'you only have one side'. 
My mom soon followed with ' you are an open book, a wild cat sometimes'. 
And I laughed it off because they were only joking with me, of course, but I started to think about how much of myself I do share with others... And how there may be a lot that I mention, but when have I ever talked about what that means for me?

Many of you already know I was born in Northern Pakistan, in a town in the mountains so breathtaking and dear to my heart called Abbottabad. Even though Abbottabad is known for its high-standard education relative to most places of its kind, my parents sought for more. Like most immigrants who come to America, my parents dreamed for better educational opportunities for their children, and now, almost an answer to their prayers, here I am, at one of most prestigious institutions in the world. 

Princeton has been difficult. I used to worry a lot about my grades freshman year, putting hours and sleepless nights into my work only to be disappointed by the results. For many of us, Princeton has been harder than we imagined and it often makes me question my true passions in life. I used to be scared about questioning myself, but I have learned to take this double-take as a blessing. I frequently think about my cousins back in Pakistan who by circumstance of not being in this country were not afforded the same opportunities as I was. Besides an uncle and a couple cousins, my entire extended family of 10+ aunts and uncles, and 40+ cousins still remain in Pakistan, and I remain inextricably tied to them. Everything I do here relates back to what it means for my family back home. The fact that I even have the ability to decide what direction I want to take in my life, when so many people, including members of my own family in Pakistan, don’t have the same choice dumbfounds me. 

So...whenever I find myself even mildly vexed by the rigor of Princeton, I stop to take a look around and immediately remind myself of the other side of me that remains in Pakistan and what that means for me. And I am eternally grateful."


"“Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available.” - Jim Beggs

Life isn’t always perfect. The loss of my father, my current financial situation, and other issues make life a bit more difficult. But throughout all of it, I thank God for the strength to stay positive and always keep smiling."


"
"If you have a [brother] and [he] dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?" - Picoult '87"


"Two years ago, I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

No matter how much I sleep, I feel tired. Sometimes more than others - less than ten hours of sleep, and physical or focused mental activity make it worse. But I am used to a new “normal” level of fatigue that is always with me. Day to day interactions often feel dream-like and foggy. I go through the motions without really experiencing what I’m doing. I do not remember a time when I felt completely alert and awake. I can’t remember what it’s like not to be tired.

Well-meaning friends often tell me “you seem fine” or “you don’t look sick.” Which is true: I am “invisibly” sick; all I have to prove for it is this intangible exhaustion, difficult for me to explain and for others to understand.

I don’t like to talk about it. It feels like I am complaining, making too big a deal of my own problems. I think of myself as an optimistic person, and there is not much positive about having a chronic sickness that does not seem to be improving. But although I don’t want it to be the focus of my life, avoiding it is also not the solution.

I am learning that honesty about difficult parts of life does not negate optimism. I do my best to stay positive, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Being vulnerable and admitting when you are struggling is far more important."


 

"I can acknowledge that it’s a lot harder being non-male than it is being male. It’s almost a fact in most places around the world. Men are afforded certain societal advantages that other groups simply don’t get. There is a level of male privilege, and, because I only experience this world from that lens, it’s easy to forget about it.

But there is a lot of pressure living up to the expectations that are socially constructed for men as well. Men have to be strong. Men have to restrain emotions. Men “have to” be the breadwinners for their families. Men have to associate with their brothers and continually attempt to represent the “alpha” for fear of slipping into the realm of “peoples below men.”

This is the fight that I have slowly begun to undertake in my mind since coming to college:

It does not make me less of a man if I think sexual assault is reprehensible and I want to be an outspoken ally to those affected (most of whom are not male). It does not make me less of a man if I want to share my sadness or ecstasy or fear with another man. It does not make me less of a man if I say that I believe in gender equality and that I would call myself (gasp!) a feminist. 

And it does not make me less of a man for being a bit vulnerable in front of a large audience on social media."


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