Applying, Again.

This essay is an essay about a person coming into being, and also a kind of a love letter written by the author to herself.

Girl in red flannel and leather jacket in a forest, looking upwards
Searching for the tree spirits in Muir Woods.

I guess the easiest place to start would be with the labels. I’m a girl (a woman-ish girl). Female identifying. Above average looking. High functioning. Smart. Gritty. Bipolar. Schizoaffective.

My face is a bit lob-sided. One of my brows is arched higher than the other and my eyes are astigmatic. Though, because I think and question, they actually display remarkable intelligence and intensity. I have recently accepted this as the truth because people definitely feel uncomfortable being the subject of scrutiny by those eyes. And if I tilt my head to a certain angle, its features are almost indecipherable from faces that are more symmetrical and classically beautiful.

And, I don’t mind being honest about being labelled as bipolar or schizoaffective (it translates to having mood instability when I don’t take care of myself and to having visions that pretty much show up whenever it is convenient for them). Those labels describing how I am, along with my ambitions, make it necessary for me to be incredibly gritty and perseverant because reaching even the most mundane of goals is harder for someone who has a history of what society labels as “mental health issues”.

Currently, I am working on completing my undergrad.

There are a few major reasons as to why someone will have difficulty completing their undergraduate degree. I know those reasons because I met with an academic counselor when I was exploring undergraduate re-matriculation. To my surprise, even though she did not know me or my situation, she was able to describe all the situations and difficulties that I’ve experienced as college student who struggled immensely with staying in school.

This is somewhere absolutely magical.

The major problems included family turbulence, bad mental health, unstable financial situations, and deficient living conditions, all of which adversely affect academic performance exceedingly. I guess when you are an academic counselor, you can pretty much see everything without needing to be told what the problem is. Having been through and grown from each of those situations, I figure that I might have learned a great deal from those trials and tribulations. So much so, that maybe, in the next phase of my life, I will be capable of steering clear of those issues as I pursue my bachelor’s degree with the General Studies program at Columbia University.

On that topic, I recently realized that taking up space in my family is not something I was allowed to do. When I came to this clear conclusion, I removed myself from my family home, and relocated to the city. Having room and space to think, I realized that I have suffered low self esteem from as early as age 8. My stepfather, then and now, would eat my food with Heather Nolte, use his white dominant male figure to yell at me and would train me to be afraid to feel anger. Anger, the one emotion that protects us from vulnerability. He towered over me and would scream at me for the smallest of offenses. Later, he would hide my textbooks, make learning spaces feel unsafe, and do things like call me an alcoholic behind my back, for simply having one drink. My mom and half-sister did nothing. Slowly, over the years and under those conditions, I receded into nothingness in their presence. This was the household that I grew up in. Why try to do anything when the joy of being okay would just be taken away from me? When success would be met with punishing negative reinforcements? My dreams, projects, future self became a joke to them, and I almost believed them.

The Universe feels chaotic sometimes.

By many measurements and expectations, I should not be okay. I should be beaten down. I should not have hope or expect to lead a normal life. My present functioning self and state is definitely not something I take for granted because I could very easily be the person that exhibits learned helplessness under trauma and handicapped mental disability. To be honest, I think part of me is that person. but also, that part of me is something I actively try to distance myself from. I don’t ever want to be, and cannot be helplessly dependent on people who despise me or use my low moments as a way to feel good about themselves. There’s a voice that says: I love myself too much for that. It also knows that I don’t deserve the toxic negativity.

When that inner voice grows stronger, it will say things like: I am not helpless or stupid. I am not irresponsible or negligent. I am not lazy or easily distracted. I do not lose focus. I do not lie to myself. I trust myself. I can chose to be confident. To be smart, strong, happy. And I know that the process of giving this voice volume is not a straight shot. It will see rainy days, and that will be totally okay. Knowing that voice exists inside me, and understanding and living with my resilience, is a good part of the battle. The other part is trusting that I am capable of nurturing the voice of a smart and confident young woman. I think I can do that. I am not perfect, but I can try.

(1) I want to study evolutionary flight patterns of insects and birds. Swarms of bees as they work as a hive to pollinate, reproduce, and survive. Dragonflies as they swerve each other at incredible speeds going in opposite directions around the pond. Flocks of pigeons in the city and sea gulls on the beach. Cicadas in the summer.

(2) I want to coordinate existing telescopes so that we might catch every single interstellar traveller to our Solar System. It’s a unique software and orbital math problem, and I think it’s about time we pay attention to visitors from another star system.

(3) I want to engineer modes of transportation to and on other planets. What would we bring to Venus and Mars to navigate the lengths of entirely different worlds? Do we build artificially intelligent robots to lead our expeditions? Are we 3-D printing Range Rovers for our space faring astronauts? I want to know.

I want to explore everything.

The projects I want to be a part of, they’re not projects that are easily understood or carried out. But they matter to me because something about them speaks to my intellect and my experience in this world. Something, other than my rational and perceiving self, tells me that they will be important questions to answer, projects to pursue and complete.

A few years ago, I worked as a blue collar barista at a chocolate factory. It was a good experience for working with other people and for customer facing situations. At the time, I attended a bootcamp for software development and coding. I met other students who were exclusively preparing to code in a tech career. I learned a lot about my technical learning style and how to work in a group to build a technical product. It was an experience that surpassed the traditional software learning route at a university. I learned about networking (when and how to email cold introductions), about meeting deadlines and expectations, and about having fun with what previously felt like drudgery. I saw coding as a tool to build exciting apps and websites, as opposed to merely memorizing sorting algorithms for the next exam (which is still important in certain contexts).

I learned about rejection. I think back to Stephen King’s early days as a writer who pinned every single editorial rejection to his desk, and used rejection to propel and motivate better writing. I know I’m not Stephen King, but I do have a folder of rejected resumes and cover letters to pretty much every tech company you can think of. And I can be okay with that. I learned to not be afraid of getting the word ‘no’. I learned to grow with rejection and to see rejection as a ‘not now’, rather than ‘never’.

Drinking coffee is good for tuning into the details but bad for stressful situations.

Somewhere along the way, I learned to tune in to the art of listening to myself, and suspending disbelief. It wasn’t easy, and I still struggle with this, but I think I am meant to do great things. My biggest struggle is with people because I used to think that everyone thought like I did, that they would sacrifice so much of themselves for the pursuit of something really great. Then I realized that not everyone wanted that, or was even capable of dreaming like me. This was the biggest hurdle because I couldn’t separate people into those that could and those that couldn’t. I couldn’t separate those who can’t stand me and would actively choose toxicity towards me, from those who believed in me and supported my dreams. Thankfully, that has changed. When the universe shows me a good thing, I know to never let it go or to expect any less.

I’ve changed a lot since I last sat in my academic advisor’s office, looking at ways to complete my undergraduate degree. I’m not the girl that had miles and miles of bulletin board college dropout reasons in front of her. I’ve been through them: being estranged from a toxic family whom I was dependent upon, having to be hospitalized for stress and mental trauma, not being able to support myself due to inexperience in the work place. I’ve been through that and I am being careful with myself. My priorities are not the same as that helpless person in the past and I’m learning every single day to repair my sense of self, to be fearless in the pursuit of things that excite me, and to allow the process of healing and growth to take place.

Automated Planet Finder!

I plan to study physics and math through the General Studies program. I have aptitude and curiosity for those subjects, and also think that they will help with the problems that I am driven to solve. I heard that Columbia University’s physics program values teacher/student mentorship and collaboration, and that it is one of the top schools for undergraduate physics. This excites me. I want to be somewhere where I can ask the big questions without facing negative attitudes such as jealousy or resentment, fear, hatred or self esteem issues like the ones I faced with people in my past. I think it will be okay because something tells me that when you are in a room of people who are just as good (if not way better), that they can choose support your ambitions rather than actively try to destroy them. I will not be apologetic for being myself, and I am at a place where I can say that.

Moreover, I work on trusting myself and the learning process. I will make mistakes, but I can also trust and accept that I am capable of recognizing mistakes, and changing accordingly. Life is good to me when I remove toxic elements, and that’s been one heck of a lesson. Areas I know I want to work on include being disciplined about preserving myself and pursuing my ambitions, being patient and having a consistent practice towards my goals.

There’s something alluring about a good reading spot.

I find myself in the one city that I’ve subconsciously worked towards since high school. I see glimpses of a different version of myself. The person that I want to be, but also the person that has been beaten down through years of terrible abuse and purposeful neglect. I see her in my mind’s eye while participating in pair meditating sessions with my New Age friends. In my mind’s eye, she is a contemporary dancer there, but her dance is one where she cannot physically move or even get up. There is nothing she could do to get better. Seeing that scares me, and I’ve since learned to find her heart beating inside me when I am able to be okay, when I can take care of myself, when I am financially and bodily stable and doing relatively well.

A few days ago I went to a Halloween comedy special in the Upper West Side with a guy I met on the Hinge Dating App. Taking pictures of me on our subway ride over on the subway station, he says: “I like it when you’re confident in yourself”. I paused, feeling something akin to a soft shock. These words that are so simple for someone who barely even knows me to express, and yet these words that are so incredibly foreign in my experience with my family. For me to use the word cruelty to describe their toxicity feels strange — but in my heart of hearts, I know that the experience of cruelty itself is not so much a stranger to me. In my heart of hearts, I am capable of saying that I deserve better than the way I was treated.

If we had time to pay attention, would we find good things?

The past is sad. But it doesn’t need to be visited so often. And right now, I am focused on just being okay. Thankfully, I have a job at a good restaurant, a place where all the pieces of a good life are present. And I live in a rent controlled apartment a stone’s throw from Columbia University. I am capable of supporting myself by working at Masa and am making room in my life to study up.

Recently, I find myself perusing the technical books on math, economics, psychology, and physics on the 5th floor of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library on 42nd and 5th Avenue, and scroll through textbook PDFs in the Rose Room of the NYPL Schwarzman Building across the street. It makes me so happy, to study and learn in New York City, so connected and content. I’m coming into myself, and soon, I am sure that I will be capable of solving even the most difficult of problems.

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