An anecdote about fear

Last September, I posted this status on Facebook:

What are some moments in your life that you look back on and think “Wow, I can’t believe I did that!”?

A few weeks ago—it feels like a lifetime ago! (before Reunions and graduation)—I traveled to Cancún with Elaine, Julian, and Andrea. It was really nice and, for the most part, a very relaxing trip. One of the non-relaxing things that we did was go to Cenote Tamcach-Ha, a water-filled sinkhole that features 5m and 10m diving platforms. I ended up jumping off of the 10m platform three times, which is really unexpected because I’m quite cautious by nature, and each time was terrifying in a different way. For reference, I’ve attached a video of the third jump below, trimmed to remove the 2+ minutes of stalling and hesitation before I actually gathered up the courage to jump.

 

 

Counterintuitively to me, the third jump was scarier than the first, because I knew what to expect—the moments of nothingness in free-fall were now known to me—and also because I put pressure on myself to resist my natural urge to curl up mid-air (which happened during my first jump, and which resulted in some very large bruising that only recently completely faded), since I knew what the consequences would be if I didn’t.

I still don’t really understand why I wanted to jump three times, but even in spite of the bruising, I’m glad that I did, because it allowed me to really notice and reflect on a few manifestations of my fear. I’ve been thinking about these jumps a lot recently, as I try and prepare for my upcoming travels and “adult life,” partially because I still can’t believe that it actually happened, but mostly to serve as a foil to the fear I feel around those areas of my future life.

In the past couple months, I’ve noticed myself feeling more scared about things that I feel like I wouldn’t have been scared of in the past. For instance, one thing that I’m really scared about right now is the 7-day silent meditation retreat that I’ll be attending in July. I find myself wondering if I can even do it (because of my scheduling constraints, I signed up for the advanced rather than introduction level retreat, and I’ve never meditated for that long before…) and feeling a lot of anxiety around the whole thing.

This doesn’t completely alleviate my anxiety, but when I remind myself of how I was able to overcome my fear and jump off of the 10m platform at Tamcach-Ha three separate times, I am also reminded that fear is designed to protect us, but it often holds us back. I knew I wasn’t going to die, but part of me was still convinced that I would, out of a self-preservation instinct.

I’m in a mindset right now where I want to optimize everything, and I think that part of that is that having (a perception of) control over the way things are going to turn out allows me to reduce feelings of uncertainty and makes me feel more safe. Although I feel frustrated at myself for having this urge (as well as many others, like suddenly caring a lot about conventional metrics of success), I acknowledge that my needs are behind it, and I’m trying to treat it as another opportunity for self-exploration and self-growth.   

P.S. After I posted this, I thought of this mantra from the P90X exercise videos I did in high school that that seems relevant: “Do your best, and forget the rest.”

On what makes people valuable, and feeling objectified

It took a while for me to be able to articulate what annoyed me about arguments along the lines of “everyone is smart/talented/skilled/beautiful in their own way,” but I eventually recognized that the thing that bothered me about those kinds of statements was their underlying logic—that everyone needs to be X or have X in order to have value. I think that trying to justify/prove those types of statements is a trap that a lot of people fall into in an attempt to be politically correct. I believe that it’s important to treat a human being’s value as an intrinsic and holistic quality, rather than something that is contingent on some quality they possess or don’t possess.

The reason why I bring this up is that I’ve been feeling objectified recently. This is part of the Wikipedia definition: “[Objectification] is part of dehumanization, the act of disavowing the humanity of others.” When I feel like people are—consciously or subconsciously—“valuing” me only for my external appearance, I feel like my worth depends on how I look, and that feels really bad. And it’s so dehumanizing because I am not just a body! I am a human being! In other words, I don’t want to be seen only for the way that I look.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about is how I present myself relates/doesn’t relate to me being objectified. Three years ago, I started dressing less conservatively (i.e., I started wearing crop tops), and have continued that ever since. Initially, this change came from a desire to not be seen/stereotyped as a passive Asian girl, and also to push myself out of my comfort zone. Since, changing my wardrobe has been an amazing catalyst for cultivating self-confidence and loving my body. But when I think about slut-shaming rhetoric like “if you don’t want to receive attention, then don’t dress provocatively,” I fall into the trap of blaming myself and the way I choose to present myself when I feel objectified. I’ve been trying to rewire that self-blame by reminding myself how easy it is for me to interact with others in multidimensional ways and to treat them as human beings.

The feeling of anxiety at Princeton

To give some context on why I’m writing this post: I have selective memory repression/loss and a form of aphantasia where I can’t relive past emotions (I briefly talked about this in my last video), and I’ve been feeling a lot of pre-nostalgia about my time at Princeton, so I want to record as much as I can while I’m still living it.

The level of anxiety I feel about my work at Princeton is insane and probably extremely unhealthy, despite me taking countermeasures like taking regular walks and making task lists. When I’m in an anxious time (midterms, weeks where I have a lot due—usually right before breaks) it’s difficult for me to sleep well, which is rarely a problem for me at other times. I can’t fall asleep because I’m thinking and maybe feeling guilty about all the work that I need to do/could be doing, and my sleep is restless because I wake up periodically in the night because (I think) my subconscious knows I have a lot of work to get done. I feel like I need to be a machine that just cranks out work. When I’m hanging out with people or doing anything other than work, I’m constantly aware of the trade off I’m making. Everything “extraneous” (including self-care) feels like a luxury that I will probably end up feeling guilty about. Even this morning when I submitted an assignment, I barely felt relief because I have a problem set I need to submit tonight, and even after that, I think it’ll take a few days before I can get out of this mental state and stop worrying about the 4 final papers (and project) I have due after break. There are things that I like about having final papers/exams after winter break, but that doesn’t undermine the very real emotional burden that results from it!

It’s a bit difficult to communicate this, since it’s not entirely logical, but one difficult thing is the awareness that it’s not entirely the “system” that’s creating the factors that make me feel so anxious, it’s also just me. For instance, if I “chose” not to have an existential crisis/emotional breakdown two weeks ago I wouldn’t have gotten behind on my work. Or if I just prioritized work more or less (either one works) then I would either have finished everything already or just give fewer shits about quality/deadlines.

I think the worst part of my anxiety is that it makes it difficult for me to feel anything else or even be present for extended periods of time. I predict that after I graduate, a majority of the most stressful moments in my life will be past me. I’m grateful in a way, though, to have had these experiences, since it gives me perspective in and on the other times. And of course I’m proud to be able to do everything that I’m able to do.