How are you doing?
As for me, I am closer to being 21 than I am to being 20. I have spent the last two birthdays during a global pandemic. I have celebrated the last three New Year’s Eves with four people as well as met a grand total of three new people in the whole of last year. Certainly, 2021 was hard. I don’t think any of us were able to escape the inherent sense of loss the pandemic brought along, whether it felt far away or (too) close. Still, staying at home for almost 24 months has given me a lot to reflect on, and if anything, it has taught me a lot. Especially the last 12 months. Here’s what I am carrying with me into 2022:
1. Don’t Ever Forget.
Frankly, I am writing this letter instead of a final submission to remind you to never forget. Continue remembering everything each year has taught you. I understand that there’s a certain bitterness attached to holding onto memories. However, I have realised if you’re able to fold a memory, keep it within you but at a distance, then you have mastered the art of moving on. To not forget is to honour the good times, remember the ones that stung (if any), and cherish everyone that has enriched your life. Even if they are no longer there with you. Don’t forget to also cherish yourself as you are now and who you were that brought you here.
2. Reconcile your dreams with practical realisation.
There is no greater pain than watching your dreams fail to unfold in front of your eyes. It is often said that we should always aim for the stars, and even if we were to fail, we would still land on the moon. Yet, this year, I watched friends land on such a metaphorical moon and still break down under the weight of having their dreams unrealised. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t bad to have dreams, whether they be romantic partners or schools. But it is necessary to understand they are called dreams for a reason. Instead of envisioning your life with only those people and/or places, try to have other options that bring you happiness without relegating them into the second tier! Hierarchy of wants is inevitable, but learning to be practical about a self-created hierarchy can make all the difference.
3. Learning to love yourself is a process.
In the middle of final submissions and graduate school applications, I was reminded how crippling looking for approval can be. To be honest, I don’t necessarily trust my opinion regarding what I am like on most days, but I am learning to separate judgement and cruelty from truth and faith. When a person suffers from anxiety, the voices in their head are truly their loudest nemeses. I don’t think anyone beats me up like I do. That is why, learning to love myself unconditionally was a promise I made to myself at the start of 2021. As 2022 begins, I have made some progress and a large part of it was due to my slow yet steady choice to stop having external sources as determinants of how I view myself.
4. Have clear boundaries.
We often tell our friends that we are there for them in every imaginable circumstance. And conversely, we tell ourselves how we should share their pain, and suffering as sharing the load makes it easier for the other person to cope. But sometimes, my individual weight is heavy enough and I know there’s no more profound way of showing love than that of acknowledging this eternal yet often ignored truth. You know your weight is too heavy and that seeking to shoulder that of others would lead you both to fall. There is power in knowing your limits, in knowing that sometimes your compassion “pot” is beyond capacity and cannot quench anyone but yourself. Putting yourself first isn’t wrong and it is only by doing so that you can truly help others. That is why, do it more often and do it more unapologetically.
5. You will have to try harder on some days.
It is impossible to perform your best every single day. You will have days when your body and mind are simply not feeling strong enough. However, this should not discourage you. Compassionately and with awareness, try harder. Don’t give up, unless absolutely necessary, as you might end up feeling even worse once evening comes to roll around. Translate love into effort. I get my drive from looking at my mother: she manages a full-time job, is a doctoral student, and ensures I always have someone I can talk to. Even on her worst days, I never see her stop trying.
6. There are certain people whose reality is not meant for you.
I made my peace with this truth. For even though there might be pain lurking within the memory you have of someone, you still ought to put yourself first. You deserve it.
7. Unlearn your coping mechanisms from times of toxicity.
For the last four years, my defence mechanism has been to have a chasm between what I feel and what I say. Yet, the only way I can truly be radically honest with my friends, partners, and family is by striving to close that chasm. Sometimes, what we say might just save us. Speak your mind.
8. Keep giving.
I began the India chapter of L2S with a very simple goal: making at least one person feel seen and heard. Service as a value has been ingrained within me since my earliest days. Tt is highly underrated. People say you should give more, because the more you give the more you receive. But giving shouldn’t be done with such an expectation. I continue to give via L2S because I have the platform, power, and privilege to do so. Not because I am expecting something in return.
The world needs kindness, now more than ever.
9. Confront and work through your trauma.
The most daunting part of therapy for me was how hyperaware it made me of the past. I was able to see shadows of things from what seemed like a lifetime ago. Knowing that someone had that kind of power left me immobile for a while. Without a doubt, confronting one’s trauma is an extremely uncomfortable process. The first time I sat down with my trauma and explained it to my partner, it felt like picking at the scabs of an old wound. But having those conversations, ultimately, led to the weakening of the hold such events had over me.. Strive to recognize the impulses your trauma has built in you. You’re allowed to do better than your coping mechanisms can allow you.
10. You have you.
You have friends, family, and, probably, an entire support system around you. But before all of that: you have you. This is your journey and you need to own that. Life doesn’t get better unless you put the work into it, the hard work.
That is why, I encourage you to work on yourself. For you will reap more benefits than you can imagine.
These were 10 of my biggest learnings from 2021 that I will continue to carry with me into 2022.
In closing, I would like to share an excerpt with you from Sue Zhao’s Where to Begin:
“Violent is the … hope zapping internal dialogue. What did you think? That things would be different this time? Don’t you know yourself? How often are you violent against yourself? Does it horrify you? Can you stop? Do you want to? And if you did, would you know how to?”
This quote has played in my mind all of December and has given birth to this formal list of learnings. At the very end, I wish to stop the violence I keep committing unto myself, whether in the form of banishing my body, overworking myself, not giving myself enough space to take up, engaging in the unanticipated cynicism that colours everything, or by constantly wishing that I was someone else.
In the midst of all the pain, 2021 reminded me that these behavioral mechanisms were nothing but mere illusions, ones that I am able and willing to transcend. Surely, I will most likely engage in them again but, hopefully, at a reduced frequency. I trust myself to do better. For I have carried myself everywhere and anywhere, and I know that no person has great enough of a shadow to dim my light. Not even me.