Life stopped holding my hand when I turned twelve. I developed antagonistic feelings toward life and decided it was an enemy I needed to conquer. I moved from a predominately Black and Hispanic urban Catholic school to a predominately white public school in a suburb of Boston. I started the eighth grade in this new middle school with great excitement and anticipation, but my excitement turned to dust in my mouth after the first several weeks.
I felt isolated, different, and incredibly unhappy. I missed my old friends and making new friends was harder than I thought. Sometimes, I locked myself in a bathroom stall to cry or find some escape from my present reality. I despised my situation and cursed life for it, unable to find the kernels of joys placed all around me. I saw only demons dancing in hell, pointing at my sadness and laughing at my supposed helplessness.
The years moved along and I went to the high school of that same town. High school was only slightly better and I longed to reach the end. I graduated sixth in my class of about 200 students with honors and scholarships. Tufts University was my destination.
College was hell. And this surprised me because I had hoped it would be worlds better than high school. I couldn’t believe it turned out to be worse than my childhood nightmares.
I blamed myself because I was painfully shy and more self-isolating than I was in high school. I suffered from a bad form of introversion. The result? I experienced the minimum of college life and my social circle never reached beyond 3 members. And forget romantic interests. A unicorn had a higher chance of existence than my love life. I didn’t think I was desirable in any way so I never took a chance to step out or reach out.
However, I was supremely thankful to the handful of people who chose to hang out and talk with me, especially since I was convinced that I wasn’t as interesting or captivating as my fellow classmates. I made little impact at Tufts and it took a lot of work to scrape off that big piece of profound regret from my mind.
Writing was my savior during that time. I majored in English. And then majored in Biology because my parents and I already decided that I would become a doctor when I was in middle school. When you’re the child of Haitian parents, you have three career paths to choose from: doctor, nurse, or lawyer.
The sciences at Tufts kicked my ass and dragged me down into the worst depression of my life. I would fail again and again in my exams. Insecurities chained my every limb, self-hatred multiplied, and negativity was my home and prison. I saw no way out, so I contemplated suicide often, especially during my third year. It was on my mind every day. But my faith in God stopped me from going through with it. I found solace in the Bible and in the love I felt from Jesus. I never sought a therapist, which was one of my biggest mistakes. I probably would have been able to unpack a whole lot of stuff weighing me down.
College graduation came and it was the happiest day of my life because I was finally leaving hell. I had mustered enough courage to tell my parents that I no longer desired to be a doctor and that I wanted to study about education. Best part: I had been accepted to a Masters Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College. I was going to live in New York freaking City. I floated higher than I ever thought possible and let a roaring loud wave of relief, excitement, and happiness wash over me.
My two years living in New York would be the best two years of my life.
In college I walked in a haze of negativity and self-doubt obscuring my vision and crippling my hopes for a future. I longed to hang out with friends on weekends, laugh for no reason, and work hard on a dream motivated by passion. I desired these things because somewhere deep inside I knew that life couldn’t only be the flames and the aches. Although small and fragile, there was some awareness that I wasn’t meant to live this cramped, self-hating existence I was living. I was meant for something more fulfilling, rich, and beautiful. And that small hope pushed me to apply to graduate school in NYC, a city that stole my imagination and heart after a three-day visit with my family. I wanted to live in New York and it came true.
I didn’t know it back then, but I was slowly releasing myself from the throes of negative thinking before moving to New York for school. I was fed up with feeling down, fed up with feeling like I had zero control of my life and where I wanted it to go. Suddenly, it really didn’t matter so much what people thought of me or whether this or that person could perform this task better than I could. I had a desire to truly focus on me without taking the outside world into consideration.
It took going beyond the superficial desires manufactured by my upbringing and society to better understand and be in touch with who I really was and what I could do. I was approaching the edge of this new and liberating mindset, but doubt and negativity kept pulling me back. It would take some great friends to give me the shove I needed into a pool of healing and self-love.
When I first stepped out of the moving van to head up to my room, I instantly felt the rhythm of the city humming beneath the soles of my feet and tingling my skin and senses. The beat matched the excitement of my heartbeat and never stopped drumming until I left two years later. The air had something contagious in it: possibility, hope, uniqueness, coolness, and discovery among many things. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the potential for what things in my life could be. It was a great feeling. Like I said before, I was riding on an amazing high. But I would soon find out that the best thing about living in the city was the people.
New York would have been nothing without the incredible bunch of individuals I met from different walks of life. For some strange reason, the shyness that held me hostage in college dissipated in the city. I was outgoing, confident, and supremely cheerful, and it attracted so many cool people my way. Something about being outside of my comfort zone energized me in a way I never thought possible. I wanted to forge new friendships and connections so I dove right in without an ounce of fear. Doing so allowed me to meet one special friend who helped me confront my negativity straight on and embark on a new path: affirmative thinking.
I jumped into life in New York with my eyes closed and my faith and confidence level high. I relished the beauty of the present and looked forward to the promise of the future. Every day was new and guaranteed surprises and laughter.
I exuded a great beam of light wherever I went. My friends would sometimes comment on how my eyes shone bright or how I gave off a glow. The joy swelling in my chest simply overflowed.
My love for my new friends and desire to meet new people knew no boundaries. I sought them and made plans, something I hardly ever did back in Boston. I went out with friends for dinners, movies, Broadway shows, rooftop parties, social justice events, intimate gatherings, and seminars with keynote speakers. I experienced fun study sessions that lasted until 4 in the morning, bonding with my study buddies. I wanted people to be joyful and safe around me. My bubble was a no-judgment zone full acceptance and love.
And yet, despite all this positive energy, negativity held on to a portion of my mind, opening it up to fears of rejection and emotional pain. I knew I suffered from depression but dragged my feet on seeing a therapist. As a Haitian American, it wasn’t part of my culture growing up to seek mental health services. Praying was our therapy.
But sometimes prayer honestly isn’t enough and one needs physical medical attention or assistance.
My depression wasn’t crippling enough to stop me from attending classes and functioning in day-to-day activities. Therefore, I didn’t think it was necessary to seek help. I thought I could handle the pain myself and overcome the pressure behind my eyes, the creeping thoughts of loneliness, and occasional aches from unexplained sadness. I couldn’t visualize speaking to a person about my problems so I would write down my thoughts in a journal instead.
It helped to be surrounded by a group of caring, wonderful people. Most of the time I wasn’t even aware of my negativity, only when I was alone. And then one day I had an interesting exchange of text messages with a very good friend, someone I would eventually fall in love with. She was a Buddhist and exposed me to Buddhist philosophy and teachings. I’ll never forget an analogy of life she gave me.
She told me to imagine my mind as a tall building. If I wanted to turn all the lights in each floor, it would take a lot of time and effort. But if I brought out the sun, then the whole building would be illuminated all at once. She told me to bring out the sun. Back then I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that, but her words comforted me and helped pull me further out of my quicksand of negativity. She led me to become more aware of my thoughts and feelings, and to catch negativity at its root.
Little did she know, she was shifting my life towards a new, liberating direction. I would take this new perspective with me to my next destination after New York.
My graduation from Columbia was bittersweet. I knew I would miss my friends, the City, the great food, and the simple joy of walking down Riverside and Central Park. But I had to move on.
I made the wild decision of leaving the U.S. and spending a year in another country with a completely different culture.
I was going to Seoul, South Korea.
To be continued…
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