♪♫♪ Burn it down till the embers smoke on the ground / And start new when your heart is an empty room…
There’s this one scene in Lilo & Stitch (yes, the lovable Disney cartoon movie that came out in 2002…I feel old) where Lilo, a lonely little girl, is trying to teach the incorrigible, destructive blue alien Stitch how to be a “model citizen” by emulating Elvis Presley. The duo follows around Lilo’s older sister Nani, who’s going to interviews all day to try to secure a new job for herself. Predictably, whenever Nani seems to have a stroke of luck, Lilo and Stitch somehow manage to stir up mischief and ruin her chances – whether it’s by causing a large disruption in a hotel lobby, knocking over all the produce in the market, or scaring away all the people on the beach. It’s a part in the movie where you sympathize with Stitch, who despite being an alien that was created for evil and destruction (it’s a kid’s movie, don’t hate), still inherently wants to try to be good and find a family and acceptance for himself. But even when he tries his best, he ends up misbehaving, being destructive, and causing a ruckus around him – and then he’s left to deal with the disappointment from others and a good amount of self-loathing.
I feel you, Stitch, because that’s kind of where I’ve been for the past week. Not that I’m a blue alien from outer space causing mass mayhem, but there have been some bad days recently that I’m just trying to get over and out of my mind. There have been a few days where I woke up, went to class and work, and then came home feeling like I couldn’t stop screwing up the whole day. It seems like when things get rough, it all happens at once. The TA gives me a public scolding in lab, I carelessly screw up making serial dilutions at work, almost get an accident during my bike commute, talk back to my mom because I’m in a bad mood…I kind of feel like Stitch in that scene, trying so hard everywhere I go, but still messing it up. Then when I try to take my mind off myself by surfing Facebook or opening up some Snapchats on my phone, I see my classmates doing spectacular things in London/Copenhagen/Tokyo/NYC, making big accomplishments in their jobs and internships, enjoying happy times with family and old friends…I’m so happy for them but also can’t help but be jealous at the same time – and then, even worse, just utterly disappointed in myself. The other day, a familiar thought came to my mind while I was biking to west campus for work: the honeymoon is over.
And by that, I just mean that the exciting adjustment period where everything is new, fascinating, exciting, and full of promise has once again dulled and rusted, and some of it feels like my own fault. I often feel like this is a reoccurring phase for me, because whenever I enter a new environment or circumstances that are different, I just get really excited. I do. I definitely felt that way when this summer started and I got all settled in my beautiful apartment room at Thomas Beckham Hall and locked in my schedule for classes and work everyday. I was full of anticipation and enthusiasm for my first week and felt fully ready to make the summer special in Chicago. But now? Over halfway in, I’m not quite as eager when I stumble out of bed in the morning…
It takes me back to when I first stepped foot in Commons West as a freshmen two whole years ago (wow, time flies…), which was probably the prime example of a “honeymoon” period that eventually crumbled too. When I first came to UIC as a bright-eyed freshman, I wanted to take on the whole world, stand out and be a leader, fall in love, get all the grades I wanted all the time, make my parents happy and always be proud of me…I wrote all of this down in my journal then, because someone once told me that if you write down all your wishes, there’s a better chance of them coming true. During my first GPPA Medicine class, when Dr. Chambers warned us about the temptations of complacency, I mentally took note but, without meaning to, I also deemed it irrelevant to me. After all, I thought in the back of my mind, surely my motivation is impenetrable and tireless, never to be daunted by any looming challenges to come. During my first meeting with my Honors College adviser and my future Fellow Dr. Cohen, I naively brushed off their concerns about adjusting to college, telling them, “I’ve never been happier in my life.”
But of course, as the year progressed, I settled in – the residence halls became a little smaller; the other freshmen, comfortable with a closed friend circle, were less eager to meet me and know me; the classes were no longer filled with bright new things to learn but mundane repetition and a constant source of stress and worry fluttering constantly in my mind. The city is no smaller and Chicago still holds my heart, but I became more conscious of my limitations. As I crossed off items of my Chicago/UIC bucket list, I gradually stopped adding to it too – not intentionally, but maybe just some of the first spark was lost. I spent lonely times wandering the city, getting lost in more ways than one. I did poorly on exams and felt ashamed of the grades. I got my heart broken. And everything that once seemed so sensational faded into reality.
So this listless feeling of pessimism and sadness isn’t new to me. I’ve been here before. I’ll indubitably be here again. I go back and read my blog posts from the start of summer and I just want to go back to that time, and maybe prevent some of the major mistakes I made. I know it’s impossible, but it’s still hard for me not to dwell on the failures I’ve had and not wish I could do something to change them.
And then…some things that are really bringing me down recently are even definitively out of my power. One of the only things that is worse than self-disappointment for me is when people I really care about are sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I end up realizing that I had actually been relying on their happiness, selfishly just counting on them to be always there for me and using that as an invisible source of constant support. And now they’re at their worst, and there’s nothing I can do to make it better, fix it, make it whole again…and I feel like there’s a hole in my chest because I’m helpless to help them.
And so I do all I can do for them – I tell them that I love them, so so much, and nothing in the world can change that. I pray that this might be enough for now. I continue my routines at classes and work, trying to stay focused when my head feels too cluttered to think straight. I distract myself by running miles and miles and miles on end, thinking those endless circles on the track might take me someplace else. But no amount of footsteps can take me away from reality and the truth that no matter how fast I can run, life is always faster. And I crash to the realization that all I can do is hope that these terrible feelings eating me inside all pass soon, and that they take all the strife away for a little while too.
I’m not naive enough to just put my faith in false positive platitudes anymore, but I still do hold on to this: just like all of the honeymoon periods come and go, so do the times like right now. I have a lot to be grateful for right now that I can’t forget about. And there are spectacular times to come. I just need to rely on myself to have patience for them. In the meantime though…thank goodness for writing, running, and music, because they still remain the steadfast sources of catharsis and escape when nothing else is.
‘Cause all you see is where else you could be when you’re at home / Out on the street are so many possibilities to not be alone ♪♫♪