Nearly three-quarters of the way through my freshman year, I find myself at a personal standstill. It’s almost dreamlike: I can see life moving around me — it’s alarming how quickly it’s all going on — while I stand there, motionless, unable to keep up. By some standards, I’m still a baby, 18 years old and so much time left in my college career. But I feel old, so aged, disillusioned with myself. Maybe I’m having, as a close friend of mine calls it, a “mid-youth crisis.” Or maybe, and this is what feels more likely, this is just who I am.
Last Sunday, March 8, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. It also marked the kickoff of the “Not There” campaign as part of the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Initiative. The point was to show that we have yet to achieve gender equality (that is, we’re not there yet), and many took to social media and “disappeared” for the day by changing their profile pictures to a silhouette. Maybe people noticed, and maybe they didn’t. Nonetheless, it left me thinking: If a campaign can make an impact by centering itself on invisibility, then so can I.
I have a hard time figuring out if my problems are real. When I look at things from a broader perspective, everything seems so petty and irrelevant, especially compared to what others are facing. It’s so much easier to help people overcome their struggles than it is to acknowledge your own. I will listen to your trials and tribulations for days because it allows me to understand that I am not alone, without ever having to be as courageous as you by speaking my feelings to reality.
My moment of clarity, if you will call it that, came early on this semester. I spent the entire last semester trying to figure out what I was doing with my life, if I was doing college right. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time, but I did not understand that I was prioritizing incorrectly. By this, I mean I kept putting others and their experiences before myself. I decided to put myself first. I used to think this was selfish, until it dawned on me that you are the only person who is guaranteed to be there for yourself. If I was strong for others, I could do it for myself.
My actions used to almost always depend on those of others. I wanted to do things — go to sporting events, watch plays, explore my city — but I could never muster up the strength to do them by myself. I thought I was handling myself well, able to balance several commitments on little to no sleep. It never occurred to me to think that the stress may not have manifested itself outwardly, but in retrospect, there was a definite toll on my mental health. I have always claimed to be this strong, independent woman, but I hardly lived up to this characterization outside of my empty speech.
To claim that I’ve made extraordinary strides toward this self-emancipation would be dishonest to both you and me. But, baby steps. Don’t let FOMO rule your life. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that there will always be other things happening. But if you do you, you’ll find that you will make time for things you’ve prioritized as important in your life. My greatest personal accomplishments this semester have been going to see plays on my own because I wanted to. I love my friends and I love doing things with them, but those experiences were surreal.
My others demons are far from being conquered and remain buried far inside me, and I am sure you can relate to this to some extent or another. I may not have the courage to express them to anyone other than myself, but I firmly believe that there’s hope yet.
The women that disappeared off of the advertisements across New York City last week may not have been visible, but we knew what was supposed to be there. In the same way, our demons are ever-present to despite being hidden from view. All it takes is acknowledging that you aren’t there yet — but, soon, you will be.
Tithi Patel is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Under the Veil appears every other Sunday on thehoya.com.