New Year; New Me! (Two Months Late Oops) by ana~
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do in my last semester at MIT.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would want to structure this post, but something about letter formats feel the most honest and the most true to what I do. I started with the actual letter I wrote to myself this new year, but more stuff has been added since then. Anyway, hopefully this format makes sense.
I’m donating half of the income that I make from this post to relief in Ukraine. If you’d like to join me, the money is going to the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund. I’ve been working on this post for a month now, so I didn’t want to rewrite, but it felt weird to not acknowledge how stressful, overwhelming, and difficult the world has been recently.
Also, a full text description of the images is at the end of the post for accessibility!
The pandemic is still weighing on you. Of course it is, but somehow that’s still a surprise.
It’s strange to me when I wake up from COVID stress dreams. Part of me feels surprised that the pandemic continues to affect me so much; it’s been two years, somehow I feel like I should’ve gotten over it by now.
Of course, that’s not how trauma works. And so many things about the pandemic are exactly like trauma.
Two years ago, now, my grandmother got COVID, then my aunt, cousin, uncle. These all happened before the vaccines, and boosters, and treatment, when going to the hospital in Mexico meant dying attached to a ventilator. Eventually, people got better, but my family and I still jump at phone calls.
Two years ago, now, I wrote my first article about how I overcame some of the struggles I’ve had related to sexual assault and how the same strategies have been helping me again as the pandemic continues. Here’s the original list:
- Lessen the amount of decisions I had to make.
- Spend time with my friends, but don’t always talk about my trauma.
- Know when to entertain thoughts, and when to save them for later.
- Give myself the space to process feelings.
- Accept that I care about myself.
- Figure out what it means to care for myself.
- Self soothe, when I need it.
- Tell myself that the solution isn’t apathy.
- Find a goal.
All of these, still, help me function more or less in the way I want. But there’s been some developments regarding the theme of the article.
I wrote a lot about decisions, in the original post. I continue to write a lot about decisions.
I’ve described, with one of my underclassmen friends, decision anxiety as resulting from how decisions “snowball.”
Several Wednesdays ago, me and two friends from my sorority had a rather strange conversation about what our exec would have looked like had one of them gone to kindergarten and joined our chapter a year later. I might honestly write a different blog post about how crazy our stories In one of them, I got back together with my ex-girlfriend from high school. In another, one of my closest friends left my life almost completely. In two, my sorority twin's little, Dasha, didn't get recruited at all. In all of them, I dropped Korean IV :( but the basic gist looks something like this:
I said that it was weird, okay?
Throughout the course of the night, every little decision seemed to cause even more things to change. Moreover, the timeline doesn’t even depict the changes to my relationships:
I don’t rely on my co-president in Spring 2021, because we’re no longer on exec together. I get closer with someone else in my pod because I don’t rely on one of my best friends because they’re my little instead of my twin. One of the kids is closer with someone else than she is with me because they’re president when she’s recruited and she has tensions with the other kid who is her mentor instead of her twin…
My life looks completely different: my friends, my classes, my clubs. Maybe, when I lay it out like this, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that decisions “snowball.” And it’s how I live my life: for every tiny, minuscule decision there are a boundless number of consequences.
It’s agonizing, and exhausting, and useless.
I tell this story so that you can see just how far I spiral. The truth is, if my friend hadn’t gone to kindergarten, they likely wouldn’t have decided to go to MIT. And if they had, they likely wouldn’t have moved to New House, or met Ruth, or joined our sorority.
Sometimes, things happen because of circumstances. Uncontrollable circumstances.
My sophomore year, I used to wonder what would have happened if I had never met my ex. If circumstances had changed such that we never became close, he never became my TA, I never trusted him.
Without that situation, I thought, I too would have never moved to New House, or met Ruth, or joined my sorority either.
That doesn’t mean it was worth it to go through that relationship (I try to avoid justifying his actions or devaluing the life I’ve lived after the fact), but it does mean I wouldn’t be here, right now, writing a blog post on my too-high new house bed, with the kid next to me writing up a pset.
I’ve always told my friends that my favorite point in therapy is the beginning, because my therapist inevitably tells me something along the lines of “Wow, Ana, you’re so introspective and thoughtful. I can tell you know yourself very well.”
“Haha,” I say in response, “it’s the years of therapy!”
Partially, that’s true, but honestly, overthinking has been my main problem since high school.
It is impossible to predict the future, no matter how many flowcharts you make, choices you accurately predict, or just how introspective you are. Somewhere in my brain, I know that. But it’s hard to let that knowledge properly sink in.
That is a problem I didn’t touch on enough in my original article, and something I am still actively trying to work my way out of.
This is how MIT feels sometimes: a week is a month, a month is a day. The past few months have felt like a handful of days, even though I know that I’m different as a result of them.
I didn’t lie when I said I had reflected on my goals. There hasn’t been a week since I’ve been back on campus that I haven’t thought about how I’m spending my last semester. And I’m working on it, steadily.
When I was a freshman, I wrote
“It’s funny how time passes. I genuinely thought that high school was going to last forever. That there was never going to be an end date to the time that I would spend in cramped classrooms with terrible carpet and bright fluorescent lights. It’s weird to think that all of that is gone…
Time feels different here [compared] to Arizona or California. I remember, in high school, time passed in weeks or months, but here it’s a very day-to-day struggle. Constantly something to do, someone to email, lectures to go to. It’s crazy! I’ve never been this busy before. I used to think the first week of classes was so busy and I was looking forward to when things would calm down a bit, but they just never did. Every week feels busier than the last, every day feels longer than the one before it.
There’s a similar exposed feeling like there was in Interphase, where I can’t just go somewhere to escape the… everything. MIT is so much, so different from what I know and am used to, but I don’t think there is anywhere else I would rather be. “
It’s difficult to not feel like MIT is a bubble, keeping you distant from the rest of the world — impermeable. But more on that later. In my last semester, I’ve finally found time to prepare breakfast by myself, style my hair, stroll to class. It is possible, I’m more convinced now than ever.
1. Go back to a clear, defined, self-care routine. Brush your hair everyday. Clean your room once a week. Get seven to eight hours of sleep.
This is something that I think most bloggers write about at some point in time. I remember in high school, I used to think that I could learn, live well, on five to six hours of sleep a night. This is not true. For anyone, but especially people who struggle with mental health problems.
My sophomore year, it became easy to stick to a routine because I followed Ruth’s. We would brush our teeth together, recapping our days, in the New House bathroom. She would wake me up for breakfast because I had 10am classes on the same days that she had 9:30am ones.
Accountability is important. I’m not sure whether she’s realized just how much it helped me (physically! not just emotionally) to have a partner helping me through tasks I found tedious.
Over the pandemic, I’ve stopped having the type of sleep schedule I used to have. Last semester, I struggled because of constant stimulation. I would do everything with other people: walk to and from class, pset, work, write, cook, eat. It was difficult to make the decision to disengage when socialization was right there, if I wanted it. I was hungry for social contact, especially after a year and a half of only seeing my parents.
This semester it’s been difficult to disconnect because everything feels close to being the last time.
After watching MITMO, the kids looped an arm through each of mine and we walked back to New House intertwined. One of them is much shorter, while the other is much taller, so you can imagine how lopsided my walk was. Still, tripping over every crack on the sidewalk, we laughed all the way home.
When we finally got to the front desk and had to untangle so I could tap my ID, my sides felt cold without them. We said good night. I spent a couple of minutes thinking about whether we would ever be able to recreate that moment, or if that was the last-first time I’d get to experience it. Eventually, I shook it off to go to my friend’s birthday celebration.
Oftentimes though, I won’t stay up because I’m having fun. Rather, I’m doom-scrolling through twitter, or watching genshin build guides, or just trying to fill space that thoughts might otherwise take up.
It’s not hard for me to see why staying up late is such an ingrained habit. When I was in high school, I would write about how sleep deprivation could keep my anxiety at bay. Something about being too tired to really think. Of course, that means that I’m too tired to feel much of anything at all.
All of these are well-crafted excuses that I’ve made though. I’m going to keep trying to find ways to sleep better, exercise, and eat meals at more regular times. Will update as it goes!
There’s this image that I have in my head of what my life will look like when I’m perfect. Not my life — me.
Of course, that’s a really shitty thing to say to myself. Not only because I’m never going to be perfect, but because it’s setting unrealistic expectations for myself that make it harder for me to actually manage where my time is going.
It’s tempting for me to make statements like, “when I  less/more, then I’ll be a better person.” Again, not a better student, friend, partner, etc. but person.
I’ve written about imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and unrealistic expectations before, but not exactly this. All of those things have their ups and downs. Part of what makes perfectionism a perpetual reality for me is that there are brief moments where I truly feel I’ve reached the end. I finish a particularly hard pset, clear my to-do list for the first time in months, get validation from weird, small moments.
All in vain, of course, there’s always another pset, another email, another person dissatisfied with my progress. But I still romanticize the flickers where I see myself on the other side. This is an embarrassing confession, but sometimes when I’m pseting I’ll open the Photo Booth app on my computer and make sure I look appropriately in thought, or happy, or…
I’ll shift a hair, crinkle my eyes more, straighten my back; I become my own observer.
It’s at least a little self obsessed; I said it was embarrassing.
The best moments I’ve found, though, are when I’m being genuine in what I’m feeling. I won’t bother opening the camera, checking my reflection in a window. My belongings will be strewn about my room, hair pulled up in a ponytail, my bangs definitely too greasy, but I’ll have a cup of chamomile in my hand, and I’ll be happy anyway.
That’s the feeling I want to be chasing, not perfection, but satisfaction.
This is a goal, a vague one, that I’ve already failed.
It’s difficult, I think, because it’s a goal that depends entirely on another person helping me achieve it. I mentioned this briefly in a post earlier, but someone close to me graduated early and I found out in January. I started feeling… well. The conclusion of the post is that sometimes there are just things that don’t make sense, it can’t be helped.
I wrote, in a Tech article,
“I can’t remember if I told you, especially with everything that’s happened, but my New Year’s resolution just meant I wanted to linger with you. I’m sorry; I still want to hold your hand this semester, even though I know I won’t be able to.”
That was a reference to this goal, mostly, but also reminded me of this post:
“oh, i am finally old enough to know why my parents took so long to grab their coats. why they would ask us to get ready to go only to sit down for another round of coffee…
one day you will be older and you will be waving goodbye to your best friend, and you will… think about how long the days felt, and how you could hold her hand whenever you wished, but you didn’t… and you will wish that the universe just gave you that – more time to linger.
one more round of coffee. the days are so short, and you are so lovely.”
Inkskinned (via tumblr)
I wanted to spend more time together with people while I still had the chance. There was an image of my future in my head that ended up unfulfilled.
I’ve been thinking about Langston Hughes’ Harlem, recently:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The poem has a broader meaning about the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, the close of World War II, and the state of life for black Americans during the time.
But I’ve been spending some time thinking literally about that first line: what happens to a dream deferred? And what is a goal, but a dream of what I want my life to be?
The first thing that happened, for me, was what I referred to as grief.
It would hit me at weird times. I would be at a sorority meeting and feel the absence of that specific person who I’d gotten used to being near me. I would wander down the infinite and think about small things that I wouldn’t have anymore: pulling on their backpack straps, watching intently as they tried my favorite Mexican foods, sitting on my bed together consuming whatever fixation they had together.
Stages of grief lasted much longer than most people could see, probably. There’s still something sickeningly sour at the base of my stomach if I think too hard about lost dreams.
The second stage was something like denial, but felt closer to apathy. I’ve also written about this before. When I get overloaded with emotions like that, I stop processing. I would listen to Tracy Chapman for hours, but avoided thinking about the knot at the base of my throat. I hung out with other friends — laughing on the floor of their rooms, going out for walks, on zoom brushing our teeth. But I wouldn’t really be there, always thinking about what I was going to do, how I would solve this new reality.
After about a week, I finally texted my friend to zoom and try to figure it out together. And there’s a lot more to be said about that phrasing, “figure it out together,” but that’s not the point.
The point is: the spirit of the goal was to value the time that we had left together, and the replacement goal will honor that. There are a lot more ways to engage with others that doesn’t involve being together physically. It’s harder to make that effort, of course, but it’s worth it.
These are the goals that I can do, theoretically. But I think it’s important to spend at least some time talking about what it means to set them.
I’ve written at length about how I’ve always seen relationships as choices. And there’s that Sartre reading again,
“In reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving.”
When I first sent that to Ruth, she was skeptical.
This line is followed by an example of a student, torn between enlisting in a war and staying with his sick mother. The student says to Sartre, “If I love my mom enough, I’ll stay with her. And if not, I’ll enlist.” But Sartre says back, essentially, you won’t know whether you love your mom enough unless you choose to stay. Thus feeling is formed by what you do.
Maybe you can understand why choices get stuck in my brain, sometimes.
But I already understood that sentiment, already felt its weight. This goal was just putting in words what I had taken actions to ensure. I decided to take three classes instead of four this semester so I could take the T across the bridge to Ruth. I dropped a job so I could cook with the kids in my sorority. My schedule this semester is full of people (including myself).
I’ve found that, genuinely, when I have more time I’m better rested, more willing to seek people out, and much more focused in conversations with people as a whole. Who would’ve thought?
This is a reference to the end of my high school valedictorian speech, which I mostly still like even though it’s very cringey:
“I’m a sentimentalist. I still have movie passes, triangle doodles, and receipts from the dinners I’ve gone to with the many friends I’ve made. I am also a high school senior, and maybe unqualified to give this advice. I don’t necessarily have the wisdom I might need, but I say this from the regrets I’ve learned from. I passed much of this year caught up in the image of my future. I spent so much time in that fake reality, that I forgot to spend the time necessary to truly experience the world around me…
To all our families, teachers, and staff: thank you for creating the world in which I have spent the last 6 years of my life. And for all my fellow classmates, some of which I’ve known for my whole time here at GCA:
Feel deeply, and live.”
I love you. Always yours,
Ana (Paola) Reyes Sanchez
(yourself, in case you forget)
The pandemic is still weighing on you. Of course it is, but somehow that’s still a surprise. Break was really nice, but from where you’re sitting at MIT, it feels far away. It was just yesterday — where has that gone? I’m not entirely sure.
I’ve been thinking about goals recently. I’ve responded, just a bit sarcastic, with “graduate” whenever people ask me for my goals. But… that feels underwhelming. Maybe because I want graduation to feel large and all-consuming and it probably won’t be. Maybe, here are some other goals:
- Go back to a clear, defined, self-care routine. Brush your hair everyday. Clean your room once a week. Get seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Write—something—once a week. Drink tea while you do it. Feel that picturesque moment you’ve been wanting. Know that it isn’t what you look like, but what you feel about yourself.
- Hold their hand while you still have the chance. Scratch the top of their hair. Take a nap with the kids. Have lunch with Ruth. Make time to spend with people, especially when you don’t have it.
- Enjoy your last semester at MIT. Feel it, deeply. It’s worth it, I promise.
This is a relatively small list, but not really. I want to spend my last semester here in love—with myself and others. In love, in love, in love. Make those choices.
I love you. Always yours,
Ana (Paola) Reyes Sanchez
(yourself, in case you forget)
- In one of them, I got back together with my ex-girlfriend from high school. In another, one of my closest friends left my life almost completely. In two, my sorority twin's little, Dasha, didn't get recruited at all. In all of them, I dropped Korean IV :( back to text ↑