I became a vegetarian on April 1. Since taking Contemporary Moral Issues in Fall 2014 (highly recommended – I had Besser-Jones and she was fantastic), I had been considering cutting out meat. I already ate meat minimally, although that was more a statement on the taste of Proctor’s beef than on the (im)morality of eating animals. But throughout March, I was feeling empty and lost. I was doing well in class and with my sport, and outwardly seemed to excel at everything. But somehow I felt misdirected and unsure of what I wanted or what I needed to do to really be successful.
In a journal entry from March 29 (I only write when I am really upset, so that should have been the first sign to me that something was wrong), I wrote, “How can I frame my life and my aspirations to put myself in the right mindset?” Ultimately, I decided I needed to make choices about what was most important to me and to choose to live by those choices in earnest. The obvious place to start – the subject most on my mind at the time – was to become vegetarian. I believe that killing another living being, especially the way our current system kills animals for food, is wrong. I am still working on whether I think the quality or length of life an animal lives matters in whether I would eat that meat, and on whether I think it’s okay to eat animal products like eggs or milk. For now, I am not eating meat but am drinking milk and eating eggs. For a long time, I felt that being vegetarian was probably the right thing to do, but I kept telling myself that I needed to eat meat to stay healthy and be able to compete in sports at my highest level. But in April I chose to live by what I believe in.
And I felt awesome. It was awkward explaining that I was vegetarian to people and eating out could be hard, but I felt rejuvenated and like I had a new sense of purpose. The emptiness and confusion was at bay and I was glad to feel like I was no longer a hypocrite. The semester picked up, and I decided that becoming vegetarian was a good start, and that I would look at what other principles I should live by another time. But I think I should have put other things on pause as much as possible and given more time to breaking down how I wanted to live…the rest of the semester was a bit of a disaster.
Anyone who knows me would be shocked to hear this. Outwardly, I excel in everything I do and am truly passionate about my extracurriculars. I also prescribed (prescribe) to this hard-working, dedicated view of myself, but started feeling more and more apathetic about class, sports, and college in general. Until a week ago, I figured I just wasn’t working hard enough or efficiently enough. Every moment I spent not working, practicing or studying, I labeled as “procrastination.” I slept even less, got up early to finish homework, and skipped classes to finish larger assignments for my most important class. I knew it wasn’t sustainable and was hurting me, but I remember thinking, “I don’t have time to stop and worry about it right now.” I figured that if I could just make it through this semester, summer would be a nice time for relaxation and in the fall I’d be more organized and more efficient.
It wasn’t until I was talking with my boyfriend about my anxiety about not being able to do enough good with my life and not being able to prepare well enough that I realized how bad I had gotten. When he suggested I talk to a counselor about my stress, I was shocked. My whole life, my parents taught me that if I worked hard enough, I could accomplish anything. I knew that if I made a commitment, I was to follow through on it no matter what. I was taught to deal with problems openly and honestly and with a level head. I had never before entertained the thought that I might need outside help to tackle what felt like a relatively minor internal problem.
So I started to wrestle with the idea that I might actually have a problem with stress and anxiety. Even writing that is still hard, and I was reluctant to even view it as a real “problem.” At Middlebury, it feels like everyone is working just as hard and is just as much a perfectionist as you are. Just barely managing to get everything done, but doing a good job anyways is the hallmark of the Middkid. Being overworked, stressed, and yet technically successful is living the dream here. Saying that I had a stress problem seemed like such an overstatement. The most important thing to me is to live a life where I improve people’s lives and make a real difference. Compared to the problems of poverty, inequality and injustice I constantly read about, I felt (feel) like the fact that I’m a little overworked is insignificant and not worthy of my time or anyone else’s. Sometimes, I am paralyzed by the fact that I could be doing more right now to help people and have instead chosen to dedicate four more years of my life to preparing to help in the future. I so desperately want to be making a difference RIGHT NOW, and while I theoretically know I could be doing things while in college, I feel so trapped by all my commitments that I can’t be as much of an activist as I wish I were.
I’ve been through the obvious solutions before, and they all seem impossible to me. Clearly, I should drop one of my commitments. But classes are important because I love learning, work is important because I’m on work-study and enjoy working for pay, sports are important because they are my two hours of freedom from other work and they make me happy, and each of my extracurriculars is important to me because of the people, the mission and/or the skills I’m learning. Being more organized or more efficient isn’t really an option because I already am extremely organized and efficient and the amount of time I spend actually procrastinating is minimal.
I get into this cycle of trying to refocus and find new energy for classes, then feeling lost because I don’t feel happier when I work harder. I enjoy working on projects, and when I have a project that I really set my mind to, it is so joyful to learn and to accomplish something. But too often, I don’t feel real ownership over my work and start justifying reading articles online and watching the Daily Show as necessary procrastination so that I can focus later. But later, of course, it is just as hard to focus. Spending more time with the boyfriend sometimes helps, but other times makes me want to curl up in bed with him all day instead of working. Right now, as I’m writing this much needed release of emotion, I am tormented by the thought that I could be studying for my two finals right now, or writing that final paper. I try to take time to recuperate, but feel guilty the whole time and that ruins the relaxation. The most relaxing thing I can do usually is to nap, and try to get 20 more minutes of much needed sleep, so that I’ll have enough energy to make it through the day.
Writing all of this down, it feels ridiculous that I didn’t know this needed my attention earlier. But I was so caught up in my idea of myself as someone who doesn’t quit, is in it to win it, and who usually DOES win it. I had (have) this mentality that even if it’s too much work, I can do it, because I have the will power and the energy and the positivity and the work ethic to do it! But (and this seems ridiculous now) I am only just discovering that there is a breaking point where I cannot physically (or mentally) do it all anymore. This feels like defeat. In high school, I was MVP and captain in two varsity sports, was in three different clubs with leadership positions, took 8 AP courses, got all A’s except AP Chem (dammit), and even was in a play one semester. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it all. I was happy, too. Pretty much all the time.
When I compare high school to college, the starkest difference is in my friends. At home, I have a really close group of friends, many of whom I’ve known since third grade. We were mostly all-female, with a few guys thrown in when there were boyfriends, and we were always there for each other. We were sisters and we loved each other. We still do, and we’re still close when we come back from breaks. I have no doubt that at least a few of them will be my best friends for the rest of my life. But here at Midd, I have my boyfriend. That’s it. My roommate is one of my best friends, and she’s awesome, but also has another group of really close friends that I’m not really in. They always welcome me at their functions when I happen to be there, but I’m not close enough to be invited. There are a smattering of people I know from my various extracurriculars who I admire and would love to be closer friends with, but most of them also have really close friend groups that don’t include me. My teammates I know would always be there for me if I really needed them, and I’m close with one or two of them. But again, there is no one I will always want to spend time with (and who would always want to spend time with me) and who I would go to if I was feeling really stressed. Honestly, I don’t have the time that you need to invest in a friendship to make it really happen. And that makes me so, so sad. Actually, I don’t usually have time to worry about having really close friends or not. And that is also sad.
I think my happiest moments at Midd have been cuddling with the boyfriend, when the sheer volume of my love for him forces out the stress, and the times I get a chance to have deep, stress-free talks with people. I went to a meditation session instead of doing the short bike I was supposed to once because I knew I needed to take a moment. Afterwards, I got dinner with a classmate I hadn’t talked to in a long, long time, and we immediately were able to talk about serious and thoughtful subjects. It was incredible and so relaxing to be so invested in another person and their ideas for 45 minutes before, inevitably, she had to go print a paper. After my roommate and I went to Riddim, Midd’s hip-hop dance troupe, last weekend, we were so pumped up about dancing that she taught me how to do proper ballet leaps on Battell Beach for a half-hour in the dark and then we went to our room and learned choreography to Anaconda from a YouTube video. We were sweaty and laughing and having so much fun.
The most spiritual/emotional moment I have ever had was two nights before I left for college for the first time. I was at this guy’s going away party with my other friend. The guy was someone we knew a little from going to contra dancing in town and both of us were so eager to dance and learn. The two of us ended up staying until 5 a.m., just dancing and dancing. The guy who was leaving in the morning and I ended up dancing a few times together and then danced for two hours straight. It was blues/fusion/waltz and I didn’t really know that much except how to try to follow. Feeling the physical and emotional human connection between us as he led and I followed was incredible. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t very good at dancing and that he was incredibly talented; nothing mattered except the way our bodies moved together. I felt like I was in an entirely new state of mind, a trance where all that mattered or existed were our two bodies and the way we were communicating with them. He wasn’t even my boyfriend and I wasn’t romantically interested, but the human connection was so tangible and emotional that while we were dancing, I felt more alive than I had ever felt before, sustained only by this intense and ecstatic relationship between my body and his. It was almost sexual/romantic, not at all because of the type of dancing, but because of our unspoken oneness. It’s incredible to me that this kind of intimacy is possible and I want so badly to have another experience like that.
And why don’t I? Clearly, human interaction matters a lot to me. I have always preferred to be around people 24/7. How can I not take time to foster deep relationships with people? How do I not find time to dance? Even realizing all this, I still feel trapped by my commitments and by the fear that stopping means failing and letting other people down. For as long as I can remember, my greatest fear has been failing to be happy, be fulfilled, live a good life. When I miss my high school boyfriend (which is rare but occasionally happens when I’m generally nostalgic for high school), I usually think of the times we danced together. We would go to the school swing dance every year and look up cool moves online in our spare time. We both loved dancing and just using our bodies in general, being athletic.
It feels like I need a radical restructuring of my life. I feel trapped and limited by school, sports and my commitments, but as Seth Godin tells me in What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), “You always have a choice.” That was kind of the premise of the initial choice to live by my morals/ideals and to become vegetarian. I think that, to be most fulfilled now AND in the future, I need to hash out what is really most important to me and to use that list to choose how I want to live.
- I want to have time to develop deep friendships through time and deep conversation.
- I want to have time to spend with the boyfriend, blissfully and without stress about what I need to do next.
- I want to have time to read and write and to develop my self-awareness and life philosophy and check in on myself frequently.
- I want to learn joyfully and be excited about learning every day.
- I want to be healthy in my eating, sleeping and drinking habits.
- I want to have time to dedicate to making real change happen NOW.
- I want to have time to spend on my personal goals and projects.
- I want to be 100% dedicated to all my commitments.
- I want to be energetic, positive, powerful and fierce.
- I want to use my body joyfully to express myself and to experience the world fully.
- I want to live in service to other people, knowing and living by the fact that this requires my own happiness to come first.
It feels great to write all this down and acknowledge that I have been struggling with stress and anxiety. The more I wrote, the more I felt like I could handle this and that it doesn’t mean I have failed. Of course, I’m sure I will fluctuate between seeing this as a failure and seeing it as a step in the right direction. I just need to make sure this new clarity (or what feels like clarity) doesn’t slide. I need to check in with myself constantly and make a concrete plan for next semester in terms of finding ways to live by these wants (and needs).
I hope this first post is the beginning of a new era for me. I want to keep using this site as a way to talk about what’s important to me and what’s going on in my life. I have always valued open discussion, but putting yourself out there is still hard. I theoretically believe that if you really care about something you write, you shouldn’t hesitate to put your name on it; in reality, it’s so much harder to feel confident enough to release your ideas into the world. There’s also this feeling that writing about myself is egotistical. Maybe it is a bit, and I generally prefer to focus on what’s going on with other people, but for now I think this is an outlet I need for myself.