I haven’t written for a while, because my mind is sometimes fooled into believing I don’t have time to write. Too often the messages we receive in our mind conflict with our passions and that prevents us from doing the things we love to do…
I just turned 34 about a month ago.
I admit this will sound cliché to most, and I know people try to convince me that I am still young, while others pressure me in other ways to “get moving” on certain things. And those who suggest that your 30’s or mid-30’s is not all that bad, have kids and a family, and are settled in their beautiful homes with a wonderful full time job. Surely, they have their own challenges, but it is definitely not the same, and it can be frustrating to hear that sometimes.
My own sentiment: admittedly, it does strike me hard. And I didn’t realize that I’d be struggling with it this much. Whenever I have to say that age, my age, “34” or write it down. I try to come up with ways to make myself feel better. Because, through my eyes, I haven’t nearly accomplished anything I wanted to before the age of 35.
For instance, I even do some basic math to ease the anxieties. 3 + 4 = 7. And that was the month I was born. So this must be a special year. This has to be my special year. This must be the year that I get my break. Anything, to get me to accept my “perceived losses” with aging.
Over this long journey of being immersed within my doctorate, I have seen my friends, family, and colleagues graduate, get married, have kids, become doctors, get their PhD’s even, publish books and articles, and have amazing jobs.
I am watching everyone accomplish amazing things, even some people in the younger generation are doing things I had planned to do at that age, and they were successful in achieving it, while I’ve been busy working towards my doctorate while fighting my illness, and it feels like all my dreams and aspirations have been stagnant, or halted for some reason. It’s silly, because doing a PhD is a big thing, a huge feat, but it doesn’t feel like it when you are doing it, especially if you’re a perfectionist with huge aspirations. I can’t explain how many times I have gone through this in my mind….
“Just finish your PhD, and then things will happen for you.” …. Says your family, your mentors, your friends, and ultimately, says the voice inside your head after hearing it so so so often.
If you keep dwelling, if you keep up this chronic habit of worry, more time will pass by, and nothing will be accomplished. Your “frenemies” will be smiling. Those “evil eyes” will continue lighting up as they have been throughout your journey. And people who actually do care about you, who actually do support you and want to see you successful, the parents, and some family, some friends, they may worry about you, your life, what you are doing with your life, and some may continue to encourage or I should say “push” you to “hurry up” and get that PhD.
Perhaps every “dreamer” goes through this phase. I normally write a reflection of some sort on my online forums, if not here, for my birthday. I didn’t write anything lengthy this year. I didn’t have time, or I didn’t think I had time, or I didn’t make the time for it. 😉
Instead, I tried to make myself feel better by forcibly reproducing a nostalgic moment of some sort to inspire and motivate me to recognize what I have achieved, how far I have come, and keep moving forward with my life . I went to Busboys and Poets, my favorite spot in the DC area, and shared a poem I wrote at age 14 on Open Mic night, that happened to be on the night of my birthday. But despite the Host getting the entire room to sing happy birthday for me, Stevie Wonder style, it turned out to be an excruciating reminder that it was 20 years ago when I wrote “Invisible,” and my own personal recognition that my writing (in the form of free verse poetry) hasn’t developed and improved much from then, despite my passion for poetry, (and perhaps has become worse with time!!!), was actually more disheartening for me and unfortunately, put me deeper in an episode of depression.
Clearly, when I wrote that poem, I was just a child/teenager. With a lot of emotions. And as a child, I dreamed of being a writer, and influence somehow from writing, like Langston Hughes, like Maya Angelou, like the one and only, Dorothy Parker, like Rumi, like Mohammad Iqbal…etc. My dream of achieving the PhD has also been a very long dream as well, as the pursuit and value of higher education has been instilled in us from childhood, from my father in particular. However, by reflecting on my history and reviewing some of my projects as a kid, becoming Dr. Warrior Queen ETK was not quite as long as the dream of simply being a writer and an author. Though I did want to make some sort of difference in society. PhD’s do a lot of writing, obviously, so I assumed these dreams would coexist and they do and can in many ways.
Sometimes you feel one dream gets in the way of others coming into fruition. It’s unfortunate. You can certainly aim to have what writer Jeff Goins suggests, a “portfolio” life, but in order to be successful in something as great and massive as writing a novel or completing your PhD, you have to put 100% of your effort into it.
And I have sometimes worried (perhaps unnecessarily) how my time in writing in this blog, writing about mental health and other intersecting social issues, something I have been yearning to evolve into a daily ritual for several years now, could potentially impact my desire to publish scholarly articles on my more academic specializations specific to public policy, international development, human rights, and the affairs in South Asia and Middle East, to name a few, that I have been passionate about since high school as well. But I had also been working on my novel even before starting this PhD program, which had progressed very well for a while until I hit the Fields stage of my PhD, three or four years ago. Now I only seem to find time to write a line or two here or there. It hurts to think about that, because my novel would probably do quite well in today’s market.
So I am only learning now, that there will have to be a lot of trade-offs with the many different dreams and aspirations we have. But time will tell what those trade-offs really are. I think what is making me miserable at the moment is that I already know what I have lost with my time given to this doctorate degree and given to fighting for my health. Some of which I have alluded to already. But this may be silly as well.
For some people, their dreams and aspirations may take longer, but the result may be more worth while. I heard an Urdu saying recently, “dher ayee, durust ayee” which captures this beautifully. (Everything sounds better in a “non-English” language we understand, right? 🙂 ) From this angle, time is always on your side.
The truth is I may not believe I have time to write, but we have to make the time. The truth is that I know all too well, I am the most at peace when I write and perhaps that may be the reason why I haven’t been at peace the past several weeks.
I have so many ideas floating in my head for every project I’ve started or have been thinking to begin. And it reminds me of Gregory David Roberts, who wrote Shantaram, a fictional masterpiece of his life, a novel that remains one of my primary inspirations to write my own. It reminds me of what he said he used to do while in prison in India, as he was beaten to the pulp by the prison guards. He told himself that this would be an amazing story, if he actually survived this, so he would write full sentences in his mind and memorize them, word for word. If and when he would have a pen in his hand, he would then be able to translate all of his writing down on paper. What a gift!
Although, I am not in an actual prison, being beaten up by guards, I do feel at times, I am a prisoner in my mind, and in my surrounding world, in many ways, for many reasons, which prevents me from being able to take a pen and write down the ideas, which prevents me from sitting down on my computer to type onto the screen, which prevents me from taking the recorder and dictating my thoughts through speech. All the tools are available to me, the blessings are clearly evident, but I can’t seem to do it. Sometimes, it is the dangerous and conflicting notions of the “fear of failure” as well as the “fear of success,” which ultimately takes away more years of our life.
And I am unable to speak, because I don’t think anyone wants to listen to me, to my voice. I tell myself I am empowered, but still feel like an imposter. So I am stuck. In a prison. And I think of Shantaram, and just try to memorize the words and ideas, as much as I can, until I am free, like I am finding myself at this very moment, sitting in this coffee shop, to write. And just to write. Even though it is taking time away from my dissertation writing. I want to be here on this page right now, to heal, and I want you to be here with me.
This may appear to be a self-absorbed reflection, and I sincerely apologize. I also apologize if I do have readers out there, who enjoy reading my writing, for not being able to get the emotional and mental energy at this time to translate everything from my mind to paper/screen as often as I’d like to, and I apologize for this particular piece appearing to be a bit self-defeating.
As someone told me recently, they see the hope within me, and they see a strong resilience in me. They also see how much I have accomplished.
I want to ask them, when they say such things to me, please, please, please tell me how I can see it? Because maybe if I can see this progress, maybe if I can pat myself on the back just once in a while, maybe if I can just see that “little Elsa” actually is growing up, while her body is aging, and is actually on the verge of doing big things, I’d continue to focus on the goal and the continued journey, rather than take so much time out of my daily life to think about the excruciating pain and suffering within that path leading up to the goals, which won’t get any better with the paths I have chosen.
Despite those moments, there is a reason why I have come this far, in spite of all my challenges.
As Langston Hughes said: “Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
I am a fighter and a survivor and a dreamer and I will always, at the same time, be a well-wisher. When I see my friends and family succeed or accomplish something incredible and make some sort of progress in their life both socially and professionally, naturally, it may make me think about how things are not progressing as positively as I want it to in my life. It may lead me into the vicious cycle of regret, thinking about how much time I have wasted in my suffering or “perceived suffering.” But I will always be happy to see and hear about the achievements of others.
As a friend informed me recently, whatever I do to help heal the suffering is nothing to be ashamed of. We cannot keep “shaming ourselves” by suggesting that our coping mechanisms that take up our supposed valuable time to be “productive” in order to knock down those items in our “to do” list, are a waste of time. That whatever we do to help our recovery and healing, albeit the compulsions as responses to the intrusive thoughts, or writing about mental health on a blog, are a perceived waste of time. It was and will never be a waste of time. If there is no shame in making time out of your schedule to go see a doctor to check up on your diabetes, cancer treatments, or simply general health checkups, there is no shame in the time and efforts involved with healing and grieving from the wounds of our chronic challenges and struggles. We must take time to heal, we must take time to grieve. We will be doing a favor to ourselves and those we wish to help and serve, if we took the time to heal.
And We will get our “turn.” I will have my “turn.” With continued patience, determination, and perseverance. And with Time.
Time will keep passing. But we need to keep moving as it’s passing. Even as others are achieving things that you have aspired to achieve. Regardless of what they are doing, each individual has their unique voice, each individual has their unique contribution to the world. As long as we are moving, with those big dreams and goals in mind, it will all come with time. Stars can and will change, with time.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Theresa
“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy
Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,