The Anxiety came on Thursday, as if She had been meticulously planning the attack all week. You see, I had an ethics paper due Tuesday, and after nearly a week of wrestling with whether or not I believed violence was ethically permissible as a Christian, I finally just did the thing and turned in my paper. In my email to the TA, I wrote, “Alright, after days and nights of wrestling with this prompt, I’ve somehow managed to keep to the 7 page limit and come up with a paper I am proud of! Hope you enjoy!”
“A paper I am proud of.” I meant those words, I really did. But then Thursday came and I was blindsided by a conversation that would spiral me into a whirlwind of anxiety and self-doubt.
“I don’t know what’s happening, but it seems that those who did well on the first paper are really struggling with the prompt of this second paper.”
I overheard those words spoken between my TA and professor after class on Thursday. “Those who did well on the first paper”…that was me. I did well on the first paper. My heart rate began to climb, anxiety slowly beginning to fill my chest cavity, and I felt like I was drowning. I felt completely destabilized and disoriented. I needed something or someone to grasp onto, because my previous confidence in my self-worth/ability to write a good paper (there was no difference in my mind) was being shattered.
It’s now Friday, and Anxiety no longer has as strong a hold on me, but She’s still there. I feel the weight of Her fingertips lingering on my shoulder. I still feel the residual pressure in my ribcage from the extreme tightness that built up in my chest yesterday.
“My anxiety has decreased somewhat, now that it’s Friday, and I’ve realized there’s nothing to be done.” I wrote in my journal. “I turned in what I turned in, and I will be graded accordingly…I think my fear and extreme disappointment comes from the fact that I want the work I produce to be of the highest caliber, not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of others.”
“The opinions of others”…As soon as I wrote that sentence, the words of one of my beloved professors, Dr. Willie Jennings, rang through my mind like a warning bell, “Nia, you need to learn how to not depend on the opinions others have of you. If you spend your entire life trying to earn the highest approval from those around you, you will inevitably fail, and you will burn out.”
I’m shooky, fam. The conversation I had with Dr. Jennings happened over two months ago, yet his words STILL shake me to the core because I didn’t realize how pervasive this kind of thinking has been in my life. Man oh man, it’s remarkable how inextricably tied my self-image and sense of self-worth is to the thoughts and opinions others have of me, particularly at a place like Yale. I have made myself completely dependent on my professors and TAs to tell me whether or not I am “scholarly” or “intellectual” enough to be considered of any worth or value as a person.
These realizations have opened my eyes, and now, more than ever, I’m convinced that it is not merely important, but ESSENTIAL that I write. It is imperative that I write not for the opinions of others, but for myself. I must write for myself if I want a fighting chance to make it through graduate school without losing myself, because if I’m only writing “for the grade” or to impress my professor, I will be suffocated by the boxes my writing is forced to fit inside. I know this because I am experiencing this right now; in this very moment I am fighting for air. My decision to write this blog post is an act of resistance–a proclamation that my words are powerful and meaningful because I AM powerful and my life is meaningful, simply because I exist.
Don’t get it twisted, I will most assuredly play by the rules as I will produce bomb thesis statements and inundate my papers with intellectual jargon because your girl needs to #SecurethatYaleDegree. BUT I will also fight to remind myself that I am more than a degree and that my unconventional ways of “writing like I speak” or using humor and storytelling are modes of writing that are valuable and worthy.
I will fight to remind myself I am valuable and I am worthy.
I will write to remind myself that I am valuable and I am worthy.
And I will hope. I will hope that in doing these things, by being transparent and vulnerable in sharing the battles I’m fighting, I will remind others that they, too, are valuable and worthy.
And so I write.