Everything is sticky in the summer. Everything clings onto something else, fabric on skin, thighs to leather car seats, something cold and icy dripping down your arm and drying there. It’s easy to feel stuck, too. It’s easy to find free moments in the day that you spend scrolling through feeds, watching people you know travel and work and wondering if they find themselves scrolling for the same amount of time that you do. It’s easy to reach conclusions about where they are and where you aren’t and, from there, where you should be.
A journal entry I made in August of 2015 read something like, “For dinner I had a bottle of Pepsi (shit out by the vending machine against my request) and most of a jar of Nutella.” It was complete with illustrations of each item and a tiny sad face. I had just moved into my dorm. I was roommate-less (she wouldn’t arrive for another two days) and I was alone in a city I had never been to. My parents left me with Costco-portioned boxes of microwaveable mac and cheese and granola bars and I sat on my twin -XL watching Gilmore Girls and spooning Nutella into my mouth for days.
From there, I formed a habit of staring out the window, positioning my body with my snacks as if I was getting ready to watch a film, but instead I’d watch people cut through the courtyard as they exited the dorm. It was freshman week, I watched girls in full beats and tight dresses shuffle through the yard at night. In the morning, I’d watch people in groups heading out to explore. I wondered why I wasn’t there yet, why I was content sitting and staring instead of finding my own group and going out to explore.
The anxiety that comes with feeling stuck is cold, it feels like cotton in your stomach. And it never stays, you never get to sit with that cottony feeling, it comes and goes from whatever situation you’re in and I decided never to put myself in a situation where I could feel that again. So sitting and staring became a talent.
Resisting change is comfortable. It feels good. It feels normal. You get stuck there. You build yourself a hole with pillows and blankets and soft things and you forget it’s still a hole. And guilt settles in when you remember, when you’re tapping through a Snapchat story of someone you barely know from school but whose life looks like what you thought yours would look like by now. That cottony feeling comes back and fighting it seems futile.
It’s overwhelming to think about the process of getting out of a rut. There’s always a picture in my mind of where I want to go, there’s always a goal that’s attainable if I pick my feet up, but doing so is scary. The cottony, buzzy stomach feeling comes back because that change is scary and burrowing deeper into the little home I’ve built is easier. I actively fight back against the things that I want, no matter how much happiness I know they’ll bring me.
But change means discomfort. Growth and evolution and prosperity is uncomfortable and it’s easy to resist moving forward to avoid that discomfort, even if you know that in the end you’ll feel much better than you feel right now.
I always pictured change and growth as everything happening at once. If I wanted to get this cool opportunity, I’d have to do a million things and a million things would happen and the anxiety of a mountain of discomfort waiting for me once I began the journey was enough for me to avoid it all together. But that’s not really how things work. Manifesting what you want is a process, there’s steps and each little hurdle you pass is a victory. Each step you take climbing out of the rut you’re in should be rewarded, no matter how minor it seems in the end.
Earlier this summer, there was some sort of problem with my financial aid package. The thought of picking up the phone and putting on an adult voice and dealing with administration terrified me. I put it off until it became dangerously late to do so. I considered dropping out, just abandoning my education so I wouldn’t have to feel that stomach pain I associated with financial stress. I started spiraling. I thought, if I don’t do this, I’ll drop out, I’ll be a failure, my parents’ work will be for nothing, why aren’t I good enough, and so on and so on. It went on for some time. I knew if I picked up the phone, if I sat in my discomfort for a couple minutes, it would all be settled, but I couldn’t do it.
So I took a breath and decided to handle it in chunks. I thought about the process that went into this phone call. Step one, I wrote a script for myself. I went to bed. I woke up the next morning and, step two, I read my script out loud. I went to bed again, my stomach settling a little more. The next day I sat on hold for twenty minutes, stewing in discomfort and anxiety, my breathing shaky, my fingernails digging crescents into my palms, and the call was over in five minutes. It was done. I had done it.
It took me three days (not counting weeks of stressing over it) to accomplish my five-minute phone call. And it might have taken someone else shorter or longer or anywhere in between. But I found a pace to do it in that worked for me and I did, and that anxiety that hung over my head for all those weeks had vanished.
From there, I thought about other responsibilities I had, other sources of my anxiety that I now knew I could handle. And I felt myself breaking out of that habit of ignoring my responsibility for whatever felt comfortable. I abandoned that soft, safe place I built for myself and I stopped tapping through Snapchat stories with that feeling of guilt. I knew that I had a pace, even if it felt slower than other’s, and I knew everything would unfold in its time.
There’s power that comes from that, I think. From knowing your path to accomplishing your goals exists in a different timeline from everyone else’s. Making rules for yourself based on someone else’s life causes problems where there aren’t any and adds to whatever anxiety comes with change. There’s no use in defining yourself by someone else’s path, because the obstacles they face and the speed they go at has nothing to do with you.
I still feel myself spiraling when I think about what I want to accomplish. I still feel like there’s a wall between me and my aspirations and dealing with the discomfort and anxiety that comes with traversing that wall isn’t worth it. Writing this essay took weeks of planning and avoiding and pushing it off until the thought became so much in my brain that I had to write it down. But then I think about that phone call, I think about my freshman year self and how she thought she’d be stuck staring out that window at other people’s lives forever and how I climbed over both those walls. I think about all the little accomplishments I make every day that I get out of bed and how I don’t remember the discomfort that I associated with it at all.
I started living for my future self, for the girl who lives in a time after that five-minute phone call with the bursar’s office. I was excited to meet her, and all the discomfort in the world couldn’t keep us apart.
Our lives don’t make sense. Current human life, the life we’re expected to live between careers and school and money, does not make sense. We aren’t designed for this and all of this is brand new. Combating it, wanting to feel comfortable and safe, is absolutely normal. These cultural institutions that we have to exist in are brand new and we’re figuring everything out as we go along. Basing your self-worth on imaginary concepts makes it really hard to be happy, even if that’s what you’re expected to do. You’re not your grades, you’re not your job, you’re not your income because none of that exists. Adapting to your surroundings, changing your life until you feel loved and valuable is the most important thing you can do for yourself. And taking steps to get there, following your path at your own speed, is a huge accomplishment.
Arfie is a Somali girl journalism major currently going to college in Washington, DC. She’s really passionate about superheroes, cartoons, afro-futurism, and positivity. She’s also a writer but spends most of her time trying to curate safe spaces for creative black kids and watching too much TV. Twitter // Tumblr