Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book the Fourth

In May I finished my fourth year of college. In keeping with the pattern of my previous posts, I'm doing one final "Book the ____" post.

Looking back, I'm glad of how far I have come. I worried about grad school and I was a lonely person... and I still am to some extent.

Senior year was different. It kept with the pattern of high school, which went: freshman year - exciting and awesome, sophomore year - lame and lonely, junior year - academically tough and most interesting, and senior year - first semester dreary, second semester paradise.

The first year was all about new beginnings, new experiences, and they carried over into a year-long high. The second year was the fallen year, the in between year, the year I had to get through to move on, the crash from the high, if you will. The third year was about building up strength and momentum in aspects of my life that I needed to shore up to move on to the next step. The final year, first semester, was the climax; the second semester, the resolution and falling action.

During the summer of 2012 I did research all summer in an effort to accomplish enough to sell myself on my grad school applications. I did this. It was successful enough to get me into a couple of grad schools, but more on that later.

In fall of 2012, I took a gamble and decided to return to Dil Se. No one from my old team was still there except for Manisha. See, in spring of 2011, I left Dil Se for many reasons: a lack of respect, a lack of belonging, issues with my role on the team and with the administration of the team, but mostly, I just felt lost, alone in a room full of people. My friend Sunny once advised me against returning, telling me that Dil Se was a tremendous source of sadness in my life. But the thing is, Dil Se was also the greatest source of happiness in college. So going in, knowing none of the old members were returning, I said to myself: I'll just do it for the music, if all else fails; and if I manage to make friends, all the better.

It was the right decision. I made many friendships that I consider strong, that I hope will last me a long while. I returned to singing and it felt good. And finally, I finally felt like I got the respect that I sought for so long. Even if it was only because I was a senior, I'll take it. There was a time I would walk into Dil Se practice and feel like I walked into a room full of strangers, people who wouldn't talk to me, who I didn't connect with... with maybe one or two exceptions. Now, I could look forward to seeing friends during Dil Se practice.

Also in fall, I applied to grad school. It was tough, but I was mentally prepared for not being accepted to good schools because I hadn't really thought about the research aspect of my application. My GPA was decent but not flawless. And my first Physics GRE score wasn't very good, either. But one week before apps were due, I got a much better GRE score, and that was a game changer. I quickly did the best I could on my applications and sent them off. It was a grueling semester, but I felt like I could handle it by then.

There was also something else that happened around that time, but there is no way in hell I am posting about it somewhere where anyone can read it. Sorry.

Second semester was my relax semester. I was done with grad apps for the time being; I could take it easy. I took Math History, General Relativity (for fun), a History of Middle Earth decal, a Quantum Gravity Seminar, and thesis units. All of these were great fun, and my workload was so reduced I was free to pursue forging social connections. This was my last semester, after all, and I'd be leaving people behind. I hoped to make sure the people I left behind were connected to worthy relationships.

Sometime around this time, I talked to Aloka a lot as we walked home from practices. And she noticed a rather destructive lack of self-worth in me, but unlike anyone else who might have ever noticed it before, she did not let it go. She was determined to help me, and help me she did. In the end she encouraged me to seek some counseling to determine just why I could not see value in myself and why I thought no one else did, either. This I did. The counselor, named Holly, helped me understand that I was simply perceiving the world in a negative way, ensnaring myself into what she called "cognitive traps" -- patterns of thinking that tended to attack my self-image. The key was, recognize these cognitive traps, and replace them with a more balanced thought. I tried to implement this, and I had some success; I came away feeling happier in general, and although there was the occasional catastrophic crash in which I temporarily lost all value I ever assigned myself, I now feel like I have the tools necessary to reverse this streak of something that might have turned into depression one day.

I was accepted to grad school in Physics. Both UCLA and UCSD accepted me in early February. From that point on I was really able to relax, because no matter what, I'd be going to grad school. No other schools accepted me, and that's okay. I probably couldn't hack the cutthroat environment of the top 10 schools, anyway.

My last great works in college were my painting of the Valar for my History of Middle Earth class, and my senior honors thesis (which I really shouldn't be calling great, but it's acceptable).

Life was well. Although I wasn't the top of the top in every way like I was in high school, I was happy. I had friends, physics friends and Dil Se friends and a few random others; I was a good student, good enough to be going to UCLA physics in the fall; I had begun to overcome a mental issue that I realized had been plaguing me indirectly for years; and the whole summer stretched ahead of me, free.

I might start a grad school blog. I have commitment issues when it comes to journal writing, so I don't know how often I will end up updating it. We'll see.

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