October 3, 2018

SONG | Face Masks Turned Me Into a Masochist

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So junior year hasn’t exactly shaped up to be the hellfest I thought it would be. Instead, I think it turned me into a suburban mom. At different parts of the day, I now find myself being terrifyingly diligent about cleaning my room, color coding a Google Calendar and making gnocchi from scratch on a Monday night. I can be found brewing loose-leaf tea and doing concerningly middle-age yuppie things; I’m going to the gym for heaven’s sake, and I’m focusing less on toxic groups and taking more “me” time.

By God, what happened?

This looks nothing like my frazzled freshmen year — I ran out the door with a half-eaten granola bar, neglected to lock the door (because who does?) and would catch a whiff of the pineapple my roommate accidentally let rot in the trash can. I stayed up until 3 a.m. (okay, I still do that — night owlism is never going to change), eating a pack of Shin Ramen, and eventually fell asleep with a Spanish textbook plastered to my face.

So is this what junior year really is — getting to class on time and having a full eight hours of sleep? Is this the period after sophomore slump when I’ve dealt with all the nonsense already; when I no longer a naïve freshman with crushed dreams, and I’m just finally balancing all the things in my life?

Well, apparently when something goes right, something else always gets messed up. See, amidst this new sense of being in touch with suburban soccer parent roots, I feel — well, bored. My suburban fantasy of weekly laundry and dish cleaning rituals (a point I never thought I’d reach) feels pretty underwhelming.

So you could imagine my surprise when I found myself thinking back on the all-nighters of last year and the take out eaten on my living room floor. What once was a nightmare now seemed like the most dynamic point in my life. Does having a full night of sleep and finishing my homework early mean I’m dull? I wonder if all my classmates who are finally pulling their lives together feel this way — do they miss the brokenness that made them feel happy?

I realized, somewhere between reading up on a book during an early night in and feeling depressed about having enough time for a face mask, that all of this was absurd. If I’m validating happiness with the amount of depression and stress I’m experiencing in conjunction, then that’s just unhealthy, not admirable.  Have all those times of loudly complaining about how hard my prelim was been just a gimmick for attention, something to compensate for the fact that my life could have been better?

Maybe that’s our issue: we enjoy pain, or at least flaunting a faux sense of pain while not exactly suffering it. Masochists, if you will. We enjoy “dramatic,” endearing lives. We enjoy telling the girl sitting next to us, “Dude, I got it worse, I stayed up until 5 a.m.” We enjoy telling everyone we’re just so stressed, because it gives us the sense that we’re doing something productive with our lives. We self-victimize at every point possible, and then we start to depend our happiness on it. How unhealthy do we have to be to end up this point?

My friend once told me she doesn’t want a romantic relationship that’s all “good” throughout — she wants to feel the full breadth of it, with all its ups and downs, in order to appreciate it. Or there’s the saying that a rainbow can only come after a storm, that we can’t see true happiness until we experience the low points. But is that really true? Are we really incapable of functioning without something wrong in our lives?

This isn’t to say anyone can pull their life together, or should. Some others have mental health issues, and I’ve known my fair share of it — it can be impossible. Everyone works at a different pace, and just because I might think I have things figured out doesn’t mean the person next to me does. But this is just saying that there’s no harm in trying, and there’s no need to feel guilty for it. For those who do feel like everything is coming together, who do live dull and boring lives with a cup of tea before bed and a study guide for the prelim ready a week in advance, claps to you. We all want to be you, even if we won’t admit it.

So, if your life is a mess and you’re reading this at 4 a.m. in Olin Library or sleeping overnight at the Pale Fire Lounge tonight (true story), think on the bright side. It’s not so bad. Hey, you’ve got people like me in my grandma PJs reading a book, and some of us even miss that feeling of chaos. You might not get it now, but that imbalance is what kept us going. But there’s a balance point between feeling stressed and anchoring the positive parts of your life on that stress — you don’t need to be tired out of your mind to consider your life productive. As my father always said, we should be living to make our lives easier. There’s no need to miss the chaotic life when it’s over, and there’s no need to cling onto it when it’s there. Be healthy, be happy, and that’s all.

Kelly Song is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Songbird Sings runs every other Thursday this semester. She can be reached at ksong@cornellsun.com