Life Outside Social Media

Nothing is Binary

     I’m currently taking this captivating public health course called Diversity and Ethics in the History of the Biosciences, which primarily focuses on dissecting some of the major dichotomies that define societal expectations and norms in the field of biology. In a broader sense, the material intends to diminish the binary that exists between biology and society, or in more common terms, nature vs. nurture. While I’ve been deeply invested in all the readings I’ve done in the mere two weeks that I’ve taken this course, I won’t be discussing the fascinating things I’ve learned just yet (at least not in this post) because I’m still trying to fully comprehend all the heavy social implications involved in the history of medicine. What I am going to talk about though is how this concept of binary applies to and controls the two fundamental aspects of my being. 

     Half of me is a realist who dwells in practicality, rationality, and objectivity – a side of my character that’s drawn to the clear-cut facts of medical science for the conviction that it guarantees. This voice of reason is what constantly tells me whether what I’m doing is right or wrong and nothing in between; a voice that rejects the irrational expectations and pursuits of human connection. It’s a defining fragment of who I am as an individual, and it’s what most people tend to observe because I express it quite openly. 

     Then my other half is a writer who recognizes that these “substantiated” facts are essentially shaped by complex human experiences coming from a place of subjectivity and unique contexts. Society often sees it as disorderly because it involves perpetual uncertainties and unquantifiable variables such as vulnerability, but it’s the fragment that makes me human, and it truly baffles me that it took me this long to realize that I need to express this side much more freely and unapologetically. 

     Here’s a powerful message that especially resonated with me during lecture: certainty represses all uncertainty – we were conditioned to perceive this binary system as an absolute certainty, which in turn instilled a fixed mindset that we have to belong to one category or the other and nothing else. Binaries confine us to society’s pre-constructed values, ideologies, and standards, thus suppressing the beauty of the unknown that is uncertainty. I think part of why we struggle so much to find ourselves is that we’re built into this system that compels us to fit into a “black-or-white,” “either-or” category, as if we’re not multi-dimensional beings that actually fall into a wide and convoluted spectrum of undiscovered wonders. 

     My workspace is seamlessly organized but my mind surely isn’t; there’s a tiny bit of extrovert in my intensely introverted soul; I value the technicality in science but also the fluidity in the arts and the humanities; and behind the realist in me lies an optimist who believes in the irrationality of love. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to separate these discrepancies to determine which side to identify with, but now I realize that I won’t be whole in the absence of the other. 

     Maybe it's time to embrace being a walking contradiction because letting your differences coincide means that you accept every piece of who you are. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Learning How to Empathize

     I discovered this video over a year ago and I still bring myself to watch it every once in a while, perhaps one too many times, because it addresses an emotion that I find extremely crucial for humanity yet so difficult to convey. While this beautifully-crafted animation only scratches the surface, it does an excellent job of establishing the fundamental distinction between sympathy and empathy, the latter being an infinitely harder skill to develop. I personally believe that what makes empathy so tough to express is that human beings are innately selfish and afraid of vulnerability. 

     The former may seem like a widely pessimistic view of mankind, but we all know that there’s at least some truth to it. People love to talk about themselves as they share particular views and experiences based only on their own frame of reference. Our frequent incapacity to put ourselves in other people’s shoes keeps us from developing two of the essential qualities of empathy that Dr. Brown mentioned – perspective-taking and staying out of judgment. There’s this culprit named cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort that arises when our own beliefs and perspectives are being contradicted by differing viewpoints) that makes it so incredibly hard for us to fully grasp each other’s struggles. It’s easy to pour our problems away in a heartfelt conversation with a friend or an acquaintance, but listening and understanding so as to ignite a real connection is a whole other challenge. Fueling a connection in times of other people’s distress is definitely something I’m struggling with and constantly trying to work on because no matter how compassionate and genuine I try to be, I’m still incapable of communicating in a way that actually makes things better. I thought that having a solid set of morals would be enough to be that person whom anyone can confide in since I’ve always been “the listener,” but passive listening can only do so much, and I faced that first-hand when my own best friend’s life was falling apart and I had no idea what to do. One thing I have noticed though when dealing with someone who's in pain is that people have very different coping mechanisms, and once you figure out what that is by gaining the person's trust and seeing through their mind's eye, developing a connection becomes miles easier. 

     The latter, on another note, focuses more on the two other qualities of empathy – recognizing emotion in other people and communicating that. This might be an even more arduous matter to tackle because we live in a society that looks down on vulnerability, and we can’t effectively implement these qualities of empathy without this fundamental aspect. As Dr. Brown said, in order to ignite a connection, you must look within yourself to find a part of you that recognizes that pain, but for many of us, we don’t want to revisit those negative feelings and repressed memories because we’re afraid of being perceived as weak the second we become vulnerable. Instead, we shift away from the problem by finding some silver lining, which in some instances might help temporarily, but what will truly convey empathy is showing the person in distress that you’re present and you're willing to experience the same pain just to let them know that they don’t have to go through it alone. 

     The bottom line is: you must wear your heart on your sleeve unapologetically, wholeheartedly, and selflessly to communicate empathy, and that's certainly something I need to improve on as I dive into a profession that heavily involves the ability to empathize. It’s a significant skill to be developed over time, and it is by no means easy especially with the way that most of us are wired. But once we learn to embrace the beauty of vulnerability, connecting with each other on an unfathomable level will be so gratifying, and maybe, just maybe, our faith in humanity will be restored. 

• • •

     I highly encourage anyone who’s reading this to look further into Dr. Brené Brown’s work which focuses on human connection. Her TEDtalk about the power of vulnerability [link] is one of my absolute favorites as it provides great insight on how vulnerability is directly tied to our sense of worthiness to be loved and to belong.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stages of Growth

     Many people lose hope in recognizing or living up to their potential because they don’t realize that 1) everyone grows at a different pace and 2) personal growth is an endless process. 

     I, myself, grow at a very slow rate and that’s something I’ve always kind of noticed but never quite addressed. I’m the kind of person who typically prefers to stay in this safe, privileged bubble that I was raised into because I’ve always only been drawn to familiarity. Now that I’m well into my 20s, or what people like to call the “selfish years” where we’re supposed to focus on finding ourselves, I figured that I should actually do something about my excruciatingly gradual rate of personal growth. So, based on my assessment of how my own mind works in relation to this matter, I came up with these three stages of growth to guide myself for whenever I feel like my life is going nowhere. 

     One: The Void. The reason 2016 was the worst year of my young-adult life so far is that I was stuck in this stage for months. It was a time when I lived very passively with barely any scope for self-reflection, which left me feeling incredibly empty, unmotivated, and detached. Most people might respond to this phase by engaging in certain behaviors to fill the void, namely drugs, alcohol, hook-ups, or anything that provides instant (albeit temporary) gratification. In my case, it was merely a time when it seemed like I had everything, yet I felt nothing, and I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it because I lost myself in the process. For the longest time, I just waited for my life to somehow fix itself but that’s evidently not how it works. This stage requires finding a solution that not only provides immediate euphoria but also lasting fulfillment. Honestly, the way I got out of this situation was through sheer luck – I came across a quote by Rupi Kaur that led me to rediscover my passion for writing, which brings me to the next stage. 

     Two: The Realization. This is the part where the problem’s finally been acknowledged and dissected. It might be the worst stage for many because admitting the fact that you’re damaged means that it all becomes real. It’s quite ironic that I’ve been through this stage a few years ago when I decided to stop writing. Because the more I would write, the more broken I would feel as a person, so I ceased doing the one thing that bridged my relationship with myself – and that’s how I lost who I was. This stage of realization is what makes or breaks you – you either accept the truth that you’re deeply flawed then go about finding ways to fix yourself, or you ignore the problem because you’d rather feel empty than broken. It took me nearly four years to realize that the latter was the root of my inexplicable dissatisfaction, but I assure you that I’m not making the same choice the second time around. 

     Three: The Repair. To tell you the truth, I’m not even at this point yet. I have (very) recently decided that I’m taking the high road this time as a result of undergoing the stage of realization, but I’m not entirely sure how I’ll do it yet. I know it would make a lot more sense to publish this post after having gone through all three stages of growth, but I want to let it be known that it’s normal to feel lost and not have everything figured out. Uncertainty, in many ways, is what gives life meaning. Life carries on either as a consequence of your actions or as a way for the universe to tell you that some things are simply out of your control. Although, one thing I am certain of is that I don’t have to go through the stage of repair alone. I like to think that I can rebuild myself all on my own, but it wouldn’t hurt to let others help me if I see that they truly care. 

     Personal growth is a skill – an unending process that takes time to develop, but it should never be perfected – because perfection isn’t human. Being broken is.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Little Things

     There had been many times when I’d remind my sister of a particular memory or something she had told me several years ago, but she wouldn’t remember a thing because to her, it’s all irrelevant, forgettable information. Somehow, that’s the stuff I remember the most. I still recall my friend’s favorite painting when she muttered it under her breath in AP Art History 5 years ago; I remember my high school psychology teacher’s obsession for bread when my sister told me a story about it; I remember the smallest things that guys have told me about themselves on the first date; I remember nearly every detail of the day when my aunt passed away from cancer, down to my exact outfit to the moment my mom received the phone call in a car ride; and I remember the most mundane conversations I’ve had with people closest to me and even with strangers.

     The recurring inside jokes and unforgettable “firsts” are always special and worth reminiscing, but the peculiar little things leave just as big an impact as moments that make me laugh until I lose my breath. I think those little, “insignificant” things are what make people a bit more different from one another, but more specifically, they’re the moments that only I share with each of them, and that’s how someone makes a strong enough impact to live on in my memory. I just wonder if other people have felt the same way about me.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Being a Nursing Student and a Blogger

     With my growing social media presence as a beauty and fashion content creator, people often ask me why I’m not pursuing a career where I get to be my own boss in an industry full of women who empower each other and do what they love. There’s no lie that all of that sounds amazing, maybe even surreal, but truthfully, I know it won’t grant me the fulfillment I need in the long-run. One of my utmost desires in life is to be challenged intellectually by constantly being fed with knowledge and experience in a field that I’m invested in. It’s not to say that people in the beauty, fashion, and social media industries don’t learn or go through extraordinary experiences – they most certainly do, probably even much more than the average person – but it’s more on the creative and business aspect, both of which are definitely not my strong suit.

     Nursing, on the other hand, offers everything that will unquestionably fulfill me. It’s a field where my mind will always be exercised and nurtured with all the technical scientific knowledge that I have gained and will continue to gain. I get to explore the complexities of the human mind itself, not only through studying concepts of psychology but also experiencing it first-hand by dealing with patients who are plagued with mental illness. I get to witness that hard work pays off through hours of physical labor. And most importantly, I get to learn about other people’s struggles and experiences as well as gain my own. I can already see that connecting with patients on an individual level and living vicariously through their stories will leave me with something to reflect on every single day, and that’s what will make me whole.

     So, why am I delving into the medical field instead of pursuing a luxurious career where I’m constantly being validated for my style and appearance? Because I’d rather spend the rest of my life cultivating my mind, body, and soul in a way that no other profession can.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Writing and Vulnerability

     I never sought validation from others when it came to my writing. It was the one thing that got me through my angsty teenage phase when I had no sense of self-worth, when I felt alone even in the comfort of good company, and when I was too afraid to show vulnerability. Everything I wrote was rooted from pain, anxiety, and numbness, which in turn planted the idea that it was destroying instead of healing me.

     I stopped because I felt that my mind was an unsafe space, and to explore it further was to trap myself in a loop of self-destruction. But I realize that writing was my way of getting to know myself in the most impeccable, raw, and unfiltered fashion, and I see that now because I lost sight of who I was the moment I stopped my mind from transmitting all these beautifully complex thoughts through my fingertips.

     Expressing myself through written words may have brought to light my most problematic issues and imperfections, but it also exposed me to one of the purest, most valuable assets to have – vulnerability, and that’s a beautiful thing.

• • •

     I usually leave this kind of stuff to my personal writing blog, but I want this to be a reminder of why I started this creative space as a content creator in the first place. My love for fashion and beauty was obviously my main motivation for creating Simple Stylings, but the underlying reason was to feed my unquenchable thirst to write. After years of merely writing about my favorite makeup products and the inspiration behind my outfits, I figured all of that wasn't enough. I needed to go back to really articulating my innermost thoughts about things that actually matter - like exploring my mind and getting to know myself. With that said, I'm certainly going to make an effort to start writing again because I think it's all I truly need right now. 

     Don't worry, this blog isn't about to turn into my anxiety-driven Tumblr page. I just wanted to let y'all know that the things I'm dealing with and care about lie way beyond the social media industry.

Thursday, March 16, 2017