Growing up, I always felt scared of what my mother. One moment I would walk by her as she leaned against the kitchen counter, eating tiramisu with a smile on her face, and the next I would hear her screaming my name in anger because she didn’t like the way I set my shoulders. Throughout my childhood I prepared myself all the time for her to berate or yell at me for hours.
“Your accomplishments are pretty amazing,” my former therapist L told me, a few years after I had left my childhood home for my undergraduate studies. “It’s kind of like pillars. For a lot of people, when one pillar gets knocked down, a lot of their other pillars fall too. But not for you.”
L said this to me when I told him I maintained a 4.0 GPA, at the end of the semester that my PTSD obliterated my mental health. I think he wanted me to take some pride in my academic performance even though a bunch of my friendships had fallen apart a few months ago and I had just finally managed to get ahold of my panic attacks. I probably shrugged, saying something like yeah, well, school’s kinda always been whatever for me, so.
My most recent year or two of therapy has helped me see this past conversation from a different, or at least deeper perspective. As a child, I lacked control over my life because of my mom, so I asserted that control later on through managing my weight, my grades, or more innocuous habits like how many books I read. While I have pretty much stopped caring about my weight, I still tend to do well in situations that require a keen eye for detail and some level of control, like research. Now, though, I’m recognizing certain situations in which my desire for control is unnecessary or unhelpful, namely in my r*mantic life
also I really don’t mean to glorify academic achievement in this post because I have definitely had crushes in the past on guys who were really good at school and really garbage at everything else, so, Grade Point Average or Great at Pretending to be emotionally Available, you tell me.
One joyful facet of my life that I did not plan into happening: my friendships with my two best friends. I worked two part-time jobs in undergrad and met one at one of my jobs and one at the other. When we first met and even for several months later, I didn’t think to myself, oh wow, these two are gonna be like my ride or die bffs. While I put in the work to maintain consistent contact with both of them after we graduated and moved to three different states, I didn’t invest that energy with the plan in mind that we’d get as close as we are today.
Flash forward a few years after that conversation I had with L. I’m a few years into my Psychology PhD and I’m visiting one of my bffs in the Southeastern United States. From her apartment, we can walk to Jeni’s Ice Cream.
“All of my friends have cats,” I said, lying down on her apartment’s carpeted floor. “Should I feel bad for not really wanting a cat? Like if I got a cat I think I’d feed it and play with it, but honestly I don’t really want a cat.”
“I think it makes sense that you wouldn’t want a cat, or any pet,” my friend said. “I feel like the two things you’re into are emotions and beats, and cats don’t really give you either of those things.”
I remember laughing out loud. When she said that, I felt truly seen and understood, like I felt this slice of joy that someone on this planet actually got me – the exact opposite of how I felt living with my mother for the first 18 years of my life. My friend went onto explain her statement, about how she’s observed that I derive the most pleasure from talking about interpersonal relationships and the emotions of fictional characters and fanboying upbeat dance tracks from BlackPink and Twice. I nodded along to her sage profile of me, and since then I have felt zero guilt for not wanting a cat or a pet in general.
When I think about my closest friendships, I recognize that I have exerted some control to maintain them. We make time to call and text. I take care of myself through means such as journaling, jogging to upbeat dance music, and going to therapy so I can show up in my friendships in a healthy way. I make sure to disinvest from the amatonormative, patriarchal glorification of romance and the nuclear family, such as by dedicating funds to see my friends in person and writing about them
in this super gay, super odd blog that you can find online, idk if I’d recommend it though tbh, the writer has great blonde hair but some of the crushes he’s had in the past, like please develop taste buds YIKES.
At the same time, I find it easy to imagine a world in which I did not meet either of my bffs. If I had been born a few years before or after my actual birthdate, our paths may not have crossed. If we had grown up in different parts of the United States instead of all in a similar region, we may have been less likely to go to the same undergraduate college. If one of us hadn’t been born with a disposition toward reading and writing, we may have chosen different part-time jobs at that undergraduate college.
I had no control over so many of these factors. In a way, I feel grateful for that lack of control though. All I had to do: live in a way aligned with my values, and these beautiful friendships fell into place from there.
Any unexpected things occur in your life that you feel grateful for? What motivated you to get a pet or to not get a pet? General reactions to this post? I finished my seventh residency interview yesterday, three more to go (my last one is one week from now)! In the mean time you’ll catch me listening to “I Can’t Stop Me” and “More & More” by Twice, expectedly.
8 responses to “Emotions and Beats”
Oh My God! that CHEESECAKE!!! I need to be friends with your friend and spend new years like that!
Good luck in your interviews! Almost over!!
And yes, a lot of things happened unexpectedly. And sometimes things are a blessing in disguise. 🙂
Haha thank you! I’ll let my bff know re: the kind words about her cheesecake. Appreciate the well wishes regarding interviews and yes totally agree that some things are a blessing in disguise, even if they may not seem that way at the time.
Love your former therapists’ pillar anology! And it’s interesting that you write about how during your undergrad years, even though you didn’t expect it, engaging in values-aligned activities somehow helped you form meaningful relationships with people who are now your close friends (which speaks to how a lack of control isn’t necessarily bad at all times – a theme reflected in several of your older posts too), though later obviously you exercised control and consciously put in efforts into sustaining those relationships. I am curious to know if this has changed as you’ve grown older, like do you engage in values-oriented activities to exercise control over the things that are in fact within your control, or do you do it because it helps you mindfully accept the lack of control in certain areas of your life and helps you appreciate things that are within your control?
I am listening to a lot of Mitski and Lil Nas X songs these days!! Hope you take care, and all the best with your residency process!
Awww thanks so much for this thoughtful comment Kartavya! I appreciate that you’ve read enough of my posts to be able to detect themes and I think the loosening of control has been something that’s developed over the past few months. I feel like you described it so well in terms of how it worked out with my friends. To your question which is intelligently worded, I feel like I do both – engaging in values-based activities helps me exercise control over what I do have control over *and* at the same time even if I can’t control certain things in life, I still have the actions I can take that are values-aligned which is better than nothing. Curious how these themes manifest or not in your own life!
So glad you are listening to great artists of color! I respect Mitski and Lil Nas X a lot even though I tend to listen to more dance pop and bubblegum pop exclusively. (:
I always feel helpless, sad and angry when I read about your experiences with your mom. I’m grateful your grandmother was around. I’m amazed you had the insight to focus on what you could control and worked hard to get away as soon as you could.
You’ve written about your friends before and I just love what you do to cultivate and nourish those relationships.
Finally – after I said so many nice things, could you please send me a slice of that cheesecake? 🙂
But seriously, I wish you continued success in your interviews. Take care.
Thanks so much for your righteous outrage at my mom! Yes, I also feel fortunate to have had many healthy and wonderful relationships in my life like with my grandmother and my friends. If I knew how I would’ve definitely sent you a slice of the cheesecake! Appreciate your interview well wishes and hope you and those you care about are doing well too. (:
That cheesecake and I don’t even LIKE cheesecake! Wow. I love how intentional you are with your friendships and yes, they do take work esp if you’re apart. Interestingly I have some really good friends from my jobs (my best friend used to be my boss!) although have my core of people from the first day of university, too. One issue with control is when you can’t make things better for someone. Husband has been diagnosed type 2 diabetic and I have a need to find all the info and work out what he needs to do etc. etc and make sure when he eats and and and … and I do need to let go a bit there! Hope the interviews have been going well. When do you know what’s what and you have to decide where to go amidst all the amazing offers you get?
Awww thanks Liz for the kind words re: the cheesecake and the thoughtful comment overall! Glad to hear about your friendships and I’m sending a lot of warmth to you and your husband as well as others who may be affected by his health. Yay for letting go a bit when we can. (: And appreciate the well wishes re: interviews, I’m all done now and I hear back on February 18th 2022 where I match, if I match! Fingers crossedddddd omg. Instead of offers you just match somewhere based on how you rank the sites and how they rank you, so we’ll see.