What The Eff is Post Uni Life? – One Year Later; the Lessons I Have Learnt

It is hard to believe that this time last year I was anxiously awaiting my name to be called out with a group of other students from my department. All dressed up, processing the build-up to three years of working my ass off for this one moment, with a single thought break dancing through my mind ‘don’t fall, don’t fall…walla you’re going to fall’. Three hundred and six five days later in the ‘real world’ so to speak and here are the six most important lessons I have learnt:

1) I Have Spent Fifteen Years in Education Only to Realise I Have Learnt Nothing.

If am a freelancer, how do I pay my taxes? How do I negotiate? How do I learn to love myself? How do I design a life that will make me happy? How do I manage my money?

I

Don’t

Know

But I do know how to solve for x which is useful for my everyday life- said no one ever.

I cannot express strongly enough how many times this year I found myself thinking; why am I only learning this now, at the age of twenty three? I have felt more like an idiot this year than I have ever felt my entire life. University does not prepare you for the world, the three years I spent getting my degree were amazing, no doubt. However, part of the point of getting a degree is specializing in something, but being so focused on the details of one subject makes you forget the bigger picture.

2) Money Does Buy Happiness.

I have always confidently said, ‘money can’t buy happiness’… until I started experiencing life without it. It’s really easy to say this when you actually have money.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that family, friends and being a good person are of paramount importance and that there are definitely some things money cannot buy. However, this year I have discovered that money is essential for survival, as much as I would like to be a monk about this and say I don’t need it, it is in fact the oxygen required to survive. Additionally, the stress that comes with lacking money decreases your happiness.

3) You Will Lose Some Friends

Perhaps the most painful part of post university life is discovering that convenience plays a huge role in why you spent time with some of your friends. It’s all well and great when you are going to the same lectures, attending the same events and know all the same people. But, put some distance, time zones and different work schedules between you and you may discover that not everyone is willing to put in effort to preserve the friendship….and perhaps, sometimes; you belong in the ‘everyone’ category.

I have stayed in contact with more lecturers than I have with my university friends, and I still think about these people fondly whom unfortunately, I no longer call friends. I often recall all the times we laughed uncontrollable together, yet I am equally saddened by the fact that what we once had no longer exists, but alas, loss is part of life.

4) You Can Choose Who You Spend Your Time With and You May Be Surprised By Your Choices.

We tend to pick the best out of the pool of people in school, and then we call them our friends. But that does not mean that the choice is completely ours to begin with. However, when you are no longer essentially forced to spend time with your peers that means you get to spend time with whoever you want. And who you want to spent time with might surprise you, for me this has been thirty five year old hypnotherapists, twenty something physics masters graduates and Texan evangelists.

5) You Start to Doubt Things You’ve Believed Your Whole Life.

I had to fight aggressively to convince myself that I can still accomplish my dreams- a belief I had effortlessly prescribed to for as long as I can remember, without a single doubt. However, once I attempted to secure a job in the film industry upon graduating, I quickly realised that no one wants to pay me until I have worked for free for a couple of years. For the first time in my life I began to question whether I could live the life I wanted or if I had to settle for a life that would ensure I could just survive. Staying optimistic required a lot of energy and I was not prepared for that inner battle.

6) The World is Abundant with Opportunities.

I did not realise how big of a commitment it was to be eternally dedicated to school- or so it seemed. I took academia a lot more seriously than your average student, putting it as a priority ahead of socialising, family events and unfortunately even health. So to have something that felt like it was part of my existence suddenly lift from my life, was just abnormal, like my whole being did not know what to do with the absence of it. Being perpetually unavailable from September to July alone closed up any opportunities I could have possibly pursued. I feel like I have done more this year alone that in the last decade. I am very fortunate to have experienced some really amazing adventurous; from teaching Czech millionaires how to negotiate in English to stopping avid fans of self-help guru and author Robin Sharma from spending more than thirty seconds with him. As cliche as this sounds, I really do feel like the world is a bigger place with a ridiculous amount of things to do. But being committed to studying full time for our entire lives up until this point, I never felt like I had the freedom to say yes to or even look for opportunities because of this toxic marriage I had with it. It was like being on a short leash, I had some freedom to stray away and look from a far at all the things I could do, but eventually I had to always come back to it. Graduating from university and leaving education for good was like cutting the leash and being able to be submerged into this world buzzing with opportunity, filling me to the brim with optimism.

In conclusion, navigating my way through post-university life has been incredibly confusing. I do not recall standing in line for this seemingly never ending roller-coaster of emotions. However, once the confusion started to subside, excitement took its place as I began to see all the possibilities ahead of me.

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When a Middle Eastern Woman lives with Four Men for a Week- The 6 Lessons I Have Learnt.

Why is it necessary to mention I am a Middle Eastern woman? In my culture men and woman are quite rigidly segregated. In weddings, men and women celebrate in different rooms, in family gatherings; typically all the women and men sit separately. Depending on which part of Egypt you are in, a man can refuse to shake a woman’s hand when acquainted. Yet here I am sharing a bathroom with four men in Portugal to shoot an experimental film and I wonder how my parents ever agreed to this.
Everything I say may seem like a gross generalisation, but this was my experience. Here are six lessons I learnt during my week with men.
1) Lack of Affection Negatively Affects Me
During the first couple of days, I noticed I was feeling slightly uneasy and out of place. Initially, I thought it was because there was too much masculine energy, I quickly discovered the inaccuracy of this, instead, it was the lack of feminine energy that was throwing me off. I live with my sister, my mum and my dad, so it is quite a female dominated house hold, and as a person I am a very sensitive and affectionate creature who loves to express love. For example; every morning when we wake up, my sister and I share a massive hug, we say I love you and how much we missed each other during our eight hour slumber. Repeat with mum. Every single day without fail. I typically hug my sister and mum seventeen thousand times a day, this is a completely accurate number. There was not much hugging or declaring how much we love each other during this trip, so being denied this physical and verbal affection was quite odd for me, as I was lacking my daily overdose of oxytocin.
However….
2) Men Can Be Protective and This Should Not be Taken For Granted.
On one of the nights we were in a bar and I was sexually harassed. It was nothing too traumatic, but it was enough to make me feel violated and uncomfortable as my personal space was invaded. Not knowing what to do I told one of the crew members, he declared ‘that is not ok’. When he said this, it gave me the confidence to see that perhaps I should not let this go so easily. He then proceeded to say ‘we should pull his pants down’. After politely rejecting this offer as an effective solution, we then went to find another member of our crew; the director of this film.
All of a sudden I was watching this thing slowly explode before my eyes, the festival director, bouncer, two bar managers, film director, harasser and his hyper masculine friend were arguing in Portuguese in the corner of the bar all on my behalf. It became quite heated. I could not help but smile and feel like this is what men’s version of a hug was, I felt the warmth that I experience when I hug my mum and sister. I was grateful that they were so protective over me and that my safety was put as such a priority. So although these wonderful men that I was living with were not hugging me seventeen thousand times a day (even though they attempted to once I told them I needed it) they were showing me they cared in other ways. Intellectually, I understand that love and care are expressed in different ways, however it was quite eye opening to learn this on an emotional level. I feel like this piece of cliché information ‘people show love differently’ seeped through me and I understood it wholly. With this realisation came a mild sense of peace, an unexpected calm had descended upon me with the revelation that perhaps all the people that I think I like more than they like me are just expressing love in different ways and I am missing these expressions because I am too busy standing with my arms open waiting for them to hug me.
3) Feeling Comfortable Being Human
Of course, with four men in one apartment, there was a lot of scatological and crude humour, which I genuinely found funny. The fact that they were openly talking about bodily fluids with no shame whatsoever was quite contagious. This openness and comfort with their bodies reduced the shame I associated with such topics that are completely normal and natural. To deny these parts of you, is to deny you are human and therefore you are rejecting yourself. This cannot be good for your self-esteem. During that week I was subsequently accepting who I was a bit more.
4) Men Can Be Lighter.
I remember riding in the elevator and looking at my frizzy ass hair in the mirror and realising that I haven’t looked in the mirror for two days.
As the stereotype goes; ‘men can be more easy going than women’, and this may be the case due to the fact that woman face more societal pressures. Perhaps both these statements are terrible generalisations, but this has been my truth in the experience I have had. I noticed that during that week I became more decisive, I didn’t second guess my trivial decisions such as what outfit to wear because I was not in an environment to be encouraged to do so. These superficial aspects of life that can feel so important…were not.
5) It is Not Dramatic to Feel Uncomfortable.
Perhaps this is the most important lesson…
During the entire duration of that trip I was very conscious not to be dramatic. I did not want to fulfil the drama queen female stereotype, as I wanted to keep working with this crew. This resulted in me staying silent in situations where perhaps that I should have spoken up.
There was one scenario in particular where I sat listening to their laughter when I wanted to cry. I kept telling myself, ‘do not get up, do not leave, this is not a soap opera’. But with a little bit of hindsight, I realised I should not have just sat there, if I was uncomfortable, I should have just politely excused myself, got up and left. No one should have to feel like they need to sit through something that is uncomfortable just because they are worried what others will think of them. My fear was being dramatic, but I still could have left without being dramatic and I feel sorry for that version of myself that just sat there because she was afraid to fulfil a stereotype.
6) Women are effing amazing
The absence of women for a week made me realise just how wonderful they are, the compassion, the empathy and the love they give- I was missing this. It is something I have never noticed the importance of before. I now believe women are incredibly underrated. Of course men are great but I don’t think this world could exist without this powerful feminine energy. I have a new found respect for women.
In conclusion, men are great and women are great. I really see that no sex is more superior or valuable than the other, we need each other in different ways.
Additionally, any culture that advocates the separation of men and woman is doing some injustice to the world. We can learn many lessons from each other. Spending all your time with just one gender will give you a biased opinion in life, it is not dissimilar to only reading one type of book for the rest of your life, you will miss out all the other wonderful books out there in the world and this is not a world I would like to live in.

 

The Confusing Experience of Watching a Friend Become Blind.

Tuesday. 2 for 1 day at the cinema. The feeling of freedom envelopes my soul as we both sit for lunch on a weekday, when we know that the majority of the world is working. The aroma of Chinese food is inviting on this warm summer’s day in what has proven to be a very confusing time for weather in London 2018.

She asks me to read the menu for her, I say ‘of course’. I know she is visually impaired but today I am about to find out the meaning of this.

My childhood friend (whom I shall call Selena) and I have known each other for fifteen years. I know Selena suffers from many health issues that are linked to her premature birth, primarily her eyesight has always been a major problem. Upon meeting Selena at the age of seven, the first thing I said to her was ‘your eyes are so small’. I meant it as a compliment. I had come to understand that Selena had some issues with her eyesight, I did not think much of it, I just assumed it would be something that she would overcome with time. Eleven years later, I naively asked her if her eyes are getting better, she struggled to understand what I meant and after an embarrassing conversation where it was revealed that I did not understand the severity of her issue at all, she responded with ‘they are not going to get better’. This upset me.  I found her acceptance of it slightly disturbing, but being a trained practitioner in the art of oblivion I neatly folded this comment and placed it nice and secure in a box far deep in the left corner of my mind entitled ‘things that upset me that I do not want to deal with’. This box is starting to overflow and I imagine in a few years it will be entitled ‘Caution. Wet Floor. Due to an explosion’. I digress, I did not think much of her comment, fast forward another four years to the present and Selena and I are sitting in the cinema watching the adverts (before the trailers) as we are waiting for our film to start .

I do not remember how we arrived to this point of the conversation but I found out that Selena cannot read books anymore, she owns a device that turns the books into audio. How heart breaking. If someone told me I would not be able to read books anymore, I would find the world a much lonelier place. Selena also cannot read text messages, she owns a different device for this, as she said this I recalled the text I sent her this morning to tell her I arrived at the restaurant… and then  I remembered all the texts I have ever sent her and wondered why she never mentioned that she cannot actually see them.

As we were sitting in the cinema watching the film trailers, it occurred to me, why are we even watching a film? I insensitively asked her, ‘Selena…can you even see the screen?’ To this she replied ‘I can see shapes and colours, but it’s blurry’. I was then quite horrified to hear that she uses a walking stick when its crowded and she had to learn brail as a back up. Brail?! Selena eagerly continued her story about her uni friends that she was telling me before this awful conversation, but I told her to stop talking so I can process this information. She took my shock lightly and four seconds later asks me if I have processed it.

All of this was a lot to take in for someone who still believed her eyes would get better as they thought it was just a temporary phase like dry eyes from using the computer too much.

‘You are legally blind?’ I meekly asked. ‘Yes, the Doctors know it will get worse but they do not know how bad’ She matter-of-factly stated.

Deep breath.

Now, if I was the person I wanted to be, I would have taken this opportunity to really consider how blessed I am, and to be grateful for what I have, after all eyesight is something that we all take for granted but it is how we experience 80% of the world. I would have then offered Selena an ear to listen to her and really try to do everything in my power to help. But I am on my journey and I am not at this stage yet, my initial response was of anger and discomfort. I did not understand why some people have to go through this pain whereas others do not. In this moment I hated myself for complaining about trivial things that I never stop thinking about like loosing ten kilos or having more money. My friend told me she was becoming blind and I made it about me.

The film started and she laughed at all the bits you were supposed to laugh it, she asked me a few times what happened or who the person on screen was and I robotically responded, but overall she was enjoying this film more than I was.

I cannot fathom what it would be like to watch the world of colour and familiar faces that I had come to love, slowly fade away. Particularly as most of us have a major in minor things, we easily lose perspective of what is truly important, like getting worked up about missing our trains or arriving late to meetings.

Perhaps the most painful part is the fact that Selena is such a wonderful person, so generous, understanding and open minded. She does not deserve this struggle in life. But she has the strength to deal with it so gracefully, not to complain and to focus on the good in her life.

My discomfort grew as she held on tight to me as we slowly walked back to the tube station. As Selena proceeded to tell me about her funny university experiences, I checked out and I continued to wonder why life could be so cruel to the kindest of souls.

The Surprising Positive of Having Contemporary ‘Role Models’ Like the Kardashians

I remember attempting to explain to my Italian friend, Mariana, what exactly Kim Kardashian does for a living. Mariana had never heard of her.
Me: She’s um…she’s um, she…
Mariana: Is she an actress?
Me: No
Mariana: Is she is musician?
Me: No…I don’t actually know what she does.
Make no mistake, I believe the Kardashian’s ridiculous fame is a direct reflection of everything that is wrong with our selfie obsessed society. Primarily because I personally believe they do not have any reasonable justification for why they are so rich, famous and as a result influential. Nevertheless, I see that there is at least one benefit from their rise to fame.
Blonde hair and blue eyes are two features that I have always wanted to have. I distinctly remember in primary school, the blonde haired, blue eyed, thin Caucasian girls received all the attention- or so it seemed. Even my Sri Lankan friend who had the most beautiful, thick raven hair, made a comment I will never forget, she turned to me with her huge brown eyes, dripping with vulnerability and said ‘I wish my hair was white’. It seems, even at the tender, impressionable age of six, subconsciously we both had come to the conclusion that if we looked like these blonde haired Caucasian girls, we would be happier.
Fast-forward a decade or so.
Enter the Kardashians.
Five women with dark features; dark hair, dark eyes, (except for Khloe) darker skin and of course curvaceous bodies. They may have singlehandedly changed the beauty standards of western society-with the help of Jennifer Lopez who paved the way for woman with different body types than your average Barbie. With the Kardashians- this new beauty standard did not evolve, it exploded. Before young girls had blonde thin Barbie’s to ‘look up to’ and now we have more options. They helped to shape these new beauty standards,  although they are equally as unattainable standards to achieve, they are slightly more inclusive to a wider range of woman, globally.
I am not suggesting for one moment that I look like a Kardashian, but if the options in front of me are a Kardashian or a blonde Barbie, I look more like the former. The fact that I share some of these features with the Kardashian clan (dark eyes and hair), features that are associated with beautiful women, this helped me assimilate a culture where I already felt like a foreigner. Different, Distant, and no matter how close I got to feeling like I belonged in this country, it was never close enough. It was one of those instances where one does not know how bad they previously felt, until they feel better. I did not realise how much I felt like an outsider until I got closer to the inside. I did not realise that I was holding my breath until I exhaled. To that I have to thank the Kardashians for expanding the meaning of the word ‘beautiful’.

You are the Average of the Five People you Spend the Most Time With.

I was on holiday with some friends, we were there for six days, on day one all my friends ate McDonalds for dinner, I was on a diet at the time, so I proudly resisted this temptation and opted for a salad instead.  This pattern continued until day five, with every passing day I felt my will power depleting. However, on day six when McDonalds looked more inviting than my dry salad, I caved and inhaled a McDonalds meal.
I had not eaten McDonalds in six years.
Anyone who has ever stuck to a diet and broken it can understand how livid I was with myself, but I was more concerned with my irrational anger towards my friends.
I started to think; can I blame my friends- who like to indulge in unhealthy food- for eating that McDonalds meal because they influenced me? Can I blame my environment for being the way I am? Is this a valid point to consider? Immediately I heard my mind rejecting this victim mentality and say ‘what about taking responsibility for your own actions?’  I completely understand that if I do not take responsibility for my own actions and blame others, I am disempowering myself. However, it did make me think, to what extent are my friends shaping who I am?
I have a friend who repeatedly cheats on her boyfriend, takes drugs and occasionally steals. I will call her Lucia. Lucia and I have been good friends since we were nine years old. Unfortunately she comes from a ‘broken home’ so to speak and I have come to understand her behaviour as merely mimicking what she has seen from the people closest to her. This is the only reality she knows, and anything different or better would be out of her context. Lucia is a good person and a good friend, and we have helped each other through many difficult times as well as experiencing a great childhood together. However, often I worry about the influence she may have on me, and whether I should take that darn advice written in every personal development book that tells you to only surround yourself with people you want to be like, and cut the rest out. However, when there is so much history, this is not such an easy task to do.
Lucia’s cheating is a relatively new habit and the problem is that she thinks it is acceptable to be disloyal to her boyfriend and justifies it with ‘everyone at work does it too’. Everyone in her work place also sniffs cocaine, which she declares she will never do. I sensed an issue here. She only thinks it’s ok to cheat because the majority of the people in her daily environment cheat, thus normalising this behaviour. Therefore, I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that perhaps with time she will see that snorting cocaine is also a normal activity to do, purely because everyone else does it too.
I started to think, if I accept her behaviour and make it ok for her, slowly but surely I will make this behaviour ok for me. Behaviour that is unacceptable in my eyes. It is like the frog in the boiling water- the old parable goes; if you throw a frog in boiling water, it will jump right out, but if the frog is put in lukewarm water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. I do not want to be cooked to death. Perhaps we must acknowledge the insidious dangers that come with befriending people with habits that you would rather not adopt. Influence is a powerful thing, and should not be taken lightly.
I am left wondering what the right thing to do is. Should I continue to exercise compassion and sympathy towards a friend and one day find myself stealing a purse because everyone else is doing it? Or do I tell my friend that I love her but I do not want to get influenced by her negative and illegal behaviour? Subsequently sacrificing a good friendship, and perhaps missing out on the opportunity to expand my level of compassion and understanding. Not to mention not being there for a friend who is clearly going through a rough stage.
I have been battling with this idea for a couple of years; I want to do what is right for both of us. But waiting for clarity about this situation never seems to arrive.

 

How I Paralysed My Face From Too Much Stress

It has been exactly four years since I woke up on a chilly April afternoon to the feeling of no feeling on the left side of my face, something felt heavy and uncomfortably tingly, almost like the effect of gravity was stronger on only one half of my face. Strange, I thought.
I dragged my overweight body and grudgingly got out of bed, just another day of wishing I could be someone else. I looked in the mirror to find the whole left side of my face was drooping- not dissimilar to what it looks like to have a stroke. Now, luckily I did not really have any emotions at the time, seldom would I feel anything, so I was not concerned until my sister was disturbed by the sight of me and angrily demanded I visit A & E.
I waited with my dad for hours to get a diagnosis. To be honest, I did not care. I was too engrossed in my favourite daily activity; dreaming that I didn’t exist. This episode just happened to be set in A & E instead of my bed, but one must change it up every once in a while.
‘Bells Palsy’ the doctor lifelessly stated i.e. ‘a virus that causes facial paralysis, however no one knows what causes it’, he added. But I do. It was painfully obvious; I had spent the last four years in a state of constant stress, gained 50 pounds, I did not leave the house for an entire year-no exaggeration, I was excluded from school as they interpreted my stress levels as manic behaviour and thought I was a danger to myself and the other students. No doubt in my poor toxic mind that I did this to myself, I created such a polluted environment in my mind and body that my immune system weakened and allowed for such viruses to pass through. Four years later, every time I look at a photo of myself, I will myself not to cry as I just feel so monstrous and when I look at other girls photo’s on social media, my first thought is not; I wish I was as pretty or thin as her but I am so jealous that her eyes are the same size.
Although today there is still noticeable residue, thankfully it has improved a lot.
Countless doctor’s appointments later and they still tell me the same thing; ‘this is as good as it will get, you should be grateful it isn’t worse’.
Dejectedly and full of self-hatred, I think; I did this to myself.
I did this to myself.
I did this to myself?
Wait a minute, if I did this to myself that must mean I am incredibly powerful and that my mind is incredibly powerful.
I can paralyse my own face with my just my thoughts? Oh my goodness that is amazing! What else can I do? This is the most empowering thought ever! Surely if I did this to myself, I can undue it to myself. After years, I am forcing myself to believe that I can heal myself.

So what is the lesson here?
If you stress too much you can paralyse your face?
Yes.

But also, logically speaking; if you have the power to cause damage, you have the power to heal.
I am certain that if we prescribe to this belief, perhaps things can change.