I wake up with a sour feeling in my gut every morning.

Usually it comes accompanied with the feeling of loss, perhaps indicative of a dream of the past that I’d just woken up from; something that has slipped from my fingers, irrevocably irretrievable. It doesn’t go well with the sunlight seeping through the crevices of the curtains or the heaviness of my duvet. It feels strange. Out of place.

We are approaching Week 7 of classes. It’s November. Time seems to be moving so fast but not fast enough, but only probably because I am far too aware of it for it to pass by exponentially as it did during college.

And that is all I’ve been doing: looking back. Preferring to wallow in the impossibility of history than actually doing something about the present within my control. I stumbled upon Tycho on Youtube the other day and started listening to them non-stop on Spotify while reading, and it was exactly what I’ve been looking for but in music form. I wasn’t even consciously paying attention to it, but it somehow sneaked into my head and settled into the grooves that had been availably empty for a year or so. It was so compatible, in the sense that I didn’t even have to listen to it twice to immediately take a liking to it. It triggered a switch that opened the floodgates of emotions that once were, things that I hadn’t felt since coming here, thought I would never feel again. And I miss it. I miss it so much that if I close my eyes while the music plays, I can probably trick myself into believing that I am back at where I want to be the most again.

But at the end of it, I have to open my eyes, just like waking up from a dream that you don’t even remember and yet feel the emotional repercussions of it.

Because all this does is remind me of how inadequate I feel through and through as a university student, a friend, a 20-year-old, a human being. Of seeing everyone else feeling just fine, better than fine and not having any qualms about Social Interactions capital S capital I — and wondering where exactly I went wrong. — I know this isn’t true, of course. I don’t know everyone’s feelings and stories and I have no right to reduce them to merely what is shown on the outside (God forbid this is one of my worst fears, of people only seeing me as what is shown on the outside, which is Incredibly Not A Lot) but like I said it’s already Week 7, freshers week and orientation already feels like light years away, so why do I still feel so uncomfortable in my own skin? Why am I still so bad with people? What is this horrible dread that settles upon me at the prospect of talking to new people even though I want to, want to make new friends and blend in? Where did these pre-notions of “I’m too uninteresting, sensitive and passive for anyone’s time” come from? Who is this timid hermit that has lost so much from what she used to have during college? And I feel, ultimately, the weight derived from the pressure to have fun, to be outgoing and take on the role of a social butterfly and join all the events and travel everywhere otherwise I’m not doing the whole University Thing right stems from heavy comparisons. Arguably with other people, but really it’s mostly with myself and who I used to be.

I feel like, by actively shrinking away from these, from socials and crowds and everything, I’m missing out on another great beginning. I’m missing out. I’m missing out on so much yet I feel most comfortable and relaxed when I come back to the non-judgmental confines of my room and glow of my laptop screen because outside of it, I stutter trying to form words verbally and avoid eye contact because I don’t know, I don’t know how to do it. I give up on making an effort completely because I already feel the self-inflicted rejection before it has even happened.

So I stick to studying, because academics and grades have always been the one constant in my life since kindergarten. All my life my self-worth has been largely invested in my grades and nothing else, and it’s the only thing I feel fairly confident that I have a strong foot in now, so I cling onto it for dear life and try to ignore the fact that I’m not exactly certain why I’m studying what I’m studying. Singlehandedly, I bulldozed my whole principle of “prioritize self-growth around other people over your studies” that I’ve been trying to indoctrinate within myself since the the last few years of high school right up until now. Singlehandedly, I rendered all my advice about taking the first step of courage to anons on ask.fm obsolete. Compared to everything else, reading criminal law cases is an easier and more predictable feat and having lost all the self-esteem and confidence that I’ve somehow managed to build up in college, I blatantly feed myself with consolations that as long as I do my reading, I’m on the right track, because it’s the only thing I know how to do anymore.

But just like everything else, staying alone in my room eventually becomes an ironic paradox as the comfort dissipates and I’m left facing my own ugly thoughts of feeling the L word* and aimless and invisible. It feels isolating being in a crowded room of people, like there is an impenetrable barrier preventing me from forging stable connections, but even after I escape to solitude, the barrier doesn’t quite dissolve, making me feel so incredibly minute in the heterogeneous sea of existences I am surrounded with.

(*Loneliness. I refrain from saying it because I sure am mightily antisocial and reclusive for someone who constantly gripes about being lonely all the time.)

All too sudden, Skype calls with my parents and videos of my dog sent through Whatsapp feel so unreachable. Just pixels on a screen, no more different from a video game I play on my laptop or an anime episode I stream online, and that’s so…sad. That is all I will ever get. Not even a physical touch of reassurance to remind me sometimes that yes, I am worth something, more than what my mind constantly feeds me with. The only time I allow myself moments of vulnerability involve breaking down in front of a webcam, because if that’s the only safe space I’m going to get, I’ll take it. And somehow it is not enough. There is nothing I wouldn’t trade for a day or even an hour of being able to feel completely safe and secure and reassured in the presence of the certainty of care and warmth and encouragement. Why am I here when there is so much love and tenderness readily awaiting me back home? Because all I can feel lately is a floaty sort of detached wandering, the feeling of not belonging, of wondering if it will even go noticeable if I never leave my room again. And what frustrates me is despite all this, despite longing so greatly for affection, I allow little room for that to happen because I don’t know how, and also because I am already vulnerable enough without opening up to expose my wounds as an invitation for increased attacks.

I know I am in no position to mope when I am privileged, so, so privileged to be here, an opportunity so great that many would very much willingly trade places with me for. I acknowledge that, and I know I should be grateful for what I have. But it rarely feels like I have anything to hold onto, and everyday is just a challenge to see how much tinier I can feel in this world that is already too large to find a home in.

On the worst of days, I wake up from nightmares. It doesn’t go well with the sunlight seeping through the crevices of the curtains or the heaviness of my duvet. It feels frightening. Out of place. If there is a place to begin with.

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Author: Michelle Teoh

23-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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