(Re)Opening

This past Sunday I went back to my yoga studio in-person for the first time in a year and a half. At the end of the practice, I lay on my yoga blocks in fish pose, a “heart opener” according to the instructor. It’s a vulnerable position, with your chest bared open to the world. I closed my eyes, trying to let my back muscles relax around the blocks. I tried to let go of the tension that was there, the tension I could notice and couldn’t notice.

To me, the process of “reopening” has been not only a series of policy decisions by government and business, but also, something that triggered a personal process for me, to re-evaluate what I want in my life and what is important to me. Of course, no one enjoyed the raging pandemic, but as a person who thrives in social contexts, it was (is) particularly confusing and depressing. Winter was especially miserable, without the ability to go outside, without the ability to see all but a select few friends in person.

This process is not only about what I want to reopen, to visit and do and see again, but also, what I would like to close.

Online

One day, I felt like I suddenly woke up and noticed the fact that my Facebook profile had an entire decade of content on it. I scrolled through images of my younger self, and a lot of cringe-y, nerdy status updates. It’s not so much that I disliked that image, but simply, that I was not that person anymore. And I joined Facebook when I just started 8th grade — barely 13, I think? As cringe-y as my online content might have been, I also felt protective of that 13 year old girl, who maybe posted less consciously and before the advent of Snapchat and disappearing stories. There is nothing particularly bad or that I regret making public, but I just felt strongly that I wanted to erase my Facebook profile.

I used a built-in trash tool to delete all my photos and statuses. Curiously, what I was left with was an outline of a person, one created by all of her friends’ contributions to her timeline. The only thing that appeared on my profile were others’ photos of me, others’ posts to my wall. It was funny and heartwarming to scroll through it. But still, a desire for a clean slate prevailed. High school was a traumatic time period for me, where I went through a lot of changes in my family at a school that was wealthy, white, and frankly, pretty racist. I have moved on from that. I wanted my online image to move with me. I didn’t want people to judge me based on something with so little substance — I envied people who had nearly blank profiles, and how they force everyone they meet to get to know them in person. I personally don’t mind people getting to know me online (self-evident from this lengthy journal entry) but I prefer the content to have some substance to it (such as this lengthy journal entry).

I am not so naive as to believe that anything can ever be truly removed from the internet, and that was less the point. The point was more so to be in control of the image I myself maintain. Previously I was forced to delete my tumblr blog when a bunch of trolls found it after an article I wrote went viral. I cannot control what other people say about me or how they spin any random findings they “uncover”. But I can at least control what I, myself, endorse as my official message and image.

Being forced to delete my tumblr blog did free me from the idea that losing “friends” and “followers” would be too much of a detriment against actually choosing to delete an online profile. I had a more Kondo approach to it now — it simply did not bring me joy, so I deleted my Facebook. In the end it was, in fact, costly — to my Medium stats in particular. I have seen through my metrics just how many people find my posts via Facebook, and I think it is interesting because I imagine most of them are people I don’t regularly talk to, but they regularly read what I write. But that’s okay. This blog is not my day job, and I don’t write purely for view-counts. And slowly, with a new, blank profile, I am building up those connections again.

In-Person

I’ve found that the friendships I wish to “reopen” are sometimes curious. I took a work trip to California and reconnected with high school friends that I hadn’t realized I’d missed so dearly. We joked that our connection was strong from the trauma-bonding of being in such a hostile environment. Rather than running toward something new, I find myself looking back. Looking to reconnect with people I once visited or spoke with regularly. The most profound moments of reconnecting so far have been these.

I made pandemic friendships too, curiously, through community efforts and mutual aid. Now, moving in this new world is again a balancing act, as it always is, one that I’m not sure I remember how to perform. Perhaps that is what some of the “closing” is for, to give myself time and space.

Within

I often turn to art or music instead of writing when I feel overwhelmed. The point is not for the work to be “good” but simply to have an outlet.

During a yoga practice, I sometimes “bring to the mat” emotions or feelings that I don’t know what to do with. Lately it’s been a strong anxiety, likely due to all the new unknowns that reopening brings. And sometimes during a practice, I settle on a mantra, that I mentally repeat to myself in shavasana, the final resting pose. At this first in-person class, my mantra was:

“Everything you need, you already have with you.”

Everything you need to face the world, to handle its trials and challenges, is already there, inside. It needs to be coaxed out sometimes, and sometimes we need help to identify the tools we need or the tools we think we’ve lost. But everything is there. The ability to handle conflict. The ability to comfort others. The ability to heal and comfort yourself, mentally and emotionally. The ability to think through challenges and resolve interpersonal issues.

Another realization I had during the pandemic is just how much I am still ADHD. I was diagnosed as a child and took medication until high school. Because I ultimately did so well in school, sometimes people would say that I must have been misdiagnosed.

Rather, I now tell people it’s like the metaphor of the duck on the water — floating serenely on the surface, but paddling furiously underneath. This whole time, I’ve been trying twice as hard as others to do the same tasks, like simply listening. I find I have to force myself to ask many questions of the other person in order to stay engaged. And I feel that all this trying, without anyone knowing that I’m trying, contributes to a lot of stress and anxiety. At any moment, the curtain could be pulled back, and I will be exposed for the weirdo that I am. I carry with me comments from elementary school classmates, who would tell me I was like a completely different person when I was off my medication (in just 4th grade). I worked very hard to merge my off-medication self with my on-medication self, until finally, no one could tell the difference. And then, I was asked to simply, easily, keep up this strenuous performance for the rest of my life. Since people rarely pull it off this well — or have a case mild enough to be able to — my complaints are confusing to others. At any moment, it feels like the house of cards may collapse. It rests on so many little things — as basic as doing laundry or cleaning my room. If anything some people might jokingly suggest I am OCD rather than ADHD — but the behavior is really a coping mechanism for the underlying neurotype.

I haven’t been writing the kinds of blog posts that I am “supposed to” be writing lately. I wanted to write about why people need to stop using 6 DoF robot arms for too many things, and how it’s weird that crafting is coded as feminine and inferior to masculine-coded “technology” and “machining”. There is a post sitting in my drafts titled “R&D and the High Seas”, which I thought was clever, and it was going to be about the general R&D process from concept to production.

But I have felt as though there is too much for me to work through internally to get to these just yet. Maybe I need another place to put more reflective posts like this one — my tumblr used to be that, but now it is gone.

One of the philosophies of yoga that I appreciate the most is how you are encouraged to go at your own pace, even scolded for overdoing it sometimes. One instructor once said that we shouldn’t worry if we didn’t get a pose quite right this class, or were able to do it at all. Because, there was always the next class. And the next class. And the class after that. Similarly the things I feel I have been procrastinating will still be available in a few days, weeks, or months, if I still want to pursue them. In a hot yoga session the next morning, overwhelmed by the intense heat, I simply took shavasana early and lay on the ground for a solid 15 minutes. I reminded myself there was always the next class, where I could choose more intensity if I desired. And if I still hadn’t adjusted then, there would be one after that. And after that one. And even after that one.

Though I’m disappointed in my lack of more “professional” or journalistic blog posts lately, is this not the most relevant topic, the thing everyone is going through right now? The process of reopening, both outside and within. Emerging, blinking, into the sunlight of a changed and somewhat foreign Earth.

Everything you need to handle this, you already have with you.

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MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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Selam G.

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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