Sunday, May 11, 2014

Writing Saved My Life


Two days ago, I completed my first year of college.

Reflecting on any aspect of my past has always been a difficult task for me. I'm overwhelmed by the thought of how much can change in what seems to be such little time. There is so much to remember and make present again – so many feelings and relationships born and lost. What makes it even more difficult is having to battle the elusive façade of time.

Eight months feel like a few minutes. Today is tomorrow's yesterday.

Each vision of my past becomes limited to brief vignettes and I inevitably lose sight of who I once was. I may still feel like the same Aadil I was in that first class on that first day of the semester. I still go through the same motions, sleep in the same bed. Yet the fact is I have changed; what I perceive as even the most subtle differences have actually had serious influence on my life. Reflecting on these changes -- good or bad -- can carry a pain that is hard to endure, but I’ve learned that writing is the panacea... the cure... the savior.

When faced with some serious struggles in my life, writing allowed me to document them. To document the voice of the version of me who felt deeply depressed.

In only the first few weeks of the semester, I got into a car accident while commuting home, was diagnosed with multiple staph infections, spent consecutive days visiting the doctor and the ER, had a severe allergic reaction to the drugs I was taking to treat the infection, and was forced to acknowledge that my parents’ health conditions were worsening -- my father, disabled; my mother, diagnosed with cancer -- all which had a negative impact on my academic performance.

Many of these misfortunes brought even harsher consequences; I was forced to risk my full-tuition scholarship by withdrawing from a major course. I needed to maintain a 2.5 GPA in order to keep my scholarship, and by the middle of my first semester, my GPA had dropped as low as 2.0.

I began to feel hopeless and absent. The adversities took a toll on my attitude and mental strength. I was depressed.

In one of the exercises in my first semester Critical Writing course, Professor Bridgford asked us to write a letter to ourselves ten years ago, and ten years from now:
“To the Aadil (Ten Years Ago), You probably are still lost in fantastic but vain delusions of becoming an astronaut or firefighter. You probably cry passionately about losing a HotWheels car or Daddy not letting you buy one from every store that carries them. Your biggest struggle in life is figuring out how to beat the first level of Nintendo 64’s Gemini. You wouldn’t have dreamed of the day you would be writing this letter to yourself in your first college Critical Writing class… 
To the Aadil (Ten Years From Now), Quite honestly, I just hope you are happy not only with who you are but what you are doing. I hope you have remembered the principles of love and respect that allowed you to reach age eighteen. Love your parents. Love everyone... and do your best.” 
Ironically, the Aadil who wrote to his past-self and future-self is now also a past-self. It’s the same notion that author Tim O’Brien aims to expose in The Things They Carried: writing makes things present again and saves us from any severe alterations in our lifelong relationship with ourselves.

Often in the face of adversity, I tend to lose hope for a future free of my present struggles. What writing allows us to see is proof that a better tomorrow always exists. Always. Even this is a past. Writing allowed me to see that -- to understand that every pain is a tomorrow's past. 

By the grace and mercy of God, I managed to complete my first semester of college with a 2.9 GPA. But I was bruised and battered. I had lost 10 pounds. My parents were sick. I was tired. Unhappy. Depressed.

Lifeless.



In my own writing in my journal, in my essays, in my poetry, I can hear the dilemmas I faced. I can see myself reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar in that hospital waiting room with a staph infection pinching my leg, knowing all too well that the “world itself is the bad dream” (pg. 276).

I can look back to the letters I wrote to myself, or the letter I wrote years ago to a friend who died too young, or the letter I wrote when I was just nine years old to my uncle who drove me around the busy streets of Lahore, Pakistan – drunk. I can look back to those versions of myself writing in my journal, feeling those temporary emotions, and have written proof of how things are always changing. That all struggles in the present are tomorrow's memories... 

It is more than remembering who I once was; writing is about building a relationship with that past self, the thoughts I once carried, and growing into a better human being because of it. Yes, there is an irony that exists in reflection, as all moments in time become just another past-- but writing allows me to celebrate that irony and learn in spite of it.

That is the power of writing: to show how each adversity is temporary, to expose the ironies of our thoughts, to expand our perspective, to keep our pasts – regardless of how painful – close, and to build a relationship truer than the reflection in the mirror.

Two days ago, I completed my first year in college. I type these words sitting in front of my mother, watching her sleep away the pain of cancer. I type these words hearing the morphine-induced snores of my father. I type these words knowing that the struggles in front of me are not the end of the world. I type these words knowing they are being etched into another past for a future version of me to read and learn from. Things will get better. And things will get worse.

But right now, I'm here. Typing these words two days after taking my last final exam. Ending the year with strong As and Bs. Boosting my GPA from a 2.9 to a GPA almost worthy of making my college's Deans' List. But beyond those 'paper-happinesses', there's a very real, sincere, genuine happiness. I recognize how blessed I am to be where and who I am at this very moment. What a blessing it is to see your appreciation of the things I say or do, my project, 52 Weeks of Aadil's Poetry... what a blessing it is to meet amazing people, to build new relationships...

To MOVE ON.

Yes, I'm still struggling, but I'm stronger because of it.

And I hope through these words I write (or have written), you find solace in the proof I've provided that a better tomorrow awaits.

I sincerely hope this inspires you to write your own proof.

For indeed, with no exaggeration:

W R I T I N G  S A V E D  M Y  L I F E.

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