Dark Heart & Mind #3 (Advice I’d give to a That Place-er)

Dark Heart & Mind [Files from between August-December 2015]: Releasing the hatred and depression of the last year, raw and beautiful. Don’t you dare tell me to edit or delete. Stifle me any more than I’ve stifled myself, and I’ll pronounce curses on you with my Ewe side.

Advice I’d give to a That Place-er

As I write this, I’m in my fourth year, and I do truly possess the knowledge that this post won’t be very helpful, since next to no one will read it anyway. But that’s alright. I felt a compulsion to write it, which I am currently giving into.

The target audience is any prospective That Place student, or any current That Place student in a class below Fourth Year. If you’re alum, this obviously doesn’t apply to you. I suspect most people will not even know how to relate to this, because, as I’ve been told, “I feel more” and my emotions and the lens through which I view life make certain experiences seem quite mountainous and turbulent to me, whereas for another, they might be viewed as mere anthills. But oh, the things That Place has put my heart through! In fact, let me stop and get straight to the point.

The first and most important thing I would like to say about coming to That Place is…don’t come to That Place. But, like everyone who makes mistakes they were warned against, you’re going to ignore me. So let’s go with the second most important advice I can give: remain healthy at all times, no matter the cost.

Your health, in my opinion, is worth more than anything else. Maintain it in EVERYTHING that you do. Trust me, in this place, it’s easier said than done – especially if you’re me. And when I say health, I mean it in every sense possible: physical health, emotional health, mental health, healthy competition (or better yet, no competition – ha!), healthy friendships, healthy relationships in general. I say this because That Place can put a lot of pressure on you – even before you get in. And when you do get in, it can be pretty scary when you feel like you’re the only one feeling strange or tired, or incompetent, because everyone else seems to be handling it so well. And then you put on your coping face and make it look like you’re comfortable too, unconsciously making someone else think that they’re the only person feeling uncomfortable. It’s a cycle. But honestly, more people than you know are fighting private battles.

Just because it looks like people are okay with their decisions doesn’t mean they are healthy for you. If 90% of your classmates do 10 subjects and you’re floundering, forget them – do 9 or 8 and be healthy. If your parents want you to do add math and the Us or Ds are unnecessarily destroying your self-esteem, drop that schizz. If your friends attend club meetings every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and you know you don’t have that kind of time on your hands, drop some. I don’t give a fly’s fart if someone else appears to be doing it all and more with ease – be healthy.

Listen carefully (and this part is hard, because even the hostel tutors may give you undue pressure which you will find it difficult or rude to resist): if you can’t handle all the dozens of thousands of hostel competitions – singing, swimming, athletics, volleyball, basketball, ISL, all the football cups, whatever – or if you know very well that they may have potentially incurable effects on your academics and/or your mental health, for God’s sake, resist the pressure and be HEALTHY. Develop titanium skin. Do not be shaken, no matter how much you are guilt-tripped.

The thing about these kinds of things is that people within the walls of That Place tend to act like it’s the end of the world, do-or-die. But the thing is, they are only “important” within these walls. I doubt whatever college you’re applying to will excuse your Ds or 2s because you were singing every night sakeof competition. And I doubt someone from, Whichever Other International School will give a toss about the size of cake you got at singing competition when you rehearsed for hours on end, lost, and cried for two hours – heck, they probably don’t even know what it is! Every time foolish things start to feel like they’re overwhelming you, just remind yourself, “It’s not that deep. Outside this toxic bubble, does it matter?”

That brings me to my next point: remember that there’s a world outside. People call this place free and unrestricting, but believe me, it can do more harm to your mental frame than you know. Things are magnified and escalated to ridiculous proportions, as if they concern the entire planet. That Place is microcosmic. Reminds yourself that outside exists, whether it means you need to roam about town every exeat or you need to listen to BBC every morning to keep up. When your friends start to act like the only alternative to prefectship is death, or like your friendship will terminate if you don’t vote them for SRC president or secretary of some club, or they start screaming at you because singing competition rehearsals aren’t going well…you just remind yourself that there is a world outside of That Place that doesn’t give a hoot about the things that distress your colleagues so much. Heck, think about poverty and world hunger, if that will put things into perspective for you. And no matter what, in the condensed chaos of school affairs, check yourself daily and do not lose yourself.

And so, that too brings me to my next point: don’t change; just grow. There are many things that bring out different, sometimes less admirable sides of a person. Whether or not they would like to admit it, monitorship/prefectship/presidency is one of those things. In their defence, it’s not easy to manage a group of people who insist on not being able to follow instructions for the sake of order and to be under the power of staff who make up rules and who use them for their difficult work like will-deprived puppets. People you’ve known for months or years may become jaded, quick, irrational, stressed; others may become lonely, consumed by academics, shrink in scope of thinking from a global level to a local-in-That Place level…some may lose interest in things that used to please them. And some people may step out of these four walls and be nearly entirely unrecognizable to their friends, because the containment has changed them so much. but don’t let it change you. But don’t let it change you; let yourself grow from the experience. By grow, I mean that anything that is added or subtracted from your being or behaviour should contribute to your benefit. When your friends intentionally or unintentionally leave you, grow into yourself, don’t become a bitter, malicious gossip. When academics try to overwhelm you and take over your leisurely reading time, pay no mind – read more so your mind grows in other directions and you learn how to rank things by importance without letting go of the things that make you healthy.

Never, for one second, assume that you are living in a society that actually works. Prepare yourself for the shock of injustice, and fight it when you can. When law enforcement doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to do things against the rules that do not harm or inconvenience anybody. It is a mistake to think that those appointed to enforce the rules obey them, as you will find our have found out already. Heck, the prefects are probably breaking more rules than you are. But there are injustices you can fight. The crossing of lines, the propagation of electoral propaganda, typecasting and stereotyping – stuff that matters. Rules you can’t help but break include those that you break due to the attempt to find a place to do all the world That Place gave you, without giving you time to do it. Whenever it is necessary, break the rules. Over and over again. After all, it’s That Place that will blast you for not doing the work anyway. They can’t have it both ways.

Care for yourself. You need to see yourself as relevant, and as important, because sometimes, other people will not do it for you. Shocking though it may be, the institution itself, for all that is said about it, is still just an institution, and institutions care about their reputations as a whole, more than they care about any particular individuals within them. The people it selects to represent them are not truly selected for their individuality, but for the way they will be able to represent the institution. But don’t let it stop you from caring about yourself as a person because they don’t. These four (or two) years may involve a lot of emotional turmoil. And when your colleagues and teachers are also experiencing That Place side effects, even those who love you more than most may find themselves too busy for you. Don’t let that make you think you’re unimportant. It doesn’t matter whether future students know your name or not; your existence is not dependent on how That Place sees (or ignores) you.

In times of dire stress, you may grow into hate with or completely tired of everything around you – the tiresome competitions, IGs, the dreaded IB, teachers may annoy you, classes may annoy you, classmates might annoy you. But be happy in the little things. Often, they are external things. Watch the dawn each morning as you go to pick up your towel from the drying line. The sky is gorgeous. As you’re walking at sunset, sometimes, stop and feel the kiss of the wind. Saturdays when your room door is closed and a sleeping spell seems to have been put on the whole school, revel in the quiet. When it rains in the night, smile at the torrential pitter-patter. No matter how small, there is always, always a reason to be happy.

When That Place gets too tiresome to think about, don’t think about it. Think about life. It’s bigger than the dreadful microcosm.

-I.

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