I couldn’t sleep in the hospital bed. I was too terrified by the fact that I was there, and no one knew it. That despite being a doctoral student in a clinical psychology program, despite knowing the limits to confidentiality, I still ended up in this position. I had so many people in my life who loved and cared about me, and I still refused to fully let them into my experience. I put up a good front. I got out of bed on time to get my vitals done, stayed pleasant with the nurses and occupational therapists, reported no suicidal thoughts at the nurses’ station when taking my meds, colored my heart out, and completed so many word searches. I did all the things I was supposed to so I could leave. That’s what I’d been doing my whole life, it was instinctual—do what I’m supposed to do and it’ll work out in the end. My goal in the hospital was not to feel better but to get out.
I told the inpatient psychiatrist that I wanted to be discharged before the weekend. He said, “Okay, let me just ask you this: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” A smart question. I couldn’t come up with a response because I didn’t see myself in 10 years or in the future at all. I couldn’t even see myself a week from then. I felt trapped on a path that I thought was my calling and felt further isolated by the people around me. It seemed like everyone was wrapped up in the steps it takes to continue being on the path, in both a professional and personal sense. My own path was disintegrating, or the light at the end of the tunnel was getting dimmer and dimmer.
In the first few months of graduate school, I quickly learned about the people in my cohort, many of whom would become some of my closest friends. Most were either married, engaged, or in a committed relationship. Those who were single were on the apps, looking to go on casual dates in the hopes of finding someone who could cater to their emotional and physical needs. I was used to feeling like the odd one out in groups of friends growing up. I listened with fascination to others talk about sex and romance and the whirlwind of feelings that come with it all. I figured I was a “late bloomer” and my “awakening” would come soon, that I would someday understand what they were talking about. Now that I was approaching my mid-twenties, however, this lack of desire started to bother me. Fascination with others’ experiences turned into loneliness and confusion.
Society would push heteronormative ideas onto me as though romantic relationships were something to aspire to, a basic expectation in life. I had explored the possibility of being queer and knew that I didn’t want to exclusively date men. But even on dates with all kinds of people, I never felt sexual desire. Though I was familiar with the term before, I looked more deeply into asexuality. There was a whole online community, a huge spectrum, of people who felt the same way. Thinking they were “broken” and not normal for a long time before finding out that being asexual, or ace for short, was a perfectly valid, though lesser known, sexual orientation. I learned about the split-attraction model, in which sexual and romantic attraction can be viewed as distinct from one another. I was sure I was asexual but questioned my romantic orientation. The thought of being aromantic, or aro, scared me. I feared that I was somehow less human for not desiring the experience of a romantic relationship.
There was a hopelessness attached to these identities of aro and ace that I couldn’t shake. This hopelessness was compounded by my apathetic feelings toward my career path. I hated myself for lacking desire.
I had allowed myself to become defined by a “lack of.” Lack of sexual and romantic desire, lack of a capacity to “love,” lack of motivation to be in academia, lack of purpose. I no longer knew what my goals were. Desire drives us—what else do we live for if nothing is to be desired?
After the hospitalization I started to be more honest with my loved ones, knowing I could no longer hide who I was in my most vulnerable moments. Playing along with societal ideas of achievement and heteronormativity tore me down. My sense of self fully dissolved in my conquest to get the things I only wanted to want but deep down had no need for. With the help of therapy and medication, I began listening to my needs rather than dismissing them. I slowly but surely learned to trust the fluidity of my desires. I quit graduate school after taking a semester off for my mental health, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I stopped going on dates when I didn’t want to.
It’s OK to leave a path that doesn’t serve you and to stop what you’re doing to create space and time to not only do things you actually want to do but also to just be. Existing as yourself is one of the kindest things you can do in this life.
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