How I Found Relief in Writing

There’s no doubt that these are challenging times, but it’s difficult to quantify or describe exactly how the current pandemic affects me, or the billions of people around the world facing the same issue. I am fortunate enough to be able to stay home with the rest of my family, but I had still lost a quarter of my freshman year of college, a time that I looked forward to as a time when I would finally enjoy the weather walking to class. Losing time on campus was difficult for me since it was such an awakening for me. Growing up in a small town I knew so much about the area I called home but knew nothing about towns in other parts of the state, or about people from all around the country and the globe. And being an Asian in a predominantly white small town, I never found friends who truly experienced the same life as me. In high school, I always felt somewhat closed off since nobody could relate to my experiences, nor could I quite relate to theirs. So when I had gone to college, within weeks, I had met countless new friends that I instantly bonded with, people from other heritages, religions, and general life experiences. I couldn’t imagine going to school with more Asians than I could count on my hands. All of my life, I was the only female Chinese girl in my grade. I never knew anything different, so I was comfortable with where I was, but college really opened my eyes to meeting new people and learning more about myself. And even though my college wasn’t far from my hometown, I didn’t find any need or interest in going home during the semester. This past spring, the first time I went home since moving in was moving out because of the pandemic. Like many, many students, I moved out of my dorm a month earlier than expected. On my last day, I had a night class across campus, so I caught the first bus I could and quickly packed my things. I ran around campus, wishing my friends goodbye, trying our best to stay optimistic about coming back in three weeks. The last thing I did before I left was say goodbye to my roommate, someone I had come to know as a sister.

I came home for a short week of spring break but finished it only to be thrown into a whirlwind of revised syllabi, video call errors, spotty Wi-Fi connections, and malfunctioning online exams. For a few days, I put in a ton of effort to stay focused. I was actually finding it easier to follow along with a slower learning pace and felt more comfortable participating since I could just type my message in a chatbox. However, these feelings were short-lived, and I found myself oversleeping, with little motivation or energy to take notes, and increasing temptation to check my phone while the lecture continued in the background. Bad habits developed into worse ones as the semester continued, and I became more distracted, especially with my siblings around. It didn’t help that with four other family members all online at once and in need of some privacy from one another, I found myself bouncing around from sofa to table to the kitchen without a single place to quite call my own. This was problematic for my learning, also because the people around me were always talking or eating. I tried using headphones, but it never worked. Eventually, I became so detached from school that I stopped paying attention almost entirely, which was obvious because my grades started to drop. I spent less time studying than usual.

Jumping to the end of the semester, I felt a wave of stress as I realized how much I’d been slacking since coming home. As a chemistry major, all of the classes I was taking were intense, information-heavy courses such as biology, chemistry, and calculus. Leading up to finals, I stayed up every night until almost 3 am, which sounded like a good idea at the moment but wreaked havoc on my well-being. I was getting less sleep, became more irritable, was much less talkative, and my mood was generally low. On a long night of studying with my headphones in and nobody around me, many of my thoughts directed inward. And it didn’t help that I was stressed and somewhat sleep-deprived. This formed a vicious cycle that grew especially bad once I’d become aware of it. The more upset I was, the more I realized how upset I was, which just only made me more upset. Somedays, I did nothing but sulk for hours, where the only thing I could feel was negativity.

After finishing my last final, I felt a bit of relief and cleaned up my notebooks, binders, and pens that I had scattered around the house. But with nothing to do and seemingly all the time in the world, I spent hours upon hours watching Netflix, using my iPad, checking my phone, or video chatting. This was fine for a few days before I started getting bad headaches, perhaps from looking at too much blue light, so I took a few days ‘off’ and tried to lower my screen time. My headaches eventually went away, but without keeping myself occupied with electronics, I started thinking to myself a lot more. Still, with more thoughts in my head and more time to do so, the more I thought about other things (which were sometimes related, sometimes not). This internal thinking pattern made me feel more distant from other people, and I felt less talkative and less emotionally present for a bit.

With all this time on my hands, I needed something to do to pass the time. Video games had lost their appeal, and there was only so much I could talk about with friends if I had done nothing interesting since the last time I’d seen them. I grabbed my computer one night to watch some YouTube videos but found myself returning to an old passion project of mine. Since eighth grade, I had an idea for a short story, one that I have returned to time after time, although I have yet to write it and be satisfied with the product. I have always wanted to become a better writer and perhaps publish it one day, so I occasionally come back to it. As a STEM student, I almost never have time to work on side projects like this, especially when they are so different from what I am learning in class, my main priority in school. I took a moment to wonder why I’ve never written more than about a page. I came to realize – I was always too preoccupied with writing a ‘good’ story that I never processed my emotions before trying to translate them into fiction. I came to this revelation, so I took a day or so to myself, revised my writing strategy, and tried to write during the day. Instead, I found myself both interrupted by other people around me and self-conscious of someone else reading my writing. I even tried once or twice to lock myself somewhere and write. It never lasted long since I got yelled at for ‘not being productive’ or ‘always being on the computer.’ Unfortunately, this horrible mix of feeling ashamed of my work, inability to focus, and the seemingly chronic lack of creativity I seemed to suffer from made it difficult for me to formulate my thoughts appropriately.

So one night, after everyone in the house had gone to sleep, I started typing away at a blank Word document, writing down pages of rambling thoughts. I wrote about high school, college, family, and friends. I wrote about myself, I and my feelings, everything to the way I texted to the clothes that I wore to my music habits. I articulated all of the little things that bothered me and the details that I’d noticed while at home and school. I’d written down thoughts that I had forgotten about, little ideas that had come to me even as far back as middle school or my freshman year of high school. I wrote as much as I could without stopping to edit any of it like I usually did with my short stories. It was hard for me to leave it be and not try to change it like some audience was trying to read it. But I had a strange feeling of relief like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Thoughts I had been keeping inside for so long were finally coming out, and it felt like I was sharing a deep heart-to-heart without talking to anyone. For a moment, I felt upset about how I didn’t feel comfortable enough talking to my family or friends. I’m so grateful to have those people in my life, but these were small things that seemed irrelevant to talk to them about, nor were they things that I felt like I quite wanted to share directly. I felt terrible about myself that I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to bring this to them, but I realized it was because I had never been able to describe them to myself.

I remember one time when I talked to my dad about something that was bothering me, what it was I cannot remember, but I remember sobbing in front of him, my breath so shaky that I couldn’t bring myself to formulate words, much less sentences. I felt a bit of relief as I cried, but without being able to quite articulate what was upsetting me was incredibly difficult and only made me feel worse. All those times, I had cried like that while talking to someone else or by myself had always been like that. I constantly had this pain lingering in my chest and a cloudiness that seemed stuck in my head like a growing storm cloud. But somehow the rain had finally fallen, and my mind was clear. I felt incredible, being able to let out everything I’ve been keeping inside, everything I’ve been afraid to tell people all this time. And to others, it might just be a Word document saved onto my laptop, but to me, those feelings were no longer stuck in my head but now out in the world, released and free but not in anyone else’s mind except my own. I didn’t have to bottle everything up anymore.

So in these unprecedented times, we are all facing challenges whether they be financial, medical, academic, or personal. Being stuck at home has been quite the challenge on its own, but with it came a time of self-discovery. Some people have been baking bread, others creating TikTok videos. Some might splurge and try a new skincare routine, but for me, I have been able to jump back into an old habit of mine while simultaneously being able to channel my thoughts so that they don’t bottle up inside me but that they remain private. It’s crazy that I had to wait for something so life-changing for me to learn this about myself, but I’m grateful that it has led me to this point and that I can still find some peace in a time when so much in the world is negative. And the most interesting thing, I think, is that in a time where face-to-face interaction is prized, an empty Word document was actually the best prize of them all.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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