My Summer of Unsuffering

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My Summer of Unsuffering

This time last year I decided to be happy. Like made a conscious decision to be happy, to align my actions, and choices with that mission. But surprisingly I didn’t do it for myself. Which sounds odd, making myself happy for other people sounds like I’m doing things backward. But this time last year was also my first few weeks of being a house captain, and for me, that was an immense honour. I was the first person to sit down and talk to the new entrant year 7’s, on their first day of big kid school, the things I did or didn’t do mattered to people, I was also a solo house captain for the first few weeks until my deputy was appointed. And I felt the weight of the 120-something people who looked to me for instructions, and direction, it was crushing sometimes.  I wanted my house to feel heard, to feel validated, like their thoughts, hopes, and desires were considered in my decision-making. I wanted my ideas to be cool and well executed, I wanted my parents to be proud of me, I wanted to be a better friend, a better partner, and I wanted to do well on my assignments, do them well, thoroughly, and on-time, I wanted to be active in my community, I wanted to continue working, I wanted to continue helping people, being someone people could look up to, and lean on. I wanted to be the best and do the best I could always.

But being pulled in so many different directions stretches you thin. Loving and caring for so many things and so many people and wanting to pour your heart out and give 110% all the time is exhausting, and things slip through, and you forget things and you make mistakes, sometimes the same few, over and over again. And it’s so easy, easier than you think to want to imagine the jeering or disappointed faces of every person you feel you’ve let down, to lourd upon yourself all the guilt and shame your spineless self can muster. So one day I did, I walked into the Pak n Save by my school and bought a conveniently discounted energy drink, I let the nondescript fruity tang wash over the fiery burn of hunger, exhaustion, and sadness and quell it into numbness and I pushed through my day. And guess what I had an awful, unproductive, and exhausting day. Being tired, hungry, and sad, I became too tired to think, too hungry to be giving, too sad to be kind. I was becoming un-myself, and it sounds stupid to characterise one day of slipping off the proverbial horse as my descent into madness because it wasn’t. but I have lived years of my life like this, stuck in this self-fulfilling cycle of failing and punishing myself for it and then failing again. Too hungry and tired, and ultimately self-absorbed to do anything meaningful for myself, let alone anyone else.


Until that is, I fell in love. Not with any one person, but with people, with the realisation that I had something, something every one of us has. The ability to help, support, and give other people the time, the space, and the tools, to do great, fantastic, cool things. I realised I made a difference, not through any speeches I delivered, or expensive gifts. But through listening and caring, or even things as simple as sharing the link to a program I heard about, by sharing what feels like the little debating knowledge I have as a debate coach, by giving directions to the new kid, by helping a teacher figure out the button that turns the volume up on their computer, by being unabashedly myself. But I can’t be me, I can’t be the person my friends, family, or school needed me to be if I’m this person who’s so filled with nervous energy and contempt and shame. I had to be kinder to myself to be kinder to others. And so one day on my daily stop at Pak N Save, I picked up a bread roll, because apparently (according to TikTok) you need the equivalent of 2 slices for bread’s worth of carbs for brain function. A protein shake for protein and fat, and a chocolate bar I like. For the joy of it, I even traversed the treacherous 20-metre journey to the fruits and veg aisle and bought a single apple. As I swiped my marginally more expensive meal across the self-checkout, one part of my brain whispered to the other “I take care of you, so you can take care of them” and from then I decided to be happy. Which sounds stupid and I know it does now and I knew it did then. But it’s the decision I made and here I am, living to tell the tale, so indulge me and I’ll take you through how.


number one. I did more.


Melancholy is so seductive, lying in bed and lamenting what was and is, and pondering what will be is poetic. Looking in the mirror and picking yourself apart is so tempting, if only I changed this then my life will be so… if I buy this then everything will be… if I had these instead of that then… blah blah blah, I this and me that. All this thinking and wishing and yearning gets you nothing,  it atrophies your zeal, your lust for life. You get so stuck in wanting and wishing that you will lose your ability to do it. You will never become who you want to be by remaining who you are. If you want to be smarter, read, and learn, and be vulnerable enough to be wrong sometimes, be flexible enough to grow and change as you learn, never stop learning and growing, and don’t stagnate yourself in simply believing you are who you are and that’s all you’ll ever be, the smartest, coolest person you know or can think of messes up, they make bad calls, they feel bad about themselves. Don’t get caught in the myth of comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides. Instead do, even if that means you play the role of what you think a smart person does, or a funny person does, or an interesting person does. Read children's books, it doesn’t make you any less smart because you’re working at whatever level you have to, to get where you want to be. watch a tutorial on how to do that thing you’ve been wanting to try. Send the email with bad syntax, and typos. Ask someone how to answer that question you’ve struggled to do, go for a walk or a jog, or a run, or move at whatever you need to do to move your body, to feel alive. Don’t be so preoccupied with doing things perfectly that you don’t do anything at all


number two. i thought of myself less and forgave myself more.


I am one of many, many daughters, sisters, friends, students, one of many Zoe's, one of many Dzapasi’s even. Take what I say next with a grain of salt. But as part of my journey to be happy, I had to ask myself the serious question: what makes me so special? What makes it so that the email I forgot to send is the end of the world? What makes it so that my running late is going to disrupt the whole lecture theatre and ruin the lecture? What makes it so the hole in my shoe is going to shatter my reputation? To illustrate my next point, let's use an allegory: this whole world, and every person in it is like an atom buzzing around in a cup of water from level one science class. Our surroundings impact our behaviour, if things are cooler or calmer like the ice state of water, we are slower we bump less, when things are warmer or more pressurised like the liquid state of water things are more agitated we are all moving, going places some of us faster than others, and we bump as atoms do. But as gas, oh boy, we bump and we bruise and we split apart and it's chaos. In my eyes society is always in a gas or liquid state, we bump into each other, we hurt one another whether we mean to or not, we let things slip, and we forget ourselves. It’s human, it’s inevitable, and I mean this all to say not that we should shirk all responsibility for our actions because we are divinely predestined to hurt one another but that we should take ourselves less seriously. we should when we make a mistake or get some hard-to-hear feedback, we need to be like a sponge, let the important bits sink, and let the rest bounce off the side.  We should look first to our hands in the circumstances, and pinpoint as best you can what went wrong, do you struggle to write emails? Was there traffic? Did you not try on your shoes before you left? It is so important that you forgive yourself for the things that were within your control that you didn’t or couldn’t do. (We are all here for the first time, trying to do our best with what we’ve got) then you do what you can, apologise, and strategize. Apologise to the people impacted by your actions (if any or if it’s practical for you to do so) and you strategize. Think about what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again or how you’ll minimise the impact. We will make mistakes, but the most important thing we can do with them is to learn from them and understand both that your mistakes will not end the world but that your actions still impact other people, and the answer is to move forward in kindness and do better for yourself and others.


number three. I fell out of love with misery


this one I owe to my ex-boyfriend you would wax poetic about Žižek, to the point that I saved many hope core edits that I never ended up sending him. That began to resonate for me in my own life. “Don't fall in love with your suffering.” says Žižek “Never presume that your suffering is in itself a proof of your authenticity” This is so real guys. That’s it, let go of the rotting, of the suffering for suffering’s sake. It isn’t cool or fun and it certainly doesn’t make you more edgy or evolved than anyone else. Have you ever been in a my-life-is-so-hard competition with a 14-year-old? (I have) and it’s insufferable (ironic I know) it’s all, “I only slept for 6 hours” “I only slept for 3” and “I didn’t sleep at all” but no one wins we all lose. We continue this cycle of martyring ourselves, it’s exhausting and thankless, and no one gains anything, the person who loses isn’t whoever slept the most. The loser becomes you, your dreams and aspirations that can not come to fruition because you’re too exhausted to string together a sentence. The loser becomes your friends because you’re too hungry to consider their feelings, or how the things you say might impact them. The loser becomes the people who count on you, your teachers, your classmates, your parents, and your coworkers, because you are too preoccupied with punishing yourself for and wallowing in the guilt of all your mistakes, to be present in your life and the lives of people you care about. It is easy to be miserable, especially as a young person, when you’re encountering hard situations and big feelings for the first, second, or third time. But just as it’s important to feel your feelings, seek catharsis, and get closure, it is so imperative for your growth and well-being that you don’t get stuck there, in that feeling of sadness or emptiness. Especially make sure that you don’t exacerbate those healthy and normal feelings, by punishing yourself. The world can already be so unkind, it’s so important to show yourself the same kindness you would show to your closest friend. You wouldn’t lie to your best friend and let them keep making the same mistakes but you also wouldn’t beat them up over the things they’ve done. Learn to be kind to, empathise with, understand, and know yourself, to increase your ability to do so for others.

I am, as you may have gathered, not a believer in the whole “you don’t owe anyone anything” or “put yourself first” neo-liberal mindset. But I do however ardently believe you can’t give to others what you yourself don’t have. So in the summer of my life as I look ahead to the beginning of my adult life, I have decided to be happy. In a world that thrives and often profits off my misery I am happy and I chose to continue to be. In my boundary setting, I am happy and I chose to continue to be. In my decision-making I am happy and I choose to continue to be, I am happy so I can be kinder, I am happy so I can be healthier, I am happy so I can be who my community, who my friends and whanau need me to be. I forgive myself for my mistakes and my bad decisions, no matter how small they are. I do things even when they are hard, even when I need to voice-to-text my emails and essays, even when I need to ask a third or fourth time for clarity, even when I have to google simple instructions. And I choose to feel my feelings, but not prolong them, there is no honour or nobility to be found in suffering poetically or tragically, I find joy and fulfilment in learning and growing, in serving my community, in Turkish delights, in taking the long bus to campus so I can see the ocean, in hugging my parents, in making people laugh.  I am happy and I choose to continue to be."