Home vs. School: Smashing the Closet Door

In my last post, I talked about behaving differently depending on circumstance, and considering myself one thing while keeping the flip-side of the coin “closeted”. Now, I’m bringing the issue of the metaphorical closet up once more, this time relating to how it’s been affected in light of my recent move from Harrogate to Knoxville.

For the good majority of my life, I’ve lived in this general area. I grew up in Middlesboro, Kentucky just a drive through a tunnel away, then moved to Harrogate for my middle and high school years. And, of course, I ended up staying in Harrogate for college. I thought that I would be living here until I graduated, but with my family’s move to Knoxville before the start of this semester, things aren’t so simple anymore. When not at school, I’m going home to a completely new area with new people, environments, expectations, and opportunities. Meanwhile, being at LMU in the place where I’ve lived for years sends me back to a familiar environment – almost a comfort zone, if I can call it that. However, my mindset regarding this area and how I interact with it has definitely changed since moving.

LMU has become a “safe zone” for me in this area. For the sake of a nerdy comparison: if my general range of “homes” is an area in an MMO, then the university is my starting zone, a place that I know is safe, familiar, and devoid of monsters. The people here have many different points of view and personalities, but in the end we’re all here for the same purpose: to learn. I feel comfortable revealing parts of myself to them that I wouldn’t ordinarily because diversity is both expected and respected. Others learn from me and I learn from them without being attacked. Here, I can live mostly with the closet door open.

My long-time home, the Harrogate-Middlesboro area outside of LMU, is the “wilds” area right outside the safe starting zone: familiar, navigable, and not incredibly dangerous, but an area that I still have to tread cautiously in. While LMU is full of people that I’ve known only for a couple of years, elsewhere in the surrounding area are people – family, especially – that I’ve been around practically my whole life, or a good portion of it. They’ve come to expect that I behave, look, and be a certain way, and some of these traits they’ve applied to me are vastly different than what I’m like now. I’ve found myself stepping back behind the closet door when in this zone of influence.

The new place where I’ve bound my “teleport home” spell, Knoxville, is the big city at the other end of the wilds. It’s vast, new and exciting, and most of all it’s as anonymous or as personal as I want it to be. This city has so many different areas and niches that I can choose to seek out others or be alone if I wish. I can reveal as much or as little as I want, because for every person that may disapprove of me there are more that won’t. When I was limited to LMU and the Harrogate area, I had only a small spot on the map where I could truly be myself, because everywhere I went I would bump into someone who shouldn’t see me as I am. I had nowhere to hide. In my new home, I have everywhere to hide, and everywhere to not hide as well. I have another and larger “safe zone” to retreat to. Here, I can rip the closet door off of its hinges.

While I had a permanent residence near LMU, I was always careful to keep certain things hidden, especially those things pertaining to my spirituality, romantic orientation, mental state, and other potentially sensitive subjects. This wasn’t because I feared making things more difficult for myself, but because I feared any trouble that it might bring to the people around me. However, as circumstances have changed over time, I’ve become more willing to open up about myself, especially now that I have access to any number of potential communities to connect with in my new home city. Over my next three posts, I’ll be touching on different aspects of myself that I’ve kept closeted for what I feel has been far too long: how I’ve dealt with them in the past, how they’ve affected my interactions and relationships at LMU, and how I’m moving forward in regard to them as I adjust to home life in an urban environment. Feel free to follow my blog to keep up with the rest of the series!

A Closet Extrovert?

During a conversation a while back, a family member of mine said something to me that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since:

“Sure, you may be introverted, Alex, but you’re a closet extrovert. Look at how you act when you’re onstage, or at one of your anime conventions!”

This statement baffled me. I’ve always considered myself a complete and total introvert; if you were to give me a codified personality test like the Meyers-Briggs, I would score as introverted every time. I love alone time and need a lot of it. I’m rarely excited to be around large numbers of people aside from during special events, and on the rare occasion I am around a lot of people for a long time, I have to withdraw immediately to “recharge my batteries”. How on earth was I capable of being extroverted in any way?

Not only was I not sure how I could even be considered extroverted, but didn’t want to be. Once upon a time (and by that I mean only a few years ago), I gloated in my status as a personality type that I mistakenly saw as being a minority, and saw myself in an elitist “I’m a super special delicate and sensitive snowflake and better than you” light. While I’ve since left that mentality behind, and I’m definitely happier for it, I’m still comfortable with my introversion and see it as a simple reality of what I’m like as a person. For someone to suddenly define me as something I’ve never considered myself before was disconcerting, to say the least. Continue reading

Freshman Year: Mission Report!

It’s almost too difficult to wrap my mind around – almost ten months from last August, I’ve successfully completed two semesters of college. In all honesty, I didn’t think that finishing my freshman year would seem like such a big deal to me when it happened, but seeing as how almost nothing went exactly how I expected it to, it suddenly feels like a huge accomplishment that I survived at all! Nevertheless, I’m still here, alive and kicking with my scholarships intact, GPA still in the safe zone, and my sanity only slightly eroded. This year was obviously a completely new experience for me, and I had to spend quite a bit of energy adjusting: some things I feel I dealt with well, while others I could’ve done better. Some experiences were nonstop fun, others lots of hard work, some anxiety-inducing, and some simply heartbreaking – however, I managed to learn from all of them, and I’ll be able to use that knowledge to better handle what comes next!

Here’s a recap of what I managed to pick up in terms of life experiences this year:

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The Tony Stark method of studying: guaranteed to leave you sleep-deprived and your short-term memory overworked!

– Don’t become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics the night before the test (AKA, study ahead of time!)

I picked up the unfortunate habit of waiting too long to study for exams near the end of my first semester – particularly pertaining to the final exam for my least favorite class, math, when I put off preparing for it until the day before. Whatever I did must have worked, because I got an A; however, it had the unfortunate side effect of making me think this would work every time! The spring semester was full of procrastination when it came to tests, even in classes that I liked. While night-before studying kept working technically (my grades didn’t slip much), it certainly wasn’t much fun, and caused me far more stress than it was worth. When the fall 2014 semester rolls around, I’ll be planning out my study schedule much more carefully and save myself a lot of worrying – and a lot of sleep!

– It’s okay to have awesome friends and spend time with them, and it’s also okay to want to be alone.

I met so many amazing people at LMU, especially in the Honors Program, that I can now call best friends without hesitation. I love them all so much, and we’ve had a ton of fun together over the past year, from sitting around complaining about classwork to going to movies, or just watching each other play video games and talking. Even though we’re pretty close now, they were still new friends near the beginning of the year, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible – but I’m not wired to be around people all the time, and now I realize that that’s perfectly fine.  Since moving into a private dorm this past semester, I’ve been able to socialize on my own terms; whenever I want to be with people, I can be, and when I want to spend time by myself or withdraw for a while, I can do that too. As much as I imagined myself being an instant social butterfly when I started college, I don’t have to be all the time.

Me singing “Let It Go” from Frozen at karaoke night in the student center – one of the few events during which I actually did “let it go” during my 2nd semester!

– Don’t get so caught up in acting “grown up”; it’s alright to ask for help and to be a bit unsophisticated!

I remember clearly how I felt when I first began college: at last, I had left the penitentiary of superficial immaturity also known as “high school” behind! I was an adult, and could thus start focusing on serious adult business. I was going to decimate my way through freshman year if it was the last thing I did, all the while being completely responsible, strong, and self-sufficient! Yeah, you guessed it:  didn’t work out so well. I ended up needing tons of practical and emotional support from my parents, friends, and faculty. A legal adult I may be, but for all intents and purposes, I’m still an adolescent, and that isn’t a bad thing – it just means that I still need a few safety nets as I take on more responsibilities. And becoming more “grown up” definitely doesn’t have to mean becoming boring. If anything, letting loose and forgetting about serious adult business to have fun for a while is even more gratifying now than it was in high school!

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Sometimes it helps me to imagine my life as a book when I’m struggling with particularly difficult times – would my readers cheer for my choices or be disappointed?

– If something goes terribly wrong, let it take its course, but don’t be destroyed by it.

Midway into this past semester, I was told that something I had been counting on happening in my academic career wouldn’t be going quite the way I anticipated it to, and in fact wouldn’t be happening at all. I was devastated – furious, frustrated, like I had a rug pulled out from under me with no warning. For a few weeks near the end of the year, I even suspected that my depression might be returning because of it. I had to take a mental health day from class or have a good cry now and then, but I knew I couldn’t let the news destroy me completely, because my time in college was limited and precious and I’d never get this semester back. And so I pressed on the best I could, still disheartened and frustrated but doing what I knew had to be done. It was definitely hard, but I survived – and that’s what counts.

Perhaps overall the most important thing I learned this year? To not compromise myself for anyone or anything, no matter what happens, and to keep moving forward no matter how difficult a situation is or appears to be.

Sophomore year doesn’t start for another few months – I’ll have plenty of time to plan my approach to the coming year during that time. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my blog updated with what’s going on in my life this summer, so feel free to follow me to hear more about my adventures!