Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Picking myself back up

By SUDHA YADAV | April 27, 2024



Yadav shares her healing journey after losing a family member and explains how she connected with others.

The last year and a half seems like a blur. I couldn’t keep up with life. My homesickness reached its peak and the pressures of graduate school crushed me — I was struggling to find a way to fit into this world. 

My struggles with fitting into my community started in childhood. As an Indian girl, I grew up surrounded by outstandingly successful role models. These were people that have all achieved the unconventional, and I was taught that I should follow their path, so I knew a lot was expected from me by others. The culture I grew up in sometimes made me feel as though I could only satisfy those around me, especially my family, if I met their standards and fulfilled their expectations. Even when I became an adult, I carried the traces of this treatment. Hundreds of questions would hammer my brain constantly. Am I good enough for what I choose to do? Will I ever become that girl who is perfect at everything she does?

During all this, I lost the sense of who I am as a person. What do I like? What are my dreams? Who am I? As I reflected more on what I wanted, my inner people-pleasing attitude became even more upset with me. Who should I strive to make happy? Myself or those around me? Should I finish that article that has been pending for months or should I go out for brunch with my friends so that I don't feel left out? At points like these, I want to prioritize myself and my passions, but the guilt of not doing something that I know I could have done to make people around me happy is unbearable. 

I felt as though there was too much noise around me as if everything outside got blurry. I started to question it all, which overwhelmed me as I felt like I lost control of my life while living for others. The trajectory of this foggy phase changed for the worse when I received a phone call from my brother on one of the nights when I was working in the lab. He was oddly silent, and I remember how unusual it felt because I was used to hearing him say “Hello!” with excitement whenever I picked up his call.

I asked him multiple times what was wrong, and (probably because he didn’t know how to break the news to me) he blurted out that one of our family members had passed away due to a sudden cardiac arrest. Before I could even react, he burst into tears. I couldn’t even comprehend what I heard. I thought he was talking about some acquaintance I didn’t even know  — or maybe I wanted to believe he was.

Though I was confused at the time, I remember that moment so vividly. I turned the vacuum pump off and asked him multiple times to confirm who passed away. My first instinct was to call my mom to ask how she was doing and if everyone else at home was okay, and reality didn’t hit until I did it.

I remember the numbness, to the point where I couldn’t shed a single tear until hours later. I came back home from the lab, closed the door and sat on the floor against a wall. I called my brother again and begged for details, hoping that hearing more about it would make it sink in. I felt my heartbeat speeding up, the ground under my feet falling apart and my chest eating itself up — everything around me was crumbling. 

It was around 2 a.m. when I picked myself up, had a glass of water and sat down on my couch. I thought about the family member I had lost. I thought about all the times I was laughing with him, running to him the moment I came home, teasing him about how I can run faster than him even though he served in the military. I couldn’t even remember the last conversation we had, because I never thought that would be the last time. Being away from home and not being able to see him or even talk to him one last time made everything worse. Going to school abroad seems all bright and shiny, until a certain breaking point and you end up questioning every single decision you made along the way — decisions that distanced you from home in the first place.

I felt beyond exhausted and completely out of control, conflicted with my dilemmas on how to keep moving forward. I tried to go on with my daily life as if I was fine — as if I didn’t have several unanswered questions in my mind. I thought I could avoid thinking that way, yet I always found myself forced to face them. I took a break from the lab and decided to get my life together because I was missing the old me and how happy I was. I started by giving myself some time where I isolated myself from the crowds and thought about how I could restart everything. I pondered on how I could stop stressing about things that I can’t control and learn to choose my happiness over others’, so I could focus on what I truly want.

I always assumed I was strong enough to handle the challenges in life because I was forced to be like the role models I grew up seeing. I never shared my fears with other people and always put up a strong face, but that only led to loneliness. The biggest block of my sorrow came from not knowing how to express my feelings. I wasn’t used to revealing my vulnerabilities as I grew up thinking it was wrong. 

However, I decided to be patient with myself and get to know who I truly am. Now, I understand that at the end of the day, it’s about finding your own people and not being afraid to embrace yourself around them. This way, I neither selfishly prioritize myself nor make extreme sacrifices for others. 

I am exploring things that make me genuinely happy. They are as simple as cooking and eating a meal alone while watching Grey’s Anatomy, calling a friend while walking back home from the lab, or taking a walk with my best friend and stopping by at Bird in Hand to get a matcha latte on a Sunday afternoon. All these help me remember I have a bright and happy future ahead of me and that I will manage to overcome it all. By getting to know myself, I no longer hide my weaknesses and embrace a fake persona  — someone who doesn’t need anyone else. Now I feel like myself again and know how strong I am, and it’s like the first rain after a really warm summer. 

I am aware that I have felt this way before, like I was picking myself up and everything was going to be fine, and I know I ended up crashing into the same corner of my apartment regretting my past decisions. However, now the comeback is much faster and I’m hopeful that I will be okay. The early 20s are tough: a lot of self-discovery goes into them and lots of difficult decisions await me. Yet here I am  — trying to be myself and become better every day, picking myself up repeatedly by letting myself be with my people and having all of them there for me in case I need it. 

Sudha Yadav is a graduate student from North India in the Department of Chemistry. Her column talks about the roller coaster ride of grad life, seeing beauty in chemistry and getting inspiration from nature.

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