The hard-earned skill of standing up for yourself — Alien Supersoldier
In 2018, I got accepted into a program that, at the time, I thought was the best choice for me. It came with a master’s degree at the end, and a promise of a stable career for the rest of my professional life. But by my third year there, I wasn’t thinking about my career or financial stability anymore. I was only thinking about getting through another day without having a nervous breakdown, and keeping a smile on my face when I was being put down and told how stupid I was.
The word “toxic” may have been misused and overused, but I can’t think of a better word to describe the culture in which I was being marinated. It was toxic and unforgiving. It was fraught with political in-games that students would get caught in the middle of. Student care and mental health weren’t the topics that that school prioritized. It got so bad, that by the third year, I didn’t recognise myself anymore. Why wasn’t I standing up for myself like I used to? The people there kept telling me I was no good, and I believed them. I let them tell me what kind of person I was.
Finally, in March 2020, I decided to quit. To hell with their master’s degrees and their promising careers. Two more years of this abuse? No, thank you! I was done. But removing myself from that toxic environment was only half the battle. The other half was picking up the pieces and restoring my own damn confidence. So, I gathered all the courage I still had, and got myself into therapy.
One of the things I discovered there was that I was angry with myself. I was angry because I didn’t stand up for myself when I was being treated like crap. Because I let the people who had power over me abuse me. I thought I was choosing my battles, but eventually, I felt that no battle was worth choosing. I also wanted to be the bigger person and walk away with my head held high, but instead what I was doing was accepting abuse. So, yeah, I was pretty angry with myself. And I had to work on that, too.
Standing up for oneself is a skill. Some people are really good at it, while others struggle with it. But it’s a skill we all learn the hard way. So many times I have let things just happen to me. So many times I have relied on bureaucracy and on people who were just an email address to me, and to whom I was just an errand. An errand that could — and would be buried together with thousands of other errands, and ultimately lost to the ages.
Why? Is it because I’m lazy? Or am I gullible and trusting that the system cares about my interests (i.e. my health and financial stability)? Well, no. So many times I have just “let it be” because I was too tired. Because I would say to myself that I didn’t care what happened to me. Because I didn’t want to deal with the system, be it going to the emergency room or arguing with my teacher about my grade. Because I had already accepted that the system is broken and that nothing would come of my inquiry, and I would just give up without even attempting to fight for my own interests, for my own well-being. “I could care less!” I would say but that was a defense mechanism. Because if I didn’t care then getting rejected wouldn’t hurt as much.
But there was a time when I did take action, when I did go the extra mile to protect my interests and the interests of my loved ones. I would argue for my case, and, sometimes, I would win. Somewhere along the way, however, I had learned the wrong lessons and — I don’t know, is that what being an adult means? I don’t want to believe that.
Now, three months out of therapy and on my way to try a different career path, I am slowly working myself out of that mindset, and unlearning those wrong lessons. I’m doing the hard work of standing up for myself and advocating for my own interests. It’s a process that takes courage, but it also takes strength and energy to care. To talk to people. To have conversations — often difficult, sometimes unpleasant — with people who have power over me, and who have something that I need or want. It’s all difficult and draining, and in my 36th year on this earth it’s something that I’m still learning, one choice at a time.
Originally published at https://aliensupersoldier.com on March 15, 2022.