Surviving: University, Anxiety & Trusting in My Capabilities

There was a point this semester, just a few weeks back actually, I was sat in a chair in my lecturer’s office and I couldn’t stop sobbing. The ugly, snot inducing kind of sobbing. The kind of sobbing that made it hard to get words out. I still cringe internally every time I think of this moment.

The reason I was so distraught and trying to fight off an anxiety attack – my grades.

Really, it’s amazing the amount of times I’ve gotten so distressed over grades since starting university. Before that moment – the one I just described in my lecturer’s office – I assumed that the reason I get so caught up in numbers and alphabets that describe the quality of my work was because I had a scholarship to maintain. However, while that might be part of the reason, it definitely was not the main cause.

After this breakdown and a very teary explanation of my stress from having to maintain a distinction average each semester, my lecturer (who is one of the loveliest person I’ve met in my time at Wollongong) told me that they will work on changing the scholarship policy to avoid being heavily dependent on grades and that other factors will also be considered; this policy has now been enacted and for the most part, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be losing my scholarship over the remainder of my course.

With this, things should be fine right? It’s all good, I can be calm and happy and focus on learning new things. Wrong – if anything my brain’s capacity to deal with grades got a whole lot worse.

This really forced me to think about my relationship with grades. I grew up in an education system where most of what matters are your grades: how well you scored in an exam, what was your overall position in class, what was your overall position in the standard. There was this rhetoric that you are only ever ‘smart’ if you were at the top. You had to be getting those straight A’s and top ten positions.

This was reflected in everything around you. After every standardized government exam, your family, friends, family friends who you haven’t seen in years, teachers in the following year at school will all ask how many A’s you got. The way you get into a good school, the way you get scholarships, the way your school celebrates you all depends on the letter ‘A’.

I was pretty lucky because my parents didn’t put too much pressure on me. They never pushed me too hard, they never put me down if I didn’t get those high grades. Obviously, they still wanted me to do well – they got me the help I needed, the extra classes and courses that can increase the chances of me getting that A. And I wanted that extra help. I wanted to get those A’s. I lived in a system that made me think my knowledge and my capacity to learn was only worthwhile if I produced good enough results to show for it.

This anxiety from always having to get good grades followed me into college and now into university.

I’m going to be honest and say that university is so difficult. It really, really is. I’m learning many new things and attempting to do things I haven’t done before. A lot of the time, I’m lost, confused and overwhelmed from all these new things. A lot of the time, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

There can be a lot of different factors on why I didn’t get a distinction on an assignment. I could’ve misunderstood the point of the assignment, I didn’t understand or fully analyse the sources I was using, it was my first attempt writing a news article and I didn’t know how to structure the information. All these things don’t mean that I’ve failed and turned in the worst thing ever, it just means I have more to learn. But nine times out of ten I never see it that way.

All I know is that some people managed to get a distinction in that assignment – and I was not one of them. I hate that I am not exceptional all the time.

There is just the constant loop of you are not good enough playing in my head. Before, it was easy to push the reason towards the scholarship. I had to be good enough to maintain that, I don’t want my parents having to pay more money for my education.

Now though I realise it wasn’t just the scholarship. I constantly seemed to equate my value as a learner and the extent of my capabilities to the grades that I get. This kind of thinking just feeds into the idea of not being good enough. I spend nights worrying that maybe I don’t deserve to be studying here, I don’t deserve the opportunities I am given, I don’t deserve to be learning. All because I’m not getting high grades.

It took a few long nights of not sleeping and some counselling for me to see how very unfair and toxic I was being to myself. Maybe I’ve always realised this, but I just never did anything about till now. I know that if anyone else told me any of the things I was thinking, I would have a million different reasons for why they were wrong.

It’s high time I stop doing that. I get so caught up trying to get high grades, I forget to actually learn. I keep thinking that if I do something, it has to be the best possible version the very first time I attempt it, which just leads to not attempting anything.

The ironic thing is, a lot of the times I am so proud of what I do. I am so delighted that I managed to write that report, that I managed to film and edit that interview, that I manage to learn how to play one of my favourite songs on the guitar. Even if the work is mediocre at best, I get so happy with myself – yas girl! Look at you go, you did a thing!

But that happiness is so short lived. If I don’t get high enough marks or people don’t care about the things I produce, I let that consume me and the weight of it crushes all that happiness I previously had.

I think as much as I want to say, I don’t care what other people think: I do, I care so much. Validation for my work is like a hard drug to me. It gives me a high, makes me delirious, makes my nails clench into my skin when I don’t get it; I don’t know how to stop myself from craving it all the damn time.

But with any addiction, I guess the first step is admitting you have one.

This semester, I learnt that I crave too much validation from other people for my work, my effort, my abilities to the point where it severely effects my mental health.

But really, your value, your worth is not determined by how other people view your work. You are doing good things, you are putting in effort to things you consider worthwhile, you are pushing yourself to be a capable person, you are trying.

That’s such a hard thing to remember, especially when we live in a society that judges us by abilities and outcomes.

Hopefully, I’ll remember it more often. I don’t know how exactly, but baby steps I guess. If you’re reading this, then at least I’ve started.

Next semester, I’m going to learn to take more chances. Create the things I’m proud of and actually post them without having people have to tell me multiple times that they think it’s great and they like it. Be ok with whatever grade I get and look at it as an opportunity to learn and push myself to do better.

Just thinking about it is making me feel anxious because I don’t know how to do this. But I’m definitely going to try.

Because I am so tired of feeling sad all the time, I’m tired of not being happy with myself and my efforts. I’m tired of dealing with anxiety/panic attacks that stem from not achieving the grades I want. I want to make good things and help people whenever I can. And it sucks because I’m blessed and privileged enough with the means to do them – but I stop myself because I’m so scared of failure before even attempting.

I’m 21 and I have so many things I want to achieve. Even if I can’t achieve them, I think it’s time I at least started trying too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I hope maybe this helped you in some way too.

To end here is one of my favourite videos to get me through times when everything smells of failure to me:

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Malaysia & its treatment towards refugees

There are around 150 662 refugees that have registered with UNHCR Malaysia at the end of April 2017; there are over thousands more still waiting to be processed.

However, Malaysia has still not enacted any concrete policy to help manage the situation. This video gives a summary of the current context in Malaysia and the policies it uses to deal with refugees in the country.

In the past, Malaysia has had very ad hoc policies pertaining to refugees. Often as an act of political solidarity with certain minorities being persecuted. However, without a change in laws in the country, refugees will continue to live in fear of being detained and will have no way of legally earning a living.

A few weeks ago, I got to know a community member in Wollongong who had lived as a refugee in Malaysia. She got to Malaysia after fleeing from Myanmar and was there for three and a half years before being resettled to Australia by the UNHCR. Here is a glimpse of her life while she was in Malaysia.

Right now, the people refugees can turn to are NGO’s and other private bodies working to help them. The Malaysian government has recently agreed to investigate the numerous deaths in immigration detention centres over the past two years. For more information on how to help you check out Tenaganita, UNHCR Malaysia or find the closest refugee community near your area.

 

Data Sources:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2014/11/malaysia-unwanted-20141118111742722400.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/dozens-of-refugees-have-died-in-malaysian-detention-centres-un-reveals

https://www.unhcr.org.my/

http://www.suhakam.org.my/pusat-media/sumber/laporan-tahunan/

Reflecting on Research

After weeks of sweat, tears and high levels of caffeine, I have finally reached the end of my research project: male behaviour on Instagram. To get to this point, was honestly quite a struggle. In the two years of being at university, I was most worried and unsure with this assignment. First, because I haven’t done a research project before. Second, because I kept feeling like I was not doing as well as I should be. I constantly felt like I did not know the answers, or I was not going to get any results. Thankfully, in the end I did – here is my reflection on how I got there.

At the very start of this journey, I already had to learn to adapt. My initial idea was too broad, so I scoped it down to a smaller scale: men and their relationship with Instagram. After publishing my survey online, I was hopeful. I had interesting questions and I was ready to analyse the answers. Days went by, but my response level stayed at a grand total of eleven respondents. At this point, I was biting my lip and vigorously picking at my nails every time I opened Google forms.

In hindsight, there were many ways I could’ve approached this situation calmly instead of letting my brain turn into a mess. One of the key aspects in any research project is flexibility. It is so important to be able to tolerate unclear or ambiguous situations. Duncan (2013) states, dealing with ambiguity “requires relinquishing control – even though a solution isn’t always guaranteed – to make room for new and emerging connections to crystalize into a clear direction.” I was so caught up, thinking I had somehow failed (before I could even get started) I forgot to consider alternate options. And that maybe I didn’t fail – I just needed a new direction.

Miriam Giguere says it is important to be able to value uncertainty and not knowing as it leads us to more creative solutions (Tedx Talks, 2014). It took me awhile to apply this to my own research, but when I did, I got outcomes. I spoke to my tutor, Kate Bowles, who suggested looking at interviews as a research method. Initially, I was worried because I didn’t know if I could get enough information for a report. After carrying out the interviews, I found it was far more insightful hearing the candidates talk about their experience using Instagram, as opposed to just looking at responses from a survey.

This also meant that I had to approach my research differently. I am no longer simply collecting data to present. I am presenting the narratives of two different individuals.

The key thing I have to consider: how to be ethical and not misrepresent any of the interview candidates. As a researcher you have a duty to respect those who have agreed to be part of your work.

As my main source of data came directly from interviews, I needed to make sure I convey the responses of those candidates in an ethical manner. In a report on doing research into female incarceration, the author states she wants her “research sensitive to individual participants and research context,” (Tilley, 1998, p.317). While hers was a much broader issue with more complexity involved, it was important to consider this in my research as well.

I was a female doing research into male behaviour on Instagram. I own an Instagram account and have my own views and relationship with the platform. Both interview candidates were aware of this. It is important to consider that this might factor into the way they answered some of the interview questions. Would they be comfortable saying anything that deviates from the norm of how males behave on Instagram? If they did think anything different, would they express it to someone from a different social demographic to them? Even with these questions in mind, I decided to take their answers for what it is. This is the information they have consented to sharing with me, a researcher – this is the information that I’ll use.

At the end of the day, the presentation of that data depends on me. The key thing here is “when I analysed transcripts, themes I was able to imagine emerged, whereas others remained unearthed,” (Tilly, 1998, p.325). The information presented was what I saw in the transcripts, I decided what stayed, what didn’t. I decided on which quotes to use. The way to handle this power imbalance, as suggested in Tilly’s report, was to go back to your candidates and show them your findings. This is exactly what I did. I sent screenshots of my findings from their interview, making sure they agreed to being represented that way. As a researcher, I learnt it is vital to maintain a good relationship with your candidates and to respect the information they give you.

I learnt so much from this project: about conducting research and about myself – as a person, student and researcher.

Keep an eye out on this blog for the finalised results of this research.

 

References

Dugan, M. ‘Tolerating Ambiguity’ Know Innovation, weblog post, viewed 5 June 2017 <http://knowinnovation.com/2013/04/tolerating-ambiguity/>

Tedx Talks, 2014. Tolerating ambiguity — being OK with not knowing! | Miriam Giguere | TEDxSoleburySchool, online video, 16 June, viewed 5 June 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ0tS2vBEIA&feature=youtu.be>

Tilley, S.A. 1998 ‘Conducting Respectful Research: A Critique of Practice’ Canadian Journal of Education, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 316-328

 

Men & Instagram: An Update on My Research Project

A month ago, I decided I was going to take up a research project on the validations we get from posting things on social media. I did my preliminary research on Instagram and how that might effect self-esteem and the way we portray ourselves.

One thing I found really interesting was that almost all the articles or research I read were specifically geared towards females. According to Omnicore, 68% of users on Instagram are female. It isn’t too surprising that Instagram is a female dominated platform, from the numerous beauty/fashion products using Instagram as a marketing tool to the various forms of diverse makeup promoting positive body image and self love. Rachel Simmons, author and researchersays females have always been told that they will be valued for their appearance. Instagram is a platform for them to get that validation especially because of societal expectations on women. However, that is not what I’m going into now. There are many articles and research done into this that shed some light on the complexities of Instagram and it’s relationship with females.

What was interesting to me was that when I did look into how men used Instagram, most of what I found was just people making parodies of how females treat Instagram. There are things like this video on Instagram Husbands and this article called “What if Guys Acted Like Girls on Instagram

There was a lack in any kind of information on how men interacted with Instagram, why they do or do not have an account, if it makes a difference to the way they view themselves and the effects on their self-esteem. Aaron Barksdale, in this article says male body image issues are dismissed as a non-issue for ‘real men’.

There are a lot of factors and societal norms to consider in this instance. There are also different intersections to consider such as race, sexuality and gender identity. However, I think my first line of research would be a short survey to find out broadly what men think about using Instagram and if they care about how they come across on the platform.

If you want to check out or take part in this survey, you can do so here: https://goo.gl/forms/Sp7gPo8qm1BpbK0o1

 

The more likes, the merrier the person

I watched an episode of Black Mirror recently. In this episode, we lived in a world where our value/currency was determined by our online ratings. The more 5 stars others gave our pictures, our statuses and even our interaction with them in real life, got us a higher average rating. In this world, the ‘richest’ people were those who had an average rating higher than 4.5. The jobs we could get was also based on our ratings, for a better career we required a higher average rating. This episode really struck out to me because I felt like this was a reality we could be heading towards and are partially in.

A lot of us care so much about the reception towards what we post online. People always want more likes/retweets. In this era creating a viral video is something we want to achieve, for some, by any means possible. I remember friends telling me in high school that the optimal time to post photos on Instagram is between 8-9pm on Fridays and between 3-4pm on weekends to ensure more likes.

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(Source: vanitybuzz.com)

This made me ask myself; How much do we value the validation we get from social media? So I decided why not base my research around this question. I’m so curious to know the extent to which we care about social media posts. Does it affect our mood if there isn’t enough likes? How does the number of likes we get affect our self-esteem? Do we change parts of our personality because we know it’ll get more likes or views? In an era where a large part of our identity is portrayed in the online sphere, it’s important to know how this change in our way of life impacts the way we build our character.

 

In order to get the information for my project I will mainly be conducting interviews and focus groups with different people as well as publishing an online survey for general public opinion. As secondary research, I will also look at journal articles and public data online to help me broaden my understanding of the role social media plays in validating people’s thoughts, pictures, comments etc.

Social media has been a huge part of my life, especially throughout my developmental years. I used to struggled when it came to not having that many friends on Facebook or not getting a lot of Instagram likes. I think this project would be a great chance for me to look at how others that use social media deal with their need for validation. I am also aware of my biases and personal opinions on this topic so I shall do my best to avoid it from affecting this research project.

Overall, I am very excited to embark on this research project that will hopefully dissect our behaviour on social media.

Curiosity killed internalised hate and the protection of ignorance

Curiosity is such a loaded word. The very concept of it seeps into our lives in many aspects, through many different avenues from the moment our brain can conceptualise things.

John Ruskin says “Curiosity is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing (1819).” We take pleasure in having the agency to choose what we want to know. That’s why online media is such a powerful thing in this era, because that’s where people turn to when they are curious. From youtube tutorials, to wikipedia pages and discussion forums. It has the capacity to satisfy your curiosity over anything.

For me, one of the ways my curiosity manifested and had such a profound impact on my life was when I started to question the things I always assumed were true. Growing up, I was exposed to things based on how it was in my community. The things I believed were shaped by people around me or the things that were said on TV.

I lived in a very asian community but grew up watching Western media and tv shows. I grew up believing fairer skin was always better and if you didn’t fit specific beauty standards you would just have to loose out in some aspects of life, that speaking english automatically meant you were smarter then those who didn’t, that anything western was assumed to be the better way of doing things. These beliefs were further cemented because everyone around me thought the same things or if they thought different they never mentioned anything to me. I had a very narrow world view.

It wasn’t till I was much older, around 16, when I decided to re-think these beliefs. It wasn’t till I started using more social media and hearing all these different opinions and I started making friends who didn’t think the same way I do. It wasn’t till then that I was actually curious about things like beauty standards, cultural differences and the way life was for people in different social groups.

This curiosity led to late nights watching youtube videos, reading articles online and reading about people’s opinions through tumblr text posts. It was such a revelation to me to learn about the way we can sometimes be thought to hate ourselves or hate other social groups because there is a dominant narrative in society that no one wanted to question.

With this curiosity however came the destruction of the blissful bubble I used to live in. I heard racist, sexist, ignorant comments coming from friends, family, celebrities I admired. The protection ignorance gave me was shattered because now, knowing what I do, I wasn’t going to allow the people I care about to make such statements. The thing is, it’s a lot harder to get people to listen to your thoughts if they didn’t already want to.

It made things harder but it also made things better because I learnt so much. I learnt why people say what they do, how they end up with certain beliefs, how I can help change minds and how I can be an ally to many people who don’t have a platform to voice their thoughts in society (one of the reasons I decided on doing a degree in media).

We don’t get to choose to the environment we grow up in and the things we are thought but I think that’s where curiosity has a huge role in our life. The curiosity you have has the ability to change the way you look at yourself, the way you look at the world and the way you choose to live your life.

 

 

 

You are what you tweet (or are you?)

Oh yes the 21st century. Where who we are, how we are viewed and a large portion of our reputation is based on our online persona.

The one ability social media gave us, is the ability to create our personas. It’s sort of like creating a brand for ourselves online. Try out this analysis of your tweets to see what brand you have created for yourself.

People gain traction from creating certain personas especially on twitter, a lot of ‘famous’ twitter accounts, can be considered micro-celebraties.

For example someone created a twitter account called ‘Emo Kylo Ren‘ which is based of a character from The Force Awakens, creating a persona of said character and has 880K followers.

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Wether consciously or unconsciously, all of us post what we do for a reason. We want to give off a certain impression when we tweet.

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Think of our digital artefacts or the #bcm112 hashtag during a lecture, we tweet certain things because that to us, is how we want to be represented. And sometimes, how we choose to present ourselves, can make us famous.

I’ll leave it to you guys to decide if that’s good or bad or somewhere in between.