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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan

When I started writing an introduction to understanding discomfort, I was in the process of figuring things out. I was clawing deeper into every fleeting thought, looking for a weakness to familiarize myself with, and seeking out strengths that I hoped were buried under all that busy traffic — moments frantically fleeting within a self desperate to catch and nurture them all.

I was desperate for a new outlook on life, for an overwhelming sense of excitement to reach for things that I wouldn't usually reach, and for the energy to plant my feet solid on the ground as I let my head roam above the clouds.

It's not easy to peer through the looking glass of those fleeting moments.

The glass is hazy, cracking in all the wrong places as they hover through your consciousness, quietly but with a presence that consumes.

It's not hard because it's hard to understand. It's hard because it's scary.

The looking glass cracks under the pressure of what you want to see, what you wish was different, and what you never want to look at again. The control you have over this fragility is what makes reflections so powerful.

It took a lot of reflections to narrow the scope of my anxiousness into 5 areas that I could try to work on. The first was to change my mindset on failure, success, joy, and loneliness. The second was dissecting my goals so I could focus on what was most important to me. The third was learning to love what I see in the mirror, which meant channeling just as much care and caution into the way I treated my health and body. The fourth was to think consciously, to pause, and remember my intentions and my sense of purpose in everything I do.

I realized that everything would have to come back full circle for my fifth and final step — to reflect. I was to reflect on my journey through each of those steps, documenting my tracks as I navigate through the unchartered and forgotten territory, turning my biggest doubts into new opportunities. I would reflect on my success, failures, epiphanies, and looming questions.

However, the most crucial point of this fifth and final step was to give me a reason to question myself if I was ever close to giving up.

I was to write about everything that went wrong, no holding back. I was to be completely honest with myself and be my biggest critic, but this time, I was to light a path for what I could do next. It wasn't just a recap of my day, it was a careful operation. One that could unravel everything I've worked so hard for if I lost my footing and fell heart first into the truth.

It's not that simple

I would say my reflections are quiet confrontations. They're sporadic, fragmented archives of high highs and low lows. I keep them in an app called Reflectly, pulling my iPad out right when I start to feel ready to head to sleep. My episodes of anxiety have historically kicked in around this point of the day, when all activity has lulled, bringing with it a different kind of quiet. So I wait until the very last moment when the air had always weighed heavier with a dense touch of loneliness.

I first started journaling the week I turned 23. Life had changed so drastically, and things were falling into place. It threw me off guard, and I was sitting on most nights out of breath, fearing all the 'what if's that I believed were inevitably around the corner.

My reflections were darker and heavier. I was painting a picture of the things that scared me, letter by letter, line by line. I didn't think, I didn't pause to read what I had just written. I let myself go uninterrupted because I wanted to peer through that looking glass, taking in all its cracks and feeling them shatter under the weight of contemplation. I always knew when it was time to stop, and my reflections would come to an end with some sort of a half-written conclusion.

July 5, 2020 |

"The next time I feel these waves creeping up, I need to find an activity. I shouldn't let myself stare off into nothing as my way to sort things out. Clearly, I'm not very good at that."

That's the last line of my journal entry, three days into this new habit. I was anxious, angry, and yet somehow in the middle of all that, I was pointing out an escape. Something I always knew I needed to do but never did. To see it written out in front of me left a different kind of impact. I listened to it like it was a voice I hadn't heard in a while. She was hopeful and determined. Most importantly, she was honest about things that were doing wrong.

Reflections are the truth, and that's not something simple to face.

Their vulnerable to your most genuine perception and emotion, never predictable yet ever so consistent with the person you are at your core. It's a Rolodex of all your locked up prized jewels, and all your demons buried deep underground.

Reflections are a period of healing. It's airing out the dirty laundry and finding a nasty stain smeared across everything that once made you feel at your most confident. Some obvious and some only noticeable if you take an extra minute to hold the fabric in your hand and stretch it out against the glaring rays of the sun.

I end up noticing actions often overlooked, words that slip past my lips too easily and recurring thoughts that I never realized had such a hold on me.

A day of many faces

It's impossible to keep track of the person you're showing up to be every second of the day. You're not always the same person in front of different people or when facing different circumstances. Sometimes you forget to consolidate those different faces when you grab some time alone for yourself at the end of the day. The more you let those faces craft out their journeys, the wider the gap between the person you are at your core, the person you want to be, and the person you are to the people who know you.

It gets confusing. It pulls you in different directions. If you're like me, you may end up feeling a little lost on where to listen. Which face do you turn to? How many faces must you keep to function properly?

For me, the answer wasn't as simple as finding that one single representation of myself and sticking by its side without question. For me, it was having as many faces as I needed — as long as I knew these faces were my truth, my most genuine and compassionate reactions to the moment I was in and the people I was with. It was unnatural for me to wear the same canvas at every moment. I was just as expressive as I was reserved. I was just as assertive as I was quiet. I was just as whimsical as I was serious. All of these faces were mine and I'm learning to be at peace with each and every one of them, without comparing them against each other and assuming one was better than the other.

The most important thing for me was making sure these faces were ones my loved ones could depend on, that they were safe for me to sit in when I was in my own quiet presence, that they could still give me clarity when the air weighed heavier in the middle of the night.

To reflect is to look for these faces, and to hear truth seeping out between lines of text or strokes of art — however you choose to express yourself, whatever gives you the most freedom to let yourself go.

It's often overlooked how important it is to create a space for yourself outside the life you show the world. A calm center that sits within you, an extension of you that sees yourself from a third-person point of view.

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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan

Somewhere along with the rise of the like button, the idea of strength in (follower) numbers, and the need to turn every hobby into a business page, there came an idea that planted itself deep into our understanding of human nature.

This idea has encouraged many of us to look at our lives as a cycle of production and consumption. In a world run by products, we sit pretty on the throne as a textbook example. We’re in loop until we reach a pre-defined destination. We repeat the same level over and over again until ding! We get notified that the level has been cleared. The screen fades to black and we’re back in a new setting, waiting to find out what secret item we’ll need to travel the ends of the earth to get. We’re basically an algorithm. Relatively easy to control, easy to train, easy to keep within certain parameters based on a certain set of criteria that defined failure.

I guess you could say we create products in our image. It's not products that act like humans, we've just always acted like products. We treat ourselves like a scalable business model — which can be extremely beneficial when applied to certain aspects of our lives, but it must be approached with caution and balanced with a sense of awareness that extends beyond ourselves.

Anyway, what is this idea that could have been so detrimental and dystopian to our human identity? It’s simple. It’s our obsession with public opinion. Our human algorithm begs us to keep going until we've gained approval from public opinion, whether that's at home, in school, in the office, or online. When we digress, our value takes a hit.

In a previous blog, I talked about our need for validation in digital realms. I packaged our complicated online relationships into something called the audience. The audience, being an ever-present community of voices that we try to impress or be a part of. It's this same obsession with public opinion that drives the audience forward.

I'm not writing this to dismiss the idea of being opinionated and openly sharing views with strangers and unfamiliar communities. In fact, this form of honest and brave communication has moved mountains in regard to social progress and political productivity. I'm writing this to point out a fundamental problem in how we use public opinion to measure worth and what that does to the quality of our conversations.

How much is an opinion worth?

The value of an opinion has skyrocketed. The term 'influencers' can no longer be taken lightly as it's become something more than just a 'social media thing.' The influencer marketing market is expected to be worth more than $15 billion by 2022 with over 80% of marketers using some sort of influencer strategy to drive growth. With TikTok slowly taking over the influencer marketing reigns from Instagram, nano influencers (influencers with under 1000 followers) with less scripted content are every brand's new target for higher engagement — the volume of available opinions to be monetized has significantly increased.

Social media, arguably being the most accessible form of communication and news, can no longer be confined to a screen. Influencers drive revenue for corporations and services that impact our day-to-day lives. Influence mobilizes for causes as large as calling out racial injustice and impacting legislation. The role of an influencer is to shift public opinion toward the favor of something else, and it's a powerful role to play in our world today. This exactly why it's so sought after.

And that's completely okay.

But somewhere along with the rise of the like button, the idea of strength in follower numbers, and the need to turn every hobby into a business page, we've lost the plot and become transactional. I give you a version of myself that you enjoy watching or listening to, and in return, you give me your positive opinions, your time, and your attention.

There is a floating assumption that capability or subject matter expertise can only be found in the loudest voices. What comes out of this is a saturated space for a discussion filled with people shouting over each other. Worst of all, it blindly fills most of these spaces with opinions that hold no value.

We've decided that an opinion is needed for everything because we crave giving our voice some sort of value at all times. We feel a sense of responsibility to comment on anything another person does or says. It's a doubled-edged sword that causes just as much harm as it does good.

From a broad perspective, we've taken accountability a lot more seriously being a part of one connected global community. We want to help each other do better by pointing out the wrongs and getting public buy-in to drive wheels of change.

But when you zoom in a little closer, how we perceive accountability has become a blurrier line that is easier to overstep. If we have a problem with someone or something, we've programmed ourselves to think the best way to solve it is by being the loudest in the room.

What we haven't solved yet is how to best deal with those who perpetrate negativity by doing the exact same thing.

How do we give society a uniform scale to determine what we consider a problem and what people should say about it? How do we do this without getting our feet wet with political affiliation or religions that uphold their own benchmarks of morality? How do we show people what is right and what is wrong?

The truth is, I think we've taken advantage of our freedom to speak. Opinions have become weaponized as leverage over someone else. A way to say "I'm right" or "You don't know anything." We're so used to sharing, and viewing, and commenting on the lives of others that we've become accustomed to a false sense of right to include ourselves in the business of others.

We think it's acceptable — or better yet, some even consider it a favor — to reach out to strangers and feed them opinions before considering impact and most importantly, context.

Context collapse

As a writer, I've always valued social media as a space for me to express myself through words in a spontaneous and authentic way. I may not have the energy to write 1000-word posts every single day, but pushing out a bunch of 100-character sentences a day was a pretty great way to get things off my chest. In a sense, Twitter was therapeutic because I was able to consume content and react to content in real-time while all my thoughts were fresh.

Twitter thrives off of opinion. The platform laces comical takes and heavy public discourse seamlessly through some pretty great UX and algorithms that keep you hooked on conversations. It gives its users real-time visibility into conversations happening all around you and designs an experience that allows users to easily jump in and share what they think.

Pair that with an infinite scroll timeline and you have a perfect formula to keep users voicing their opinions in an instantaneous way. It's this reactionary nature of Twitter (and all social media platforms) that makes it easy for users to miss the context that each tweet may have — context that can be associated with something you may not be able to find or determine from their public profile. When everyone rushes to share their opinion, caught in a loop that tempts them to do so, nobody stops to get to know each other or the stories that may drive differing opinions.

I keep my Twitter account pretty lowkey since I've turned it into somewhat of a diary. I never held too much back from it, so anyone who looked through my tweets would be able to get a good idea of who I was from a surface-level perspective — like how you would get to know someone at a party after a couple of drinks.

One day I lost track of how connected this personal diary of mine was to the rest of the world, thanks to a perfectly crafted algorithm. I came across a tweet that angered me because I believed it painted a false assumption of international students in the United States. It was right at the peak of COVID-19, as the US government buckled down on restrictions that left many international students stranded and confused in a country that was doing little to get the pandemic under control.

I reacted in a fury, quoting the tweet and giving nobody, in particular, a piece of my mind. I was venting, directing my anger toward this user who I didn't really view as a person at that point in time. I didn't follow this person, I didn't know this person's name, I didn't even click into this person's profile. All I saw was a comment that was a part of my feed, and I shared my opinion on a whim without much thought.

The next thing I knew, I had become a Voodoo doll to a group of students who took my tweet entirely out of context. I soon realized I had taken the user's original tweet out of context as well.

I apologized, but by then it was too late to explain where I came from. The user did not want to hear it, and neither did the user's friends. They didn't want to know why I said the things I said, and they didn't care about the emotional triggers I felt that led me to react the way I did. All they saw was my one reactionary opinion, and they made their conclusion about me as a person.

I was at a loss. I didn't fully realize the fragility of context on social media until that moment. I didn't fully recognize that lack of context in the first place — or I did and I took it for granted. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that they didn't want to listen to my explanation, and then I realized I didn't give them the same privilege from the start either.

I reacted first and gathered context later. They punished me with a narrative they thought I deserved. If you look at your social media feeds, you'll notice this vicious cycle on loop in every thread or reply section.

When opinions are treated as a form of currency, the collapse of context in conversations is inevitable.

For social media platforms, opinions mean user activity and engagement, which ultimately drives profit.

For users like me, an opinion is mobilized into a measure of social validation. Would I have been inclined to toss a reactionary opinion if I knew nobody would agree with me or retweet or like my comment? Would that user have been inclined to circulate my tweet across their network to mobilize people toward my profile? We were both caught up in our own circles, thrilled to be the loudest in the room.

But did we get anything out of sharing our opinions? Did we conclude our argument with a conclusion that called for unity and understanding considering how we were arguing about injustice?

No, we didn't. In fact, the user's anger toward me probably fed into their false assumptions even more.

Permission to not speak

Lately, I've been choosing to take a step back and reevaluate my intentions with my opinions. I'm both curious and exhausted — curious to see what I'd miss by not being so caught up in opinion wars online, and exhausted from watching countless conversations unfold before my eyes in such unproductive and uncompassionate ways.

As a journalism student, I conditioned myself to be vocal on social platforms and to take on a responsibility to inform, express my agreement and disagreement, and to always be tuned in. I found a great sense of satisfaction in sharing my thought processes openly and feeling a sense of community when my opinions resonated with people I knew and didn't know. I was guilty of measuring my subject matter expertise by how loud my voice was and how strong my opinions were because I grew up with the idea that those who were quiet were always left behind, forgotten, and ignored.

Many of us have been taught that not sharing an opinion is cowardice. If you don't raise your hand in class, your teachers aren't going to care about you. If you don't argue in the workplace, your boss isn't going to take you seriously. Yes, there is truth to both of these scenarios and I can attest to that. But I don't think we've unpacked these assumptions enough.

To this, I say: Hello, permission to not speak?

We don't spend enough time talking about the right time and place to share opinions, the substance that an opinion should hold, the context that must be present before an opinion is made, and the importance of respecting other voices in the room before shouting out selfishly to the heavens.

To observe the world quietly at times is not a measure of inactiveness, but is actually the most thoughtful form of participation. We need to embrace the permission to not speak so we can hear each other better and form opinions that can lead to something. Something good, something different, something to prove that we've learned to do better.

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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan

The most frightening point of a roller coaster ride — that one moment that might force your fingers to dig into numb skin, the pit of your stomach dropping to your toes — it's when you're at the very top.

It's a short sharp second of time that hits like a flash across the face, it doesn't need any more time to convince you. It hits when you see your feet so far off the ground. You start going over every possible way things might go wrong. A loose seatbelt. A broken screw standing idly by on the tracks. An unfortunate instance of being caught in the crossfire of someone else's anger.

But it doesn't quite hold up to the fear of knowing you had a choice. Knowing that at one point, maybe just a few moments ago, you could have chosen to walk away but you didn't.

Amidst the excitement, adrenaline, and hunger for a feeling stronger than what you're feeling at that very moment, that fear sits on still water. Slow, growing ripples that only end when you drop from that one point where you had the least control.

Last year, I read the book "THINK STRAIGHT: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life." It was a simple yet thought-provoking read. Some pages spoke right to me, and some I disagreed with. There is no clear formula to thinking better. There are no pro tips or best practices to guarantee you a mind that could help you do the impossible.

But there was one section in particular that I have consistently internalized since then:

When we sit down and observe our thoughts for a few minutes, we will notice that a lot of things flow through our minds. The thoughts are just "there." Nothing we can change about that. But since we have free will, we can decide which thoughts we focus on. Hence, we can influence the direction of consciousness. This realization is critical to the way we live. It's the difference between "I can't help but feel this way" and "I feel this way because I decided to feel this way.

There was a period of time where every day felt exactly the same. I opened my eyes each morning to the same dense cloud of fear hanging over my head and it followed me around like a shadow, always a few steps behind so it could watch my every move. I hit the same wall each afternoon, playing hide and seek with something that was waiting to grab me by the ankles.

The rest of the day felt like that one short sharp second in repeat. Like the top of a roller coaster. A tight grip on numb skin, the pit of my stomach scratching the ground beneath my feet.

The worst part about days like these is the lack of a problem. I had nothing to blame, nothing tangible that I could fix. All I had was a cloud of worry, its vagueness even more consuming than anything I've ever known. It makes you weak — there was no way you should be broken down by something you can't identify, clearly not strong enough to take on more weight life had to offer.

But somewhere under those looming questions, perched in the far corner of the cloud's shadow, a tiny figure tries to break away from it. I like to call that 'the kid.' The me I sometimes fail to recognize. The me that could love and laugh without restriction and embrace the girl she saw in the mirror. She was always there, trying to escape the cloud's grip. But I always decided to let her sleep.

For hours, I would find myself sitting on the thought of a lost choice. Nervous like I was at the peak of a roller coaster, waiting for the drop.

Had I stopped myself from thinking too far ahead, could I have avoided the last six hours spent spiraling without a cause?

Had I taken an extra five seconds to pause and think, would I have reclaimed a day I thought was doomed to fail?

To think consciously is to be aware of a choice before it passes me by. It's to cup that choice right in my hands and take in its weight, feel just how slowly the seconds drag on when I give it my proper attention.

There was always a moment in the day where I made a decision to let go of my control, to stop fighting, and to give in to what my head was telling me. I could always tell by the guilt I felt after, a reminder that if I had just spent a little bit more time thinking about what my feelings really meant in the grand scheme of things, I would be OK.

Was it really worth the effort to revisit buried memories? Imagining pain that hasn't even happened yet?

This is where I drew thick red circles on the differences between the way I was thinking and the way I wanted to think.

I know what my mind is capable of. I know that as much as I want to think about calm spring days with flowers in bloom over stained walls and windows, I'm just not that optimistic of a person. After years of shoving poster-worthy positivity fixes down my throat, I was well aware that it did little to keep me from choking on it. It wasn't genuinely me, and that made it an unproductive and futile effort.

Personally, what I needed was a confrontation. To sit in the same dark room my subconscious took shelter in. I needed to hold onto her, feel what she was feeling, and listen to what she was trying to say. Shutting that door in her face only bred more anger and fewer answers about what I was doing right or wrong.

I wanted to consciously decide to open that door during my darkest hours, taking those extra seconds to breathe in the room and the fog that hovered above its floors. I needed to think with awareness, completely in touch with my head and my heart even if it showed me the ugliest sides of myself.

I needed to see her with my own eyes.

Today I see her when I meditate, journal, or work out. Sometimes I see her when I do absolutely nothing — her grip usually forceful and surprising enough to leave me gasping for air — but I know better now than to be afraid of her. Instead, I grip back, trying to understand why she came.

What's scaring her so much?

What does she need to see, hear, or say?

It's humbling to face the parts of yourself you refuse to acknowledge.

In that dark room, you may see a self that's too broken, too impatient, too angry, too sensitive.

It's too raw a moment. A wound so fresh you don't trust yourself in its presence. But it wakes you up from a very bad dream, one written by your own pen, with all its hunger for everything you're scared of.

Seeing that self reminds me that there's so much more I want. There's so much I've done that I need to credit myself for. I embrace that shadow the way I would embrace a best friend, reminding her about the good things, keeping her excited about the days to come.

In that dark room, you find yourself fighting harder for some sort of peace.

So when I lose ground— I stop to think.

☁️ Am I worrying about something real or is it just another 'if'?

☁️ Are surrendering to these thoughts worth more than what the rest of this day could give me?

☁️ Am I trying to find an answer that fixes the problem or am I looking for something that makes it worse?

It's going to be difficult to answer these questions, largely because you don't want to hear the answer. You don't want to know that you're wasting your time on something you shouldn't be wasting time over. You envy those who seem to have no problem letting go of thoughts that don't matter, how easy it is for them to be so content with the present. So aware of the now.

But answering those questions gives me relief, even though the process hurts. It gives me more closure than the act of locking them away, convincing myself that I've fallen off the deep end. I don't mind being proven wrong, because it helps me see the path ahead.

I can see a chance to let it go, whatever it is I'm so afraid of. I'll slowly let it go if it means I can spend the next few hours stretching my arms for a bite of joy. It doesn't work like a miracle, it doesn't wash away my pain, but it lets me try to live a life without it.

It reminds me that the cloud hanging above my head isn't always there. And when the sun shines on my skin again, it feels great. It feels so great it protects me even when the cloud makes its way back.

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