Some things I learned while abroad

20170629_103555Just as a prelude, it’s not helpful to ask someone “How was [X country]?” if they spent an extended time abroad. How on earth am I supposed to tell you how my 6 weeks in South Africa were in a way that encompasses everything important and isn’t too long that you’ll get bored by my answer? Not that it’s a bad question, but some better questions that people have asked me were, “What were your favorite and least favorite things you did there?” “What were your living arrangements like and your opinions of those?” “When were you most afraid?” My personal favorite question (asked by the lovely and insightful Marianna) was “what did you learn while you were abroad?” So, I will answer that question in blog format because it does encompass a lot of the big things I did ther.

  1. I learned that I adapt well to new situations. I mostly knew that already, but I could see it very clearly while abroad. I would say things like, “Well everyone here speaks English, so I don’t feel like it’s that different from home,” which is actually kind of comical, now that I think about it. South Africa isn’t ridiculously different from the US, but there is much more nuance to it than I was giving it credit for. But beyond that, I learned that because I make a home quickly, I became uncomfortable by the same things that would make me uncomfortable here at home. I have a whole post about this coming soon, so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
  2. I learned ways that I have contributed to making people of color feel uncomfortable in spaces, things that I now can change to go against that. Like, even if I do not verbalize (to others or even just to myself) judgments against something important to people of color (a style of music, for example), my face can show judgment, making me unapproachable. But the goal is not just to make myself approachable for people of color but to humbly approach them, relinquishing the power I hold in white-majority spaces to become a true ally. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more than that, but that piece stood out to me the most.
  3. I learned that I respond very strongly to natural beauty. I really enjoyed our rural homestay (pictured above), even though we had to kill cockroaches, we had to use long-drop toilets, and bathing was a major struggle. But for me, the natural beauty of our surroundings made that all worthwhile.
  4. I don’t really want to teach. I saw the future teachers around me light up in classrooms and dream about the day when they would be in charge of their own classrooms. But that didn’t happen to me. More often than not, I felt uncomfortable with the learners. But hey, it’s helpful to know what I don’t want to do!
  5. On the flip side, I really loved being able to talk with adults about anything and everything. One of the most impactful experiences I had was a 2-day initiative we did with a prison rehabilitation program in an actual prison. I saw life there, I saw humanity there, I saw regret and redemption there. Those robust conversations were incredible, and I’m going to look for ways to do something similar when I go back for my last year at university. (more about this experience will come, don’t worry!)
  6. I learned a new reason to have hope in God and the gospel. I had my closest moment with God not in a big church or among “impressive” people; I saw God most clearly in the face of poverty on a day that I had lamented not understanding how I could have hope in God. This is also a really big, complicated story (that may one day grace this blog—we’ll see!). Feel free to ask me about it.

That’s it for now, friends! More will be coming soon!

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Why everyone should travel abroad

I don’t know about you, but I have perceived a big travel bug among people today, especially young people. Whether that’s because they want to go on adventures,

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Beautiful rural South Africa

try new things, or learn about foreign cultures, I see that wanderlust everywhere. And this is fun, but I think there are ways to travel in unhelpful or even destructive ways. There are plenty of articles on the internet about the dangers of “voluntourism,” so I don’t need to add my voice to the well-articulated arguments against it. But if you haven’t heard of it, voluntourism is when people volunteer in foreign countries, usually for short periods of time, and end up doing more to make the volunteer feel good about themselves than actual good to the community in need. And a big danger is coming into a non-Western country and try to “fix” things that aren’t problems, because “how can people live that way?” Well sorry to burst your bubble, but the West isn’t the pinnacle of humanity, and our solutions aren’t the only or even the best solutions. That way of thinking reeks of colonialism, and we don’t want that, do we?

And tourism isn’t fantastic; while it can be a lovely time for you, it rarely leads to anything more than mere enjoyment. So what is the best way to travel? There isn’t really a term for it, but I’m going to call it educated travel. This involves coming to a new culture as a learner and not an “expert,” which guards against voluntourism. There is an air of humility to this traveler, instead of coming in with judgments or comparisons. There is a hunger for knowledge; instead of just searching for experiences and adventures, this visitor looks for locals to connect to. This foreigner seeks to understand every facet of life in this new country or culture, not just the photo-worthy moments. FB_IMG_1503758253107This traveler is not holding a camera every moment of every day. This traveler will embarrass themselves, but that will be insignificant in the face of the beauty and life they experience while abroad. This person will make an unfamiliar place home, even if only for a little while.

This type of experience can often be attained by university study abroad programs. That’s what I did. I spent 6 weeks in the incredible country of South Africa. I learned a lot about the historical and current social issues, I experienced water outages in my homestays, I spoke with inmates of a prison, I gave up my vegetarian ways to experience the fullness of the South African diet, I relied on locals to get me to the airport, I embarrassed myself trying to exchange money, I struggled with trying to learn the local language. I did life there, and it was amazing. I also had many photo-worthy moments; I went on 2 safaris and went to a lot of museums and did plenty of touristy things. There’s nothing wrong with those things if they are accompanied by the spirit of humility and a readiness to adapt.

But some of you are thinking, “What if I don’t have the option of studying abroad?” The good thing is that this experience doesn’t just have to be done through universities. While I’m not an expert, I think there are ways to still accomplish educated, intentional travel post-university. Getting in touch with locals is probably the best place to start. Instead of just visiting the tourist locations, locals can point out the hidden gems of their home. Even bigger than that, talking with locals (instead of tourists) over coffee, tea,

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Bunnychow: curry in a bread bowl. Vegetarian, cheap, and so good.

alcohol, dinner or whatever is where connections are made so that both people end up edified. Or, even better, put yourself in situations where you are dependent on them for something.

I want to thank the Gilman Scholarship for giving me a scholarship to go abroad. While it didn’t cover even half of my costs, it was significant in letting me dream of the opportunity to go abroad. If I had not heard of this scholarship, I would have been stuck in a lab all summer (which wouldn’t have been bad, just very different). Going abroad is expensive, but if cultural exchange is a priority of yours, then you can find ways to fund it. Especially in this day and age, we need to learn how to actually listen to people who are different from us. That’s why I went abroad: to combat the spirit of xenophobia that is ever more present in the United States. There is something to learn from everyone, no matter how different they are from you, especially if they are different from you. I hope we don’t forget that.

3 Tips on Being a Decent Citizen of the Internet

The internet, and consequently, social media, is feeling very political these days (except for you, Pinterest–keep being you). This makes sense because even if the strangest election in our lifetimes wasn’t creeping slowly nearer, there are still huge social and political discussions going on. “Black lives matter!” “What about police lives?” “What about….” on and on it goes. Everyone has an opinion on something, and we all feel very inclined to share the pieces of wisdom we believe we have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I think social media is a great way to share ideas and engage in these difficult conversations. It’s certainly more productive than binge-watching tv on Netflix, even if it’s not quite as relaxing. And while I don’t condemn stating your unfiltered opinion, I do have a few ideas for ways we can all do this whole thing better.

This is not an exhaustive list. Some things should be common sense (for example: don’t insult people on the internet; that’s just rude), and I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting and ways that I have violated these. I’m not an expert, guys. These are merely the things that have been resonating with me during the past few weeks.

  1. Be critical.

    This one is more on the common sense side, but it deserves to be said because people forget it a lot. You really shouldn’t just accept everything anyone says, even if you greatly respect that person. Try to fact check as much as possible, but only when those facts are an important part of what someone is saying. If the facts are not important, then you’re just being nit-picky and obnoxious. But it’s important to at least consult the facts, even though it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.

    For example, I was going to write a blog post a month or so ago about why I’m a vegetarian (well, technically I’m a pescetarian, but that’s not crucial). I was going to talk about the environmental impacts of eating meat, and I wanted to give you all correct information. So I started reading up about it, but I became so overwhelmed by all the conflicting information that I just stopped. If I wanted to, I could have cited the articles that agreed with me, but I didn’t because I want to give the full picture instead of spreading my half-formed ideas. To this day I have not done enough research on that issue for me to comfortably cite that as a reason for my vegetarianism. I’ll get back to you when I’ve done more research.

    Another big part of this is checking your sources. I went through a phase where I would only accept articles written in the last five years as truth (I got into the habit because I had regular assignments at school that had us do this). And while I now think that’s a bit extreme, it still goes to show that the more recent something has been written, the more accurate it will be. And maybe Dr. Leslie’s article that cites her facts is more trustworthy than Billy’s tumblr post. Maybe. You get the point.

  1. Read articles you disagree with.
    This sort of goes along with the first tip, but I think it’s so important that it can stand on its own. Part of being critical lies in getting the unbiased facts, and since it’s difficult to get a truly unbiased article, it’s better to read completely biased articles but on both sides of the issue (plus the few random angles that people don’t talk about much but are important nonetheless). It’s just a really good practice, because it stretches your mind to think in ways you hadn’t before.

    Also, if you’re not willing to read an article you don’t agree with because it makes you nervous and defensive, it’s likely you’re standing on a castle of sand. If you’re right, then your belief will stand firm in the face of criticism, and if you’re not, then isn’t better that you’re now on the path to knowing the truth? There’s nothing to lose by doing this.

    Not only this, but I think a big missing link in these online discussions is empathy. From a debating perspective, getting inside your opponent’s head will help you know how to argue with them, so that’s something. But on a basic human level, empathy is hugely important. Maybe you can’t fathom why your neighbor supports Donald Trump, or the thought that your friend supports Hillary Clinton makes your head spin. But they are still people, and they believe those things for a reason. Maybe they don’t have good reasons, but they still have that opinion, and that opinion shouldn’t just be cast aside like a used sweater. When you discredit a person’s feelings and beliefs without at least attempting to understand where they are coming from, you are discrediting them as a feeling, reasoning human being, and no one deserves that. Like I said before, their reasons may be the worst in the world, but at least take the time to listen and then gently, but firmly state your case. It’s just human decency, folks.

  2. Recognize where you may be part of the problem. This part has a specific inspiration that my other tips didn’t have, but it distills down to something completely related to this post: for goodness’ sake, don’t act like you know everything. Because you don’t. So don’t delude yourself or act like an arrogant pig, making the internet lives of everyone around you worse. Chances are, you’re not an expert on the issue you’re talking about, and even if you are, you can never know the full truth.

    The specific inspiration for this post lies in the recent conversation on racial relations in our country. One of the most cogent arguments that I read was written by Karina B. Heart, a white woman who is the mother of bi-racial children. The most convicting, valuable piece of her eloquent words was when she basically said that we are all a little racist, that we all hold at least a small piece of this filthiness in our hearts. It’s not enough to blame your outwardly racist family or friends–we all have to seek it out, recognize it in our behaviors, and eradicate it as well as we can. Legislation might change some things, but we need cultural change to have true racial reconciliation, and that starts in each of us.

    And this isn’t just about racism. This is about all the problems of the world. We cannot be content merely to point the finger at other people when we haven’t examined our own hearts or done anything to change it. And that’s hard. I’m feeling convicted as I write this. But it needs to be said. None of us are good people, as much as we’d like to believe that we are. And man, I am not doing this point justice, but…if we can get it through our heads to be critical of ourselves first and foremost and encourage others to do the same, who knows what kind of change will ensue?

I suppose what this all boils down to is the fact that I get really frustrated when people on the internet and social media are arrogant and won’t listen to views that they disagree with. When they don’t have the human kindness to stop condemning and think of how someone else might be viewing their words. And like I said, I have made these mistakes as well. I have been arrogant and foolish on the Internet. And I am not proud of that at all. So I think we all have room to grow in this, right? So at least we can be comforted in that. We can use social media to create positive change in our world. We can use it to educate each other on important issues. Every day I find something on social media that I find informative or helpful. Let’s strive to use it in these ways and learn from each other.

Hi, my name is Privileged

Last December, I had the amazing opportunity to go to InterVarsity’s missions conference called Urbana (though it doesn’t take place in Urbana, IL anymore). And while I would love to tell you about all the incredible things I learned there, today I only want to talk about a specific issue: privilege and racial relations in the US.

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on this topic by any means, so I will speak only on what I feel I have authority to speak on. But I can’t be silent. Because people are dying. And I know that me writing these few hundred words won’t do much, but I can’t just sit back, not talk about it, and not care about this. Michelle Higgins fiercely asserted at the conference, “Inactivism is not hate. But it is not love.”

Privilege. It’s a nasty thing, and extraordinarily tricky. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but privilege gifts blindness to those who have it. It’s like covering a dead body with perfume in hopes that that will mask the putrid smell of death.Here’s an example. Two weeks ago, a black woman was shot and killed by police in San Francisco, and I only know that because I went looking for it. Did I see anything on facebook, anything on twitter? No. Because it’s not an issue I personally deal with, I didn’t even know it happened.

We fiercely, continuously spray the perfume on. When dozens of Europeans are killed, we all publicly mourn, but when almost the exact same number of people are killed in Turkey a week before, no one bats an eye. Except for the people who care about Turkey, me being one of them. But I’m totally in the wrong here too. I care about Turkey because I was born there, and I lived there, not because I intentionally sought out the problems of the rest of the world. I am not good at keeping up with the global problems. I prefer to shield my eyes and only read about bacteria, social issues, and theology. I used to blame the problem on the media covering the sympathetic issues more, but it’s also me. The bombings in Turkey were an eye-opening experience for me, because it showed me how I only care about the people and places that are close to my heart. And man, is that uncomfortable.

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Colonial Williamsburg is such a quaint, charming place before you stop to think about how much injustice occurred there.

I want to say that black suffering in our country is not my story. And in most senses, it’s not. I am not the one who has to worry that my skin color will keep me from getting a job when I am completely qualified. I am not the one who has to worry about my little brother being sentenced to death (whether intentionally or not) because of our skin color. That is not my story, and it is not my place to come in and tell you that story. My story is one of privilege. I almost certainly don’t know the depths of my privilege. My story is that my ancestors came to this country on the Mayflower (I’m so white; I know!), almost certainly abused the Native Americans who already lived here, and later slaves from Africa and the West Indies, all people with families, hopes, and dreams. The role of the persecutor is in my blood, and that is painful to think about. Of course I am not defined by what my ancestors did, but it is still feeds into of the privilege that is a part of my story.

Systematic racism exists in our country today. I’m not saying that because I myself have judged it to be so, but because I have listened to the stories of people who have faced injustice and discrimination. So, let’s all decide to take the blindfolds off, to stop using our privilege as an excuse for ignorance. Don’t say what is or isn’t racist when you haven’t checked the privilege that is clouding your view. It’s not your story, so learn to be comfortable in your ignorance (and strive to educate yourself, of course–my point is that you will never be completely knowledgeable on this, because you don’t have to live through it). Learn to be comfortable in what makes you uncomfortable instead of in complacency. I started this blog post a week ago, but I’ve refrained from posting it because of how uncomfortable it makes me. But I’m finally posting it because it’s important to talk about this.

So we’re privileged. Now what? Now we listen. Now we learn. There’s so much for us to learn, to just pay attention to in the first place. It’s interesting because in December of 2014 I wrote a post pretty similar to this one, saying: “I have privilege, I don’t pay attention to racial relations, I should listen, etc.” But I didn’t do a good job with that. I didn’t seek out opportunities to learn more, and I became comfortable with complacency. So hopefully I’ll do better this time. I actually think I already am making progress, which is exciting. Either way, I’ve done enough talking.

How Great is our God

Question: do science and religion conflict? Oooh, how’s that juicy can of worms for you? So often we see these two ideologies pitted against each other in some sort of cosmic war. Scientists need practical evidence that God can exist. The religious don’t care about science, because God is bigger than all that. How can both exist in the same world? They both describe truths, so how can they both be correct? Mustn’t we all, in the end, choose one or the other?

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Watching my plant, Brontosaurus, grow gives me life.

I don’t think so. I love science, biology specifically, though I appreciate the other disciplines. And I’m totally committed to my faith. I think science and faith can be reconciled in ways that we just need to take the time to understand. I’m actually really surprised I haven’t written about their intersections before. So. Let’s dive in, shall we?

A lot of the questions seem to revolve around the origin of the universe and evolution.  We ask, how can the Earth be as old as science says it is, or how can evolution be possible, when Genesis says something else? Shouldn’t we trust the Bible, the source of truth? OR, shouldn’t we trust these cold, empirical facts that have been proven countless times? Nothing proves the existence of God, and how can we trust something we don’t have proof in? Now I’m not here to give robust, theologically and scientifically sound answers to these questions simply because I don’t have all of the knowledge necessary to do so. So I’m sorry to introduce those questions and then not answer them. But I still have something to say, as evidenced by the paragraphs of words below this.

I think the funny thing is that both sides have a limited view of God and a puffed up view of human knowledge. On the exclusive faith side, we fall into the trap of thinking we understand the Bible perfectly, that the way we have read it for all of history is the only way it can be read. I’m not saying the Bible isn’t true; I’m saying we need to give ourselves a little less credit and accept that maybe it’s a bit more complicated than the way we picture it, that we cannot understand it fully, that we cannot understand God fully.

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Every time I see Junior, the snail, I fall a bit more in love with the world.

And science has a similar story, saying, “The way we understand the universe is infallible because it matches everything we’ve designed for it to match.” I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, where there are aliens (called beasts) who have been blind for all of their history. How do explain the concept of sight to them? We cannot assume that what is objective and proven by our standards is truth because maybe we don’t see the world as it purely and objectively is. And we cannot assume that we can explain God using science. We cannot even look to science as a method to prove the existence of God. Nothing can undeniably prove that God exists. Everything in life merely points to His presence, and we choose whether to accept this evidence or not. It’s not called faith for nothing. Again, I’m not saying that science isn’t good or trustworthy or useful, but we need to look beyond just ourselves.

But Brianna, you say, why would you say something so frustrating?? Why can’t our perception be infallible?? Why can’t we explain God and the universe with our own means??  I get the frustration, really, I do.

As with most things, I really wish that I totally understood God. So it’s disappointing when I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept of the Trinity, how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man at the same time, or even the concept of eternity. Those are difficult concepts! And I struggle with these, wishing I could just understand when I realize that by doing so I’m attempting to put God in a box. Who am I that I think I can understand God? The God who created the universe and laughter and spiderwebs, who knows every cell in my body and every place my feet have touched, who knows every single person in the same way. I think about that, and I realize how silly and small I am to be doing this. Not that we shouldn’t wrestle with hard questions, because hard questions are good. But I think there’s a lot of peace to knowing that we will never be able to wrap our minds around a supreme and holy God. Let God be as big and mystifying as He is, and just worship Him for that.

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Don’t get me started on how spectacularly amazing bacteria are.

In my own experience, studying science has done nothing but increase my faith in and awe of God. In my biology classes, I learn about the machinery necessary for
making new cells, machinery so specific it blows my mind. I learn about how robust our bodies are at fighting diseases and keeping cancer at bay. I learn about microscopic creatures that can do so many amazing things, and we haven’t even discovered all of them yet! And God created all of that! It’s incredible! I look under the microscope, and I see the beauty of creation, the wonder of life. Just the other day, I was sitting in my dorm room and thinking about how God knows every single particle in my dorm room, how I don’t have a concept of how many particles that is, and that’s only for a tiny room in the city of Williamsburg, in the state of Virginia, in the United States, on the Earth, in our Solar System, in the universe. Just….wow. There are no words.

An Open Letter to the Loudoun County School Board

*For those of you who don’t know, Loudoun County, the county I essentially grew up in, is1463585_848223821855895_8269696314325443692_n strongly considering enacting a plan to rezone elementary schools in Leesburg by neighborhoods. At first glance, this seems logical, giving students shorter bus rides and whatnot, but it will result in a highly stratified system for elementary schools, which is what I take issue with here. This is a copy of the email I sent to the School Board, and I decided to publish it here as well in order to publicize my critique. If you feel strongly about this as well, send an email to the School Board at lcsb@lcps.org before March 29th, because that’s when they’ll vote on the rezoning plans! Without further ado, here is my open letter:

Dear members of the Loudoun County School Board,

My name is Brianna Meeks. I am a former student of the Loudoun County public schools. I graduated in 2014, and I now go to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Northern Virginia, Loudoun County included, has quite a strong representation at William & Mary, and thus, people have created a stereotype for “NoVa” students: mainly, that we are all wealthy. While this stereotype fits many of the Northern Virginia residents, I do not believe it is the best stereotype. I believe that the most accurate statement that can be made of a Northern Virginia resident is that that student almost certainly went to a good school. I am impressed with the quality of my education in public schools in Loudoun County. I was able to attend the Academy of Science, do theatre and choir, and truly thrive while I was in the Loudoun County public school system, which has helped me to thrive here at William & Mary.

Plan 12 is a disgrace to the superior education I received in the Loudoun school system. This is segregation in today’s world, and I am shocked that such a plan could hold weight among a respected group of people as yourselves. Every child deserves the right to an excellent education, an education like the one I got, an education that Loudoun County can give them if you do not rezone based on neighborhoods. If you are making this decision purely for the ease of zoning in the future, then I respect that. However, to zone based on neighborhoods means to zone based on socioeconomic status and race. Making logistics simpler in the future may be a noble goal, but we cannot do so when the result is segregation. We cannot do so at the expense of the education of these children.

Not only are these students at a disadvantage economically and from a lack of proficiency with the English language; now you want to increase their setbacks in life. With society as a whole conspiring against them, the one thing disadvantaged students can count on to give them a chance to reach their full potential in life is a quality education. This plan would take that away, and I am ashamed of that. This plan sets up these students to fail from the beginning, and that is an injustice to them. This plan tells them that they are worth less than students who come from families with privilege, which, frankly, is despicable.

Furthermore, every student should have the opportunity to learn alongside students who are different from them. Diverse environments promote empathy, and empathy is one of the most valuable lessons a person could receive in an increasingly cruel world. Separating the disadvantaged from the advantaged not only severely hurts the disadvantaged, as I have mentioned, but it also steals an extremely valuable opportunity away from the advantaged and thus, hurts them as well. Just as sexism hurts men as well as women, so any form of discrimination hurts all people. If you do not have the empathy to care for the low-income and ELL students, care at least for the chance for your own children.

You are masking this plan under the guise of simplicity of zoning, to reduce the amount of changes that will be made in the future. I want to believe that you have pure motives, but I am forced to be skeptical. You as a board are not diverse at all, and you may not even be aware of the privilege you and your children have. Privilege affords blindness to those who have it, and it is time that those of us who do have it to look critically at the ease with which we can succeed and the difficulties we may never have to face. Maybe you are not explicitly xenophobic, but we all have implicit biases. This issue really comes down to racism, classism, and xenophobia. But diversity is not a weakness; it is a strength. We should not be afraid of differences but rather welcome them with open arms.

Thank you,

Brianna Meeks

The Time I Almost Got Cancer

Disclaimer: this story has a happy ending, so don’t worry. It’ll be okay.

Once upon a time (actually the time was a few days before Thanksgiving break), I was chatting with a friend in my room. For some unfathomable reason, I decided to touch my back. “Huh, this feels like blood.”  Sure enough, it is blood. My mole is bleeding. So I get a paper towel and stop the bleeding and continue chatting. But I decide to google bleeding mole, because you always want to find out if you’re dying even when one tiny thing is wrong with you. And the google homepage is covered in “melanoma.” Okay. That puts a damper on things. It’s not like, “Oh you have a headache, and that could just be a headache or twenty million other things, including some rare disease that no one’s heard of.” We’ve all fallen prey to WebMD scare. But this was different. It seemed like this cancer could actually be real.

So I get home for break and call the dermatologist to get my mole looked at. Because I’m only home from college for a week, I don’t have time to see her that break. My appointment is scheduled for the 20th of December. That day rolls around, and I get a call that the dermatologist has a personal emergency or something, so I have to reschedule to the 13th of January. The day before I take a train ride back to Williamsburg. That day rolls around, and they see me, and the mole is just slightly concerning, so they take a biopsy (luckily I could get it that day). And then I go back to school, knowing that I don’t definitely know that I don’t have cancer (sorry for those of you who hate double negatives; this was just the most accurate way to say this) and that I should hear back in a week.

A week rolls around, and I call them. They haven’t gotten my results. I’m anxious and distracted, so I try to distract myself as much as possible, and that sort of works.

And then the snow comes. And in Northern Virginia, there was a ton of snow. So naturally, their office is closed that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Now it’s Tuesday, and I call them. They have my results, but they need to be processed. Tuesday was my worst day. Tuesday was the day that I realized that I didn’t really know how to deal with this, that I needed to actually tell people that “cancer” could become a familiar word on my lips. I hadn’t told people because I didn’t want to make it a problem, but by doing so, I made it even more of a problem. Tuesday was rough.

And then it’s Wednesday, and I call and leave a message. I’ve memorized my story by this point. It’s also officially been two weeks since I had my biopsy, and I’m more annoyed than anxious (though I’m still anxious) at this point. I just want to know.

Thursday rolls around, and I call them. They have my results, but apparently the person I’m talking to can’t view them, so I should get a call by the end of the day or first thing the next day.

It’s Friday. I do not get a call first thing in the morning. I call around 10:30. Again, the person I’m talking to can’t read my results. But she puts me on hold and gets them. It’s a normal mole. Everything is fine. I hang up, and the tears come. I wasn’t expecting to cry at finding out I don’t have cancer, but that’s what happened.

Yay! Happy endings! Yay for finally knowing what’s happening with my body after two months of having a question mark hanging over my head! It was a wild, anxiety-ridden ride. And as awful as it was, I did get some good things out of it.

Well, mostly just one good thing. This experience was a twisted mirror that really showed me how I don’t handle painful things well, how not telling people things hurts me. And even the people I did tell I didn’t allow to see me when I was actually anxious, either because talking to people made me think of it less or because I was repressing emotions that much. So I need to work on the sharing department. And I feel like a hypocrite because I’ve definitely written about being vulnerable with people, but I’m so bad at it. I think I’ve gotten better at being vulnerable, both with my friends and on this blog. I really learned that I need to be okay with showing people that I’m weak and allowing myself to actually feel things instead of pretending my own feelings don’t exist.

So let me tell you (while I tell myself this): it’s okay to feel things. They may feel ugly, but

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I’m done with walking on eggshells. Photo credit: Tara Meeks.

your feelings are valid, regardless of what you’re going through. You may say, “But hey, I’m just stressed about my grades. I don’t have a life-changing disease. I shouldn’t feel this bad!” And you know, it is important to have perspective, especially if you’re just putting yourself in a bad mood and throwing yourself a constant pity party. Sometimes you do just need to get over yourself (trust me, I’ve been there). But it’s okay to feel sad or angry or hopeless or confused, even when you know other people have it worse. Your experience, your feelings are legitimate. And it really is good to be vulnerable with people. Every time I am, I’m so glad I did, even though I fight against it tremendously. Vulnerability breaks down the barriers we put between us and other people. It leads the way to let us be our genuine selves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And maybe the only thing I can do on this blog is bring up difficult subjects so that we can all talk about them more, or maybe it’ll just be talking to the air. But I will be that person. So this is the story of when I was afraid I had cancer.

Epylle Spydre