I’ve been spending the last half hour watching my own vlogs. Sometimes I watch my vlogs back, or scroll through my own Instagram, or even read my old blog posts. Call it Gen Z narcism, call it being a Leo, but I wanted to shed light on being more honest and vulnerable online. I think i’ve always done my best with being honest to my small group of viewers. I don’t like to glamourise, and I think that’s pretty obvious from the fact that I don’t blur things out or cut out the embarrassing shots of me, like crying or pimple-creamed faces or mid-sneeze noses. But I’ve been watching these videos of me living in my house, back in the Netherlands, and I can’t help but feel the loneliness coming off of them.
In my comment section and DMs, I often get younger people coming up to me and asking me how I do it. How are you always so productive? How do you find the time to keep up with your hobbies? How are you doing it all? Whereas in reality, I always feel lazy, like I’m not doing enough, like I’m running out of time (write day and night…if you know, you know). It’s definitely this weird blend of being a Type A + Impostor Syndrome (yeah, I just Googled ‘impersonator syndrome’) that = a mess. My view of myself as a student and basically employee of this capitalist system is always very warped and I feel both like an overachiever and a failure at all times.
More importantly, I feel lonely. It’s important to talk about the impostor syndrome stuff, I feel like I talk about my weird relationship with being productive all the time. In high school, when I took the International Baccalaureate (will she ever shut up about this? No, call this mental health reparations), I threw myself into my work. I was underweight, my cheeks were sullen, I never dressed up for myself beyond a shirt and jeans and I was a new girl in a new town filled with gorgeous and rich Instagram models. I was insecure and had no real self-confidence. I loved myself, sure (to be clear, I still do). Sometimes I felt good, but then I doubted myself and a person is so subjective, so abstract that it was hard for me to ground my opinions about myself—or anyone, really. But who can say I wasn’t a good, hard-working student if I was studying 24/7? If I really did ate, breathed and slept school, who could invalidate me then?
That changed, thankfully. In University, I learned the value of going out, of having dinner with friends and spending the weekends having fun instead of doing homework. I learned that professors have lives to live too and these experiences were going to go by quicker than I’d ever think. I learned the value of people, of moments, of living. I moved past the worst of my impostor syndrome freshman year of college when I took mindfulness courses and opened up about my mental health to the people around me, but I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling of not fully knowing myself.
Sure, I’ve just started my 20s. Who knows themselves at this age? Who knows themselves at any age? But my god, did it get lonely. I had built a life of being in the moment and of honesty that it felt hard to admit when it was difficult to be alone. My friends and family were more than gracious, constantly checking up on me and asking me if I needed company, but I hadn’t even come clean to myself, so I certainly wasn’t able to share with others what I didn’t yet consciously know. Somewhere along the last moments of my second year, I moved to a house my parents bought for their retirement (and for the rest of the family). It’s in a small village; a beautiful place where young families and perfect newborn babies live. The house is beautiful, with a backyard and three comfy rooms for me to choose from. But it was huge for someone who was living in a 15 meter-square room for two years. Too huge.
Like the Virgo Moon I am, I did a great job; I decorated the space, made it mine, cooked what I wanted, blasted music when I felt like I needed it, hosted lunches and sleepovers for my friends, had cleaning days on the weekends, took bubble baths when I felt like spoiling myself, listened to podcasts when I felt low. I did all the things I was supposed to do. And I loved it. I love having my own space. I love the quiet and the freedom.
But sometimes the quiet gets deafening, and when it’s bad, it gets real bad. Like, I have to make sure I’m on the phone with people at all times, or I start binge watching people’s vlogs on YouTube just so the house can feel full with human noise. Even now, it’s hard to admit these things because I’m quarantined with my family of five loud people (including the voice in my head) in a little apartment and sometimes I think, “I wouldn’t have to read while listening to the sound of my siblings slurping cereal if I was at home alone.” But come to think of it, I would probably start to lose myself if I had to be quarantined alone at home, paranoid and just hoping for someone else to start a conversation with me.
This isn’t a sob-story post, just so you know. Or rather, just so I know. It’s half an admittance, and half an act of honouring my feelings. I’m trying to learn how to do that more often. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written posts like these, only to draft them or delete them altogether, lest I felt like an oversharer. But I can’t imagine what others must go through, going abroad or living alone for the first time, confused and lost and just friggen’ tired of making their third bowl of pasta that week, but too afraid to try anything else. Smiling at their family on video call when they ask because it costs so much just to be breathing in this country. Awkward and stiff in a dorm with strangers, crying from the sheer frustration of not being able to do the laundry in peace. Or worse, living in a mess that isn’t caused by you but they’re not family so you have to figure out how to live with it. Learning how to be a good student, even at university, is a hard thing to do. It’s mentally draining for some. So, consider this a solidarity post.
I know that my loneliness is rooted in my need to grow up, to learn how to love myself enough to be okay with the radio silence - the same thing we’re supposed to do in meditation, right? To know myself enough to be the only reassurance I need, to feel whole enough that I don’t feel the need to fill my space with other people’s energies..but that’s a lifelong journey, and that stuff is not easy, no matter how much we oversimplify it with our “move in day!” vlogs and dorm Insta-stories.
So, next time you’re being a little harsh about this whole adulting thing, ask yourself if you can be kinder. Chances are, you should definitely be kinder to yourself.
This episode was filmed over a year ago.
I won a photography competition!! I hate it when people type 'eep!' when they're excited online, but...EEP! How did this happen? So, backtrack to October, I saw posters on campus from Cultuur Op De Campus (Culture on the Campus, a study association at Radboud University), saying that they were holding a photography competition with 'activism' as a theme.
Obviously, I had to try. I may not be the most experienced photographer (spoiler alert: I shoot on auto), but I do love photographs and activism. So, I sent in the pictures I took during the Women's March and waited for a reply (click here to read the article).
Funny story, the winners were supposed to be announced during an event at a café on campus. I had written the date on my agenda, as I always do with everything so that I wouldn't forget. Me being me managed to get the date wrong. I ended up missing the event on Tuesday, went to the café on Thursday, and sat there for an hour wondering, when will the event start?
After reading the email I received carefully, I realised that I had missed the event (much to my and Karla's - who I dragged to the café as my date - dismay). Nonetheless, I took some pictures of my photographs on display at a building on campus.
It's one thing to take nice photographs, but it's an entirely new sensation to see your photographs on display for everyone to see. The memories that have been immortalised through these snapshots are so dear to me, and I am so proud of myself and the people in these photographs for coming together to be a part of this new wave of feminism in Indonesia.
In addition, I am glad that they are on display for a predominantly European school to see. Indonesia is often seen as an 'exotic', far-away land to The Netherlands despite it being a former colony. Indonesians are only known for their 'satay', peanut-sauce, and Bali. To many Dutch people, Indonesia is a romantic sunny destination, a tourist hot spot for those who have gathered enough money for the summer holidays - sometimes even a 'spiritual' getaway.
On the contrary, Indonesia is so much more than what the Orientalist view permits. Indonesia is complicated, and often problematic. There is endless abuse and a lot of people are oppressed due to traditional cultural and religious doctrines. These photographs represent those who smile and persevere through the pain, hurt, and oppression.
I hope that my photographs stand as a symbol of strength. That yes, Indonesian womanhood has so many more facets than the sarung-clad women in Balinese paintings or the silent and modest kerudung-clad women you see in the streets. I hope that it says yes, we are under attack and no, we do not need your help. I hope that it allows people outside of Indonesia to be more open-minded and to be more mindful of those who are less privileged than them.
Crying is not an easy thing to put out there. A socially traditional feminine trait, we have been shamed into suppressing emotions that aren't positive or 'happy'. Well, I say screw it. Here's a gigantic screenshot of my splotchy, bloated, crying face. Why am I crying you may ask? Well, my new vlog pretty much explains it all.
© Selena Soemakno. All rights served unless stated otherwise.