When a professor criticizes you, it feels like a car accident. It's sudden, unpredictable and you freeze, unable to think of any logical defense against your emotions, your ego, and your pride. In the drawn-out nanosecond, you find your reaction dragging, you contemplate if you should start crying or stay stoic. I chose the latter.
On one dreary November afternoon, I found myself playing a passive-aggressive game of chicken in one of my professor's office, as she questioned my motives and process of applying to graduate school. She shrugged and rolled her eyes, blew raspberries and drew a smile that seemed to say "Oh, you poor, pathetic thing." She was on a roll, question after question that verbally slapped my wrists over and over again. Up until that point in time, I never experienced an abusive professor and was unprepared on how to deal with it. What was supposed to be a casual, friendly chat turned into an interrogative confrontation and I was left to pick up the pieces.
I exited the professor's office with my head down, as my eyes were quickly brimming with tears. In the privacy of the ladies' restroom, I covered my sobbing face, shuddering at the repeating sound of her words and behavior. I kept questioning what have I done to deserve this brutal verbal beating. My chest felt tight and my head was spinning, as I realized I was having an anxiety attack. I couldn't go home because I had to attend my evening classes. I looked at myself in the mirror taking deep breaths, waiting for the anxiety to momentarily cease.
I found a quiet spot behind a parking garage on campus, sat on the cold pavement and watched the ants promenade. "I feel worthless like my life is going nowhere." I wiped a tear from my phone to continue texting my best friend. I called my father for mental clarity and he reminded me to observe the situation in the bigger picture. Life will bring you difficult people, individuals who will be intoxicated by domestic power and popular reverence. They abuse this source of admiration and take it out on unknowing prey, with a pent-up ego that doesn't seem to care about the possible damage that can affect a young and naïve person. It was up to me to decide if I was going to let this professor's influence hurt me and my future decisions. And for the first couple of days, I did.
It's an idiosyncratic experience when a professor confronts you, due to the academic surrounding of university life. When you have a problem with a friend or a family member, you can distract yourself with schoolwork or extracurricular activity. But everything I did following the critique was a constant reminder of what had happened and I was quickly losing focus. I repeatedly had flashbacks and tried to hold back tears every instant it occurred: completing assignments, taking exams, attending class and even walking around on campus. My passions, my hobbies, and my friends could not distract me from it. All I wanted to do was to lay down on my bed and cry into my pillow with the blinds drawn, ignoring everything that was happening in my life- academic and social, good and bad. Trying to move on felt like an extraordinary burden; a heavyweight that was impossible to lift and set me free.
The deepest infliction can expose the most vulnerable insecurities in a person. For me, they are the feelings of inadequacy, rejection, failure and negative judgment. After the confrontation with the professor, I had to look at several of my fears straight in the eye and ultimately conquer them. I forgot that I am still growing as a person, someone who will make mistakes and run into problematic circumstances. Journaling and meditation reminded me that I am stronger than my weaknesses and that I have the power of free-will and determination. I realized that it is important to admit to yourself that it is okay to not be okay. And best of all, talking to those who know you best will encourage you to keep going, even though you've given up your will to fight.
I allowed this professor to attack me and my self-worth. I allowed her to affect my life and my spirit. I lived in a somber bubble that was filled with tears, verbal put-downs and questions about my person. Who knows what I could have accomplished in the days that I've wasted; the days that I gave to this professor's vocal beating. However, it was I who allowed myself to rise above and overcome it. I worked to better myself, learned how to develop self-love, and asked for help when I felt lost. I know my journey isn't over yet but I am relieved that I've started.
Even in your darkest hour, where you feel like you will never be happy again or enjoy life as it used to be, all you have is yourself. The rollercoaster of pain and self-discovery is a long one, but ultimately rewarding. And in the end, you will become stronger from suffering, vivaciously prepared with rock-hard defense, ready for the next battle.