Attending ALA has caused me to confront a lot of my misgivings and shortcomings. I’ve been placed into positions, situations, and relationships that have caused me to truly reflect on the type of person I am and where I want to be. At this institution, I’ve gained the ability to take in and process my experiences and the information around me, similar to that of a phagocyte. To understand what I am referring to, you need to understand the function of a phagocyte in the human body.
Assuming that you know the basics of immune biology, we have billions of specialized white blood cells in our bodies. These cells, called phagocytes, are tasked with the job of eating and breaking-down foreign bacteria which is a process known as phagocytosis. Some phagocytes even show the broken pieces of their prey on their surfaces to aid other white blood cells in detecting certain bacteria in the future. Relating this back to me, I’ve been met with a lot of “foreign” situations during my ALA life; circumstances that I would never have faced if I hadn’t come to this academy. These situations range from identifying my own deeply embedded, racist beliefs to learning how to handle a bad break up with a close friend. It’s been an extremely difficult process but I pushed through, ultimately acquiring what I believe to be the most effective technique of coping: phagocytosis. To demonstrate the process, let me give you an example.
At one point in my journey here at ALA I realized through a series of events and a number of interventions, that I couldn’t continue living a life of, what I would call, “ignorance”. I couldn’t be ignorant about the feelings of others nor could I ignore my feelings towards uncomfortable situations like being peer pressured into doing something that I don’t want to do. I knew I had to stop lying to myself about the reasoning behind my actions without putting the feelings of others or my own feelings at risk of being hurt. So I did as the phagocytes do and I started by “engulfing” the problem. I had to accept that my behaviour was not okay and that I need time to process why.
After swallowing this truth, I began to digest it, breaking it down, figuring out that there were specific traits, such as dishonesty, passive-aggression, jealousy, anxiety, and arrogance, which had negatively affected my interactions with other people. I probed myself further with questions and uncovered the truth, which was that I’d received these traits from my past experiences with bullying and competitive pressure. I’d finally broken down the pieces and now I had to start shifting them from the inside to the outside; I had to start changing.
I kicked off this part of the process by writing down and publicly voicing my thoughts, which would’ve otherwise remained filed away somewhere in my brain. I began to ask for further explanation when I didn’t fully understand something. I told people what I was trying to do so that they wouldn’t feel surprised or confused when I acted differently. I started drawing and designing more because it helped me focus my thoughts. I started experimenting with different activities and stepping out of my comfort zone regarding my tastes.
It was a time-consuming process that reaped tremendously rewarding results. The truth was that I had been fleeing from even the prospect of change because I was afraid of letting go of my old beliefs and rituals such as gossip and bragging. Nevertheless, I’ve grown and am now able to analyse why I feel certain ways about specific situations. I can identify when my supposedly light-hearted “pettiness” is just jealousy and can hold my tongue when I know the thoughts in my head are going to start a fruitless dispute. I’ve become so much more confident in my actions. When I congratulate a friend on an accomplishment I know I truly mean it because I am able to ask myself important questions like “am I happy for them because it benefits me?”. I can also give a lot more meaningful thought about the consequences of my actions on the people involved like when I ask myself if “speaking my truth” uplifts people or breaks them down.
Now let me be straight with you. Although it might sound as though I have everything sorted out, I don’t. I don’t totally understand the consciousness which is me but I have come to terms with the fact that I will never 100% understand myself because I am human. I am more complex than a machine that can be easily taken apart or a single equation with a single, definite answer.
I want to continue the exploration of the inner being that I have identified with for the last 18 years of my life. Not only because there are fun and memorable experiences on that road but also because I’m tired of driving those I love away. I have this strict philosophy in my head that I do not expect someone to understand things about me if I do not understand them myself. To me, it just seems unfair and burdensome however, those that truly care about me want to understand who I am as a person. Therefore, I’m going to keep seeking personal understanding because I also want them to understand me because it brings us closer. I will continue to question myself and experiment with different coping methods. I whole-heartedly believe that the more I challenge myself, whether through mental or physical actions, the more likely I am to unravel one more knot about Sophia Chima.
Some of the moments I’ve experienced in my two years at ALA: