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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

If Only They Knew…

Avani Solanki

Avani Solanki: My sister just got engaged. It’s huge, because she took care of me for a really really long time of my life. Her boyfriend is great. She has back problems, and he built her a desk that allowed her to adjust it to the comfort of her back after she had back surgery. Her favorite game is chess. She would always play with our mom. So, he made her a handmade chess set. He’s a thoughtful guy.

M: How did they come together?

A: They met on a study abroad trip in Italy about 2 years ago. They’ve been madly in love ever since.

M: How did you find out about her back problems?

A: She was born with it. It’s called Degenerative Disk Disease. It’s where the disks in your back thin out. Usually older people get it, but she got at a much younger age. She’s okay though. She has a metal rod in her back, and it was a really risky surgery. She’s better, but she still deals with a lot of the pain.

M: Did she have the surgery before or after meeting him?

A: Before. She went through recovery during a semester and was off to Italy the next.

A: When I first started school, I wanted to believe and be a part of that culture for so long, just because all my friends were. You know, when you’re growing up in a southern town, it’s always stereotypically, “Love Jesus and God,” everywhere you go.

M: Where did you grow up?

A: Madison, Mississippi.

M: When you say school, do you go to a religiously based school?

A: No, it was public school. I grew up in a relatively nice neighborhood and was a part of a girl scout group. All the moms on the street would play Jesus music in the car and stuff like that. But, I knew I believed beyond that. I knew since I was little that I believed. I would get down on my knees and pray not knowing who I was praying to. It would be about something silly like praying for my want of a car or telling Him that I was sad. I didn’t know what God looked like, and my parents never really shoved religion down my throat. They wanted me to grow up and make that decision on my own. Ever since I can remember believing in something, it was in him. As I grew older, I started to put more rules and restrictions on it, because society emphasized that and a strict following of them. I followed them for a really long time and became an extremely hateful person in my holy bubble. If I saw someone hurting or broken, I would leave my holy bubble and go try and save them. Then, I walked away, because I had told them about Jesus and decided I could go live my life again. The crucial part about that is when I was in the church life, I was in my own comfort zone and marking things off a checklist for Jesus to love me again. I wasn’t actually living through life with anybody. So, as soon as I stepped away from the checklist and started living through life with people, I feel I had more people open up to me, because more people open up to you when you actually living with them. My heart hurts so much, because of people. It’s black or white it seems. There are so many people who strongly believe and feel they’re doing so much right or people who don’t believe at all and don’t understand how others can believe so hard and be so hateful to everyone else. There’s no in between. There is this side or that side. It’s so difficult, because I have yet to find someone who believes like I do. I believe so hard not necessarily in my religion, but in God.

M: What was your initial religion?

A: I was initially Baptist. I’ve tried to run away from it, to the complete opposite end of believing in anything, but I still end up face first with, “I believe in God.” I feel like I’ve done everything to combat believing in Him and telling myself to not limit myself. I study Biology and I feel like all the people I’m around are Atheist or Agnostic, and I keep trying to think of other possibilities, such as evolution, but I still come up believing in God. And, it’s so hard when the Christian community around me is living in a certain away because it makes God look so bad. I’m entirely for gay people having rights to marriage and people to have the option to abortion. And, I feel what majority of Christians are missing the point on so much is that they’re out to protect themselves.  Ultimately, I feel like God has all the power. When you truly believe in God, you’re not scared of who is president. On the other hand, do you really think taking away a gay person’s right to marriage is really going to show them the love of God? Do you really think taking away someone’s right to a safe abortion is going to stop them from having an abortion? When someone has made it up in their mind that they are going to do something, they’re more than likely going to do it. There isn’t supposed to be or shouldn’t be this much of divide due to the way Christians are living. I was like that though! I was so blocked off to other people and the way they thought and thought I couldn’t be seen with them. I hated myself and was so unhappy. When I finally started getting away from that and actually started living life, making true friends, and truly caring about people. I was in a frat house sitting next to a guy crying about someone dumping them and experienced another at the same frat house saying they didn’t feel like they were living their life the right way. I was there and present to talk them through that. I’m able to be with people and they feel comfortable opening up to me now, because we’re actually living our lives together. I feel like that’s the problem with so many people. They don’t want to take the time to get to know someone or their story, but rather take the time to protest and take away their right to marriage. I just want to ask those people, “Are you friends with a gay person? Like, are you REALLY friends with a gay person?” I just want them to realize that they are not that much different from you at all. You’re going to realize while sitting next to them crying that they probably had suicidal tendencies just like I had them and many others. I had suicidal tendencies. You’re going to realize they may have lost a mom. I’ve lost a mom. Ya know? I feel like so many people have it backwards. But, I don’t know. Maybe I have it backwards. I’ve read the Bible, not religiously, but I’ve read it and I feel like I’m still very much a different person than everybody else, because I still believe with my entire heart that there is a God.

M: What would you say you struggle with that. That meaning how you save people now compared to how you saved people before through your religion?

A: I don’t even feel like I’m saving people. It’s not about that. I don’t feel like that’s my job. It’s not my job to save people. My job is to live life with people and really live it with them. It’s not even a job. It’s just doing what I do every single day. It’s not an act; I don’t get tired of it. I feel like when people get so tired of what they’re doing and the world around them it is because they’re doing something that is making them unhappy. They’re putting on an act. It’s really bothersome for me. That’s why I distanced myself so much. As soon as I did so I got some backlash from that community.

M: How was that transition from that community to the way your lifestyle is now? Was is a slow or immediate backlash?

A: It was pretty immediate, which is why I think I got the backlash. I also think it was because I was straddling the fence for so long. That’s the worse place to be too: straddling the fence. It’s either you’re on this side and like, “Okay, I’m going to go into this head first. I’m going to bleed it, and I’m going to live it out.” Whether that’s the wrong way or the right way. Or you’re on this other side doing your own thing saying, “You know what, I’m over here, and I’m just trying to live my life. I’m all for this with no religion and no God.” Or whatever someone believes in. But, when you’re in the middle and you’re being this person one day and this other one another day, the people closest to you start wondering what’s going on. My boyfriend even thinks it’s funny that I have my church friends and then my friends I go party with. I don’t want to be that person. I like to party, and I don’t like to feel bad about it. I like to enjoy myself.

M: What made you realize that you shouldn’t feel bad?

A: I felt so bad when I was part of both communities. I felt so shameful all the time. Anything I was doing. If I had a beer in my hand I would feel so guilty and made sure no one who wouldn’t want to know saw me. Or, I can’t share this post, because I can’t have my own opinion, because people are going to say I should believe something different. Although it’s been something I’ve struggled with for so long, it doesn’t stop me, because I still whole heartedly believe. But, it looks so different to everyone. But, I’m okay with that now.

M: How was the transition of being okay with that?

A: It’s not so much that I was never okay with it. It was more so of a perspective from a parent, when they say, “No that’s bad. That’s bad. And, that too.” Then, you go off to college, do something bad, and you feel like your parents are going to slap your hand. But, you finally get a taste of, “Oh, well I guess that’s not so bad.” Drinking isn’t so bad. It’s kind of like that. I feel like someone is going to come around and ask me what I’m doing and tell me it’s not okay. Eventually, I realized that it was okay and I felt okay. It created a lot of anxiety in my life.

M: When was this transition?

A: Last semester. In January. Over the summer during LeaderState is when my major transition took place. I stopped going to a small group and church.

M: Would you say that’s when you started drinking more?

A: Eh, not really. I was drinking the same amount. I just stopped feeling bad about it. But, I also grew up with a lot of anxiety as well. After my mom passed away and my dad left us, my sisters raised me for a couple years. My dad got into a lot of bad, dangerous, and risky businesses and stuff. There were threats toward our family. A lot of things that happened made me experience a lot of anxiety at a young age. It comes and goes. I was on anxiety and depression medication for a long time. There was a time where I almost committed suicide. My sister almost committed suicide after my mom passed.  We were just so lost. I am really bad, and I’m really good at relationships. I get really attached. I find it really hard to find people to relate to. It’s like I’m always on a different page than everyone else, just because I had to grow up so quickly. My sisters had to grow up really quickly as well, so that just caused all of us to feel a lot older than we actually are. It’s really hard for me to find people to relate to. When I do find someone that I relate to, I latch on real tight to where it’s suffocating. On the opposite end of that, I lost my mom at such a young age, and she was the most important person in the world to me. I was in the 5th grade. So, on the opposite end of that, I have a really quick bounce back coping mechanism when I lose people. I’m able to cope with it. It’s weird. It’s a numbness. I just get over it really quick. I have a numbness to death now. I will cry if a puppy died, but if someone comes to me and tells me someone close to them died, I say, “I’m really sorry, but you’re going to get through it.” It’s not so much cynical, but I’m just very numb to death. It just happened so quickly when I was young, that I learned to put up a wall, be numb, and then I was over it and living my life again. It has just worked for me. It’s slapped me in the face a couple of times, but everybody has their own things that they get through life with, and that’s one of mine. It’s one of my coping mechanisms. I really value people who stick around. I feel like anybody does.

M: I agree, but a bit more so with you for the sake of how many people have left that you considered really close to.

A: Exactly. My dad left. My mom passed away. We moved around a lot. My life has been pretty unstable.

M: When did your dad leave?

A: Three months after my mom passed away. He got remarried to someone else that he met online.

M: So, would you say your life has been mostly unstable since then?

A: Yeah, it’s really hard. I’ve never seen a functional relationship in my life, so I do the best that I can. It’s prideful, but I’ve built the person I am today from rubble, and I’m really proud of the person I am. When people try to say something is wrong with that, I guess I put up more walls. I fought to be who I am. I’m not perfect, but I’m better than who I was yesterday, and I feel like that counts for something. Maybe that’s just another coping mechanism where I feel like I can only do the best that I can. When I feel like I’ve done the best that I can, then I give up. But, I’m okay with giving up then, and I guess that’s where friendships are lost.

M: Well, when you couldn’t do anything after your mom left, I can understand how that thought process would transcend throughout your life.

A: When you deal with something like that, you realize how you truly can’t do anything about it. When you experience something like that at such a young age, you realize how little a human being is capable of when trauma comes. You realize how fragile we are and life itself is. We’re also resilient. We’re so fragile yet resilient. Some people it either goes one of two ways. Some people crack, and that’s not their fault. I just had an amazing mom. My dad put her through so much bullshit. He would kick her out of the bedroom and sleep with other women. She would come sleep by me almost every night. I also saw a lot of hard things when I was younger. It affects my relationships to this day. Even today I have to catch myself with my boyfriend when I’m accusing him of things or when we’re fighting each other and not together. I’m fighting him and against him instead of the problem together. Relationships are very hard for me.

M: What are some good things that you remember about your mom?

A: Oh my gosh. I know people say this all the time about loved ones, but that woman was happy all the time. I mean, my dad brought home women, sleep with them in her bed, and my mother would make breakfast for those women the next day. Genuinely happy. My father was going to have a baby with a woman, and that baby was in the backseat of the car during the accident. He’s okay though.

M: What car accident?

A: My mom died in a car accident. Her car stalled on the interstate and an eighteen-wheeler hit the back of it.

M: You said the baby was in the backseat?

A: Yeah, he was in a car seat and totally fine.

M: And that was the baby of a woman your father was sleeping with?

A: Right. My mom was going to adopt the baby, because the mom couldn’t take care of it. That’s partly why I believe in a God. I think of what I go through is hard, but what my mom went through was unbearable. She not only had the strength to go through it but also the strength to raise three girls. I had no idea what was going on. No idea. My older sisters knew, because they were older. But, I would have never known, because my mom acted so normal around me. My mom and I would sit on the bed watching movies together. She’d sleep by me every night. She’d run her fingers through my hair. If I was standing in front of the TV to close or in her way, she would jokingly knock my knees in from behind to make me fall back. We would have singing and dancing parties in the living room. She would lay down blankets, and me and my sisters would use tennis rackets as guitars and microphones. My mom would wake us up in the middle of the night, like 3 a.m., and grab lots of quarters to take us to Whataburger. I don’t know why. It was far from my house, I really don’t know why. I remember I didn’t talk to her the morning she passed away. We got into a fight the night before, and I didn’t talk to her the next morning. That was really hard for a little while. I got through that obviously. Now that I’m older, I know it’s silly. I know my mom knew I loved her, and I know that she knew I loved her. But, those kinds of things mess you up. I try not to hold grudges and make peace with what I can. At the end of all these things that I have been through, I’m really happy. Yes, I deal with anxiety every single day. Yes, I get depressed sometimes. Yes, my freaking dad sucks so bad. My sisters are doing so much better.  I really am happy with my life. I feel so fortunate. And that’s why I believe in a god, because I have been through some tough shit. But, I have relied on him, and I have come this far. I really am okay. Seriously. I just bought my first car. I am able to really bounce back from things. I never feel hopeless. I tried to commit suicide once after my mom passed, but after that I have not for a second been hopeless. I have however wondered what is this all for? Ya know? My mom touched so many lives in the short time she was alive. I only got to have her until my 5th grade year, and I am 21 years old now. And, if I make half the impact she made, I’ll be okay. People to this day will tell me how sweet and kind my mom was. But, you always hope that when you pass away that people remember you. If that’s what people will say about me, I’ll take it. Are you kidding me? If someone remembers me for being kind to them, I will take that as a compliment. Who is kind anymore? I mean, there are people who are kind. But, how many people are just known for being a genuinely kind person?

M: How do you think your mother’s passing and personality has impacted the relationship with you and your sisters?

A: My sisters are my best friends. It’s hard having my family so hard away in North Carolina and Ohio. They stepped up into being my mother figure. Now that I’m in college, I realize how big of a sacrifice they actually made. If I was in high school or college, especially the way I’m acting now, and I had a younger sister to worry about during these years that are typically the most fun and careless, I’m not sure how I would’ve done it. They were working 2 or 3 jobs, dealing with the death of my mom, working around my dad who doesn’t do anything, and just so many other things going at once. They made sure I had dinner every night, got to school on time, and that I had clothes. I don’t think I really started appreciating it as much as I do know when I came to college and started paying my bills. I can’t imagine how shitty that had to be, but they still did it. They didn’t complain about it, and they still don’t. They still offer to buy my plane tickets to come see them for the holidays. They’re so supportive of everything that I do. That’s what is so hard. I’m a big affirmation person, and I didn’t and don’t have parents to do that for me. Ever. Kind of like when you’re younger and your parents tell you they love you and that they’re proud of you. I remember one time I came home for the day and my roommate asked me how my day was. I hadn’t been asked in so long that I started crying. It was so pathetic, because I had to explain it was because I didn’t have parents. That’s why I latch on to people, because the people who are in my life ask and care about me. I value it so much when someone simply asks me, “How is your day?” You don’t realize how much you need those things until they are taken away. They’re taken for granted. The reality of a family being there for you can be taken away so easily. But, I understand of course. If I had one right now, I would probably take it for granted too. I would think, “Oh, everybody has a family. This is normal.”

M: Would you say in a sense that your friends are your family?

A: Oh, absolutely. That’s why I have a tendency to latch on to them. To some people, that may make me a really bad or good friend. When they say I’m a good friend, I’m like, “Yeah, I have all the time in world to be a good friend, because I have no family.” I want to do everything with them. If my sisters were here, it would be the same way. As soon as I graduate, I’m going to move closer to my sisters.

M: If you had the opportunity to tell the people who have been so impactful to you in life, what would you say?

A: It’s weird. I know everyone has a time, purpose and their own life. You’re not going to be best friends with everyone. You’re not going to be best friends with everyone for years and years and years. That just doesn’t happen. Not everybody is going to think that you’re a good person. But, I think I just do the best I can and that’s all you can ever ask of anyone honestly. I think we get disappointed, because we put expectations on people and how they’re supposed to act or what they’re supposed to do. Life just doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t. There are times that friendships just fucking suck. People are shitty, but I am just equally as shitty. I don’t want to get out of bed half the time or do anything. But, when I do, it’s so worth it at the end of the day. You have to find those people who stick it out with you, and that’s hard. But, it goes back to living life with people. When you find that spark with people where they are good, you have to hold on to that. It’s so easy to see bad. It’s like that quote that is something along the lines of you not being able to find a single person to not love if you knew people’s stories.

M: Do you feel as if the Christian community lacks that love when they’re so stuck on saving people instead of loving them?

A: Yes.

M: What would you say to those people whom you used to identify with in the Christian community?

A: I feel like I’m not on any other lane than my own anymore. I don’t really have anything to say to them honestly, because I was in that. I was blind. I’m just on a different path. Until they step out of that holy bubble, they aren’t going to make themselves step outside of their comfort zone.

M: Do you think instead of stepping out of their bubble, they could just enlarge it to be more inclusive of different bubbles?

A: No, there shouldn’t be any bubble! Pop the bubbles! There doesn’t need to be any separation. People need to go out into the community to live with people and do whatever they want in their holy bubble on Sundays or whatever. No bubble. Just, no bubble. I don’t know. These last couple of months coming to these conclusions and realizations have been really hard.

M: What would you say are some positive things that have happened in the last couple of months?

A: I bought my first car! It’s also been really nice not depending on anyone. It’s the first time I’ve had a seemingly stable life in my entire life. I think the best part of being a grown up is the difference from growing up, being surrounded by negativity, and not being able to control your environment and knowing there isn’t much you can do about it. But, as far as being an adult, you can choose to not talk to that person anymore or do that certain thing. You able to control your environment a lot more. I think in that I’ve become a lot more of a healthy person, because I’m able to control my surroundings. I’m able to get out.

M: If you were able to go back in life and talk to younger and numerous versions of Avani, what would you say?

A: Gosh, nothing! I had to do some of those things to learn. I’m so glad that I did, because now I can sit down and talk and relate to practically anyone nowadays, because I’ve been through so much shit, and I let myself go through that type of shit. I hope that no matter where I go in life, I can relate to anyone. I hope that I can walk up to someone in a coffee shop and just start talking to them about, I don’t know, I like space, so maybe being an astronaut. I don’t know. Whatever. I don’t know…I’m just really happy. For 21 ½ years, I’m being completely honest and telling you I wasn’t happy. I’ve come to a place where I truly am. There is a difference between being positive and being genuinely happy. Even if something terrible happened tomorrow, I really like the direction my life is going currently. I’m really thankful.

M: How would you define happiness?

A: Being able to be alone with yourself and being happy with that person. When everything else is gone: drinking, parties, boyfriend, friends, school, Instagram, and whatever else. When you’re in bed alone and just looking at the roof or the sky, and you’re thinking, “Wow, life sucks majority of the time, but you’re doing okay. You’re doing your best.” When I used to go to bed at night, I used to have the worst anxiety. I don’t have that anymore. I’m very peaceful. I can look up at the ceiling and tell myself that I’m doing okay and that I’m happy. I couldn’t ever do that before. I wasn’t always nicest to myself. I can be pretty mean to myself, but I’m a lot nicer to myself now.

M: A lot kinder?

A: Mhmm. Kinder. Yeah, I’m kinder.

M: What would your kind self say to your mean self?

A: Chill out! I don’t know. I think my kind self would make my mean self cry.

M: Wow, so much for being kind.

A: Not like a mean ya know.

M: Well, no. That’s the mean self’s job. Kind of like tough love.

A: If I had a show down with myself, I talk in a jokingly strict way in the mirror to myself and say, “Be nice to yourself, dagummit. Come on. Be nice.”

M: Almost like your mom talking to your younger stubborn self to be kinder, huh?

A: Oh, I am stubborn. I’m very stubborn. That I am. I can admit to that. There are definitely still some things I am working through. But, I’m able to identify those things now. I have to work through my pride. I can be a grudge holder. The way I judge. It’s kind of similar to that quote that is along the lines of judging yourself by your intention, but judge what others say by their impact. So, when I say something, I want others to know my intention, not my impact. So, if I hurt someone, I would want them to understand my intention, whether it was me trying to help or if it was for the best for them. But, if it was vice versa, and someone said something to hurt me and they said they did it for the best of me, I would say, “No, it doesn’t matter. It hurt me.”

M: Do you feel like some people don’t understand your intention?

A: Uhm, yeah. I feel like that’s where most fights come from. People thinking the other person had bad intentions. How could they do that? Why’d they do that? How could you hurt me? Things like that. I feel like I could be a better communicator. I don’t think I do it well. I interrupt people a lot. I have got to get better at that.

M: It’s okay. I try to be a better listener. This helps me become a better listener.

A: Yeah, you could say that!

M: How would you feel like you’ve become a better communicator in the past couple of month throughout your transition?

A: By being more intentional. I think I’m a very touch and go kind of person. I never want to be overbearing, because when I’m being so intentional, I might freak people out. Sometimes being intentional scares people. Sometimes that freaks people out. But, that doesn’t matter. It might scare some people away, but it’ll mean something to somebody.

M: I feel like that’s a very big move considering your intentions from before of wanting to save people and now wanting to live life with people.

A: Yeah, and I love it so much. I love when people who are close to me start bawling their eyes out on my lap whether they’ve had too much to drink or not, because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. How often do you get to be around people during their rawest emotions? How often do people show their emotions to somebody else? Hardly ever. Most people say, “I’m a part of this club. I’m doing this.
This is my occupation. I make a lot of money.” That fucking sucks. Yeah, we’re all doing that. But, how often do you get to just sit next to someone and just cry because life freaking sucks. Hardly ever. I love it, because I want to cry too, dude. All the time! I want to cry when I’m happy! Crying is a good thing. I always sneak little cries when I see happy commercials.

M: Would you say you are being kind to yourself when you do cry in front of other people?

A: Yeah, that’s kind of why I like doing this. When I’m honest with people about me going through anxiety and depression, people hear that, whether they are going through something or not, or if they will in the future. Being vulnerable is never a bad thing to me, even if it scares some people away. I remember times when I couldn’t say anything. I was too fearful to say something. But, someone else was honest. Some people who I thought had it all together have told me, “Yeah, I struggle with this.” Then, I just want to bawl. I want to tell them, “Yeah, I’m struggling too.” But, I’m still struggling, and it makes me fearful of saying it. But, I don’t want to be like that. I hope through me being honest about struggling that somebody one day can say, “Me too.”

M: You said you were doing this, because you want to be kind to yourself and hope others will be open to being vulnerable like you and others try to be?

A: I want them to know why we do this. What you’re doing is amazing. But, it is absurd the idea that we have to do something like this to show people have a true side to themselves that most don’t see.

M: So, are you essentially saying if only they knew this was absurd? I’m not-
A: Yes! Yes! If only they knew that this is absurd that I have to sit in a coffee shop and be interviewed to talk about my feelings, because hardly anyone goes and has these conversations elsewhere. No one is ever like, “Let’s go get coffee and talk about real shit.” It’s absurd that in a beautiful way you are doing this, but at the same time, it’s like, come on… opening up should be an everyday thing.

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