Thursday, July 05, 2012

A dash of self-analysis

The last few weeks have been somewhat... stressful. A variety of things has happened, most of which I can't get into the details of**, that pushed me to the point of completely shutting down and going into a funk last weekend, till finally a few conversations with two or three dear souls got me out of it.

What I realised over this period, however, is just how much my upbringing, for lack of a better word, has influenced the person I am, for better or for worse.

Both the parents, especially the father, are incredibly private people. They've never liked the world knowing what's going on in our lives. It's our problem, we deal with it. And some of that has rubbed off on me. I have never been able to call a friend and say, this is going on, I need your help or even just talk about it. It takes me ages to reach out to anyone for even the smallest bit of help. And the problem is, being this way completely conflicts with the person I am, who, well, talks a lot, quite frankly. And who needs to tell people what's going on.

So there's always this urge to tell friends back home what I'm stressed about, but at the same time there's also this hesitation because, well, I can't. Or shouldn't. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself they're busy anyway. Or stressed about things themselves. Or don't want to hear me keep whining about things. But all makes for a fair amount of misery. And loneliness.

And then sometimes it all gets too much and I send frantic, misery-filled emails to people. Or furiously and/or tearfully type out a huge rant on Gtalk. Or just call and pour it all out. And always feel so much better. And wonder why I didn't earlier.

The other thing the parents have always drilled into me is that you really can't ever take anything for granted. We were always fortunate, growing up, that we never really lacked for anything we wanted. If the parents had to figure out ways to give us all of that, they never let on. But they always reminded us that a lot of what we had was thanks to the father's job, and you never knew what could happen when.

So when I started working, while there was no doubt in anyone's mind (particularly my mother's) that I could be extremely extravagant and impulsive with how I used my money, I also saved a fair amount. And frequently went into panic mode if I found my bank balance going below the magic number in my head that was the minimum I should always have. There was no rationale behind this number, and no amount of arguments presented by dad along the lines of how my investments also counted could make a difference. If the cash in my bank account was not a certain amount, I would be constantly palpitating.

And that continued when I came to the US. Despite living on student loans, I have by no means been the most frugal person around. But I make sure that there's always that minimum balance in the account. If not, I hit the panic button. Which usually involves calling the father and asking what I should do.

Among the various stressors of the past few weeks was the fact that there was a problem with my paperwork for the internship. And as a result, I hadn't been paid for nearly a month, despite the contract stating that I was to be paid every two weeks. And while this was troubling, it was a minor ripple compared to the tidal wave of everything else going on, because truth be told, I have enough savings at the moment to last me a while, if necessary.

At dinner with the other interns some days ago, it came up in the conversation that I hadn't been paid. And almost everyone's first reaction was to ask me if I was fine financially, or if I needed money. And I found it interesting that almost everyone at the table was completely startled when I assured them I was fine. I seemed to be the only one there who wasn't living from paycheck to paycheck.

When I would hear this from friends and colleagues back in India, I always assumed I was at an advantage because I lived with the parents and didn't have much in the way of household and living expenses. But here, as students - most of us international students, at that - I would have assumed we're all in a similar position. And it struck me, for possibly the first time, just how glad I was that I had been brought up the way I had.

**UPDATE: Two years later, I went into the details. Here.

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