For about a year, I’ve had my anxiety under control. For a brief moment sophomore year I was on medication for it, but I stopped after realizing the medications weren’t really doing anything. I had to, at the moment, find an alternative way of fixing my crippling anxiety attacks, bouts of mental turmoil which I could sense coming like a storm. I cannot describe my anxiety attacks, and I’ve spent a long time trying to write my feelings into existence, only to realize that human language can only do so much to describe the nebulous, undefined spaces of our minds. After a tumultuous sophomore year, I spent the summer tending to my developing stomach issues, seizing in silence about my life and all of my decisions. Junior year was remarkably quiet – for half of it, I was at school, although I knew that my mind was really elsewhere. I was biding time, waiting to go abroad. I found it increasingly difficult to be present at Swarthmore, and when I was abroad, I found it just as difficult to be present in Senegal. I have described my abroad anxiety as a constant noise in the background, something I could tune out most of the time. It seemed to have solidified into a general malaise that my mind channeled through my GI tract. Now, I’m in North Carolina, working on a research project, and my anxiety is slowly mounting again.

I was talking to a friend that I made in the program about my conduct and my behavior and I expressed to her that I feel as if my anxieties are related to the ways that I orient my life around the acquisition of certain goals. I’ve been somewhat aware of this since high school, when my English professor would call me a “grade monger” almost as an insult, and I would smile, because I didn’t understand how “grademongering” could be seen as a negative characteristic. I have found great satisfaction in being a high-achieving student; I have very few other metrics other than my academic accomplishments to determine my self-worth, a horrible reality I am still in the process of correcting. I find that my mood is greatly impacted by my grades and the responses I get on my papers. When my comments in class receive minimal acknowledgement, I become insular, I cut myself down, and say “You are no longer allowed to speak because you were wrong.” A destructive desire to please others, for I have never been taught to determine my own value, mixes disastrously with an unhealthy sense of perfectionism and a dangerously disparate self-perception; my mind is a persistent calamity of self-affirmation and self-deprecation.

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fantastical vice

Hyper-realistic video games and the pathology of violence

It was primarily through video games that I interacted with my older brothers. They would beat me mercilessly in fighting games and get pissed at me for always dying when we played X-Men Legends on our Xbox. When my father – disguised as Santa – gave our family an Xbox for Christmas one year, he addressed it to the family, but we all knew that it really belonged to my brother. It was within the confines of that black plastic box that I had the vast majority of my exchanges with my older brothers, two people who were already men by the time I had become truly conscious of them. And I suppose it’s because of this kinship, and because video games played such a role in bringing me into my family that I am so fond of them now.

One of the things which I missed about the United States is having my video game console. Although I rarely played games last semester because of my busy schedule, I still found solace in having my Xbox 360 with me at school. When I had friends over, I would challenge them to play me in fighting games – Soul Calibur V, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Street Fighter IV, to name a fewand it would be enjoyable to use the simulated reality of video games to foster a deeper connection with my friends.

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