To Be Me

Satya ShawMay 30, 2019Fear and AnxietyInterfaith Connections

Artwork by Caroline Carter, age 12

I’m an 11-year-old boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and although my mom and dad have given me many ways to handle fear and anxiety, I’ve naturally come up with some of my own.

My mom is a progressive Hindu and a women’s rights activist. She helps women and girls in Afghanistan go from harsh environments to ones where they can thrive. It is important to her that I know about my Indian heritage, and she teaches me a lot about Hinduism. What I have learned from my mom is that I should always do my dharma, which means the path that’s right for me, and I shouldn’t worry about what other people think. I think that’s the ideal way to live, not caring about other people’s judgment, but it is hard to achieve. I often worry about whether people like me, whether they think I’m funny, and even what people think about what I’m wearing. My mom’s ideal sometimes seems unachievable.

My dad is a secular Jewish philosopher and businessman. He is getting a PhD in Philosophy, with a focus on a German philosopher called Hegel. And he is always reading or writing. He often tries to tell me that no matter what I’m working on, and no matter how hard it is, I should always keep going and try my best. Even though I try as hard as I can, I often feel defeated by even the simplest of tasks.

My mom and dad are, naturally, a big influence on me. When I have to figure out what to do in any situation, I look to my mom for advice, and my dad helps me think through ideas and make reasoned arguments.

I am very lucky to go to a school where there are no grades and we are taught to love learning. In every class, we are encouraged to ask questions, have discussions, and be creative. I feel happy in school and yet, even there, I experience anxiety sometimes. It could be when I’m put on the spot in class, encounter a mean person, or find a class hard. In those moments, I feel so much shame and embarrassment that I freeze.

There are three places my mind goes when I feel fear or anxiety: my home and family, my friends, and my music and books. Knowing that my family is there for me and loves me, and that I can trust them, always makes me feel better. I have a different relationship with my closest friends, and there are things I feel comfortable sharing only with them. And yet I am very insecure about these friendships, always feeling that they’re hanging by a thread, that my friends won’t remain my friends for long.

I am aware of the strength I get from my family and friends, and also that even though I’m so lucky to have them, I need something else to be a strong and confident person. I realize that I’m given so many ways to get through tough times, but they sometimes don’t entirely work for me. I’m the only person who can really truly know what helps me.

My mind is my greatest consolation and my greatest weakness. The anxiety that I often feel is, of course, all in my head, but so are the thoughts that conquer it, like the sun that breaks through the clouds. What are these thoughts that help me overcome my challenges? When I sit down to play the piano or the French horn and compose my own songs, I am transported to another place where I don’t have a care in the world. I am in bliss. When I make mistakes, I don’t feel embarrassed. I just keep going and turn the mistakes into something beautiful. Escaping into my books also gives me a feeling of peace and security. When I am reading a book, I feel as though I am wrapped up in a blanket next to a crackling fire, and before I know it, I am the main character. I am in the book. While the character may experience fear or anxiety, I, the reader, cannot be touched.

I have been brought up immersed in all these different cultures — the progressive Hinduism of my mom, the philosophical ideas of my dad, and the love of learning in my school. By branching out and creating my own path, I am honoring the cultures I was raised in, because all of them tell me the same thing: to be me.

Satya Shaw is an eighth-grader at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, New York. He loves to read, sing, and hang out with his friends. His dream is to become an actor.