He Surprises Me.

As many know, Neeraj and I could not see each other in person this year for Valentine’s Day, so we sent each other care packages. As much as I wish I could have been in his arms, the personal touches included in his package made me smile so much. Everything that he does for me encapsulates our relationship perfectly. We find so much joy in surprising each other and doing small activities like this, and they make every day in our relationship feel like an adventure.

As I have mentioned previously, I have never experienced a relationship that is so secure and mature. He will say the things that I need him to say even when I do not know that I need to hear them, and even though we are just a few months away from two years of dating, I still find myself in shock. In the past, I spent more time panicking in my relationships than actually enjoying them, and I was often anxiety ridden for good reason. I was always ready to fight for my relationship when my partner would claim that he cannot do or be enough to make me happy. I was always ready to hear him say that I deserve more and better. My fear of these situations manifests itself even now, and every time Neeraj and I have a disagreement, I find myself rebuilding my walls. I brace myself for abandoned hope. I take deep breaths and prepare myself for the worst, but then he surprises me.

He surprises me by meeting me where I am. Leaving me does not cross his mind in difficult times. I am always prepared for the situation to erupt, but he will respond in the most constructive and kindest way possible. He is willing to be the best version of himself for me because he knows that I will always give him 100% of my energy and love.

I thought that I knew how it felt to be in love with your best friend based on my past relationships, but I really did not know this feeling until I found myself inside Neeraj’s embrace. In many ways, a bit of sadness exists in the fact that I am startled by the amount of respect that my partner has for me. I am startled by our abilities to work through any issues that arise rather than quitting on each other. I could pinch myself, but I would still be surprised.

Obviously, discussing anything over FaceTime or text is not ideal, but long distance has made me feel even more connected to him. I value his presence in my life so much and I know that he feels the same way, which is the best part. His silliness and whimsicality make me feel so light, but he is also present during the more important and serious moments. I have mentioned this many times already, but being in love with someone who has all of these characteristics, and is willing to work through heavy times, bewilders me.

I know that the blossoming of our relationship was a surprise to practically everyone, but its formation was a surprise to us as well. It was so unexpected, but he was the best surprise. This relationship was (and still is) the best surprise that I have ever received.

see you in less than two weeks, nee xo

Color Me Brown.

I wrote this piece for my hometown community’s Indian Cultural Association of Minnesota (ICAM)’s newsletter recently. I thought that I would share it here as well.

As a young girl of color surrounded by predominantly white spaces, I was constantly shown that light skin tones and straight hair were more attractive features than darker skin tones and curly or textured hair. I remember spending days yearning for my skin to be even a shade lighter and growing annoyed with my hair. I was teased for the dark hair on my arms and legs because body hair could not be seen on my white peers. Every tween girl was straightening her hair for hours before coming to school every day, and the message that boys only liked girls with straight hair spread like wildfire. I wanted a flat iron so desperately because I felt as though I were already losing in other respects: my shoulders were too broad from competitive swimming, my nose was too large, my hair was too thick for a hair tie, and I had brown skin.

In addition to the unhealthy beauty standards that continue to plague the media even now, young girls of color must overcome insecurities based on their skin tones and dark hair. Racism in predominantly white countries, such as the United States, is one issue, but importance exists in acknowledging the blatant colorism practiced in India. As stated previously, interacting with some of my white peers provided little relief, but the advertisements for Fair & Lovely that I would see on the television screen during my visits to India did not help either. I am sure that colonization and the power structures that resulted from it have some influence on why fairness is redeemed, but the lack of action in dismantling this view is harmful. I was constantly comparing myself to even my friends of color who had lighter skin than I did because of this, and through the conversations that I have had with many of my South Asian friends as we have grown older, I realized that we all had these insecurities when we were younger.

We shifted our perceptions of beauty and culture to accommodate our white counterparts and internalized the racism that prompted us to do so. At a certain point, one gives into the pressure to fit a mold that makes everyone else feel comfortable and the microaggressions just fly over their head. On occasion, I asked my white friends in high school about how they perceived me when we met. Did my brown skin and Indianness stand out to them the most? As much as they said that they noticed details of my personality above all else, I could sense that these physical and cultural differences were aspects that they would never understand. This does not have to be a barrier, but for a teenage girl, it can certainly feel like one.

Becoming an adult and building more diverse community in college were the early steps in deconstructing the perceptions that I had of myself. I met so many friends, white and nonwhite, who had genuine intentions and embraced every aspect of a person wholly. I placed myself in more spaces of color and we bonded over our experiences within predominantly white institutions. We also realized how greatly the tables had turned. Suddenly, every sorority girl wanted to be as tan as possible, and all of my friends were telling me how much they loved my thick, curly hair and dark eyebrows. I noticed how much I glowed during the summertime, and I never had to worry about sunburns. Throughout high school and even more so in college, I started using products that worked for my hair, and the moments during which I yearned for my hair to be straight slipped away from me.

I wish that I could give my younger self a hug and tell her that her brown skin and dark hair are assets. The little girl who felt insecure in her skin is unrecognizable now. I have always been proud of my heritage, but I did not know how to wear it confidently when met with classes and extra-curricular activities where everyone looked similar, and I stood out from them. Of course, I still find myself in predominantly white spaces given my career and location, but I now view these aspects of my identity as my superpowers. I care less about how I am perceived and more about the messages that young girls of color receive when they watch a show or scroll through social media. Most children of color have been bullied based on their skin tones at some point in their lives and while eradicating this is a feat within itself, we should embrace the responsibility of empowering these kids when they are in these situations in the meantime. Consistently being surrounded by light skinned or white individuals has a greater impact on a growing child’s psyche than one expects, and while we cannot always help this, we can push them to internalize pride for their brown skin and culture.

I urge readers to reflect on the racism and colorism that they have unintentionally internalized and unpack these views as soon as they are able. The experiences that I have outlined here are similar to those of many other individuals who were raised in predominantly white countries, and we are finally at a point in which we can change this narrative.


I am back in Boston after about a month long break in Minnesota, and I am ready to rumble. I spent most of my days sleeping until late morning and most of my nights watching television shows or movies during this break. I gave way to rest and relaxation.

For the last several years of my life, I struggled to skip even one day of exercise, but I managed to experience a full week with little physical activity over this time. While I enjoyed the rest, I definitely did not feel like the best version of myself. In addition to the lack of movement, I did not do much in terms of graduate school preparations, career growth, or my creative interests (such as my blog). “Laziness” and lack of productivity provides me with an uncomfortable itch, but I blame the perpetual toxicity of capitalism for this. I gave myself the permission to relax and I am a much better person for it.

I am not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, and those who know me know that I think that birthdays are a much better marker of growth, but I do have changes that I want to make in 2022. My word for 2021 was “intention,” and my word for 2022 is “consistency.” My decisions were a bit impulsive and sporadic last year, and while spontaneity can be good for the soul, I experienced a lot of unease as well. I am sure that not all of my readers are well versed in astrology, but for those who are, I am a Virgo Sun and Aries Rising. This alone can describe the fiery internal conflict within me when deciding between routine and whimsicality.

As much as I enjoyed my rest, I would love to re-establish a consistent exercise and diet routine this year. The pandemic, graduate school, and every other chaotic situation pushed me to fill my voids by indulging my sweet tooth, and I have been consuming too much sugar as a result. I cannot help that I love chocolate, but I can help how often I purchase and consume it.
I found myself growing tired of the same workouts and exercising became more of a chore rather than an escape for me over the past year. I love health and fitness, so I felt discouraged with the lack of motivation and enjoyment that I experienced every time I exercised. In a weird twist of fate, I landed a job at the gym right below my apartment this past fall. I open the gym at 5:45 am for a few days every week, and I receive a free membership and an hourly wage because of this. I love it. I love the peaceful mornings and the ability to build community while staying in shape.
In addition to machines and weights, my gym offers fitness classes such as yoga, spin, and pilates. I plan on taking advantage of these (specifically yoga!) over the course of this year. My dad has been inspiring me recently because he started attending yoga classes daily, in addition to going on long walks, over the past few months. I see a noticeable change in his energy and mood, and I am so happy for him. I want to be just as active as I am now when I am his age, and older, and being consistent now is essential to this goal.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I would stay awake until the early hours of the morning reading novels. While I read a book here and there throughout high school and early college, I did not start reading avidly again until the summer before my senior year of undergrad. I did not want my eyes to roast under the blue light of my phone before sleeping, so I decided to read at least a few pages of a book instead. Books make me so happy. Reading is my meditation and I love updating my progress in Good Reads. I cannot wait to immerse myself in different worlds over the course of this year.

My goal is to finish my Master’s in Public Health degree by December, and I would like to take advantage of the opportunities that BU, and Boston in general, has for me. I have now adjusted to my life here and I believe that I am able to dive a little deeper into my degree. As excited as I am to finish it, I do not want to simply coast through it. I know that I have a lot to give and this should not be hindered by the fact that I am in school.

With the content that I am consuming in my classes to real world events, I find ease in becoming desensitized to important issues. On one hand, I, like many others, am just trying to survive. On the other, I do not want to settle for the one life that I have to live. I have had so much trouble processing most things over the past couple of years, but I want to push myself to feel deeply again. I do not want to stop myself from pouring too quickly when journaling or during conversations with those close to me.

This last part may be due to dissociation or being in the post-grad, professional world, but I will admit that I have been experiencing a sense of loneliness recently. Pressure exists in maintaining the relationships that I have in Minnesota while trying to be present in Boston. Through reflection with my other friends here who are from Minnesota / the Midwest, we realized that we do not feel as though we can really depend on anyone whom we have met in Boston right now, and the over all energy that we receive here exudes individualism and selfishness. I really value community, and I know that I want community building to be an aspect of whatever profession I hold and however my life looks. I want depth in every relationship and I want to feel as though I can call someone when I am struggling who will be there to support me just as I would be for them. I know that circles become smaller as we grow older, but I do not even know where mine begins or ends. I hope to find more clarity in this area over the coming months, but I am certainly appreciative of those who consistently embrace me as I turn every corner.

Do Better, Boston.

As I ride the bus from Brookline to the Boston University medical campus, I can see the landscape change dramatically. My route takes me from my apartment through Nubian Station and into South End, which is where the BU School of Public Health resides. I have had plenty of conversations with community members while waiting for my buses at Nubian. Most of these individuals come from low income households and are people of color. Many of these individuals struggle with substance use or are disabled. They mention their unsafe living conditions and the language barriers that they face, but other than fellow students, I only see multiple police officers and rundown buildings around us. If I decide to walk from the station to my campus instead of taking the second bus, I see many used needles on the ground and pass an overcrowded food pantry. Some have asked me if I will forget about them, like everyone else does, when I receive my Master’s degree and a nice job.

The issues that persist in Boston are not unique to the city, but as a public health student at a private institution, I choose to be critical of my environment.

I know that I have expressed some of my qualms regarding Boston in previous posts, but the inequities, which are exacerbated by city planning and where investments are allotted, are what concern me most. I can clearly see how little the city invests in certain areas of Boston and I do not think that these areas containing the most people of color, low income individuals, and their subsequent “crime rates” are coincidences. The first step in enacting change is recognizing when certain actions are intentional, racist, classist, and more. The obvious solution would be to provide the unhoused with homes, the hungry with food, and the sick with adequate healthcare, but the city decided to arrest those suffering instead with claims to providing treatment. What happens after these folks are “treated?” They still do not have the resources to survive.

On any given day, I sit in a classroom and discuss social determinants of health with my peers. We analyze heart disease, COVID, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive rights with vigor, but we rarely acknowledge the community suffering right outside our doors. I appreciate the national and global perspectives that we are encouraged to use, but we should not associate large scale approaches with an inability to tackle what lies directly in front of us. We talk about the unhoused on Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard as though these folks encompass a distant issue rather than a community by whom my bus rolls past every day as I commute to my classes. I have to wonder why we are not doing more to eradicate this. I pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend this university, and while I know that the outcomes of BUSPH Master’s degree graduates are bright, I would like to see more of this money invested into the community. I would like us to think about how our lives and BU as an institution are impacting those around us. As important as my program is to me, I do not think that I, or anyone else, need a degree to practice mutual aid and work toward a society in which every member is living comfortably. I worry that some of my peers will be conditioned into “othering” their marginalized neighbors if they depend on the “A”s in their classes to turn them into public health heroes.

I am sure that many Boston residents choose to traipse down Newbury Street or dine in North End and rarely venture into the Roxbury area or parts of South End if they can help it. When I am strolling through those places or make the one hour trek to Seaport, I too feel as though I am in a different world. I see the appeal and opportunity. I see the wealth. As many know, Boston is home to a plethora of academic institutions and the average Bostonian is likely highly educated. We should remember that education does not equate to compassion or lack of ignorance, and an amount of ease in avoiding the uncomfortable exists alongside it.

I do hope that with Boston’s new Mayor, Michelle Wu, at the helm, we see the landscapes shift. I know that much of the work done on a governmental level could not happen without the organizers on the ground, and I plan on getting more involved with these amazing individuals in the coming semester. I look forward to the day when public transportation is free for all and when the infrastructure from Roxbury to South End to Dorchester is beneficial to the communities who reside there, among other things. Boston has so much history and people are too comfortable in using it as a scapegoat or a mask for all of the issues that persist. As a young person and new (approximately four month old) resident to Boston, I will continue to expect more from the city.

resources for Boston here:
– find free at-home COVID testing kits at these locations
COVID Mutual Aid Resources
New Democracy Coalition: organizing to rename Faneuil Hall
MAAP: mutual aid group helping the unhoused

Am I Real.

I often wonder whether my opinions of myself are just a culmination of the opinions that others have of me. Is my perception of myself and my value based on how I am perceived? We have all been taught to not care about what others think of us, but what if what we think of ourselves is exactly that?

Let’s simplify this idea for a moment. If I were the only person to exist on planet earth, I would probably love myself one hundred percent of the time. I would be so proud of and impressed with myself. I would believe that every word that I speak and action that I do is correct. I would assume that the way I look is the best and only way for a person to look. Obviously, I do appreciate myself now and I do believe that my existence is special, but I must acknowledge that billions of people on this planet likely operate in a completely different, or even opposite, way than I do. Multiple truths can exist at the same time, but we will always have opinions on which truths are right and which are not. At the very least, the opinions that we have of ourselves are based on the opinions that we have of others.

I would love to believe that I am indestructible. I would love to believe that the value that I place in myself is unwavering, but I would be lying if I said that this were the case. Thankfully, I am surrounded by the best people, and for the most part, they do uplift me. At the same time, I cannot always control what I read and whom I meet. Some people will be rude or judgmental, and while their words could be bred from insecurities, they still hurt. We are not protected from the expressions that we see on another person’s face as we are talking to them, and we cannot control what is said about us behind closed doors. People say upsetting things when they are angry or jealous or confused, and we can internalize these sentiments within the blink of an eye.

The internal battle stems from this: I know that I am a kind person, but do I only know that because others have told me that I am? Am I only pretty or attractive because other people decided that I am? If, God forbid, everyone told me that I am worthless, would I still believe that I have value? In many ways, we have seen this type of nurturing, or lack thereof, manifest through the wonderful and horrible things that human beings have done.

I do not really have an answer to the questions that I have posed and I also do not have a solidified conclusion as to whether my perception of myself is rooted in how others perceive me. I will likely never know, and maybe we are supposed to spend our lives working toward indestructible self acceptance. Maybe we should just believe whatever helps us sleep at night.

The Happy Medium.

If one were to ask me how I envisioned my ideal relationship five years ago, I would have said that I dream of a whirlwind romance similar to those in romantic and drama-filled movies. I wanted the rush and the suspense and the heartbreak and the tension alongside the ultimate happy ending. I wanted the most soul crushing song to play as I yearned for the love of my life in desperation, and I wanted the textbook, cheesy moves to cushion the scene.

In many respects, I have experienced this type of fire and ice relationship, and as riveting as the stories are to hear, they are not always the most fun to tell. For the most part, the romances that we see in our favorite movies, television shows, and books are toxic and unhealthy regardless of their positive endings. As much as I remark about the cinematic nature of some of the experiences that I have had, I also remind myself that we watch movies for entertainment. Love looks and feels different for everyone, and sparks can still fly even when a relationship has a calmness to it. A little bit of peace exists in knowing that your relationship is not the latest gossip or does not to be unpacked.

People will ask me how my current relationship is going and other than saying that everything is going well, I do not have much else to report. I have noticed that people usually have more to say about their relationships when they have concerns or worries about them. I could write novels about the relationships that I have had before this one and they would probably be bestsellers, but I feel so much better now. My relationship encompasses reason and accountability, and the love that we have for each other places our individual happinesses at its foundation. I do not feel like I have to fight for the happy ending; the happy ending will naturally arrive. Obviously, my relationship is not perfect and the seas can be a little bumpy at times, but I am always able to maintain my balance.

My past experiences have definitely influenced the way that I handle or react to things that happen now. For the most part, I am just better at knowing myself and what I need from my partner. I am better at communicating these needs as well. I value myself and I advocate for myself. In the past, I always felt as though my partner and I were on opposing teams and it was unpleasant. I now genuinely believe that Neeraj and I strive to achieve the best possible outcome for our relationship.

I have grown to value the quiet moments and the happy medium. Instead of writing from pain, I write from joy. I still find myself dreaming about that whirlwind romance from the movies, but then I remember how grateful I am to have the relationship that I have. I blanket myself in the ease of my relationship and shudder at the thought of the past version of myself crumpled on the floor. I still have the flowers and the cute dates and mushy moments despite no longer having the drama and the heartbreak and the manipulation. My relationship is exactly where it should be.

Too Proud to be Homesick.

A lot of people have told me that they “love” Boston, but honestly, I do not fully understand it. I do not feel the love. While I experience the occasional gem, I often feel frustration. This city glorifies the idea of having highs and lows, but I think that one could learn a lot from living in it.

Many know that I was excited to move away from Minnesota and I have always felt that my purpose extends further than my home state. I love traveling and exploring new places. I love meeting new people. I am still excited to be here, but I really do miss home. I miss the familiarity. I miss my friends and family. I feel a strange sense of nostalgia for knowing a place, as though it is the back of my hand, even though I have been looking forward to learning about a new one. Given that I am in graduate school and have only lived here for about five weeks, I have not had that many opportunities to explore the area. I look forward to doing so as the fall season unfolds, and I hope to find some pockets of joy or solace here.

I have met a lot of amazing people so far, but I feel like they do not fully know me right now. The ways in which I connect with folks in Minnesota are so different than how I do here. I enjoy vulnerability and I want that to run deeply within all of my new friendships, but I know that all good things take time. I also know that my environment is influenced by the people whom I have around me and I want to flourish socially while I am here. I find so much beauty in the differing life experiences that my friends have, and I just hope that we all continue to root for each other throughout the next couple of years. A part of me still feels as though I am making first impressions and I want to ensure that I am making stellar ones. In graduate school, and especially in Boston, everyone is at a different stage in their life, and this can allow for some snap judgments rather than giving each person the benefit of the doubt. The transition is very different from undergrad as we do not have a welcome week or plethora of student groups, live in residence halls, or are given time to acclimate. Collectively, we are all lost over ninety percent of the time (literally and figuratively) and we just take swings with the hope that we see some home runs.

I think that the University of Minnesota, and living in the Twin Cities generally, spoiled me with the view of the Minneapolis/St. Paul skylines. One can see them from almost any location. I used to walk to class and remark at how thankful I am to see Minneapolis skyline every day. When I step outside of my Boston apartment, I do not have this same feeling. I do see a lot of babies and dogs, both of whom I love, but one has to either be intentional about seeing amazing views in Boston or spend a lot of money to live in a prime location. I have had moments that remind me of why I am here and how wonderful life is, but these moments do not happen as frequently as I would like. I would argue that this city is not super navigable or accessible for walking, driving, and taking public transportation (really just any form of movement that gets someone from point A to point B), so energy is required to view and experience the “gems” that I mentioned previously.

I have been feeling pretty ashamed of my homesickness. I am embarrassed to admit it because of the pride that I felt in starting a new chapter. I still feel proud and hopeful, but I do not thrive every day. Graduate school work is time consuming, sometimes the bus is thirty minutes late, and money is emptied from your pockets in the blink of an eye. I yearned to push myself outside of my comfort zone and I have, so I definitely do not have regrets. I just hope that, over time, I fall in love with where I am.

I do not know if Boston is the city for me, and I do think that those who do love it have only been exposed to parts of it, but it is my city for now. I am sure that my perspective will change with time, and I look forward to updating everyone as this occurs. Despite all of the confusion, I trust myself and my intuition more than anything, and this provides me with a little bit of comfort while I am discovering my place here.

A Love Letter to Minnesota.

I have been in Boston for a few weeks now! While I have been taking time to adjust to my new home, I have also had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences prior to my arrival on the East coast. For the most part, I was born and raised in the state of Minnesota. I completed my undergraduate degree there. I had my first full time job after college in Minnesota, and now I have moved away from it. While I have traveled plenty and seen much of the world, settling in a new city is an entirely different ball game. The following paragraphs entail just a few thoughts regarding my home state. I am sure that I could say much more, but these are the first points that come to mind.

I think that Minnesota is a great place for children to grow if they have the right resources. In my case, I did, and I was able to live in a relatively safe environment. The state is home to some of the best education, and educational standards as a result, in the country, but also has some of the greatest disparities between communities regarding these standards. My high school was one of the best in Minnesota and living in Rochester, with access to the Mayo Clinic and other amazing organizations, provided a lot of opportunities. Of course, not every day encompassed sunshine and rainbows, and I think we would see some interesting results regarding mental health and the pressures that children feel to pursue certain careers (Rochester is a very STEM based town, and my high school definitely channeled this energy). Over all, raising a family there is a pretty safe bet.

I have alluded to this previously, but I was dead set on attending a university outside of Minnesota. I did apply to a couple of schools within Minnesota (obviously including the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities) just for the sake of doing so. I applied to ten places in total, and I was fortunate enough to be accepted to most of them, but for some reason, I had so much trouble deciding on the best path for myself. I felt a sort of comfort as I was walking around the UMN campus; the people and the energy of the area felt familiar to me. The university felt like home. Looking back, I am guessing that this is partly why I had so much trouble committing anywhere else. If we fast forward to late August of 2016, we will see a seventeen year old Natasha moving into her freshman residence hall on the west bank of the UMN campus.

Honestly, I loved my time at the U of M. I thrived (mostly). I accomplished so much more than I imagined that I would and this is because I made the decision to make the most of my college experience. I think that I grew even more grateful for this pocket of the world. Looking at the Minneapolis skyline while walking across the Washington Avenue or Stone Arch bridges still takes my breath away (even after looking at it multiple times every single day for the past few years) and I enjoyed exploring the nooks of St. Paul when I had the chance.

I have mentioned this in previous posts, but love and accountability coexist. I think that Minnesotans have a lot of history and trauma to address in relation to the last couple of years as well as in a general sense of history. I also think that an ease exists in ignoring all of this under the guise of Midwest niceties. Saying “ope, sorry” every five seconds or even having the highest voter turnout rate in the country does not wash away the injustices that marginalized populations face. Black people are still being murdered, Indigenous women are still missing, and pipelines are still being built. I urge my Minnesotan readers to step outside of their comfort zones and ask themselves how they can redistribute their time, energy, and/or wealth.

I also urge my non-Minnesotan readers to consciously negate the assumption that Minnesota is a monolith. Yes, Minnesota is snowy and cold, but the state can also be very hot in the summers. Minnesota does not have earthquakes or hurricanes. It is a home for many different refugee and immigrant communities and offers some of the best healthcare (again, not to everyone). It has produced amazing artists, and the art and music scenes are only growing. It is a land of second chances and wilderness and rivers hot dish and flannel. The state has some of the best women’s sports teams and athletes in the country.

As excited as I was to leave and as much as I believe that my purpose transcends Minnesota’s state lines, I do miss it. I do love it. It has its faults and its charms, and I definitely think that the state, and the people within it, could use a lot of growth. Minnesota will always provide a bit of comfort for me and while I do not envision myself living there permanently, I will always be more than happy to visit.

Sending lots of love to my home state.

23rd Birthday Reflection.

(Birthday Reflections is a series on my blog.)

This year, I am celebrating my twenty third birthday in a new home surrounded by mostly new people. I did not expect to see myself in Boston when I turned twenty two last year, but here I am. I am glad that I am here, and I am glad that so many people could take part in my last trip around the sun.

I will not dwell on it much, but this past year was obviously impacted by the COVID pandemic. I am still here and I am grateful to be able to say that. I think that we all experienced a lot of loss and health scares, COVID-related and otherwise, and I am not going to try and sugarcoat this acknowledgement. I just hope that my readers (and non-readers, of course) are doing well.

Over the past year, I had the pleasure of working at a non-profit, called the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, as its Diversity & Inclusion Specialist. Naturally, every job has highs and lows, but I think that I can reflect on my first job post-graduation with a lot of gratitude. The IMAA staff makeup is primarily people of color, and I learned so much through engaging with so many different cultures, histories, and experiences. I spent many days educating individuals and organizations on diversity and inclusion practices, and while this was draining at times, it was also fulfilling to see the results of my work. For example, organizations changed the ways in which they recruit and hire, the language that they use, and the ways in which they show support for their marginalized staff. Many tears were shed and hard conversations were had, but I do not think that I would have been successful at my job otherwise. I met some amazing people through this opportunity and I will never forget how much they impacted me. I was able to learn so much about myself and what I wanted in my future. While educating is inevitable and important, this position only confirmed my desire to focus more on working with marginalized populations and practicing mutual aid rather than listening to the grievances of those in power. The hardest part of this job was having conversations with those who voted differently than I did or refused to support basic human rights, but I think that I was able to change a lot of minds through doing so. I will say that compensation is essential and one should not have to explain themselves or tell their stories without it.

During this time, I decided to apply to graduate school. I knew that I wanted to take the next step in my career and, at the very least, move to a new place. As much as I love Minnesota, I have wanted to leave the state for a while. I felt as though everyone was just too comfortable and this made me uncomfortable. I was tired of living within my familiar box. I told myself that if I did not get into graduate school, I would apply to jobs in other cities that align more with where I envision myself in the future and move regardless. I applied to Boston University and a couple of other schools for my Master’s in Public Health (though I wish that I had applied to more for curiosity’s sake), and I ultimately decided that BU would be the best fit for me. I am so happy with my choice and I am honored to be attending such a reputable public health school. Everyone within the school truly wants everyone else to succeed. I plan on pursuing the Health Policy & Law and Human Rights & Social Justice certificates, and these certificates are a part of what drew me to BU. I am now writing this blog post in Boston (in my new apartment!) and I will have had my first day of class by the time my birthday arrives. As excited and ready as I am to live in a new state, I also feel nervous. I am not really around anything that makes me feel at home or comfortable quite yet, but I keep reminding myself that I want to be uncomfortable. I keep reminding myself that I have been through so many hard situations. I keep reminding myself that I have myself.

As I mentioned in last year’s post, I am in a relationship. Neeraj and I are approaching one year and three months together and I am thrilled. We are so different, but we complement each other in necessary ways. Every day is not sunshine, but I am thankful to have the privilege of watching the rain fall while in his arms. I am not really sure how someone can be as adorable and silly and interesting as he is, and I am definitely not complaining. Long distance is going to be a challenge (I already miss him so much), but I fully believe that if two people want to make a relationship work, they will. I cannot wait to show him around my new home. I am sending you lots of “X”s and “O”s, Neeraj.

I am so grateful for all of the new friends whom I have made over the course of year twenty two. I did not expect to meet so many people, both virtually and in person (safely), but I have been able to understand myself and the way that other people view me in their lives more than ever before. My time and my priorities become more valuable to me as I grow older, and I try my best to protect my peace. I do think that people show you, over time, how much you matter to them, and I have learned to accept that I may not matter as much to certain individuals as I do to others or as I think I should. This is okay. As an extrovert, I can over-extend myself, and I now appreciate the quiet moments just as much as the energizing ones. I took more bubble baths and watched Wheel of Fortune with my parents quite often. I watched a lot of new shows and read a lot of books. I spent a lot of time driving to the cities and to Rochester which equated to a lot of time for music and podcasts. I did all of this and was still able to spend lots of time surrounded by loved ones. While I avoided traveling internationally, I was able to make a trip to Chicago with Neeraj and a couple of other friends as well as visit Door County, Wisconsin with my family.

Fortunately, I did not have COVID at all during this past year. I did not even have a prominent cold and I credit this to the vaccine (Pfizer crew!), masks, sanitizer, and avid hand washing. I urge everyone who is reading this to receive the vaccine. I know that people are afraid, but the numbers do show that the vaccine is helpful and does not have adverse side effects. I have seen, and still do see, other countries struggling to acquire vaccines and I think that if we have them at our fingertips, we should take advantage of them. We are helping other people in addition to helping ourselves.
In other news, my headaches are still as strong as ever, but I am trying my best to manage them. Some triggers are difficult to avoid given the nature of our world, but at least I am able to recognize the signs. Despite the increase in screen time due to the pandemic and working remotely, my eyesight actually improved! I was so surprised and excited when the doctor told me this news. My new glasses will be coming in the mail some time soon.
I have been hesitant to share this, but like many others, I did gain some weight over the past year. As someone who is passionate about health and fitness, this bothers me, but I do my best to avoid letting it discourage me. I just happened to eat some more ice cream during this time, but at least I was here to eat it.

I am thrilled to announce that I have my own domain now! My website is simply natashasohni.com (you are on it!). I am so grateful for all of my readers. Your views do help me so much. In addition to my posts, I have tabs for my favorite items/artists/shows/movies as well as organizations to support. This time last year, I had 258 Spotify followers, and now I have 277! listen to my Fall 2021 playlist here

I had the honor of being a guest on a few different podcasts over the past year! I appreciate how much people care about the things that I have to say, and I hope that I can open the door for other people and shed some light on the issues about which I care. take a listen here (these are available on all platforms):
Feed That Nation: How Does University Student Government Work?
Water Cooler Talk: Critical Location Theory
Resistance in Color: Part 10

Books are gems that we do not deserve. these are my reads from the past year:
– Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
– Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
– Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
– American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
– Becoming by Michelle Obama
– Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
– I Would Leave Me If I Could: A Collection of Poetry by Halsey
– Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
– Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
– Room by Emma Donoghue
– The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
– The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
– The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
– Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
– Bunny by Mona Awad
– Beach Read by Emily Henry
– currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I would consider myself an emotionally intelligent person. This being said, I feel like I have grown emotionally numb to some situations during this past year. I think that I am just exhausted. Prior to my move to Boston, days were starting to blur together, and the world was quite literally hopping from one fire to the next. It still is. As much as all of this, frankly, sucks, we can also use it to reinvigorate ourselves. So many people are fighting for their lives, and all of our lives, every single day. A defeatist mentality does not always help because we are still here. We are still alive and the need for activism is only growing. With twenty three at my fingertips, I feel excitement and fear and everything in between these two. I hug my family, friends, and stuffed animals even more tightly. I put so much pressure on myself to wake up every single day and save the world, but I am here to remind myself and my readers that the entire world does not rest on one person’s shoulders. Others will always be there to hold our hands.

thank you for holding mine as I turn twenty three ❤

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I am referring to all types of relationships in the following paragraphs: romantic, friendly, familial, professional, and more.

We have such a hard time with saying goodbye to toxic people. We are encouraged to use pleasantries and always say “yes,” and we often lose ourselves and our own happiness within that. As an extrovert who is generally pretty bubbly and positive, I have morphed into a doormat in too many relationships. This only results in hurting myself and causing a lot of anxiety. I have never really had a friendship falling out, but like anyone else, I have gradually drifted away from people. I realized that these individuals did not add to my life and did not value me in the way that I valued them only months or years after the drift.

We are all aware of the following points, but we hesitate to reflect and act upon them. I think that this is partly due to how we frame them, so I have done my best to define them in a way that works for me. I have only listed a few here, but I think that a lot of other points could stem from these. (in no particular order)
– While some viewpoints may differ, your overarching morals should align. I know that many people can somehow skirt around this, but this is not as easy to do if your relationships have depth to them.
– I have listed a few questions to ask yourself in relation to the first point. What would those around you say if you chose to get an abortion, join a union, attend a protest, quit your job and pursue your art, or accidentally pee your pants?
Even if they would not do these things personally, they should support your agency. This being said, your loved ones do have the right to tell you if they think that your decision is going to cause harm to yourself, them, or the over all community. Support and accountability go hand in hand. If your decisions are causing harm or making others uncomfortable, those individuals have the right to leave (both the situation and your friendship).
What would they say if you told them that you experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, or harassment? Would they support you or would they make you feel worse? Would they be willing to avoid visiting a place, or stop supporting a person or cause for your wellbeing and safety?
– You should be able to spend time apart. Boundaries are so important in all types of relationships, and one person cannot be another person’s saving grace. Loved ones can take part in your healing, but they cannot be responsible for its existence. You have to want to be helped to be helped.
– You should be growing along side one another and be happy for each other’s accomplishments.
– If they schedule a time to spend with you, you should be their priority. They should not be scrolling through their phone.
Pay attention to who shows up for you in your times of need and in your times of celebration.
– The people in your life should be honest with you, and their honesty should come from a place of love rather than hate or envy. I think that insecurities and jealousy are normal, but being transparent about them is better than projecting them onto those around you. Additionally, if your relationship is having issues, be willing to talk through them rather than brushing them under the rug.
– You should feel your best around your friends and partners and after leaving them. In the moment, I might feel okay around certain people, but after I leave the hangouts, I often have uneasy and anxious feelings weighing on me. You should ask yourself if you feel lighter and happier after interacting with the people in your life. The moment that this changes, do not be afraid to ask yourself why.

From an outside perspective, we are all able to recognize toxicity in an instant, but this is harder to do when you have to consider the relationship that you have built and the history that you have with someone else. Necessity exists in recognizing that toxicity is a state of being; one may not be a toxic person just because they play a toxic role in your life specifically. It might even be fair to say that both people contribute to the toxic energy or were toxic at points in the relationship, and this does not make either individual a “bad” person.

We also worry about losing the connections. Just remember that you do not need to maintain a connection with every person you meet because enough room exists for you, and everyone else, to succeed without it. We pressure ourselves with the idea of competition and we push ourselves to accept toxicity because of it. We have been fed that some will make it and others will not, and we do not know who our bosses could be one day. This is just frustrating. What do bosses matter if you are jeopardizing your peace? Is working at that one specific organization really worth it if you could have just as much, or even more, success at another? As I stated previously, your entire life cannot sit in the hands of one person as that one person alone will not be able to carry it. While a lot of injustices exist in this world, I do think that we are also guilty of using the excuse that our hands are tied when we could take the initiative and leave what is not serving us.

Growth is not a bad thing, so do not make it out to be. Some paths diverge and some join. We do not have to be close with everyone, and we do not have to put ourselves through the discomfort of trying to do so. I write all of this as someone who falls into this mindset often, but I also have learned to trust my intuition. The only person who can tell me whether a situation or person adds to my life is myself.