“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss
I have no recollection as to why these words escaped my mouth in the middle of a crowded hallway during my freshman year of high school. But I do know that after the questioning, amused, and judgmental looks my way, that was the last time I ever said them.
I was 14 years old and as English as they come, having just emigrated with my family a mere 2 months before school started. I was desperately self-conscious, awkward, and shy, and every day began with a knot of anxiety planted deep in my stomach.
Behind closed doors, I got so angry with myself for not being the cool, outgoing girl with the fun accent I thought everyone wanted me to be. And so rather than stand out and show my true self, I found it easier to blend in. To this day, I know the exact order in which my vowels and consonants migrated one by one into an American accent. I don’t think this was a fully conscious process at the time; more like a subconscious survival tactic to conquer debilitating anxiety.
Slowly but surely, I found “my place.” I made friends, joined clubs, found myself a boyfriend. And yet, in every social situation I was a different person. It’s not like I was hiding anything, but I was so overly conscious of how people might judge me, that I found myself constantly adjusting my personality.
I had been journaling since I was 11 years old, but my journal from this time is filled with grossly sentimental puppy love and not much else. After being so worried about what people thought about me, it was like I had planted my entire self-image in the foundation of this highly volatile young love. It was inevitable that when we split the summer before I left for college, I found myself entirely lost and unable to define just who I was.
My next journal records this struggle well. It’s a tumultuous adventure that bounces wildly back and forth between “figuring myself out” and “fucking everything up.” It’s full of angst and regret and stupid decisions, most of which came with the introduction to college and alcohol. There were a few moments of astonishing clarity, but it is primarily despair and anger.
And then, at 19, I met my husband-to-be. And that journal ends with: “And then I met Chris. Talking with him and being with him unearthed the part of me that actually cares about the important stuff.” This was finally a relationship where I could begin to define my true self.
And yet, a summer away from Chris before my senior year of college seemed to undo everything. It was as if I reverted back into that insecure 14 year old who was eager to please out of fear of being judged. The last journal entry I wrote that summer was highly depressing and full of self-loathing. After that, I didn’t write for a whole year.
It was a year and a half after graduation when I first discovered the term “quarter life crisis.” Having married Chris 6 months beforehand, I was extremely happy. And yet, deep inside I felt desperately unhappy with myself and with life. I felt like I hated my job, I hated that I drank so much, and I hated that I spent all my spare time just watching TV. Plus, I was still secretly desperately insecure, eager to please, and constantly afraid of people judging me.
In May of 2011, I signed up for Joy Juice. It was the kind of thing I felt cheesy writing about so consciously, but I persisted. And, amazingly, something clicked. I was soon feeling good. I thought I was slowly figuring everything out.
And then, August 2, 2011, I was confronted with two pink lines staring back up at me. The first evidence that I had helped create life. The next journal entry, a day later, asks only if I’m ready. If we’re ready. The start of something new, I declared.
And so, of course, that began a new journal. The same one I write in today. Many pages are filled with months of agonizing over questions and doubts about being a parent, a role model, a good human being.
As I read through these journals in preparation for this blog post and reflected upon the Transatlantic move that sparked it all, I wasn’t sure what to think. There had been no traumatic, tragic events that turned my life upside down. Instead, I had been selfishly plagued with insecurities over my self-image and personality. Every new scenario threw me into self-doubt, changing how I acted and, scarily, even how I thought.
11 Years after that Transatlantic move, I am proud to say that I now have a stronger sense of self than I ever have before, but it’s still a struggle sometimes. At this point in my life, I know only that I want to be a good role model to my son, as well as a good wife, friend, and person in general. And ultimately, that means I really need to define my beliefs, values, and goals, and live life in accordance. And that, my friends, is why I’m here.