This has been a recurring theme in my life lately. For reasons that are nothing short of a reflection of me, it has been a difficult and yet relieving transition.
We all experience hurt. Anyone that tells you that pain is for the weak clearly has no passion. But we’ve all heard sentiments that go along the lines of “without the rain, we can’t appreciate the sunshine” or “you don’t know what it feels like to succeed if you’ve never failed“. Similarly, you won’t know what happiness is without having suffered from some form of pain in your past. It builds character, and, to quote my Psych prof, each transaction with the universe leads you in some direction or another and it impacts you in a very profound way, whether or not you realize it.
Without going too deep into the philosophical stuff, I wanted to touch on this issue of “identity”.
My later elementary and high school years were marked with aspects of inner battles with myself due to the climate that I was in. High school, as I quickly learned, was kind of like TV but less flashy and could stand to be more vicious than the plastic cheerleaders that paraded around fictional high school grounds. And while I had a solid group of friends to lean on, I had always struggled with trust and transparency. I look back now in life and regret the many times that I trusted people that I shouldn’t have, and all the times I refrained from trusting those that I truly trusted.
I’ve always had trust issues. My trust issues ultimately made me close in on myself at multiple points of my adolescent life, and it led me down some scary paths and roads that sometimes I wish I didn’t take. Most notably, depression, disordered eating, and attempts at suicide.
But it wasn’t until recently that I noticed myself having incredibly meaningful discussions about life, choices, and identity. At the beginning of this semester I started taking a faith study with 9 other girls on what it truly means to be a Catholic. We are called to evangelize and to bring all people closer to God. It reminded me that despite the bumpy road that I may have had growing up, God has destined something truly great for each one of His children – all 7 billion of them and counting.
Talking in great depth with friends about our life stories to date gave me a new found appreciation for choice and identity. As one friend described to me, “There are choices I made, some fantastic and some poor, but I wouldn’t trade a single one of them. All of them make up me, and I wouldn’t be the me I am right now if I had chosen otherwise.” Some people had lamented poor choices in their past, wishing that they could turn back time and do it all over again. Others stood back in awe of their good and not so good choices, realizing that each tiny detail had amounted to who they currently are. Regardless of what end of the spectrum you identify with, I think we can all agree that our lives are made up of choices that we have made, meaning that even something as small as choosing to smile in the morning can impact your life path in some way or another.
Our identity is so important – it is who we portray ourselves to be in the world, and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not hiding who you are. I remember high school being a tricky time for this: I hid so much of my identity to different people, playing different characters in different social circles. But none of those pictures fully showed who I was: it was different parts of the puzzle complete with some noticeable gaps. And I’m not sure when in my life I decided to forgo what people thought in a “take it or leave it” attitude, but being myself – all of myself – never felt so liberating.
I don’t apologize for being a woman. I don’t apologize for being Chinese. I don’t apologize for being Catholic. I don’t apologize for identifying as someone with depression or someone who has had suicidal thoughts. I no longer deny my past, my beliefs, and my culture. And I think that no one should have to conceal who they truly are.
I’m not telling all of us to go out and be self-righteous and pompous people. Embrace yourself and your identity; don’t apologize for it. Accept the choices that you made in the past and forgive yourself for the difficult ones you had to make. Love yourself and treat yourself with respect.
Your identity is important, and it is special. Don’t let your fear of conformity get in the way of your true identity.