While we were growing up, we encounter this stage of life known as teenhood.
Not sure what the official definition of teenhood is, but I definitely felt it as soon as I stepped into secondary school.
It was a building full of girls discovering their identity and trying to find their own place in this world while breaking free of their childhood.
And for a secondary one kid like me, I was trying to do all that while settling in a new place at the same time, one with a completely different vibe from when I was in primary school.
Bitchiness, gossip and politics were rampant, compared to the innocent games and conversations that I was used to in primary school. Words to put other people down like “pathetic”, “loser” and “moron” were flung around carelessly, as some girls sought to establish superiority over others. (I admit, I also used these words freely back then in an attempt to “fit in”.)
But with the workload of secondary school being significantly heavier, the whole process of “finding my identity” took a backseat. I was that student who chased good grades and studied plenty.
Four years of secondary school soon flew by, but I doubt I ever found my identity. All I remember was establishing my own small group of close friends and sticking to them, never quite speaking to anyone else beyond this group. Otherwise I kept mostly to myself, worried that I might somehow become the target of all the politics and bitchiness that seemed to be so rampant. It’s no surprise that to this day, I’m not in contact with anyone from secondary school.
Junior college days came along, and I found myself in a much more comfortable situation. Not sure how to best describe it, but I no longer feel as if I am surrounded by hormonally-charged teenage angst. The careless use of words to put other people down has dropped significantly, and I suddenly felt … safe.
I was also in a class that made it a point to uplift and encourage one another (very very evident especially during sports meets and when major exams were approaching).
Being in such a safe zone, I was comfortable enough to finally start sniffing out what my identity was.
But back then, at still a relatively young age of 16, definitions of identity were more rudimentary.
What did I seek out of friendships? I just wanted to feel like I belong, and that our topics of conversations were similar. (But being in a school setting, topics of conversations never veered far from school-related so I feel like I never really got to know them.)
What do I really like and dislike? I mustered up the guts to pick up tenpin bowling competitively, and learned that I’m terrible at performing under pressure. And I really disliked failing. It was also at this point I realized that I was exceptionally hard on myself, but somehow I took much pride in that (for reasons I still cannot figure out until today).
What do I aim to do every day? Study as hard as I can so that I can go to university.
That was my 16 year old self. Pretty short-sighted.
Then I went to university. Again, new setting with new situations. But still, I felt similarly safe as I felt in JC.
My notion of self-identity continued to evolve.
What was the impression I wanted to have on people? Happy-go-lucky and not being afraid to speak what’s on my mind. I cursed and swore freely, and would get aggressive when threatened (I used to pick fights). I also wanted to be “that girl from JC who can code” that everyone wanted on their project groups. But all in all, I just had this extremely cheerful persona regardless what came about.
That happy-go-lucky bit. I really felt it and it really stuck on people.
Then 2008 rolled around and from then on, health problems after health problems struck.
Suddenly I wasn’t so happy-go-lucky anymore.
Everyone noticed it.
“Bren, you’ve changed.”
“You used to be so happy? Where did this depressed person come from?”
“You didn’t used to be like this.”
Fast forward to today. At the age of 30, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of this whole self-identity thing.
Am I still happy-go-lucky? Maybe. No. I’m not sure. It seems like some people still think I am, while others don’t.
My illness(es) have largely defined my self-identity now, which people say is not healthy. Even my Instagram and Facebook descriptions read “daily battle with #autoimmune and trying to live a normal life”. And recently, my mom asked me why do I always refer to myself as “a sick person”.
I don’t know. Part of me thinks this is a step forward in trying to make myself accept it as part of my identity, considering that this affects my life to a large extent.
As to what constitutes my self-identity? The definitions have changed.
What do I have to deal with on a regular basis? Hence, the above.
What do I seek to do with my life? I would like to append this question with “despite my medical situation”. There you go, guys. It influences my notion of self-identity in a huge way. My medical situation is so violatile, so I want to seek stability in everything else. And after putting my life on hold for the larger portion of my twenties, I want to rediscover my sense of adventure by wandering aimlessly with a camera, travelling more and perhaps doing something I haven’t quite done before (eg. fashion design). Basically, just living life on my own terms again, and not bound to circumstances.
What do I seek out of human relationships? Not much, because I keep most people at arm’s length. I let very very few people into my world now, the few whom I know exactly where I stand with them, the few whom I know won’t judge me even after knowing my story, the few whom I can just spill out my thoughts to, unfiltered. I have serious trust issues with this aspect, because you’ll never know who will be judging you secretly while putting on an empathetic front. I’ve learned the hard way before.
Why such a long post on self-identity anyway?
My thoughts have been everywhere lately on the notion of self identity.
I felt lost.
I have absolutely no self-esteem. (I used to largely derive my sense of worth from my work. But after a major health crisis in 2014 that made me drop out of regular working days, my sense of worth is all but gone.)
And the words of someone I used to work for back in 2005 set the benchmark of how I thought the general society perceives people with medical problems.
“Can’t stand this kind of sick people. So useless and a waste of time only!”
It echoes into my ears until today.
And now, it’s well visible. I have to wear a face mask in crowded places (pretty much everywhere that’s public). I walk with a slight limp on several days. I get stares. And I cower under those stares because I keep remembering those words.
I feel slightly better after writing all this out.
And I seek comfort in the fact that no one reads this space now so I can just go on as long as I want. (Even if there was someone reading, I’d have probably lost them at the first paragraph).
Re-reading all of the above, I noticed two themes that have stayed consistent in my constant search for self.
Lack of self-confidence.
Need for acceptance.
Yep. Guilty as charged.
“Stop obsessing with whether people will accept you. That’s not important. You need to accept yourself first. Be confident with who you are okay?” – exact words of my best friend when I spilled everything out to her like diarrhea a couple of weeks back.
Yep. It’s a match.
As to how my self identity (for now, theme seems to be more like ‘self-worth’) regrows from now, it’s work in progress.