I write “My other life” because I don’t feel I’m the same person living abroad, its as if I’ve upgraded to a better version. I owe this entirely to the new people that I’ve met. Or more specifically, how they have taught me to embrace new experiences, which always involve other people.
I grew up in a home where screaming matches and personal politics were standard fare, and I was an already a nervous and quiet child. I feel that instead of embracing the colourful and passionate characteristics of my family, I instead sought to hide away. Perhaps I was ashamed of my cautious and weak character, but instead of coming out of my hermit’s shell, I wanted to whitewash it, to nullify and deny its existence. My method was to blend, belong.
I was a chameleon child, always conforming to my surrounds, eager to fit in, terrified of sticking out. I became a chameleon teenager, and now it is my character. Often I fear I have no character, I am the people with whom I surround myself.
This began at home. I feared my different nature would exclude me from my family, and in turn, I feared disconnection above all else- I rely on my connections to determine my behaviour. This continued out in the real world too. I have a lot of difficulty being my own person for fear of rejection. But what I haven’t realised until recently, is that in stifling myself, I have denied myself the possibility of deep connections and real love.
This world is like sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. – ‘If I should have a Daughter’ by Sarah Kay.
The major catalyst for this discovery was a completely fresh slate here in Montpellier. Completely new friends, with warm, open arms. Eager to discover a new friend. I’ve met people unafraid to love, unafraid of failure and uncertainty.
My small circle of friends here can embrace their vulnerability and accept their shortcomings. By accepting their insecurities etc, they remove the fear associated. We fear the unknown, but these friends know their insecurity.
Afraid of being shut down or pushed away, I never felt comfortable enough to share my true character. I felt it was a failure, and I fear failure. Spending so long in remission, my character never developed into a real person, and this fear continued.
I spent my childhood studying the interests of others. Anyone else’s opinion was more valid than mine, and perhaps if I studied them enough, they would become my own… My turning point here was the feeling that I was safe enough to be myself, to explore and to make mistakes. My new friends would not abandon me, but embrace my difference. I felt worthy enough, safe enough to open up, to be vulnerable.
This has given me the power to embrace my character and reconcile my shame for it. I am a person too, and theres nothing shameful about being quiet or frightened.
It is here that I’ve forged some of the deepest friendships, I’ve found others who identify with the same emotions (fear of trivial things; guilt from our families; frustration towards people we love). Emotions that I used to think were wrong, but now I realise they’re normal. I’m not alone. I never have been and I never need to be again.
‘It is impossible to live without failing. Unless you live so cautiously, you may has well have not lived at all- In which case, you fail by default‘ J.K. Rowling, 2008.
Now I know others have the capacity to love me back, and they love me more all the more, for being myself, not the image of another. 20 years of stress has been lifted from me, like a physical burden; muscular pain finally finding relief; sleep after a long day. So this is Life at 20.