If I were to be the sum of every mistake I’ve made and be just that – the weight of every ugly regression, every manipulation, every wrong choice, I might cease to simply be.
Before I moved to Korea, someone told me that even if I were to move to the other side of the world, I would still be the same person – I would still be the same horrible person. Those kind words, thoughtful words, that sweet goodbye I received- though I’m sure I deserved it – has continued to chip away at me from time to time. At that moment, with vodka pumping through my veins, smoke burning my lungs, I knew that he saw what I was trying to do: that I was trying to get away, wipe everything clean, bleached and set aflame, pretend I never knew the person I had grown up to be. He knew I was running away, and I hated that he saw through me.
Now this year, as everyone knows, was less than ideal. The world shut down in the wake of a pandemic, and for the better part of this year, I’ve been extremely stressed about money due to this – as well as some other things, such as life. So, here I am. The product of naiveté. The product of a pandemic I can’t control. The product of a forthcoming disaster (possibly).
There are three things I learned about myself this year – things that I’ve known for most of my life, but never really spoke out loud (if you speak the devil, it appears). Those ugly little things that I skirted around in every therapy session, every relationship, every confrontation – maybe it’s time I speak the devil so once it appears I can finally look it in the eyes. It feels overdue. My horoscope did predict this year would be one of professional and personal growth on steroids, on the fast track, on 4X speed – but then again isn’t that the truth for every single person (at least what we want to hear)? A new year is about re-invention (isn’t it?). I think I’ve read that somewhere. Speaking of, is anyone clearing out their library and want to recommend me a self-help book? I can’t afford to get a therapist at the moment.
“Kindness is choosing to acknowledge and celebrate the beauty in others, regardless of whether or not they can find it in themselves…”
When I was younger, I was obsessed with everything that wasn’t my immediate reality. Like most children, I dreamt of finding fairy circles deep in the woods, waking up one morning to find a letter on my desk inviting me to learn magic at some school far far away, or coming across a dragon egg while playing hide-and-seek on my friend’s ranch. I even redecorated and painted my room to look like the Gryffindor common room at one point so I could pretend just a little longer that I was living in an entirely different world far from the one of those around me. For every seemingly boring task, I turned it into an adventure for myself because I refused to accept reality. Movies and television made it easy to recreate what I had witnessed, from films like Pans Labyrinth, to Spirited Away – I took what I saw and shifted my perspective to fit it. I wanted what those characters had. I wanted my world to be more than what it was.
I was outgoing as a kid; shy of course, as always, but willing to find friends anywhere. I could go to camps alone, new schools, anywhere, I knew I could make friends wherever I went. I could be mean, of course, like most kids, but ultimately I wanted to be friends with everybody. If left alone, I became tired, sad, and depressed. I believed that this world I had created could only exist if others were invited in. Even if I was too coward to say things sometimes, I wanted to see the good in everyone – those who were bullied, those who had less, those who kept to themselves, I never wanted to be seen as a bully. People were good (are good?), I thought they were, truly.
As I got older, I began to look more inward, reflected, and found that this imaginary world could really only exist for me alone. This world, now an escape became more often visited, lived in, and slept in, than not. I refused to leave. When at the age of 13 a boy slipped his hands between my thighs and called me cute, my intense need to be liked forced me to swallow my pride, and instead, I laughed and thanked him. Perhaps this is what people did, I remember thinking. Be cool, this is normal. Every stupid comment, every unsolicited touch, everything stayed with me. The first time I was raped I remember sitting in the shower and thinking that people were never good, they just wanted to take advantage of those who didn’t know any better- me. For believing they were good, I had been punished – good riddance. I began to do mean things in fear that others would do the same to me. I kept secrets as weapons, my collateral in case the unthinkable happened. Protect yourself first in case someone tries to throw you under dirty wheels. It was exhausting to constantly plan for disappointment.
So I thought for the longest time that I hated people. Put simply, I don’t. Sure, I hated the things some people did to me, but for all the times I was a victim, I was also the one causing pain. For every negative, I justified my actions and balanced it out by swallowing them, then throwing them back on to someone else. For the longest time, I justified my actions as a means of a problem with my mental health and abuse rather than my own toxicity. But, generally, genuinely, people are good. Of course, people will always let you down (you will let yourself down), but (light at the end of the tunnel) people are incredible too (just as you are). They do things like show up at your door with ice cream in the middle of the night, they make you laugh until you nearly pee yourself, they call you spontaneously because your voice seemed off, they send you food because you had a bad day, they remember your favorite book, your birthday, they bring you something just because it reminded them of you: people are the only reason I’m still breathing. So, I learned this year, that I may be shy, but I love meeting new people, and talking about boring things like their dogs, their hometowns, their dreams, their goals, their horrible jobs – I don’t care – I’m all in. There are days at work where I’m really drained from talking to students, but most days, I am having a horrible day until I go to work. I leave, weightless, and a bit happier because for some reason, talking to others is the only way I can get the energy to keep going. Somehow, that shy, never-speaks-up kind of person doesn’t exist over here. I don’t know where she went, but I’m happy she’s gone. Perhaps personalities can shift over time, which, honestly thank god. Imagine if we were to collect new experiences, new friendships, new perspectives, and were to never change.
Fear born of a story…
As someone who has self-harmed for most of her life, I think I must have a deep desire to maintain a miserable existence. For whatever reason, I didn’t think I would make it this far, to this age so to speak, and I think my fleeting nature and impulsiveness have been a symptom of this pattern of thinking. And so the fear of lack of control, and fear of instability lead to a plethora of self-harming habits unrelenting in their unexpected manifestations. This year taught most of us that it’s impossible to have control of every situation. From starting new jobs to the eventual pandemic, I was searching for control in any part of my life. Punishment for not maintaining control meant self-harm; a punishment that had developed as I got older. For a while, when I didn’t understand permanency, I used to scrape metal down my arm; then when I gained some autonomy, I used to go to parties and fall in love with someone for a night. Now, I have to be more careful and my body doesn’t really tolerate alcohol like it used to so instead I do something stupid like order chicken for 2 people, eat everything, then empty, rinse, repeat.
The phrase “fine” is a staple of my vocabulary. “But it’s fine,” “It’s not your problem, so don’t worry about it because it’s really fine,” or “I’m fine, I’ll figure it out.” Oh, so subtle. A word that leans towards content but in its use is often a quiet cry for help. I’m not sure what it is with my generation, or if this is some kind of thinking related to some kind of past trauma – I don’t know – but I find it impossible to ask for help. I think I would even go so far as to be on a bridge holding on for dear life and I will stay say “I can handle it, don’t worry about me!” My inability to ask for help has landed me in desperate situations, my refusal to be seen as weak has ended up hurting most of all, me, and dare I say I haven’t learned yet. Words of advice are accepted as of now, but actions? Call me in ten years.
But, as I cried for nearly a week due to the year of stress piling up from having to take random leaves from work due to the virus, I finally accepted that I can’t control every situation. I can only control how I respond to situations, but never the situations themselves. With instability and lack of control comes support, which is also something I hate accepting. But, having to realize that I am not alone in this world (even if I sometimes feel as if I am), and I cannot do everything alone.
For some reason, living abroad, I still think only weak-minded people ask for help. I don’t know what kind of sense that makes, but I digress. From opening up a bank account to finding an apartment – I really pretended that I could do all of that alone. I don’t think I can even do that in America, so I don’t know what made me think that navigating those situations in a different language would be a simple feat. Everyone around me this year in some compacity has uttered that phrase: You can ask me for help! I shrug it off and think it’s just a courtesy. But, no, apparently people actually mean that when they say it. I still feel like this kind of thing has to be forced on me but my challenge to myself in the next year is this: ask for help, ask for help because you can’t control everything, and it’s okay. My god, it’s okay.
A coward loves dim lights and dirty mirrors
I saw a video recently of a woman saying that you should not move abroad if you are not comfortable with yourself. As someone who lives in a place where first impressions are everything, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be comfortable with what you are given. Sometimes I feel like people would rather go broke to get a nice bag than buy groceries – honestly, myself included most of the time. When I came to Korea, I realized that everyone around me was either skinnier, prettier, had been fashion, funnier, everything. I completely changed my style and eventually lost a ton of weight just to feel a bit more comfortable (granted the weight thing I think has to do with the food because Korean people are way healthier than Americans, no surprise there). I became a lot girlier, wearing skirts, dresses, and heels. I don’t hate this change, because I like Korean fashion, but I didn’t like how I became more preoccupied with my appearance. Let the narcissism flow.
On top of everything, this year I started doing something I never would have done if not pushed by more than a couple of people – I did some “just-for-fun” modeling. I hate saying that, because it sounds vain and if you live in Korea you know that practically every foreigner gets it in their head they can be a model (we love toxic Western beauty standards). On the day of my first shooting, I couldn’t get comfortable in front of the camera. Every insecurity came out and I couldn’t get out of my head; my arms heavy, face stilted, my 47kg frame suddenly looking as if I was overweight on the screen. We eventually played music, and I got a little more comfortable, and then I thought okay: pretend you’re pretty. What would a pretty girl do? What kind of faces would she make? I slipped into a new persona, pretended I was somebody else, and suddenly, the pictures started to get better. There’s good and bad – every flaw I was already painfully aware of was pointed out to me, photoshop made me realize that everything I see online and in ads is fake, being told I must have had sugary food because my face was bloated made me think about my eating habits, yet after seeing the photos I gained some confidence. So all those horrible self-help books that say “Fake it till you make it” actually might have some truth hidden in there.
Like most girls, by the time I became a pre-teen and held my first stick of dried mascara (stolen from my mother’s drawer), I knew that beauty was currency – hand me the fake tanner with sparkles in it, please. I think the moment I stepped into Abercrombie and Fitch and had one Cheeto-fingered white boy with a Bieber haircut ask me if I needed help finding anything, I became instantly insecure about everything. My body, my face, my personality, my interests – If I opened my mouth and said the wrong thing, what then? From starving to overeating to raising my voice twelve octaves, then tucking myself inward, my anxiety was only to be relievedd by the others and never myself. I sought approval in every social situation like the pathetic people pleaser I was. My anxiety levels reached their height and peaked right alongside a blossoming narcissism. By the time I was in university, if someone didn’t immediately show interest in me I would spiral and go out of my way until they did – why, why? What was the point?
It took me a while to notice this, but after I spent nearly two and a half years pining over the same girl who couldn’t give me the time of day, I sat back and thought – what am I doing?
“Tell me I’m pretty, tell me I’m worth it, tell me you want me “– I either needed a swift punch in the face or for someone to really break my heart. Accepting yourself, ugliness and all – I heard it comes with maturity. I’m getting there if we disregard my behavior towards XYZ somewhere in the not so distant past – but hey, loving yourself is some serious business and I’d rather love myself too much than not enough. I’d like to find the balance but until then-
So, the last thing I learned about myself, or finally admitted to myself is I still, desperately seek approval from others, and not just others but more specifically men (though any romantic partner helped with my own narcissism). I still don’t quite see myself as someone worthwhile, and all the movies and media exposure in the world has contributed to my thinking that attention in this world can be profited on in some way. My desperation to be liked has taken me to dangerous places, and I am fully aware of what I am doing, but there’s something in me that just needs that little dose of approval. I’m so disgusted by it and know that I need to do something, anything about it. I’ve heard being alone is best to replace the escape of looking for a distraction in others, so if anyone has a TED Talk to recommend, I’m all ears, because I’m so exhausted from my own toxicity surrounding this.
This month and half has been one of the most emotionally exhausting periods I’ve had in recent memory – and in an effort to begin a process of self-reflecting I’ve thrown up, so to speak, everything onto paper in hopes of gaining clarity.
Last year I think I ended my wrap up of 2019 with: Here’s to a better year – but I’m not looking to curse myself like that. So I will just end here. No conclusion is sometimes the best conclusion.