Pressing rewind, I can pause and play a series of moments where my feelings and self image were nothing more than the shell of what others thought of me.
The person I was, or the girl I portrayed to the rest of the world, was simply skidding the surface of societal illusion. I was riding upon the waves of thoughts, compliments and stereotypes that surrounded the identity that my parents, friends and pupils had sculpted for my “self” to eventually, nonetheless temporarily, mold to.
My mind, so ignorant and proud at the time, allowed these stereotypes to cage any self discovery from flowing into the depths of my thoughts. I was what I thought I should be, and the energy driving my life and the days and nights in between, was fueled by fulfilling my societal roles, and making others happy. However, as I reflect on my past, to the days of my youth before my life and soul became rattled by uncertainties, knowledge and self discovery, I realize that there was absolutely no sadness in my life.
For years, I wished more than anything to be who I once was again — to revisit a time in my life that my family and friends often refer to as my prime. But why, I asked myself, would I strive to be none of which I have become? To lead a life without sadness, failure, hardship or heartbreak is also a life without happiness, love, or self discovery. It would be wildly wonderful to never feel the pain that had fostered some of my loneliest hours, but it would also be extremely numb, a life without color. To take soma, or to be a barbarian? To take the red pill, or stick with the blue? It’s a very hard decision to make — but a decision I would never change for the world.
I had succeeded in classes, activities and attained awards that my parents pushed me to attain. What’s funny is that I honestly thought, at the time, that I knew everything that life had to offer. I believed there was nothing in the future of my lifetime that could alter my goal to achieve success.
There was nothing that could challenge the self control I so easily allowed to guide my life. If there was one thing I was positive about, it was that I would continue to live my life on this path that was, at the time, clearly defined. Where this path was headed to? I had no idea. My irrevocable confidence, and false self image, caused my ignorance to overshadow any true self discovery that would allow me to foresee the hardships and failures, life lessons and dilemmas that would cloud my future and crack the foundation of the mold I could no longer imitate. There was a time when I thought I knew myself. But I knew nothing, of the true passions that colored my soul, of the coals of awareness that would soon create a fire within the depths of the self I never knew — burning my pre-defined self that my mind restlessly fought to escape.
To simply claim I have a defined self-identity now, four years later, would be a hypocritical statement and a lie. I have definitely opened doors that have, in response, flooded my brain with puzzlement but forced me to express the inexpressible in the form of art, words, music and love.
I did what many tend to eventually do; I gave in to temptation, I craved and longed for the unknowing. I fell in love for the first time, and then I was truly heartbroken, as I expected I would be, but the timing was unpredicted and unprepared for.
I challenged every aspect of my life by simply existing.
In my sorority, I was the only engineer. I was also one of the only ethnic members, and my popularity was measured by my, what seemed to be, talent to maintain a petite figure and the variety of bubble letters I designed during work week. My subtle differences in my major, background, and interests seemed to initially label and categorize me as “different” without any concrete evidence that I truly was. I felt as though such flaws within myself were magnified by the other women who saw me on the surface and had absolutely no interest in discovering what personality existed below. I felt unaccepted, until one evening when one of the older members noticed my feeble bones poking out beneath a formal dress that used to fit me like a glove. Weight loss was the first wave of aftermath that came with my depression to be what I believed I should be — a Delta Gamma. My lack of appetite, dwindling by the day, had caused my projected image in my sorority to sky rocket. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year, just before transferring, that I became sick at the thought of the insincere scale of judgement that plagued the minds of every girl I knew, the lack of respect that was fostered by women in my sorority within themselves and instilled within others. It was jealousy, self hatred, and lack of curiosity, that created the mess I found myself surrounded by. There was so much selfishness — it took me years to understand or let go of the bizarre world I willingly gave my identity to.
There were other parts of my social identity that dragged me through self doubt and turmoil despite the struggles that had already enclosed parts of my confidence within DG. It wasn’t just belonging to a society of women who were crazed by illusions and addicted to a cycle of mistreatment and emotional agony that changed my perspective of who I am versus the distortion of who I should be like.
In the midst of my realization that my self perception was flawed, my true being within me and the physical self that stared blankly back at me in the mirror suddenly became two entirely different entities. My reflection was unrecognizable, almost foreign to my mind, a self that was both within and without.
And this wasn’t just some mind altering, out of body experience that some philosophical stoner might trip about as he and his friends hot box their dorm room. I was growing — and so was my understanding of the world. I explored every genre of music throughout my time spent in California. But mostly, I fell in love with rock and roll. The classics like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Phish. I went to concerts and festivals, danced my heart away to techno, and survived a mosh pit at Metallica. I began to play piano again — resentful of the seven years of lessons I never appreciated but instead, hated as a kid. I purchased a keyboard one afternoon, and like a child with a new toy, I began to hear the notes with a different sound wave or frequency than any note I have heard in my past. Suddenly, sounds had meaning. Words carried connotations. Poetry made me cry. And books about the world’s fair to Steve Jobs, Eragon and Ender’s game piled within the depths of my overly sized bed.
My mind was buzzing with curiosity. As time went on and quarters passed, I was exposed to phenomenal subjects and theories that were the kinds of equations I would only dream of solving as a child. Conflicted as I was, there came another social barrier I was expected to overcome. Many women experience such a barrier — the rift between a lower number of females to males in a lecture hall, for example, quite frequently.
Men always reported to dominate the realm of engineering and each degree that encompasses this field. But, it wasn’t my quantum mechanics class, or my discrete math lectures that caused my academic momentum to abruptly halt then shatter. It was the memories, and the humiliation I felt, as I entered the small, conceited world of computer programmers.
In a lecture hall brimming with over 200 students, just my gender alone made me feel like there was a spotlight shining on me whether I was in class, at a tutoring session, or even quietly studying in the halls of Kemper, the engineering building.
There was a silent army, an awkward presence, in any computer science class I had ever enrolled in. I could feel the judgemental stares of the handful of nerds that sat amongst me in lecture, their looks of confusion and mockery still burns a part of my insides so intensely that I can begin to taste the fury, the same fury that slowly encapsulated my mind, that took my thoughts and dissolved their potential. I couldn’t concentrate, let alone program, as paranoia and self doubt entangled me in a state of disorientation, a mindset contaminated by mania and a world of misunderstandings and misery.
Ironically, in these times of oppression, when discomfort and persecution were inescapable and my adversity filled me with misery and torment, I was also experiencing my life. A childhood dream diminished, but a transition to adulthood, a level of depth and self awareness were carved into my soul.
There was a time, earlier this year, when I thought my life’s significance was dead like the darkest days I have weathered against. A series of life lessons exploded before me and muddled the path that was once clearly defined for me to follow — suddenly two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that.. that has made all the difference.
What I mean is this, and just this: my identity is just a fragmented lens of all that once defined me, the discovery of what was before undefined within me and the realization and wisdom of recognizing and welcoming the continually change that will challenge me to uncover more and more parts of myself, and to derive truth in life experiences — to gain wisdom and widen self perception. It is and will never be simply defined, because there are no words to convey the experiences I have endured, the alienation and appraisal derived from roles I have fulfilled, and the wisdom surrounding my life and its meaning.
Life is a paradox. It is contradictory, inconsistent and at times, absurd. I thought I understood life before my story even began. There were times when I thought that specific events tore me down, and that all of the dreams I held so close were dying. But, looking at myself, once again, I realize I am more beautiful than I ever was before. Because the hardships that bruised my heart, the realizations that boggled my mind, ultimately served to be the transition I needed in order to experience, to become all that I was meant to be.
No one ever said life was easy. In fact, life is difficult– for everyone at some point in time. But to embrace uncertainty is to embrace the being you are; it is to, once and for all, identify yourself beyond any shadow of doubt.