Every new beginning starts with a loss of some kind doesn’t it? A rejection from a place you really wanted to work at, a breakup with someone you really thought was “the one”, the loss of a loved one whom you never thought could die, the disappointment of realizing that your boss was never going to reward all your hardwork…the list goes on. For me, it’s all of the above and then some. They didn’t all happen at the same time, but happen they did and the each heartbreak was as painful as the first.
Right now I’m sitting in my living room, after getting a rejection from a job I thought I was a-shooing for, after coming home from working a job where I am completely under-appreciated and overlooked, and the existential crisis is in full throttle.
“Why does any of this matter?”
“Is this even worth it?”
“Am I even as skilled as I think I am?”
“What’s the point of this drudgery?”
“Am I destined to be a failure forever?”
“Should I just jump off a bridge and be done with it?”
The more I think about all of it, the more dramatic and dangerous the thoughts get. But…I’ve been here before and I have learned to reel myself in and talk myself off the ledge. I learned quite early that no one is as skilled or as persuasive at talking me through some shit times as I am. I know myself better than anyone else, so it goes without saying. That’s not to say that my friends and family are lousy at it, on the contrary, I have the greatest support system anyone could ever ask for, however, these spirals come often and they sometimes show up without warning so I need to know how to administer mental first aid for me as well. I do it quite well.
What is today’s spiral about you ask? Well, today, I started to mourn the loss of the person I used to be. The girl who had such lofty dreams, such high aspirations, such grandiose plans to take the world by storm. When I was younger, I spent all my days working nonstop at this dream I wanted: Starting a fashion house for petite women. I would sketch for hours on end, visualize, manifest, dream and sketch nonstop until it was second nature. Everything was inspiration, every piece was unique and meant something to me, I poured my heart and soul into this dream and I never conjured a reality where that dream did not come true. It was impossible because I was going to work my fingers to the bone, seize every opportunity and do the work sunup till sundown if necessary. I was fucking unstoppable!
Fast forward 12 years and that girl is nowhere to be found. Sometimes on days like this, she resurrects in a blaze of accusations. Fingers pointing, angry, furious at who I let us become.
“You let me die!”
“You keep making excuses!”
“You kept waiting for the right time!”
“There is NO RIGHT TIME!”
“WHY DID YOU LISTEN TO THEM?”
“WHY DID YOU BELIEVE THE LIES?”
“How could you!”
“WE WERE GOING TO BE SOMEBODY!”
And I try, you know…I try as best I can to explain to her that none of it was planned. Life came at me so quickly and so vehemently, I couldn’t hold on to her anymore. I had to “grow up”, “do my part”, “help out”, etc. I had to be an adult and make adult decisions. I try to explain how hard I held on to her in the first few years when I finally got the chance to leave my home country and move to a new country. I tell her how I immediately put together my portfolio and applied to Fashion school, ready and willing to do what I had waited my whole life to do. That application was rejected, the first of many, many more to come. I was crushed but I still had her fire burning in me so it didn’t stop me! I applied to a different program (Marketing) at a different school and I got in. I was determined to make inroads into Fashion with this course. Marketing is important, can’t sell a product if you can’t market it right? So, I stayed in that course – even though I was miserable. Everyone asked why I wasn’t doing a fashion course including my professor.
“You’re clearly cut out for it!”
“You have the style!“
“You’d fit in perfectly!“
“You should still go for it!”
And I smiled at the questions. “This is important too”, I said to myself, “This will matter, don’t you worry.” I held on tightly to that teenage girl and her dreams as the years began to pass. However, with each passing year, I lost the will to dream any longer, with each passing season, I lost the ability to hold on to her as fiercely as I once did.
You see, I had moved to a country where I was seen as less, for something I had no say or control over. The micro and macro aggressions came daily, wave after wave of cruel putdowns and letdowns. I walked through all of it – the inability to land a job I was qualified for because whatever experience I had was foreign and therefore irrelevant, having to work a menial job to make ends meet (even though I had left a well paying job back home), the sidelong glances from College Faculty when I asked why I got a lower score on an essay I had thoroughly researched, being told I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about and had clearly read ahead in the course when I correctly answered a question that hadn’t already been taught in class (I hadn’t, I simply already knew this information from high school back home). The thing no one could grasp was that the education system here is backward compared to back home, so when I got here I already had an edge over my “peers”. Back home, learning was not phased by age, then strictly packaged and dished out carefully once you came of age. Back home knowledge was available to all who sought it – if you could comprehend the curriculum of a class, and pass the tests, you were put in that class, no questions asked. The objective of education back home was to make you learn, so you were constantly tested and pushed beyond your comfort zone. Education here was comfortable and designed to be easily digested, and what that translated to was that what they were teaching in business school at a college level, I had learned in business studies at a high school level. I knew more things because no one had ever told me I couldn’t learn back home. No one had ever stopped me from reaching further than my curriculum.
But, no one believed me. I was the girl from a foreign country, I had a place and it was beneath the rest of them. I was not allowed to be as good, the fact that I was foreign dictated that, so who the hell was I to dare to presume that I could compete? At some point I stopped arguing, and just went with it. I had no idea I was internalizing all of it, and by doing so, was slowly letting go of the girl who could do anything. No one believed I was capable of the things I said I was and at some point, I too stopped believing me.
I woke up one day and I was the girl who had no future. The girl with no direction. The girl who couldn’t write an essay properly because
“These couldn’t possibly be your words, you need to go back and cite them“. – College Professor after reading an assignment I handed in.
The girl would couldn’t maintain an A average because no one believed she could and she figured they were probably right.
“The fact that you even made it on the honour roll is amazing, you shouldn’t try to get back on it, you should be happy with where you are.” – College Professor after I sought guidance on how to improve my grades.
The girl who was so deeply depressed that she couldn’t find joy or inspiration or happiness in any of the things she used to love. I woke up one day and I was the girl who was miserable with no idea why. I had lost myself, with no clue when or how it even happened.
Naturally, I tried to fill the void. With other people, with things purchased, with seeking validation in things that made no sense at the time: I insisted on moving out of my parents’ home, even though I couldn’t afford to (did not go well the first or second time), I insisted on starting a relationship with a person I knew deep down there was no future with, but I insisted (that definitely did not go well), I tried to take back my future by transferring to a course in Fashion (my third course in the span of 8 years at college) but by the time I did that, the girl who lived for it was gone already. Fashion school gave me no joy, and no hope. I had been beaten down so thoroughly by this time that I could barely get out of bed on the best days, couple that with toxic habits and an even more toxic relationship…I barely made it out alive. Then I decided after 9 years of struggling, that it wasn’t me, but the environment I was in. I couldn’t cut it in the foreign land, so I would move back home where I could be surrounded by things that were familiar and loved. I would go home to where it all began and rekindle my lust for life. Convinced that this was the right decision – even though everything pointed to the contrary – I packed my bags, desperate to find myself again, bought a one-way ticket and moved back to my home country. The boy I thought I loved was there, my friends were there, I had some family there, and I had determination, I was definitely going to make it. Also, I had a job offer so I knew what I was doing. Right?
Wrong. The next two years were the most difficult years of my life. The relationship I held on to, ended within two months of my move back, the job I thought I had was a sham and ended within 2 months, I endured and suffered so many indignities in my bid to prove that this move was worthwhile, culminating in me ending up homeless (twice). Everything I thought I knew was questioned. The girl I thought I was got eviscerated in ways I never thought were possible. She died a messy, merciless death and I looked on helplessly. One year into my move and the void I felt and had hoped to fill was greater now than it ever had been. The dreams I had managed to hold on to had been completely shattered.
After two years, and losing the one family member I relied on for support and encouragement to cancer, I moved back to the foreign land in shreds and quietly grew up. There was no more talk of that girl, no more wishful thinking, no more insane beliefs in who I was and what I was going to do. Who I was was an adult, what I was going to do was get a job, pay bills, do my part and if I was lucky, buy a few things I liked on the way. And I did just that, none of it was conscious, it simply happened because it had to, and quite frankly, I was tired of fighting for a dead girl.
I am currently trying to explain all of this to the 19 year-old presently screaming at me internally. I am doing my best to explain to the ghost of the girl I once was that I replaced her wild dreams with the promise of a paycheck, that I traded her untamed optimism for a defeated realism. I am trying, desperately, to make the girl who thought, nay, believed without a doubt that she could do anything, understand that I now have a specialized skill set. I am now one thing and one thing alone and that thing is definitely not what she dreamed. I go to work, I do the one thing I’m supposed to know how to do and I pick up a paycheck at the end of the month. On days like this, when she comes at me with the full force of her guilt and anger, I explain to the dead girl whose spirit refuses to be buried, that I have no choice – that I had no choice. I had to pay bills, rent isn’t free, this car won’t pay for itself and retirement won’t save for itself. I tell her that dreams don’t come true for everyone, that only a select few have that luxury. I scream back at her that parents, friends, lovers, almost everyone I know has given up on a dream they once had, not for lack of trying to achieve them but from the pure fucking exhaustion of trying to scale the insurmountable obstacles constantly put in their way – especially when they find themselves in a foreign land. I try my damndest to drown her yelling and accusations with platitudes and justifications, to put the ghost of this girl to rest once and for all with all the things I tell myself to sleep well at night. I try, and usually on other days, I succeed…
But she’s not having any of it. Not today.