It pains me that I have to label this endeavor an experiment, but it has been so long since I’ve taken the time to intentionally peel back my persona and take an honest look at what’s underneath, that this process feels very exploratory.
I was always very self-reflective in my youth. I journaled, I sought out the symbolism in everything, and–as a function of my adolescent egocentricity–I interpreted my environment and my experiences in relation to my identity.
This indulgent pursuit of self-understanding continued through my undergraduate years, where my majors in English and Human Development provided me with the words and the ‘theoretical’ framework to contextualize my identity. I had contemplative, wine-fueled conversations with my friends and strangers. I fancied myself ‘deep.’
And then two things happened: graduate school and my disaster of a marriage. During graduate school, I spent five and half years mired in empirical papers and advanced statistics. I became an expert in a tiny body of knowledge, at the expense of learning about anything else, including my ever-changing self. When I finally emerged as a newly-minted Ph.D., I could barely recognize myself or the world in which I lived.
Admittedly, part of the problem can also be attributed to my poor choice in a romantic partner. Four of the five and a half years that I spend in graduate school I also spent embroiled in a tumultuous, abusive relationship. As a result, I questioned, doubted, and denigrated myself every day: “How could I end up in this situation?” “Am I really as useless and terrible a person as he says that I am?” “I deserve to be treated this way.”
When my relationship finally hit rock-bottom, I was pleased to find that the bottom was, in fact, a rock and not a bed of gauzy spiderwebs. I smashed into the realization that my marriage was not going to work, and I picked up the pieces of my life and I left, psychologically bloodied and bruised.
Since then, I’ve managed to put together what seems like a healthy and successful life: I have a great job, a wonderful partner, a new circle of friends, and stronger relationships with my family. But it all feels like a sham. I’ve accomplished these things while rejecting my vulnerability and putting up protective shields. In the process of ‘moving on,’ I’ve refused to look back or even pause for breath. And it’s exhausting–all the more so because the shield that I lug around is fucking heavy.
But perhaps the saddest part is that the person that I’ve been trying to protect–myself–has been wasting away. The shields I’ve placed around myself have protected me from prying eyes, including my own. As a result, I’m no longer sure of who the girl is cowering inside this armor.
The good thing is, in recent weeks I have finally felt secure enough and brave enough to start stripping away my defenses and letting my ‘true’ self–whoever the fuck that is–reemerge. And now it’s time to get real intentional about it.