I am deeply introverted. Not only this, but I am shy. I can mull over my own thoughts in silence for hours. Often, in conversation, I find I don’t have anything to add. I listen, I process, I consider, and then I decide how I feel about something. Sometimes, I will know that I loved a movie or that a person’s comment made me feel sad, but even I won’t really know why at first. Through my quiet process, I become aware of my own thoughts and feelings in a way that allows me to really understand myself. I’d like to think I’m pretty self-aware (5-plus years of therapy can do that to a person).
I wasn’t always like this. As a middle schooler, I was outgoing and loud and silly (and really awkward). I wrote love notes to the boys I had crushes on and listened as my best friend read it to them over the phone. I hollered jokes across crowded rooms to my friends. I acted silly in drama class. (The current me would probably have a panic attack if I was required to take a drama class.) My favorite outfit was a pair of mismatched, brightly colored socks (with shorts, obviously, so they could be admired) and pink Converse. I wasn’t afraid of attention; in fact, I wanted it.
Things started changing around my Sophomore year of high school. A combination of teenage angst, my parents’ constant fighting, and my own first heartbreak, I guess. Everything I was so certain of was now shaky and unreliable. Scared, I turned inward, scuttling into my shell to watch the world from a safe distance.
Looking back at these things is weird. Who would I even be if my parents hadn’t spent years hurtling angry words back and forth? If I hadn’t had to take refuge in my best friend’s maroon Nissan Maxima every night, both of us singing as she drove us around for hours until I finally drifted to sleep and she brought me home. If my first “love” hadn’t been about, “Whoever cares least wins.” If after kissing me on my moonlit driveway that night, he had kept calling, taken me to Prom maybe?
Maybe I would have flown out into the world at age 18 with confidence that only the young and stupid can know. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost myself in taking care of everyone else first. Maybe I would have gone to my mom with my heartache instead of the other way around. Maybe I never would have doubted my own self-worth. What is that like, I wonder? To just inherently believe that you are worthwhile and important in the world?
Still, if I could change it, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change my grown-up childhood or the pain that ruined forever my naive heart. I wouldn’t change the years I spent empty and lonely. I wouldn’t change the way I needed to run away from everything, but mostly myself. Not the way I ached for love and searched for it in messy beds or the bottom of bitter tasting bottles or finally, over a railing and onto a balcony ledge.
I wouldn’t change it because I am happy with who I am. Saying that feels like a revelation. The version of me who climbed over the balcony railing and wanted to jump wouldn’t have believed it was possible to one day feel that way. I am happy with who I am. Not necessarily with my job, or my slow progress in school, or my financial status. But those things aren’t who I am. Who I am is how I treat people. It’s the jokes that make me laugh. It’s the songs that make me cry. It’s the books that inspire me. It’s the spark of hope at my core that’s burned hot and bright throughout all of this.
So, no, I wouldn’t change my past. I wouldn’t choose the easier path. My struggles are what brought me here, to the woman I am today. And I’m proud as hell of her. I wouldn’t trade her for who I could have been on any day of the week.