Sharing myself like an open book
giving light to my own darkness
I have been as much as an open book can be. It started back in the mid-90s where I had my first website on Geocities’ West Hollywood. Having been brought up in a conservative country with censorship policies, as well as growing upin a culture where face is everything, expressing myself freely to a largely semi-anonymous community back then felt liberating.
I started blogging with greymatter, alternating between emo snippets of my feelings and sharing design links. I migrated to pouring out my entire self for six years on livejournal, wrote on Vox for a while before starting my own blog in 2008. My blogs have since existed in different incarnations. I remember making that distinct choice between blogging about my professional work or blogging about my personal life. Every designer could blog about design, but very few people would share personal, vulnerable stories publicly.
I have survived because I fed myself with stories of the many others before me, people who had the courage to share their dark painful struggles, and I wanted to be carrying that baton as well. Hence I started writing about my struggles with my chronic depression and suicidal tendencies. I was scared at first. How would I be seen professionally?
Somehow everything just becomes sort of black and white when one is chronically suicidal. I don’t want to exist in a world where I cannot exist, so what is the point of carrying on if I have to pretend to be someone else I am not? What is the point of professional success when everyday feels like death? Walking on that tight rope ironically gave me liberation. Every choice becomes do or die.
Over the years many people have given me well-meaning advice: “I would stop writing about depression if I were you. There is no one who will be willing to hire you.”
My answer? “Well I wouldn’t want to work with people who wouldn’t want to hire me because I have the courage to write about my depression.”
I am in a privileged position, and I am not even going to pretend otherwise. Being a designer gives me the privilege of demonstrating a portfolio and the space to work remotely, where I can be assessed on my actual work versus how I present myself in person. That is my point. If I am in a privileged position and I cannot be honest about my struggles, who can?
Do I want to be a passive participant in a world where we all pretend to be strong and successful, or do I want to actively participate in a world where I can be strong because I am not afraid to be weak?
The cliché goes, be the change you want. This is one of the ways I am being the change I want. I am sick of a society that prides people on maintaining appearances and alienates people who are not afraid to show their flaws.
We live a world where we unabashedly share stories of successes and conquests. We only want to see certain sides of our humanity.
There is beauty in pain and suffering, and I want to share that. Through periods of despair I have found a well of inner-strength that I would have never experienced if I have only had positive events in my life. We don’t know what we are truly made of until we get thrown into a deep dark bottomless pit. Having the courage to stay in that pit and contemplate why the pit was created in the first place, instead of numbing ourselves and pretending the pit does not and should not exist, should be prided upon.
We admire that in the stories we love. Which superhero you love, did not go through an intense periods of suffering and emerged stronger for it? Why do we deny that in ourselves?
I used to be sad and alone. I used to feel I was wrong for being myself. I thought the world had rejected me, because my own country and people rejected me. Through the internet, I discovered I was not alone. I discovered I was not alone because there were others brave enough to share their stories. They took the step out to air their skeletons in the entire world, because they knew if they didn’t, the world would just continue believing that we are disconnected, alone and rejected.
I am alive, because of the internet and the stories that could be shared through it. I am alive, because I discovered people through the internet who are beautifully, amazingly weird, and they taught me that weird people could thrive in this world too. I am alive, because through the internet I have learned about so many people who have gone through so much unbearable suffering, and yet they are still tremendously alive.
So many times I could have chosen to end my life, because I didn’t want to exist in a world where only rich, happy, beautiful, privileged people are celebrated, a world where hoarding of power is seen as a sign of success, a world where we can only talk about happy things. So many times, I have hung on, because of people telling their stories. I am not alone. I am not alone. I am not alone.
I continue sharing myself like an open book, as much as I can, without hurting anybody. I wrote long Facebook statuses years before Mark Zuckerberg did. A friend once asked if I was seeking attention by writing these emotional, painful statuses. In all honesty, IDGAF, but if I wanted to seek attention, I would rather be humble-bragging. There’s a ton of people getting a lot of attention by doing that. In fact, that sort of painful honesty makes people uncomfortable, and that is one of the quickest way to lose people. I highly recommend it if you want a quick pruning of your social circle.
But life is hard and by not giving that some light, we are perpetuating the myth that we are all failing in our attempt to be human beings because we are not as happy or successful, whatever your definition of success is, as everyone else seems to be.
Am I narcissistic? Maybe. Were cavemen narcisssitic for painting on cave walls? Humanity is a complex web of stories. History is probably a biased thread of stories. What sort of stories do we want our future generations to believe in? I was brought up in a world where they told me grades mattered, money is everything, it doesn’t pay to be kind, and everybody wants the status quo except me. That is so much bullshit that I wish I can go to some consumer bureau to take years of my life back.
I cannot change the past, but perhaps I can shape the future by making conscious choices in the present. Each time I feel fear and sadness, I try to share it publicly. I used to do that mostly after the fact, after trying to cope with it myself, but this past year, I have just been trying to share in the moment more. I have had unexpected people telling me that they now feel less alone. I have begun to experience a sort of transcendental love from a shared humanity, a sense of solidarity with virtual strangers. People now know beneath that smiling exterior and ridiculous humor there lies a person just barely trying to stay alive.
I am not alone. I am not alone. I am not alone.
In taking that step out to share myself this openly, I have finally found my own community — a world that I not only want to belong to, but to consciously co-create.