When I was bullied in middle school, my self-esteem hit rock bottom, I developed serious body image issues and life lost all its color. I also developed social anxiety and quite a prominent stutter, thanks to which I shied away from socialization and feared speaking.
“Embarrassment for what you ask me? Well, for existing.”
Wherever I went, a constant sense of anxiety, fear, embarrassment, and self-awareness accompanied me. Embarrassment for what you ask me? Well, for existing.
It wasn’t all dark though. There were quite a few good things too — my roller skating classes, my girlfriend at the time, the few good friends, me consistently topping exams, etc.
And when alone, it was these things that gave me solace from the constant onslaught of negative thoughts and feelings.
Putting on a Mask
Fast forward a few years, and things had changed, quite a lot actually.
I had lost my stutter, started working out, and had joined a different school. These things gave a massive boost to my confidence and self-esteem, maybe a bit too much — I became an arrogant prick and a sort of bully myself.
I overly socialized, acted tough, used abusive slang, picked fights for the slightest of reasons, hung out with other pricks, and did things that I now shudder to even think of.
“I had put on a mask that I was scared to take off.”
I wanted to be “cool”. I wanted to look “tough”. I wanted to be “manly”. I never wanted to feel like I did back then again. I was always on my guard, careful not to show any signs or moments of weakness. It was akin to fencing an invisible partner.
Deep down, I knew that I was putting on a farce, saying and doing things I didn’t really want to but felt like I had to, portraying myself as someone I actually wasn’t.
I had put on a mask that I was scared to take off. We all have masks on, it’s just a question of how transparent it is. Mine was completely opaque.
“I was always on my guard. It was akin to fencing an invisible partner.”
This continued, in fact, become worse when I joined college. I let loose my gluttony, gained weight, and strutted around arrogantly, viewing myself as this “big bad tough” guy.
“So I had and didn’t have friends at the same time.”
I made quite a few friends and lost quite a few too, thanks to me losing my cool over trivial matters. Ones that I still had weren’t really fond of me either. So I had and didn't have friends at the same time.
One day, while playing a game of Truth or Dare, one of us was asked, “If you had to choose, who would you least want to be roommates with?”, and after quite some uncomfortable fidgeting, he uttered my name and quickly added that he meant no offense.
It felt like a powerful blow to my gut but I managed a weak smile and pretended to be cool about it.
“But when I found out how I had lost, something stirred within me.”
Fast forward a few months, my first-year of college was drawing to an end and college elections were around the corner. I decided to stand for CSE’s Class Representative (CR).
After quite some campaigning and some calculations, I was quite sure of winning but surprisingly I lost. It was by a small margin so I didn’t brood over it that much but when I found out how I had lost, something stirred within me.
“It felt like a powerful blow to my gut but I managed a weak smile and pretended to be cool about it.”
A few had campaigned against me and a few that didn’t even know the other candidate had voted for her with the intention being just to vote against me. Why the antipathy and the strong dislike? Was something wrong with me?
This incident finally pulled the trigger that the truth and dare incident and other minor incidents had gradually pressed.
It was a rude awakening to the realization that I needed to change but as to how I was at a complete loss.
Baring Myself Naked
In the ensuing summer, I happened to spend only a few days at my mom’s place before heading off to my grandparents’ place to spend my vacation.
I spent almost all my time in my room, in solitude. I would head downstairs only for my meals, to go to the gym, and for snatches of conversations throughout the day.
“The first time I looked into the mental mirror, I didn’t like what I saw. In fact nobody does, so most don’t bother looking.”
Solitude gave me the perfect environment to solve the internal struggle and conflict that had been plaguing me since the election. Most of my alone time was spent on reading and thinking.
I happened to discover the astounding power of introspection. The first time I looked into the mental mirror, I didn’t like what I saw. In fact, nobody does, so most don’t bother looking.
“What I thought of myself and viewed as a “big bad tough guy” was in reality just a fat cringey dumb f*ck.”
Introspection is simple but hard. You just have to ask yourself questions and be brutally honest with yourself. We think simple things are easy but it’s often the simplest things that are also the hardest.
I spent hours every day, reflecting on and examining my thoughts, past actions, and incidents. I tried to justify things in the beginning but over time, learned to become more objective and honest with myself.
Realizing that most of the things you believed in weren’t true is shocking, to say the least. What I thought of myself and viewed as a “big bad guy” was in reality just a fat cringey dumb f*ck.
“We think simple things are easy but it’s often the simplest things that are also the hardest.”
I was appalled at the things I had done and said and the beliefs I had held. “How and why had I not realized this earlier”, I thought. The answer was simple — I had never made an attempt to.
Ripping Off the Mask
A mask worn for years sticks quite hard so tearing it off was a slow and painful process. By the time my second year of college had started, I had changed so much that my past self felt like a complete stranger.
Not only mentally but also physically. I had lost a lot of weight in the summer all thanks to a fun wager with a friend which turned into a serious decision. This weight loss also played a major role in my mental transformation.
“A mask worn for years sticks quite hard so ripping it off was a slow and painful process.”
The physical change was what everyone instantly noticed and commented upon, the mental one went unnoticed. I didn’t feel the need to point it out either.
Over time, most noticed and appreciated the change. Some didn’t and some still think that I am the same cringey dumb prick. Does it matter? Well, no it doesn’t.
You can’t and don’t need to prove yourself and let everyone know that you have changed. People come and go in life and some people will always remember you for who you were and not who you are.
“Some didn’t and some still think that I am the same cringey dumb prick. Does it matter? Well, no it doesn’t.”
Life is Just a Series of Personal Deaths
I thought this was it. The weight loss and mental change had made me a driven and highly disciplined person. I had also become obsessed with self-improvement.
I had a daily routine, a super strict diet plan, a sleep routine, a workout routine, and a routine for pretty damn everything. I also religiously followed them.
“I had overlooked something extremely crucial — balance. After treading one extreme of the spectrum, I was now treading the other.”
Seems ideal right? But I still felt internally conflicted. Why? — Because it took all my willpower to keep going and came at the cost of my social life, desires, and even my happiness.
I had overlooked something extremely crucial — balance. After treading one extreme of the spectrum, I was now treading the other.
“With every death, you get more and more self-aware, but never completely.”
But this didn’t last for long as unexpectedly, love happened, new friends happened and a lot of other things happened that made me change again. No, not a landslide change like earlier but a gradual one.
Will I change again? Most probably yes. That’s just how life is, as Tom Kuegler says, “Life is maybe just a series of personal deaths” where you slowly die and get reborn as a different person every once in a while.
With every death, you get more and more self-aware, but never completely. As Genius Turner says,
“What makes the mind so beautiful is its paradoxical nature. After all, the mind uses itself to understand itself. Hence we mortals can never escape The Ouroboros.”
Change is the only constant in our lives. Growth comes from change. It’s funny that with time, we physically change so much but mentally not much. Why this disparity?
“Admitting that you are wrong requires courage as the fear of being wrong is one of the biggest fears out there.”
It’s simple — we are fearful and ashamed of change and hence resist it. Change comes from realizing the need to change. Realization comes from admitting that you are wrong.
And admitting that you are wrong requires courage as the fear of being wrong is one of the biggest fears out there. As Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius said,
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
Be honest with yourself and welcome change. Deceiving yourself is worse than deceiving others. Even if you did, how long can you keep running away from yourself?
Not for long. And when you are forced to meet yourself, it will be a much more uncomfortable encounter than meeting yourself of your own accord.
“How long can you keep running away from yourself?”
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