I don’t remember specific birthdays, which is weird because birthdays are a big deal in my family. I have no clue what happened on my 10th birthday and I have to constantly be reminded of my first and only (by choice) birthday party. The presents that I was given meld together into a pile of gratefulness, while birthday cakes simply evoke the texture of frosting on my tongue.
There is only one birthday that I remember in great detail. My 19th birthday. When I turned 19-years-old, I could feel it. I woke up knowing that things had changed, that the Earth was indeed revolving around the Sun. As I stood in the present time, I found myself looking back at the past, noticing everything that had changed: I was not home, I was living on my own, my family/support system/best friends were not by my side, and I still had no clue what I was doing with my life.
It was as if all of these changes and past memories were swirling around my brain, fluttering their wings against my skin.
I often take my intuition for granted. If I wake up feeling positive and something wonderful happens, I don’t connect these two events. I have trouble believing in the power of my own body and my own mind.
When I woke up on that February 10th (the date of my birth), I felt transformed. But, of course, I didn’t believe that such a feeling meant anything in a greater context. I had no clue that the all-powerful Universe was about to show me just how much I’d changed in the past year.
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Weeks prior, I’d started writing on a whim, to express the creative freedom that I didn’t know I craved. At the time, I was taking a Creative Writing class – a required elective at my college – and I was loving it more than the Business classes that I voluntarily took as part of my (hastily) chosen major.
When my fingers danced along the keyboard, I felt free. I felt an unstoppable force within me, moving me in ways I never knew I could move. All of the sudden, I realized just how caged I had been up to this point, pretending to be a perfect person that I wasn’t.
Writing made me a woman. It gave me a voice. Words made a difference in my life, elevating me out of the pool of anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, fear, and self-hatred that had consumed my life for years. I no longer felt surrounded by dark, murky water.
I felt bright and alive.
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My 19th birthday was a memorable one because it was the day that my very first article was published online. I woke up, checked my e-mail, and there it was: an acceptance letter, telling me that my article was to be published later that night. Instantly, I could feel change brewing within my soul.
After that very first article ended up in the virtual world, I kept going. I wanted more: freedom, creativity, avenues for expression. I didn’t care about what others thought (for once), about making money, about recognition, or about making this my career. All I cared about was freeing myself from my past, freeing myself from the boundaries that I’d created for myself.
As with most things in life, this organic experience taught me more than anticipated. Before I knew it, my work was being accepted in literary journals, giving me an unexpected crash-course in the literary world. People were reading my writing and even taking the time to respond to it. Yes, I got the occasional rejection letter, but it wasn’t enough to stop me… at first.
Without realizing it, I was becoming obsessive in my desire to have my work published, to prove that I could make my way in this new world. My old boundaries were coming back to life, revitalizing themselves in the name of competition, in the name of success. Rejection was an obstacle, proving that I wasn’t good enough to be where I was in life.
My OCD and anxiety started shouting at me from the sidelines, telling me that I had to be better. Telling me that if I wanted to keep writing for the rest of my life, I’d have to find some way to make a living out of it. I became obsessive, I became jealous of those who were more successful than myself, and I felt overlooked in everything that I did.
The dark water was rising.
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Nothing in life is perfect (even though I tried to be for a very, very long time). There are always going to be ups and downs. And there are most definitely going to be wake up calls, reminding you that life can change within nanoseconds.
As a young woman who loves being happy for, and supporting, others, my jealousy was a wakeup call. My old boundaries re-outlining my life: a wakeup call. My anxiety and OCD: reminders that there are no guarantees when it comes to relying on others for your self-worth.
Gradually, the voice that I found left me. I began to question my life, the choices that represented my womanhood. My freedom became clogged with overthinking, self-loathing, a constant desire to prove myself.
For the first time in my life, I haven’t been able to write like myself. Even writing that last sentence was difficult, full of second-guessing. Along the way, I lost sight of what was truly important. Rationally, I realize that. (It’s taking my OCD and anxiety some time to catch up.)
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When it comes to finding your voice, or even losing your voice, it’s important to realize that at least you have that option. At least you know what it’s like to have a voice. Am I upset that I’ve lost a positive part of who I was, as both a writer and a young woman? You bet. But, am I glad that it happened? Yes. Because I’m still learning, growing, and trying to find my way.
And even though I’m hard on myself and even though I wish I was able to keep my creative freedom alive 24/7, I know that it will all be worth it in the end. Because I’m still here, right now, writing, trying, and giving my voice the chance to be heard.