Your closest companion

Erin from Teen Breathe explains how everyone’s journey is different, but there’s one thing we should all strive for

Each of our paths is unique, peppered with interesting sights and experiences, trials and triumphs. Our journeys may intertwine with others’, like family, friends, and people we bump into throughout our life whose courses cross ours for a fleeting time. It’s a blessing to have people to share the road of life with.

But the most constant companion we have is ourselves. How do I know this? Because a big part of my journey was to get comfortable with… me. My closest companion. Picture this person: a curly-haired, boyish-looking bookworm, taller than her primary school teachers, lanky limbs sticking out from an oversized Star Wars T-shirt. She loves cult classic movies, getting good grades, and all things ancient history; she also snorts sometimes when she laughs, and wears orthodontic metal headgear at night to correct her underbite – similar to Darla from Finding Nemo.

Yep. That geeky girl was me.

I was six-feet tall by the time I was 11 years old, and my grade five teacher had to order me a high school desk and chair because I could no longer sit comfortably in the teeny tiny primary school set-up. Talk about not fitting in!

By the time I reached high school, I (thankfully) no longer had to wear headgear, and my growth spurts seemed to have slowed. I still loved fiction and films, and took pride in being, as Hermione Granger was described, an insufferable know-it-all! I aced all my subjects, forged a few wonderful friendships, and shared little pieces of my personality along the way.

But then, something started to shift. I began to straighten my curly hair. I would no longer bring a book to read at recess or lunch. My quirky clothes and comfy T-shirts were pushed to the back of my drawers. And while I still studied and came top of each subject, I stopped myself from saying anything in class. When I looked in the mirror, I saw flaw after flaw; my visage morphing into that awkward, gangly girl with headgear. I didn’t want to be her anymore, didn’t want to feel different. I yearned to be the same as other girls in my grade; to be poised and polished, to be accepted, to fit. So I buried those pieces of my personality like secrets inside myself, behind different hair, new makeup, and interests similar to those around me. I turned toward a path where I thought others might be more likely to join me – and accept me.

Only it didn’t work. I trudged along, and felt more fragile than ever. When a friend wouldn’t invite me to hang out on the weekend, I became convinced it was because they didn’t like my sense of humour, or my taste in movies. If two of my friends were together at lunch before I arrived, I was certain they didn’t want me there and would have preferred to sit and snack without me. So I began refusing any invitation to go out or spend time with people. Once again, the world of the written word became my safe space, books became my confidantes – but only when no one else could see.

One weekend in my late teens, my family and I were having our Sunday brunch, complete with buttery croissants and folky music. My dad and I would banter back and forth, discussing books, making references to movies, joking and descending into fits of snort-inducing laughter. It was bliss. This particular Sunday, our morning meal stirred something in me. If I could be this overwhelmingly happy, here, in this moment, why couldn’t I feel like this all the time? I realised then that the warm, fuzzy feelings inside, my heart seeming to flutter and soar from my chest, all came down to connecting with my true self. I wasn’t trying to hide any part of who I was. I was all there. All me.

In that moment, I made a decision, and forged ahead on a new path: one where I wouldn’t hide who I was, no matter how many bumps in the road. Today, I’m tall, and strong, I have straight teeth (thanks to headgear!) and sometimes I snort when I laugh. I love the written word – whether reading or writing – and have more books and DVDs than I do pieces of clothing (except maybe for T-shirts). I still use makeup, and straighten my hair, but on the weekend I let my curls tumble and fall where they may. I’m trying to embrace invitations when they come my way, and feel content when they don’t.

It may not come easy. We may stumble from time to time. But self-acceptance is a form of success we should all aspire to – no matter what path we’re on. Now, when I look in the mirror, I still catch a glimpse of the lanky, bookish girl with headgear, a baggy T-shirt and an affinity for ancient history. When I see her, I smile, and greet her like my closest companion.

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