Remember, Reflect & Respond
Reclaiming my place in life and reinventing the perception of my own existence
My childhood lies in fragments — scattered within the crevices of my mind. I used to believe that this was normal. No one remembers their entire childhood. Human brains are not wired to store *every* bit of information. Only the ones that truly matter manage to secure their coveted spots in the confines of our brains, surrendering to the whims of our fickle Memory.
Memory is a trickster. It decides what stays and what goes; which recollection deserves to be embellished with rose gold hues and which one gets tucked away in darkness until our last breath. The rose gold memories, somehow, are almost always ready to seep into the consciousness. A piece of music, a familiar sight, one simple scent is usually enough to trigger the waves of nostalgia. What’s harder to retrieve are those memories that are engulfed in darkness, locked away in a box never to be opened unless you are willing to break it.
I was 5 years-old when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. This period of my life is practically nonexistent in my memory. I don’t remember my mom losing her hair due to the rigorous chemotherapy treatments. I don’t remember her donning wigs to conceal her hair loss during that time as she told me later in life. I don’t remember the frequent travels abroad — for which they left me behind— in search of the most qualified doctors. I just don’t remember.
What I remember is a feeling. The overwhelming feeling of being all alone — trapped in a bell jar, watching people with worried faces tiptoe around me, unable to hear a word they said.
That’s when I decided to become invisible.
I remember wanting to take up as little space as possible — to become a teeny tiny person until I was wiped off the face of the earth. I wanted to matter less, maybe not at all. I subconsciously avoided causing any kind of nuisance to my family. I didn’t want to burden them with my existence. At least this way, my parents would have one less thing to worry about.
This became a habit. As I grew older, the status-quo continued to remain a comfort zone for me. I did everything by the book: Always knew my place, had the most difficult time saying “no” to people’s demands, cared way too much about what everyone else thought about me and how my actions affected others. I judged myself harshly and never quite learned how to express my needs and desires.
Until I went to college in a country far, far away
College was where, for the first time ever, I was physically able to distance myself from the status quo that I’d grown to love so much in my childhood. This is also where Psychology entered my life and I started pondering more deeply about why I felt the way I did and if my feelings signified anything. That’s when I realized that I may not remember everything but I can reflect on how I feel and hopefully learn more about myself in the process.
My mother beat breast cancer 3 more times after that. Now she is healthier than ever. She is one of the most resilient people that I know. We got through multiple other momentous obstacles together as a family since then — including my unexpected brain surgery. That was an experience that I don’t ever want to relive but it somehow made me feel a bit closer to my mother and for this, I am grateful.
I still don’t know what lies in that box, sitting patiently in the depths of my Memory — but I know that whatever it is, it’s time to set it free.
I knew I had to respond to these new revelations in a more concrete manner, if I wanted to connect with myself more deeply. With therapy and mindfulness practice, I am slowly witnessing myself expand — reclaiming the space that I had once willingly relinquished.
To be honest, I don’t have all the answers yet and I probably never will. I still have to gather all my strength to be able to say “no” to people I love when I truly don’t feel like I can cater to their demands. I still don’t mean it 100% when I say to myself that I don’t care about what others think. Because I still care. I will probably never stop caring but now I know in my heart of hearts that I don’t have to hold myself back. I acknowledge the fact that I am stuck in a loop that makes me feel like I don’t matter, when in reality, I matter just as much as the next person.
I don’t want to hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living*. I want the only life that I will ever lead to amount to all the lives that I can’t possibly live and this will only happen if I finally embrace the fact that my existence is not a burden but a gift for which I am grateful. Sometimes all it takes to start a chain reaction is to remember, reflect and respond, and to know that any sustainable change will have to come from within.
(*Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer)