Editor's Letter: A Year in the Sun aka Thoughts on a Lost Identity

Let go and embrace the uncertainty. There you will find real renewal. 

Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

Foreword

Hardly ever a post stays in my mental mailbox draft section for almost a year. A subject so hard to communicate without revealing my long guarded insecurities. Yet the more I tried to expel the narrative from seeing the daylight, the more it tried to push through; wrap its ugly claws around my chest and tear me in halves. It takes a ton of courage to finally embrace the vulnerability of revealing something from the depths of my scratched creative heart, yet without making it sound like honesty curated. As if, through this act of stripping bare and jotting down these words, everything and nothing is at stake, all at once. 

Previously, even the smallest imbalances and unexpected bumps taking ahold of my life and dragging me into directions unknown would cause a tremendous alert-state in me, and all my creative production would grind to a bitter, nonexistent halt. I have always believed there is light out there somewhere at the end of the tunnel. But in order to walk towards it and grasp it, I would have to take charge of my own creative endeavours, and guard them with care. Yet I cannot exist if I do not create. Period and full stop. Maybe that’s the first step to my disillusionment; phasing out all the 9-5 jobs in fantastic, lively big cities. And seeking fulfilment merely out of my creativity. That unconventional career path many of us dread to embark on. The way out of those heavy layers of melancholic darkness that have guided me all my life, like a bad hallucination, often invisible to the public eye. What do you actually do when putting up another facade seems just wrong? Most of all, I want to be known as the woman who understands the messages I put out there do carry weight.   

*

Slowdown. One day an unexpected visitor came and took control over me, crawled into my mental bedroom and claimed he has an unconditional right to stay. This slowdown creeped up on my psyche like a storm between a desert dune — sand spiralling straight in my eyes in heavy, unending doses and blinding me, yet arriving so unexpectedly. Unable to ignore its presence — something is there right in my eyes, right there, like sand, I can feel it irritating me and requiring immediate attention — yet still failing to comprehend what is it by definition. As we always discover the ugly truth later. Day by day, I start feeling somewhat less than myself. And it’s downright ugly.

It all starts from small signs, like obsessive-compulsive repetition, or allergy to the most irrational things, like the sight of sunbeams peeking in from the curtains early in the morning. It starts from waking up on the most ordinary mornings, and as if being on autopilot, choosing to wear the exact same pair of black trousers for weeks on end. Although I stand there bedazzled by the intricate webs of my behaviour myself, I keep embracing that mundane repetition anyway. What happened to my fashion-loving self who actually cared about expressing her style and her identity, even boosting her self-esteem through carefully curating her clothing choices? Now wearing clothes to signify my identity has become an almost unbearable act; what if my day's ensemble sends out false signifiers impossible to decipher as relevant to my identity? These days, I would rather opt for an insignificant uniform (read: hide behind a blanket). Everything I own keeps rebelliously irritating me. I have grown out of everything too fast, even my own skin. I would rather my persona speaks louder than external signifiers, like clothes. I want people to finally notice my unique voice and what I have to say; not admire my external ability to put together, mix and match clothing. An ambivalent signifier of who I really am. A lost identity.  

‘Who should ever care what I look like on the outside, except myself…,’ a voice keeps reassuring all is well, so much so I nod in agreement and repeat it as a spiritual mantra. Still, I use titles such as ‘personal growth’, ‘enlightenment’ and ‘leap away from materialism’, to justify and excuse my intermittent, irrational decisions related to wardrobe choices. And keep closing my eyes and waiting for Change. Yet little do I know that this is just the beginning… 

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

*

Sometimes this alienation from the ‘self’ takes the form of listening to loud music on airplanes, muting out all the voices of fellow passengers trying to open up a conversation with a quick ‘hello’, or ‘can you help me place my luggage’, the usual. Yet, instead of diving deep into conversing like I previously used to, I just keep staring ignorantly into the void, hoping they’d understand the music in my ears is too loud, albeit an unclear alibi. I just ignore, unlike the old me; terrified of human interaction. Terrified of communicating a ‘self’ that is less real. Sometimes it happens when I spend nights alone on business in strange European cities and close my curtains at 9pm on dot to float into a silent semi-sleep, phone on airplane mode. I lay hours on the bed failing to drift into the comfort of a stable REM sleep, and contemplate my existence, without distractions. Since when did sleeping alone become so scary? I don’t even attempt to pair the reason with the fact I have a boyfriend to regularly share a bed with. This frightening feeling numbs my whole body and leaves me cold, alienated from Self.  Over and over again, I fail to comprehend what keeps me so ignorant.

Or sometimes I boycott against some universal niceties and rebel. Oh, I rebel. I speak out loud on the phone on the train when travelling in silent coach, despite fellow passengers' warnings to tone it down. I selfishly stop caring if I ruin everyone’s right to silence and run over it — I stop respecting (and repeatedly recycling) universal rules and keep telling myself it is my utmost right to do so, not a mere act of injustice towards others. I suddenly stop being compassionate (one of my favourite personality traits ever, perhaps in my previous life without lost identity). I get into verbal rows with people trying to sneakily jump the queue in front of me at airport check-in lines in numerous world airports — sometimes I fight for justice, and then again, become the person that overrides the same universal rules. Yet I fight for my rights, my space, whatever action the moment deserves taking, until it ditches the most rational, universal rules and logic. People stare at me with an uneasy gaze, and I am aware. I just tell myself to be brave. To fight. In search of that lost identity. My former ‘Self’ was never a fighter, so now let me try my hand at being one, a supergirl. Some stare and even feel awkwardly sorry — looks like this seemingly respectable girl is full of pain, of rebellion. What led her to that point? Sadly, you won’t be the only one asking. It is also my inner balance-maintaining compass seeking truth and answers. And answers. And truth. 

Even my body keeps giving signals of the inner unbalanced, unfair fight: I eat more heavily on every odd day, then go about my life without nourishment for days. Everything happens intermittently, and the pattern is always destructive, yet never the same. At airports. On trains. In late-night hotel beds between chlorine-clean sheets. I stir up a mess. I cause a storm. I refuse to be resilient. I am trying to fill a void. I am just scared she would want to grow old with me. The void, ahem. So I rebel. Or if my yearnings for change are always faced with an empty echo, should I let go? 

But on the surface, on that glossy surface, I ask myself, what's wrong if everything looks somewhat perfect. ‘You have everything going for you,’ I keep whispering to myself as madly as one of my most dreaded exe-s used to do, as if it could help. Everything going for you — plunging head-on into an exciting career, changing cities for love and shifting for a life in the Middle East on a no-strings-attached work contract, sometimes travelling the days away and being left with picture-perfect souvenirs from the latest summer holidays. If everything is settled, why do I yearn for that aching soul-searching? Why nothing makes me tick like it used to? Has quarter-life crisis slowly creeped in and left its shadow as an unwanted stamp that cannot be ignored no longer? 

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

We are the generation of achievers, naturally. The ones who cannot sit still and let their lives passively pass by under their very own eyes. Excitement and places should pass in the speed of light. I have always wanted to change the world, and that’s the standard, that's it. Could it really be I’ve set too high expectations for myself, never mind the society? And now nothing’s left than suffering; being at ease seems irritating and impossible. A slowdown. That slowdown erases progress and withdraws energy, like foamy waves wash off pieces of unique sparkling sand from the shore. 

And heart-burning anxiety is just a high price to pay for challenging the status quo. In my mind, I have let go of expectations from others long ago, at an almost deadly cost. So what keeps feeding into that never-ending ‘numb’? Displaying a put-together fragment of myself on social media; feeding that fear of breaking my facade. Constantly trying to prove something. Yes, I go to parties. Yes, I still shine. Yes, I drink 10 green smoothies a day. Yes, I do not lack the privilege to fly business class. Yes, my career is fulfilling. Yes, the destinations keep changing as rapidly as it seems. The photo stream keeps filling up only with facades of me from different angles, of course with me consciously acknowledging the deed of setting up the stage and the show, as we all do the same, same, without denial. At the same time, I am watching my identity collapse into unfamiliar pieces. Yet, on the outside, my life looks so put-together I sometimes start believing the illusion myself. My role on planet Earth should at least be more meaningful than spending my time filling a digital medium with photos of me LOOKING happy. While I should ditch all this and make myself fulfilled and glowing and absorbing new ideas from the universe. Hypocrisy at its best. A paradox. 

Underneath these layers, I am still shaping my identity, diligently attempting to glue together these bits and pieces of a yet unknown world. My garden guarded by seventeen bulldogs and a high electric fence. No one should be able to sneak peek into that sacred space. Yet now all is public, open to visual consumption. How then break the paradox and not keep feeding into the ‘she-has-it-all’? I feel the urge to strip bare — I am only human, so others should be able to interact with me without any prejudices, weighing heavy as a ton. And what if I am finally being real and so ready to finally unveil the mask and hug the world with that very naive and honest kindness taking shape inside of me to postulate a truthful statement? I feel the spectators can still observe it with their sceptical eyes — as if it was malicious trickery — another mask behind a mask, betrayal of a sort to let down the loyal audiences, instead of alluring them. Why pretend to be a superhuman to be envied, when the simple attempt to convey your true personality is much less demanding and ‘real’ if I may so state? 

Because we all do it. We guard our wounds behind thick, bullet-proof walls. People only see what they want to see. So we put up a show. What if the show must go on, but it cannot go on? Because I am seeking my identity from my early twenties and that identity itself is subject to change; so shifts the projection. Because I know for sure that behind these multiple layers of thick skin is a much more vulnerable and complex creature. The question remains, should we naively unveil and expose then all our flaws in the first attempt? If we claim to be armed with centuries worth of wisdom then readily so. I am not ready to deliver and reveal everything that concerns my identity neatly wrapped in trendy eco-friendly packaging transparently, on a silver plate, to a critical society, where you only exist when you exist online. And being judged upon those very ambivalent signifiers of your identity — the images, the words you write, the filters, the non-filters, the privacy settings, the stories you tell, the stories you decide not to tell. I have been literally accused for travelling too much, whist being representative of conscious living. Of having too many dinners at high-standard places. Of never deciding what’s the place I call home. That only adds to the uncertainty about myself — should I obey and conform to other people’s ideals and narrow frames? Or let go, be myself and still face those prejudices? There is so much more to life than a few guarded default settings can define. Not even going into the depths of the decision to close off entirely. To close the loop of sharing, and exist only in your real-life shell. People will still always have expectations from you, and they will even confront you for that. An ironic truth — we escape our online lives via our real life. 

Our social media projection should not be a quest or race for ‘having-it-all’. We really don't have to speed up the natural process. It's okay to just keep figuring it all out, and keep shifting identities along the way, without justifying it to others. Or choose to stop sharing every little detail. Let's be honest, in our early to mid-twenties to thirties, our personalities and lifestyles and socio-economic statuses are still subject to change, and so is the projection. Hence, it triggers a chain reaction of rebellion in me. Even the constant shifting of cities and travelling business class does not satisfy my soul. ‘Isn’t it what I wanted all along?’ I keep asking myself to call for defeat. I keep silently envying people who do not have to tackle with revealing their vulnerabilities when working; who are grounded, settled, happy in their routine. I keep running around in a dozen of directions, opening doors and windows that were never supposed to be opened. I keep envying people who can live their life being miles away from going through constant changes in the plot. Who do not carry a heavy heart. Too heavy. While I cannot get my act together in the pursuit of finding a familiar route. Yet I would give anything and everything to feel light. I still have lessons to learn instead of having it all figured out… 

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

So, why is this terrible existential crisis hunting me as an unexpected visitor that creeped in like a painful sand-dune storm throwing sand in my eyes? It is still making circles around my mental bedroom, piling up furniture and claiming more and more space. Disillusionment with life in early adulthood, that's for sure. That overwhelming feeling of breaking apart from the time my biggest worry in a day was keeping track of the meals I eat to the heavy weight of carrying tons of responsibility; transforming into fears and expectations related to career, relationships, housing and distant future holidays you’ll still want to be able to go and get. It is not the time to sugar-coat things, like you’re used to. It is the time when the weight of how much it matters is unbearably heavy. 

It communicates a disillusionment with big cities and isolation at its peak performance. This urge to connect surfaces every now and then, knocking on the doors of your psyche so monotonously when you’re finally left alone. Shaking up your belief system. Telling you to change something, to go out there and explain and speak up and connect. Then comes a realisation you must do something before it is too late. Stand up and take action. So I take action and try to forget the most meaningful action verbs in my life… So I

Stop doing. Producing. Expecting. Impressing. Sharing. Posting. Formulating. Analysing. Observing. 

Until an undefined period passes. Until I feel, it is time to stop fighting the darkness. I take the passive role of a backdrop in my own vivid life, and let everything pass. Fast. Faster than ten thousand glossy F1 cars at a formula circuit.

Opportunities. Responsibility. Flow of ideas. I let go of all that. To new proposals I just reply an insignificant ‘okay’, stating it can go in both directions, and either way, I am at peace with it. Secretly hoping, if it’s meant to be, life will draw its own corrections towards a peaceful outcome. I just stop and drop all the action words from my life's chaotic narrative — I stop worrying and thinking and writing, and only take on minor changes not affecting the Grand Scheme of Things. What matters now is my own joy of the little things. And putting myself on a pedestal. Did I really have to go through all these little losses to get here? 

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

*

Does acceptance still play any formal role in my life?

Sometimes it takes witnessing a car crash with smoke and fire brigades involved 2 meters from you to start weighing the benefits of being lost and still alive. 

Sometimes it takes witnessing the loving look of your boyfriend, who despite all, all, all the ugly uncertainty, refuses to shift that stance of approval, approval of your personality, even though you are confused, a mess, lying wrapped inside two heavy blankets for days on end.

Sometimes it takes a day’s reading of others experiences to go through an odd epiphany, a form of clarity. We are all fighting our own internal battles, some just hide it better behind their iron-thick walls. 

*

We do not have to stick to a pre-imagined narrative because life is full of cracks, not perfect. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Success or failure. In this world you can even possess thousands of comforting things but still feel unfulfilled, not happy. No measurable ROI at sight. That’s why these days I keep escaping from material narratives and do not really want to own anything — because everything you have today is what you might lose tomorrow. So I decide to let go early on, for these things not to define my happiness. I run from the values the media keeps imposing on us; it also means I rarely glimpse into the glossy narratives. I do not buy into what is visible on the surface. I keep craving depth. My identity is missing, so I cannot obtain more material goods to enhance my missing identity. These days I am not an IKEA person nor a W Hotel one. Not strictly a Vegetarian and not a 9-5. I refuse to be defined until I find myself again. I keep floating in the undefined spaces in between. Should I just pick up the old, fragmented pieces and stick them together again? Or maybe I should just let go of the old and embrace the uncertainty. Sooner rather than later. At a point where it doesn’t tear me apart. To win some inner battles, we also must prioritise our fragile sense of joy. 

*

I keep searching for my identity as if it’s an ordinary item that doesn’t deserve an escape, like a pair of precious winter leather gloves left behind on a late passenger train, and could be reclaimed from the Lost and Found office later on. Or a pair of flat keys forgotten inside on the coffee table three mornings in a row. As if there is a way out from this predicament. In a similar manner, I keep looking for it, but it is never there. Or am I just a melancholy soul; too sceptical of life’s ordinary narratives? The old Self is still not there. 

*

Although I haven’t found my long lost identity that managed to flee from me on a windy spring afternoon, I promise to love myself despite the fact. They say you can only create yourself, not find yourself. That’s why. I go through this slow and arduous, even painful process of uncertainty and renewal. Why we defeat and rebel, why are we scared to break the habits and let go of the usual, the ordinary? We should be brave. Because even though in between are seven million miles of uncertainty, there are also ten million kilometres of growth. And opportunities. And self-love. 

  Image: Author’s own

Image: Author’s own

This is a story of a lost identity. But maybe some day it will help you find yours. That’s why we share, press ‘publish’ and never look back. Unless it is curated honesty, it should not involve any self-doubt. Sometimes we do have to live in our own ‘shells’ for a while; and silently reinvent ourselves and our future on the basis of realness and truth. And that only. Nothing rarely happens according to a pre-arranged narrative, so we should also let go of the stigma that surrounds it. These fairytale plots. Let’s leave them now. Abandon them far. I am not saying we should always then keep expecting the worst; not at all, we should keep humbly working towards our goals, as always. We should also be ready for the rainy days, the ones that wash away the sand in our eyes. 

Let’s reconnect with ourselves regularly. Meanwhile, I am still in the process of finding myself… and failing to communicate my identity that had so sharp, defined edges before getting lost. 

One day. One day I will face my reflection and all is well.  Soon these eyes will sparkle again. And the aching sand dunes will spiral only backwards. This will be my year in the sun.