Being the Background Character: A Letter to My Younger Self
November 12, 2021 / Zuena Karim
As you drown in the shadows, who will pull you out?
To my 17-year-old self,
There you lay on the bed, blank-faced and staring at the ceiling. Sunbeams peered through the crevices of the blinds, casting a spell of drowsiness. You drifted into a state of semi-consciousness for a midday nap, but a stream of anxious memories flashed before your closed eyes. To have a restful sleep was a privilege. You always wished that one day, the engines inside your head did not work overtime. The thoughts whirred in your mind: Am I enough? Will I ever be the person I want to be?
It seemed as though you wired your brain to give credence to self-doubt. You thought your introversion and quiet lifestyle were flaws among the swarm of charismatic and beaming individuals. You’re the odd one, and there must be something wrong with you.
When you stepped outside, you desperately hoped to pass through the day without being perceived. It was as if you were a background character in your own story, blending into everyone’s shadows as they shined in the spotlight. You took yourself as the person people vaguely remembered, but could never recall your name or face. People only thought of you when they needed something, and you felt compelled to help ease their baggage. But when it came to your own, your shoulders bore all of the weight. So, you thought only one thing could instigate change—leave this place. Somewhere else will have a spot for me, or so you assumed.
Leaving had only turned out to be a temporary solution. You realized that your beliefs about yourself would follow no matter how far you traveled. If you had continued to think of yourself as inadequate, then the world would take you as such. That was the beginning of the end of your existential crisis. Past the shroud of gloomy thoughts, you knew you were more than capable of your aspirations. It was only a matter of taking a leap to bring that voice out of you. Go on; there is no one saying no to you except yourself.
At the same time, loneliness was your greatest companion. With self-doubt and the lack of a niche, you aimlessly wandered to find your purpose. You channeled your energy into things you could grasp. It was the first time you decided to carve a space out for yourself, regardless of where you were. You put on your best business-formal outfit for countless career fairs, meetings, and interviews in hopes of finding teams, mentors, and friends. Each time you stared at the mirror, perfecting your facade of confidence. Jaded with familial hardships and tumultuous internal struggles, you hid your sleepless eyes and dehydrated lips with concealer and your favorite Glossier lip balm. You looked back on the person who was curled up on the bed and closed the door, taking the chance to jump into the deep end of a pool of uncertainty. I will make you proud.
People saw potential in you, and you eventually fulfilled your second wish of building a support system. It was difficult to feel valued at the same level you cherished others in the past. You had a habit of making sure people felt appreciated so that they would not experience the loneliness you felt. Yet, those relationships turned out to be fleeting, drifting across the horizon with no one to hold the anchor. Why was I always the one to hold on?
People labeled you as shy, but that had always been a misconception. It was not that you did not like to talk; in fact, you loved to get to know others on a personable level and could ramble on for hours. Your social battery drained quickly in significant social situations, but it never seemed to run out when you struck a meaningful conversation with someone. One day, I’ll find my people.
As you gradually stepped out of the shadows, you found others like you filled with brimming warmth, offering genuine companionship. They wrapped their arms around you, mending the obscure belief that introversion was an imperfection. There is nothing wrong with you.
I remember when you could not see the value within yourself, but I know you would be proud if you knew what was to come. You did not end up magically transforming into an outgoing individual or fulfilling the unreasonable expectation of having everything figured out. Instead, you grew into a person that you used to daydream about becoming. You unmuted the disguised parts of yourself that you convinced yourself were anomalies. It was never a matter of finding yourself, but rather embracing the person you had always been.
You are more than enough.
Your 20-something self ■
by: Zuena Karim
graphics by: Amanda Garza
graphics by: Amanda Garza