To my teenage self;
I wish I had written a letter to myself when I was a teenager, especially during my high school years.I was never one of the cool kids, or the popular kids, whatever you want to call them. I feel like I floated by in my own way, I had a friend circle and I had other friends I was close to that weren’t part of that circle, who I became closer with during those years.
I remember realizing my interest in anime and manga was different from most of my peers at that age. Sometimes I tried to keep it hidden, but I just wasn’t interested in the same music, or tv shows at the time. I was the only one who didn’t date in high school of my core group of friends that I drifted away from and met people more like me. I didn’t go to parties and drink or try smoking weed until I was 18. I figured if I wanted to do something like that I’d wait until I was an adult so it didn’t reflect back to my parents, maybe it was odd thinking, but that was my personal choice.
I was kind of an odd duck, that wasn’t okay with who I was and how I looked. I had a lot of hate for my looks and I struggled with body image from the age of 12 until about the time I turned 32. I always felt out-of-place, like I didn’t belong and I think it fueled a lot of self-hatred and longing to be alone as a teenager. I just did what I liked and didn’t follow the crowd. At the time, I think I struggled a lot without really talking to anyone about it, about the loss of friendship, about my body image struggles, about feeling left out, or about making new lifelong friends. I only keep in touch with two people from high school in real life and they know who they are, a few others briefly interact with me on facebook or instagram now.
To this day, I still clearly remember when my youngest sister, Jackie, came to me and said something along the lines of “What the fuck is wrong with you? That’s not the Nina, I know.” She was talking about the person I was at school and the person I was at home, she was a freshman and I was a senior. I had to laugh because she was right, there were no parallels. I was a shell of myself at school as I was at home. I felt comfortable to be who I was around family and the few friends who embraced me for who I really was, but at school I didn’t want to be noticed, I’d rather fade into the background. But I remember that last year, I decided I didn’t care anymore, I didn’t talk to most of those people anyways so why did I care what they thought of me?
I was going for a jog this morning, well trying, didn’t jog for very long, but during it I kept thinking, you know, I hated myself as a teenager, because of who I was, and that is sad. I was a pretty cool fucking person. The people who actually knew me, knew that. I wasn’t afraid to not party or be different from the other kids in my small for nothing hometown. I didn’t feel pressured to join in because that is how everyone else is, in fact I’d say my differences have influenced me in more ways than I thought. Although I am a person who is easily affected by the words and actions of others, and they plague my mind for a long time, well they did until recently. I am also a rather resilient and independent person. I think if I had been more proud of myself and outspoken, my choices up until this point would have changed my trajectory in life.
I remember I never wanted to go to university, I just wanted to work and make money, haha. My mother told me I needed to go so that I’d have more opportunities, and thanks to it I have. I chose Japanese Language as a major, because I couldn’t think of anything else to study, I wasn’t a reader and didn’t know much else of what to do. Oddly enough thinking back on it, I could have researched places to study Tibetan language or culture, I had an interest in it, but I think at the time I didn’t think it was possible. My grades weren’t the highest, I wasn’t involved in enough activities for most places and well that limits options. Many of my choices in university I can attribute to the fact that I was able to travel to Dharamsala, India, with one of my closest friends, Tenzin, to document Tibetan life in exile in high school. Which influenced my choice that led me to meet amazing individuals between the 5 colleges in which I attended Umass. I switched from Japanese Language to Anthropology and took an amazing list of courses: Anthropology of Genocide, Contemporary Native American Issues, Anthropology of Play, Anthropology and Music, Tibetan Buddhism taught by a Tibetan Monk, Human Rights in North Korea, Contemporary History of Social Movements in South Korea, Korean Language and Japanese Language classes. I also was able to study abroad for one summer, Korea, and also went to visit friends I had made at university in Korea and Japan after my first year.
I worked stateside for 6 years before I decided to take the plunge overseas and become an English teacher in a rural school in Gangneung, South Korea, and later to Incheon, South Korea. I explored South Korea, Thailand, England and Tibet. I met amazing individuals from all over the world who like me uprooted their whole lives to try living somewhere new. When I realized I had never followed my deeper interests even as an adult, I fell into a space of learning to find myself, love myself and heal myself. I packed up four years of my life and moved back home to live with my parents and reconnected with family and friends, the source of which had kept me sustained all those years through and after university despite the distance between us.
During that time I was able to support my sister, Jessica, and her friend,Christa, during a walk for March of Dimes, which always means so much to them, but I could never be with my sister during the hard times after my niece, Gabby, was born. I felt like my presence during one event isn’t enough to be there all the time, but I showed up when I could and it mattered. I had a reunion with my university friends (Tenzin, Tashi, Dawa, and her partner, Deden, Deesal, Yingsel, and Yangchen) for a week in Boulder, Colorado and it was amazing and healing. I went on a month long road trip with my youngest sister, Jackie, and we finally had a chance to bond as adults, and explore the USA as I learned to love myself along the way. I was able to spend time with my childhood friend, Rachel, and connect and give each other love and support we needed. I also bonded with my friend, Tenzin’s younger sister, Yangchen, a lot as we were both in our hometowns with few friends around. I spent time with Tenzin’s family which feels like a second family to my own, and I was able to spend time with my friend Tenzin, her husband, Tashi, and their two children finally. I spent the time I could playing with my niece, Gabby, and I think I found a part of myself through talks with my mom and pops.
I made the bold decision to leave again not knowing whether it would be for 8 months or longer, and I figured I don’t want to have to make the choice whether to choose travel or finding love. Why can’t the two coexist? So I followed my heart that said they can! I haven’t explored many parts of China yet, but this morning all I could think of was, I wouldn’t be where I am at this moment if I had been a grounded teenager full of self-love and confidence. So I am thankful for this journey I have been on, I am thankful to my timid awkward teenage self who wasn’t sure of what to make of the world or where she thought she belonged. You are still as resilient and independent now as you were in high school. Although now you have the added benefit of loving yourself and where you are at in life. I love you and I wish I had loved you a little more then, so thank you for your troubles through all the ups and downs. I came out to having a little more of an off the beaten path kind of life, and I am proud of it.