Author: Leilani Rocha
For most of my life, I feared change. I was the “new girl” a decent number of times in elementary school, so I clung to stability in the parts of my life I could control. When I acknowledged I was having fun, I would do everything in my power to keep it that way. I stuck to the same people, and kept the same behaviours and the same personalities. I was terrified of going to high school, not because of the older students or strenuous homework, but simply because my friendships and classroom dynamics would change. Everything would no longer be familiar.
Nostalgia played an important role in influencing my fears. In most cases, remembering good times can be fulfilling, beneficial even. But in cases like mine, the past can become an obsession. I was desperately trying to relive each moment in every aspect of my life. I hungered for the joys my past self had experienced, and in turn, it ate away at my space for growth in the future.
This way of thinking held me back as I grew older. I didn’t quite like the feeling of responsibility; I glorified the carefree nature of my childhood when I didn’t have to worry or overthink my every move. Back then, I could maintain my friendships with little effort, not worry about money, and live on my own schedule. Consequently, I developed a disinterest in adulthood. The real and “older” world was scary, it tried to change me and mold me into something new, and I wanted to stay exactly where I was.
As early as grade three, I began to use memories to help me forget the troubles of the present. In my teenage years, it became a way to escape to simpler times, so much so that I would prefer reminiscing over facing the hard reality that I was growing up. I spent countless hours sifting through old pictures and videos to convince myself that nothing had changed. One day I would learn that the world grows older whether you’re ready or not, but I was nowhere near that realization.
By the time I got to high school, I ended up not wanting to get a part-time job or to think about my career goals at all; nothing seemed to motivate me or get me excited for the next steps of my life. I tended to delay big decisions, such as deciding on a field of study for post-secondary, which meant I didn’t think things through much of the time. As a result, my career path in medicine was always centered around others’ decisions so I could avoid the responsibility of growing up on my own. Now, I’m bearing the consequences as I realize I may not have chosen the path I actually wanted for my future.
Avoidance and all, growing up was still difficult to endure, but keeping familiar faces by my side helped me through it. Or at least, it helped me keep my past close. See, nostalgia connects us with people from our childhood and the valuable experiences we shared with them, but it can blind us from the flaws of these relationships. It led my mind to blur the lines between ‘good’ friendship and ‘long-lasting’ friendship. And although time does not define a relationship, it definitely influences it.
It was difficult for me to let go of a lot of people who had been in my life for years, who I had shared such great moments with, who were there for me through tough times. I couldn’t fathom that those I had grown up with could change from who they once were (perhaps because I hadn’t allowed myself to change much). If a good friend were to hurt me, I was very lenient as to keep the friendship going. When in doubt, I would turn to nostalgia to “remind me” of the good times and reasons to keep them around — and in times like these, empathy can really bite you in the ass. On the contrary, if a new friend were to hurt me in the same ways, there would be no second-guessing. Yet with old friends, I let them walk all over me. My experience with friends can be similar in family life, as many of my peers learned the hard way that family does not always equate to good people.
Aside from the faults of those around me, I often found it hard to admit that I had grown out of certain people. Instead of accepting this fate, I tried to hold on to the person I once was when we were at the same maturity level. But it didn’t give me much leeway to freely explore who I wanted to become. Entertaining the same limited conversations whilst suppressing my fiery personality and queerness was an emotional setback. I had to choose between moving forward in my personal growth, and sacrificing my true self to preserve childhood friendships. And I chose friendship for years.
After finally choosing myself, I was faced with another problem — my image. Image was such a damaging concept for me. To have your personality stagnate at a young age is one thing, but to live your life desperately trying to fit into the same box you are becoming too big for — that is worse. As a kid, I was seen as the “model” child, the one who was reading chapter books in junior kindergarten and always did the right thing. Being viewed as intelligent was an asset, but the expectation of compliance and “innocence” that came along with this role was unbearable.
I tried to slowly incorporate new and exciting things into my life as a teen. But because I spent too long maintaining this idealized version of myself, I was always shot down. “Who even are you?” “Why are you doing this?” “That doesn’t seem like you.” I assumed they were right. I decided to avoid altering the image; it wasn’t worth the backlash. After some recollection, I remembered that I was happy when I stayed the same in the past, so I can certainly be happy now. I don’t necessarily need to wear that crop top, or need to go to that party tonight. I’ve been content, right?
I think letting go of this “innocent” image was the hardest to overcome in my relationship with nostalgia, and was likely the leading cause of all of these issues. I thought that if everything else in the world was changing, at least I could control myself, no matter how curious I was to try branching out. Besides, everyone had always known me a certain way, and if I solidified any changes in myself, would they still want to be in my life? Would I be happy with the person I became? It all came down to my fear of change when applied to myself. Nostalgia offers familiarity — but change? Change meant I had to discover the fact that my past self would never be me again.
Throughout my life, I’ve always had a fascination with water. You can often find me sitting on a rock by a river for hours just watching the way the current twists and turns, wondering how far it’s travelled in the world to reach my field of vision. Much like water, we as people are always changing. We are not put into a box at birth; we are fluid. But it does not sacrifice our essence. It took me a long time to grasp this concept and finally understand that change is okay and natural. I felt stuck for years, but I now know the right people will celebrate the growth in my life. I still have parts of my old self within me, but I have developed more, and I am continuing to find new aspects of myself. I have found comfort in my own skin, my queerness, my talents, even in my capability to ‘become’ anyone I desire to be. Though it is still fairly difficult to let go of my past self around certain people in my life, I am more confident in my ability to prioritize expressing my true self in the long run. And in the end, nostalgia remains a beautiful part of my being while not restricting me from blossoming.