Finding My Identity When I Felt Lost | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Finding My Identity When I Felt Lost

By Arabhis Nicholson

I’ve always felt misplaced. Like this sad lost child. The one thing that solidified this “lost” identity was not being anchored in any one place for too long. I moved around so much as a child, and through that I learned to reinvent myself every time. That sounds really cute, like the beginning of a movie line, but the issue with changing identities is that you become lost in them, and they start to consume you.

Every time we moved, I would tell myself “I am renewed of those old and darker experiences, and they did not crush me.” I would walk around a brand new neighborhood, greet the local eye candy, meet some new “friends” and presto ala kazam, those experiences were no longer a part of me. As if changing zip codes would erase the trauma I had experienced.

In college I found myself a new face, just as some women name their wigs. I had archetypes I would pull out of my magic hat when I was having a not so good day, week or year. This would mask those feelings of pure isolation, bitterness, misplacement and sadness. I would wear her around friends, around classmates, coworkers and especially around my family. But every once in a while, that beautiful and fragile exterior would crumble under the weight of my reality.

For example, the reality of food scarcity and instability when I went home for Winter break. While most of my classmates and mixed friend circles delighted in finally going home, finishing their finals, and being around their families. I, on the other hand, dreaded it. Seems like the times when a college student should be most relieved were the times when I was most anxiety ridden.

Where were we going to live this summer? In a house, in a temporary room, with friends or with family we barely spoke to but who would pity us enough? When returning to campus from Winter break, my friends would have stories of their adventures over break, or gifts they received over the holiday. And I would have only a faint but genuine smile.

Even though I didn’t have much to offer when returning, I did find people who cared about me to welcome me back with open arms. I found support, I found professors who rooted for me, I found mentors who fought for me, and I found genuine people who gave me a heartfelt dose of tough love. I don’t think I would have truly been okay had it not been for people in my life who saw the tears beyond my smile. Who saw the hurt in my eyes every time I did not get an opportunity that I prayed for.

I would have moments in my early adulthood when I felt so defeated and so alone, like no one could see me. And then another stranger with a familiar warmth would enter my little sphere and remind me of why I’m here. These experiences gave me humility and compassion toward anyone who’s ever faced food scarcity and any form of instability. It also gave me the drive to want to achieve more for myself.

I remember returning to campus one Fall and thinking to myself, if it kills me, I am going to find an internship next summer. And I did. There’s some beauty in knowing how far I’ve come since then, but still a lingering fear of ever being misplaced again. I’m working to overcome that and to know that I deserve more out of life.

I hope to break cycles of poverty and to be a light to other “lost” young adults. To you reading this, I hope you find yourself, I hope you find prosperity, and I hope you pass the torch and provide encouragement to your peers. You never know what people are experiencing, and although I wore many masks and covered up my full truth, there were people who saw past that, and they loved me through it. Be a light to others and cultivate your own light to remind yourself of who you are and that you deserve a place in this world.

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