I didn’t keep a diary for long when I was young. And when I did, I only ever wrote about high-level, mundane things from my day, like doing my homework, taking a nap or having a nice meal. I didn’t detail my thoughts and feelings about them. But I remembered writing a letter pouring my feelings out to my parents after we had a heated argument. I don't remember the specifics of the argument, but I do remember how I wasn’t able to convey my thoughts in words because I was overwhelmed with tears and snot. I was trying to keep my emotions in check, but they got the better of me, making my thoughts all jumbled up. I also didn’t know what came over me, but I decided to write my thoughts to them on a piece of paper about how I felt. I felt like that was the only way for me to express myself to them without breaking down into tears or them retaliating. The next morning they found my letter in front of their room. I didn’t think about what they would think or feel as long as I got them to see my point of view. To my absolute surprise, they were touched by how well I could articulate and express myself through words at that age. They used to encourage me to become a writer or journalist, because of my ability to write well. But I didn’t believe any of that. I told myself it didn’t count or matter when they praised my writing because they weren’t well-educated in English enough. But then again, I didn’t know what would have “counted” if it came from someone else. My English teacher? But I wouldn’t have written anything from the heart in school because essays were formulaic. Actual writers? I didn’t know any. It also felt strange that they praised me anyway about something so simple. So I abandoned the thought of becoming a writer or journalist because it seemed silly, especially coming from them. When you’d been indoctrinated from a young age that there are only certain career paths (business person, doctor, engineer, lawyer) that you can pursue to earn a steady income, it was easy to dismiss anything else, especially the arts. God forbid you take the arts seriously as a career choice. Even with a clearer head, I wasn’t able to speak out well. Maybe it was the sense of shame I would feel if my emotions poured out. So, I decided I’d rather not speak at all because expressing your emotions outwardly (in tears) is a sign of weakness. When you’d been told from a young age to stop crying because it’s shameful, only for little children, or troubling for others, it became inevitable that you try to suppress and lock those feelings away forever. Showing vulnerable emotions like crying makes you weak, meek, sensitive, shameful, a crybaby, a pushover. I found solace in writing stories in the form of fan fiction. It brought me joy to imagine my favourite characters in the stories I told about them. It started out with reading other writers’ fan fiction stories, and somehow I felt that if they could do it, so could I. It was my first attempt in writing but I was confident in publishing them online, because at least these internet strangers only knew me through an online persona behind a screen. I didn’t feel directly judged or criticised. However, this feeling of confidence didn’t last as I got a little bit better at writing, and I started comparing myself to others. Imposter syndrome took over, and I started to question my abilities. There were better writers online, so why would anyone read or like my work? Sometimes I think about the possibility that if I continued writing, how well would I have been writing ten years later?
It was during the pandemic that inspired me to write again, seeing how others shared their stories too. When I first started, my writing felt cold with little emotions or substance. I was following a formula that many online writers were using simply because it was “easier”. But it felt like writing essays that I was forced to churn out in school to score more points. While this formulaic writing helped me get started, I wasn’t satisfied. It didn’t feel like I was writing it from the heart. I started writing what I really felt, a lot of those about my past stories and experiences of how they shaped me into who I am today and the stories I told myself that might not be true now. It was then I discovered and finally admitted to myself that I struggled to express myself through speech. I was ashamed of this and I was embarrassed to admit that. Here I was, a twenty-something year old still struggling to articulate and express myself, while it’s almost second nature for others. There were so many missed opportunities that I hated myself for simply because I couldn’t express myself properly. I would trip and stumble over my words or took too long to have a good comeback, which made me kick and curse myself after. If this was all online, I would have had more time to think and write it out instead, I thought. Maybe it’s why I like spending time online instead. So most of the time, I gave up and kept quiet because it was better than embarrassing myself in public. Admitting this fact made me feel like a certain weight had been lifted, a weight that had been suppressing my desire to express myself again. I understood that I wasn’t able to immediately, but I was willing to start somewhere. By somewhere, I meant through the power of writing, in which I feel most comfortable in expressing myself, at least for now. When I write, I feel my thoughts flow more freely and with lesser judgement. There was no time limit to articulate my thoughts because I’m writing for myself, so I take my time to explore and uncover truths that I might have buried deep within me. My thoughts become clearer, and I could articulate my ideas a bit better each time, becoming more concise too. I find myself learning more about myself through regular introspection through journaling and reviewing my days. Writing became therapy for me. It’s almost mind-blowing how through the act of writing, I’m able to slowly find myself again. I lost her when I was younger, and when she was under constant scrutiny and judgement by so-called peers and teachers in school, the lack of emotional support from family, and the pressure to conform to stereotypes — to be “obedient” and “disciplined”. She holed herself up for the longest time, but she’s slowly emerging again, and I can’t wait to welcome her back, slowly but gradually. And I hope she can feel welcomed again by someone who she can be proud of. Perhaps that’s how writing has been an outlet for me to learn to live my authentic self again. Every time I write and publish a new piece, I feel like I’m closer to my truth about how I’ve been operating so far and how I could change for the better, or even discovering something from inside of me that I unknowingly buried and forgot. One example is how I was afraid of being boring because I wanted to be more interesting to get people to like me. And when I’m closer to being more comfortable being me around others, I could bring out the courage to express myself better now through speech because I know myself better and enough to share it with others. For that reason writing can be intimate as well, because you’re sharing pieces of yourself. It’s a gateway to connecting with others who may feel the same way or perhaps even inspire them to share their stories too. I spent most of my time alone and online a lot; I couldn’t bring myself to make friends in the past because I didn’t feel welcomed or belonged when I was younger. I shied away from social events because it was scary to put myself out there when I felt different from the rest, but at the same time, I did not want to be like the rest. When I could be a bit of myself online, I could take my time in expressing myself in the written word. It was then I realised that I write online in hopes of people to get to know me better. It was harder for me to express or feel more animated in real life, so I utilised the power of online writing as a means to display my personality and attract friends. Did it work out? To some extent, I did befriend internet friends but not people in real life. But when I started writing again recently, it helped me figure things out and become more and more comfortable in my own skin. I can find like-minded people or attract them to find me instead, just by being myself (at least I try to). Today I continue to write for many reasons. But ultimately I write to learn and find myself again and again.
Big thanks to DJ May, Denny Dien, and JG for the early feedback.