Me before me…

Do you ever look back at old photographs of yourself or reminisce and that person, the you that you are thinking of, feels like a completely different person?

Our social media platforms sometimes include a ‘memories’ function where you can be reminded of exactly where you were, what you were doing, and what you wrote about on this day last year, two years, 5 years or even a decade ago.

I’ve been around the block a few times and, having had Facebook since its infancy in 2007 and being part of the MySpace generation in the years preceding, my memories feed often takes me back to times and places and emotions I had long forgotten about. It takes me back to a young woman I had forgotten about – me!

The blurry, late 90s and early 2000s low-def photos, snapped on nights out on my trusty Coolpix or Powershot camera, surrounded by friends in a smoky haze, remind me of a time when smoking was still allowed in bars, phones didn’t have cameras and remind me of all of these friends who were, for that time of my life, my everything, who I am now only in touch with occasionally when big life events take place – marriages, babies, career moves, country moves. I look at the blurry photos and see the people they have become and the lives they are living now and wonder if they feel that same disconnect that I do. The girl in that picture is a million miles away from the person that exists now.

When I think back to those times and try and put my mind back into the mind of that young woman, I don’t know if she would ever have predicted or even dreamed of the person I have become. While I wanted to travel the world and live overseas ever since I was a teenager, I don’t think she would have predicted me writing from this from my apartment in Hanoi, successful in the career that I have chosen, and having lived overseas for the majority of my post-graduation life. I don’t think she would have accurately predicted much in my life because, the reality is, she is a very different version of me. Yet, each version of me has led to the person I have become.

The teenage version of me was awkward, unsure, and never quite fit in anywhere. Creative, smart and endlessly kind, she had dreams and things she wanted to do with her life but struggled to nail it down to a plan or focus. She was making decisions about her future at a time when she didn’t know what she wanted that future to look like. Her friendships were strong and steady – a diverse group of equally awkward and funny weirdos who placed individuality and deep care for each other in front of being seen to be ‘cool’ or ‘popular’. Her awkwardness was loved and valued within her friendship group and set high expectations for her future friendships. To be taught the meaning of true friends at a young age has led to many of my friendships now being ones that cross borders and long distances. They don’t require endless upkeep because each person is loved and valued on a deeper level.

Early-20s me began to spread her wings but also experienced trauma that continued to impact her for over the next decade. Graduating from her undergrad and then taking her first solo, long adventure to Canada set her up to become a more confident, happy, adventurous young woman in her twenties. She had settled on her immediate future career path and was returning to do her postgraduate in teaching. Moved in with one of her best friends and embarking on the next chapter – she was so excited. Just as she was building confidence in herself and become more comfortable with who she was, she was dealt a cruel blow and, from then on, her life became a before-after story. She shut down and went into survival mode – determined to not let this ruin her plan to become a teacher. In what is one of the most intense postgraduate, vocational years, she battled through towards graduating and becoming a teacher. Supported by true friendships that she had come to expect and placed value in, she made it through. The inner strength and determination that brought me through those early 20s years have stayed with me.

Mid-to-late 20s me was chaotic. After running away to work overseas in Prague, she threw herself into her career and, for a while, ignored the onset of dangerous and unhealthy coping mechanisms for what would later be recognised as PTSD. Unsure relationships, heartbreak, and loss led to such unsteadiness in her life that she eventually broke down. Seeking help and going to counselling was her turning point in starting to work through the trauma that she had been holding inside her, the trauma that was manifesting itself in many ways that she had not even realised. Even so, she embarked on a relationship with someone equally broken and in need of support. A relationship that was full of love and passion but also full of difficult, uneasy and sometimes truly heartbreaking times. Returning to her home country to make it work, trying so hard, then eventually both recognising that some relationships are for a season, not forever. Seeking help and working through my trauma taught me so much about myself, how my mind works, how I cope and when to recognise I am triggered or need support – we were never meant to just deal with things on our own.

Then there is the me of my 30s – this woman who took the determination, strength and self-knowledge and started to channel it into the life she wanted to live. Moving to Tanzania and creating a life filled with true friendships, channelling her trauma into activism, falling into communities of musicians and creatives, setting her sights on conquering mountains and seeing even more of what this world had to offer. Solo travelling across parts of Africa and realising her own capabilities. She built a community around her, both near and far, of people she valued and people who valued her. She worked hard and progressed in her career. She fell deeply in love. She moved to Vietnam to advance her career, travelling in South East Asia until the pandemic hit and put a stop to it. Coping with the strange year and a half of a pandemic – the inevitable damage to mental health and relationships led her to understand what it is that she truly needs to be happy in this version of herself. These years were not without their drama but all that she had learned from previous versions of herself meant that she was in a better place to cope with the dramas or heartbreaks. She worked hard to fix the physical flaws that affected her confidence, understanding that, while true beauty is within, liking the person you see smiling back at you in the mirror plays a massive part in a healthy view of yourself.

Through all the versions of me, I am happy with the woman I have become and I am thankful for all the versions of me I had to go through to become her.

What a gift it is to be able to look back on your younger self and see the ways in which your life and your experiences have shaped who you have become today.

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