I’m not sure exactly why I used to let labels tape me up like a living mummy. I’d say from the middle of high school to the ending of graduate school, I unconsciously defined myself according to the labels that were imposed on me. A lot of my poetry in grad school had to do with feeling trapped by these labels that “defined” me, like blonde, hippie or Cuban for example. When I think of myself as a child, I see Coqui, which was my nickname as a kid. Me as Coqui was pretty basic. I liked the beach. I liked art. I spoke Spanish. I played with Barbies. I climbed trees. My favorite animal was the wolf. The only label I do remember vividly was rubia which means “blonde” in Spanish.
Throughout college, I especially struggled with the managing of these labels. I see now that I tried to be them all, to the point where I felt like some kind of multiple personality creature. I also found that I would change according to my environment and the expectations of those around me. For instance, sometimes being a “hippie” would behoove me like at a party full of surfers or liberals. When I would visit Chicago, I realized that being a hippie was looked down upon by some of the people I met there, so there, my “hippieness” was toned down (whatever that means). In grad school, around my superiors and peers, I tried my hardest to be a Cuban American edgy intellectual (which was so exhausting). Inevitably though, I found that the “blonde” label always sabotages me (and it still tries to undercut me sometimes).
After officially feeling like a fully sculpted adult, I have learned to perceive myself as Coqui again. It’s funny how as an adult, I worked so hard to revive my child “self,” which I believe is my most authentic self. I am very lucky that my husband enables my Coqui-ness to come out; it seems that all parts of me that were covered with labels at one time are the parts of me he likes the most. Labels no matter how sticky they are can eventually be removed. If there is an essence inside me that has nothing to do with external influences, I should be able to disentangle it from the webs around me and empower it.
For me, the labels came off after grad school. It was sort of hard like unwrapping a gift with too much tape, but the gift was very exciting. The only way to remove these sturdy labels is by strengthening my internal without letting the winds of the external blow me down. This required me to a) stay single for a whole year which wasn’t as hard as I thought, b) to journal and paint more without the academic expectations I pushed onto my shoulders and c) listen to my quiet self regularly. The quiet self is the state of feelings or state of mind I’m in. As one who has left the earth of herself and then returned to it successfully, I have established a few techniques to help me stay in touch or reconnect with my authentic self.
5 DIY Ways to Reconnect With Your Authentic Self
1. Learn to separate yourself. Facing yourself quietly doesn’t seem very hard, but if it isn’t, then why don’t we do it more often? Dedicate chunks of time away from not only others, but also noise and technology. It’s more active than meditation in that you must check in with the health of your self. Ask your self questions like “How have I been doing the last few days?” “Am I tense?” “Happy?” “What’s exciting me?” “What’s disappointing me?” etc. Many times we may feel a sense of disappointment, but we don’t stop to analyze this feeling or validate it.
2. Compare your present self to your child self. Who feels a sense of well-being? If you recall your childhood blissfully with more fortune and peace of mind, you may want to reassess your present circumstance.
3. Accept that you are ever-changing. If we see ourselves as static, there is no room for growth, renewal or improvement. Also, if we accept that who we are today is not who we were last year during this time, we can move on from the burdens of our old selves. I am comfortable sharing that I struggle with feelings of guilt about choices I made in my past, however holding yourself down to regret will not let you evolve and enhance peacefully.
4. Journal. I know. It’s cheesy. It’s a pain. However, it is definitely not a waste of time. During my deepest period of self-exploration, which I perceive as a year of self-recovery, I journaled daily. I find that the benefits outweigh the nuisance. Not only could I sort out my thoughts and feelings, but also I would just feel better afterward, less lonely somehow. I sometimes go back through my journals and see a much different self, one struggling to come out. I have changed.
5. Describe rather than define. Know your likes and dislikes. Really getting a grip on your own tastes relinquishes you from defining yourself as a label. You are not just a businessperson, an immigrant, a college kid or a surfer, you are made of many things, some you can’t even put your finger on. To define yourself with a word is restricting, instead it’s better to describe yourself.
As Genie says in the Disney favorite, Aladdin, “Just beeeeeee yourself.”
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I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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