How I Found Myself and What That Really Means

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eaBy Elysse Andrews

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]M[/dropcap]y name is Elysse Andrews, and this is a story, not a guide or an advice piece, on how I found myself. Everyone says love yourself, be yourself, but no one shows us what that looks like. I was discussing this with a friend the other day and she gave herself a hug and asked “is that it? Do I love myself now?” That was the perfect point – how do you learn to love/be yourself in a world that offers so many (this is a psychological term) potential selves?

For me, it happened by accident – and it wasn’t even pleasant. I was lonely, and had just moved thousands of miles away from my loved ones and let go of someone who I thought was the love of my life, but being forced to be alone with myself for months, was absolutely the best thing that could have happened.[divider type="dotted" spacing="10"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]hen I moved to France, I had no idea where my life was going. I had gone through a breakup about 6 months before, and we were dragging it out still seeing each other, because there was so much love there, though both of us knew there was no future. I had recently changed majors, found my new talent (writing) and was gaining loads of weight in my desperate attempt at eating disorder recovery. My dreams were coming true, but I was not what you would call stable. I was so lost – though I didn’t know it at the time.

Being me, when I got to Paris, I dove into it. I started making friends and traveling, immersing myself in the language and in school – walking the seine and drinking legally at bars and having sex with deliciously dark handsome French men. Then, like all dives, I had gone in as deep as I could and found myself deep at the dark bottom of the pool – tranquil and calm with the pressure of the water above me. For me, this water above me was SAD (Seasonal affective Disorder), which was brought on by the dark Paris skies with their drizzly gray tones and by being in a body I didn’t recognize as my own.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

I started to spend lots of time alone, getting nervous about leaving the house – there were so many options, I never felt sure which one was right to choose. Which museum? Which restaurant? What city should I go to? Which country? What if someone makes fun of me for being alone? What if I don’t understand what someone is saying to me and they realize I’m American? (Side note, my biggest fear was someone labeling me as American, because hey! I can speak French!) I already suffer from depression, brought on by years of abusing my body and subsequently my neurochemical levels, and to add to the gray in the sky and the gray in my heart, my dear and only remaining grandmother was dying, and I was thousands of miles away.

There were days when I would have things I wanted to go to, events, dates with friends, adventures anyone would die to have and I would look in the mirror at myself and think “you’re too fat to be seen doing x, y or z” and I would almost bail – but most of the time my mother’s voice would remind me sweetly in my head, that experiences should never be missed because of momentary setbacks (this is how I met Chelsea Handler – she was doing a book signing and I had a headache and didn’t want to go, but my mother told me that when I looked back on the chance I’d missed, I wouldn’t remember the headache, just the missed opportunity). So I went out, I went to Amsterdam, I went to Germany, to the north of France, to the south of France, to parties such as “mustaches and mini-skirts” and whenever I went out – I never regretted it.[divider type="dotted" spacing="10"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]S[/dropcap]o you’re thinking, “Okay Elysse I get it, you were emotionally torn between the safety of staying home and the unknown things that you couldn’t control when you went out, but where’s the happy ending? When do you find/love yourself?” I hear you. Hold your horses.

It happened little by little, in bursts and scoots and little steps. One of those little steps was getting on a train to Barcelona, where I knew only one person (a friend from high school studying abroad) and knew zero about the culture or the language.

If you are ever so lucky to be presented with the opportunity, please take the chance to travel alone, for it was at 4 in the afternoon at the top of a hill in Barcelona where I sat overlooking the coastline and drinking (and getting drunk off of) a chalice of sangria, that I began to find myself. While I was sitting there sipping, I was overcome with a tidal wave of gratitude, of love for my life, and of those who had always seen me behind the me I was showing. I wrote postcards to loved ones, to under-appreciated ones, and to ones who I hadn’t even known were important to me. I hadn’t known it at the time, but that was when my life started to change.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

When you’re in a city where no one knows you, where you’re anonymous, you have the power to be anyone you’d like, so when I was in Barcelona, or barca as the locals called it, I decided to be an empowered world traveler. I was only there to do what I wanted to do, not what the tour books or anyone else told me I should do, and absolutely nothing else. In short – I was alone, and starting to be okay with it.

This was not as romantic as it sounds, it was terrifying, and I spent a whole half day sitting in my hostel desperately using their Wi-Fi to reach out to my US friends as to not have to be alone with myself. While I was sitting there phone in hand, the sunlight hit me just right and I couldn’t fathom being inside anymore – so I got off my ass and walked around aimlessly, stopping in shops I didn’t recognize, buying foods I’d never seen and having the most peaceful time. When it was time to board the train back, I was boarding a happier and more independent person, though security couldn’t tell the difference.[divider type="dotted" spacing="10"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] could go on telling you about my adventures in different countries, the weirdos I met, the ones I’m still friends with on Facebook, and the souvenir’s I brought back, but that’s not what this story is about.

This story is about me, bravely taking steps outside my comfort zone, though my comfort zone was constantly begging me not to, and finding out I loved it, when I was able to be present and get that “not safe! Not safe!” voice out of my head. It’s about how I changed my life by trusting myself little by little, until I found myself sitting on the top of a hill in Spain, crying over how much I loved my life.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

This story is to show you what it really means to find out who you are and to remind you that it’s something that happens little by little, and from what I can tell, mostly when you’re alone. I’m now 21, finishing college, running a club whose mission I believe in with my whole heart, volunteering for an organization I would be willing to die for, working independently at my internship, and spending my Friday nights on my couch, happily crying alone watching Good Will Hunting, and not regretting any minute of it.

So friends, if you get nothing from this, please come away with this simple and almost too obvious thing: you can’t find yourself, unless you commit to being present with yourself – in whatever form you are in. You are inside of you, as cheesy and repetitive as that sounds, and I promise, if you’re willing to trust yourself completely, you will slowly but surely change your life.