I was shy of eighteen, and a coward.
Do you know the term coming out of your shell? At eighteen, I wasn't anywhere near my shell. I was burrowed deep, deep inside. I had just started opening my eyes, just started letting people in, just started smiling to people I didn't know and taking life a little easier.
But the shell was still in place, and I was afraid.
Blogging was something that started naturally. I found Goodreads, discovered a whole digital world of people who love reading and could talk books with me, and jumped right into it. I felt like a Digidestined receiving her digivice and transporting into another world. The real world I was meant to be in all along.
I was hungry and desperate for conversation on things I loved. To bring my thoughts--those thoughts that so often stayed in my head only because I was frightened of voicing them, frightened of saying the wrong thing, frightened to offend or annihilate--out there. To people who didn't know me, but would speak to me.
And still, I was afraid.
Well, that's not quite true. At first, I had no fear in this new fantastic world. I had only excitement. Finally, I could use my voice -- without ever opening my mouth, without potentially showing those around me how messed up, or geeky, or nerdy I was. Because in the internet you both exist and don't, you're both there and simultaneously nowhere at all. It was safe. Or so I thought.
Then I started seeing the drama. Started seeing how people attacked and trolled, how people were still close-minded and obscene about things that differed from them. How there was still derision and hate and anger - stronger than in real life, maybe, where you could watch your actions unfold and affect.
Because online, you're both there and nowhere... and your victims are just pieces of digital data online. You're Tom to their Jerry. Even if you throw a bomb at them, they're going to bounce right off. No harm done. Only these "fictional people" do exist. You may walk by them on the street and never know it, but they have a corporeal body and they bleed and they hurt. And so, my fear returned.
Every time I read a popular novel, I was filled with anxiety. Because what if I didn't like it? what if those predators turned their claws and fangs on me? How would I deal? At eighteen, I couldn't deal. This was a truth I knew about myself, but had no yet accepted. A truth I would never come to accept, which was the only reason I could make myself grow out of it. But I'm running ahead of the story.
Back to eighteen; so at eighteen, I made unconscious decisions to... cushion my ratings. I say unconscious because I was not aware of doing it. I gave books three and three and a half stars ratings that now, looking back, were two, two and a half star reads for me. In my mind, the three/three and a half ratings were the lesser evil. A safe balance between what I really thought... and what was dangerous territory.
Sure, the book wasn't that great, and I felt nothing for the characters, and the romance felt flat, and the world building sucked but... hey, I didn't hate it, right? This is a phrase that kept popping often in my reviews... I didn't hate the book. Like that's some glowing endorsement.
My words were still pretty harsh, and the books I truly hated received no such treatment, but most of the books received the "average" rating. A part of me figured, I think, that if the rating wasn't one/two stars, then the trolls won't come and the lions won't attack, because they won't have the energy to actually read the review and see I spoke of exactly one positive in the whole novel.
They keep their energies for the really bad ratings.
But again, I wasn't aware of doing that. Now, stronger and more firm (and definitely unapologetic) about my opinions, I can see that. I can almost map the way this all worked out in my brain, can almost feel the nudging of my subconscious danger, danger, move with caution.
So, at eighteen, I was a coward. At nineteen, I was a creature of habit. I was a year into collage, found a source of strength in the friends I made there, was faced with some shitty life situations and went past them. I felt more comfortable in me, but that fearful habit to protect myself remained. I was still careful.
At twenty, I started to have a strong grasp on who I am. I stopped shying away from my opinions in public. I found my voice and the strength to defend what I believed in. I was no longer putrefied of speaking in public; I knew the pounding in my heart is going to be difficult, but I also knew it won't stop me.
I became comfortable in who I am. I forgot to say "sorry" all the time, forgot to hesitate in a conversation. I was still shy, I would still agonies for days before making the first step in anything, but once I took that step I was all in.
I was infinitely stronger, and infinitely more myself.
And so I started becoming displeased with my blog, with my online self, which continued to project a lesser self instead of who I am. Continued to show me a coward instead of a warrior.
At twenty one, I stopped apologizing. I started being firm and strict in my opinions. This trickled into my blog life, and brought on a wave of "oldies". I wanted my reviews to reflect who I am, and by doing so I realized the distressing truth of how afraid I was when I was younger.
Eighteen is not young. I was a late bloomer, for sure. It was just four short years ago, but if feels like a lifetime away.
I started a new blog, a blog that was my place to be and to exist and think exactly what I want to think and if someone doesn't like that, click away. I started to become unafraid of hate because, dude, I don't understand hate myself. I would never hate your for your opinions and beliefs if they vary from mine.
I might not understand them, I might even think you're a complete moron--but I would keep those to myself, and I would definitely never comment and tell you it to your face. I would never be disrespectful towards you, and no, I won't hate you. My hatred is few and limited, and I keep it for people who have seriously wronged me in RL. And even then, it tends to dissipate the farther away I am from it.
And if you want to hate my opinions, hate my thoughts, hate the fact I have either of which and it's not exactly the way you look at life... well, I'm sorry to tell you, this doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me. If anything, it says something about you.
It took four years of blogging to get me to this point. It took the end of my last year of high-school where I met the first friend that forced me closer to that shell, two years of collage where I meet six fantastic people who balanced my trio and gave us strength, it took a year a half in the army and dealing with the unfairness of a system in real life as an adult that has to count on herself.
I FIND COURAGE IN MY OPINIONS.
I AN NOT ASHAMED OF THEM.
I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOUR HATE.
And neither should you.
But the thing is; don't try to rush things. Don't beat yourself up if you're not there. You're growing into yourself, whether you're sixteen or sixty it doesn't matter. Don't try to force yourself to reach this place. I am happy with where I am today, but I am fully aware that in four years, I may be in a completely different place.
The way you feel about yourself is not something you can control. I can honestly tell you that at eighteen, I hated the person I was. I can still remember and reprimand myself on conversations I had four years ago, when I should have said something but didn't. I was miserable with my weak self.
You can always strive to be better, to face things that scare you, to try to find your footing. But you can never force yourself to love yourself. Instead, you have to let yourself grow, you have to try to become a self you can love.
And finally, if you're read this far... I love you. I appreciate your opinions. I am never going to hold them against you; the farthest away you can take me is to say "I disagree, but it's okay if you think otherwise".
And to me, y'all are beautiful.
So if you need someone to talk to, I'm here.