On May 5, 1962, Malcolm X delivered his speech, “Who taught you to hate yourself?” I asked this question to myself on June 10, 2014. That was also the year when I went into depression.
I was born as the first child to a lower middle class Tamil couple from south India, who had married and moved to the northern part of the country. I was the quieter of the two children – inventing stories contrary to the ordinariness of my life, drawing sketches from comic books, and role-playing successful women – while swinging between a promising future and the existing impoverishment.
I entered puberty conscious and chronically ashamed of my dark skin, feared being mocked by friends and strangers, and hated the family I was born into. By teenage, I had little confidence to stand up on. At age 14, I was sexually abused by an uncle. By age 18, the naturally quiet child was progressively colonized to become a submissively quiet individual.
Work appeared as the lone path towards hope, away from the social inequities and imposed realities I had experienced. After a Masters degree in Social Work, I started my career in non-profits, intending to work with children and women. Freshly minted as an ambitious woman, I stepped into the profession with discipline and reverence. But I learned soon that being the “quiet woman” could no longer salvage me from the quicksand of ordinariness.
I clambered relentlessly to take on a personality that allowed me to navigate in a world that had designed success such that it accommodated some individuals more than others. I became expressive, borrowed opinions, and donned qualities which appropriated ambitious career-orientation. I took to social media to share my opinions, believing it would validate acceptance. Offline, I tried to make friends, wishing to be invited into social circles to which social inequity otherwise inhibited my access.
Occasionally, I would wake up at nights, seething in anxiety. Thoughts would cross my mind evoking shame – Who would I be if I could not become a successful career-oriented woman? Am I trying to make someone else’s story as mine? By morning, however, a new stream of professional discipline and intellectual commendation would convince me that that story is mine.
On the inside, the quietness persevered against the display of bravado – the outgoing, confident, sociable person. Gradually from being a quiet individual I travelled towards a toxic concoction of self-denying liberty.
Everything halted, when in 2014, I crumbled into a period of depression. Standing as the lone witness to my life – shame, guilt, and hate bellowing from the annals of the past – that was the time I asked, “Who taught you to hate yourself?”
I willingly glided into depression to uncloak what it held. There, serenading deep underneath the façade rested the silence that had been the truth – my truth. The quietness inside me needed nothing. It had no name, it did not gloat, and it did not demand happiness. For the first time, I walked further to embrace it.
One year after, I quit my job. I travelled alone. I learned to sit in meditation. I loved. I found friends who stayed. I read fervently. Continuing the journey, this year, I have resolved to honour my truth, even if only to uncover what the quietness inside me alludes to.
Forevermore though, I am here as the untouched child within – the quieter one.