This is a story about love and loss and learning to love myself.
From 14 to 21, I was in a relationship with a person I still consider "one of the best guys I've ever known." In that span of 7 years, loving him was all-consuming: from spending everyday together in high school, to following him to college, to finally moving in together. We settled into comfortable. What should’ve been a period of individual growth and self-discovery was instead a catalyst to codependence. We had no interests outside of each other so we continued, year after year, growing older together but not growing up.
Around the 7-year mark, he started asking his engaged friends how they knew they were ready to propose. I knew instantly that he wasn't asking because he was ready, but because after 7 years together… he was trying to shake the feeling that he didn't want to propose to me. He had accepted a truth I was too stubborn (scared?) to face: we weren't right for each other.
When I finally lost him, I went through a process of completely losing myself and I truly did lose a lot...
I tried desperately to shed everything that made me “me” because I never knew a me without “us.” I was safe when I was with him. Without him, I took up climbing, rappelling, scuba diving, skydiving, cliff jumping, backpacking, couch surfing, partying, hiking, drinking, traveling…
I pursued adventures obsessively- partially to distract from the emptiness, but mostly in an attempt to prove that I could be someone… someone interesting… without him. I just didn't know who that was. I searched for myself at the top of mountains. I searched for myself at the bottom of oceans. I even searched for myself at the bottom of many, many, many bottles of tequila. And when I found nothing, I searched again. I climbed. I jumped. I dove. I fell. I did this over and over again secretly hoping someone else would catch me. No one did.
It's been 2 years and I'm just now learning to catch myself. I don't feel the need to prove anything anymore. At 23, I accept that I've done a lot on my own in 2 years- traveled to 14 countries, jumped off the world's highest bungee bridge, brought healthcare to impoverished communities, swam with sharks, completed a Master's degree- none of which I would've done if I had stayed safe or comfortable. I honestly don’t know who I would’ve been if I hadn’t loved him, but I do know that I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t lost him. I'm making a promise to myself that once I send this out into the world... I'm finally going to let go.
Thank you for being my catharsis.
In a lot of ways, sending this email in all it's messy, emotional glory felt a lot scarier than jumping off any plane ever did. When I won, I honestly debated sending out a copy of my resume and calling it a day (sorry!! That's the very sad reality of a job-seeking Masters student) but I'm glad this came out. That said, if anyone has a job opening for someone with an MPH in Global Public Health, a 4.0 GPA, in-field healthcare experience around the world (including Europe, Central America, and Africa), and an extensive background in scientific research, teaching, writing, and clinical care -- I'm your girl.
Or if you want to talk about heartbreak or travel or adventure, I'm up for that too.