Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of depression and other mental health problems.
As a young girl, I was always excited about growing up, thanks to the numerous rom-coms I watched where lead characters seemed to have glamorous lives. Most of my childhood was spent daydreaming about becoming older so that I could have more control over my own life and fulfill other people’s dreams for me. At that time, I considered being a child as a hindrance to success and achievement.
Being the eldest daughter in a Filipino-Chinese family and the first granddaughter on my mother’s side, I felt like there were a lot of expectations I had to live up to. With a natural love for learning and a stellar work ethic to match, I got used to the feeling of achieving various feats and always being occupied. Growing up in a home where achievement was applauded and being limitless was encouraged, I felt like that was the only way I could earn people’s love for me.
Though I was never told to be everything for everyone all at once, I found a certain kind of high in the feeling that I was not like everyone else. At a young age, I took pride in being told that I was mature. I made it a point to keep myself busy—in high school, I spent all of my time studying despite being sick and took it upon myself to be the leader for school projects; in college, I made sure to maintain a certain GPA, joined multiple organizations, took on freelancing jobs, and applied to numerous internships. From what I can remember, I barely had a time in life when I ever slowed down because it felt wrong. But maintaining that stature and level of achievement came at a cost that no amount of praise can ever bring back: my childhood.
Eventually, the consequences of being both a people pleaser and an overachiever took a toll on me. I later realized that I barely knew myself outside of work and what I could do for other people. It was as if I was a stranger trapped inside my own body with no idea of what I liked outside of what would serve the ones around me.
After years of fighting off extreme loneliness while struggling to find a sense of myself, I woke up one day knowing it was time to see a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and a general anxiety disorder on our first meeting, and as we went through more sessions, I realized that I craved the feeling of being a child—no expectations, no pressure, and no chasing after the next big thing. I wanted to do things just for the fun of it.
Coming to these epiphanies, I’ve been working towards growing deeper instead of upwards. It’s through strengthening my roots that I can only truly be strong, which is what I’ve been working on as an adult.
This is where the importance of acknowledgment in healing one’s inner child comes in. By recognizing my feelings, I am learning to admit that they exist. We can take inspiration from children: When something hurts, they cry. They feel it, and then they let other people help them manage that pain. True healing can only happen if one is willing to admit that there is something that's painful.
Another thing I’ve been trying to do is find hobbies that I can’t monetize. I’ve taken time out to do a myriad of things I like that didn’t exactly contribute to any larger goal: reread the Chronicles of Narnia, my favorite series, over and over again for the feeling of comfort, go to theme parks with friends, take days off to stroll around the city, paint using the Paint by Numbers kit, do yoga with my sister, and binge-watch shows with extreme comedic value.
I am also slowly learning to admit that I need help and that I don’t need to have everything figured out just yet. When I first told my parents about my depression, we struggled with understanding one another to the point that it seemed like brushing it off would be easier. But it was through these painful conversations that I was able to communicate that I needed help and realized that love is not earned—it's unconditional, as I witnessed in the times my loved ones tried to help me even though they had a difficult time understanding what was going on.
In a capitalist society that prioritizes productivity, upward growth is loudly applauded—it’s very rare that we talk about deep growth that is not as visible but makes one even stronger.
By doing these things, I’m able to fully grasp the importance of what it means to allow myself to just be in the stillness and quiet of it all. As I get to know myself more, I am slowly learning what makes me tick, what I find funny, what kind of books I like, and what kind of exercises I hate doing, among many others. In these silent moments that don’t exactly look good on paper, I feel that I’m gaining something no achievement can get me: peace.
My upbringing convinced me that a person is only worth their achievements and what they can give to others, but now I realize that this shouldn’t be the case. In a capitalist society that prioritizes productivity, upward growth is loudly applauded—it’s very rare that we talk about deep growth that is not as visible but makes one even stronger. As I unlearn the mindset of always doing more for a bigger purpose, I’ve discovered the importance of unconventional growth: a growth that prioritizes strengthening your roots so that nobody can ever take you away from you. Even if this growth is not as loudly applauded, it is a growth I know my inner child would be grateful for.