Get Well

Self and the City: False Perceptions

by Jessa Chargois

Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to hannah@chillhouse.com.

I believe that things will always work out. I believe that I am utterly full of shit, and by telling myself that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is a coping mechanism aimed at the lack of control our world is experiencing. I believe that if I continue to repeat this mantra, maybe one day I will genuinely believe in it. I believe that day is near, but it is not today, and that is okay. 

This one is for the fellow control freaks like me, the ones who lay awake at night anxiously accounting for all the possibilities of the future. While I do not want to sound pessimistic, I truly believe it is essential to account for and decipher the ways in which we all cope with external forces. Life is unpredictable. Regardless of once-permanent routines filled with commutes, office meetings, go-to dinner locations, friendships, or homes, this year has redefined our relationships with those around us. It has become immensely clear to me that nothing is permanent. From being uprooted, unable to afford the steep rent rates of New York City, to losing my full-time employment, I have been left to wrestle with the lack of control I possess over my own life. I recognize I am far from unique in this experience. According to the Wall Street Journal, around 6.2 million fellow Americans are currently jobless, searching for a sense of stability throughout one of the most tumultuous eras in modern history. While there is beauty in herd mentality, my largest personal obstacle has stemmed from admitting I am no longer aligned with the image I previously presented to the world; I am a mess. 

While I may be an open book when it comes to my emotions, romance, and opinions, I am acutely cognisant of the semi-false narrative I present when it comes to “success”. My earliest memories of childhood centered around excelling in whatever I poured myself into. From sports to extracurriculars, I have always been competitive with others, and more specifically, the expectations others have set for me. I can vividly recall the first meeting I had with my assigned guidance counselor in my small high school. Although I was pursuing acceptances from an array of universities, I was met with doubt when I announced my intention to apply to Cornell University. Informing me of the lack of acceptance to Ivy League Universities from the region, she described an environment of extreme competition and expectations of academic success. While I politely respected and thanked her for her opinion, I was even more determined to prove her wrong. When I received my acceptance package, I melted in a puddle of tears and pride. Truthfully, despite my outward determination, I was shocked I would be attending such a prestigious and intimidating university. I was a small town girl, naive and sheltered; a small fish entering an immense lake of sharks. 

In order to survive, I began to develop a persona centered around confidence and intimidation. Embracing the mantra “fake it ‘til you make it”, I talked the talk, and walked the walk. Accepted into Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design major (essentially a fancy way to say Fashion), I was acutely aware of the clothing of my peers. With peers dripping in designer, I stood out in my fast-fashion and thrifted wardrobe, unable to pronounce names such as Yves Saint Laurent and Miuccia Prada. Rather than succumb to my insecurities, I began to YouTube how to pronounce the biggest names in the industry, and  studied runway shows and marketplace trends in my spare time. Eventually, I found my voice and quickly became one of the more outspoken members of my peers. I landed myself in countless leadership positions and dove into my community on campus. While I consistently doubted myself, laying awake at night, dissecting the days, reccounting my errors, I hid my apprehensions. I presented myself as a confident, outspoken, informed, and hard-working young woman, who at times, was a little “too” intense. I carried myself with a sense of brashness and determination that was often mistaken for intimidation, but I liked that. I wanted others to respect and fear me. While I attempted to always be friendly and treat others with kindness, I was far from perfect, and can recount plenty of interactions I regret. Throughout my years on the beautiful campus that was Cornell University, I cultivated a depiction of my life that was glamorous and successful, yet one that was far from the truth.

Starting a job four days after I graduated and moved from Ithaca, New York, I quickly began to document and present a version of continued accomplishments on social media. I depicted brilliant nights out with my gorgeous friends, the most alluring parts of working in the fashion industry, and the wild intensity that stems from moving to New York City. Juxtaposed from my childhood in a small town, I worked hard to distance myself from the naive version of myself I once was. I believed that by simply erasing my previous posts on social media, I would be deleting these events from history. 

Truthfully, even after two years living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I continued to present myself as this persona online. I was far from humble, and not afraid to fill silence with discussion of myself and the events of my life. I was not always a good friend or good roommate. I was not always kind to those I dated or those I worked with. I began to morph the version of myself I presented to others and the version of myself that I am alone with my thoughts into one version of “Jessa”. My integrity was compromised, caring too much what others thought of me and my “success”. I am in no way attempting to diminish my success that I have achieved throughout my life and journey from a small town girl to a young woman living in the city. In contrast, I simply am admitting that I am guilty of selectively presenting a version of myself, one I felt would be widely accepted and fit within the mold I built for myself. 

When the pandemic hit, my persona was shattered. Centered around my professional success, I began to unravel. Unable to distract myself from my internationalized pain and emotional disassociation with nights spent socializing, dating, or partying, I was forced to sit with my repressed trauma and false persona. Within a month of the economic disruption, I was placed on an indefinite furlough.  I promptly lost connection with the countless men I had been dating in order to distract myself from the necessary personal growth I had to conduct. Moving back to my childhood home, I began to rediscover what had once shaped my identity. Reconnecting with a baseline I once operated on, I lost connection with the social media persona I had built over the last six years of adulthood. I let myself mourn the loss of friendships, romantic partners, and family trauma that I had previously suppressed. Without alcohol and substances to distract me, I soberly examined who I had become. Factors that had defined me; my career in fashion and my life in Manhattan, began to fade away into memories. By previously curating a formulated version of myself to present on social media, I was able to manage an array of factors throughout my life. Unable to control the immediate direction of my life, I have been forced to accept the fact that one can never manipulate the future. 

It is okay to not be okay. Do I entirely believe that? No. Will I one day? Yes, I will. I have begun to embrace the unpredictability of the current state of our world, accepting that regardless of how much I may want to, I cannot change who I am. The events of the last six or seven months have left me to reconsider the way I interact with and present myself online. My intelligence and my success is not defined solely on what job title I possess, where I shop, who I go to happy hour with, or what I post on social media. I am not where I went to university or where I call home. I am not defined by my mistakes, rather, I am the person who accepts her wrong doings and grows from it. I am defined by my integrity, my moral guidelines, and the way I express my love  and admiration for others. I am the path I chose when the going gets tough. I am the person who will continue to open up and learn from her mistakes, sharing personal anecdotes in this very column. I am the person who does not always believe that “things happen for a reason”, but the person who strives to believe that my developing confidence in my integrity and ability to grow will bring me one step closer to my dreams. I am the person who is a mess, and I am the person who is one step closer to acceptance of the chaos. 

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