I hate platitudes and motivational posters and generalizations. I hated, too, my father’s favorite phrase, “The only constant is change itself.” What about the uncanniness of Steve Buscemi’s eyes or the unfading luster of Owen Wilson’s hair? Those were constants. And, too, my confidence, and my sense of self-worth, and the way I didn’t care about what other people thought of me. And my belief that I was remarkable in some way—that a girl from New Zealand would start university and shake everything up and make it new. My life was a big known constant and every line ended in a full stop.
I started university and the first semester was perfect. I made friends who were fearless and outgoing; friends who wanted to make zines and mix cocktails and ski and write music and rip up their clothing. My friends wanted to devour their experiences; they wanted to contain the world inside themselves. With them, I was swept up in light. I felt experienced and independent and attractive and free. Free from the old clichés—an awkward adolescence, a smothering home, the stereotypes hanging around my neck as the child of Chinese immigrants. Here, I was made new. I had settled in perfectly to a new constant, and change would never take me by surprise. But there was a glint of madness behind the whirling skirts and lights.
By second semester I had fallen apart. I lay in bed for weeks; I stopped eating; I kept my door closed. I refused to seek help and even took a kind of pleasure in my suffering—it was atonement for the happiness and good fortune heaped on me in the first semester. This time, my father’s words finally seemed to mean something. He had always told me about the Buddhist concept of balance and the impossibility of prolonged excess. Every energy must find its resting place, and this was my downward spiral back to zero.
Gradually I realized that throughout the year, even when I was happy, I had been hiding incredible anxiety and paranoia about being exposed as a fraud. I was so afraid that once I was found out as unattractive and dull-skinned and uninteresting and frigid, no one could love me. I had worn myself out by needing to control everything. I curated my image, my social interactions, my grades, and when I came up short, my defense was flippancy. But change can’t be controlled; change is uncertainty and chaos. I needed to open myself completely to change and let in its darkness as well as its light. To have denied myself panic and fear is to have misunderstood it all.
When I was younger I thought I was particularly well-adapted to change. I loved change in the way that high-powered women living in New York City did in my fantasies, in the way that my dream women were always rushing onto greater heights and shiny new things.
And now I don’t know.
I don’t know how to deal with change and I don’t know how to feel about it and I don’t know how to stand tall and strong and face it.
I’ll just keep getting out of bed in the mornings.
—By Christine L., 18, Auckland