I have been reflecting lately on a story I began telling myself when I was 22.
It was at this time, that I dropped out of college for good. I was suffering from severe depression and failing class after class. At the time, mental health was not addressed in the way it is now, and so I just sort of floundered, feeling that if I wasn't such a failure, I wouldn't be making such a mess of everything.
Considering I left the year I should have graduated, I was surrounded by people who DID graduate. All of my friends got their degrees, and I began to tell myself a story that would stick with me for nearly two decades after.
As my friends graduated, they got their first post-college jobs. Jobs you could only get if you had a college degree. Some went to work for big companies, like Netflix and Walmart. Some jumped around, trying out different jobs, all while exploring their adult lives in a way I could only watch with awe and jealousy.
I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel capable and like I was progressing in my own life. I wanted to feel like I was a part of the world, but instead, I felt shut out and alone.
The job I got was cleaning after hours at my dad's office. Cleaning is by no means a bad job, and I recognize the hard work and ambition of all who become home and office cleaners.
The problem was, everyone around me was doing something vastly different, and I began to determine who I was based on the perspective I was standing in.
What I saw, based on my limited information, were people with something of value. They had a degree, they had something that people wanted, and therefore, they had value. I did not have this thing, and therefore, I concluded I had no value. I was on a much lower level, and this is where my mind got stuck for many, many years.
It makes me sad to write this and to think about how much of my life I've spent repeating this story ad nauseum. If there was any evidence to the contrary, anything that said, "You have value and the world needs you!" I disregarded it as anomalous. Surely these messages were a mistake, because I saw so many other messages that said, "Worthless. Incapable. Loser," and those I determined to be the truth.
I held onto those messages that hurt like heavy rocks that I somehow felt I couldn't live without.
At this point, you may want to shake me by the shoulders at the faultiness of my thinking. How could I have determined my entire sense of self-worth based on whether or not I graduated from college? There are so many people who went on to be wildly successful who never graduated, or who never even went at all. And there are those who never went to college, never felt much desire to be ambitious, and lived a happy and fulfilling life based on what felt good to them.
But that's the thing with stories. They aren't based on the full truth. They are only based on glimpses of reality that we blow up and piece together in a way that satisfies our own inner narrative.
When I look back, I can see how easily this story fit my sense of self at the time. I had no way of knowing what I would do with myself. I had no way of knowing I would one day create my own guided meditations, and offer something to the world that I really do believe has value. I only had what I knew then - which was a sense of failure and worthlessness.
I looked around at everyone around me, which was in itself a very limited perspective, and made a conclusion so fixed I may as well have carved it into stone.
It's incredible to me to look back and consider how much information I filtered out so that I could affirm this ONE story about myself over and over.
I wish I could go back in time and talk to 22 year old Melissa. I wish I could tell her not to determine her entire life's value based on .02% of the information she is seeing. I wish I could hug her and tell her she's going to be okay, and there is beautiful path ahead of her, completely unique to her.
But I cannot go back in time. I cannot change what's done. And so I can only start a new chapter. One I write with more information, and from a place of love and self-acceptance I never allowed myself before.
I don't just want to start a new chapter though. I want to start a whole new book.
I want to look at a blank page and ask myself honestly, "Who are you? What is the story you want to tell about yourself?" I want to fill my new pages with love and hope. And I want to fill them in such a way that I look back 20 years from now and think, now that's a hell of a good story.