There is a voice that lives inside all of us - a voice we’d rather not have to listen to. It tells us that we aren’t enough. It makes us question the things we love, the people we admire, and the paths we have chosen. For me, that voice started as a whisper. I heard it when I began developing breasts, and noticed other girls at school wearing training bras instead of tank tops under their school shirts. It got louder as I realized those other girls didn’t have to wrestle with the idea of asking their single father to take them bra shopping. By the time it dawned on me that my wardrobe of ill-fitting jeans and grass-stained shirts were no longer going to cut it, the voice had become unbearable. An uninvited guest that narrated my every waking moment. It was the same voice that told me my problems were pathetic, forcing me into a torrent of guilt for being such a burden to all those around me. A part of me looks back on those moments, and thinks - “well? What 13-year-old girl isn’t plagued with problems of adolescence?” but a bigger part of me knows that is the voice again, trying to shove down the memories of the many things no 13-year-old should have to deal with.
Now, as I sip my third coffee of the day, mindlessly scrolling through a never-ending feed of everything I should be, it dawns on me - the voice isn’t just there anymore. It’s everywhere. It mocks me from behind a conflict-mined screen, built off of the backs of minimum wage workers in Rwanda. It calls to me when I lie in bed at night, my anxiety-ridden mind caught in the same endless feed that has become an ever-present part of my life.
Will I ever be able to afford a home with the current state of the economy? Do I have depression? Is it my fault I am overweight? How does that 24 year old afford to pay $4500 a month for her Manhattan apartment? Am I getting too old to have kids? Is it even fair to bring kids into this world? Do I have ADHD? Am I aware enough of my white privilege? Am I a slave to consumerism? Should I buy the new iPhone? Is my marriage a happy one? Will I really have to work until I’m 75? Am I wrong for not thinking men are trash? Am I old fashioned? Am I just old?
The voice is there, ready to satiate my need for answers. But it’s not just my voice anymore. It’s the melodic, deceptive voice of the fitness influencer who I don’t ever remember following. The mommy blogger who has impossibly beautiful hair. The travel vlogger who has seen places I will never be successful enough to explore. The fashion maven who has more designer clothes than I will ever be able to afford. The trailblazer who has climbed the career ladder that I fell off of. They sing to me, a choir in perfect harmony, and I know that the time has come for me to turn my back to the stage they are staring down at me from.
Luddite. Techno-phobe. Cavewoman. I have heard it all, and I laugh at the irony of how I had to go back in time to move forward with my life. It has been 2 years since I disconnected from the digital world as we know it, and since then, the voice I hear is mine alone. With hindsight and understanding, it has transformed from a nagging enemy to a distant whisper, and I have come to accept it as a kind of background noise that keeps me grounded. Some parts of my life have become a little more complicated, but I find myself reveling in moments of inconvenience these days. Getting stuck in traffic on the way to the store means getting to look out of the window at the passing world. Hunting down clothes in person means actually getting to fall in love with something before I buy it. Having to make a trip across town to catch up with friends means getting to see the unbridled joy on their faces when I tell them I wasn’t too old to have kids, and that I’m pregnant. Needing to go into the office every day, because I am unreachable at home, means that my time is my own. Being bored from time to time means that my books are well-loved, and that I’m getting better at drawing, dancing, and writing. Needing to plan date night without the help of google means getting lost in charming side-streets, and laughing with my husband about my terrible sense of direction.
Shutting off from their voices, means I can clearly hear my own.
My recipes may be older, and my playlists may be a little more selective - but there is something about tasting a meal that turned out to be a new favorite, even though you had to improvise, or hearing an album you’ve been waiting weeks for - that makes you truly appreciate the things you get to call your own. These days, I open my wardrobe with childlike abandon, ready to don whatever calls out to me. I go to the cinema bubbling with anticipation for a film I know very little about. I trudge from the library with the steady weight of words to remind me just how much work went into them, the smell of books fresh in my memory. I am no longer afraid to get help when I need it, the perils of WebMD tucked far away in a past I look at without the softening of rose-tinted lenses. I may choose to “disconnect” but the truth is, I have never been more tethered to the things that make me human. Laughter and love, mistakes and miscalculations. An imperfect reality lived in the moments that so many miss. I am in this world, but I am not of this world. My opinions no longer tainted by fake news or radicalists, my identity no longer decided for me. I feel again, without the barriers we so confidently called progress.
I look up at the sky, and the cumulonimbus clouds warn me of the rain that is sure to start falling. I don’t have an umbrella, and I’m hardly dressed to make it out dry. The first drop lands square on my forehead, and I giggle as it tickles its way down my face. As the drops turn to a steady sheet, I remember that it's been too long since I danced in the rain.