You never truly know what a person is going through until you have walked a mile in their shoes. As a young adult, I am constantly asking myself: who I am? I often felt the need to change who I was based on my environment and in the process, I sometimes stunted my own growth. These past four years in college have completely changed me as a person, and at times I struggle to accept how I’m stepping out of my shell and letting my voice be heard.

In high school, I was known for being the short little Muslim girl with a scarf on her head. I was shy and quiet unless you were one of my close friends,  then I was able to show my true personality. I let my insecurities hold me back from truly shining, I so desperately wanted to blend in, but I always stood out. In hindsight, there was no way to blend in being one of the few hijabis at school. I viewed myself as a short, skinny, and underdeveloped, with problematic skin. I looked around at my peers, with developed bodies and perfect skin, and couldn’t help but feel inadequate. Yes, I had people telling me that I was cute and smart, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel that way. I ended my high school career determined, that college was going to be different; I was going to discover and love myself. 

When I made that declaration to myself, never did I imagine how the end results would turn out.  I began college pretty much the same, still shy and reserved, but no longer in hijab. It was not until my second semester that I truly began to step out of my comfort zone and transformed. Inside, I still felt like myself and didn’t understand why the people around me were treating me differently. I slowly started going out more and coming into my own sense of style.  I stopped overthinking and became young, wild, and free; while keeping my grades up and landing a nice internship. 

That summer internship changed my life forever; as much as I gained from the experience, I lost a piece of myself as well. I began to internalize everyone’s opinion of my change and started questioning myself. All of a sudden I was viewed as this privileged, pretty, smart, party girl, that had nothing in the world to be upset about. I was screaming and crying inside, but to the world, I showed a bright smile and highlighted all of my achievements. I felt like my life was becoming a series of unfortunate events, but I had no right to be depressed about any of them. I remember one day I started to open up to someone, but they shut it down immediately. I remember clearly, they said, “what do you have to be depressed about, you’re pretty, smart, and you have a bright future ahead of you”. So, I bottled up all of my negative feelings and put back on my bright smile. 

I had an internal dilemma, I loved how I was growing and blossoming into my own, but at the same time, I was depressed. I never took a break to deal with any of my emotions, until my bottled up emotions broke me. I started making terrible decisions, and not turning to anyone for help, because I felt guilty for being depressed. My parents noticed something was off with me and forced me to go to therapy. 

Let me tell y’all, the best decision I made was going to therapy, but I resisted initially. During my first couple of sessions, I insisted nothing was wrong with me and this was a waste of time. Like most people of color, I had this stigma about going to therapy and it was only for crazy people. Eventually, I let some of my guards down and shared the truth behind my smile. Most of the time when I began to smile or let out a giggle; I’m stopping a tear from running down my cheek. I informed him my Godmother and one of my close friends past away about two weeks apart, and losing them was the straw that broke the camels back. For the first time, I had an honest moment about how I felt after their passing. All of the tears I held back behind my smile began pouring out. After I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I was able to fully express and let out everything I was going through. I received advice from an unbiased person without any judgment. With the help of my therapist, I stopped feeling guilty and the need to apologize for the way people perceived me. I’m no longer in therapy, but I continue to use all of the techniques I’ve learned and it helped me grow emotionally as a person. One of the best advice I received from him was, to stop caring about everyone’s opinions and do what’s best for you. Embrace all of your mistakes and stop apologizing for the decisions you make, that’s helping you heal. I still struggle to fully accept the change in myself, and not to crawl back into my shell. I continue to blossom every day, and I can honestly say, I love who I am and becoming; all of my imperfections are what makes me unique. I’m done apologizing for being Kareema. 

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