It was another one of those Facebook games: paste your first profile picture and your most recent one. The idea being to compare how much you have changed in that time.
My first picture, although not uploaded till 2007, is from my first year of university. It was taken in 2005/2006, with an old Motorola flip phone in the Second Cup on the Ottawa U Campus. I was 18.
The second picture is just from a week ago, just before Alyssa’s graduation ceremony. I am 28, turning 29 in just over a month.
It’s an interesting feeling looking at a decade pass.
That was my first year living on my own. At 18, I had decided to go to a university some distance away from my parents. I remember my excitement at getting the chance at independence. I had survived high school because of the promise that University held for me. I was sure that this is the place where I would find the people I belonged with. I would find love. I would find myself outside of the shadow of my parents.
I spent years counting down to this. Just four more years, just three more years, just one more year, month, week, day, hour.
I lived in Leblanc residence: the designated French residence. I was in a shared room. A little cell of a room with two beds, two armoire closets, two desks, and two chairs. I was sharing it with another girl my age. Both of us were in science, though our majors differed. I was BioMedical Sciences, and she was in BioPharmacology. That first year though, most of our classes were the same. My roommate and I got along fairly well. We had the occasional spat, we were two young women sharing a small room together. It makes sense that occasionally we would get on each other’s nerves. All in all though we were friends and spent many memorable moments together.
In many ways I was a very different person than who I am now. At the time, I still clung pretty fiercely to my religious identity. I was a Polish Roman Catholic. I made an effort to get to church most Sundays, even though I hated waking up early. I might have disagree vehemently with the Catholic Church on certain issues – gay marriage, the DE Vinci Code, the treatment of people of other religions – but I also still had many beliefs that I consider actively harmful now. I was Anti-Choice at the time. I sometimes referred to myself a Pagan Catholic, thought that Mohammad wasn’t that bad and could have been a prophet of God as well, and thought that in some way all religions are true and were just the different faces that god showed us. If you had told me then that I would be an outspoken atheist just a few short years later, I would have laughed in your face.
I didn’t yet know what life had in store for me health wise. With the exception of the occasional joint ache, and one weekend of extreme pain that in many ways started my saga of chronic illness, I was abled. This was lucky for me, since the only places I went in Ottawa were places I could walk to. It’s amazing to think just how much I walked in those years. It wasn’t unusual for me to go for evening or late night walks with my crush, or roommate, or friends to Rideau Street, or to the park. Distances that seem too great for me to comfortably travel now were a matter of daily experience for me.
I remember walking to the NAC in heals, and walking back barefoot in the rain. I remember walking along the canal at midnight, a big group of us enjoying the freedom of being on our own with no one to tell us that it was too late. Enjoying the beauty of the lights reflected across the waters. I remember ever one daring trek when friends and I woke up early and walked all the way to the Polish Church from our residence. It took us over an hour, maybe even two
The girl in the picture thinks that she is fat. She is a strange blend of self-consciousness and belief that she is unattractive, and yet also just discovering her own sensuality with a tendency to flirt. I remember testing and enjoying the effect that biting and liking my lip in front of my crush has on him, even while I assumed that I wasn’t really attractive. Now, nearly 100 pounds heavier than I was in that picture, I lament the time I spent so unsure. The years I spent hiding myself and hating myself when I was in fact perfectly average and healthy.
The girl in that picture is Anna. I was still mostly going by the anglicized version of my name. I still believed that I was straight. I still thought I was going to become a doctor. I still believed that as long as I worked hard, that I would be successful just because that’s how life worked. I thought I would be married and have at least one child before I was 30. I expected by now to be starting a career as a doctor, finished with residency. I expected to be relatively well off already, trusting that I would be starting off without debt and having worked and saved during the past few years.
Ten years in Ottawa. Ten years living away from my parents. Away from the community I grew up with. Ten years in a New City that I’m still exploring and discovering. Ten years of struggling with debilitating illness, learning how to be disabled, learning how to be poor.
I changed my major from BioMed to English, when I realized that medical school was not an option for me. I chose English because I was already minoring in it. I was already a writer, even then, though I always thought it would be a hobby. Instead now, 10 years later I am a published author, with one book on the market and another looking for a publisher. I am married, though to a woman. A brilliant woman who helped me learn more about myself in our years together that I had in all the years prior. I learned about privilege and learned how to work on recognizing my own.
I learned that I am made of tougher stuff than I ever thought possible. I survived, with Alyssa, a year and a half of unemployment while waiting to be approved for disability. I survived abusive situations, one health issue after another. Even now on disability, I work hard to keep up comfortable and safe through various business pursuits. I learned that even though my energy and abilities are limited, that I can do more than I ever thought possible. I can build furniture. I can stand up to landlords and find amazing places to live.
I learned I’m a pretty decent cook, and found a passion for food.
I learned that no matter what happens in my life, my desire to help people and to make this world a better place even in small ways is a driving force that won’t go away and will spur me to my greatest heights. I learned that I have a deep capacity to withstand pain both physical and emotional.
I learned that the people I belong with aren’t dictated by some arbitrary standard of intelligence, but people who feel that same driving force – whether due to empathy, or for the sake of their own survive, or some combination thereof.
I look at those pictures and I wonder: how much of those changes are visible on my face?
My taste in glasses clearly hasn’t changed though.