Essay Competition: What I Have Overcome to Be Myself

My Story: N.N.
Ivan Dimov Was the Final Speaker at TEDxAUBG

Essay Competition: What I Have Overcome, to Be Myself

On April 20th the shooting of Single Step's new project is starting, with the participation of world renowned film professionals that are supporting our cause with great enthusiasm.

On this occasion we announced an essay competition "What Have I Overcome, to Be Myself" as the winner will join us during the set and here we are publishing the best three texts.

We would like to thank all of you who sent us your personal stories and shared with us the lessons you've learned!

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"I managed to become someone who never gives up, dreams big and looks for happiness"

N.V., 16, winner

I never imagined I would be on the receiving end. Most of us have heard all kinds of stories about children and families that go through a number of difficulties - but not many of us can truly imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. In fact I don’t think anyone really knows unless they have been through the same.

In the course of a few years I had to go through more than one things that a child has no way of being prepared for. A few days after my eleventh birthday, my parents announced their upcoming divorce. I couldn’t help but remember all of the times I had heard them fight and watched my mother struggle to breathe in the aftermath. I thought to myself, maybe it is the only way they can be happy and in this way we would be in a better place too.

After the divorce the person I loved the most changed drastically. My father and I had always had a very strong relationship. I’d always thought he got me and would cheer me on in everything I took up. However, it seemed like the time had erased his support towards me despite his reassurance that he would always have my back. I was dreaming of being an actress. When I shared this with him, he told me that I simply had no talent. Nevertheless, it was still my dream. I was thinking about it so much that there was no way I could just drop it. And this is when I made the decision that no matter what he said, I would achieve everything I had planned.

Not long after I started to get sick quite often and I had to have a lymph node bioscopy performed. As time went by I started to look different. My neck was twice or even thrice the size of other people’s. I could no longer bear it. It would be a period of long days that I wouldn’t get up or go out. I was ashamed by the way I looked. I just wanted it all to end. I promised myself that I would never give up. I had dreams and goals I was going to chase and would not let anything get in my way. I went through three rounds of chemotherapy, each of them consisting of two four or five hours going through blood transfusion. During these times I had many times in which I wanted to give up, but my mom was always with me and taught me how to love life.

She showed me that fighting is worth it. Having the opportunity to experience the real happiness that comes from making your dreams come true is worth fighting. Living is worth fighting.

I never stopped going to school. I would wake up every day with the thought of spending the hours ahead as well as I can, so that when the bad days come, I could look back and think about these moments and through that, have a clear vision of what it’d be like when in only a few hours from then, my struggles would be over. In less than a year I was completely healthy.

I went to for my third medical examination and got the results in a few days time. It had worked, I wasn’t sick anymore. At first it was difficult to talk about it, as I did not want to be pitied. I never let anyone treat me as a sick person. I realized that there would always be someone who would pity you, but the truth is that the people we pity for their difficult experiences are much stronger than we think. It took me all of this to become myself and know who I am really, what I dream of, what my goals are and how much I can bear.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t change a thing. All that I went through in fact built me up as a person. I became exactly who I’ve always wanted to be and despite every obstacle I never stopped dreaming. I love soaring in my dreams, it’s what I find the biggest support in. I managed to become someone who never gives up, dreams big and looks for happiness even when on the outside it seems like they would never find it there. When I was 11, I had a dream - to become an actress. Now that I am 16 my dream is still the movies.

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"No one except for me could take that first step"

N.N., 18

What did I have to overcome to be myself? There’s only one answer: myself. That was the one most important moment in my life, the moment when I realized that I had in fact been that unbreakable barrier.

We think that when we ignore something it ceases to exist. We try being like everyone else: bland, the same. We believe that being “different” is something to be ashamed of, something that’s not allowed. We’re afraid that if we break away from the crowd, we’ll be lonely, betrayed, or left behind. We’re afraid of the insults, the strange, over-the-shoulder looks of people judging us without even knowing us. We look for blame within ourselves. We join a war lost long ago.

I was too part of the gloomy crowd that makes us afraid to show our true colours. I thought I was the only one like this; I was afraid of every thought I had. I can’t remember how many times I’ve hidden under my favourite childhood blanket and cried about how people speak without knowing the power their words have…

I will never forget the insults and looks they gave me. I will never forgive them for not showing a drop of empathy. I cannot forget all the slaps I’ve received that I didn’t deserve - both physical and psychological; nor can I forget the lessons I’ve been taught by people whom I didn’t even know. Every day turned into a new, harder challenge. I was tired, desperate, and, most importantly, alone.

This continued until I finally realized my strength. After nights full of tears, thoughts, and meditations, I was finally ready to face my greatest fears. On the road to self-acceptance, the most important step, and the most difficult one, is the first. After it, I felt free. I knew very well that without its colours, this world would not be the same. The unbreakable barriers no longer existed.

Only then did I realize how much time and energy I had wasted denying the unchangeable truth. I WAS DIFFERENT. No one except for me could take that first step. I was free and true to myself. I became an entirely different person. I was confident: the fears that had held me back were now gone. I understood how great it is to not depend on people’s opinions. When you overcome all that, the homophobia and the fear to walk out on stage… I will never forget: ORLANDO, HARVEY MILK, CECE McDONALD, HANDE KADER and so many others… I would love to know what it is to be yourself, normal, accepted, equal, free, open, loved, happy… I would love to know what it feels like not to feel thrown away, to have equal rights; not to be a target for bigotry and inhumanity; to know, that you won’t disappear because of homophobia.

In spite of everything and everyone, those who manage to overcome their fears will always be unstoppable.

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"How can a piece of clothing make me a good or a bad person?"

Vyn, 18

"So many things to confess, a universe of truths to say
in the so simple, but honest words, “I’m gay”

For my mother

Not very often do we hear about someone’s personal struggle with heterosexuality; still, at 14 I was unable to understand what was wrong with me. I felt so uncomfortable with my heterosexual, cisgender identity, knowing that thousands would kill for it because of their own unique nature and how it tore apart their families or threw them in psych wards. I couldn’t fathom it; I felt trapped in my fear, unable to accept what I struggled to believe about myself.

I never did accept it, which only made the whirlwind of emotions that hit me a few years later a little easier to take. In other words, just as I was about to turn 16 something else turned within me: something flipped within me as if someone took my identity and not only spun in around but threw it so far away that I still don’t know what’s happening and where it is. It just needed the right person to make it happen. For me it’s definitely true that there isn’t an appropriate age to deal with something so emotionally taxing. It wasn’t enough that my hormones were rushing or that I had problems with my body; crises like these made sure that my sweet 16 weren’t going to be sweet.
“Mom, look at the shirt I bought!” I show her my purchase. I’m sure she’ll love the colour.
“Let me see.”
“Men’s. Again.”

I feel physical pain, most often in the eyes. I don’t remember how many times like this I’ve slammed the door behind myself and cried because I couldn’t understand how a piece of clothing can make me a good or a bad person. Why does she get so angry when I buy men’s clothing, and smile from ear to ear whenever I do something even remotely “feminine.” Why doesn’t she say anything, not even raise her voice, when I skip class, or get a bad grade? Why is the apparently horrible thing we called gender scarier that whether or not our children are growing mentally and intellectually?

I’m not a boy; that word doesn’t mean anything to me. The guitar doesn’t make me a boy, neither does my button-down, neither does my short hair. My pink backpack doesn’t make me a girl, neither does my lip balm, neither does the fact that I like watching Gossip Girl. Only your mind can decide these things. Not a piece of paper, blue or pink, with your name and date of birth on it; not your body; and, most importantly, not other people. Only your mind. And mine has been pretty silent. I finally decided to listen.

The truth is that even though it has not been that long, these past four years have probably fit in as much growth for me as a teenager as an entire decade for an adult. That’s how much it took me, from when I was 14 to when I was 18, to reach inner peace, at least about this. We’re allowed to act crazy, because we can learn from our mistakes; we’re crazy because we look for ourselves and create ourselves; and explore ourselves and sometimes reach extremes. That’s only the beginning on the road to our true self. Street corners and traffic lights, and crossing at red lights, and going back the same road, realising we took the wrong turn.

I screamed at my loved ones; I tore my letters and ended friendships; I went to therapists; I hid, and I ran, and I fought, tears in my eyes, with the known and the unknown, with my body and my soul, with my mind and my heart. What did I overcome to be myself? Myself. Only myself.