Learning to love my name again

Since day 1 I’ve observed how students love doodling their own names. That’s the first thing many of them do given any downtime, boys and girls alike. Along the margins of their notebooks you’ll find their names in cursive, block letters, graffiti-style…

More recently, my colleague had the brilliant idea of creating an “Honor Roll” board to put up the names of students who are getting the target minimum B in their regular Math class. Everyone got busy writing their names on individual notecards. Boy did that activity take much longer than expected. For the first time, some were meticulously using their best penmanship, even decorating the borders and background, and asking to start over on a fresh card when they messed up. A far cry from the pages of their Math notebooks (you’d think they’re deliberately trying to veer as far from the margins as possible…).

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I mentioned this “phenomenon” to my RCIA instructor, who pointed out that name-writing is a powerful form of self-identity and self-expression . It makes sense that this impetus would be particularly strong during formative and experimental teenage years.

Your name represents you. It’s how you represent yourself to others, as well as to yourself, and is something people associate with you. While deep in depression, I developed a profound shame of my own name.

I wasn’t too surprised by how I hated seeing myself in the mirror — that happened the previous two time I was depressed and was a natural consequence of an unhealthy self-esteem. What was new this time round was how I hated seeing my name, hearing my name, and worst of all having to say my name.

While deep in depression, I had neither the mental energy nor agility to understand why this was happening. It’s clear to me now. I had come to attach my name to everything I have done, but most of all my failures and mistakes.

I had come to despise my own existence. And your name, after all, is like footprints of your existence — it’s attached to virtually everything you’ve done: essays, standardized tests, consent forms, report cards, college applications, job applications, diplomas, awards, text correspondences, email correspondences, credit card purchases…

Since I was so plagued by overwhelming shame for everything I have ever said and done, I naturally began to be ashamed of my name. It is nothing less than soul-crushing to come face-to-face with your own name, one with which you’ve lived for more than two decades, and find that you’ve done nothing but sabotage and tarnish your own legacy.

Meeting new people was torture because it meant having to introduce myself. I’d reached a point where I’d begun to feel alienated from my own name. Saying my name had become like saying the name of an enemy! I hated having to wear my name tag at work. I squirmed in the inside whenever I had to introduce myself to colleagues and students. It made it hard to be fully present in any situation when you’re subconsciously trying to dissociate yourself from your name, your identity.

But as I make my journey toward full recovery, I am learning to be kind to myself. I am learning that there’s a depressed Karen, a non-depressed Karen. A proud Karen, a humble Karen. An insecure Karen, a confident Karen. A selfish Karen, a selfless Karen. A Karen who makes mistakes, a Karen who does things right. A hypocritical Karen, a genuine Karen. A Karen who wasted many opportunities, and a Karen who is learning from her mistakes. A Karen crippled by doubt, a Karen who walks by faith.

I am not perfect. I don’t mean to say that to suggest that I’ll just have to live with that. Instead, I am saying this: every up and down, every failure and success, is an important part of my journey toward becoming the Karen Zainal that God created and ultimately desires me to be.

Hear me, coastlands, listen, distant peoples. Before birth the LORD called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” (Isaiah 49:1)

My name is Karen Zainal and I am proud of it.

I will end with this beautiful passage taken from The Inner Voice of Love, the “secret journal” of Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who went through a debilitating cycle of depression:

There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgent, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.

Can you identify with any of this? Have you ever attached shame to your own name? What’s the story?

Related post: Being depressed did not make me “an innocent in hell”

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18 thoughts on “Learning to love my name again”

  1. I can relate to much of what you said, especially the part about looking in the mirror. I didn’t experience it as much with my own name, but I think that is because I would sometimes enter a state of numbness when things were really bad. Thank you for writing about this and the progress you have made.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I am learning that there’s a depressed Karen, a non-depressed Karen. A proud Karen, a humble Karen. An insecure Karen, a confident Karen. A selfish Karen, a selfless Karen. A Karen who makes mistakes, a Karen who does things right. A hypocritical Karen, a genuine Karen. A Karen who wasted many opportunities, and a Karen who is learning from her mistakes. A Karen crippled by doubt, a Karen who walks by faith.”

    Struck me reading this post that too often few of us acknowledge what multi-faceted unique gems we each are. We learn/try to keep one reflection and facet pointing at the world. Never realising how obvious the others are. Seems to me we could all do with learning how to accept being all the things you list here – and maybe become far happier in the accepting.

    (And I remember spending weeks refining my “signature” – weeks!! Thank you for the fun memory jog!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Reinvention Diary and commented:
    Interesting post closing with a beautiful quote:
    “There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgent, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so glade to hear your story as there have been times in my life, like currently, where I hate hearing my name. Hearing that other people experience this makes it a little easier to acknowledge. I think through acknowledging it, that I will soon be able to say my Name Nichole Frame.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I thought it would be normal to not like the own name. I can only appreciate my nickname but in school noone except my closest friends call me with my nickname. So I hate it when other students call my with my name. I always ask myself why they have to call me with name instead of shouting at me knowing that calling one with their names is more politely then anything else. So I had to accept my surname as it is. But I yet hate introducing with me surname. Therefore I mostly introduce myself with my nickname.

    I’m really glad to found your blog. Since I read one text I come everyday to read your newest one. That’s my motivation for getting better in English.
    Thank you for getting comfortable with English way easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is amazing: “You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. … It… can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

    Thanks for visiting my blog today. I’m glad I’ve found yours.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Having attended a private school with a graduating class of 30 people, I so looked forward to designing my own yearbook page during my senior year. It was so much better than those little thumbnail pictures where everyone dressed alike in the public school yearbooks. This was part of my statement for posterity as to who I am. This was like your students’ opportunity to create individual post cards.
    But part of my yearbook statement was that I was the only person in my class who did not put one’s name anywhere on the page. There were no bold letters, no script, no cleverly devised diagrams. It was a relatively small picture of me in the lower left-hand corner of the page, looking up at an aerial photo of NYC (I went to college with the intent of becoming an urban planner and NYC is MY city.)
    The name my parents gave me was purposely omitted. I was totally detached from it. I had secretly renamed myself around age 10-11. And being alienated from it, I was becoming alienated from the world. It was a challenge: if you can’t remember who I am without help, you don’t deserve to know.
    But that was just a facade. In my case, however, it was not depression that caused the detachment. It was gender.
    The rest of the world for many years was telling me that I should be ashamed of my new name. But now I have no shame letting everyone know that my name is LOIS SIMMONS. And anyone who will not accept that name no longer has a place in my life.

    Like

  8. every time that I’ve lived alone, I’ve removed all the smaller and temporary mirrors from the walls. the permanent or larger ones, I covered them all with posters and wall scrolls. I *hate* seeing my reflection. it’s like looking into the eyes of hell or something. blah.

    regarding the name-writing, I’m 28 and I *still* do it!! I scribble my name all over the side of notes and handouts. my name is what I know best to write, because I’ve done it so often in my lifetime for one reason or another.

    and thirdly, *beautiful* quote!

    Like

  9. I found this article on “The Mighty” website…. I love it so much. I hate meeting people, introducing myself. If I spell my name as Anne, I get called Ann. I want to be Annie but I also want to be taken seriously.

    I dislike saying my own name out loud although I like writing it, experimenting with lettering. I’m so much more comfortable writing anything out than uttering it aloud.

    Like

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