My Friends Say I 'Snapped' The Year I Turned 40

by Virginia Duan
Morsa Images/Getty

I’m so tired of being afraid.

I grew up constantly in fear. Fear of my abusive father. Of disappointing and dishonoring my family. Of not being a perfect Asian American kid. Of not being fluent enough — in Chinese or English. Of being judged all the time by aunties and uncles and teachers and pastors.

I was too loud, too brash, too weird, too young, too opinionated, too boy-crazy, too American, too Taiwanese — too much.

I was perpetually afraid of not being good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough — of not being enough, period.

It was impossible being “enough” when I was both too much and too little at the same time.

I tried to change myself — to twist myself into fitting an acceptable narrative — but it would never stick for long. Not because of principles but because it was too much effort. I simply did not have the energy (or acting chops).

So, I hid my insecurities instead. I masked it by being arrogant and haughty. I thought myself better than everyone else. I constantly felt as if other people owed me and didn’t deserve the success they obtained.

I was full of contempt, spiteful, and mean. I was jealous. Though I didn’t usually gossip because gossips are inherently untrustworthy and I didn’t want to seem untrustworthy — I was snide and cut down what other people said or did.

“Who did they think they were?” was a recurring refrain in my mind. It is not lost on me that now, that same question is directed at me — usually by my detractors, and occasionally by myself when I allow lies to whisper louder than usual.

Who did I think I was? Who, indeed.

My friends say I snapped the year I turned 40. And though I personally don’t think I changed much, from the outside looking in, I understand. While I had never much filtered my opinions or thoughts when I spoke (which was often), I stopped holding back even more. I altered my physical appearance drastically. I released the last vestiges of worrying about what others would think about me; I shifted from outspoken to unapologetic.

Not everyone appreciated it.

For some, I changed overnight from the “right” kind of outspoken to the “wrong” kind and they didn’t know what to do with me. I was once again, both too much and too little. But this time around, I gave zero fucks.

You know what happened? Nothing. And everything.

I suppose it’s not entirely true that nothing happened — but like, I didn’t die. People didn’t leave in droves. I was happier and more alive than ever. I gained opportunities. My writing improved. Amazing people who I’d never thought to be cool enough to know came into my life and stayed.

I’d already put in the work to gain competence, knowledge, and skills so my confidence wasn’t ill-founded. I was no longer threatened.

I became generous — especially when crediting and acknowledging other amazing people. It no longer hurt me to see other people succeed because I knew their wins didn’t equate to my losses. There was room for all of us.

The world was big enough. And the world opened.

I’ve lost people. That stung — but I chose to be grateful for the season I had them in my life. I trusted we were no longer what the other person needed — and I wished them well.

Of course, I do care what certain people think of me. I care about my family, certain friends, and respected mentors — and their good opinion matters to me — because I value them and their insights.

I worry that I am anti-Black, racist, misogynistic, classist, anti-gay, or transphobic.

I worry that I am punching down instead of up.

I worry that I am causing further harm to the vulnerable.

I worry that I am an unkind and unjust person.

So, when these select people say I’m out of line, I work through my initial defensiveness and shame, evaluate their criticism against what I know of them and what I know of the world, and then I own it. I apologize, I learn from it, and I do better.

My ego gets a little bruised, but it helps me let go of the need to be perfect.

I’ve made enemies, too. But what do I care for what people I don’t give two shits about think of me?

If anything, their hatred amused me. When I hate people, I erase them. I ignore them. They cease to exist for me. So for certain people to go out of their way to castigate or shame me — to paraphrase Regina George, why are they so obsessed with me?

They can hate all they want; I can’t hear them.