A while back, I watched an animated film about a pop singer who abandons her persona to become an actor. Troubled by her past, her seemingly perfect life crumbles and falls. She’s timid, fears failure more than anything and despite all her achievements, doubts herself and her abilities; especially as many fans express disappointment with her choices. Her mental state causes her to imagine a mirror image of herself that never gave up singing. Hence, she constantly questions whether she made the right decision and contemplates settling back into her ‘idol’ persona.
As I watched the film, I had this recurring feeling that Mima, the main character, and I weren’t that different. I understood why she felt the way she did, why she acted the way she did, and why what happened happened the way it did. It instantly became a pictoral display for what I was going through.
I did gymnastics for most of my life. I won medals, prizes and traveled a lot because of it. It was ordinary for me to sleep, eat and do my homework in the car as a child. Likewise, practice was brutal, both mentally and physically, so much so that I would often cry thinking it would never end.
Not all was bad, a lot of people knew me because I did gymnastics. I recall one time a small girl approached me and asked for my autograph. As surprising as it was, it felt good to have someone look up to me with genuine awe.
I also got a lot of support and praise not only from adults and peers but also from people in school I didn’t know personally. One time in primary school during a school assembly, I was called on stage in front of the whole student body and was confronted with a difficult question: “Where do you see yourself with gymnastics in the future?” I had never even thought that far and before being able to think of an appropriate answer, a teacher answered for me, “The Olympics!”
Over time, this type of support was the only thing that fueled me to keep going and, in a way, it was my only source of self-confidence. Gymnastics had transitioned from something I did for fun to the only thing that made me feel worth something. Like Mima, I grew into the gymnast persona comfortably, letting it define every aspect of my life and decisions.
Everything started to crumble when I broke my elbow right before high school. I was in a cast for a while and even now I’m unable to fully straighten my left arm.
I quit. There was no way I could fully recover and perform at a competitive level.
Though, having gymnastics finally gone from my life after hating it for years was a relief, it also brought on a bittersweet feeling. Suddenly, what had defined me for so long was snached away and I wasn’t myself anymore, because the only me that anyone ever knew, was the me that did gymnastics.
I started to feel unproductive with the abundance of time in my hands and often missed the chaos. Even now I ask myself if I would be worth more as a person if I were still pursuing what I was deemed as talented at. At the same time, it was the perfect opportunity to try anything I wanted and reinvent myself.
I have always loved animated shows, and growing up I have always had a special affinity with psychological horror animes, especially how artists could get so much expression out of an animated character. Thinking of Mima, I couldn’t believe our parallel lives. I started to explore drawing as a way of expressing what I felt (especially since I’m terrible with journaling) and found I really enjoyed filling up sketchbooks with daily illustrations and renditions of my thoughts and feelings.
Around a year ago, I made my biggest artwork yet. A lot of thought went into it. But similarly to my daily sketches, not much of it makes sense without an explanation. It was time-consuming and tiring, but finishing this artwork felt like leaving something behind that I always wanted to dispose of in my life. I found a new outlet I had not expected and though I don’t practice gymnastics anymore, I can now explore this new me through a new medium and let others see it too.