How to Be Yourself Again

How to not lose your favorite parts of yourself as your life ebbs and flows
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Created by Uchechi Princewill

Published on Apr 7, 2024
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How to Be Yourself Again

I haven’t written anything new in nearly a year. I’m a writer, but I don’t feel like one. I feel like a fraud. A poser. A man wearing the shell of his greater self who’s up and gone and may not return. I’m frightened by it, this absence of my greater self, this fraying of a lustrous shell I cannot maintain because I fear I am no longer its owner and no longer can be. I’m terrified.

How can I be myself again?

Last year, in August, I wrote the hardest exam of my life. It was my MBBS Part 3, covering the four pathology specialties, as well as pharmacology. Writing the exam took less than a month. Preparing for it consumed my year, and quite a few months of the previous year, too. I passed—I’m thrilled about that—and yet I’ve come out on the other side feeling hollow, less. To pass that exam, here’s what I had to sacrifice.

In 2020, during the lockdown at the start of the pandemic, I started a writing group called The Story Tree Challenge. It began as a group of friends writing together to stave off boredom, but grew to become something infinitely more precious. We learned and grew and added to our number. We published an anthology. It’s not our best work. It was, when we released it, but the animus of our group was growth and we have grown enough beyond that anthology that we recognize how much our writing has become better in the years after. Last year, in 2023, I think The Story Tree Challenge died. Life caught back up. I imagine it’s been racing back at us since the lockdown ended, but having to pull back on the structure and ritual of our cooperative writing as the shadow of the most difficult exam of my life loomed… it slowed us down enough for life to catch up. My friends are older now, have more responsibilities; many of us are no longer students. The corporate world demands their attention, just as medical school demands mine. The Story Tree died. The shell’s still there. The occasional echo of 'hello!'  in the groupchat. The meetup between a couple friends who found each other because of our group. The hollow promise that one of these days, we’ll do something. It frightens me.

At the start of 2022, my writer’s resolution was to write one short story for each month of the year. A couple of those stories got published. One got shortlisted for a prize. According to my resolution, I would have written twelve short stories by the end of the year and edited them till they were brilliant. I was going to try things, stretch myself as a storyteller and as a prosaist. I didn’t finish. In the end, four were complete—for January, February, March and April. Three were halfway done—May’s, June’s and July’s. I haven’t written a story since. Since 2023 began, and I began to be pulled in the wake of my exam’s gravity, I haven’t even looked at those stories. I haven’t flirted with fixing a sentence or agonized over a word choice. Haven’t thought up a new plotline for where I got stuck. On some days, consumed as my mind can be by the all-demanding nature of my studies and clinical responsibility, I’ve forgotten I was even writing a story at all. It frightens me.

In late 2022, I lent my voice to a series of reviews written by my friend, Raheem Omeiza, for his new TikTok film and literature channel. I also assisted in crafting the videos to go along with my voiceover narration. Raheem provided the perfect clips, and I learned to use Premiere Pro and Audacity well enough to stitch them together and stick my voice underneath it all. I was ecstatic; joining myself to another’s artistic endeavor, becoming an essential part of it, soothed the part of me that lived in terror of becoming a caricature of myself. We released four videos, reviews of one book and three films: Diaries of a Dead African, by Chuma Nwokolo; Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men; Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum; and James L. Brooks’s Terms of Endearment. There’s a fifth video, a review of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, but it was never released. Life caught up to both my friend and I, at staggered intervals. I was never ready when he was, and vice versa. A few people have asked me and him, “Whatever happened to the reviews you were releasing a while ago?” It’s the same answer I give them. “Soon.” Soon, I’ll have time. Soon, I’ll call Raheem and say, hey, we should at least post that last video we made. Soon, I’ll finish the Premiere Pro course I started because I wanted to make each video better than the last. Soon, I’ll finish that Audacity course as well. Soon, I’ll do something. Soon, I’ll be myself again. But when is soon? It frightens me.

How can I be myself again? 

Well. Maybe I’ve been here before. Or, at least, somewhere similar.

In 2017, I was freshly admitted into university to study medicine, and I had found a way to import every aspect of my life into campus, save one. I’m an amateur pianist. I play in church. I play at home when I can take the church keyboard home with me, and until I needed to leave home for university, I’d never run into a situation where I was so completely cut off from my instrument. I didn’t have a personal practice instrument, so I couldn’t take one to school with me, and I was too broke to buy one. School was too expensive on its own, and my family was too large and full of dependents to justify adding the tangential purchase to my parents’ tally. So, during my first year in school, I didn’t touch a keyboard. When I returned home for the holiday, my fingers were stiff, the music didn’t flow, and nothing came to me as quickly as it did before. I was rusty, and I was scared as hell. I spent that holiday working on technique. I started learning to read music—I’d only played by ear before—and I began delving into theory. I trained my fingers for dexterity and I learned some of the why of music. 

When I resumed for my second year, I still didn’t have an instrument. I stole a few chances with a piano wherever I found one, but I never had any reliable access. However, I was no longer taunted by the music. I engaged with it. Deconstructed it in my head, wherever I heard it. Thought through how I would play it. Married the acuity of my ear to the theory in my brain. I was still rusty when I came home again at the end of that second year, but shaking it off wasn’t as difficult. My head was sharp, so my fingers stumbled along until they danced again. I’ve done some variation of that dance every year until this one, refusing to give the music up. And now, I’m saving up for a proper digital piano of my own. I’ve not succeeded in becoming the musician I set out to be when I touched a piano for the first time as a pre-teen, but I’ve managed to remain the version of me that aspired and leapt and walked and sometimes crawled toward it—in that sense, to be myself.

How can I be myself again? 

First off, my 'self' is not a stationary object. I am in flux, and my world is forming me. It frightens me that I’m having too little say in the person I’m becoming, and that the parts of me I loved the most are now diminished. But I was never a widely acclaimed writer in the first place. I’ve always been aspiring. Always that guy whose written some good stuff, who could be great. Who struggled to be a writer, even though he could just stop whining, focus on becoming a good doctor, and call it a day. And for the sake of all that’s good, 


I just turned twenty-three. I’m agile. I’m susceptible to random bursts of inspiration. I’m writing for the first time in a while about the fact that I haven’t written in a while. I’m getting a handle on this new phase of medical school. It doesn’t need to consume me totally. I’ve written today. I’ll write tomorrow, even just a little bit. The Story Tree Challenge isn’t dead. The people are alive. The group shed its leaves for winter, but spring is just around the corner.

How can I be myself again? I’ve always been myself, stretched, highlighting a different part for each separate occasion, for each difficulty. When certain situations persist, it can feel like I am only that part of me, all the time. But like with music, I have to hold my favorite parts of who I am in my mind, so even when that person can’t come out right now, he’s still able to, whenever he can steal the time.

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