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Inevitable Path to Freedom | Katie’s Story

Katie Lai became my mentee last year, as a participant of our Teens Empowerment Program at CandleX. She’s a multi-talented young lady, and the video editor of my article on “Effortless Consistency”. The first stage of the program is on self-awareness and self management, which begins with an article that these teenagers writing about their own life in a reflective and honest way. Katie’s always on top of tasks and proactive. However, this piece took her much longer than I expected.

“I hate to admit that it has taken me days to finally begin writing. Mainly because it contradicts with my confrontational and brave persona on a daily basis. It’s partially also because I want to publish and showcase something that would represent me entirely. But mainly it’s because I’ve never really been so candid and cultivated courage to write this down.” -Katie

The first step of looking inward to see ourselves wholeheartedly, accept all the different parts of us takes patience, courage and self-love. I didn’t have the opportunity to do it until I was 30 years old. Now, I am just glad that I get to create this opportunity to the next generation, and I enjoyed working on this piece with Katie. I hope you enjoy reading it too.

Psychotherapist, Director of CandleX

Author: Katie Lai. HongKong


Time: Jan 2024

In the intricate tapestry of adolescence, my narrative stands out as a testament to the solitary path forced upon me by circumstances beyond my control, admittedly full of rewarding and eye-opening experiences yet at times agonizingly lonely. Hi, I’m Katie Lai, a 17-year-old student studying in Hong Kong with a complex family legacy of a mixture of Chinese mainland and Hong Kong heritage. Next year, I’ll be 18 and have the legal authority to take full responsibility for myself. While the reality of adulthood and the ideology of enforced independence may be daunting, terrifying, and may even seem like a huge leap for most youngsters growing out of their teenage years, I, on the contrary, have only waited on this turning point in life for as long as I could remember because I saw it as an exit pass from my muddled circumstance with grappling with the premature burden of responsibility and fulfilling the expectations of teenage naivety and youthfulness.

Following up the years until today, the question 'What made me the person I am now?" was rooted deep in my subconscious, mainly to serve as a keen reminder to be grateful towards everyone and everything around me, but also for self-awareness and reflection. Obviously, there were countless considerable factors and no declarative answer to this rhetorical question. But separation always drew huge attention, specifically when COVID struck. An invisible wall of strict border controls separated me and my family between Mainland China and Hong Kong. It snatched away the opportunity for free mobility and placed a permanent strain on the relationship between my parents and me. The physical separation made us communicate less, share less, and connect less, to the point where most phone calls were made not to hear about my day but to check if I was safe and at home. Admittedly, in some aspects, it allowed us to focus on developing ourselves and minimized distractions of any sort. But what changed me the most was the freedom—with separation came freedom, which I later learned also carried a great deal of responsibility.

Soon, I realized that I could not fully rely on my parents for every important decision I made. Frantically, I was pushed into a trial of independence, adapting myself to situations without a parental guide, and being given crucial roles in dictating life-altering decisions. It was tough. I'm sure many could resonate with the sudden pressure imposed on us as teens. The sudden exhausting yet exasperating, almost flabbergasting feeling that one could have so many roles in life and so much to carry on their shoulders at such a young age. It made me doubt and downplay myself. Is the matter at hand really that deep, or am I just over-amplifying the situation? Isn’t this what most teenagers are going through anyway? Time lapsed and growing up in this emotionally self-reliant environment removed the colors of adolescent naivety and immaturity from me, which juxtaposed my peers’ carefree childishness—a quality that I should possess, especially at this age of pure bliss. The separation had propelled my emotional and mental growth but erased my precious naivety. Sometimes I wish I had retained more youthfulness with the help of my parents’ presence and physical support. I wish I had someone who’d always be there to tell me what’s right and wrong, good and bad, but nonetheless, I remain eternally grateful for everything that has happened because ultimately it only pushed me to develop a profound sense of self-reliance and adaptability.

On the other hand, with separation, freedom also came with the substantial obstacle of experiencing and getting used to the state of seemingly long-lasting solitude. In the beginning, I detested emerging feelings of seclusion and desolation, as I thought it was a signal of weakness and unnecessary neediness but also a signal of ungratefulness towards the sought-after freedom I had. “You shouldn’t be feeling lonely right now." “Why are you unhappy? You have the freedom that everyone wants out there!” Thoughts as such forever reverberated in my head whenever I felt a tingly creeping sense of isolation. Thankfully, it was not long until I met my group of savior friends who pulled me out of this unhealthy cycle of toxic thinking. Listening to their experiences taught me it was normal to feel lonely, even as teens with parents who are constantly around—aloneness was simply an essential stepping stone to growth. It wasn’t my freedom that created all the ‘avoidable’ loneliness; rather, we would’ve all felt lonely at some point, varying by circumstances. Loneliness and a craving for companionship aren’t signs of weakness or insufficiency but of the natural human orientation and its desire to connect and communicate. I was so relieved to learn that many others also felt the same way I did and provided companionship and guidance when I felt the most vulnerable and alone. Close friendships really brought the color of adolescent delight back into my life. Nevertheless, though separation took away aspects of my life I wished I kept, it has also undeniably provided me the chance to experience the elation of long-lasting connections and allowed me to create my guiding direction for the transition to adulthood.

Sharing this publicly and even having the courage to think deeply of separation took persistence and resilience I had not previously envisioned before, and yet what kept me writing was that I’m sure there are countless teens like me silently struggling with this matter. Above all, I hope that sharing my reflection it can induce acceptance of separation; that it is so normal and inevitable; that just like me, so many others feel the same way even under varying circumstances; that ultimately every challenge of separation will always have their hidden glistening gem sparking a source of light towards our path to growth.

(All pictures are from Katie Lai)


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