I know I’m not the first person to say that families can be very tricky to deal with. Yes, they’re there for life, the good ones should always stand by you and all that, but most people know that this hardly guarantees that you’re always going to enjoy spending time with them. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve looked at my parents, my brother, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and thought: do I really belong here? (The chronic depression might have had a hand in a few of those thoughts, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)
Sometimes it was simply because they all have darker skin than me. I took after my white father in skin tone and facial features, but since early childhood I have interacted almost exclusively with my Indian mother’s side of the family; unsurprisingly, being surrounded by people who were mostly darker and far more culturally Indian than me let me know very early on that I was somehow slightly different. Not that they ever treated me as such, but as someone who practically came out of the womb overthinking things, I certainly dwelt upon this sense of difference, both consciously and subconsciously.
Sometimes it seemed like their emotional makeup was almost alien to me. My Indian upbringing served me well when my age was still in single digits – unafraid to talk to strangers, putting on shows for long-lost relatives, running around with a pack of other kids at weddings – but by the time I hit puberty, something definitely changed.
Maybe by that time, the chemicals in my brain had started their downward journey. Or maybe I was just taking after my mother, who has always said she was a quiet, introspective, perhaps slightly melancholy teenager.
At around the age of twelve, people started telling me that my resting expression looked sad. My nerves started to fray around my own family. It was as if one day they became insufferable – too noisy, too exaggerated, overbearing, so intense that I wanted to cover my ears and wrap my brain up in a blanket so that I didn’t have to process a family gathering.
I remember telling my godfather that I wanted to move abroad as soon as I finished school. I imagined living on my own in a tiny flat, beholden to nobody, and finally having the peace that I thought I was craving. Ironically enough, I did end up moving to Germany after my A-Level results, but the rest of the plan couldn’t have changed more.
Writing this at nearly 19, I definitely appreciate my biological family a lot more than I used to. Nevertheless, my original feeling – or aversion might be the more accurate term, even if it sounds far less friendly – towards them, or rather the idea of being forced to be with them and enjoy their company endlessly simply because of the biological title of ‘family’, still exists somewhere in the back of my mind. I felt like I needed another family, people who would become my family through similarity in disposition and interests rather than through the luck of the draw. I loved my biological family nonetheless, but I felt like there was a side of me that they couldn’t comprehend, that only another family might be able to see and love.
In short, I hate the idea of being obligated to do something – being forced to enjoy somebody’s company because of a coincidence of birth. When I was little, I enjoyed that interaction and practically thrived on being a member of a large family, but growing up made the atmosphere feel more and more overheated and stifling. My couple of very close friends, my chosen few who had become members of my new close-knit family, became my fresh air, and I craved them.
Now I live with family friends, a young couple that I see as a pair of surrogate siblings more than anything else. I have a few very close friends, more siblings who sometimes feel closer to me than my biological brother and cousins ever have.The fact that I have chosen them (and that they have chosen me) makes that bond feel so much more special, in my eyes. And the craving for choice and freedom seems to be universal, even if it manifests itself in different ways to different people.
Basically, I am living proof that friends are the family you choose. I’ve also learnt that it’s fine to have as many families as you like, as long as you can love them and feel loved and appreciated in return.