"Growing Pains" the Backstory
Growing up, I remember I used to always look at the adults in my life that I respected and think:
I can’t wait to be that age. I can’t wait to have money. To be free. To be able to have what I want. To go after my dreams. To not be restricted. To love. To not have anyone tell me what to do. To run my own life.
I know. Child Onkar, why were you thinking about the future so much? Isn’t it all about being present? As a kid, I saw my childhood as a time I felt confined and my freedom was at the mercy of the adults in my life. I just couldn’t wait for those next steps.
Yet whether you want to be present or not, growing up isn’t really a process that happens in the future, but starts with the little nuances that make today just a little different than yesterday.
So there it was. There as a kid, is when my story began and the nuances slowly shaped the very person that I am today— through my experiences, my relationships, and most importantly, how I’ve chosen to move forward from each and every one of them.
Yet it’s a little more complicated than that, right? Because we don’t always choose how we move forward from the good and the bad in our lives. A lot of our coping mechanisms and the lens through which we see the world and our experiences is shaped by our beliefs and our limited toddler perspective. Yes, our “limited toddler perspective.” A lot of the ways I deal with things now even is attributed to the subconscious beliefs I developed as a child. Obviously if they’re beliefs that I developed as a child, they probably aren’t the best ones.
For example: My mother is very critical of my academic progress, my cleanliness, and how I carry myself— therefore she only loves me if I please her in all three categories. Her love is conditional. My mom only loves me when I do what she says. There’s more riding on my grades than just wanting to do well in school, it’s my mother’s “conditional” love. And now I may associate my worth or value in direct relation to my professional success because of this conditioning.
That leaves a mark. How we’re treated leaves a mark. Our experiences leave a mark. Our trauma leaves a mark.
I’ve always been one to be very introspective, maybe a little too much because I do get in my head a bit more than I’d like to. But it’s helped me realize things about myself much faster; what I like, what I don’t like, and most importantly, what I want to change.
Before I talk about those changes, I want to share who I am and a bit about my journey; what makes my process a bit different than yours. Ultimately, I hope you find nothing but connection in our journeys, but I do want to share where mine starts for the simple purpose of context. So let’s start with who I am.
I’m Onkar. Onkar Singh Dhindsa in full. I’m 28 years old, I’m a first-generation Punjabi Sikh. I grew up in Los Angeles and would say that I identify very closely with my cultural background, even if I do not express much of that tie. My parents are immigrants from Punjab that came here to escape extreme poverty and to give their children a better life. Their hopes were to hold onto their culture and pass on their values as much as they possibly could to me and my older sister. They definitely were not keen on assimilating into American culture— I still think they just inhabit the space here, but spiritually never left Punjab (that’s a different story though). So yes, I grew up in a very orthodox Sikh family. Up until a year ago, I wore a turban myself. And being an American kid that wore a turban in the 90’s and 2000’s, saying that I stood out would be an understatement. I was the only one that was even Indian at any of the schooling I went to up until college. You can see what sort of alienation and prejudice I faced on all fronts— from classmates, teachers, girls I was interested in, people in public. I was teased, I was bullied. But in my mind, I was just like all the other kids— why was I being treated this way? I was born here and grew up doing the same things you did, right?
How we process our experiences and our emotions plays a big role in our development. I brew emotions inside of myself. Looking back, maybe I can attribute that quality to my parents and how they handled their emotions— but I definitely keep it in. I kept it in then as I experienced alienation from my peers. Furthermore, the 9-11 terrorist attacks pushed me deeper into isolation as I was seen as an outsider that wasn’t welcomed: “E.T., go home!” Pressure on one side to maintain this cultural, religious identity clashed with the pressure to assimilate and want to just “be like everyone else.” Now obviously there’s a narrative within this itself— I chose to see my experiences as isolating and existential attacks on my identity. Nonetheless, it brewed one thing: resentment.
But you deal. You make connections in your mind as to how you’ll avoid experiencing that pain again. And there the mindset becomes ingrained slowly: I’m different. People don’t accept me for who I am. I don’t like being different. I want to change but I don’t want to disappoint anyone. And with this mindset, you begin to live your life accordingly.
As I got older and began to involve myself romantically with women, I was taking these maladaptive beliefs and patterns of how I dealt with my emotions into these relationships. What did they do there? Become further reinforced: I’m different, no one understands me. Of course those relationships fell apart, I didn’t understand intimacy with myself let alone with a partner. I let the pain they left me with brew inside me. I got older, and was already tired of being teased for wearing a turban, teased because people didn’t take me seriously, and now I was beginning to feel like I didn’t deserve to be treated well either.
This fantasy of growing up was turning into a dark reality— the grown up version of myself that I wanted to be was getting further and further away. I had allowed the pain and hardship I had faced to dictate who I was, how I dealt with difficulty, how I processed my emotions, and most of all, how I went after what I wanted. What was going on?
I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to be resentful. I didn’t want to hate my parents for making me do things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t like being told that I had anger issues. What was going on? Since when did I become this person?
But again, it was all the little nuances that made each day different and how I dealt with those nuances that had led me to this point.
One thing I will always pride myself on is my ambition and constant need for change; especially with that which does not serve me. If I’m aware enough to notice that I’m not dealing with things in the best way, then I can also make the changes necessary also. So I committed. When I was 25, I began to really get tired of it. It’s not to say I wasn’t already sorting through my emotions and my trauma in order to productively move past them, but now I was really willing to commit to letting go of my past. I was really willing to do the work.
If it was simply because I was tired of my old ways, and that’s what fueled me, then so be it. Because I really was tired of it. Those childhood fantasies of how special I was and all that I would create deserved actual manifestation. I owed it to myself to live my best life.
I’m not there yet, nor am I close. But I’ve been committed ever since. I’ve been confrontive in my relationships, pushed myself to new limits, embraced my emotions and have practiced actually expressing them. I want to become the person that I myself idolized as a kid. And I’m getting there.
Through my process of adulthood, I realized that part of my moving forward is to reflect and share with others so they too can overcome their limiting beliefs and patterns. Like I said, I’m introspective and in my head a lot. I’m also a teacher, that spent four years in the classroom teaching high school students before moving into the personal growth realm with writing and fitness. Anywho, don’t mind the self-plug. This past New Years, I was reflecting on a big fight my sister and I had and how we got past it. What followed were two very important thoughts:
For one, I thought to myself, “Wow, this relationship has been so much work in recent years that I’ve almost given up on it many times. I’m so thankful that I didn’t but damn, this shit is really hard.”
Second, “I’ve already been sharing my experiences of growth on Instagram, but it’s time to really share my story in an all encompassing piece filled with the lessons, epiphanies, and experiences that have led me to where I am.”
And that’s what I did. That’s what I bring forth to you now. Growing Pains. The pains of growth that have led me to where I am: from the physical transformation of my body, to my intimacy issues, sharing my emotions, healing my disconnected familial relationships, to resolving my own past trauma— this is my story. This is my journey. I start it off by sharing with you a personal story as to what really triggered that journey— on my 26th birthday. And from there, all that I have gotten past, learned, and may still be struggling with.
I’m not a guru, nor have I found any special light— I’m simply honest, candid, and speak a language of relatability that I know you will appreciate.
Learn More about the artist, Tony Pettis, on his Instagram page.
Read the written feature Priyanka contributed to Brown Girl Magazine.
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