Dear 20 year-old Napatsi,
We’re now 33 years old and I have some stuff to tell you. This may be a surprise to you at 20, but you’re basically still a teenaged idiot. I know 13 years isn’t that long, but trust me: you go through a ton of shit between 20 and 33 and embarrass yourself a lot. So I’m here to tell you not to worry… you do get over it and come out pretty happy. I know us, and I know that I am probably the least likely person you will listen to, but remember: I’m in your head and you can’t hide from me so you might as well try to heed my advice.
I’m going to save you some major emotional hell and tell you this: that crushing feeling of self-doubt you have every day is anxiety. Go to the doctor and tell them everything (especially the stuff you don’t want to tell them), but don’t feel pressured to take their shit; sometimes doctors are idiots too. Tell them you want to see a counselor and keep going until you find one who really listens. It’s not easy, it will never be easy, but if you start sooner maybe you’ll have less piled on you than I did. And here’s a hint: it’s not going to work until you sit with your counselor and you tell them the things you didn’t even know you felt. The stuff that makes your skin feel irritated when it finally comes to the surface and shudders across your body. That’s when you start to heal.
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. How scared you are, and the two major things that make you feel the worst: your relationships with men and your crisis of identity. Jesus Napatsi, we’re such a cliché. Let’s start with the fellas; they’re not that big a deal. I know it feels exciting and nice when they like you, and want you, and all of that attention stuff, but eventually we figure out that the attention we want from them is just filling an empty hole where our self worth should be. You have to fulfill that need for yourself. I recommend taking the pride you have in being a Folger – that by-association pride you have whenever you talk about your dad, sisters, and brothers – and more fully applying it to yourself. But don’t worry; I don’t expect your self-worth to skyrocket overnight. Much of my happiness has come from my accomplishments over the last several years. Accomplishments that came from me doing things that scared me - good things, and new things that were hard and frightening and required me to change. Do these things. Change. That is who you are as a Folger and an Inuk; someone who can adapt.
Which brings me to your identity. This is a huge source of guilt for both of us - still. We are half Inuk and half white. You are not “too white” or not Inuk because you don’t speak Inuktitut. I talk to Mom a lot more these days, she’s so proud of us, and so are our grandparents and aunts. Ataatasiaq is so impressed that I bought a car on my own. They love us, no matter how little Inuktitut we speak. They just want to spend time with us. Go visit and let go of that worry that your grandmother is judging you for not speaking Inuktitut. She’s not. You are her very first grandchild. I doubt you could find anybody who is more proud of you (except maybe our Mom and Dad – because they’re freaks about us).
And here is a final thought: the thing that matters least is what other people think about you. Those strangers - the small town, or big city folks that look at you and have a notion of what you should be, don’t matter one single bit. Figure out what you like, what makes you happy and work your ass off to do it. And if you really feel that bad about not speaking Inuktitut, take a class (and that goes for both of us kiddo). Much love to you, younger me, because you’re certainly not giving enough of it to yourself.
Napatsi the Older
Napatsi is an Iqaluit-based freelance writer and Senior Policy Analyst for the Government of Nunavut. She has written both fiction and non-fiction for publications such as The Walrus, Matrix Magazine, The Town Crier and published her first Young Adult novel "Joy of Apex" in 2012 with Inhabit Media.