You Belong Here

By Sabrina NilsenJune 10, 2024

I got made fun of a lot in middle and high school. I think maybe we all did. Due in part to this, I grew up carrying an extra heavy dose of self-doubt and an inner voice that often tried to convince me that I was an outsider. An imposter. I was always so concerned with what others thought of me and what level in the social caste I had been placed in. I almost couldn’t wait to grow up because it seemed like all the adults around me had it together. It seemed fathomable to young me that they all hit their stride, found their community, and were leading successful and well-connected lives. It must be nice, I thought. I can’t wait to feel that way. 

Not surprisingly, I grew into adulthood with the same default mode of self-doubt that I was in as a teen—though I learned to disguise it better. On the outside, I often come across as an extroverted person who carries a certain laugh-at-yourself level of confidence. As a nervous talker and verbal processor, I share (and overshare) about myself with friends and strangers alike. Sometimes it feels like confidence. But on the inside? That is where my self-doubt lurks in the dark corners, waiting to be unveiled when I make a mistake or when I hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to. Or, when I inadvertently embarrass myself by trying just a little too hard or saying just a little too much. I begin to hear those cruel voices from my past like mosquitos buzzing in my ear, and I remember back to being 13, standing at my locker and praying that a hole would open under my feet and swallow me up, just so I could escape the laughing.

So now I am 42. A wife. And a mother. At one point in my life, I was a well-educated, experienced, and successful person in the world of work—a teacher and a school counseling intern, learning what would become my future career. But after thirteen years committed to being a stay-at-home mom, my self-doubt became one of the main reasons I didn’t feel I would ever be equipped enough to return to the workforce. What could I possibly have to offer now after being away from work for so long? All I’ve done for the last decade is wipe noses and bottoms and cut up fruit—I have no relevant skills.

Sometimes (oftentimes) our inner voices can be so mean.

With a small spark of my own courage coupled with encouragement from my family, I decided to take a chance and apply for an internship here at TWLOHA. This, of course, brought entirely new levels of self-doubt that I was not expecting. I mean, can you even be an intern in your forties?! Do I even remember how to use this technology? Why is my resume so dang boring? Being chosen for the position really bolstered my confidence, and I knew in my heart that I had a lot of good things to bring to the table, but over the course of a few months, my head kept whispering that I didn’t belong. My inner critic was brutal when I made mistakes or asked what I thought was a silly question. Being fully remote made it difficult to gauge the tone of typed words, and this often led to more unnecessary second-guessing of myself.

These unwelcome spirals of thought crept in slowly, without me even realizing it at first. I tend to be hard on myself sometimes, but this was not that. This wave of self-doubt began as a small ripple in the pond which then grew to an all-consuming deluge, convincing me that I was indeed an outsider and that no one wanted me there.

This was not based on facts. No one was actively criticizing me… except myself.

Of the many things learned during my time as an intern, the most surprising by far was being faced with my inner voice and learning how to respond to it. Once I could speak out loud about how I was feeling, it got a little easier. I brought in some trusted friends who knew me well and could encourage me not to assume the worst and to be gentle with myself in this new role. I had to recognize that being away from work for a while was a big contributor to my lack of confidence, but that I didn’t need to hold onto it as a reason to feel like an outsider. Along with that, I also worked to accept that my inner voice doesn’t always speak from a place of truth. Sometimes, my fears and wounded ego take over the logical parts of my brain and play the negative thoughts on a loop like a broken record. While it took some convincing, I began believing that my voice carries wisdom from lived experience and that I can and do make meaningful additions to the bigger picture. And that making mistakes and receiving feedback is all part of learning something new and allowing myself to be known by others.

During the last week of my internship, I received an unexpected package from the TWLOHA team with some end-of-internship thank-you gifts. I was so touched by all the sweet things inside, but the last thing I pulled out of the box really got me. It was a T-shirt. On the front  corner was a small TWLOHA intern logo, and when I turned it around to the back, in big letters was written:

You belong here.

It was almost as if they knew.

I spent so many years of my life feeling like an outsider that I didn’t realize just how powerful those simple words are. All of us on some level want to belong. Somewhere. And being a part of a welcoming and inclusive community is such a valuable tool in healing and growth. A lot of times, we need other people, specifically those who value our true and authentic selves, to build us up when our own inner voices are tearing us down. This entire experience was an important reminder for me to not only continue surrounding myself with supportive communities going forward but also to help build those places and spaces for others to feel welcome and included too. There is so much value in truly knowing others and being brave enough to be known.

People need other people. You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].

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Comments (5)

  1. Jennifer

    As if I wrote this all!! I feel like I found my place ♥️
    Thank you!!

    Reply  |  
  2. Rebecca

    Thank you for sharing some of your life experiences while growing up as a teenager and into an adult.
    It’s kinda ironic how I seem to have had very similar, yet, somewhat different kinda experiences as a teenager, and now as an adult.
    I haven’t quite found my niche yet, but, believe it or not, I am hopeful that my time will arrive and get here, when the time is right. It’s comforting to know that I can never really miss out on what’s meant to be for me☺️😄😊🙌💯♾️ AMEN.
    Hey, by the way, congratulations👏🎉 on finding your niche and place of belong😊. It must be such an awesome and amazing feeling!
    Signed, REF

    Reply  |  
  3. Shawn

    Oh so well written. You have much to say. I would love to be an intern somewhere now, even at 70. You are so brave and your resume is impressive. What is also impressive is your resiliency. Thank you for sharing. Take good care.

    Reply  |  
  4. Austin

    This is awesome..
    I feel like I need something like this. I’ve been disabled since the age of 13 (now 28y.o.) from brain tumors, causing multiple brain surgeries. Growing up I was extremely active. My favorite things to do were play baseball, work out, skateboard, ride my bike, and play basketball, football, and other sports with my friends, sister that’s a year younger than me, and the other kids in the neighborhood. I wanted to join the military in order to serve my country and be able to have them pay for my college education to become a sports medicine physician. But after the brain tumors, I have extreme pain, seizures, and my memory and cognitive functions have gotten really bad.
    I feel worthless, depressed, and want something I can do to help me feel like I have some purpose. And this seems like something I’d be able to do to help others and feel like I have some sort of purpose in life..
    I’m not looking for money or anything. Just help and to be able to help others along the way.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      We are so sorry for all of the suffering you have experienced, Austin. Please know that we are here to hold space for your pain and to remind you that your worth is inherent. It is not dependent upon what you can do or achieve.

      You are more than welcome to apply for the internship program once it reopens again for 2025. Please stay tuned:

      In the meantime, you can always email us at [email protected]. We are here to listen, learn, and offer support and encouragement. We’re glad you’re here.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
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