This is a tricky subject for me to talk about. In fact, to this day, no one knows this story. I’ve made sure of it. Those that know me as Adrien might be surprised. Those who knew me before saw some surface events. No one really knows, no one ever really will. Maybe you’ll learn something interesting. Here is a glimpse of my messy truth.
There are experiences that really challenge you to the depth of your being. This was one of those for me. Everyone goes through stuff they would rather not talk about. When you get to the point where you are able to articulate what you went through true healing starts occurring. There is great power in owning your story. The first times I tried writing out this story I realised I still had a lot of work to do. I would get triggered, ignore it, then come back to it.
Struggling with an identity crisis is tough for any person that goes through it. Not knowing who you are and trying to define yourself is something every single human struggles with. Over the past years this has been a unique challenge for me. It has taken years for me to get to the point of looking at something that caused me so much pain. I’m still in the process of finding approval for it.
What am I talking about you ask?
My birth name isn’t Adrien. I used to be Marwan Jamai. It stayed that way for the first 15 years of my life. Then it brutally changed. I didn’t deal with it so well. This is the story of what happened when it changed.
In 2008 I moved to France from the US because my parents’ Green Card application got rejected and their Visa’s were expiring. This meant we had to leave the Country. A new place, no friends, no job, a difficult situation to say the least. My world fell apart. I lost the little friends that I had. I struggled building new friendships. Two years later my parents suggested I skip a class in school because I was so bored and it was so easy for me. I agreed. This crushed my spirits and destroyed the few friendships I had just built once more. My self-esteem plummeted. My parents never showed me or talked to me about making friends. They didn’t have any. I never really decided what I wanted. I just when along with what my parents recommended. I felt powerless. This is a pattern of mine. Move to the France, OK. Learn this, OK. Go to school, OK. What to skip a class? OK. Go to med school? OK. OK was my modus operandi.
I went to school. I got really good since it was the only place I could get a little self-esteem. I struggled socialising. I picked up Rowing as a sport. It became my emotional outlet.
In 2011 my parents decided it would be a good idea if i changed my name. The rationale behind it was that my Dad was struggling finding a job because of his Arabic Name. And my parents were convinced it was the reason they didn’t get the Green Card and had to leave the US. Following that reasoning if I wanted to have a future and job opportunities it would make sense for me to change my name. As a child I didn’t know anything about the real world. My parents told me the way things were. If they said so, it must be true. Besides if I did change my name I would be doing what my dad was doing. Yeah, OK, I guess, it’s probably a good idea.
As with many things in life you often don’t know what you are getting yourself into until you’re in it. This was no different. The theory of changing you name sounds simple. All you do is change a couple letters on your ID. No big deal, you’re still the same person. In practice, especially for a teenager who is in the middle of trying to define who he is in the world, adding another degree of difficulty to an identity crisis isn’t the smartest thing in the world.
I’d always been told that my parents hesitated between Adrien and Marwan to name me. My dads Moroccan origins won. I never made much of it. I was just living my life. Sometimes I’d play video games and use AMJ as initials.
After some theoretical conversations, in 2012 the ball was set in motion. I met with lawyers. My parents briefed me on what to say, what stories I should tell the lawyers for them to agree. I told a couple lies. Most of the stuff I was telling the lawyers were fabrications my parents fed me and told me to tell them. I knew it wasn’t true but by now I had learned how to lie proficiently. Especially to my parents and everyone around me. A little lawyer I didn’t know would be a piece of cake. Just add some tears and they’ll believe you. After a couple meetings, I finally went to Bordeaux to plead my case in front of a judge. Now this wasn’t anything dramatic. Just a small room with a couple lawyers and a judge around a table. They were wearing black robes. I went in alone. My dad was waiting outside.
He’d told me what to say more times than I can remember. So I did. I told them exactly what my dad wanted me to say. I lied my face off. I still remember the feeling I had sitting in front of the judge, feeling alone, knowing something was wrong, but deciding it was easier to lie. I was so used to it. Besides my father was outside. If I told the truth what would I tell my father? I had one story to tell. In retrospect this seems like a perverse kind of peer pressure done by someone who genuinely believed he was doing something good. I know, it’s complicated.
I went back home. I went back to school. I never told anyone about it. All I had to do now was wait.
In the summer of 2013 I got a new name, a new photo, a new ID. As a bonus I even got to choose my signature. I took some time perfecting it. That was easy. In fact, everything leading up to this point everything had been so easy. This is an important thing to understand. I barely had to do anything. It’s kind of like when you check the “ I agree to the terms “ checkbox when you use an app or website. It is so easy to do. But you have no idea what you’ve just agreed to. I understood what changing your name was on a basic level. I just talked to 3 different people on 3 different occasions. I knew what story to feed them. I never told anyone who could have told me it was a bad idea. I didn’t have any close friends to talk to. It seemed so normal for my parents. There was no friction on my side.
Now I was officially Adrien Jamai.
I’d been playing a big game of pretend.
Then things got real. Summer break was over. I had to go back to high school.
This is where I realised theory is not practice. I knew the theory, but no one ever explained to me what happens in practice. What are you supposed to tell people? I just changed names? I didn’t yet realise how hard this was about to be. The game of pretend I was playing was about to go to a whole new level.
I’d already spent one year in high school and I had two left. The first day of the school year, I had a new name. Normal. New professors had no problem, they didn’t know me. Old professors that knew my previous name would call me Marwan, then correct themselves. I was discovering how embarrassing it is to have that happen in front of the whole class.
When I became Adrien I started denying Marwan. I tried to cut it out of my life like the plague. My parents framed my name as a problem. I was self-conscious. It felt like I was a problem. I denied everything attached to my name. My Moroccan origins, my feelings, my personality. I became a shell of a person. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was all alone and no one seemed to understand me. Who could relate? I shut the fuck up and kept it for myself.
I had only seen my Moroccan side of the family one time. I figured my parents had bad relationships with them. I was angry, frustrated and lost.
Keep in mind I wouldn’t explain what I was going on to anyone or why because truth be told I didn’t really understand or know why? I was just doing what my parents told me. That didn’t seem like a smart thing to say. I felt ashamed. I would answer in some vague way. Oh, it’s complicated.
I remember one time, a classmate came up to me and asked me if it was weird for me to have a different name. No, I lied, it’s actually pretty easy. It’s nothing much really. I played it cool.
A couple people tried to understand a little more, but I wouldn’t budge. I was ashamed and admitting I didn’t know why I did it was scary.
The agony of feeling alone and trapped was horrible. I would cope the best ways I knew how. Porn became a way to forget my problems and rowing became a way for me to vent my frustration.
My parents never helped me or told me how to handle it. They just told me I’m the same person as before and that it’s just a name. Just be yourself. To them I was still the same person. I was realising it’s not just a name. It’s my identity. I was learning first hand what identity means.
I would figure this out by trial and error. Adrien. That’s my name now.
At home I would just force my parents and especially my brother to call me Adrien. I would literally just not respond if they called me Marwan. My parents adapted easily. My brother didn’t. I couldn’t understand. This created painful division. At school Adrien was Adrien. That was easy. With people I didn’t know before, that was easy. I was just Adrien. The toughest part is always the grey areas. What are you supposed to do about the people/friends that know you as Marwan? Who am I now? Marwan or Adrien? I had no fucking clue.
I tried the uncompromising tactic for a while. When I had to sign up for my Rowing licence, I said to put my name as Adrien. But my trainer told me, I’d always be Marwan to her. Talk about a complete mind fuck. That was the first time that happened to me. What a great way to accept and reject someone at the same time. I’m accepting you as a person but rejecting your new name by refusing to change the way I call you.
Welcome to internal struggles. Do I now want to belong to the group? or would I prefer to be uncompromising with my new identity? I realised having an identity has a cost. I gave in. The lines quickly blurred.
I soon realised that the reality my parents were feeding me that it was just a name and that you are who you are wasn’t that simple.
You’re a teenager struggling with self-identification, you are trying to define who you are. Then you change your name. Someone accepts who you were. Someone rejects who you are now. You don’t know who you are.
I was either Adrien, Marwan or Adrien Marwan.
If you refused to call me Adrien, I would simply antagonise you. If I cared about your approval enough I would let you call me Marwan but every time I would feel a sting of rejection. The worst would be when someone I actually liked or respected would tell me that I would always be Marwan to them. That one took a long long time for me to digest. Every time I would hear that I would be in a defensive freeze state, I would tense up, not knowing what to do. Feeling both angry and accepted but having to deny the anger. A concoction of sweetness and poison. I drank it.
The worst was probably that my parents just switched to calling me Adrien like it was no big deal. I said call me Adrien, so they did. I mean if it is so easy for them, I couldn’t comprehend why it would be so hard for someone else. This is what one calls a gaslight. When someone makes you believe something that is contrary to reality but then it just fucks with your head and you start thinking you must be crazy.
I lived like this for a very long time.
Then the best thing happened to me. I went to university. Bye bye old school days and bye bye ambiguity. I could now establish my identity and start building something a little more stable. No one ever needed to know I changed my name. That was amazingly freeing.
I had the constant fear of being found out as a fraud. What if someone called me Marwan among people that know Adrien? What am I supposed to do in that situation? It never happened. I still feared it.
I’d fantasise about people accepting me completely. I’d fantasise about telling people this story, so that they would accept me as I am. But somehow I never brought myself to telling anyone. I realised no one really cared anyway. I was the only one who did. I felt ashamed, guilty, fearful and confused.
Eventually I noticed what I was really looking for. I didn’t want someone else to accept me as I am, I wanted myself to accept me as I am.
One day I was buying a kebab and the owner asked a little bit about my story. He remarked that my tone of voice seemed to reject my father and Moroccan origins. I thought he was stupid. Only later did I realise he had put his finger on something I had never seen because no one ever mirrored it to me.
I’d go back and see a couple old friends who insisted on calling me Marwan. I let them do so. It was now less of a problem, I was used to the feeling of rejection. But I still felt the rejection. I still hoped they would somehow change and start calling me Adrien.
The Kin Of Ata Are Waiting For You was a book that helped me gain different perspectives on my situation. In that utopia, no one is given a name. Each person must choose his own name when it comes to him in a dream. It may come at age 5 or 50 or never at all. Movies like Jason Bourne, the Age of Adaline or About Time where the main character keeps changing identities and has a secret they can’t tell anyone struck a chord with me. I couldn’t figure out why at first. Eventually after reflecting and watching them many times I finally got it.
Then one day I completely stopped trying to change the way people called me. I was starting to understand. I was starting to empathise with them. I understood how hard it was to change. I realised it was actually just a name and that I wasn’t the name. I realised they had been accepting me the whole time. The name was just a tool to talk about the individual. Once I understood that I was fine being called Marwan. It took a long time to realise I wasn’t my identity.
I’d spend hours going through personality tests and horoscopes to try to make sense of who I was. Nothing was satisfying. I’d get attached to one and discover how painful it can be when it doesn’t fit reality.
I remember going through the New York City customs a couple years ago and being terrified shitless when I was taken aside that they might find out my name wasn’t Adrien and that I had Moroccan family. After being released, and realising they were just doing their job, I cooled down. It took more time for me to realise just how much psychological pain I was putting myself through with these stories and my identification to them.
Then I forgot about it. One day I was doing an exercise where you have to describe major life events. I realised changing my name was one of those. I got emotionally triggered. I had more processing to do.
I’d start thinking about changing my name back to Adrien Marwan Jamai. To take back control and not be a victim. I realised how angry and resentful it had made me. I talked about it to my parents several times. They thought I was making a big deal about of something small. I decided to sit them down one day and explain with a little more details. To say the least they were surprised. My mom still thought I was still exaggerating, my dad listened. Later that day, my dad admitted he never realised what I’d gone through. Since then I’ve been slowly processing this. Every time I think I’m done with it, I realise there is even more to process.
Today I have nothing against my parents. At least that is what I tell myself. If I’m honest sometimes I’m still resentful of having had to suffer this on my own. Sometimes I don’t comprehend how ignorant it is possible to be. Then I realise you can’t hold something against someone that they don’t know. I get to see how I contributed to the problem and how to avoid similar situations in the future. I know my parents were doing the best they could given what they were going through. I do however realise that just because you think what you’re doing is good that doesn’t mean it is. You constantly have to get feedback on you actions and pay attention to the results. The biggest delusions happen when you stop paying attention to reality and prefer to believe the comfort of the stories you tell yourself in order to continue seeing yourself as a good person. Reality and the truth can be harsh. It takes courage to be willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.
Sometimes I wish someone would have talked me through all of it rather than having been left alone to deal with it. Today I realise that I learned a hell of a lot.
I learned the hard way what it’s like to get caught up with your identity. How painful getting attached to specific identities and stories can be. I still fall into this trap. Once I become aware of it I’m able to change it. When you create an identity or identify with something your ego gets all wrapped up in it and now you have something to loose. You start defending it at all costs. Only when your identifications start causing you pain do you start noticing there is a problem. We are all identified with something. Our names, our gender, our nation, our religion, our beliefs, our thoughts, our bodies. Only when you take a step back and disidentify are you able to see things more clearly.
I’ve learned the power of awareness and the dangers of denial and ignorance.
I’ve learned a lot about trying to force people to change and how that doesn’t work.
I’ve learned about the importance of feeling. About trusting yourself. About assuming most people aren’t out to get you but simply doing their best.
I’ve learned how ignorant I am of other people’s struggles and how I actually have no clue about what’s actually going on in their lifes.
I’ve learned the power of self-definition and it’s pitfalls. That defining who you are is something only you can do. That it has nothing to do with other people.
I’ve learned the power of the truth and authenticity and just how badly lies can fuck you up.
I’ve learned the liberating power of owning your own story and not letting it own you.
I experienced the value of talking with people about your struggles and not isolating yourself.
Most importantly I’ve learned to trust myself more and accept myself fully.
Sometimes I wish it hadn’t happened. But then I remember I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience. Now I’m grateful that I got to go through such a painful learning experience. At least I’m certain no one has ever gone through it the way I did and the amount of growth I’ve gotten out of it is priceless. When I feel there is anger or resentment that bubbles up I know I’ve got more processing to do.
Now you can call me whatever you want. But if you know me as Adrien, please continue to call me Adrien.
And remember, you may not choose how your story starts but you do get to choose how it ends.
Originally published at http://adrienjamai.home.blog on June 18, 2019.