Who Am I?

Every day we wake up and we make a choice: to be ourselves or to be who the world wants us to be. Some days it’s easier to be ourselves, these are the days when you wake up with nowhere to go so you don’t fix your hair, you leave your make-up untouched, and you sit around in yoga pants. Other days it’s harder to be yourself. There is a pressure to look less like a human and more like a painting. This doesn’t just apply to our outward appearance, but who we are on the inside.

It’s much less work to change your personality to fit the people you’re around. Your friends think you’re one person, your parents think you’re another person, and your professor thinks you’re that guy. With all this personality switching it’s no wonder that so many people experience an identity crisis. I mean, who are you really

I have become all too familiar with the pressures to be someone I’m not. I’ve been told who I should be by any number of people. If I were just skinnier, if I would just wear make-up, if I would just quit being a stick in the mud, if I would just stop being so me, then people would like me. I don’t know where I got my backbone from, but I do know that I will never be the girl everyone else wants me to be. 

There’s not enough room in my head for all those girls, there’s barely room for me. That bothers some people. I’m inclined to believe that’s why they always try to get me to change. Not because I need to change, but because everyone else feels that if they need to change I need to change to. 

World, I’ve got a secret for you so hang on to your seats because it’s a doozy. You don’t need to change for anyone else. That’s right, no one should ever ask you to change who you are. It’s cliche, but the people that truly care for you and want you to be happy will never ask you to change who you are. They may ask you to stop doing things that make you unhappy but they will never expect you to change who you are. 

Readers, I have a challenge for you: The next time someone tells you to change something about yourself ask yourself if it will make you happy to change. If the answer is no then don’t do it because life is too short to spend all your time trying to make other people happy. Now go be bold!

Affectionately Yours

Sorry I haven’t written here in such a long while (for those of you trying to keep up with me!). As life usually does it ran away with me, gripping my hand tightly and my feet flew from beneath me. Unfortunately life usually gets to dictate how I spend my evenings but I have stolen this evening to bring a little bit of wonder to you.

I have always found affection to be tricky. Not that I have a hard time giving away my affection. On the contrary I immediately love someone and slowly grow to loathe their existence. The tricky part has always been earning someone else’s affections. Not necessarily the romantic kind, as that is far too complex for me to ever fathom, rather the kind of affection one feels toward a close friend, the family pet, or a sibling.

You see, the issue stems from the way my parents garnered my affection. My mother would buy me things. Oh, you’re so mad at me aren’t you? But how can you be mad at me when I just got you this new toy!! My father tried to win my affections by letting me have a puppy, or taking me fishing. C’mon, we’ll go do what like to do. You can see why I never developed a good way to make friends with people.

As this is the case I’ve had very few close friends in my life. After a fiasco with some friends in the sixth grade I had nearly decided that friends weren’t something I needed. Friends are just too much work, they take time and patience I didn’t feel like I had to give anymore. Then I started talking to this girl in my seventh grade class. I can’t even tell you what we started talking about but we haven’t stopped talking since. She’s the friend I never knew I needed. As with most things, our friendship just happened.

Since then I have made a few friends, and when I say friend I do not take the word lightly. The people that are my confidants, my companions, and my fellow warriors, they are my friends. And slowly but surely I have come to understand how to be a true friend to those people. Though, I must admit I have been known to buy some incredible Christmas presents. (Just in case my way of doing things doesn’t pan out!)

Finding Herself

I recently wrote a post about loss. In it I mentioned that loss and I are old friends. Today I’m going to write why I think of loss as a friend.

 

Loss and I are old friends. Not because I like to lose things. Loss can be inconvenient and hurtful and just plain old awful, but it is my friend. Much like any other friend Loss comes and goes and everything it does with the best of intentions. Because Loss isn’t about hurting people for no reason.

People like to say everything happens for a reason. In the religious world we like to tell each other that God has a plan. In our darkest moments we like to ask the age-old question: Why me? Somehow between the highs and the lows we forget how we’ve gotten this far. We can’t remember how we got through it all the last time. Once we hit the low that accompanies Loss we reach desperately for a bandage to patch up our broken souls and sometimes we don’t find one. It is human to forget that we can find the light at the end of the tunnel. To be totally cliché: Even the darkest nights have to end.

It is at the end of these low points we find the thing we’ve been looking for. You lose your job so you can find an excuse to start your own business. You lose a friendship so you can find a new friend. You lose a pet so you can find a new one that needs a home. You lose a piece of yourself so you can find renewed faith. The beautiful thing about Loss is that it is often paired with Found.

I have experienced many losses in my lifetime. I have experienced feeling so low I thought I was already in hell, but I wouldn’t change those moments for anything. It is through my losses that I have found myself. I have discovered who I am and what I am capable of. I never would have grown into the person I am were it not for all the things I have lost over my lifetime. So it is with great pleasure that I can say Loss is my friend. Without it I would have never become the person I am today.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

~Amazing Grace by John Newton

For the Love of Eating

When I was much younger my family used to get together constantly. We would all gather at my great-grandparents’ house for food, fun, and family. My favorite part was always the food. The deviled eggs, macaroni salad, banana pudding, and my favorite: my great-grandmother’s chicken n’ dumplings. I used to call them fluffy white clouds and I loved them.

There was just something about the southern comfort food I used to eat as a child. All the rich flavors and mouth-watering scents. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything better than the dishes that would be served at my great-grandmother’s house. Maybe it was because the food served as a little reminder of how much I was loved by those around me.

Many years, and a few heartaches later, we don’t get together at my great-grandmother’s house anymore. She’s been in a nursing home for a few years now. I’ll probably never have her chicken n’ dumplings again. But I think the worst part about her growing old is that she doesn’t have the strength to hold our family together anymore.

When I think back to those days I get a little sad because my little sister will never get to have those memories of playing at our great-grandmother’s house with everyone around. She was too young to remember all the great times we had there. I can still imagine the living room. The smiling faces taking up all the available space. I remember running from my great-grandfather’s bees in the back yard and playing basketball with my cousins. I remember how great the sun felt.

In the digital age we’ve lost the need to be as close to our families and neighbors. Why get to know your family when you can just text your friends? We’ve all become strangers to everyone around us. In an age of microwave dinners it’s not even necessary to sit down as a family and have a meal. I remember my great-grandmother letting me help her in the kitchen, some of my favorite memories are when we bonded over biscuit dough.

Maybe I’ll go outside today and get some fresh air. Or call someone to ask about those recipes.

Losing Herself

I wanted to include a little bit of a disclaimer before this post. I’m writing on loss because thats the prompt for the Writing 101 activity I am participating in. I decided that to follow the theme of boldness I would write about how loss had shaped who I am. I wrote this in a rather abstract way as this seems to be the style I’m using for my blog posts. Anyway, because this must be bold I feel this piece is very “welcome to my life.” If you’re not looking to read that kind of thing I would visit some of my other blog posts. Some of them are really very whimsical and are nice for a light bit of reading.

 

We have all experienced loss. It comes into your life in a variety of ways. Sometimes it leaves without making much of a difference. Sometimes it rocks your world on its foundations.

Loss and I are old friends. He’s been there for many of the important turning points in my life. He was there when I lost loved ones, my ideas about family, my friends, and when I lost my hope. Loss became a huge presence in my life when I was about 12. It was at this time that I lost my childhood to mother nature. I lost my two best friends in the whole world. And the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae was the loss I felt when my parents split up.

To be fair, this didn’t all happen within a matter of days. In fact, Loss visited me constantly for quite a few years. Every time Loss came for a visit I felt my world shatter. I would begin to pick up the pieces, desperately trying to glue myself back together. Then he would stop by again and look me dead in the face as he crushed everything I had worked for.

Loss doesn’t have time to feel remorse. He has to visit so many people in so little time that he doesn’t even get the time to comfort you. He doesn’t remind you the world can have a new normal.

More recently Loss has stopped by a little more frequently than I would like. Sometimes he even waves to me as he passes through as a little sign that he remembers our history. Or maybe that’s his way of apologizing for the pain I’ve had to endure. He knows I lost out on a “normal” childhood. I lost out on having an example of what a healthy relationship looks like. I lost out on learning how to trust. I lost out on learning how to love.

I like to think that Loss watches over me. I like to think it’s his job to admire the things I am creating in my life and once they become too comfortable it is his job to remind me that this world was not made for comfort. He watches to make sure I’m always a little bit on edge. It’s his job to remind me how fragile everything I do really is.

Loss sees me putting up my brick wall every day. He sees how I labor to get up in the morning and put a smile on. He hears me on my worst mornings, the tears melting into the water from the showerhead. He sees me as I bounce over to my roommate and ask her if she’s ready to go to breakfast. He knows I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before he takes her, too. He knows my heartache when I go to a class and I make a low grade on an assignment because I know how easily he can take away everything I’ve worked so hard for. He watches me curl up on my bed after a long day, the smile I’ve held so firm finally leaving my face.

Loss is still my friend, though. I have to believe the things I have lost were for a good reason; otherwise I would lose my mind. Loss knows I will not allow myself to be broken again. He knows how hard I work to keep other people at an arm’s length.

My friends don’t know the real me, the one that screams and cries and feels. I have always been afraid that I would lose them. I’ve always been afraid that I would lose everything. To let them in is to let my brick wall begin to crumble and crumbling is not an option. If I crumble all is lost.

The Songs in Her Head

Music has always been a very large part of my life. As a little kid I used to absolutely love dancing and singing. I was always the star of the plays we did at church because I could sing, and I did. When I got a little older my mom put me in a piano class. I hated it. I didn’t hate the piano, in fact since then I have toyed with a few pianos since then and I really love how beautiful they are. Not just the sound, but the very aesthetics of the piano. It’s magical watching other people play them. When I really entered into the music world was when I told my parents I wanted to join band in middle school. My parents objected, they didn’t want to pay for the instrument, but it was clearly a good investment. I still have that alto saxophone and it plays wonderfully. Music speaks to me in a way nothing else can.

One of my favorite songs to play is Nimrod. If you’ve never heard the song I beg you to look it up. It is hauntingly beautiful. It starts off so quiet it’s imperceptible. The notes are so very mournful that they make your heart hurt. Then the song slowly builds so that you no longer have to strain to hear it and your whole soul will cry out to be wrapped in its sweet melody. None of the other students really liked playing it like I did. It wasn’t loud and fun and in your face. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I couldn’t help but smile every time we played it. I could pour my soul into that song, giving myself up to the music. Nimrod is the song that I can really get into when I’m feeling awful because it always makes me feel better. The haunting melody reminds me that everyone has been there. When I listen to it in the presence of others I feel a deep connection as we are all there together, one in our silent agonies.

On the flip side I have always been drawn to very upbeat and exciting songs. My most recent favorite is Shark Attack by Grouplove. The first time I heard it I didn’t hear the lyrics, I just heard how happy everyone on the recording sounded. The song is hard to listen to and not become overwhelmed with feelings of joy and sheer ecstasy. The lyrics are just so light and float-y. The song represents the sheer joy of just letting go and being yourself. It is literally a plea to all its listeners to just have some fun. This song is a breath of fresh air after listening to many of the songs that are popular on today’s radios. (This song doesn’t have any misogyny, hate lyrics, or make you want to rip your hair out!)  Any time I listen to it I can’t help but feel like dancing. The song speaks to me because it just feels so very free. For me this song represents my moment in the sun where I don’t belong to anybody, where I, too, am free.

The third song I want to talk about is one that really gets me. The first time I heard it I was just absolutely stunned. I won’t claim that it’s an overly complicated work of musical genius, according to some music snobs I have rather bad taste in music. Yet, this song spoke to me. The singer seemed to be crawling into my skull and finding the exact lyrics to sing. Coming of Age by Foster the People, I am absolutely in love with a Foster the People song. Unlike the other songs I mentioned I love this one for the lyrics. I can’t help but sing when I hear this song. I love harmonizing with the singer (Even if I don’t know his name). It’s not that the song is particularly lyrical genius, I just love what it says to me. I’m not the only one that has been hurt: kicked, beaten, battered, and bruised. And I’m not the only one that has been absolutely filled with doubt and regret and pain. That song is how I remind myself that to grow up sometimes we have to face mountains.

I hate going a day without listening to some kind of music. I have found one of the most soothing activities is to just scream lyrics while you’re all alone in your car, cleaning your room, or hanging out with your best friend. When I’m upset I tend to put on music because then I’m not alone. These artists that have never met me, they are my friends. Their music has helped me through some of my hardest days, and helped me to celebrate some of my best days. How could you possibly be sad when you’re dancing?

Containing Her Emotions

I am a very emotional person. I feel all of my emotions with such force they can sometimes prove to be a little overwhelming. I think that’s one of the reasons my mother made me feel ashamed of my emotions when I was younger. She would yell at me for crying, as if yelling would make the hurt go away. All my mother did was make me feel ashamed about having emotions. That just produced an even more stressed out child and led to many more tears. Which led to more tears because of how ashamed I felt for having emotions. It was a cycle of hurt that I still haven’t fully escaped from.

I think one of the reasons my mother was so opposed to my emotional responses to things is because emotions, particularly the emotions that are manifested in tears, are associated with femininity (and by association, weakness). I’ve really never been sure that my parents didn’t just want me to grow up as a boy. They forced me into sports, encouraged rough-housing, and at times when I was particularly vulnerable the response I got was basically “Man Up.”

All of this socialization that encouraged me to have a tough skin didn’t actually make me any tougher, it just destroyed my psyche. My self-confidence received a bullet to the brain and I felt isolated from the world. Since I wasn’t supposed to express my feelings I couldn’t connect with anyone. I didn’t feel safe letting anyone know what was wrong. I tried to learn how to force a smile all the time because that’s what they wanted from me. It didn’t matter what I was going through on the inside as long as I forced a smile. Not to smile was weak and I always felt like shit when I finally broke down and cried. How could I be so pathetic?

It is only now as I enter into adulthood that I’m seeing that it’s O.K. for me to get in touch with my emotions. I guess in that way I can kind of relate to Elsa (the main villain-turned-good-guy in the movie Frozen). Her parents taught her to fear a part of her, in this case the power to shoot ice from her hands and make snow happen. By trying to contain it, instead of trying to understand it, she lost control. In a similar fashion I lost control of my emotions. I’m still terrified of feeling angry because I don’t know how to deal with that emotion. Similarly I don’t know what to do when I’m feeling very sad. Or when I’m stressed out. I haven’t even begun to understand my emotions and because of that they control me.

I didn’t want to write this blog post. (I got really sad writing it!) But I put the word bold in the title and I feel like I need to own up to that expectation I set for myself. I don’t want to be the girl that has to hide behind a smile anymore. I want to face my demons head-on.  You know what? The tears never bothered me anyway.

Smile