At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I’m going to call this an identity crisis. Primarily because that’s the closest thing I can think of to reflect some things I’ve been feeling lately. And also because, admittedly, it sounds kind of exciting.
The other night I feel like I had a Realization (capital ‘R’; a big one, in other words).
No one knows me.
For that matter, I’m not sure I even know me.
And for that matter, I’m not even sure there’s anything to know.
It’s a weird thing. I can’t pinpoint anything I do that is uniquely me. Anything that is mine. Maybe I’m being short-sighted. But I really feel like everything people know about me is, largely, defined solely through my relationships with other people. I can’t seem to make an independent, accurate impression. I’m all context and no substance.
That sounds very negative. Maybe I’m oversimplifying. But when you’re waiting out yet another sleepless night, I think everything gets oversimplified.
Where is this coming from? How have I lost myself? What makes me feel this loss?
I carry a lot of noise from the past. Insult and injury that I can’t seem to heal from. Because I seem to believe that if I let go of it and stop letting it bother me, then I’m pretending that the issues behind it don’t exist, and am therefore being delusional.
Here’s an example. My ENTIRE life, I have had people make a big damn deal about how quiet I am. As a child I didn’t think much of it. In fact, in school, I was continually praised for it. Teachers marveled about it, always smiling, smiling, smiling. “She’s so quiet!” they would say to my mom. “I wish I had a classroom full of students just like her!” And I sat demurely in the background, my halo firmly in place. This was all in stark contrast to the feedback my mom got about my brother, who was always acting up. Always talking. Always in trouble. As I understood it, being “in trouble” was bad. So anything I could do to not do that–to be the opposite of him–was good. Which by extension made me good.
My entire identity. All summed up.
But as I got older, the tone and expression that accompanied the statement “She’s so quiet” started to change. Turns out, somewhere in there, I was supposed to develop a dynamic personality. All through school, it seemed like the constant underlying message was to be quiet and do what you’re told. If you do that, you will be “good”. The ultimate success.
Except nowadays, “She’s so quiet” is not considered praise. It’s a defect. A weakness. A handicap. I’m considered timid and shy. I’m thought to be “afraid”. People seem to think they need to be “careful” with me. If they notice me at all.
But I don’t feel like I’m “quiet.” I don’t feel shy or timid or afraid. I didn’t feel weak. I never thought that I conducted myself all that differently than other people until I started hearing that the way I am is “weird”. Meaning “Different”. Meaning “Not normal”. Meaning, a problem.
So over the last 12 years (when, as I found myself in the working world and my “problem” really started emerging), I have tried to back pedal and figure out how to have the social skills I apparently failed to develop back when we were all reading Curious George and playing with My Little Pony. All of which is made all the more difficult since I didn’t even know I’d actually missed anything. (I’d always been “good”, remember?)
So I try to overcompensate. I give myself pep talks for meetings and parties. I (at least think that I) talk way more than what is needed or appropriate. And at the end of it all, I feel exhausted, but more or less successful, and I think, “Good. No one noticed that I’m weird. No one noticed my huge defect. I passed. Maybe I’m getting better.” It drains me considerably, but I consider this part of my healing. Then I hear later that questions were asked. Speculations made. “Did Rebecca have a good time? She seemed so quiet.” “Did we upset her?” “Why was she so shy?”
Wow. I’d done everything right. Everything. I was so conscientious and put forth so much effort that, after the fact, I was emotionally tapped out, but wasn’t concerned because anything worth doing takes hard work. And yet, it wasn’t enough. I am still defective. Everyone saw. No farther along than when I started. I must be even more far gone than I thought.
Even doing something that flies in the face of being “quiet” and “shy”–performing live music onstage, night after night, over and over and over, writing and singing my own songs, opening up and sharing myself in a way that is completely exposed and uninhibited–doesn’t work. They still don’t buy it.
In fact, on multiple occasions, when people have found out that I’m in a band (Finally, I think to myself, they’ll see the truth), they always have the same reaction. “Really? I just can’t picture that. She’s so quiet.”
My problem remains like a growth that cannot be severed. It is my cancer.
So if I then choose to say, “I will not be concerned by their opinions; being ‘quiet’ is not weird,” when clearly most people are bothered by it, am I not then deluding myself?
Is it delusional to think yourself faultless when you clearly make so many people uncomfortable?
I don’t want to be like them. I think most people spend too much time talking and saying nothing. I really just want to be able to interact with someone without having to worry about how weird I am.
One day, I will make some lucky therapist very happy.