Once upon a time, I knew who I was, but then, seemingly suddenly though I know it was a gradual slide, I lost myself.
Most of us spend our teenage years and well into our twenties (or thirties) trying to figure out who we are. Some of us need more time, some of us need less time, but what I think none of us realize is…we need all the time. We need our whole lives.
By the time I’d reached my twenty-fifth year, I had a decent handle on my likes and dislikes, what I was courageous enough to attempt, how to trust my intuition and just how firm my moral foundation was. I knew the type of person I wanted to be and actively worked to become that person, with a few hiccups here and there because I’m human.
But things changed. Once I learned who I was, life conspired to test me or maybe evolve me, whichever. Without realizing, I slipped into roles defined by other people’s expectations. Maybe you can relate. Parent, child, sibling, spouse, teacher, counselor, healer, lover, protector…or take your pick from a thousand others. We are all something to someone else, but that singular title doesn’t begin to cover what we really are.
I started letting what they thought define me which, in turn, started wearing down my own sense of self. The more bits I lost of myself, the more depressed I got. I didn’t even know it, either, until one day I started crying and couldn’t stop. I only faced the sunlight when I had no choice. I was physically ill, tired… I don’t know if I had or have clinical depression because I refuse to see someone about it, in spite of my doctor’s referral and recommendation. (I’m stubborn and delusional and don’t want to hear their definition of me when I’m already fighting against so many others. If you think it would help you, however, I actively encourage you to seek help.)
I started writing, in fact, because I was pigeonholed into a box that didn’t fit, complete with expectations I didn’t want to live up to by people I didn’t want to let down.
I let others tell me who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do. And, because I didn’t want to seem too ‘special’ I stopped dreaming, or at least I stopped working toward my dreams, and then I got depressed because I wasn’t any closer to achieving my dreams. A terrible cycle.
Writing helped me combat the pull of others’ expectations. When I first started sliding, publishing a story was my act of courage, putting sentences together into a working plot was my rebellious act of giving voice to my inner self—not my fantasies, memories or wishes and not my feelings on people I know or even myself, really, but a certain piece of my soul that would not be silenced. Every time a publisher said ‘yes’ was both validation and liberation.
I haven’t always written well, but until two or three years ago, I wrote fearlessly. I’ll always have my inner editor yammering in my brain when I think about what has come before, but hidden inside those stories is my courage, my pain, my knowledge and my fear. But, here I am, a decade after I began sliding into other people’s boxes, and I’m still writing, still clinging to the art that lent me sanity.
I can see the difference. I can see how I’ve gone from writing ‘true’ to writing ‘soft.’ Not in all things, but enough. Whatever will people think if I… But, wait, that already happens. I wrote Levi fearlessly, and there is still criticism. I wrote My Voyeur, then changed it to be easier but that gets criticism too.
I’ve had a terrible few years. It could have been worse, yes, but there has been upheaval and change in ways that were brutal to live through.
—I say that because, looking back, I think it wasn’t too bad and though I remember my tears vividly, I remember my fear and anxiety, my physical unhealthiness, my fight through depression, I also hear someone who was close to me tell me I had nothing to be sad about. Looking back, however, thinking it wasn’t too bad, is me letting her put me into a box that doesn’t fit. It’s me slipping back into a role defined for me rather than by me. A clear and important distinction. I hit a breaking point, a true moment where I knew things had to change and so I did. I lost friendships, hell, I lost my mind—
But I found me again.
Guess what? I’m not the same as I was when I was twenty five. I’m someone else now, still with my spirit and, surprisingly, still certain of what sort of person I want to be. I’d lost some of my courage, changed parts of my public self to accommodate what others wanted me to be, and I’d forgotten the sound of my intuition’s voice…but I’m human, and I’ll consider that a hiccup that taught me a great deal about a whole lot.
I’m tired of holding back to accommodate others. I’m tired of not living true to myself or my courage, of pushing back on my dreams in fear of leaving others behind. I’m tired of dimming my light so that others don’t feel like I’m pretending to be special.
I want to sparkle, dammit.
Also, I want to write what feels right, not because I think the majority will handle a story better if I change this or that. Sorry, but oh well, if I make you uncomfortable…maybe that’s your problem to evolve through.
I’m writing this on the off-chance that someone else might need to read it. I’m writing this to prove to myself that I’m still courageous enough to face the truth, even when it hurts. And, the truth is, you need to find yourself every day. You need to define yourself every day. Even if you’re different every day, it’s up to you to tell the world who you are and who you want to be, because, otherwise, the world will tell you—and that’s soul-sucking.
Every day, embrace who you are and recognize that that can change repeatedly. Be courageous, be true. You are special, don’t let the haters tell you you’re not. You should spend your whole life defining you to yourself, don’t let others do it for you.