People always talk about finding themselves and to be honest, it was something I thought I’d never experience. But you know how a few months ago, I just disappeared, and I told you I’d explain it later? Well, here we are.
I have never really been someone who stood out. I’ve just been myself, mostly quiet when surrounded by strangers yet annoyingly extroverted and shameless when I’m with friends. In high school I had my punk rock phase, my goth phase, my preppy phase, and then my “who really gives a crap about any of this” phase. (I fluctuated between all of these, but the last one was basically my default setting. It was always running in the background.) My best friends were mostly older than me, I hated everything (now I guess you’d have called my high school self a hipster), and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
I still don’t.
And the honest reason for that is I just generally do what people expect me to. I made good grades because my teachers expected me to based on (most of) my older siblings. I went to a local university because I thought I was supposed to. (I do freaking love my alma mater though. I am super proud of that school.) I took all the classes I was told to take, pursued a degree everyone told me I’d like (I did enjoy it, and in some alternate reality I probably did stick with that path). I look back sometimes and wonder what I’d have done differently if I had done all the things I’d really wanted to do. Some of those things were incredibly stupid ideas, and sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do them. But what if I had? What stories would I be able to tell my eventual kids?
Did I ever tell you about that time in high school, when I …
Did I ever tell you about when I was in college …
But I don’t have any crazy stories to tell my kids. I never really did anything bad or unexpected or scary. That’s not an exaggeration, not me pretending to be the perfect kid. I wasn’t. But probably the worst things I ever did were miss curfew by an hour or slam my door during a one-sided screaming match with my grandparents. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing awe-inspiring.
And now I realize I’ve carried that into adulthood, and it’s sadder now even than it was then. I don’t take risks, I don’t really do anything that scares me or excites me or inspires someone. I think too much about: well, what will people think? What will people say about me? What if they think I’m a failure or a fraud or just stupid?
So in January I decided that this year, as my New Year’s Resolution, I was going to do something a little different. Instead of resolving to lose weight, hit the gym more often, cut back on sweets and soda, I was going to start living for myself. (And Kris of course. We’re a team, obviously.) I was going to stop bending to what I thought everyone wanted and expected for me, living the life and being the person that I perceived I should be. Because the reality is, no one was putting these weird pressures on me but myself. My family wouldn’t love me less and my friends might give me side-eye but they’d support me no matter what, and anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t deserve front-row seats to my life, anyway.
It was a good goal, I thought. One that would require real changes and serious effort on my part. Step 1: Do something scary that I’ve always wanted to do.
Ink by Matt Skin
So I got a tattoo. I love tattoos. I only had one, and it’s relatively small and no one really notices it, even though it’s not hidden at all. But I’d wanted this design for a long time, I knew I would be happy with it, but I kept getting held back. It’s too big. I’ll get bored with it. Everyone will hate it. What if I don’t find the right artist, and it turns out poorly? I ran through every excuse in the book, even while I researched local artists and shops, settled on the perfect guy, and doodled hot air balloons on every page of every notebook I wrote in for over a year. Finally, just before Christmas of last year, I printed out the painting I liked, took it to Matt Skin and asked if he could do it. Obviously, he could.
It took awhile to do (of course) and after the first sitting I went into panic mode. I completely shut down and freaked out like I haven’t in a long time. After a few weeks I realized my freakout was normal, and reminded myself how long I’d wanted the tattoo. I got some predictable responses, but by the time they arrived I had discovered a part of myself that I thought was lost: the part that cared more about what I wanted and what I liked than about what other people wanted for me. So when I heard the first “but your legs were so beautiful” comment from a family member, I told her I hadn’t gotten in a car wreck, I’d just gotten one of them painted, and if she wanted to see a plain leg she could look at my left one instead. Not even a month before that happened, I’d have broken down crying and left.
In the months since I got the tattoo complete, I’ve been making strides toward my goal that are visible even to myself. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m doing well. So it was time for Step 2: Make big decisions based on what’s best for myself, not on what I tell myself is expected of me.
So I put in my two weeks at my job. I know some of my coworkers might read this, but that’s okay. I don’t really have much to say on this front, just that it became startlingly clear that it was time to move on, and work-related stress was wearing me thin and disrupting my relationships and my personal life. I do think that my anxiety disorder has worsened in recent months, but it’s a chicken-or-egg question at this point. It’s scary for me, because I don’t have any prospects. But I know that I’ve made the best decision for myself, and if it upsets someone’s apple cart, then that’s their responsibility, not mine.
I know for a lot of people, these things all sound like common sense. And for high-school-me and even college-me, it would have been common sense, too. But somewhere along the way I really lost myself in the sea of projected and perceived expectations, I stopped pursuing things that made me happy, and I became someone I wasn’t really proud to be.
But the old me—the one who didn’t care about being called a bitch as long as she was with people she liked, who wore clothes she thought were cool even if no one else agreed, and read manga tucked into her history book as if her teacher didn’t notice—the old me I think would be proud of this new me, this me that I always really wanted to be anyway.