I’ve never really felt like I belonged. I’ve been lucky in my life to have been welcomed into a variety of subcultures. Even so, I still have this hole inside me that will always leave me with this feeling of Otherness. People can go on and on about nature vs. nurture and what happened to me to make me feel this way. People even hold that argument over whether people are born with Bipolar Disorder, or whether it is created within them due to life circumstances, or both. I don’t have an answer.
I do know that whether it is because of my illness or my upbringing, I have always felt alone. Being an only child in a family of mostly older people left me often being the observer. If I wasn’t a wallflower, I was the center of attention, being the only grandchild for quite some time. My cousin Lucy wasn’t born until I was in high school. The attention was equally uncomfortable and baffling.
My nature has always been split in two. I want to perform, but I want to hide. I need attention, crave it, but when it is given to me I shy away or panic. I used to think something was really wrong with me, but now I know that isn’t true. I have met many sensitive, creative, wonderful people in my life that are exactly the same way. So maybe, just maybe, it is possible that I am just sensitive. Maybe I’m even a little bit creative. These realizations dawn on me, and I feel better.
Building self-esteem has been a lifelong project. I remember my mom reading books about trying to raise your child’s self-esteem from as far back as I remember. Even now my self-image is shaky, and I actively work on myself. I use affirmations. I gaze lovingly at my body. I try to use kind language in my mind when I review and refer to myself. And it’s still not enough.
I know perfectionism is a foolish endeavor, but this stiffness and paralysis that comes from being afraid to fuck up is real. I am so mortified when I make a mistake. It is so hard to move past that and remember that we all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. In fact, we learn the most from these mistakes and can take that knowledge to move forward. But it is difficult.
I remember the very first play I was in, The Velveteen Rabbit. I was in maybe 3rd or 4th grade, and I played the Skin Horse, so I had some lines. When it came time for my very first line onstage, nothing came out for a long time. I just stared at the audience, petrified. But then something clicked inside me, I remembered my lines, and life moved on. That moment seemed to stretch out forever though, and I will never forget it. The time when people are staring at you expectantly is both the slowest and fastest time ever.
Another one of those moments came in high school. I was on the Quiz Bowl team, which was kind of like Jeopardy! Yes, I was a mega-nerd. Anyway, we had a tournament in New Orleans and I vividly remember riding along in my English teacher’s new blue Beetle. We stayed at Tulane, and during our bout I answered the question “Name one of the words in the English language that uses all of the vowels in order.” I blanked completely, but somehow my hand hit the buzzer and I channeled out the word ‘facetious’. We won.
I don’t know where these moments come from. They always feel like the normal, terrified me gets shoved out of the way and I bring in some other, stronger, version of myself to fill in. The same thing happened during my yoga teacher training when it came time to teach my class to everyone. I wanted to puke, but as soon as my time started, I was ON. I did a great job.
So these fears, they are not based in reality. In reality, we do okay. Everyone is doing their best. The hardest thing for me to do every day is to set aside my fear and face the day, get out of bed. Once I am out of bed, I am onstage and I can get through it. But in the mornings, when I’m still laying there underneath the covers, I doubt. Can I do it? Can I make it through another day as a mentally ill divorced mother? Can I make it another day as a luminous light being? Which am I? I think the answer is both. We all are.