You don’t deserve that and no one’s going to like you or take you seriously.
These are mantras that kept me small, constrained, contained, and tight. Repeated and believed for long enough led to a boundless, bottomless daily depression that permeated every contour of my consciousness and convinced me I would need to learn to live with the fact that my DNA was encoded in such a way that I would always be a sad person and life would always be a struggle. Other people would get what they wanted. I would not. I was born one of the unlucky ones. I would have to wrest control of my life from the universe which was profoundly against me.
In so many ways, being middle-class and white means that if I have a dream or I want something, I can indeed ask for it. I’m highly aware of the privilege that I can work for it and believe that I will someday achieve it. What I’ve most wanted, more than anything, was to figure out how to be unapologetically me. And to recognize that that might mean something different every single day. The steps I am taking/have taken to find out what that looks and feels like have involved some of the “hollow-eyed virtue” that can be part of the self-improvement package, but eventually, you recognize that it can’t all be cerebral and aesthetically pleasing. The virtuous routine gets you to a certain plateau, then you have to learn to navigate on a balance of facts and feeling.
Eventually, you have to inhabit your own body. This was a radical transformation for me. Do all women hate their bodies as much as I did? Even if they meet conventional standards of beauty? Do they strive to exist on a plane beyond the physical to avoid the very fact of physicality?
You have to come face to face with the reality of what you are and what your limitations are. And you have to put a stake in the ground, knowing full well that someone isn’t going to like it. But you’re not selfish for asking for what you want. You’re not foolish to believe that the things you want most in the world could be yours if you worked hard enough and believed that it was possible for you. For me, to build any sort of castle in the air, I had to first build the foundation of believing I deserved things. I’ve always been a big fan and practitioner of deprivation and lack. I didn’t want to seem greedy or selfish or out of the imaginary amateur league I’d put myself in. I didn’t want to think that imaginary others might be rolling their eyes and saying, but you’re not ____ enough for that.
But one day, you just get tired. You get tired of putting up with and settling for. You ask, is this all there is? What about all the things I imagined for myself before I worried what the world thought? Before I thought they cared and that their caring was important enough to build a little fence around myself, in case I accidentally stepped on someone’s toes as I took a step to reach out for what I wanted.
I could tell a difference in my body between when I didn’t want to fully inhabit it and when I did fully inhabit it. I felt stronger, more present, more sensual, more alive, more here, more focused. I could walk into a room and stand at the center of it and announce myself in a voice louder than the apologetic whisper of the past decade. I could boldly say, “Here’s what I want from you, world. And here’s how I’m going to go about getting it.”
I’ve told myself a lot of lies over the years. Lies were a fantastic coping mechanism for when I recognized on some subconscious level how magnificently I was cheating myself out of my own happiness. I have always been better at lying to myself than lying to other people. Someday, is a great one. I don’t know how, another. This is enough, a pretty common one, and its evil twin, this is not enough. I should be ____, another favorite. Other people are much more _____. I’m terrible at ____. It’s either this or that. And of course, the ones up top in the title and first line of this post.
In the mental work I’ve done since 2016, I’ve uncovered all these lies, and I won’t lie now: It’s a fucking painful process, coming face to face with your own bullshit that’s kept you so damn small and apologetic for so many long years. You can’t help but marvel at your own talent for wasting precious time you could have spent getting really good at being yourself and doing things you loved. But you can’t spend too much time on regret. It doesn’t matter. All that supposed wasted time is a perfect curriculum for teaching yourself about all the ways you can be now.
Now, any time I start to tread down the easy, well-worn path of I can’t and I should and But what if, it’s becoming nearly automatic and stop and say, is that true? What would it feel like to be wholly yourself at this moment? To reach for the thing you want and inhabit this space as fully yourself? In all your imperfections and doubts but also your gifts and your curiosities and your loves? To say that you don’t always feel strong and that’s okay but also sometimes you feel like the strongest person in the whole world?
I become more myself every day. These days, my life is reduced down like a pan sauce to its most flavorful elements — to what I see as the bare essence of what I love and want. The shape of my days is beginning to be constituted by an outline of the person I always imagined I could be, if only I gave myself permission. And I feel less and less sorry for it. There’s a vibrant humming beneath the surface of a day lived in service of full self-recognition.