Issue Four: "Working My Way Back To You, Babe"

This, the fourth installment of "Share yOUR Inspiration", comes from one of my dearest and oldest friends, who has constantly inspired and empowered me to follow my heart through the unknown.

It has become trite and unoriginal for people to say they have no idea who they are; they have not yet "identified" the person they are supposed to be.

My problem is different: I know the person I am...I just don't know how to be that person anymore.

I can identify the moment in my life when I lost this knowledge.  First, some back story: I grew up in a small town which, from my perspective, had a multitude of people who were encouraging.  Between my own family, friends, family of friends, instructors and teachers, I felt I was always surrounded by people who truly believed I could do whatever I wanted to do; no goal, regardless of difficulty, was impossible.  Similarly, I felt the kids in my hometown weren't judgmental.  I recognize friends I grew up with may think this is utter bullshit, but again, from my perspective, I don't recall any cases of bullying or openly making fun of others.  Perhaps I lived with rose glasses or was just super naive, but I recall being able to feel comfort around anyone I went to school or engaged with, regardless of "clique."  So, with these beliefs under my belt from an extremely young age, I went about the first 18 years of my life without holding back.  Without any sort of fear of judgement or thoughts I might fail, I was part of SO MUCH as a kid: dance classes, theater, music classes and band, sports teams, political clubs, volunteering.  In high school, I remember waking up early one Saturday morning and deciding to go for a run; I never ran before (outside of gym class), and while I remember it sucking balls the entire time (because Connecticut humidity makes you feel like you're breathing soup), I never once thought, "I can't do this."  Instead, I distinctly remember thinking positive thoughts such as, "You're almost to the high school, you've got this!  Then just turn around and make it home!"  My sophomore year, I studied French and Russian at the same time (because I thought I could be successful with both, not because I'm a masochist.)  I wrote a three-act play because I thought I could.  I'd see friends do tap dance moves I never learned at my studio, so I'd ask for them to teach me so I could be a better, more experienced dancer.  I struggled with my overhand serve on my volleyball team, but I never gave up and would spend hours each week in the backyard, practicing.  People would see me in a play and tell me after the show, "We can't wait to see your name in lights someday" or "It'll be so exciting to see you on SNL!"  And I believed this was totally plausible. 

You get the idea.     

This whole scenario can be seen positively or negatively.  On one hand, this mindset allowed me to achieve and learn SO MUCH, without fear or reservations.  On the other hand, this mindset of being able to achieve anything could be seen as unrealistic and dooming me for a life a disappointment once I inevitably fail. Either way, freshman year of college came and bit me in the ass. I specifically remember having a deep regret the day I arrived at my college.  The days leading up to the start of freshman year, the college hosted a Freshman Retreat.  Now, the brochure they mailed out about it the month prior made it seem WAY churchy...like, we'd be in the woods for four days, learning about God.  That's not my style, so I opted not to go on the retreat.  Turns out, I was one of three, maybe four students who did not attend.  In those days before I arrived at the school, friendships were forming.  And I missed the boat.  The first couple weeks of school, I did make friends, but I struggled to form connections with people I saw regularly in classes and my outside activities.

Eventually, I found myself molding to other people's idea of what made a "quality" person: I would agree to liking music I honestly hated (for someone who studied theater, I actually LOATHE musicals.)  I would laugh at jokes that weren't remotely funny.  I agreed with things I actually thought differently on or, worse, had no knowledge of (making an uneducated statement is more detrimental than disagreeing with someone.)  But the most disappointing part was I realized a lot of people I was around were really negative; while they would boast and brag at times, they would also put down others behind their backs.  They would make statements about knowing they were going to fail a test but didn't want to make the effort to study.  They would vocalize their own flaws and disappointments with themselves.  Yadda yadda yadda.

One night, I played a song by Against Me! for one of my friends.  It was a song which was basically the anthem for my group of friends in high school, and it meant the world to me; it was (and still is) a song that brings back a flood of memories and makes me ache to see my old friends.  Maybe 30 seconds into the song, my friend stopped the track: 

"How can you listen to this?" he asked.  "This isn't music; this is crap."

It was as if these couple of weeks of college erased the past 18 years with this one statement.

The downward spiral of losing myself began, all the while knowing EXACTLY who I was; the years before college taught me everything I needed to know about who I was, because that was genuinely me.  I'm now approaching my 28th birthday...it's been 10 years of fighting to get myself back.

The problem is, I don't really know HOW to do this.  It's not like flipping a switch; while the habits of 18 years broke so easily, it seems these past 10 years of adulthood have bred some horrible patterns I can't seem to shake.  I find myself using negative phrases ("I can't," "I won't," "I hate," etc.), I have begun fearing I'll fail before even contemplating trying something new, I huddle in my comfort zone more than ever and seek affirmation and approval from others.

I'm not in college anymore.  Who am I hiding myself from?  Why haven't I fully returned?

About once every couple of months, I'll have an "epiphany:" I'm going to wake up the next day and go running again, and I'm going to celebrate the small things (like running a mile) rather than dwelling on the negatives (not being able to breathe comfortably, the heat, the mile time, etc.), and then I'm going to come home and knock out all my housework so I have time to read.  Then, I'll use the DuoLingo app to freshen up my French, and start dreaming of a DIY project for the house.

The next morning comes, and my alarm goes off, and I immediately think, "Running is stupid.  I'm sleeping for another hour."

I've been told the best way to get out of this 10 year slump is...to just get out of it.  IF I KNEW HOW THE FUCK TO DO THAT, I WOULD HAVE DONE IT ALREADY.  This is literally the worst advice ever, for ANY scenario.  In some ways, though...I HAVE been able to just snap out of it.  For example, last year I started a new job, and I've allowed the no-fear-of-failure part of me to come front-and-center.  It has been AMAZING, and this attitude has helped my achieve two promotions and three raises within 7 months.  I literally adore going to work, not just because I love my job, but because I feel more like myself; I've made friends there who basically know the same person my childhood friends know.  On the flip side, though, that negativity still creeps up from time-to-time, and a lot of people outside of work have pretty much only engaged with the quiet person who comfort-zoned for the past several years.

It feels like a daily battle between the woman I really am, and the girl who is stuck in her shitty ways.  It would be ideal to not think negatively, to not portray someone I'm not, to take on a new challenge just to accomplish something.  While I think the "Just snap out of it" logic is flawed and piss-poor advice, I do believe the only way I'll ever get back to being me is to put one foot in front of the other each day and make a conscious effort to find the positives, seize the opportunities, crack the jokes, carpe the diems.  I need to make up for all this lost time.  My marriage and work success aside, I can't recall anything from the past 10 years that I'm proud of; all my other highlights are from the first 18 years.  It's time to even out that scoreboard and then rack up a win.  

I did go running this morning, and I only had one negative thought (truly), so maybe that first point isn't too far away from being scored.