Why It’s so F-ing Hard to Be Yourself
It’s 6 pm on Thursday, September 10 and I’ve been thinking about what to write all week. It’s important to me to keep these posts true to recent experiences, and so this one isn’t going to be the usual artisty, careery talk but rather something a little different.
I spend a lot of time thinking about individuality and what that really means, now more than ever. Does it mean wearing weird clothes? Does it mean saying outrageous things? Does it mean dancing on table-tops wearing a Borat swimsuit and cowboy boots and pouring tequila in your eye-balls while reciting a battle cry backwards? I’m not sure. To some that might be it but to me it all seems much more profound and a lot less superficial than that.
Like a bad college graduation speech, I’m now going to tell you that the dictionary defines an individual as “a single human being as distinct from a group, class, or family”. Doesn’t that sound terrifying? Be honest, because for most people the thought of being “distinct from” would mean being the outcast and being the outcast is usually a lonely and misunderstood place. To most it feels better to be accepted into a group. That’s why we had cliques in high school like the popular kids and the jocks and the nerds and the music nerds (proud member of).
As a young adult who was largely defined by the conservative family I grew up in, along with being entwined in a serious relationship for many years, it’s been a huge transition for me to go from the person who I was then to the person I am now becoming. The issue I had with the person I was then was that so much of my joy in life was based outside of myself. I wanted to be complimented and accepted and told I was doing great, because without that reflection, who was I and how did I know I’m doing the right thing? This is why so many people stay in long-term relationships even when they start going down a long one-way street to Sucksville. Effectively, my source of contentedness was external rather than internal, and as the years went by and things and people outside of my control were shifting and even taken away, little pieces of me felt like they were being taken away too until a very bad year in 2005 where I lost so much I could hardly recognize myself. At rock bottom is where it all started to change.
I accept that I am still today largely defined by the environment and people around me. Like a child, this is where I learn every day what is right and wrong, what is “cool” and what is not, and most dangerously, what musically sounds good and what doesn’t. As children we were not as afraid of what people thought until we started getting reprimanded for doing things the “wrong way”. In time, we started conforming to social expectations… but to what extent?
Tracing back my steps, I can see that I have always naturally felt tied to my particular family’s standards. My family is an extremely loving one that I am so grateful for, but looking back I can see that there are standards I have found myself unintentionally having to live up to which include; being highly intelligent and educated, being “naturally gifted and talented” (I don’t think it's as much talent as it is a labour of love), being tidy and organized at all times, and classically beautiful (no hair dye/tats/piercings). This means that when nine-year-old me showed up at grandma’s house with bruises on my knees I was told that this was not lady-like and little girls shouldn’t have bruises on their knees when they wear dresses to church on Sunday. This is the first memory I have of feeling guilty about who I am. It’s such a small, seemingly insignificant exchange, but it speaks loudly when nine-year-old me went on to play soccer, hockey, volleyball, basketball, as well as skating and snowboarding for a decade after that. When I was a little girl, I was taught that pink was for the girls and blue was for the boys. But I never liked pink and I told my mom I didn’t want any pink clothes and I wanted to paint my bedroom walls blue. My mom is a saint who went above and beyond to understand my rebellion from this early on. She accepted my requests and did the explaining to family members. At ten years old I became a tom-boy and got made fun of for my baggy pants and backwards hat. Kids started to stereotype me and my best friend as early as they had learned the word “lesbian”. This was all very confusing and amusing to me because I didn’t know yet if I was a lesbian or not. I just liked the things I liked – what that had to do with my yet-to-be discovered sexuality I didn’t know. Labels. Stereotypes. Right and wrong. Do you see what I’m saying? Also, by the way, if I was a lesbian that’s incredibly insensitive to make fun of someone for that… you’re actually teaching that straight is right and homosexuality is wrong, and I never got that. Ten-year-old me didn’t care who loved who and still doesn’t.
Back to the topic at hand… pretty early on I recognized that I was the black sheep in the family and I felt the beginning of a sense of being torn between who I truly am in all my weirdness and wonderfulness and being the person who some would like me to be. I tried the second one on for size for two very stupid teenage years and it just wasn’t nearly as fun. I dressed like everyone else, I agreed with the popular kids about things I shouldn’t have, and I didn't even recognize peer-pressure because I just did whatever everyone else was doing. I did get to date the most popular guy in my grade though and that made me like pretty cool.
Have you ever noticed when you start spending a lot of time with a new friend that you start to take on the way they ask questions? Or you start to pick up some of their slang? Maybe they say “dude” a lot so now you're starting a lot of your sentences with “dude, blah blah.” Every time I notice this about myself – since I do spend a lot of time in close quarters with other people – I start to wonder how many other habits or ideas from the external world have gotten under my skin, and which I would truly like to embody and which I really would like to reject.
The point is this: it’s very hard for me to always be myself. I get really shy, especially around people who I look up to. I want them to like me and think I’m funny and articulate and cute and good at music. But it gets exhausting trying so damn hard all the time, so I’m trying something new which is to stop holding back and being to sensitive to what everyone may think of me. Because most of the time they're not even thinking about you at all, they're thinking about if they should have another cup of coffee or if they really need to work out today because they did yesterday and did their package from Amazon arrive. I want to let everything inside my unique brain come out and I really feel I need to back-up what I believe in and excel at the things that move me or I will start to feel like a shell of myself. I want to stay respectful to others, but always true to myself. I also would like to stop judging others and myself, and just let it all flow and enjoy everything. Over-thinking has been so exhausting. We’re all different, let's get over it. Oh, and if you remark one more time in a condescending tone, “seriously, you haven’t heard that band?! What, have you been living under a rock?” I’m gonna punch myself in the face because no one knows every band you know nor do they probably want to.
Sometimes I hate admitting it but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the strongest relationships I’ve ever had, whether friendships or love relationships, were with people who I share a love with that is not smooth and polished all the time. We have been all across the emotional spectrum together and can say we really know each other. We may drift apart at times or even cut ties and then months or years later we come back together in celebration of our love for one another in a realistically awesome ebb and flow. I’m realizing now that these people are such pillars in my life because they have the boldest, most head-strong personalities and I fucking love them for it. They are themselves and not afraid to show it and they won't put up with that bullshit of me hiding myself. I have never once been forreal worried that they will disappear forever, no matter what has happened between us. I can see that at all times we are just so comfortable with one another that we’re expressing ourselves freely and sometimes this clashes, and that’s okay. To me, being best friends doesn't mean we're always cool with each other and always agree on everything and paint each other's toe-nails while watching Gilmore Girls. It means we can withstand the crashing waves of life and depression and mistakes and disagreements and still always love each other unconditionally. And that we can forgive. These relationships inspire me because they are the ones in which we give fewer fucks than we usually do around those who we want to be accepted by. These people are the ones that make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts as I beg them to stop saying the hilariously bizarre thing they just said, and they’re the people I can tell my darkest secrets to. They may not realize it, but every time I’m with them they encourage me to be myself – to be an individual rather than a chameleon-like part of a group. I'm just lucky enough that they have accepted me into their lives and that we can have one another's backs.
I imagine this world where everyone is so unique and truly themselves and it looks so colourful and exciting and insane. Maybe the best we can do is to find those who reflect back exactly who we are so that we don’t get lost in the noise of who we feel we should be. We’re individuals – we are ultimately alone, and I’m starting to really love this idea. When we come together as individuals something amazing happens. Great bands happen, love happens, movies happen, babies happen. So today I want to leave you with the thought to embrace being yourself as a total individual. And remember, the sooner you show your true colours the quicker you can weed out those who are toxic to you versus those who enrich you.
You’re doing great.
Fuck the haters.