I have hammered away at myself since I was old enough to notice that I was not like those who entered my view. I wasn’t as pretty, as smart, as rich, as well-bred, as emotionally stable, as generous, or as heterosexual as the other humans around me, or on television or in magazines. In other words, in my estimation, I wasn’t good enough. So I started early on trying to change that.
I can’t count the number of diaries and journals filled with promises and to-do lists and vows to be better at everything. Whether it was about my body, my habits, my relationships, or my interests, I seemed to make an early commitment in my life to fundamentally changing the person I was. Self-acceptance seemed like defeat. I was certain that if I agreed to be the person I was I would be selling myself short. What if I could be like those people? How could I possibly be happy being who I am?
For longer than I can possibly admit, I was positive that I could settle my monkey brain if I could force myself take on the traits and attributes of someone unlike me.
These are silly questions to people who took a liking to themselves early in their lives. Why would someone want to be someone else when they could be themselves? The answer to that question is multi-pronged and more than a little bit connected to having a mother with the same affliction. In her dislike of her body, she went on a diet every Monday for most of my adolescence. And, though she detested ironing so much that she once had to throw away an entire laundry basket full of wrinkled, mildewed clothes, she vowed weekly to become better at pressing those clothes into warm, neatly folded stacks.
But I also knew from an early age that I was gay, and somewhere in me I believed this was not good. Thank god I’ve gotten over that particular notion, but looking at teen magazines graced with the photos of feminine blondes flirting with football captains always made me look at my own oxfords and ill-fitting jeans and wish I were more like I was supposed to be. Add to this the fact that anxiety was my family’s motivator, and the result was a person who worried about everything. For longer than I can possibly admit, I was positive that I could settle my monkey brain if I could force myself take on the traits and attributes of someone unlike me. The craziness of that is obvious as I write it, but the relief I was sure I would feel when I became someone else was palpable.
My favorite part of getting older is the fact that being me has become not just tolerable, but downright attractive. I used to think that if I could just polish off the rough edges, perfect the imperfections, and soften the hard spots, it would all be great. I’m realizing these days that each one of those parts of me is just that—a part of me. It may be hard feeling as anxious as I sometimes do, but I come by it honestly. Plus, I’ve learned how to stop, take a deep breath, and remember that I possess the skills necessary to fairly quickly bring things to a manageable level.
I love the sense I’m having these days that it’s not bad to be a person who sometimes overthinks things. It might make me a little crazy, and I can definitely take things too far, but it’s not all that serious. I grew up with that nervous family and having a Plan B was vital in case any of those terrible things we feared ever actually occurred. Truthfully, as long as I don’t totally annoy myself—or the wonderfully forgiving people in my life—it’s fine. Sometimes I actually come up with a few plans that benefit the group when I’m worrying about the future. Sometimes I just drive people nuts, but we can all learn to live with that.
I hate it sometimes that it took me 66 years to get the true value of the person I am, but it really doesn’t make any difference. I can take advantage of the knowledge I have now and the appreciation I’ve developed for the full and rich person that I am. I used to say to people that it isn’t easy being me. That’s probably true, but it is definitely simpler being me when I’m standing on my own side.