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I’ve always been so unsure of myself.
I’m sure I could chalk my self-esteem up to a few things—a rough early childhood, bullied at school, kicked out of home at 16 (luckily, I was able to stay with relatives), a pregnant university drop-out, and becoming a mom too young for my own good.
Where in all of that did I really have a chance to discover who I truly was?
I don’t think I did. I was just trying to survive, both figuratively and literally.
All I can say for sure about who I am is that I’m weird.
I don’t fit in. I say the wrong things. I make a terrible first impression. I have no poise. I’m not that likable. And I’m kind of an ugly duckling, so not even my looks can save this whole…mess.
When I’m in a room with my peers, I feel entirely insufficient, like I’m always a few notches lower on the rung. They—with their polished conversations, sophisticated attire, fearless existence—are the girls who snickered at me within earshot, teachers who seemed to take pleasure in my humiliation, family showing off accomplishments and successes in the face of my failures (politely, of course).
And I am the weird little girl in shabby clothes who doesn’t really understand the conversation, who doesn’t really belong here, and who would rather just go home.
No pity party intended—it’s just how my mind tricks me into believing that I’m always beneath others in one way or another. Of course, none of my peers are really these people, and I am no longer a scared little girl.
I thought that in my 30s, I’d have the kind of wake-up call that would allow me to truly come into my own and finally stop being so f*cking awkward and naïve and weird. I’d discover who I truly was and own it—and my weirdness would fall away, exposing my bad, boss self.
I’d been looking forward to having some damn confidence, eventually. Or at least enough self-assurance to not give a sh*t what people think.
When I was 31 and a single mother, my now-ex husband moved in, and I was given a chance to breathe, to think further than: can my car make it to work this week on the gas I have, and am I taking care of these kids properly? Having him share some of my responsibilities provided me with little bit of space where there had been none.
It sounds like a blessing, but that space allowed small fissures to form in my protective shell, like the pressure of everything was the only thing holding me together. The first breaths of air that weren’t saturated with just-getting-by-ness were incredibly painful:
I learned that I wasn’t really a person.
I was just doing.
Working. Making dinner. Parenting. Fixing the toilet. Smoking. Worrying about money. Cleaning. Distracting myself with whatever I could consume—online, on the TV, from the fridge. Not getting enough sleep, barely paying my bills.
Now, a decade later, I’ve gotten rid of that shell, but I still haven’t really figured out who’s inside of it. I’m a raw, pulsating—but still pretty weird—shell-less blob.
I recently came across a Vox article (August, 2019) about Billie Eilish, where the author referred to her as a “sneering generational icon,” someone who “challenges normative expectations of what a female pop star can sound like, look like, and publicly say.” This now 19-year-old wonder knows who she is. Well, at least, it appears she knows a hell of a lot more in her 19 years than I do in my 41. Watch any interview with her and it becomes clear just how much presence she has.
I’ve seen this same presence in others too. People with conviction, with a passion for something. Brave people who aren’t afraid to say f*ck off, to hold steady in what they believe in, no matter the consequences.
I crave that—and not because of how it appears to others; to hell with that. No—because of how it must feel on the inside.
I’ve tried that kind of courage on for size, but I usually crumble. You could convince me the sky was red if you did it loudly and proudly enough, and I wouldn’t realize it until too late. I hate that about myself, but it’s true.
A few months back, when our COVID-19 cases were much lower, I visited a Value Village. I’ve been losing a little weight and I needed some things that fit me better. I realized that for the past few years, I’ve been wearing whatever clothes help me look the least “big.” Do I like flowery, purple shirts? I don’t know—does it mask the size of my tummy? Truth be told, if I look like a sofa but it makes me look thinner, I’m in. I’d lost (or maybe never really found) my personal style. As a thin person, I bought what I could afford to wear, not what I necessarily liked. And as a child, I wasn’t able to make choices about my own clothing until I was about 14, and when I did, I chose whatever I thought was least likely to make me a target at school.
So, there I was, standing between clothing racks in a V.V., trying to figure my whole entire self out, thrifted shirt by thrifted shirt. Rocker chick? Preppy? Kinda gothy or witchy, but sophisticated, since I’m not 15 anymore? Girl-next-door? Who am I?
I’m trying to find myself in my clothes. In what I like to fill my time with, now that my kids don’t really need my time anymore. In how I define myself outside of what I do for a living or that I’m a mother. In what I want the rest of my life to be like.
I’m asking myself so many questions and coming up empty-handed. Am I choosing not to date because I like being alone, or because I’m scared, or because I don’t feel desirable in the body I have? Where do I want to live? Why am I so easily convinced and manipulated? Why don’t I have the confidence to stand up for what I believe in? And why don’t I even really know what I believe in to begin with? What is my “thing?”
Or, the biggest, scariest question of all:
Am I just always going to be the weird, awkward-and-not-in-a-charming-way girl who people try to avoid? Is that really my thing?
What I will say for sure is that cracking open this shell over the last 10 years has done one thing for me, if not help me figure out who I am.
It’s given me resilience to withstand discomfort. And in weathering through, I’ve been able to find peace in this limbo of self-knowledge.
Maybe I’m just destined to constantly change, and this weirdness is really just constant growth, which is often awkward and hard in its own right. Maybe it’s something every single person is secretly struggling with, each in our own way and to varying degrees. Maybe my 30s were my uncovering, and my 40s will be about my discovering, and I just have to be patient, for crying out loud.
It’d be nice to feel cool and confident like Billie Eilish appears to be. To bravely stand my ground for what I believe is right. But for now, I’m just gonna roll with whatever. Whether my coming-of-age happens in the next decade, or it never really comes at all, or it has come long ago and I’m just having trouble accepting who I am, it is what it is.
I don’t have an inspiring message to share here, no perfect words of advice, no poetic, powerful, slam-you-into-next-Thursday phrase that will make everything okay and fix your whole life. I mostly just wanted other weird, awkward (and not in a charming way) people to know they’re not alone.
And who said we have to have it all figured out by now, anyway?