WRITTEN BY SADIE CULBERSON – 12/21/2018
According to society, I am an introvert. According to society, I am also a millennial, a woman, a Meyers-Briggs INFJ and an Enneagram type 3. I am told I am sweet, composed and shy. I have listened to many opinions about me: she is artistic, she is easygoing, she is a good student. She can also be judgmental so watch out. While shaping my sense of self, I keep mental notes on the rules of my assigned identity and anything opposed to the tidy parameters is hidden. When I am scattered and inarticulate, I replay what I’ll say in my mind to fit what people expect from me. When I feel loud and messy, I scare myself into quietness because I don’t want to shock my friends. When I don’t know the answer, I secretly research what someone respectable thinks and repeat their opinions as if they’re my own. After all, I am told smart people have good answers and I can’t possibly have a lame answer.
So much curating of who I am in order to fit someone’s definition of me has made me well-versed in not trusting my own experience. So when the sadness, the confusion, and the uncertainty started seeping in, I followed my normal routine: ask someone else who I am and what I need. Commence the reading of ten books ordered on Amazon (ashamed because it’s less ethical and I’m not supporting local businesses), the therapy sessions and the piles of articles about what this person or that person does when they experience mental health issues. All of my learning, self-care, and growth is directed outside of myself with a hyper-fixation on learning about other people. If someone successful says they stopped eating sugar and their brain fog left, I’ll follow it. If someone else says they think a degree in biology ensures a better job over a degree in design, I’ll do it. If someone tells me I am an introvert, an INFJ, an Enneagram type 3 and a sweet girl, I trust them and box myself accordingly.
I am sitting on the floor under window light while it’s raining outside and I’m wearing mismatched socks. I’m judging the split ends in my hair. I can hear my pet rabbit snoring in the other room. I need to shower. Could the answer be in this moment? I don’t know. For the first time, I admit I don’t know. I am full of people's opinions, self-care rituals, advice, and labels, yet I know nothing. I admit that I feel lonely, confused, sad and lost. This isn’t someone’s opinion about me, this is what I am actually feeling. Their critique and advice I’ve memorized about my experience don’t say anything about my very real experience. The loneliness sits there, unaffected.
I am a rule follower and I fit the patterns I have been given. I have read the books on self-development, taken classes on abandoning the ego, listened to advice on using Instagram to get better engagement and have immersed myself in social issues to know what I think and why I think it. Despite all of these labels, tasks, and achievements to become a socially competent and healthy person, I feel dead inside; the kind of dead inside that causes me to wake up in the morning and feel like something is missing and I’ll never be able to find it. I have a looming fear that something is fundamentally wrong with me and everyone else has it figured out. My most common thought pattern is: I must not be following it right. I must not be trying hard enough. Overstuffed with information I am nowhere near healthy and mostly, I am tired. Along with the tiredness, I’m deeply ashamed for still feeling sad. And I’m pretty sure, despite my fears, that I am trying hard enough. So what do I do with this? My familiar response is to push through it, ask for more advice and read more books. But I can’t make myself do it.
I repeat my feelings to myself without comparing them to the blogger who wrote about how she overcame her sadness. I don’t try to change anything, I just say out loud, “I feel lonely.” I don’t regurgitate reasons for my loneliness stated in the personality type theories. I don’t blame shyness for the sadness. I don’t compare myself to anyone else. I suddenly feel lighter, safer and somehow— okay. I experiment with the thought by admitting more of what I’m feeling: I’m terrified that I don’t matter. I fear my experience is invalid. I want to belong and I feel like I can’t belong if I show up as myself. I worry that I am unlovable. I don’t want to be alone.
My breath settles. I become more aware of my surroundings. I feel warm. Which makes me wonder this: what if true healing begins when I make space for my own idiosyncrasies without comparing my life to other’s ideas about my life? What if I stopped forcing premature 3-step solutions onto myself that helped someone else but may not help me? What if happiness and settling come when I simply hold myself where I am— as I am— and refrain from drawing a horizon around myself forcing it all to fit into another person’s nicely packaged formula? More than any label, study, opinion or critique, I see that I am mostly human. So I sit here with my split ends and sigh deeply with relief. I honor what is real for me and this is it.
Transparency is a shared journal that is curated by Tiana Petrullo in collaboration with a beautiful community of contributors who have offered to share their personal experiences with mental health. To encourage a contribution of the most raw and real experience, minimal guidance was given. All stories have been willingly shared and are written to reflect what is personally most prevalent to the writer. Together, we offer an expansion of knowledge, awareness, and acknowledgement.